I hope everyone has had a chance to read Deirdre Paulsen’s excellent (short) article in this month’s Ensign, “Faith in His Step and a Song in His Heart.” Sister Paulsen tells the story of Paulo Tvuarde, a Brazilian Latter-day Saint who, out of necessity, walked 25 miles (40 km) to church each week (usually missing once a month) for at least 14 years. This required him to begin walking at 3 a.m. The story was an inspiring one for me, when I thought of Paulo and the sacrifices that he made to worship and be with his fellow saints each week.
Reading Paulo’s story also reminded me, of course, how small a matter it is that my (pregnant) wife and I have started to leave 10 minutes earlier in order to walk about a half mile to church each week. We are happy to see several other walking couples in our ward, including several with infants and toddlers. But we walkers are a very small minority in my ward and stake. (We are in a BYU married stake with nine wards that meet in the same building; our apartment is probably the average distance from the meetinghouse.)
Certainly it would not be a difficult thing for more in our stake to walk. It could hardly even be called a sacrifice for most. Rather, it would be a chance to have a nice stroll with your family and other ward members, as well as enjoy God’s creations. It would simply take a commitment to plan ahead to do so. Certainly the same can be said for many, many church members around the world (you know who you are).
This can also be an excellent thing to do if you, I don’t know, happen to be one of those people who are worried about gas prices. The gas savings might be small, but they will add up. Perhaps more importantly, you will be doing the best thing that you can do to lower gas prices — using less gas. The more responsive Americans are to rising gas prices — by using less gas — the less likely and quickly they will rise and more likely and quickly they will fall. Really, you never would guess there is a gas price problem when you see all the people who drive half a block to church!
Are we really that addicted to our cars? The fact that so many of us are driving tiny distances to church when gas costs $4 a gallon reveals that we are. We would be wise to hear what Wendell Berry, a Kentucky farmer, poet, and essayist, has to say about things like oil addiction. In his 1991 essay “The Problem of Tobacco,” Berry argues that many people are (rightfully) opposed to addictive substances like tobacco but are so distracted that they fail to see that they themselves are addicted to a lifestyle (like oil addiction) that is quite harmful to themselves, others, and the environment. These people, says Berry,
will sit in their large automobiles, spewing a miasma of toxic gas into the atmosphere, and they will thank you for not smoking a cigarette.
Berry goes on,
I’m against addiction to all things that are damaging and unnecessary…. Speed, comfort, violence, usury…. Legal drugs, too. And then there are some damaging things that are only necessary because we are addicted to them…. Petroleum. Most poisons. Automobiles….
We are an addictive society … our people are rushing from one expensive and dangerous fix to another, from drugs to war to useless merchandise to various commercial thrills, and … our corporate pushers are addicted to our addictions.
Berry is not saying that we should never drive. This of course is impossible in today’s world. But he is pointing out the dangers of being addicted to driving. And he’s making the provocative argument that it’s not only harmful to our wallets, our waists, and the environment — it’s harmful to our souls. It cuts us off from the world around us and chains us to a life of unnecessary convenience. Moreover, it lulls us away from our local communities. In his 1991 essay “Out of Your Car, Off Your Horse,” Berry explains,
Global thinking can only do to the globe what a space satellite does to it: reduce it, make a bauble of it. Look at one of those photographs of half the earth taken from outer space, and see if you recognize your neighborhood. If you want to see where you are, you will have to get out of your spaceship, out of your car, off your horse, and walk over the ground. On foot you will find that the earth is satisfyingly large and full of beguiling nooks and crannies.
Have you ever walked along a street that you often drive on and been amazed at what you notice? The people you see that might need your help? The problems you discover that might need your assistance? The creations of God that deserve your wonder? In essence, the community that you somehow have whizzed past? I certainly have, and these experiences remind me “that it is not needful … to be moving swiftly upon the waters, whilst the inhabitants on either side are perishing” (Doctrine & Covenants 61:3). They remind me, in the words of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, that
Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God:
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes.
Or gets out of his car.
Filed under: Mormon Culture, Poetry, Relationships | Tagged: addiction, automobiles, community, Deirdre Paulsen, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, exercise, gas prices, globalization, LDS, leisure, Mormon Culture, Mormons, nature, oil, oil addiction, Out of Your Car Off Your Horse, Paulo Tvuarde, The Problem of Tobacco, tobacco, walking, walking to church, Wendell Berry |