Solvent as Sears?

Ecclesiastes 4:13-14

My mother’s first job was with Sears and Roebuck. She worked in the catalog department in the huge warehouse and store that used to stand just east of Kansas City’s downtown. Her favorite tale of those times is handling a return of some chickens that had died in transit. Sears doesn’t issue a catalog anymore. They don’t sell chickens or much of anything these days.

But there was a time when they were the big roosters in the retail barnyard. The slogan, “Solid as Sears,” was not a punchline in those days. Fifty years ago they were the biggest retailer in the world. Today, much diminished even after merging with another former giant, K-Mart, they’ve sold off most of their brand assets like Craftsman and Kenmore, and seem to be circling the drain. The question is when, not if, they will eventually collapse completely.

Since we don’t have kings these days, we can maybe apply Solomon’s ideas to companies–or maybe to ourselves.

Better is a poor but wise youth than an old but foolish king who no longer pays attention to warnings. For he came from prison to be king, even though he was born poor in his kingdom.

Ecclesiastes 4:13-14

Multi-Variable Math

It’s interesting to me that this text introduces three variables. He might have said it’s better to be poor and young than rich and old. Instead, he throws in that wisdom variable. Is it better to be a wise old king than a poor wise youth? I’m not sure, but clearly your wealth and position won’t help you if you are a fool.

Is it better to be young than old, all other things being equal? I think I’d opt for that, although I’m not sure Solomon would agree. Is it better to be rich than poor? We needn’t dignify that question with an answer. Clearly it is better to be wise than foolish. It’s the combination of these things that makes this passage a little tricky.

No Fool Like an Old Fool

Sears seems to have behaved foolishly, or maybe they’re just going the way that companies go after a 125 years. And what about people? Is it natural for people to become foolish, utterly stuck in their ways and resting on whatever success and position they have accrued over their lives? It certainly seems common, but there’s no reason to believe it to be natural.

From an early age, we are urged to do the right things. Stay in school. Work hard. Don’t do drugs. Save for retirement. Maintain a financial reserve. Floss. We’re admonished that if we do all of these things, then we will enjoy success. By and large, that advice is solid.

What a shame then that people follow that advice, attain a position of influence and respect, accumulate sufficient financial status to not worry, and then cease to listen to anyone around them. Such people wind up losing their influence and believing that their assets will render them important. If it doesn’t work for a king, it won’t work for mere commoners.

Getting in Tune

Most people who read this are not millennials. You’re mostly O4Cs (Over 40 Christians), and many of you have done a lot of the things that were impressed upon you over the years. Perhaps you have a secure job, good benefits, money in the bank, and all your own teeth. Congratulations.

Now that you have arrived or can at least see the destination to which you’re en route, don’t stop listening to wise counsel, especially the counsel of God. Solomon urges us to be wise, suggesting that whatever we have gained over the years, even to a crown, will likely be squandered if we’re not heeding warnings any longer.

Today, Sears stock is selling for $.29 a share. In 2005 if was over $50. Be glad if that wasn’t in your 401K.

Senior Happy Meals

happy old guy
Not one of my in-laws

My in-laws, both in their seventies, don’t eat all that well. Part of the issue is cultural, both of them having been brought up where if it wasn’t fried, it wasn’t food, but part of it is age-related. Knocking together a salad or a pot of pasta or somesuch, a simple task when you’re 30 or 50, can become a major ordeal for the older person. My mother, 94 years old, struggles with opening jars and lifting some bowls, even when they’re empty. A story on NPR recently brought this nutritional challenge to my mind.

A healthy diet is good for everyone. But as people get older, cooking nutritious food can become difficult and sometimes physically impossible. A pot of soup can be too heavy to lift. And there’s all that time standing on your feet. It’s one of the reasons that people move into assisted living facilities.

The story revolved around a company that sends chefs into senior’s homes to cook a week worth of meals for them. Having listened while driving, I didn’t have pen and paper at hand, but the cash flow of this business didn’t seem to make sense. If I’m figuring it right, these chefs are bringing in a whopping $360 a week on average. Presumably they have a restaurant job to rely on.

But since Chefs for Seniors has not made it to most cities around the country, the great senior nutrition challenge falls to the seniors themselves or their friends and families.

What a great service a church or just a good neighbor could do by ensuring that not only do healthy groceries make it into the house but that those foods are prepared or accessible. What does that mean? Perhaps it means pre-packaging some meals that can be popped into the microwave. Maybe it involves cutting up produce. It might simply require putting some pickles or other jar-dwelling food into something easier to open.

When Jesus said “Feed my sheep,” He did not mean primarily to feed them food, but I’m fairly certain that He didn’t intend to neglect that. Preparing healthy food for those who struggle to do it themselves might not lengthen their lives but it will surely improve their lives and bless you at the same time.