Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Moral Issue Of Land

In my daily readings a while back I came upon this:
"[The prince] is to give his sons their inheritance out of his own property so that none of my people will be separated from his property."  (Ezekiel 46.18)
Central Oregon

And this, written by Alan Paton.  His younger Jarvis (in Cry, the Beloved Country) also writes prophetically about South Africa.  What he says could have been written about any number of places, though:
"It is true that we hoped to preserve the tribal system by a policy of segregation.  That was permissible.  But we never did it thoroughly or honestly.  We set aside one-tenth of the land for four-fifths of the people.  Thus we made it inevitable, and some say we did it knowingly, that labour would come to the towns.  We are caught in the toils of our own selfishness....No one wishes to make its solution seem easy....But whether we be fearful or no, we shall never, because we are a Christian people, evade the moral issues." 
As a child I thought prophets were people who predicted the future, or who spoke things God wanted to say, like spokespeople.  As I've grown older, my notion of prophets has expanded to mean those people who disrupt our quotidian secular and economic concerns in order to remind us that love and justice may and must constrain our actions.  What could be more important than that?

Zena Reservoir and Overlook Mountain

The question I am pondering this morning: What do love and justice require of us when it comes to land ownership?  

This question is made more poignant as our state legislature is considering eliminating perpetual conservation land easements.  One argument against them is that it seems unreasonable to put limitations on future people.  We may rightly ask: can we consider those people who do not yet exist - and who therefore may never exist - as factors or agents in our moral reasoning?
Dakota prairie

And yet every time we consume a non-renewable resource we are making an irrevocable decision about what the land will yield for perpetuity.  Land easements may be one way to offset the effects of our other decisions, and they are at least reversible if the future proves them foolish.

Jarvis correctly diagnoses us: when we think about the future, frequently we are moved by fear.  Isn't that why the prince Ezekiel spoke of was tempted not to give up his land?

I also find that when I think about the future, I am also motivated by love, and that love is perhaps my strongest, my most angelic impulse.  I save, teach, build, conserve, and create for my children, and for others like them.  I may not be able to give them a better world, but I do feel - I admit it is, at its base, a feeling - that I owe them at least as good a world as I received.

Twin Falls, Idaho

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