Sunday, April 26, 2009

Great essay on stewardship vs. standards


For those who don't know me, let me explain that when I decide to take on a new hobby or endeavour, such as bowmaking or tying flies, I do a tremendous amount of reading before actually getting up the courage to buy something. In fact, I probably drive my wife to distraction and bore her to tears, following her around the house with a book, reading to her about the fascinating art and science of tillering, or some such thing.

So, when we decided to try raising ducks, I read as much as I could online and from the library before actually ordering ducklings. And, because our property is small and urban, I found myself at a number of sustainable-ag., Mother Earth or Bible-heavy places, from people who are trying in one small way or another to opt-out, and found very interesting reading from sincere people trying to better understand their relationships to the world and other folks. A bit preachy at times, but I don't mind that nearly as much as most others, I've found (religious studies student that I am), and I think the admonition to allow free speech extends beyond the mere libertarian notion to leave other people alone.

It was great, then, to stumble upon an essay on stewardship by David Walbert who runs a website called the New Agrarian. He hasn't posted a blog entry since January, but the essay is well-wrought and bears some reading.

Now, I would try to explain his point, but I think he does so in a very concise manner here:

"Organic agriculture now seems in danger of forsaking stewardship for mere management. That, ultimately, is the goal of the National Organic Standards — to codify the practice of “organic” agriculture and reduce it to a set of principles for managing the land. I am not going to criticize the organic standards as standards; that is, I am not going to quibble about whether a better set of standards could have been written. They represent a significant improvement over most agriculture in the United States, and our national agriculture would surely be improved if every farmer adopted them. Organic standards are a great step forward in farm management. But they are not, and cannot be, a guide to farm stewardship — at least not on their own.

The problem, I think, is in the very idea of standards. The purpose of standards, ultimately, is to do away with individualization, with variation, with diversity — to standardize. And I do not believe that farming, or food, should be standardized. Standardization is the cause of most of the problems organic farming was meant to solve or avoid: lifeless food, distant producers and consumers, farm consolidation and rural depopulation. What we need, in American agriculture and American society, is not more standards, not better management. We need more stewardship..."

"Or consider the uses of “stewardship” in the Bible, which is, in Western culture, the source of most of that word’s connotations. The original, literal meaning of a steward was one who took care of a household, and descriptions of good stewards appear throughout the Bible. A steward is more than a good manager; he is “faithful,” “wise,” a member of the household he stewards and a loyal servant to his master, with a personal connection to both. Hence it is stewardship that becomes the model for the apostles’ relationship to God and to their church. They describe Christians as “stewards of the mysteries of God” (I Cor. 4.1) and as “stewards of God’s varied grace” (I Peter 4.7). One could not sensibly be a manager of God’s grace and mysteries"

A very interesting author with a strong and nuanced understanding of these concepts.

If you get a chance, click on over there and read it.

2 comments:

native said...

Josh,
I will not go into detail concerning most all of the ranches which I have had the dis-pleasure of leasing over the years.
Suffice to say that those individuals were not very good stewards of their lands, and in some cases I would be actually quite embarrassed to bring clients out to those places.

I made a promise to myself all those years ago, and to the lord Almighty, that if ever I were to own any land like that, I would be a more conscientious steward, and would nurture that land for the passing on to it's next occupants.

I have hopes that my children will be the next in line to own our ranches, but you never know what life has in store for you, and besides, I do not want the next inline to ever talk disparagingly about me and how bad of a steward that I was.

Good and thought provoking post!

BobJ said...

A great piece Josh and thought provoking. I totally agree with essay and your analysis. Cheers