I AM and you will be

sermon on John 11:6-8, 14-27, 32-50


Life and death, death vs. life. It’s the defining struggle. And this is a crucial moment.

The narrative of Jesus’ life obviously is accentuated as we get to Holy Week—from Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, to Good Friday and on into Easter—and we live in realtime through the final week of Jesus’ life. Today’s story happens not long before that, maybe just a few weeks before the end.

Yet it’s halfway through the Gospel of John. That interesting note is not unusual to John, that half of the story of Jesus is this stuff right at the end. He lived for somewhere over three decades, but most of what we relate to are these final moments of his life.

John tells today’s story as a crucial moment, a turning point, causing the lead-up to the end. This is the final major sign of Jesus, and is the final of the I AM statements we hear in our series, and it all points toward his death. But also, then, to life. Those two ends challenge each other intensely.

Let’s start at the beginning and find our way forward, from death into life. The story started while Lazarus was ill but alive, with the detail that Jesus waited to go to him, two more days. He then arrived four days after Lazarus had already died.

In the story, this emphasizes that Jesus isn’t working mere bits of resuscitation, putting a bandage on or a small cure. His healing is for wholeness. God’s work is best made known, Jesus indicates, by him not being there in this case.

There’s no reason to take that detail as more broadly applicable. It isn’t that Jesus doesn’t care about wellness in smaller ways. It’s not that God refuses to help until things have gotten to be so bad that only a miracle would matter. It’s not that Jesus ignores everybody in need, failing to show up for a few days. No, that’s not God’s normal practice or standard operating procedure, but just a revealing detail here to highlight the larger truth.

So Lazarus is dead.

Thomas rightly observes that going with Jesus back to Jerusalem will mean more death. By the end of today, it’s clearer than ever that that’s what’s in store for Jesus. But he goes anyway, goes to the sisters of the dead man (as Lazarus is called in the story, to reinforce the difficult fact).

With one sister, Jesus talks theology. They have a mini-Bible study to help her faith. She is able to look past the dreadful present circumstances toward something more, toward hope.

The other sister, not so much. She only weeps. Jesus doesn’t try to lecture her or offer explanation, to whitewash over it and say everything will be okay. Instead, he weeps with her.

That’s the kind of Jesus many of us first need in such moments, not a distracting from our grief but dwelling in it with us, in empathy. I try to practice that myself when I’m met with tears, not to explain away, but to reside in the sorrow with the person. It’s not about right answers and certainly not just to cheer them up. It’s recognizing the validity of sorrow, and sharing it.

Of course it can’t end there, though. A Jesus who only was compassionate could be consoling but wouldn’t offer anything to end the sadness. We need more from him, especially in the face of death.

So he continues to the tomb of the dead man and calls him out. The unbinding and letting him go isn’t only about unhitching the fasteners on Lazarus’ coffin, but is about freeing him for life, taking away the deadly confines so he may be released back to live fully and abundantly, as it’s supposed to be.

In that way, the next time Lazarus appears in the story is at the family supper table, restored to his place with his sisters, to companionship and camaraderie, to the nourishing of life, to support each other.

If this were a fairy tale, we could arrive at that conclusion and say “they all lived happily ever after.” The good guy faced overwhelming odds, but somehow saved the day. Death was vanquished. Loving relationships were restored.

But this is not a fairy tale. This is the reality of our world. Life was endangered. But death was not the end. But life will not yet be the end, either. Lazarus is raised, brought back to life. And yet death will not give up so quickly. No sooner is Lazarus out of the grave than the authorities confirm their resolve to put Jesus into a grave. They argue it’s better to have one man die. The logic of scapegoating abounds, but is never so finely tuned as it claims to be. Within a few verses, they’ll have discovered that Lazarus is a popular attraction, so they’ll also want to get rid of him, too. The cycle of violence can never be satisfied with one death, but keeps churning through more victims, and fails anyway to add authentic life for those who are caught up in it and perpetuate it. It’s a vicious rhythm that needs to be broken.

So it stands that Jesus meets death with life while the world responds over and over by obstructing life with death.

Looking for other models around us of this perpetual pattern, I’d suggest not to presume to look outside as spring emerges. The back and forth of seasons can mischaracterize summer as life and winter as death. Since it’s God’s good creation, we should better see winter also as part of God’s work for life, not a separation from it. Always in creation, God is striving to bring life from death, newness from where there was nothing.

We may look elsewhere for the meeting of life and death, where our creative God is bringing life from death, even while the world tries to counter with more deadliness and destruction.

In these weeks, probably a clearest portrait is in school classrooms, places of life, of learning, of growth. We should recognize God’s work there, because caring and sharing of knowledge, discovering our place in the world, nurturing talents, assisting the little ones—this work of teachers and students is the work of God giving life.

We’ve witnessed again as that was countered with death, as a school for fostering life was met with bullets and all classrooms became filled with fear. Death trying to take the place of life.

But the students stood up on the side of life. We heard from our own young people last Sunday that this has gone on too long, that enough is enough, that it needs to change. Students paused Wednesday to grieve 17 deaths, and then walked out to demand that their lives be valued and supported. That is godly striving for life over death.

We’ll see whether that specific struggle for life can be sustained, or whether it is squelched and death again tries to prevail as authorities ignore young people and discourage them, indirectly and directly harming their liveliness.

We notice the pattern in other places, that roads are for fostering our connections and vocations, but news of a bridge collapse brings death, and so godly striving would lead to improved infrastructure spending and well-studied engineers and safer streets.

Or that weather patterns provide for life on this globe, but hurricanes enflamed by climate change bring devastation, but God responds for life through noisy offerings for relief efforts and striving to mitigate the worst of global warming’s disastrous effects.

Or I reflect on how 15 years ago I was an intern preaching against invading Iraq, that the “shock and awe” of our God isn’t about violence against enemies but persistently and quietly and even now is for life and freedom.

Or this is also in gradual gains against nuclear threats; in the hope of North Korea talks, God works life over death.

Or God’s work as protecting life-giving water sources and wetlands against perils from pollution or short-term profit.

Or in hard family conversations to talk through difficulties: that is God working through death for life.

We notice God’s work for life over death even within our own bodies, of God’s constant renewal in healing your injuries, in expanding your possibilities, continuing to create you anew within each cell and with every breath. It may seem as you age and feel decrepit and wearing out and await a looming funeral that death will have the final word, but then especially we look to God’s promise of life.

See, we may notice this struggle everywhere and always. But it’s not in the individual cases of whether life can conquer death. We are all Lazarus and Jesus is always Jesus. So we trust the outcome, even though we somehow wind up acting like we don’t know the end of the story. We pretend like there’s still a question of whether godly life will finally be able to overcome death. Or we dismally forget and declare with news stories and our sad days that life has lost.

And this time of year in church may even tempt us that way further, to doubt by pretending we don’t know the end. As the authorities threaten Jesus, we figure again the nastiest powers and biggest bullies will always get their way. Bittersweet Palm Sunday cheers a king who will be killed, executed before the week is out. Good Friday feels like the most emotional day of the church year. At Easter two weeks from now, we feign surprise at resurrection, (if it even matters,) as if we didn’t expect Jesus to rise from the grave and thought death does rule and life might not win, that God had been beaten, that the victory was not for us.

But we know the end of this story. Like a favorite movie, we may still be moved as it continues on, still be swept up in the action. We know the struggle is real. We still take time to grieve together. We weep at death. But we also laugh in its face, because we know the end. We know Alleluias are waiting to burst forth. We know tears will be wiped away. We know it is not just Lazarus who will be restored, but all our relationships, all our fractured pains healed, all creation renewed.

I AM the resurrection and the life”—yes, we know this, Jesus. You are always and fully life for us.

We trust it.

We remember it.

We celebrate it.

We already live, alive, freed from what would bind us, freed from what confines us, freed to live abundantly, ceaselessly, boldly with love.

We are called out from death.

And we keep living into it, now and forever.


Hymn: The Word of God is Source and Seed (ELW 506)


The ins & outs

sermon on John 10:1-18, 22-33; Psalm 23


In a disturbing line of thought, I’ve spent the week contemplating the worst thing to bring to church, the most heretical or anti-religious, the greatest abomination, least fitting our theology.

For example, as we’re preparing to update building use policies, including re-examining how we open our doors to our community and neighbors as part of our ministry, my old guideline joke for groups using the space is a hypothetical restriction of asking whether they are going to use the sanctuary to sacrifice goats.

I had not actually been contemplating slaughtering livestock in here today. But have been thinking along those lines, trying to figure out marks that would so clearly indicate this is not our church, not our religion, wrongs which would offend our sense of God or damage our spiritual practice.

Interestingly, obvious symbols of other religions wouldn’t seem to step over our line here. We’re more likely eager to engage interfaith dialogue, and so not be disturbed by a star of David, or representation of the Prophet Muhammed, or yin yang, or totem pole.

Not exactly a religious image but one thing I believe disturbs the core of our religious identity is an American flag in the sanctuary. I believe that is a confusion of devotion, not so much about blurring church and state, but “God bless America” falsely associating the actions of this country with some sort of divine imperative as aligned with God’s will, but a restrictive, diminished view of God’s abundant life-giving.

To admit the other side, though, I had long discussions with a beloved shut-in who was a World War 2 veteran who understood the flag to be a sign of sacrifice and love, united against suffering and evil. He had lived through stronger clarity of that symbol. So even if a flag would seem to me idolatrous and disruptive, I recognize the ambiguity that it could be perceived as not immediately offensive and maybe even a positive addition.

Another line of thought would be marketing—maybe a big WalMart ad or Exxon or something. With capitalism, the dollar becomes “almighty,” the only time we use that term besides as for the creator of heaven and earth. Although our cash asserts that “In God we trust,” usually what we trust most to save us are those financial reserves and not the fiduciary trust in God.

Still, that’s also ambiguous, because momentarily we will practice in our offerings not using money for selfish gain or greedy retention, but releasing and sharing it intentionally as a subsidiary tool for God’s purposes.

I next considered bringing in a Forward Motion W and marching around in a Bucky Badger costume. That might cut a little closer in terms of questioning our devotion. It’s harder at the height of a good season to raise questions of allegiance to sports teams, or to observe our dedication to them as the focal point of our day of rest.

If not that as shocking or contradictory to faith, then I could’ve brought a gun, an assault rifle. Maybe that’s opposed with a sense that our faith should be about safety and security, where that would seem to promote fear. Or that God is the giver of life, but we see weapons as taking away God’s gift by killing. Or that it’s disparaging and dismissive of what are youth were asking of us earlier this morning.

Or I could’ve brought blatant symbols of racism.

Or something against our welcome as a Reconciling in Christ congregation.

Or that is domineeringly patriarchal.

Maybe you have more ideas for this crazy notion I’ve been contemplating.

But for now let’s notice an interesting adaptation or change in churches in fairly recent history: the change from orthodoxy to orthopraxy. The central focus is no longer on right belief but right actions, not directly on who God is but on what we do.

The central arguments dividing the church these days (including splits in the past decade in the ELCA) have become ethical questions. Unlike previous centuries and millennia, it is not who has the ability to be your pastor, if you get to drink wine at communion, what the words of our hymns proclaim, much less how Jesus is fully God and fully human or who goes to heaven or whether the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son as well as the Father.

You may hardly care about such questions and may write them off as irresolvable and, so, silly disputes. You may not like to say the old major ecumenical creeds because they feel too confining for your belief. Where today’s new creed has some emphatic words about our stances, there’s little in there arguable about God. * Yet these had been huge battlegrounds, splitting churches, splitting families, even splitting entire continents—and that’s fights just within Christian theology.

Okay. So what? I regularly invite you to follow these circuitous routes with me, but this likely feels worse.

So: as Jesus says “I AM the gate. I AM the good shepherd,” there’s some of this abominable ungodly question lurking around the edge.

This is the feast of Hanukkah, the feast of the re-dedication of the temple. For history: about two centuries before Jesus, the Greek Seleucid emperor Antiochus IV wanted to show his control, so he got rid of the high priest in the temple and sold the position to a guy who gave up his Jewish name and took the Greek name Jason (a little indicator he wasn’t all that interested in preserving holy and faithful practice).

Also for name changes, that emperor added for himself the title “Epiphanes.” It might ring in your ear as sounding a like Epiphany, and that’s exactly right. We use the word for how Jesus is revealed or made known to us as bearing God’s presence. But at that point in the story, the emperor declared it of himself, calling himself the revelation of God. God made manifest.

To grind that in a notch more, he built a new altar inside the temple to sacrifice to a statue of Zeus. A bad dose of mixing politics and religion, this desecration of the temple was understood to ruin the holy presence, eliminating it from serving as the place to approach God. Not only was it breaking commandments against worshipping a graven image, but even more abominably was for the wrong, false god, not making offerings to the true God.

Jewish believers fought for years to reclaim the temple from this “desolating sacrilege,” and finally the Maccabees were able to overcome the idolatry, to restore right worship, to re-purify and re-dedicate the temple to God. That’s what Hanukkah commemorates.

And what makes it so intriguing as Jesus is in the temple during this festival—what makes the people in the story say it’s keeping them in suspense—is an ambivalence of which side he might be on. He’s claiming to reveal God’s presence. So is he in line with his Jewish heritage, or is he idolatrous and heretical like the emperor? As the story’s tensions continue to multiply, this brings the question of blasphemy against Jesus, of claiming too much godliness for himself, an abomination which would mean he should be expelled and stoned, put to death in order to protect the other believers, even though he’s claiming he does protect them.

Partly, then, I raise this to remind us faith is serious business. If we disregard it or try to equalize all distinctions, we dishonor those who have been willing to sacrifice their lives, and also dishonor and disrespect God, failing to hold God as what we fear, love, and trust above all else. We might ask, where is our commitment and devotion? How is this so important for us that we’d give up our life?

But also, oddly, it invites us to live in the ambivalence. We have this peculiar faith that identifies God with a human being; the almighty with a lowly peasant; the holy and righteous one of justice who might be a lawbreaker, a dangerous criminal; the everliving and eternal one as crucified, dead, and buried; the infinite as dwelling in a particular time and place. Again, how is it that I AM, the God of the temple, the God inherently identified with Jewish history and people and practice, is somehow claimed by us here?

When Jesus says “I AM the gate. I AM the good shepherd,” it’s accentuated. He specifically says that he won’t qualify insiders, as if he’s ruling out both orthodoxy and orthopraxy in saying that he has other sheep who aren’t part of this flock. As gate, he seems willing to let in anybody, as long as it’s for the sake of sustaining life.

We have to hold some skepticism and ambivalence for faith and the promise of life that must be taken on trust, that remains unseen and not exactly verifiable. There’s something about this practice that is supposed to offend. It’s not just to afflict the comfortable, but that we come to church in order to have our routines disrupted, our preconceived notions interrupted, our prejudices redefined, our faults clearly seen but also to enliven our better selves, to have our sense of God reoriented. We’re guided, corralled, shepherded (we may say) through the dark valleys. Which leads us to a place where we find ourselves at a table with our enemies, and the hard practice of love.

So we remain skeptical and on the edge of offense for an abominable faith that welcomes those outsiders, that is willing to ignore rules and propriety and best practices, that even extends constant forgiveness to those who so clearly don’t deserve it—the abusers and offenders and takers of life, a faith that pursues as worthy to reclaim the lost and forsaken, and insists on the dignity of those we’d been told to write off, a faith that offers grace and blessing and resources for life to those who have done so little to earn them, that doesn’t claim inherent goodness for the happy and healthy and wholesome and doesn’t reward the successful, but demands you help the outcast and the poor and the hungry, and give them also a spot to share the refreshing waters. Heck, this is a club that’s even willing to have You as a member. Do you really want to be part of such a despicable organization? Do you really want to be associated with a God like this?


A postscript: So the thing about this sermon is that I believe all that was faithful and vital as God’s word for you. But I finished working on it and have been feeling a need for a second entirely different sermon and word from God. Here it is: if you are feeling lost and confused, struggling in life, very truly Jesus tells you nothing will snatch you from his grasp, ever. You’re held in his arms.

Amen and amen.


Hymn: Gather Us In (ELW 532)

* from The Iona Abbey Worship Book

We believe that God is present
in the darkness before dawn;
in the waiting and uncertainty
where fear and courage join hands,
conflict and caring link arms,
and the sun rises over barbed wire.

We believe in a “with-us” God
who sits down in our midst to share our humanity.

We affirm a faith that takes us beyond a safe place:
into action, into vulnerability, and onto the streets.

We commit ourselves to work for change and put ourselves on the line; to bear responsibility, take risks, live powerfully, and face humiliation;
to stand with those on the edge; to choose life
and be used by the Spirit for God’s new community of hope.  Amen


I AM in you

sermon on John 14:1-20


There’s a scene in the movie “Three Amigos” where these three clueless, doofy white Hollywood actors walk into a Mexican cantina. The bartender whispers a message to Steve Martin’s character, named Lucky Day: “The German says, Wait here.” Lucky looks thoughtful, nods carefully, and remains thoroughly confused. Because it’s not a message for him. It’s for an arms dealer, not a pampered playful actor. He couldn’t possibly know what that message meant.*

This might be your Lucky Day, having-your-own-Three-Amigos-kind-of moment. The reading says you know where Jesus is going as he prepares a place for you. Hearing that message, I can see you looking thoughtful, nodding carefully, and remaining confused. You don’t know where he’s going, what it means, do you?

At least you’ve got the benefit of hindsight, while within the story, the followers of Jesus must’ve been baffled. As we hear the words of Jesus talking about going away and coming back, we might figure out from context clues that this is on the night in which Jesus is betrayed. In the previous chapter, after he washed feet and loved and served, Judas, who betrayed him, went out into the night to fetch authorities to arrest Jesus. In less than 24 hours, he’ll be dead. But on the third day, we happen to know that Jesus will have risen from the dead. So we might be able to piece together that when Jesus talks about going away and coming back, it might relate to crucifixion and resurrection. Thomas and Philip and the rest of the amigos would’ve had little clue that Jesus could be meaning this.

Maybe you’re able to nod your head a bit more confidently. You might recognize this message as slightly less cryptic and confusing than you first thought, with some vague sense of what’s going on here…Except the stuff of “I AM the way, the truth and the life, and nobody comes except through me” and Thomas saying “We don’t know where in the heck you’re going, so how in blazes can we know the way?”

I adapted Thomas’s language there a bit. I started out with it just to sound silly, but realized it can point to our usual interpretation of this passage. But this mysterious message from Jesus actually insists we redefine our understandings and outlook.

We mostly take this as being about heaven. Jesus says his Father’s house has many rooms. At a funeral, you may have heard Jesus going to prepare a place as sort of the equivalent of him getting your heavenly condo ready, as a turndown service to leave a mint on the pillow, so your accommodations will be set when you get to heaven.

That’s often accompanied by a notion that Jesus is your only ticket to heaven, that if you want to get there, then you need Jesus. This passage gets used not only as a gentle assurance that insiders have someplace good to go afterlife, but also used as a cudgel to whack outsiders and threaten they’ll be left out, to exclude entire religions as unable to get into heaven. It makes Jesus into a bouncer at the heavenly hotel, waving his amigos past the velvet rope, but rejecting the bad hombres and, in the severest interpretations, telling them that not only are they not welcome, that there’s no place prepared for them, but pointing them instead to the blazing fires of hell as their eternal abode.

That’s nasty. But it’s also a sloppy reading of this passage. It claims to understand a secret message from Jesus to mean that if you don’t understand the secret message, you’ll be damned. That gets it wrong, and exactly violently wrong.

To start, I notice that almost all the time the Bible refers to the Father’s house, or the house of the Lord, or God’s house it is talking about…the temple. Not heaven. That’s also the case for the one other time the Gospel of John uses the phrase “my Father’s house” as Jesus is cleansing the temple.

As we’ve been reminded in these weeks, the point in the Gospel of John is that Jesus has replaced the temple. If that was the place where you could go to meet God, to be on the Father’s turf, to be chez Pere, now we look to Jesus to meet God, to understand God, to have God revealed for us.

Of course, that’s part of what Jesus reiterates in this passage—that when you’ve seen him, you’ve seen God. To know the Son is to know the Father. There is no separate surprise waiting behind the curtain. What you need to know, you get from Jesus already.

Further, when Jesus describes himself as the place to meet God, it’s not something we’re waiting for. It isn’t post-mortem when your soul flies to the sky. John’s Gospel says eternal life already begins now in this relationship. Other Gospels similarly recognize the kingdom of heaven is present now, breaking into our earthly realm. You already are able to dwell with God.

A vital characteristic of the term “dwelling places” is that this isn’t isolated reserved space, but that it ties to the verb remain, “remaining places,” like we heard last week amid the reflection of I AM the vine and you are the branches as remain or “abide in my love.” You see, this is less a physical space than a mode of existence. The dwelling place isn’t elsewhere; the dwelling place is in you, and you in him! The abundant place Jesus prepares is to abide, remain, dwell, live in his love, you and all the amigos. Not because you discerned the cryptic message and figured out a roadmap, but because the whole point is to welcome you in. That’s what the way of Jesus does.

That leads back to the confusion about I AM the way, the truth, and the life. It’s exactly the opposite of some general domineering view that this is a “my way or the highway” kind of way, that God shuts the door on you if you don’t agree. Rather, Jesus is inviting you into his abundant love and life. Finding a place in Jesus is never an exclusive hierarchy, but is for sharing love. There’s no discouraging backside threat to this encouragement of “don’t let your hearts be troubled.”

Yet that clearly subverts any usual expectations our society has. If Jesus is talking about life on the night before he dies, we could be skeptical whether his way is the right and true way. We might figure our survival instinct would point us away from such a path.

Such resistance to it also shows when Jesus argues with Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor with power to execute him, who is so confused he asks, “what is truth?” and who can’t see that the kingdom of Jesus could be different than earthly kingdoms. Pilate is stuck in the lies and falsehoods of his authority: that might makes right, that the way to peace is through violence, that the strongest and biggest must be best.

But the way of Jesus subverts that. His way of offering himself in love and laying down his life cannot be understood by empire. Those fixated on appearances and stature will never be able to grasp it. It is not what ads claiming to have the way to happiness and longevity can truly offer. It cannot be marketed and it cannot be commanded. It feels questionable because it defies our norms of success, and so is risky. This way of suffering love, dying for others, loving to the end is not the way this world rules.

But it is the way of life because it is the way of God. That is what Jesus is saying here: if you want to see God, look at the love that gives itself away, that doesn’t selfishly insist on its own presumed best interests. That is how you’ll know God, as Jesus goes to the cross to confront oppressions of violent authorities, a nonviolent resistance, a force more powerful than the biggest military in the world, of love that cannot finally be killed, God’s enduring work.

That is how Jesus invites you to live at every turn—not clinging selfishly and not to give in to hate, not persuaded it’s better to avoid getting your hands dirty, not to imagine that it’s about having everything you ever wanted, but to wade into the threatening lies, able to risk your wellbeing for the sake of others, to take pain and sorrow in order to transform it, to bear wounds to heal.** Jesus says that’s what he’s doing and that’s how you’ll truly find life, and that can never be taken away.

Now, clearly there are major ways such sacrificial love is needed around us, to keep breaking into our world. It’s needed when we figure we can take away from those on welfare. It’s needed against claims that our wellbeing is damaged by those with other religions or skin colors or nations of origin. It’s needed when we would extract life from natural environments around us and dispose of them as expendable resources. It’s needed when deadly weapons and militarized budgets come at the cost of life. For the true good, for real life that God intends, that is when we need to give up our comfort and alleged safety for this greater good.

But it’s also abundant in smaller moments. This way of Jesus is daily lived out as you practice caring and sharing in your family, when you set aside your selfish desires, when you take time to listen, when you examine your budget for how it can help others, when hear Aldo Leopold’s land ethic,*** when you prepare to resist immigrations police, when you take your turn, when you pause to help, when you teach and clean and serve and observe and on and on.

It shouldn’t be surprising, that for all the dominance of violent power and selfish tenacity, that this way of God is pervasive and all around us. After all, it’s part of what Jesus promises you—that his works will amplify. It happens increasingly, as he also promises he won’t abandon you to this practice by yourself, because you are his amigos in love. He remains in you. God dwells in you. The Holy Spirit abides in you. You have become part of God’s spreading efforts. It wasn’t only once long ago, since you bear that presence now, as heaven continues breaking into this world. And through all the struggles you are embodied also to say “I AM the way, the truth, and the life.”

There’s really no secret in that. But there’s still a lot to discover.





* https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zh7eAG2jJkA

** see Henri Nouwen, The Living Reminder: Service and Prayer in Memory of Jesus Christ, p25

*** From the Foreword to “A Sand County Almanac,” finished 70 years ago today:

There are some who can live without wild things, and some who cannot. These essays are the delights and dilemmas of one who cannot.

Like winds and sunsets, wild things were taken for granted until progress began to do away with them. Now we face the question whether a still higher ‘standard of living’ is worth its cost in things natural, wild, and free. For us of the minority, the opportunity to see geese is more important than television, and the chance to find a pasque-flower is a right as inalienable as free speech.

These wild things, I admit had little human value until mechanization assured us of a good breakfast and until science disclosed the drama of where they come from and how they live. The whole conflict thus boils down to a question of degree. We of the minority see a law of diminishing returns in progress; our opponents do not. …

We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect. There is no other way for land to survive the impact of mechanized man, nor for us to reap from it the esthetic harvest it is capable, under science, of contributing to culture.

That land is a community is the basic concept of ecology, but that land is to be loved and respected is an extension of ethics. That land yields a cultural harvest is a fact long known, but latterly often forgotten.

These essays attempt to weld these three concepts. Such a view of land and people is, of course subject to the blurs and distortions of personal experience and personal bias. But wherever the truth may lie, this much is crystal-clear: our bigger-and-better society is now like a hypochondriac, so obsessed with its own economic health as to have lost the capacity to remain healthy. The whole world is so greedy for more bathtubs that it has lost the stability necessary to build them, or even to turn off the tap. Nothing could be more salutary at this stage than a little healthy contempt for a plethora of material blessings.

Perhaps such a shift of values can be achieved by reappraising things unnatural, tame, and confined in terms of things natural, wild, and free.


Aldo Leopold

Madison, Wisconsin

4 March 1948