At some point we are going to have to give up on distance and the first step will be giving up the means of getting there—we are going to have to change our pace. I have been learning this as I have been learning to live without owning a car. Around the time oil began spewing into the Gulf of Mexico, mine broke down and I couldn’t justify buying another one. At this point I was already riding my bike or walking to work and doing my best not to drive. The death of my car gave me the opportunity to go all the way.

You Are Here: It's time to relocalize our lives.

It's time to relocalize our lives (montage: J Fowler)

The first month or so was a mix of joy and frustration. I set my bike up with a rack and saddle bags. I rode to the grocery store. I rode to work. I rode to friends’ houses for potlucks and parties. I rode the 6 miles to the school farm I help with. But I also found out how much I was dependent on a car for so many little things—a meeting across town, an errand here and there.

The process of going carless has been a process of reducing the radius of my life. I  have had to cut back on commitments that are outside of an easy bike ride. If I want to go somewhere, I have to plan to travel there at 16 miles an hour instead of 40. On a hot day I have to figure out how to deal with sweat and whether or not I’ll have a chance to change out of my sopping clothes. I do use a car from time to time when a friend offers it and biking or walking just won’t work, but these car excursions are limited due to logistical hurdles and availability.

What going carless has meant most of all is a reigning in of my desires. A car gives easy access to what we want. Ice cream? Just run down the road and get some. A new book?  Just drive to the book store and get one. With a car the energy it takes to get somewhere is externalized. But with a bike or walking I have to put forward a significant effort.  Ice cream? Why not just eat some frozen blackberries to satisfy my sweet tooth? A new book? I have more than enough to read already. If I want it, it better be worth the time and effort for a long bike ride (made unpleasant by the fact I have to share the road with cars, incidentally).

The limiting of my radius has also meant that I am rethinking my ministry. Where are the Christians in this place? What are the opportunities for ministry here? “Here” was once a radius of 30 miles. “Here” is becoming a radius of 3 miles—a radius I will know well, a circle of life I can engage in more fully than I ever could with the inhuman pace of a car.

I have not finished closing in my life to this smaller radius and I don’t yet know all of what this experiment will look like after a year or five years, but I am sure that it will lead me to a life of deeper layers rather than larger surfaces.

Not ready to give up your own car? No worries. Just limit its use. Try to live and think as if you didn’t have it. Think how much that expensive machine sits unused and share it.  Over time you’ll find you’re enjoying “here” a little more, time will be richer, you may even save some money and lose a few pounds (I sure have).

Ragan Sutterfield

Ragan Sutterfield (M.Div. Virginia Theological Seminary) is ordained in the Episcopal Church and serves a parish in his native Arkansas. is the author of 'This is My Body: From Obesity to Ironman, My Journey into the True Meaning of Flesh, Spirit and Deeper Faith', 'Cultivating Reality: How the Soil Might Save Us',and the small collection of essays 'Farming as a Spiritual Discipline'. Ragan works to live the good life in partnership with his wife Emily and daughters Lillian and Lucia.

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