So I learned that my favorite coffee shops is closing. It's only a half a block from our flat ('apartment' on this side of the pond-but 'flat' is such a better word) and it had the seeds of being a missional place for us. We were getting to know the barrista's, the regulars, and the musicians that played there on occasion.
I don't know why they are closing, but Makeesha (my wife) said that they said that a Starbucks was opening across the street. They may have been closing up anyway, but it did get me thinking - again - about big corporations and it begged the question for me this morning; Are the intrusions of big corporations into cities and towns forcing the smaller independent businesses to close shop a social justice issue?
Some may argue that in a free society the masses make those decisions and if people didn't want big companies, they wouldn't give them the business.
I would subjectively argue (and those who poll these sorts of things find the same results so I know I'm not alone in thinking this) that Wal-Mart does not provide the best retail, Starbucks does not serve the best coffee, Microsoft does not make the best computers, and Exxon does not supply the most efficient form of energy for our cars and homes. Although, at the outset, these companies were known for being innovative and customer service driven, once they became the bullies of the playground, two problems arose. One is they are so big the hairball that entangles them are much harder to work through (Read Gordon MacKenzie's "Orbiting the Giant Hairball") and the other reason, is the "why bother" reason. If they are the only real choice, why strive to be the best?
Our not so recent obsession with consumerism (which I've blogged about recently on my blog) certainly can be blamed as well. If we want bigger and cheaper, and the billion dollar companies that can afford the marketing to tell us that they have what we need - and I would even claim they they help us believe we want bigger and cheaper -can combine to bring us a marriage of convenience, then the smaller businesses can watch the wedding ceremony and wonder if they will die an old maid.
Lenin (not John, but that other guy from Russia) said that if a lie is told enough, it will be believed to be true. Advertising can't outright lie, but the principle applies. Do we really believe that Exxon is looking out for the environment and is on the cutting edge of a new green world where Global Warming is only learned about in history books? (I recommend watching "Who Killed the Electric Car"). So who has the money for marketing and advertising? Big companies. Who has power to persuade those in political office because they have the money to control the marketing to sway voters? Big companies.
And these companies, many of them having more income than third world countries, do not necessarily have our best interest in mind. In Tom Sine's book, "Mustard Seed versus McWorld" he notes that while share holders and CEO's make record incomes, the middle class continues to loose ground. The middle class poor is rapidly expanding in Western Civilization. This includes the middle class that are employed by mega-corporations.
So that drives us to this question: As followers of the radical man-God Jesus, what the heck do we do? We are in the world so we must respond somehow. But we are not of the world, so our response must not be just to go along with the flow and hope we get that promotion that makes our lives a bit better. Our higher calling is to love like Jesus and not be passive about justice issues of our day.
So what answers do you have? After all Jesus loved the tax-collectors who worked for the corrupt Rome just as much as he loved the zealots who wanted to subvert and even overthrow their big money Empire. Jesus loves the kind elderly person greeting us a Wal-Mart, and he loves the CEO of Exxon, just as much as he loves the organic farmer selling vegetables by the side of the road, and the college drop-out barrista that as of this Sunday will no longer work at my favorite coffee shop.
What do we do?