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By Michael Dougherty


Fourth Sunday in Lent
March 6, 2016


Joshua 5:9a, 10-12
Psalm 34
2 Corinthians 5:17-21
Luke 15:1-3, 11-32

On the plains of Jericho, camped at a place called Gilgal the wanderings of the 12 tribes of Israel ended. Their exodus story came to a conclusion after 40 years in the desert. A new life in the Promised Land began for the chosen people. When will we reach our promised land?

A joyful tone marks this passage in the first reading from Joshua on what we used to call Laetare Sunday. The readings of the Fourth Sunday in Lent also place us at the mid-point in our lenten journey. You can imagine Paul reading his following letter to the Corinthians in a loud, exuberant, celebratory voice. “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation.” Sins forgiven, reconciliation complete, we can truly live the lives we are called to. What stops us from doing so?

Confronted by a myriad of obstacles both local and global, our wandering continues. Here in Whitehorse, a city of up to 29,000 souls depending on which nearby outlying bedroom communities you include in the count, the daily journey for many begins with what some wags term a “rush minute” every morning. Commuters can experience big city stop and go traffic lineups as they make the couple-kilometer drive across the only two-lane bridge over the Yukon River into downtown from Riverdale, the community’s principal residential area. Often on my walk to work I enjoy catching up to the cars that had passed me moments earlier slowed to a crawl then stopped by one of our few traffic lights in the brief jam of cars.

We have known the negative facts and figures about our auto-centric lifestyle for years. Environmental benefits such as limiting climate changing greenhouse gas emissions plus lessening the multiple direct and indirect public health effects top the list of reasons for ending our car-dependent culture. Have you ever considered the gross misappropriation of over 40 per cent of the land in most urban cores to the car and car-related activities? What alternative uses could that land be put to?

Ivan Illich, priest and social critic, noted in his 1973 book Energy and Equity that “The model American male devotes more than 1,600 hours a year to his car. He sits in it while it goes and while it stands idling. He parks it and searches for it. He earns the money to put down on it and to meet the monthly instalments. He works to pay for gasoline, tolls, insurance, taxes, and tickets. He spends four of his 16 waking hours on the road or gathering his resources for it. And this figure does not take into account the time consumed by other activities dictated by transport: time spent in hospitals, traffic courts, and garages; time spent watching automobile commercials or attending consumer education meetings to improve the quality of the next buy. The model American puts in 1,600 hours to get 7,500 miles: less than five miles per hour. In countries deprived of a transportation industry, people manage to do the same, walking wherever they want to go, and they allocate only 3 to 8 per cent of their society’s time budget to traffic instead of 28 per cent.” Are there any signs of this changing?

A couple of weeks ago Whitehorse city councillors let a contract to Ride Shark, a company who runs an online app-based mobility system encouraging sustainable travel. They hope to promote ride-sharing as a partial solution to the economic, social and environmental issues associated with single occupant car use. Another positive note came with the recent release of figures for local bus ridership here showing a 50 per cent increase since 2010.

A psychological shift may also be evolving. One student at the high school I work at told me recently that she had no desire to get a driver’s license. Is she part of the trend toward “sharing” economy that is moving away from individual car ownership altogether?

Équiterre, a Montreal-based environmental group, costed out alternatives to the car. They suggest that “a person living in a large urban centre who combines multiple modes of transportation, including cycling and walking in the summer, public transportation and taxis in the winter, Communauto and interurban transport, can expect those annual costs to decrease by 50 - 75 per cent.” They hope to encourage people to wean themselves of their car dependency with this “transportation cocktail.”

Transportation, of course, represents only one aspect of our teetering global system desperately in need of transformation. In the story of the Prodigal Son, Luke shares a parable told by Jesus. It speaks of profligacy and forgiveness, anger and abiding love. We hear how the squandering of resources brings ruin on a young man. Looking around us, isn’t it impossible to avoid seeing how unthinking consumption sparked by unbridled capitalism lays waste to our planet? The elder brother’s anger is assuaged by the love of the father. Building a just, equitable, environmentally sustainable system, a New Jerusalem, will provoke anger from guardians of privilege. Love will sustain us all.

The slogan for the World Social Forum to be held from Aug. 9 - 14 in Montreal is “Another world is needed. Together it is possible!” If only we could reconcile those prodigal and the elder son aspects of ourselves that we cling to so tenaciously, then we, as an Easter people, all might joyfully continue our journey to the promised land.

Dougherty is co-chair of the Social Justice Committee at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Whitehorse, Yukon.