Posts Tagged ‘stewardship’

As I sat in my prayer space at home this morning, I looked out and saw the automatic sprinklers operating in my yard and those of neighbors. The scene reminded me of a post my friend Richard wrote last week, sharing a dialogue sent to him by his brother-in-law. The dialogue is humorous, but makes a point that is anything but funny.

Here is a portion or the dialogue:

“Frank, you know all about gardens and nature. What in the world is going on down there on the planet? What happened to the dandelions, violets, milkweeds and stuff I started eons ago? I had a perfect no-maintenance garden plan. Those plants grow in any type of soil, withstand drought and multiply with abandon. The nectar from the long-lasting blossoms attracts butterflies, honey bees and flocks of songbirds. I expected to see a vast garden of colors by now. But, all I see are these green rectangles.”

It’s the tribes that settled there, Lord. The Suburbanites. They started calling your flowers ‘weeds’ and went to great lengths to kill them and replace them with grass.

Grass? But, it’s so boring. It’s not colorful. It doesn’t attract butterflies, birds and bees; only grubs and sod worms. It’s sensitive to temperatures. Do these Suburbanites really want all that grass growing there?

Apparently so, Lord. They go to great pains to grow it and keep it green. They begin each spring by fertilizing grass and poisoning any other plant that crops up in the lawn.

The spring rains and warm weather probably make grass grow really fast. That must make theSuburbanites happy.

Apparently not, Lord. As soon as it grows a little, they cut it -sometimes twice a week.

They cut it? Do they then bale it like hay?

Not exactly, Lord. Most of them rake it up and put it in bags.

They bag it? Why? Is it a cash crop? Do they sell it?

No, Sir, just the opposite. They pay to throw it away.

Now, let me get this straight. They fertilize grass so it will grow. And, when it does grow, they cut it off and pay to throw it away?

Yes, Sir.

These Suburbanites must be relieved in the summer when we cut back on the rain and turn up the heat. That surely slows the growth and saves them a lot of work.

You aren’t going to believe this, Lord. When the grass stops growing so fast, they drag out hoses and pay more money to water it, so they can continue to mow it and pay to get rid of it.

You can read the entirety of the dialogue here.

By pretty much any standard of measurement, we are doing a pretty miserable job of stewardship of this earth we have been given. We don’t conserve the resources we have, our actions degrade the environment, and what we do (and don’t do today) will have enormous consequences for those who follow us.

We need to do a better job.

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Happy Earth Day 2013

Every year on April 22, more than one billion people take part in Earth Day, a day designed to focus our attention on the need to take action to protect our planet and its resources.

One of the basic principles of Catholic Social Teaching is stewardship – the idea that we have a responsibility to care for creation. God gave humans dominion over the earth’s resources, not for us to use according to our individual will, but for the good of all human beings. Stewardship obligates us to care for the earth, to use its resources wisely, and to preserve thsse resources for future generations. Stewardship also means respect for all of creation.

Our bulletin at Christ the King this week noted some sobering facts, including that

- more than one in every six people around the world lacks access to safe water for drinking, cooking and cleaning and more than 2.6 billion people lack access to basic sanitation.

- 70% of coral reefs are either threatened or destroyed, coral reefs that provide food, storm protection, jobs, recreation, and other income sources for more than 500 million people worldwide.

- over the last decade, approximately 13 million hectares of foret have been lost each year, forests that 1.6 billion people depend on in some way for their livelihood.

- more than 22% of the world’s plants are at risk of extinction and more than 24% of the world’s mammals and 12% of the world’s bird species are threatened.

What are going to do about it? Being good stewards requires a combination of individual and group actions.

Each of us needs to think about what we can do to make a difference.

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How Would We Live?

How would we live if we knew the earth was sacred?
How would we live if we believed there was holiness in all?
How would we live?
How would we live?
Why dont’ we live that way now?

Those were the lines of a song we heard during opening prayer yesterday morning at the Spiritual Directors International annual conference I’m attending.

The thing is this: if we are Christians, we know that God is everywhere. That everyplace is holy ground. The everything is touched by the hand of God.

And that reality makes the final line of the song a challenge: Why don’t we live that way?

If we truly believe in God’s indwelling, in the sacredness of all things, how can we treat the earth the way we do? How can we not take better care of it than we do?

I don’t ask that in a preach-y way. I look at my own decisions. There are lot of ways I try to be a good steward. But I also know there are a lot of ways I could do more, ways I could be a better steward of the earth and its resources. And I’m guessing the same is true for you.

Perhaps reminding ourselves that the earth is sacred ground, that there is holiness in all, will help us in our efforts.

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At Mass this morning at Christ the King, we used an excerpt from Psalm 50 as the psalm between the two readings. I have doubtless heard these words before, but found them particularly powerful this morning.

Hear, my people and I will speak;
Israel, I will testify against you;
God, your God, am I.

Not for your sacrifices to I rebuke you,
for your holocausts are before me always.
I take from your house no bullock,
no goats from your fold.

For mine are all the animals of the forests,
beasts by the thousands are on my mountains.
I know all the birds of the air,
and whatever sits in the plains, belongs to me.

What good did it do God for the people to take what was already God’s and hand it back?

Reflecting on it afterward, the passage brought to mind the parable of the talents, which makes the same point in a different way. If all we do is re-wrap and give back to God that which God gave us, what good is that? It is how we use God’s gifts that bring glory and praise to God.

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I pulled out my bag last night a brochure I took from a Lutheran church during my visit to Seattle last weekend. The brochure was for an organization in Washington called Earth Ministry, a faith-based organization concerned with engaging the Christian community in environmental stewardship.

In the almost twenty years it has existed, Earth Ministry has assisted religious congregations in integrating care of creation into all aspects of church life, offered resources to assist clergy and lay leaders to speak knowledgeably on environmental issues and trained people to be effective advocates on environmental matters. Its website has an enormous amount of useful information on environmental issues.

Earth Ministry partners with “Greening Congregations”, i.e., churches that “develop a written annual plan for integrating creation care into their congregational life in the areas of worship, education, facilities, and outreach. These goals should be achievable but also challenging, and the commitment is renewed annually to demonstrate a congregation’s long-term dedication to environmental stewardship.”

What was so compelling to me was that the list of Greening Congregations includes churches that are Unitarian, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, Catholic, UCC, Episcopal and several other denominations. The website includes a page titled Denominational Statements, which excerpts statements from documents of the various denominations setting forth that church’s understanding of the Christian commitment to stewardship and the environment.

There are certainly things that divide Christians and non-Christians and that divide different denominations of Christians. And there is certainly value in talking about those things. But it is also vitally important that we recognize those areas in which diverse religious communities can take united and concerted action – especially on issues as important as care of this world over which we have been appointed stewards. We need more organizations like Earth Ministry.

Note for my local readers: the Minnesota analogue to Earth Ministry is Minnesota Interfaith Power and Light…which I sheepishly confess I never heard of until what I read about Earth Ministry made me wonder if there was a similar organization here.

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Today was graduation day for the University of St. Thomas School of Law. It was a joyful day for our students and their families. And I confess, as tired and warm as I may have been sitting on the stage during the ceremony, tears sprung to my eyes (as they do at graduation every year) as the President of the University spoke the words conferring the degrees upon our graduates.

The day began with a Baccalaureate Mass, celebrated by our Campus Minister, Fr. Erich Rutten, whose homilies always offer fruit for my reflection. Today was no exception.

Fr. Rutten spoke about various of the principles of Catholic thought to which our students have been exposed during their three years at the law school. When he spoke about how Catholic Social Thought understood property rights, he offered a simple, yet wonderful, parable.

Just as Jesus’ parables spoke to the experience of his listeners, Fr. Rutten invited the students to imagine that a law professor was going away for a time and asked a law student to house sit for him while he was gone. Imagine, he suggested, a law student who behaved as a responsible steward, taking good care of the house, enjoying it, but keeping it clean and in good repair.

Then, he invited, imagine instead a less responsible house sitter. This one had wild parties while the professsor was away. In fact, as time went on, the student began to think of the house as his own, treating it that way, with no thought for the law professor. In that case, imagine, he asked, what would happen when the law professor returned. What would his reaction be?

Although Fr. Rutten never used the term “parable” in telling his story, his story had all the force that Jesus’ parables would have had for his listeners (some of which, I fear, is often lost on us). As I was listening, I thought, how absurd! How could the law students ever think the property was his or hers? How could the student fail to realize he was only taking care of, and had only been given the responsible enjoyment of, that which ultimately belonged to someone else?

And that is precisly the reaction I expect Fr. Rutten was hoping to evoke. The realization that what seems so absurd to us in hearing the story is exactly how we treat this world we have been given. We have been granted stewardship over the gifts of this world, yet we act as though it is all ours to do with as we please. We never think to ask as the parable invites (indeed, demands) that we ask: How could we possibly think this?

We have been given this world to use and preserve as stewards. And, ultimately, we will be called to account for how we have cared for it.

Thanks for Fr. Rutten for a thought-provoking homily. And congratulations to the UST Law School class of 2011.

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From the standpoint of Catholic thought, the term stewardship refers to our recognition that everything we have is a gift from God and that we are intended to share those gifts with each other. Unfortunately, for too many people, stewardship is viewed as simply giving money: they think their stewardship obligation is satisfied by weekly offerings at Mass.

However, if we take stewardship seriously, we need to consider more than simply how much we contribute to our parish each week. Instead, we need to consider the choices we make in our every day lives and their implications for the world and our brothers and sisters. In the words of my parish’s stewardship brochure this year,

As Christians and as responsible world citizens, we must also make everyday choices based on more than self-interest. We must recognize that, as individuals, families and communities, we will either contribute to the problems of the world or pledge our efforts to the solutions.

Thus, we need to think carefully about things like what products we buy and what kinds of businesses we buy them from. Every decision we make has implications. Are we making thoughtful, positive choices are only thinking about ourselves?

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The Natural Order

One of our excursions on our vacation here in Grand Marais was a visit to an Ojibwe Indian village at Grand Portage on the northern shore of Lake Superior. This is the spot where local fur traders and European traders met to exchange furs for food and European goods. While there were many interesting things about the fort and the Indian village, what most struck me was the explanation of the Indian planting.

The interpretive guide spoke of planting the “three sisters,” corn, string beans and squash. The corn was planted in the center of a mound of dirt, with string beans planted around the sides of the same mound. This made a perfect pairing, as corn leeches nitrogen from the soil and the beans put nitrogen in the soil. In addition, as the corn stalks grew, the bean tendrils attached to the stalks, allowing the stalks to serve as support as the beans grew, obviating the need for any supports or other trellis-type arrangement. Zucchini was planted on surrounding mounds. As its large leaves grew, they spread out and sheltered the surrounding mounds from the sun, meaning less water was needed to keep the mounds from getting dry.

The Indians also planted a “fourth sister” around the edges of the plot – sunflowers, which grew larger than any of the other plants. The seeds from the sunflowers fed the birds and the height of the sunflowers meant the birds would not swoop in to eat the corn.

Now, I’m no troglodyte opposed to innovation and invention. I am, after all, blogging on my computer from a place far from my native home. But as I reflect on the guide’s explanation, I am struck by the beauty of operating within the natural order. We so often think of an artificial way of addressing a problem. Too little nitrogen? Let’s put some artificial fertilizer in the soil. Pests bothering our crops? Let’s put some spray that will keep them away. In contrast, the Indians managed a way that naturally kept the soil working and a way to protect their crops while feeding the birds.

God created the earth and made humans – those God created in God’s image – stewards over all of creation. We could learn something from the Ojibwe Indians about how we exercise that stewardship.

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I’m somehow always an issue behind in my reading of America magazine, which may have to do with the fact that I tend to read it while I’m on the elliptical machine at the gym, my attendance at which can best be described as spotty. In any event, I read today a piece by George Anderson titled, Charity as Cure.

Talking about Luke’s description of the early Christian community, Anderson suggests that our “transofrmation into a people guided by true charity” requires a shift from a “this is mine” viewpoint to a “whatever is mine is to be shared” approach. The latter is the approach that characterized the early Christians, who held “everything in common.”

This approach is expressed in Catholic Social Thought as the principles of the universal destination of goods. In the words of Gaudium et Spes, “God destined the earth and all it contains for all men and all peoples so that all created things would be shared fairly by all mankind under the guidance of justice tempered by charity.” In Centesimus Annus, Pope John Paul II explained that this principle is based on the fact that it is God who is the source of all that is good and that “God gave the earth to the whole human race for the sustenance of all its members, without excluding or favoring anyone.”

Anderson is correct that “our transformation into a people guided by true charity is arduous,” but in a world characterized by a widening gap between the haves and the have-nots, we all need to think about what we are doing to effectuate that transformation. What efforts am I making to live out of a “whatever is mine is to be shared” approach to life?

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God Spoke

In today’s first Mass reading, we hear the completion of the Genesis creation story, the first part of which we heard proclaimed yesterday. The reading, which we also hear each year as the first reading of the Easter Vigil, is one I love to hear proclaimed.

I sometimes think that arguments about the lack of literal truth of the creation story blind people to its beauty and to its truth, neither of which depend on how long it actually took for all of creation to come about.

God spoke and when God did God created all manner of things – the sun, the moon, the stars, water and earth, all manner of plants and trees, animals and fish, and, finally, human beings – made in God’s image. God breathed life where life did not exist before. And then God looked at all that had been created and judged it good.

Although I tend, when I pray with this passage, to focus on our creation in the image of God, what struck me as I prayed with it this morning was the reality of everything that exists being a creation of God. Everything we touch, everything we encounter is, at its core, a creation of God. All I touch has been touched by God’s hands, has been breathed into life by God. All I encounter has been judged by God to be good.

If we take that to heart, it ought to color how we view everything (and everyone). It calls for a response of reverence, and invites us to cherish all of God’s creation. And it invites us to take seriously our role as stewards of creation.

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