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A Grand Conversation about Wilderness

A Monument for Stewardship

Grand Staircase – Escalante is over 1 million acres of land that is full of unique and resilient species of plants and animals. It is also easily the largest “museum” of natural and cultural history in the world to date. It has no walls, but those that were laid down and formed by time and the natural elements. And inside its borders it houses centuries of stories from the past that we are still discovering today.

But what about this particular national monument is so controversial? Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument has been a hot topic for over a year now. So you may be wondering, what’s this all about? And more importantly, how does it apply to me and to SROM?

The conversation is not so much about this national monument per say, but rather what we are called to as the Body of Christ.

 

 

Here at SROM, we first ventured into Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument almost a year ago. We sent a handful of our amazing staff to explore and “scout” the area as a possibility for future programming. Our staff were gone for almost 3 weeks route finding and talking with locals to get good and up to date information on this land full of high desert scrub and towering canyons.

Because at its initial size of 1.7 million acres, the amount of time, energy, and resources to properly get to know this landscape would take a lifetime! But our team only had 3 weeks! So they improvised and got the opportunity of a lifetime to be explorers and find out first hand what a place is like learning what rumors were true and what were less than accurate.

 

They were much like the children of Israel wandering through the desert and sending scouts into the land to see if it was occupied (Num 13). And like Caleb, our scouts reported back of an incredible land that was wild, beautiful, and full of the fingerprints of God. So we started planning and preparing to send future groups into the Escalante Wilderness in southern Utah.

But soon after our team returned, a war broke out over this wild place. Not unlike what Israel found themselves in when their scouts returned. See, many people see Grand Staircase – Escalante as the promised land, but for very different reasons.

  • Some people in our country view this national monument as the promised land for recreation. A place to get away from the crowds in both city life and many National Parks these days.
  • Some people view this national monument as the promised land for scientific research. There are treasure troves of archaeological discoveries yet undiscovered as well as the discoveries of new plants and animals living in this vast wilderness area.
  • Some people see this area as a promise land for commerce. A place where natural resources that our culture consumes can be harvested providing for residents of this area and an increase in economic opportunity where previously the recession has impacted them exponentially.

So many views of hope for one large section of land! And yet each of these views are in tension with the other.

 

A Command from Heaven

As you may know, SROM is an active provider and believer of Leave No Trace ethics. But, we also are on fire for Jesus and believe that the Bible is the Living Word of God. How do these two schools of thought come together? Actually, very easily! You see, because the idea of Stewardship was first commanded at the beginning in Genesis. (Gen 1:26-28)

The first man and woman are commanded by God to have dominion over all the earth, animals, plants, water, air, etc. Now most schools of thought think that dominion means to dominate, take over, and use however the user pleases. This couldn’t be further from the truth!

The root of the word dominion is Latin dominus which means “master” or sometimes it means sovereign. Another word that uses this same root is domain. A domain is defined as a region or section of land that is owned, most often by a royal party.

But English can be a finicky language, and all translations are not created equal. In researching this concept, I looked for wiser minds than my own and at the source: The Torah. Here is the original text from the Torah and the translation that accompanies it for Genesis 1:26:

 

כווַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֱלֹהִ֔ים נַֽעֲשֶׂ֥ה אָדָ֛ם בְּצַלְמֵ֖נוּ כִּדְמוּתֵ֑נוּ וְיִרְדּוּ֩ בִדְגַ֨ת הַיָּ֜ם וּבְע֣וֹף הַשָּׁמַ֗יִם וּבַבְּהֵמָה֙

וּבְכָל־הָאָ֔רֶץ וּבְכָל־הָרֶ֖מֶשׂ הָֽרֹמֵ֥שׂ עַל־הָאָֽרֶץ:

 

26 And God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness, and they shall rule over the fish of the sea and over the fowl of the heaven and over the animals and over all the earth and over all the creeping things that creep upon the earth.” (source)

 

The Hebrew word that is being translated is radah ( וְיִרְדּוּ) pronounced “raw-daw.” It means to rule or reign (source). In certain contexts, it can also mean to chastise, tread, dominate, or subjugate when used elsewhere in scripture, usually in reference to a people or population. (source)

Ok, so how does this apply to me, stewardship, and Escalante you might be thinking? It is the essential and yet missing link in this conversation and many others like it. It gives us the answer of what exactly are we commanded as God’s people to do with the resource known as Earth.

We are commanded to radah: rule and reign.

We are all aware of the qualities of good rulers and despotic ones. Good rulers take care of their domain. They take into account all the resources within their domain and they manage them to the benefit of the land and the people who live on it so that everyone will thrive.

Bad rulers do not care for their domain. They use the resources and the people for their own gain and purposes. They use and abuse the people and resources to increase their own power, authority, and wealth. In short, they take what they can for themselves.

I’m sure we all can think of many stories like both of these examples both biblical and in more recent history. And this is where we as believers need to start being a part of the conversation now.

We are all commanded by God to rule and reign on the earth. To use wisdom and manage all of the resources we have been given for the care of both the people and the land within our communities and our country. Does this mean you should go around hugging trees? Well, no. Not unless you really feel the need to hug one that is.

What it means for us is that we need to take into account all sides. We need to seek to understand the bigger picture and more long reaching consequences of our actions or inaction. And, we need to start thinking of the land as not just for use as we want in the moment, but how we can be good and wise stewards over the course of time.

This may seem like a huge undertaking, but don’t worry. God doesn’t expect us to be good at it overnight. That is why, in the parable of the talents, He says, “Because you have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much.” (Matt 25:14-30) I know I am constantly challenged to be a wise steward over what God has given me now, knowing that in turn He will continue to provide me with more abundance to manage wisely for His Glory.