Previous | Next

Spring 1989 · Vol. 18 No. 1 · pp. 13–16 

Case Study: Global-Village Living

Responses by Arthur J. Block 18/1 (1989): 17–19; and Stephen Penner 18/1 (1989): 20–22.

Louis B. Weeks

“Look, Daddy, here’s a used Datsun for eleven hundred and fifty dollars.” Susan Weiss circled the advertisement and flopped the paper down on the breakfast table. “Should I call the number?”

Susan had begun some weeks earlier to review the morning classifieds with some determination, almost compulsively. With her sixteenth birthday only three months away, she relished the prospect of driving—frequently. Jeanne and Dalton Weiss, Susan’s parents, shared a glance with one another, a look that meant, We’d better talk quickly about this.

Would that the freeways were like paths!

“Hey, Sue, give me the funny paper, please.” Jimmy deftly changed the subject, as a nine-year-old brother could do.

“Postponed a little,” Dalton Weiss mused. “But the problem won’t go away. It’s a difficult decision coming. How can we keep all our promises at the same time?”

Dalton Weiss, and Jeanne too, looked upon decisions such as this one—whether or not to buy a second car for the family—as moral issues. Did the family have the right to use as much petroleum, steel, air, and other resources as it took to provide and operate two vehicles? {14} Likewise, did they have a right to provide their daughter with less mobility and fewer opportunities for socialization than her friends experienced, and in other ways deprive Susan (later it would be Jimmy)? Dalton and Jeanne Weiss sensed a commitment both to the children they brought into the world and to people in the world whose needs were great.

They had not always viewed such decisions as being moral issues. Just seven years ago, they would have asked primarily the simple question: “Can we afford another car?” The answer to that query now was surely, “Yes.” Dalton worked in middle management with a nationally prominent importer and distributor of electronic components. Jeanne had just begun part-time work at the church. It would not be long before she would be working full-time also. Together they certainly possessed the funds for an inexpensive second car, one Susan could use.

In fact, it worked a bit of a hardship, especially in hot weather, for them to own just one car right now. Bikes sufficed for Dalton to ride to his nearby work and for Jimmy to ride to elementary school. Susan had been riding the bus to her classes at Central High. That left the car with Jeanne almost all the time, and she could run most of the errands and drive to church for her work there.

“Just seven years ago. . .” Dalton remembered their real turning point in thinking about the ethics of consumption. They had sold or given away almost all their possessions before serving as short-term missionaries in Ghana. Jeanne had commented at the time on the symbolic value of reducing Christmas tree ornaments to the essentials—a star, a few bright tree balls, and a small crèche, which fit in one little box. Altogether they had taken only nine barrels of things, including the needs for Jim, who had been 2, and the “little girl” needs of Susan, then 8.

The Methodist Church had advertised for someone to assist in the establishment of a new management system for the church in Ghana. In addition, they wanted an educational missionary to teach English and geography. Dalton and Jeanne decided to go. It made sense to them.

Some friends in the church where they were members had been very supportive. But many friends from the company said they thought the Weisses were crazy. Tim Adams, also at the plant, had told Dalton in straight terms, “You’re thirty-one now. You’ll be thirty-four when you get back. That’s precisely {15} the time span in which we’re picked for eventually taking top level jobs. You’ll miss out.”

Dalton remembered his and Jeanne’s doubts about going, along with their joy and sense of release. The company gave Dalton a leave of absence.

“It certainly gave us a new perspective, selling the car and almost everything else,” Jeanne had told folk since then. “We discovered we could live at a very simple level, even with the kids. They had fun, too. We ate well and enjoyed life, without cars, TVs, or movies. Our house was nice but plain. Working with Christians in Ghana taught us that we Americans do need to listen to others.”

When the Weisses had returned to the United States, they remained conscious of world hunger and other issues that transcended national life. In Arizona, where the company had provided Dalton with a job comparable to the one he had left, they found a church deeply involved in study and work about such issues. Dalton found he could ride a bike to work, and they fell almost naturally into a simpler style of life than most families around them.

When Dalton received a promotion and a transfer to a suburb of Los Angeles, the family had looked for another Methodist church with concerned people and interest in global questions and Christian responses. Jeanne put the matter simply. “We believe that people have a responsibility to act with respect for all God’s creation and with respect for one another.”

The church they found was a large one, but the group within it committed to discovering ways of being ecologically responsible was small. Ten to fifteen persons gathered to study books and work on projects that might increase knowledge and commitment for themselves, the church, and the community.

They particularly enjoyed reading and talking together about the work of Ron Sider, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger. They agreed with his assessment of the situation and his call for conversions to simplicity.

As their point of view led to a decision about churches, it also affected the choice of a house. Though pretty expensive in Southern California, the home they bought was in a particularly modest neighborhood. An elementary school was also near, but the middle and high schools were five miles away. {16} Susan had been quite willing to ride the bus.

In fact, both Susan and Jimmy apparently enjoyed participating in a simpler life-style. The Weisses carefully limited their eating of meat, for example, eating mostly poultry and fish. Only occasionally did they rely on American staples—hamburger, pork chops, or steak. “Red meats are especially inefficient in using the world’s resources,” Dalton explained.

Limits likewise were set on the use of the television set, curtailing their exposure to advertising and to the commercialism embodied in the media. Jeanne, with family participation, set up a point system, and Jimmy and Susan could watch a lot of educational shows (at 1 point each). But they quickly ran out of points if they chose a “Dallas” segment.

“Cooperation is the key to our way of working. We try to make judgments—not to be doctrinaire, just for purity’s sake,” Jeanne said. “Occasionally we have squabbles, but for the most part things go very well. We are more conscious of our use of things. We also believe that our decisions affect the lives of others.”

Now they faced a decision about buying a second car in a free-way society that almost took for granted the need for two cars in any family that could afford them. Susan’s remark had not been a wish, just a statement of fact: “All the other kids either have their own cars or can get one almost all the time.” On the other hand, cars are symbols of the worst profligacy of Americans. Would that the freeways were like paths! Dream on. Dalton Weiss looked again at Jeanne to catch her eye.

Reprinted from Making Ethical Decisions, by Louis B. Weeks. © 1987 Louis B. Weeks. Reprinted and used by permission of the Westminster/John Knox Press.

Previous | Next