Since October 2015 I've been part of a fascinating Western Civilization course, taught by Adrian Hofer of Silverwinds Colony. The course is delivered over the Hutterian Broadband Network Interface and Interactive TeleVision system that is used for teaching our High-school students. Teachers and students are from many different colonies and can teach/take the courses right on their colony, providing their school has the necessary equipment. I really appreciated the fact that this was an evening course and I only had to walk to our school to take part, and that it has left me with a deep appreciation for world history. We started with the Ancient World and will end with The Late Middle Ages; a span of approximately 5000 years (3500 in detail), crammed into five months!!
One of our first assignments was: Choose one or more quotes from a list of Quotes on History and Civilization and write a 250 word reflective response. Here's the quote I chose along with my reflection:
“We can learn from history how past generations thought and acted, how they responded to the demands of their time and how they solved their problems. We can learn by analogy, not by example, our circumstances will always be different than theirs were. The main thing history can teach us is that human actions have consequences and that certain choices, once made, cannot be undone. They foreclose the possibility of making other choices and thus they determine future events.” - Gerda Lerne
Reflecting on how we differ from our Hutterite forebears, I sometimes wonder if we as individuals, communities or even as a church learn enough from our own history. Reading our Chronicle of the Hutterian Brethren one never gets the impression that the communities back then stored up ‘treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy’. True, they lived in a different era, where things were not so readily available, and were often persecuted, so the few possessions they owned were not so important. Still, it’s painfully obvious that our priorities have shifted as a people.
Where our forefathers were more concerned about the spiritual aspect of communal life, we in contrast seem to be focusing more on the temporal; we invest in the latest farm or kitchen equipment, beautiful spacious homes with modern conveniences like dishwashers. I often wonder, why aren’t we content with a sink and running water anymore? We have an over-abundance of everything: clothes, food, furniture, home décor accessories and a long list of personal items, such as cameras, cell phones, CD players, to name a few. It’s like we’re caught in a vicious materialism cycle; often buying needlessly from stores, garage sales, online and some of it ends up being sold on our own garage sales, online or taken to a thrift shops. Even going back about thirty years, Hutterites were the epitome of this motto: “Wear it out, make it do or do without.” Those days are all but gone.
We can argue, we owe this shift to living in a land where ‘milk and honey flows’. Which, in part, is true. However, does that mean we have to be caught up in this cycle? Can we even imagine living with less? If we believe our forefathers led exemplary lives, why then are we not following in their footsteps? They always looked to the early church for guidance, which obviously served them well. We have the Hutterites of the sixteenth century and the early church to learn from, both of which didn’t encourage materialism.
Sadly, it seems we’ve somewhat lost our vision of true Christian community where “gathering treasures of eternal value” take priority. Our forefathers left us a rich and lasting legacy. What kind of legacy are we leaving for future generations? Will the choices we make, leave beautiful imprints or permanent scars?