Almost three months ago my family of five became a cycling family. I marked the occasion by writing a blog post for The Commons (my church community) entitled “Today We Gave Up Our Car.” The post must have struck a collective chord because it has gotten more web traffic than anything else I’ve written. The week after the blog was posted I ran into people all over Hamilton who had read my article. I was stopped not only by people I know well but also by friends of friends and even the occasional stranger telling me that they were excited to follow my family’s car free journey.
The Commons is part of the wider Mennonite church and my blog post was republished by Canadian Mennonite Magazine. Just as the article was published I was in Saskatoon for Mennonite Church Canada’s national assembly. In the first five minutes a complete stranger came up to me and said “Wow, glad you are here! How long was that bike ride?” I then heard that joke from every other person who had received their copy of Canadian Mennonite before they arrived at the conference. Yes, the same joke over and over again…
Jokes aside, I must say it has been an amazing ride so far. People are always asking me “How is the switch to cycling going?” and I tell them “I’m overwhelmed by the support and generosity of both the cycling and church community in Hamilton.” I’m now officially referring to this phenomena as “The Generosity Cycle.”
The thing that started off this Generosity Cycle for me was the messages of support. So many people encouraged my family with Facebook comments and emails. We also got lots of advice on where the best place to rent cars is and which credit cards will pay for your insurance. Incidentally, most people suggest Discount or Enterprise for renting, and we found there was a Master Card from FirstOnario Credit Union that covered rental insurance – we don’t endorse any of these companies but I do like to pass on the tips we have received.
A number of other car free families have offered to meet with us and pass on what they have learned over the years. I think the wisdom of these folks will become even more valuable once we get closer to the winter cycling season.
Friends with cars have also been supportive. There is an amazing interdenominational network of churches in Hamilton called TrueCity. Two families from two different TrueCity churches said I should ask to borrow their car before spending my money on renting. Both families voiced that they weren’t in a position themselves to get rid of their own cars right now but that they would love to help us when they could. We have already had this arrangement work out for us a couple of times.
The Generosity Cycle really became apparent to me when the support started coming from within the cycling community. In the first week of going car free, a friend of a friend offered me the use of his super fancy cargo bike. This cargo bike is the Cadillac of cargo bikes. It has a beautiful wooden box on the front that looks like a small hand crafted row boat the size of a shopping cart. It can easily fit 2 children and a full load of groceries all at the same time. This person isn’t someone I hang out with on a regular basis, I only see him at the occasional party or community event but he insisted we borrow his beautiful bike for a week. He said “I want you to appreciate what can be done on a cargo bike.” I graciously accepted the gift and I bombed around the city for a week on this fancy bike with my youngest boy sitting in the front. My boy had so much fun that week, he loved riding up front. I also gave rides to every other member of my family (including my reluctant wife), to show them how fun it was. I even used the bike for its intended purpose a couple times and went shopping. Wherever I went on this yacht of a bike people would take pictures and want to talk to me about the bike. It was a really fun week, and I’m humbled by the generosity of a man who was willing to risk his possession on a friend of a friend. I know I tend to hold onto my possessions way tighter than that, and I have a lot to learn about sharing my own things.
Another cool turn of the Generosity Cycle came from a fellow Commoner named Peter who works for THAAT Co-op. THAAT (and Peter) is all about bikes and sustainability. Peter delivers coffee, donuts, parcels, furniture, and anything else you can think of by bicycle. I was asking around to borrow a car to move some music gear and I got an email from Peter saying: “Car shmar. I can come by with a bike and a trailer.” Peter helped me hook up the trailer to my own bike and I hauled a full sound system and a bunch of instruments all by my own peddle power. It was very empowering. That trip became a bit of a dry run for the real test of what can be done with a bike.
I’m part of Markers’ Market, an outdoor event that happens during Hamilton’s monthly Art Crawl. I use to fill a vehicle full of my original art and T-shirts along with display walls and a 10 foot tent. For August’s Art Crawl I used one of THAAT’s trailers to bring everything I needed by bike (tent included). It took me an extra 15 minutes to haul such a large load but I rolled right up to the front of my spot and unloaded in a couple minutes while the other artists were walking back and forth to their cars to get all their stuff unloaded. For the sake of honesty I should let you know that I was tired and sore the next day. That being said it wasn’t as bad as I would have expected for trying something new that is so far outside my regular excursion level. The plan is to keep doing this for the other Makers’ Markets. It feels really good to be able to say “See all this stuff I made, I was able to bring it here on my bike!” Without Peter’s help and time this would not have been possible.
When I first wrote about giving up my car I said that I hope “…this will be an important step in following Jesus…” The Gospel of Luke records some of Jesus’ thoughts that tie into the generosity cycle,
“Give to others, and God will give to you. Indeed, you will receive a full measure, a generous helping, poured into your hands—all that you can hold. The measure you use for others is the one that God will use for you.” (Luke 6:38 Good News Translation)
I think sometimes this verse gets misinterpreted as a get rich plan. Reducing generosity as a means to receive future monetary gain, and to stop there is to rob the words of their full meaning. The point isn’t that we give to get, the point is when we give we also receive.
When we give we make room to receive a spirit of:
It seems like generosity is the beginning of a larger cycle.
This cycle isn’t just for the giver it is also for the receiver. In a society focused on the pursuit of individual self-sufficiency it goes against the grain to be open to receiving help. A true generous spirit isn’t just quick to help it is also quick to receive help. When we let other people help us we are also living into Jesus’ words of “The measure you use for others is the one that God will use for you.”
When my wife and I first moved to an inner city Hamilton neighbourhood, we really wanted to be good servants to our neighbours. I actually really suck at these kinds of neighbourhood things (my wife is a little better at it), but despite our shortcomings we have learned one important lesson. People aren’t willing to accept your help until you have asked them to help you. No one really took us up on any of our offers of neighbourly help until we started asking for favours. Once we started asking people:
- “Can you feed our cat and take in the mail while we’re out of town?”
- “Can you babysit our kids?”
- “Would you be willing to hold on to our spare key in case we lock ourselves out of our house?”
- “Could we borrow your lawnmower?”
Once we started asking for help with these everyday thing people started to allow us to help them as well
The Generosity Cycle takes two wheels, we need to learn to be both a joyful giver and a joyful receiver. Yes, it is possible for some people to ride a unicycle, but most of us would fall flat on our faces with just one wheel, and we definitely wouldn’t win any bike races. Giving & Receiving, just like two wheels on a bicycle, they work best together.