"Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." Paul to the persecuted at Philippi (2:5-11)

21 November 2010

Safety, sterility, and the general store

Today I ended up needing gas in Nowheresville, PA (also known as Ruff Creek). The interstate sign promised me a BP station (and nothing else) and the car was down to one bar... so off we went to the local BP.

The BP sign was fresh and green, bright cheery 21st century advertising. We're used to it. But what was unusual was how it stood out, garish against the muted landscape. Expecting the standard gas and go quickie mart next to the filling station, I was a little surprised to see that the sign next to the BP sign, was a rusted 1950's vintage general store sign. The building itself was a little dilapidated, but having need of a bottle of water, I wondered in. Passing the bags of dog food on display that gave the shop the air of a feed store and opening the door, I was greeted by a scent I couldn't quite place. After a few steps, my foot slipped a little, a quick adjustment, a look down... the wooden floor had recently been oiled. Ah, that was the scent. A fifties era painted tin sign told me I could get my hunting license at the counter. It was an old-fashioned country store, and I had stepped back in time.

Most people would drive on by. If my tank hadn't been empty I would have too. Surely no one other than the fuel desperate would have much reason to pull off at metropolitan Ruff Creek (no doubt pronounced "crick"). Surely passers by don't often wonder into general stores whose exterior blends into the landscape, where the dilapidated facade fails to call to strangers. But inside the welcome was warm, the atmosphere worth the trip alone.

I found the contrast shocking. How long has it been since you stepped into a general store with fresh oiled wood floors? Usually they floors are all the same, industrial tile. The goods are all the same, prepackaged, premeasured.

In Pennsylvania, farmers markets are endangered by legislation which tries to measure out food "safety" so that large corporations give us our pre-packaged, premeasured sterility. While local famers, markets out of time, wood floored general stores are driven out of business by the same "safety" concerns that drove used clothing stores to close over legislated fears over lead paint on children's buttons. (If my kid is eating buttons I have bigger worries than a microscopic amount of lead.) We worship at the idol of safety, sterility, conformity.

Relationships aren't safe... exchanging greetings with my favorite Korean grocier, the general store clerk, the farmer who grew my produce... but relationships, and the risks involved in them, actually produce more safety than TSA, FDA, the CDC or whatever government agency has been charged with "public safety" today. Instead of stabbing an innoculation for every passing germ into my children's and my own flesh, buying soulless prepackaged measured "nutrition" and shopping only in brightly lit, standard issue Targets and Walmarts, I'd rather support the local mom-and-pop shop, eat a little dirt along with a fresh garden carrot, slurp up a little local honey from the county fair.

And maybe in the short-run I may catch a little bug now and then, but in the long run, germs build immunities... and that's a metaphor for life.


  1. GREAT post!

    I wholeheartedly agree. I've stumbled upon such places, and am always thankful about it.

  2. Good thoughts. Most of those safety laws are lobbied for by big corporations who want to drive small competitors out of business.

    I have fond memories of black oil on my 5 year old feet from walking into my grandfather's store--course that would be illegal now too...no shoes, no service.

    PS- I did not realize that you were posted at Saint Peters for a while until I commended your weblog to my pastor. I think I met you at Shrovetide and met your husband at my church.

    God bless you and yours!

  3. Yes, I've been known to drop in at your church. Your church is one of my favorites. I sort of knew who you were when you posted as someone had commended your blog to me at one point. :) Nice to actually blog-connect with you.

  4. Indeed, I get a lot from your writings and have been reading the archives. Next time you visit up here, please feel free to bring the family for a farm tour. Father E. can give you my contact info.