Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Grant us, Lord, a grocery store

As a child, one of my favorite games was "pioneers." Inspired by the Little House books, I spent hours pretending that I had packed my wagon, left loved ones behind, and ventured into the wilderness. This was an apt game for an American child, for as soon I was eighteen, I began to measure success in the number of miles I had travelled from home. I had plenty of good stories to help me wander, plenty of epics and novels and allegories to tell me that moving is best, exile is ideal.

I don't want to dismiss the years in which "home" was a complicated, and at times nearly hopeless, concept for me. Part of living the Way of Christ is knowing that we are "sojourners and exiles" in this world (1 Peter 2:11). At the same time, when God's people were living in exile in Babylon, the Word of the Lord came through the prophet Jeremiah, saying "Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare" (Jeremiah 29:28).

As I wrote yesterday, I am living, for the first time in memory, without the feeling that I will soon be moving on. Perhaps (not certainly, but perhaps) this will be home for the rest of my life on earth. As I try to understand what that means, the words of Jeremiah provide some hopeful clues. "Carry on," the prophet tells me. "Wager that you will have time for your seeds to sprout. Know your neighbors. Pray for the prosperity of this place."

Today, praying for the prosperity of this place means praying for a grocery store. When I imagine a prosperous community, I imagine a self-sufficient place, where people have access to the goods and services they need, and where they directly contribute to the welfare of one another by using those goods and services. One reason I moved to this community was its potential for that kind of self-sufficiency. The city is laid out in a way that makes walking and cycling easy, and from my house, I can reach a school, two churches, and three gas stations by walking for about 5 minutes. Walk a little longer--or bike--and I can easily reach a post office, general store, bank, and pharmacy.

By unidentified (unidentified) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
At the same time, there are many vacant buildings in Chickasaw that point to a time when more businesses could thrive in a small town. The hardware store is still in business, but most of their wares are dusty and faded, as though the inventory hasn't moved for years. Many more are simply empty. I pray for these buildings each time I walk, ride, or drive by. I want little local businesses, affordable and intimate, to thrive here. I want a proper grocery store, with a good selection of produce and all the basic dry goods.  I am praying that some entrepreneur will move into town and set up shop. I keep trying to think of un or under-employed friends who might be up to the challenge. For my own purposes, having a grocery store would mean I could do nearly all my shopping within Chickasaw itself.

At the same time, when I ask God for a grocery store, I am doing more than praying for a more convenient errand route. I am begging food for the roots I am trying to put down here. I am praying for a place where I can see my neighbors, know their children, ask about their lives. In other words, when I pray for a grocery store, I am praying for God's kingdom to come in Chickasaw as it is in heaven.

I've never had much patience for middle ground: either I am painting my dreams with universal strokes, abiding in enormous ideals, or I am nesting in small spaces, building little altars in the grass outside my door. Trying to pray for a national economy or a multi-national peace plan overwhelms me, frustrates me with particulars and logistics and obstacles. Only among the stars or down with the grass-roots do my hands feel free to pray and build. And so today I pray:

Grant us, Lord, a grocery store.

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