Thursday, October 11, 2012
The Preacher’s Corner
Americans struggle for balance between big and small
I saw a TV commercial a night or two ago for the brand of paint my daddy sold in his hardware store. I think it was the very first time I had ever seen any TV advertising for this paint. Daddy always said it was one of the better paints, and perhaps they didn’t feel they needed to advertise. But he could have used the corporate support.
You see, my father went into business when small-town, one-operator stores were in their heyday. The downtown section of our little city was full of them. But then chain stores arrived and one by one the little shops my father and my friends’ parents operated disappeared like lights turning off in the night. It was a terrible experience for our family, and I know some of you have gone through it.
This happened over a span of several years when I was in college, and my mother and father tried to keep their anxiety and worry from me as much as they could. They wanted me to be happy and to have some advantages, and as I look back, I realize that they did without a good deal.
We were a real family, and I knew what was happening, but my parents tried to shield me. I suppose that is what most parents do. Now I wish I could have done more, but what was there to do?
Ever since Sears & Roebuck appeared on the scene over a hundred years ago, Americans have struggled to find a balance between big corporate enterprises and the small stores of Main Street. Our politicians are debating the issue at this very moment. I know that the chain stores bring a great deal of merchandise to small communities. In certain cases the prices are lower. But one misses the personal service the little stores gave. Certainly the small merchants and their employees peopled the pews of our churches.
Several years back one of the chain stores wanted to make a $500 donation to each of our town’s churches. They phoned me and wanted to have me come over and have my picture made for the newspaper with the manager presenting the check.
I initially agreed, but then drew back. Something in me remembered those verses where Jesus says, “Do not sound a trumpet before you when you give alms. But when you give alms let not your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” What if every member of our church expected a photo in the paper every time they made a contribution? They all give, many sacrificially, expecting nothing in return.
I’m glad I did not pose for that photo, even though our church could have used the $500. But something more than $500 was involved. To me, it was all my daddy stood for and worked so hard to teach me over all those years when I would help him on Saturday mornings in his store.
My father did not become rich in business. In fact, the opposite was true. It was not for lack of hard work, or a failure of ingenuity and self-reliance. He worked long hours, paid his taxes, and built as best he could. Now I realize that we all stand on someone else’s shoulders. Things have been passed on to us—sometimes material, but mostly intangible. Would that we were wise enough in our youth to have said thank you when we could.
I shop in the Big Box stores, and enjoy the convenience. But whenever I go in one, I feel a little twinge. Life involves adaptation and change, and much of it is for the good, but I guess I’ll always identify with the people who are caught in the transition. No amount of trying will ever bring back the past. Indeed, affection for the past can be a form of idolatry, for God inhabits the future. But I was glad to see that commercial for the paint brand Daddy sold.
I wish the manufacturer had had the idea 40 years ago!
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