I’m not worried, but I’m troubled. Troubled by the fact that it seems to me that the majority of Americans do not grasp the concept of stewardship. It’s a word I’ve been chewing on a lot lately; asking myself what it really means and what it looks like in practice. The definition of stewardship, you ask? I love Dictionary.com‘s version: stewardship is “the responsible overseeing and protection of something considered worth caring for and preserving.” Sounds pretty good, right?
My whole internal examination of stewardship began in a moment of personal weakness. The Supreme Court had just upheld the constitutionality of the Health Care Reform bill and I was mad. Mad, that the Supreme Court basically said fining people for not buying a particular product i.e. health insurance is okay. Yes, we should work on ways to make health care more affordable, but I think there are better ways of doing that rather than passing laws that take away a person’s right to decide something for themselves. Needless to say, I took to my Facebook page to sound off on the news.
Within seconds, a friend of mine, whom I respect and value, commented on my post and said something to the effect of “Well, at least no one is pointing a gun at your head.” I assume, perhaps wrongfully so, that he was insinuating I should be grateful to live in a country where I needn’t fear some militant group trying to imposing their beliefs and objectives on me with the threat of deadly force. Those that know me well know that I’m absolutely grateful to live in America, I’m thankful for the opportunities living here provides, and I’m very glad that I don’t have someone pointing a gun to my head. However, I have a real problem with these types of arguments, like the one my friend made, and I’ll explain why.
I’ll start by giving you a simple example. Let’s say I have $6 in my pocket. I pull out 5 of them and light them all on fire. If you saw me do this, there’s a 99.9% that you would say something to the effect of, “Why the hell did you light $5 on fire?” I highly doubt that you would respond by saying, “Well, at least you still have $1 in your pocket!” When I framed it in that context, “at least” statements are ridiculous. Clearly I wasn’t being a good steward of that money in my pocket and you were upset by my carelessness.
I believe that Americans are called to be stewards of personal freedom. It was hard fought for and won by men and women who risked everything, and I mean EVERYthing. When we as Americans don’t take issue with legislation that erodes personal freedom, regardless of the intended “good” it is in effect signing off on bad stewardship. Instead of burning away a $5 bill, it’s freedom that gets torched. Now, I’m not saying that a freedom is only worth $5 or that we need to have absolute freedom to do whatever we want. Obviously freedom from the harmful actions of others is very important. What I am saying is that we as Americans should strive to be good stewards of the freedom entrusted to us by our forefathers. When that freedom is challenged, we should take offense to it. Quite frankly, I’m not seeing enough of that.
Now it’s easy to bash the American public for it’s apathy, but I don’t think that’s right. In fact, I believe that Americans are still a very resilient and passionate bunch that do have moments of brilliance in the realm of fighting for something noble. Recently the State of California targeted 70 of their state parks for closure to the public due to lack of funding (CA has had significant fiscal problems). These parks would essentially be shut down and patrolled by a single park ranger. Fortunately, there was a significant public backlash against these proposed closures (at least among outdoors enthusiasts) and many of these parks have been saved from closure at least temporarily. I saw dozens of people posting links, videos, and petitions all aimed at fighting for these parks. One of the most popular videos was a trailer for a documentary called “The First 70″ which you can see below.
It seem to me that much of the backlash manifested itself in people standing up and saying, “we care about our parks and want to able to use them.” Remember, stewardship doesn’t just involve protecting, it also involves overseeing. Clearly, the supporters of the California parks system felt that it was essential that they be able to both continue protecting them and overseeing their proper use. If Americans could just exhibit the kind of passion towards freedom (among many things) that many showed towards the California State Parks system in other facets of life, I would be thrilled.
I’ll conclude here. Something that is worth caring for almost always breeds passion. Such things can be found virtually anywhere. Freedom, financials, and even forests can be found fairly easily and are certainly worth caring for. Chances are there are other things that come to mind if you think long and hard about what you value, care about, or love. Stewardship is all about protecting and preserving those things to be enjoyed now and in the future. Right now, I don’t think that Americans, including myself, really grasp that completely at times. However, I think it’s good to sit and chew on for a while. I know I will be. So take a minute, inventory what you value, and spend sometime thinking about how well you’ve been a steward of that stuff and how you can be better.