AnonymousDeleted UserNovember 13, 2020 at 11:46 pm
I struggled with Lisa Sharon Harper’s reading of the doctrine of imago Dei as “exercising dominion” over creation. Not because I disagree with her treatment of the Genesis text, but, perhaps because it 1) feels reductionistic—I want to put so much more in this doctrine than just dominion, some of which she affirms, while also naming that she doesn’t see the text making these connections—and, 2) because the word dominion feels fraught. Can we use this word in a positive way, without some amount of gymnastics?
I recently head Ellen Davis interpret radah as “to exercise skilled mastery,” amongst all of God’s creatures, and she clarified her understanding of this phrase by pointing out humanity’s unique responsibility of being conscious that all creatures have to eat. In this way, Davis named humanity’s responsibility to treat all of creation with care and concern, in such a way that everybody is well fed. Dominion may fit here, but stewardship also feels very fitting.
When it comes to negative examples of humanity’s call to exercise dominion in the world, they are many, as others have pointed out. But one that comes to mind is an advertising campaign for a restaurant that I noticed while living in England. Each morning, on my way to the library, I passed by—on the same street—a large, brightly colored window display that read, “Eat Beautiful,” beside which I would regularly see an unhoused man or woman, waking up to start the day. I couldn’t help but contrast this call to “Eat Beautiful” with so many neighbors who may not eat at all. In reflecting on this interpretation of radah, this feels like a clear failure to live into our God-given call.
Keeping on the restaurant tagline theme, I also
recall visiting a delicious breakfast spot in Seattle, Portage Bay Café, whose staff
all wear the same black t-shirts, with the same tagline across the back: “Eat Like
You Give a Damn.” At least one of the implications of this tagline, as I take
it, is that the owners of Portage Bay “give a damn” where the food they serve
comes from, and they’re marketing themselves to guests who also happen to “give
a damn” about where their food comes from. Beyond aesthetics, to me, this
suggests a concern for ethical, sustainable, and responsible farming practices,
for supporting local farmers, and for transporting food in a way that doesn’t
produce undue harm on the environment. All of this, to me, better aligns with
God’s call to exercise radah, be it “dominion,” as Harper defines it, or
“skilled mastery,” as Davis puts it, or perhaps even “stewardship” of the
creation entrusted to humanity. Being concerned for how our food is produced,
and making practical choices to support those who share this concern, seems to
be one way I can meaningfully exercise radah in my life.