catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 4, Num 11 :: 2005.06.03 — 2005.06.16


A time to bike, a time to drive

Last weekend, my husband and I moved closer to downtown Three Rivers into a house that sits right between my job at the church and the little shop that we run. Thanks to two brand new bikes, our car has spent significantly more time in the driveway this week than it has on the road. I ride the circuit from home to church to the store to home with a sense of satisfaction that what I?m doing is good for my body, good for the earth, good for the neighbors I greet with my bell and good for the neighborhoods I pass through. We even have grand dreams of starting a bike revolution in our small town, inspiring hundreds to trade in seatbelts for helmets and gasoline for muscle?starting with our household as we commit to bike for errands and groceries.

This transition has been a natural one to me and one that I?ve looked forward to for a long time, but my motivations are partially negative. As much as my choice is one in favor of physical and environmental health, it is also one of rebellion against the way in which we have allowed the automobile to shape our landscape and our lives. Downtown Three Rivers is living proof of the car?s effect on small town America. As soon as a major highway was built through the area in the fifties, those who could afford it headed to Kalamazoo for their necessities, where there was a wider selection of items and demand kept prices low. Local stores that had been a source of satisfaction and pride for generations closed their doors and Three Rivers became a ghost town, sustaining only a few oddity and antique shops.

My tendency is to long for a return to the ?good old days? when the center of a small town was a hub of activity and (almost) every necessity could be obtained within a few blocks from people who knew their customers by name. Why did cars have to come in and wreck everything? Not only do they pollute the air and run on non-renewable resources; they disconnect us from our neighbors and our neighborhoods.

On the other hand, our car has helped us make face-to-face visits with friends and family throughout the U.S. and Canada. Our car has transported us to important family events in the Chicago suburbs two hours away. Our car, thanks to its fuel efficiency, has made it possible for us to take many extensive trips on a limited budget. Is a car just a necessary evil?

Viewing cars strictly as a ?necessary evil? denies the need for a nuanced perspective on the automobile and the purpose it might serve in God?s Kingdom. Being reactionary against cars for the damage our dependence on them has done also damages whatever positive prophetic message we may have to offer about car choices and limits our ability to enjoy automobiles as a gift. For example, it is cars in part that will be responsible for the revitalization of our small town as vacationers from more urban areas discover the wonders of the countryside in southwest Michigan and the charm of our lovely historic downtown. Ironic, but undeniable.

Cars can serve as symbols of our excessive individualism or our careful stewardship, betraying both our aesthetic and ascetic values. That said, cars can also be deceptive as we make assumptions about a person?s core beliefs based on their mode of transportation. Story and relationship are essential components to learning together how we can be faithful drivers, evidenced in the fact that many of us delight in sharing stories about the cars we have driven. When we share and listen to stories about the amazing roads we?ve discovered, about the ways we?ve found to save money and resources, about the perfect blending of scenery and music on a road trip, we cultivate a communal appreciation of the car as a gift and a more comprehensive witness to the fact that Jesus rules the road?on two wheels and on four.

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