I introduced and biblically grounded this invitation in a series of essays in 2014: “Creation as Perfect Context through Limits (Genesis 1)” (September 30), “Respecting Vital Limits: Other Species and Their Habitats” (October 1), “First Step away from Electricity: Abandoning the Gods for Jesus” (October 2), “Vital Limit: Carrying Capacity” (October 4), and “Vital Limit: Solar Income” (October 6).
On the basis of those essays, we may now say—three lost years later—that Jesus continues to invite us to witness more clearly to him through two profound movements. The first is repenting of our unthinking devotion to the six conventional but destructive gods of Olympianity.
To repent of our devotion to these gods, we must also repent of our participation in the Global Technological System (GTS) which we human beings, Christians and churches included, have been building these past 250 years in our delirious devotion to them. That, in turn, means abandoning those two foundations of the GTS: electricity and motor vehicles.
I know this sounds both shocking and ridiculous, but consider: Yahweh called Abraham, and with that call began a special history of walking with a chosen people, almost 4,000 years ago. In striking contrast, the commercial production of electricity began only in 1870; of cars, in 1890. Our history as people of God, then, has largely been one without electricity and cars.
The second movement to which Jesus invites us is the profound, challenging, but joyful one of actually developing a way of living that nurtures and protects the local creational context with which Jesus graciously blesses us and seeks to bless through us. This second movement means getting—individually as Christians and communally as churches—much closer to the land (a biblical term which includes the hills, valleys, soil, rocks, water, plants, and animals of our local ecosystem). It means getting close enough to the land that our relationship with it is no longer mediated by the GTS.
Such a movement back to the land is not unique to our time. It has recurred throughout history.
Such movements are usually motivated by self-interest: previous urban alternatives collapsed. There was a widespread return to the land, for example, following the collapse of the western half of the Roman Empire. During the major wars of the 20th century, different governments encouraged their citizens to plant “victory gardens” on their property to feed themselves and free greater supplies of food for the troops.
While our motivation as Christians is based, in part, on the reality that the GTS is both parasitic and collapsing, our greater desire is to witness more clearly to the truth, freedom, love, and vitality that are ours through Jesus Christ. Living in ways which nurture nature do that better.
One crucial element in hugging the land is learning much more about it. We Christians and prophetic mission groups need to become the local experts on our local ecosystems. That means committing ourselves to understanding even a small fraction of the almost infinite variety of creatures who surround us and how they dynamically interact with us and one another during the changes of the seasons. We need to learn how to work with the rest of creation, rather than against it, in mutually enhancing relationships.
We might learn what wild plants are edible and what limits we should observe when harvesting them. We will certainly learn more about the land by hiking and camping lightly on it than by sitting in front of our TVs and computers—or even parking our RV in the middle of the woods.
We will also need to know what plants we can grow and animals we can raise and how to do both in ways which are healthy for us, our plants and animals, and the land. We need to relearn, as churches, how to be an agrarian society of smallholders. We need to recreate an economy of subsistence farmers—relying on ourselves and our local community for all the basic necessities of life. This means studying ways of living, especially local ones, which existed up to around 1800 (just before commercially viable railroads).
I’m not suggesting a slavish imitation of the past nor that it was some golden age. Subsistence farmers in the past routinely treated their neighbors and the land poorly. The germ theory really didn’t gain widespread acceptance until well into the 20th century and I’m all for carrying it forward. Studying the past, however, will provide us with a clearer sense of local possibilities and limitations as well as lessons in how we might hug the land now.
All this crucial learning points to the need we face of creating parallel organizations. We need to begin with schools or, better, communal learning cooperatives. Homeschooling is a start. In public schools, our children learn much about dinosaurs. As happy as this might be, we need to learn about local animals first and much more thoroughly. With all we’ve got to do, we may never get to T. Rex and that would be okay.
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