March 2008


A random airing of random thoughts; while each is not demanding a great deal of cyberspace to discuss, the world is most certainly a better place for having heard them. 

1)  Among my reading conquests of the past few years has been my adulthood re-reading of The Chronicles of Narnia series.  These “kids books” are easy to read (great travel reading), yet pack a punch.  Each of the seven stories carries with it stories of adventure, gallantry, falls from grace, and redemption at the hand of a loving higher being.  C.S. Lewis once described the character of Aslan not as a artistic rendering of Christ, but as an imaginative wondering of how He might reveal Himself to other created worlds.  One of my favorite moments was reading the The Last Battle (where Aslan ends the existence of Narnia, and leads the “Friends of Narnia” to an eternal paradise) at the same time as I read Lewis’ The Great Divorce (a separate novel rendering the author’s vision of Heaven).  Further up and further in!

2)  This week, my rental house has gone on the “For Sale” market.  Which meant that, last week, the place was professionally staged and photographed.  A strange experience, to give two aesthetically-focused women free run of a bachelor pad, and see what ensues (turns out, we had all the right stuff in all the wrong places).  Anytime I’ve watched redecorating TV shows (read: a RARE occurance), I’ve always imagined that, minutes after the cameras leave, the residents spend the next hour moving everything back to where it was before.  That’s pretty much what I did…

3) I seriously do not get women.  I know what they say they want, but what do they want?  More specifically, what are they waiting for, that they’re not thinking they’re going to get from me or other non-“Mr. Darcy’s” I know? 

(Mr. Darcy = mysteriously charming, effortlessly handsome, both forceful and tender at the same time.  Jane Austen-driven emotional porn for generations of sighing women…)

4) Easter services at my church are really funny.  Being a high-profile congregation, we always draw a huge crowd on holidays.  We don’t really do anything different, either; none of the Lenten fanfare you might come to expect from your local church.  Leading up to the big day, I always go through the same cycle: hearing about Lent somewhere; wondering if I should make a Lenten pledge; forgetting about it; remembering other Holy Week services I used to attend, and wishing my current congregation did something like that; wondering if I should skip church to go visit other services.  Then, at the last minute, God shows up and lets us all know why Jesus came to Earth, why He died, and why He conquered death once and for all. 

Our Easter service was elbow-to-elbow, with the same hands-in-the-air rock praise we do pretty much every week.  I was starting to get a little grumbly, wishing we would toss a little fanfare in there.  Then, the Spirit of God starts to move.  We all know God’s up to something.  And when the pastor leads us in a prayer for those wishing to receive Christ’s gift for the first time, the cluster of folks making that bold first step, reminds us of why we have church in the first place.

This is an open appeal, to friends, well-wishers, and anyone else who has found there way to this blog.  I will try to keep it short, and I hope you can read through to the end.  But, first, a little story… 

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This weekend, I bid farewell to an old friend.  Kendrick’s Billiards in Bellingham closed its doors.  Unfortunately, it seems the packed house they had every Fri./Sat. night wasn’t enough to keep the place in the black, so the owners were forced to shut down a classy, creative, popular, locally-minded business.

As we’ve done many times over the years, my friend Brian and I went to Kendrick’s for Pool Night (only this time, merging fun with sadness).  Somewhat angry and somewhat depressed, we decided to make it a Small Business Night, where we would only patronize the Little Guy: locally-owned places that have not only been around forever, but have genuinely become a part of people’s lives in the process. 

 This mini-rebellion was partially fueled by news earlier in the day that Grant’s Drive In was being torn down to make way for a behemoth shopping center (a move which will take with it the old Big Scoop building, where my parents used to take us to every Sunday after visiting Grandma).

Our drive first led us to Lee’s Drive In, long-time home to Bellingham’s greasiest chicken and surliest waitresses.  Countless local seniors congregate here daily, to connect with friends and keep tabs on the neighborhood.  Here is the conversation that ensued between Brian and me:

P:  “Hey, there’s Lee’s.  Have you ever been there?”

B: “No.  But I hear they’re tearing it down to build a Starbucks…”

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Every town has a few of those places.  You know the ones.  They’ve been there for ages, owned by people who live in the community, go to the local parks, and send their kids to the local schools.  Everyone knows that those restaurants have the best service, those shops have the best toys, and those mechanics will back up their work, no matter what.  They’re not just businesses: they are community fixtures, part of the character of your town. 

And, regretably, every town has stories like mine.  The old “(insert name of owner)’s” on (insert name of downtown street), torn down to make way for a (insert name of nationally-managed chain store).  One just like (insert name of any other town in America) has.   “Time marches on,” some say.  “Gotta make way for progress.”

Progress?  Is it progressive to trade uniqueness for convenience?  Local ownership for number-crunchers somewhere, looking for a new profitable venue?  Is that all your town is, a profitable venue?

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Here is my appeal:  You have the power to change this, by supporting the Little Guy.  Your community is healthier with locally-owned small businesses as its economic core (all the reasons “why” that you’d want, available here and here).  Although the “big guys” do employ local people, and do provide an economic boost to local economies, it’s fairly indisputable that locally-owned businesses (small or large) spend more dollars locally, make more community-friendly planning decisions, and, more often than not, provide better pay (link opens as PDF) for local families.

As we’ve learned, the Little Guy is easily crushed by Progress (usually aided by corporately-funded real estate, legal, and advertising machinery).  However, you, the consumer, have power.  Your choices of where to shop, eat, or otherwise spend money, have the power to make or break a business.  Simple, everyday shopping trips (when multiplied by several hundred or thousand), can make the difference between that little place you thought of earlier clearing its expenses this month or not. 

Like any good rebellion, “getting small” requires some sacrifice: a little time, and a little money.  You might have to make two stops instead of one, and you might end up spending a few more dollars a week.  But, think about this:  You drink coffee.  Your office’s breakroom has coffee (technically).  And, yet, how much out of your way do you drive, and how much more do you spend, to get really good coffee?  Quality of life takes a little work to get to, but is always worth it in the end…

Please, take a second before you pull into the Wal-Mart or mall parking lot.  Could these same products/services be purchased somewhere else?  Could I actually make a difference in my community with this minor purchase?  More often than not, the answer is “yes.”  And, if this occasional behavior starts becoming habit, you will be playing a small-but-vital role in keeping your community healthy, unique, and locally-minded.  That’s worth an extra stop to me.

 ** Additional reading: if reading this got your blood going as much as mine did writing it, you’ll enjoy reading Big Box Swindle, and perusing the Sustainable Connections website.  Enjoy getting small!