Dedicated to Candace Bass

Coming back from France has taken some adjustments. Nothing one could call “culture shock,” but in a minimal sense it is.  In France, Jordan and I functioned for 10 months without a vehicle.  In the Mid West, this is close to impossible, but with the advantage of organized, French public transportation we abandoned the car completely.  And we loved it.  Of course there were moments we longed to hop into a car and speed off in the direction of our choosing, or wave mockingly at the people waiting for the next 20 minutes for the tram.  Instead, we lived small.  Close became a necessity and preference.  Still, it wasn’t until our return to the U.S. that we put our finger on exactly what we loved, and what was therefore tearing us apart as we started to readopt the car.  

After spending a month driving what, for many, are short distances (St. Louis to Columbia, St. Charles to St. Louis, and St. Louis to Joplin) Jordan and I felt like chained, caffeine users.  The inescapable traffic, the careless drivers, and the feeling of warping from place to place in an isolated box of metal.  As I began reading David Janzen’s The Intentional Christian Community Handbook, he describes the car as, “the great agent of identity and opportunity,” and then stating shortly after it is also responsible for shattering our lives into “distant and dissonant fragments,” removing us from space in order to save time. Thus, millions of people isolate themselves from their surroundings in order to get from here to there quicker.  They rush through the spaces around them unable to smell, feel, or speak with those around them (be real: most people drive with their windows up and if someone is trying to talk to you at a stoplight, there is already the sense of them intruding into your world of music, A/C, and desire to get somewhere fast).  Remove the car and what happens?  Suddenly you are forced to drastically decrease your sphere of travel.  You see the same face more than once.  You meet the person who lives a couple blocks away.  You become efficient in a new way that still includes planning, but more importantly, includes the community closest to you.  You have the opportunity to develop roots.  The theme of the last SMC meeting was rootedness, and that is what so many of us are lacking.  It’s not that we don’t want them, but instead of stretching down and increasing the depth of relationships that naturally occur through proximity, we force our roots to stretch outward through dozens, even hundreds of miles every week until we must admit they aren’t roots, they are surface level relationships with dozens of people who live so far away our overscheduled lives can’t adequately sustain them.  

So Jordan and I decided to use our car as little as possible.  We wanted to embrace the simplicity of the life we found in France, the limitedness and yet the freedom.  Truthfully, these were similiar aspects to life in the Lotus House, it just took us moving to another country to solidify those former yearnings.  Consequently, we invested in some nice bikes, wired a crate onto the back of our bikes (kudos Alden Bass), and insisted thenceforth to embrace Joplin in an ecologically friendly way that allowed us to remain in space.  Yes, time changed too.  But this is where simplifying and living simple shines.  We have kept up our daily 4.5 mile commute to the office and visited the farmer’s market last Saturday.  We haven’t abandoned the car for every trip (and that’s not what I’m advocating).  But not using it for_every_errand or inventing excuses to use a car feels good.  It feels like balance and wholeness.  It’s more simple.   

 A friend of mine was once described by her husband as simple.  When recounting the tale, she seemed offended to have received such a plain adjective.  She wasn’t called simple-minded or a simpleton, just simple.  Now, however, she has embraced this description in a truly beautiful form that allows others to see how attractive and fulfilling simple can be.  Saint Thérèse said that “the nearer we get to God, the simpler one becomes.”  

I will keep reducing, pruning, and resisting the temptation for more and faster, so that I can be called simple, too.  Because it is good to be called simple.