I had a better understanding of the word when I took my one and only cruise-ship tour along the inside passage of Alaska. The stewards of the ship were introduced to us and you could tell they were very proud of their ship, its condition and extremely happy to be part of the crew that made the ship such a wonderful "home away from home."
The word "shipshape" comes from the fastidious daily work of stewards who keep their ship meticulously neat and orderly. We came back to our room from breakfast and our bed was already made and our clothes were neatly folded. The extended meaning of stewardship has come to be known among conservationists as wanting planet Earth to be more sweet and pristine than they found it, so the next generation can take the serious charge of managing our world with perpetuity in mind for their children.
We all own the Earth in common and in that sense we are in the position of stewards on a ship in a vast ocean of water or space. We must either keep the earthship pristine, shipshape and make it nicer than when we came here, or our ship could falter or sink from our negligence. It would not be the wonderful home it has been for many past generations. How do we teach stewardship at an early age to children so that it is not a foreign concept? And if we do teach it, what is in it for us and the next generations?
I saw a recent documentary about the "Dust Bowl" of the 1930s. A North Carolinian was expressing how horrible it was to be standing on his East Coast farm and watch the dust blow onto his property from Oklahoma in the Midwest.
What helped cause that great tragedy and period of national hardship? The lack of understanding of rotation of crops and how to enhance the soil versus just trying to repeatedly extract money crops from the soil yearly was a major reason.
And what caused the Great Depression on Wall Street in the '30s? Could lack of stewardship have been a main cause of this financial meltdown where one out of four Americans were unemployed? Are there any correlations we can abstract from this in the 2009 financial meltdown and the current oil spill in the Louisiana Gulf? Is it more important for us to have cheap gas and oil in our sputtering cars than it is to save the ocean and the coastline life that we all take for granted until it is suddenly trashed?
I saw another documentary this week on an elementary school in Japan where 7-year-old children were learning housecleaning and taught how to keep their school clean. They cleaned their own classrooms on a daily basis and seemed happy and excited to do so. The Japanese word "kirei" has two meanings simultaneously — clean and beautiful. How many 7-year-old Americans do you know who have had housecleaning lessons? Is there something about stewardship that we could learn from our Japanese neighbors, who take their shoes off when they enter a home? (A large proportion of dirt in homes is tracked in by shoes.)
The lessons I was taught about stewardship were in church where the Biblical verse was often quoted that says, "Cleanliness is next to godliness." Cleanliness was stressed a lot in my upbringing and I never questioned why it was so important. It was part of our stewardship training of caring for what we had.
The last part of stewardship I wish to stress is the act of conserving for the next generation. My partner's grandfather, affectionately known as "Bobo," had a lifelong passion of restoring the land by planting trees. Bobo's father had cut down a lot of trees and Bobo wanted to "make it right" by replanting in a fruitful, productive way. So he planted pecan orchards — the "nut" version of Johnny Appleseed.
May the spirit of Grandpa Bobo influence us strongly enough to make us passionate stewards of our Earthship as we ride together.