Environmental Stewardship August 2013
“Environmental stewardship” is basically caring for the earth. Stewardship in general involves the careful and wise use of the gifts God has given us. In our traditional understanding, environmental stewardship involves the careful and wise use of a particular set of those gifts: the air, land, and water that support all living things. God’s placing Adam in the garden to till it and keep it is a story that reminds us that God expects us to be tillers and keepers of the earth, good gardeners. With a long history of conservation practices from soil conservation to Arbor Day and everything in between, Nebraskans are natural environmental stewards.
In most parishes, fall is the season for committing ourselves to a pledge of stewardship for the coming year. I remember the first time (I think in the late 1970′s) that I saw a pledge card with spaces for more than name, address, and number of dollars pledged. Various ministries of the parish were listed on the back, and we were asked to write down the ministries to which we pledged our time and talent. Seeing that card expanded my notion of stewardship in the church.
These sorts of pledge cards are common now, usually distributed after several reminders that gifts of time and talent are at least as important as monetary gifts. For those of us who have been around for many stewardship seasons, “time, talent, and treasure” is a familiar phrase.
Recently I was at a gathering of people committed to telling people about the reality of climate change and to advocating for practices to address climate change before we reach a point where catastrophic consequences become inevitable. We talked about ways to share the reality of “dirty weather” (extreme weather caused by carbon pollution from human activity) and its effects, but we also talked about happier news. While the reality of climate change and its effects can be alarming, we do have the technical know-how that would allow us to cut our use of fossil fuels dramatically. If we can find the will to do the right thing, there is great hope for a future with perhaps an even better way of life than we enjoy now.
One of the speakers said that the way to get from our present climate crisis to a brighter future is for all of us to use our “time, dime, and voice”. I had no more than noticed how catchy it was to couple ‘time’ with ‘dime’ when I realized the phrase also resonated with me because it was awfully close to that old, familiar “time, talent, and treasure” phrase. Especially when the speaker emphasized that ‘voice’ wasn’t limited to words — it could be art, music, presence — I realized it was really just another way to talk about talent.
Yes, environmental stewardship does involve traditional conservation practices and more recently learned recycling practices. But to count as stewardship in the way we understand it as Christians, it has to stretch beyond conservation of resources. Especially when the future of most species of plants and animals and even the future of human civilization as we have known it face a very real and very present threat from climate change, stretching ourselves to commit our time, talent, and treasure to the long-term sustainability of a planet that can support life is an essential piece of environmental stewardship for Christians today. A gift of time can help us learn more about what is happening, digging beyond what news headlines tell us. We can give our time to do something such as writing a letter to a political leader spelling out particular concerns about our inadequate response to climate change. Our talents can help us find ways to help others understand the importance of paying attention to what is happening, to help develop economic, technological, and political solutions to various aspects of climate change, and to find all sorts of creative ways to advocate for the earth or to support those who are doing this work. A commitment of treasure involves buying and investing in environmentally friendly products and companies rather than more harmful alternatives even if the environmentally friendly products cost more or yield a lower return on investment.
A devoted gardener cares for the garden not only through traditional good gardening practices such as weeding, watering, and conserving the soil, but by protecting the garden when something threatens to overrun or destroy the garden. Fr. Thomas Barry called tending to our relationship with the earth so that the relationship is mutually beneficial rather than mutually destructive The Great Work. Being tillers and keepers of the earth in this century calls us to The Great Work of environmental stewardship. If we do this work well, future generations will look back on our work with gratitude. It is morally essential for us to do our best while we have the opportunity.
Archdeacon Betsy Blake Bennet