I've spent this week in New Hamburg, Ontario at Hidden Acres Mennonite Camp. I've been having a blast!
I have also experienced two wondrous creations of God and humanity. Two disciplined teachers. One is named Bryan Moyer Suderman of Small Tall Music and the other is named Tom Yoder Neufeld(yes, it seems the Canadian Mennonites really like taking on their spouses name and then going by all three (first, middle, last).
Both of these men have been speaking truth. While truth is very interesting, I want to tell you about what I found at Hidden Acres Mennonite Camp this past week.
I found a community of humanity and adventure. Have you ever gained a deeper vision for how to live simply by being together with a group of friends? That's what I felt this past week. Hidden Acres is utilizing some good practice in environmental stewardship. For example, they recently built a new retreat center. It cost them more than $1 Million to put up. After having it, their electricity bill went from $16,000 to $18,000 - that's only $2,000 more/year! Part of it is because they don't have a dishwasher in the whole facility & a lot of it is because of the extreme insulation and geothermal heat.
The lack of dishwasher adds to another one of their distinctives. We were able to form a special community together over the week in part because we all took turns washing dishes after meals. Work tends to bring people together. Our community forming happened also through taking off our shoes! They encourage people to take off their shoes when they enter a building and put on their slippers. We all brought slippers because they told us to. This keeps things clean, requiring less time and energy on the vacuum (and floor buffing and new floors later down the road).
You see, not only do these quirky, unique ideas help us build relationships and shared experiences, they represent an alternative way to live. Let's think about the dish washing. They have two, three-bay sinks. So, there were six of us washing dishes (two drying and two wiping down tables and floors). Those six bays were filled once or twice depending on how dirty the plates were (2-3 gallons/sink = 12-18 gallons). I expect a dishwasher would use more water than this old-fashioned method and definitely more electricity for the 60 place settings we were washing each meal (especially when you consider that most of the heat for the hot water comes from the heat of the earth!).
So the alternative route in this case is saving us energy and water and giving us a reason to talk, an experience to share while cutting down on consumption of resources. We don't think that way right now. We tend to evaluate processes based on their efficiency of time (or resulting cash profit). Which is good. But, can we think about our use of resources in more ways than just how much time it saves? For example, we drive a car, alone from our house to work when there might be a bus or train. And we'll say, sure, it might consume less resources to take the train that is already running but I have to get their early or, I don't want to be restricted by the schedule of the bus. What if we could email on our laptop or read through that report etc. while we were on the train or bus? What if you could catch up on your voicemails or podcasts while in transit. It's very well used time then, no longer wasted.
Sometimes I have driven from my house to camp a few times in a day. I've done this to "save time." Then later in the day, I'll go home and work out like I try to do at least four times/week... go for a run, lift weights, something like that. Interestingly, I could have walked 3 miles already if I had just walked from my house to the office rather than driving. My exercise would already be done and I wouldn't have used an extra gallon of gas in the process of getting to and from work.
Going back to the dishwasher - when it was my turn to wash the dishes, I had mixed emotions... in part because I wanted to still be sitting at the table sipping coffee, in part because I wanted to be reading my email. Interestingly, when I was done washing the dishes (10 minutes later) I was energized from a conversation I had and the joy of working together with friends. I grabbed a cup of coffee and sat down and tore through a few emails and then went on to the evening session. I'm not sure I would have been as efficient in my emailing or even got up from sipping my coffee had I not been put into this unique system of washing dishes.
And here is what I suppose we will have to become comfortable with if we are to give ourselves over to something that seems as contrary as washing dishes at a retreat - the mystery of change. If we could bring ourselves to engage in new ways of living that were more friendly to creation, would we find more energy and savings in other places (my energy to zip through emails)? Would we find more connection to the creation and maybe even the Creator?