Years ago as a child growing up in Cleveland, Ohio, I was befriended by a wonderful family around the corner from my home. The patriarch of the family, Edward Blunt Sr., was a hard-working executive for a telecommunication company; the matriarch, Roma Blunt, lovingly called Aunt Roma, was a consultant for several local educational institutions; and their son, Ed Jr., became one of my best friends and adopted brother.
Ed and I played sports, shared the same birthday, and graduated from high school and college together. Ed's family provided a unique gift for the young men in our neighborhood. As a result of their southern roots and deep-rooted village values, they believed adults — especially adults of African descent — had a responsibility to aid and assist in the development of young men in the community.
At least weekly, a gang of musty, sweaty, boisterous young men crowded into the Blunt household to take part in a ritual of culinary excellence provided by Aunt Roma. In this house we did not own, pay for, or live in, we witnessed the southern artistry and gastric creativity produced with a palette of collard greens, gumbo, cornbread, sweet potatoes, macaroni and cheese, fried okra, and fish on the canvas of our senses. The white house on Green Road became our hangout, respite, and my second home. Since I lived geographically closest to the Blunts’ home, I found myself at their address more frequently than other "brothers" in our network.
Upon one of my routine visits after finishing another amazing meal, Aunt Roma passed on a special gift. She handed me a key to the home. She stated with matter-of-fact ease, "Otis, you're over here enough, you might as well have a key."
After I said thank you, she began to reemphasize the rules of the house.
"You are always welcome here … you are welcome to eat, rest, and relax ... I trust you, and as long as you abide by the rules of the house and your parents are aware of where you are, this door is always open to you."
I was given access to the Blunts’ home because of my relationship with their son. I was given access to a home I did not create, build, or purchase. Because of my relationship with their son, I was given access to an environment I did not create.
As people of faith, we are given access to the environment, creation, the earth because of the generosity and love of God. As a Christian I believe I am also connected to this environment through the witness of Jesus Christ, who demands radical stewardship.
Just like the relationship with the Blunts’ home, I can never operate under the false assertion I own the house or have the authority to destroy the resources. I am given the responsibility of stewardship. The role of the steward is to care for, protect, and maintain a gift provided by the generosity of another. The steward is mindful the environment one may occupy is not owned nor created by him or her. Water, air, soil, rain, and our oceans are owned by God; we have been given access to these resources through divine love.
Aunt Roma taught us indirectly about stewardship and environmentalism. If we broke the rules of the house, we were disciplined collectively, not individually. The action of one affected the lives of all. If one person in our extended family network "acted up," we all were ejected from the house. If one of us misused the resources in the house, all were held accountable. Aunt Roma taught us collective responsibility and accountability.
This southern and African-inspired ethic fits well with the biblical mandate.
We are called to be stewards collectively responsible for the care of creation. Environmentalism for many, myself included, is the critical issue of the 21st century. The health of the planet, clean air, and water are challenges affecting all communities, especially communities of color. A recent NAACP report stated 68 percent of African Americans live within 30 miles of a coal-fired powered plant, a staggering statistic. It is reported all communities of color in the U.S inhale 40 percent more pollutants than people of European decent despite the fact that communities of color are not producers of major pollutants. The ethic of radical stewardship demands the steward evaluate how resource use and actions will affect the greater community.
The greatest enemy to radical stewardship is a market mentality. When everything has a price tag and is commoditized for consumption, we turn divine gifts into products for profit. The scripture presses upon our imagination to be mindful of claiming "this is mine" and "I have the authority to operate as I choose" with reckless disregard for others. One writer described sin as being birthed from the pronouns of "Me and I." As cultural critic and theologian Leonard Sweet has observed "me without a we" leads to tragedy for all.
The Earth is the Lord's — or as Aunt Roma stated, "If one you boys messes up I will hold you all responsible because this is my house!"
We would do well to heed the words of the Psalmist and the lessons of a Southern-inspired mother living in the Midwest.
Otis Moss III is senior pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago.