Why More of Us Should Walk to Church

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.

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11 Responses

  1. Great post! I really like the quote about us being an addictive society. I think about my numerous addictions – oil (like everyone), politics (it’s a love/hate addiction), television to a degree, my iPod, and the rest. What things am I missing out on due to these addictions? Who knows.

  2. This is something to think about. The three hour block of meetings was partly a response to high gas prices. I live in a neighborhood where I see Orthodox Jews walking to their synagogue. Outside the LDS heartland but still in the countries where cars and gas are plentiful, though not necessarily cheap, walking is often not a good option. Public transportation can be an option if the Church building is reasonably convenient to a transit stop. Another option may be car pooling. Then there are places where walking is the only option.

  3. Leo,

    I’m glad you mentioned car pooling and public transportation. And I would add biking. I was actually going to mention these, but I forgot. You are definitely right that walking is not an option for many people, but there are others who have more options than they might initially realize.

  4. I should say I felt a sort of vindication when I read that article and shared it with my wife. We have three small kids and I still insist on walking the half mile to church (90 degrees or 30 degrees), often to the chagrin of my wife. I suppose it’s good I walk, but no so good I feel vindicated. I have too much of my father in me.

    Anyway, now you mention it Dennis, yours and Berry’s point extends far beyond our addiction to driving. I don’t mean to change the tone you set with your post, but add to it: our oil addiction is evident in the foods we eat as well. I’m not just talking about junk food, but cheap beef and cheap vegetables are all made possible by the petroleum used in the fertilizer that feeds the cattle and veggies that we buy from Wal-Mart.

    I did read today that 69% of our oil consumption in this country comes from transportation, so perhaps we should blame ourselves before we blame McDonalds. But I’d recommend anyone interested in being less addicted to oil to buy a bike and a transit pass, walk more, and then check out the Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan to get a better idea of how much further our addiction really goes.

  5. this is a great post, dennis! i have been pretending not to feel guilty for driving to church for quite a while now, but i hadn’t thought of myself as being addicted to driving. i TOTALLY am, as i think most americans are. this is an easy way to for me to start weaning myself. thanks for the call to action.

    honestly, though, we probably won’t start walking on sundays for a few months (it’s 120 degrees here and church starts at 11:30…much as i’m in favor of reducing oil use and lowering gas prices, i’d rather not die of heatstroke) but it’s ridiculous for us not to walk during most of the year. it just is.

    also, an early mazel tov on the baby!

  6. Isn’t it fun how one comment from another posts leads to a fabulous post all on that one thought? Great plan on how it proves a simple change in our lifestyle can enhance and improve ourselves, and make a change. Yesterday I thought of my action plan for this Sunday to make sure we walked, and smiled when I read this article this morning. Thank you!

  7. I try to walk when something is within a mile whenever I can. Sometimes, however, due to the entire trip (point A and then point b) or the time of day (2am in the morning) prevents me from walking safely. In Utah I was among those disgusted pedestrians who couldn’t figure out why everyone was driving to a church one block away. (“Heck” the parking lot required just as much of a walk as from the apartment building.)

    When I was in first grade my family lived within a mile and a half (I think) of the church building. I have some nice memories of walking through the park to church with my Dad in the springtime. (My two younger siblings being much too small to walk, Mom would drive to church, and then we’d drive home. This, of course, defeats the idea of “saving gas,” but promotes the idea of enjoying the beauty around us while walking.)

  8. […] 2. I appreciated Elder Perry’s talk about living a simplified lifestyle, in the spirit of Henry David Thoreau’s retreat from the world to live a simplified life in the woods. Perry’s talk caused me to reflect on how we live such busy and complicated lives that we fail to live in the here and now, connected with all that is around us. We fail to see that there are “tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything” (Shakespeare, As You Like It). After hearing this talk, I reflected on Wendell Berry’s words: “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” (”Out of Your Car, Off Your Horse”). (See my post on why more of us should walk to Church.) […]

  9. There’s something about it that just feels really healthy and right. I feel more prepared when I walk.

    Unless I had to run. Then I might not feel more prepared.

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