I have committed, as a writer, to undertake the serious discipline of writing during the month of July each year. This is a little confusing, because I write all the time in my work, as a songwriter, just about everyday as a facebook citizen (won’t find me with those loathsome mundanities like how much mustard was on my sandwich or my farmville situation. I try to write something short and worthwhile, except when i don’t, of course. Which is why I like “like.” Cuts to the chase, and you can “unlike.”). I mean, though, that I have committed to myself to use my gift, whether anyone reads it or not. Writing, the very act of committing words to sequence, has a power.
Anyway, I have dozens of book ideas, but most of them are still in my computer. I’m one of those people Dorothy Sayers talked about in The Mind of the Maker when she said that all artistic failures correspond to defects in trinitarian theology. All artistic work begins as idea, “becomes flesh” in the act of writing (or painting, or making music) and then achieves fulness in becoming an experienced reality by those who read it, watch it or listen to it. A work of art is not complete without this fullness of being–it’s fine that you have an idea, and many people, she said, say “My book is finished. I have only to write it down.” But until you write it, it is not complete. So, if you are a writer, you don’t wait for a contract or just think about ideas. You write.
I have pondered about three projects I have in various stages of completion (whatever I do with them), but the one I have strong feelings about is “stewardship.” It’s an odd phrase, usually associated in churches with fundraising and subscribing the budget, but it has an interesting history as a word. According to the website “word origins” (http://www.word-origins.com/definition/steward.html), in Old English, where this word originated in about the 15th century, a steward was literally “in charge of a sty.” This was either connected with the word “stigweard,” a compound from “stig” (hall or house) and “weard,” meaning a guardian or keeper, thus, “keeper of the hall.” It may have been from the word “sty,”, the place where the pigs were kept. I will admit that in the current political moment someone who takes care of something dirty and unglamorous without credit is indeed, “Weard.”
Was a steward originally the guy who took care of the hogs? Interesting thought. Stewardship has a lowly dimension to it. “Taking care” of things is not glamorous, appreciated, or always understood by much of our throwaway culture. Our children may be changed by the recession we seem to be still in the midst of, but we are yet to see if it makes our children more fearful about wasting things or more attentive to taking care of what they have.
Where stewardship matters is its sense of one being responsible for many things and, presumably many other people. If the steward doesn’t do his or her job, the hogs get out, money is lost, the house runs down, and chaos results.
Stewardship has relevance to all aspects of life. It is the most powerful image I can think of for where we are in our current global situation. We sit on a fragile planet with abundant resources, but finite ones. How we treat that planet will not affect its survival in the universe, but it may have a lot to say about whether we’ll be on it for a long time. Politics, relationships, economic life, culture, food and water, all are affected by our sense of (or lack thereof) of a sense of “stewardship.”
We watch the global economy halted by our politicians’ endless manipulations, who can never seem to answer each direct question with a simple “Yes” or “No”, posturing, accusing, projecting, blaming, offering excuses, and generally carrying on what sometimes feels like the old “bull sessions” in the dorm late at night in college. Except their bull sessions affect people’s lives. And in it all, the sense of stewardship can be lost amid the tantalizing seductions of power, fame and money, the Unholy Trinity of our particular moment win out.
It is a very dangerous time, a time that more than ever asks for servants but always gives in to seducers, wasters, magicians and promisers of fantasy. Yet if they did tell the truth, give us the bad news, admit the pain that it would take to fix it, would we accept it? It costs to be a steward. No fame, no vast fortune, just this unrelenting sense of taking care of something that someone entrusted to us, because that responsibility is more important than all the pleasures to be immediately had by turning from it.
My prayer is for the rebirth of stewardship in the world–parents, families, stockbrokers, bankers, neighbors, policemen, company presidents and CEOs, workers, teachers, artists, politicians. Without that sense that something is always asked of me for the sake of the other, that something that says, “It can never be only about you,” this ship will sink. Every good ship has an officer called a “steward.” The steward is not the captain. No ship can sail with all captains. The ship steward looks after the passengers’ comfort and wellbeing, and sees after the supplies and food.
Long live the stewards. May their tribe increase. But if we merely delegate this to certain poor souls who are left to tend the hogs while we all watch cable, we will sink. As a steward of writing gifts, however small they might be, I must reject my own excuses and write as though the world depended on me. Mothering, fathering, taking care of someone else’s money, churches, schools, neighborhoods, aging parents, the poor among us–we are all called to some great and unavoidable stewardships. And if we evade them, not only might the ship run out of food or sink, we will never once before we die manage to be who we came here to become. And that is a loss of incalculable measure.