Monday, July 21, 2014

Four Precious Words

Here are four words that have become precious to me: Stewardship, Neighbourhood, Economy and Vocation.

As a pastor, I've spend a lot of time through the years teaching on the concept of stewardship. Of course, stewardship narrowly defined is often thought of as a reference to financial management. In the context of the local church, it usually comes with the negative association of the pastor urging the congregation to give more money to the church! While financial management is a significant part of a proper understanding of stewardship, nonetheless, the concept is broader, deeper and far more all-encompassing. In the New Testament, the Greek word used to describe the steward is oikonomos. The word is derived from two terms, oikos and nomos. Oikos is a reference to the household and nomos to the "law" or to "rule." So oikonomos literally translated is "household ruler." Some modern Bible translations will sometimes take the word and translate it "household manager."

How can seeing our lives as a proper stewardship extend to our understanding of faithfulness in our homes, neighbourhoods and in the broader society in which we, by God's grace, "live, move and have our being"?

If we pause for a second and extend the idea of "household management" to an entire community, so now we are talking about economic life. How are goods and services exchanged in order to serve the common good and to contribute to human flourishing? Maybe before going so broad, we might think of a local neighbourhood. What constitutes the proper management of my resources so as to benefit and serve my neighbour? In a healthy neighbourhood, how are "goods and services" exchanged out of concern for others? Have you ever needed a cup of sugar from a neighbour? help with lifting a heavy object? When my son Calvin was a toddler, I was responsible for him and must confess, I lost him. When my neighbour Kevin heard the frantic plea in my voice as my heart pounded and I combed the neighbourhood calling out, "Calvin! Calvin!" Kevin rushed out of his house to join the search, saying to me in my dazed and frightened state of mind, "you go to the southwest, and I will go to the northeast and when we get to the end of the block, let's move counterclockwise." A few minutes later, when my other neighbour down the street Vicki came walking back with Calvin in her arms, I felt the enormous pressure of fear release from my body. Calvin had made his way down nearly an entire block and my neighbours had extended the gifts of comfort and common mission (Kevin) and childcare (Vicki) in my momentary lapse.

In my new neighbourhood in Vancouver, I have come to appreciate the carpentry gifts of my housemate Pedro, so Pedro has built a custom-made bookshelf in my office at Grace Vancouver Church, to assist with my sense of belonging in the space of my employment. Pedro has done this not as a member of the church, but as a member of my neighbourhood. Also, Pedro and his wife Hiyori have a little one and my teenage daughter cannot wait to babysit once Kai gets old enough to be watched. On so many levels, while we may not entirely think of these "exchange of gifts" as gifts of gainful employment (with the exception of Pedro's carpentry), nonetheless, we are speaking of marks of a healthy community and a loving and caring economy.

Is the world we inhabit and seek gainful employment not simply a "larger household" or "neighbourhood" in which we are called to love and serve as members? As Wendell Berry has said, a healthy economy "turns on affection." Elsewhere, Berry has written in his book Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community, p. 14:

If we speak of healthy community, we cannot be speaking of a community that is merely human. We are talking about a neighborhood of humans in a place, plus the place itself: its soil, its water, its  air, and all the families and tribes of the nonhuman creatures that belong to it. If the place is well preserved, if its entire membership, natural and human is present in it, and if the human economy is in practical harmony with the nature of the place, then the community is healthy.

Bouman-Prediger and Walsh in Beyond Homelessness: Christian Faith in a Culture of Displacement, p. 143, reinforce the notion of how the concept of Stewardship extends to the broader community:

The Greek word oikonomia "means the management (nomos), or care exercised by the economist, or steward (oikonomos), for the household (oikos) and for that within it that is entrusted to him." Will the household be managed in such a way that public resources are developed and shared to the benefit and livelihood of all members of the household? Only such a household is considered to be a good economy; only such a household is obeying the rules of the household. 

Because this world is the "household" into which Jesus "made His dwelling" (Jn. 1:14), so a proper stewardship of the good gifts of God in service to neighbour is our call, our vocatio, to discharge. Vocation matters as well.

1 comment:

Wesley Wong said...

Vancouver will have a much better chance of experiencing eudaimonia because you and your family answered God's call to come here. And it starts with having a deeper understanding of what Godly stewardship looks like. Thanks for this article, Mike. Good read!