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Alex Haskins

100x100 Alex HaskinsFrom Extractive/Exploitative Stewardship to Restorative Stewardship

Alex Haskins, Ph.D. Assistant Professor of Politics and International Relations

I’ll begin with some of the most impactful aspects of each day of this CACE seminar and then proceed to my overall reflections.

On the first day of our seminar, we spent time reflecting generally on Norman Wirzba’s Agrarian Spirit. We were tasked (in pairs) to come up with discussion questions and an activity based on a pre-assigned chapter of the book. Chuck Liu’s and Christine Jeske’s mindfulness activity on the chapter “Learning Generosity” (chapter eight) struck a particular chord. We were given a petal (sepal?) and asked to close our eyes, to focus on our breathing, and to mentally take notes on what we heard, felt, smelled, and—yes—tasted. A main contention of Wirzba’s in the chapter (and what I took to be the impetus behind the activity) is that the world is full of giftsnot commodities—and that recognizing our embeddedness in this world alongside other (“non-human”) beings facilitates gratitude for the earth God has given. As I slowed down to breathe and hear/feel/smell/taste my surroundings, I became more conscious of the intermittent chirping of the birds. Of the subtle and prominent grains on my wooden Adirondack chair. Of the smell of freshly cut grass. Of the sepal’s earthy, yet slightly sweet taste.

On the second day of our seminar, we spent a day working root & sky farm. Although I initially only signed up to move the electric fencing for the pigs (so they could graze/wallow in a new area), I actually ended up also moving electric fencing for the sheep and working on the orchard as well. Only toward the end of the day (as I was waiting for the last pig to move to the new area), did I realize that I was actually learning a valuable lesson about control and time from the “obstinate” pig—whereas the pig prioritized wallowing and moving in its own time, I was so focused on getting my assigned task done “on time” that I neglected my own hydration and felt the aftereffects over the next couple of days.

On the third day, we reflected broadly on our time at the farm and heard more about Norman’s vision behind the book. It was in this context that I began to realize the ways in which imperialism (my academic area of study) and its logics continue to pervade not only our contemporary approaches to the “natural world” but also—more generally—the ways in which we think, move, and have our being. For example, regularly I both articulate and hear from my students and colleagues the importance of “taking advantage” of opportunities, resources, and things we have been given. This use of language, while rarely acknowledged, speaks to the violent ways we relate to this world. Even when we see ourselves as “stewarding” the time/talents/treasures God has given us, when our language transforms into “taking advantage of” things (especially our fellow landed creatures—be they people, animals, plants, or otherwise), our work is no longer restorative; it is extractive and exploitative.

What, then, can I say I have taken away from this seminar?

  1. Nothing.

I have taken nothing away. Rather, I have gained a deeper appreciation of, and commitment to, expansive neighbor care (beyond humans), the robust agency of all of creation (again, beyond humans), and an invigored sense of the possibilities of innovative and restorative (non-extractive) stewardship due to what creation has given me over the last few days. What I have received is a vision for furthering a commitment to promoting the health and vitality of lands, creatures, and people altogether—in short, a vision for a thriving world in which we (as humans) are inextricably enmeshed with plants, animals, rivers, fields…and the list goes on. Put differently, it seems evident that higher standards of (human) living and wealth accumulation in the name of human self-interest ought not come at the expense of the flourishing of the (“non-human”) world and, if it does, it is the former that needs to adapt, not the latter. To continue to engage in practices that ostensibly “advance” humans at the expense of the rest of creation is to betray the original call of Genesis to be committed to the flourishing of the world God created and loves.


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