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Who is Laughing Today?

November 25, 2011

A percentage of those reading this rant will label me a humbug. But remember that the role of social commentator is an important one; one whose responsibility includes saying the hard things. So let me make an observation on the lines of people camping out at Target, Best Buy and Toys R Us this morning. People are laughing at you and it’s not just your family members who stayed in bed.

It’s the so-called “filthy rich” that you are protesting on Wall Street and Main street.

On the same news broadcasts that featured people camping out at city halls across America, even on Thanksgiving, we saw identical tents and tarps in front of the major retail stores getting ready for Black Friday and its step-sister, Grey Thursday Evening. The people who got pepper-sprayed, evicted, ridiculed and thrown in jail could have snagged a big-screen television if they had moved a few blocks away. (Update: This scene from Los Angeles underscores that the wrong people are moving from one location to the other).

Don’t people realize it is the system of buying things you don’t need with money you don’t have that helps the Wealth Gap to form? If the wealthy know one thing it is that there is a sucker born every minute. In Jesus’ day, there were people who camped out in the Temple to sell pigeons at a 500% markup to the poor, who could only afford a pigeon for their offering to God. Jesus “occupied” their storefronts and turned over their tables as a prophetic act, proclaiming the original intention of the Court of the Gentiles was prayer not marketing. But I can imagine that even though people were mesmerized that someone would have the audacity to take this stand, an hour later someone was already back in line to buy a pigeon or exchange their money for the temple offering coins.

If it really bothers you that the rich are getting richer, stop allowing their advertising to split your brain into purchasing cubicles. You decide (totally apart from marketing) what you want, need, should purchase. In addition, look at those companies, especially smaller ones, whose approach to business takes more into account than profit. Look at how they re-invest their profits, how they treat their employees, how they add to the community.

My wife and I were traveling through Portland a few months ago, and we stopped into Panera Bread for lunch. We sought it out because we knew what that particular store stood for. They are a non-profit business that does not have cash registers or prices. They take donations for the food they offer and almost all of the money goes into local concerns. From their explanatory letter, here is a sample:

Panera Cares is a new kind of cafe – one that exemplifies an entirely different way of giving
back. It is a community cafe of shared responsibility. One of the goals of this charitable program
is to ensure that everyone who needs a meal gets one. People are encouraged to take what they
need and donate their fair share. There are no prices or cash registers, only suggested donation
levels and donation bins.
“The vision for the Panera Cares cafe was to use Panera’s unique restaurant skills to address real
societal needs and make a direct impact in communities,” said Shaich. “Thus, the Foundation
developed these community cafes to make a difference by addressing the food insecurity issues
that affect millions of Americans.”

There are hundreds, if not thousands of such businesses. I ate at this restaurant and it was just as delicious as all other Paneras in the country. The difference is my soul felt fed more than my body when I left that place.

Can you say that about the store you muscled your way through at 5 a.m. this morning? If you think I am just peeing on everyone’s parade, let me tell you why I am writing this. I believe there is a way to bring prosperity back into our communities and end the cycles of economic inequity around us. It cannot happen by legislation, taxes, protests or rhetoric. It happens when we take action to support local companies who give us what we need, who take care of their employees and who invest in their communities. Yes, for the most part, I am speaking of small businesses.

It also happens when we stop buying things because of advertising and peer pressure. Take a long look at your life priorities and see if your spending matches up to them. Or, get some life priorities.

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