Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Rekabites, the Amish, and the Year of Jubilee

I bet you've never heard of the Rekabites. I've read through the Bible twice and apparently glazed over their tiny spotlight both times. But their story caught me by surprise and resonated with me this time when I chanced upon it in my random daily reading, which happened to be in Jeremiah 35 the other day.

What's noteworthy about them? Why did they get a spotlight in the first place?

They bring up at least two important ideas. One: they're not exactly Jewish, and yet God says "Jehonadab son of Rekab will never fail to have a descendant to serve me." That sounds to me like another example of a non-chosen group of people being effectively recognized by God as "saved" if you will. This is a monstrous and what feels like a flagrantly heretical idea, but this is not the main idea I want to discuss. Someday I should write a post about this idea its connection with the book Eternity In Their Hearts by Don Richardson.

The other idea that I find fascinating about these people is that they are hardcore about holding back. Their ancestor apparently told them "Don't drink wine. Don't plant crops. Don't build houses." And so they didn't. Can you imagine the kind of culture that instills in a group of people, I mean besides the part where it means they are nomads.

First off, it reminds me of the kind of respect we Vermonters accord the Amish. Wow, what relics of culture! What self-reliance! What independence! The Rekabites were holding on to cultural ideals that were at the time going out of fashion. Cultures had only probably within the last 1000 years or so at the time become agrarian, moving "forward" from being hunter-gatherers.

They remind me of Romaine Tenney, the Ascutney farmer who used animal power instead of tractors through the 1950s, never got electricity hooked up to his house, and resisted the building of high way 91.

The Rekabites remind me of Ishmael, by Daniel Quinn. Oh, you haven't read it!? Visit your local library and read it right now! In Ishmael, there's a re-interpretation of the story of Cain and Abel, which I appreciated since the sermons I had heard about that story since childhood were ummm... shall we say, unsatisfying at best. The moral of that story is usually, "give your best to God. If you don't he won't be satisfied." But how do we get that from the story? How are we, the readers, to know that Abel's gift of the fat from livestock would be more acceptable to God than "fruits of the soil"? Ishmael proposes that this story is actually a warning for the non-agrarian Jewish people against increasing cultural pressure (read raiding and pillaging cultures) that were agrarian. And that somehow God was more pleased with the sheep herder than the grain grower. Here again, we have the Rekabites probably tending herds, but not planting crops, and God is pleased with them.

This all funnels towards the idea of a year of Jubilee. I mean, come on. I'm not going to change my lifestyle back to one of hunting and gathering. Though I will confess the Roots School may empower me to do that. But there's this other idea in the Bible about a year of Jubilee as described in Leviticus 25, which feels slightly (though perhaps only slightly) more feasible. "The fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you; do not sow and do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the untended vines. 12 For it is a jubilee and is to be holy for you; eat only what is taken directly from the fields." Ok, I'll confess this seems contradictory to me. How do you eat what is taken directly from the fields without "harvesting untended vines". Perhaps the difference is in the word "harvest" there's an idea that you're not "storing up" anything. This is exactly the idea proposed in Ishmael, an idea lived out by indigenous cultures around the globe. Why should they plant crops when the forest is already full of food? What a lifestyle! Sit around creating art and music and when you're hungry, just go to the fields and pick something tasty. It's like the whole natural world is one large refrigerator. You probably don't believe me, but it's true, and you can learn about how to eat from the natural refrigerator from the Wisdom of the Herbs class on Wild Edibles.

The only difference is it's a refrigerator where we don't directly control what's in it.

People used to live this way. My ancestors, western caucasians as they were, used to live this way if you go far back enough, and it's almost as if God wants us to remember that way of life. It's a lifestyle that's deeply dependent on God's provision, but also synchronized with the local ecosystem.

There also seems to be a separate idea for every seventh year, like a mini-Jubilee. "You may ask, “What will we eat in the seventh year if we do not plant or harvest our crops?” 21 I will send you such a blessing in the sixth year that the land will yield enough for three years." It seems as those God also wants us to be skilled in the art of food preservation.

Wouldn't it be interesting to run an experiment, to try to do these things, to live for a year on preserved food, to live for a year on only that which comes directly from the fields. In all honesty, in Vermont, that seems like a skinny kind of idea - one full of deer, racoon, and squirrel for 6+ months of the year. But... I'm sure it could be done.

Zooming out from this topic slightly, I have to confess that I feel like these parts of the Bible (Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) get overlooked mainly because they're hard to apply and also pretty boring to some degree. Some might even say, "well, that was a part of the old covenant. Jesus brought the new covenant, so we don't need to follow those old rules." This is why we eat pork after all! And fair enough, I get that, but these rules were made for a reason. Pork wasn't always as safe to eat as it is now. So I look at the rest of this part of the Bible with its large-scale economic and zoning outlines, and wonder why have I never had a conversation about that in a Christian Community?
What if our national debt policy was governed by Deuteronomy 15? Where eventually all debts are canceled. Woe. That would be revolutionary.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Fracking the Future (or opting for something better)

Yesterday I went in to see the school's facility manager to talk about the school's underground oil tank. According to one study I read this tank placed the school on Vermont's hazardous waste sites. I didn't think it was being used, but our conversation when in a couple of unexpectedly places. Here's basically the gist of what I got out of that conversation:

  • We're still using that tank.
  • It can and will fail at some point.
  • When it fails it will be expensive
  • The heat planned to be delivered to the school through the District Heating project in Montpelier will not replace our oil burners.
  • If we did want to replace the oil burners with something above ground, the maximum size allowable is 250 gallons, which means a delivery once a week, and that's where all the danger comes from: the transport of oil.
  • The tank below ground now has a capacity of 12,000 gallons.
  • The tank at the elementary school has already had a leak within the last few years.

Isn't it funny how reality can be so much more complicated than it is in one's head? :) Oh dear. So I don't think I'll be leading any crusade to dig up these tanks and replace them with anything.

Among other things, Thom, the facilities guy, and I discussed how natural gas is going to largely replace oil where it hasn't already in the coming years. He said, "natural gas is going to become just disgustingly dirt cheap and will stay cheap for a long time." I believe he's probably right, and that concerns me. Anyone who's seen the documentary Gasland knows hydrofracking is shady at best. Oh man. Don't even get me started on fracking.

I'm just thankful that the VT house passed a moratorium on any new permits for fracking in the state of Vermont.

Truth be told I _really_ don't want to see us become dependent on another finite resource, a resource which, once mostly depleted, will force us to push the limits of safety to satisfy our addiction, just like we're doing now with oil. I hear that call to resist the coming attraction of natural gas also coming from Bill McKibben in a recent post on VTDigger.

I know I'll be talking to my students soon about fracking, and asking the question, "Which would you rather have: a fuel that's dirt cheap and will speed up the destruction of species, or a fuel that costs more but is renewable?" I know some of my students will either with curled smiles or straight faces say "the dirt cheap option." And they may mean it. Heck, who isn't completely self-centered when they're 17? ... ok, I know quite a few generous 17 year-old souls, but still. How will I get them to see the more generous side? How can I get them to think beyond their wallets?

I could go all game theory on them. What's good for the whole is ultimately what's good for the individual in some cases. This is one of them.

I may also just have them do some writing based on a quote from Dumbledore (found here):
Dark and difficult times lie ahead. Soon we must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy.
Albus Dumbledore
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

Perhaps it will feel like Sunday school, but I don't mind that. I think I may just do both of these things, because I don't think this lesson can be taught enough. Certainly, I am still learning it.