Ponderings with Doug – October 18, 2019

Some people read the signs of the time.

Leonard Sweet is a United Methodist minister-author-professor-dreamer-visionary. He has written a shelf full of books that most Methodist ministers have read. He introduced me to the concept of a minister being a semiotician. We should be sign readers.

In 1994, I attended a workshop that Leonard Sweet was leading. Since there were only 20 of us present, he could be more conversational with his presentation. It turned into a four-day, gab-fest-brain-picking session.

We pressed Dr. Sweet to forecast some of the coming trends in American culture. We ministers are interested in trends.

There were some things that this renown thinker missed. Who could have predicted the world would be tweeting? He did predict the use of phones as more than communication devices. He predicted that video calls and conferences would be more prevalent than phone calls.

In 1994, Dr. Sweet was right about some things and missed others. He encouraged us to see the “signs.”

One thing Dr. Sweet said that stuck with me was, “The mallification of America is over.” He went on to describe the Mall of America which had opened in 1992. He said that this giant Mall represented the impending death of the shopping mall. How could it be that in two short years, this great adventure called a shopping mall had reached its zenith and would soon be passé?

I was amazed by much of what Dr. Sweet said at that workshop. I kept the mall quote quiet. I watched and waited.

Who could have imagined that the US Postal service, UPS, FedEx and Amazon were all complicit in the death of the shopping mall? Do you remember shopping malls? They are still around. The last one I remember opening was the Mall of Louisiana in Baton Rouge. The malls in Shreveport and Bossier seem mostly empty. The stores and merchandise are there, but the people are doing something else. Malls are hanging on for dear life and wondering how to get the investment back. Meanwhile the “anchor” store chains are folding up quickly.

I was thinking about all this the other day, when I saw a sign at the Donut Hole. The Donut Hole has signed up with the food delivery services that have arrived in our town. I suppose that if I want a donut, I can have it delivered. What? I don’t have to go to the Donut Hole to get my pastries, I can have them delivered now. What is this world coming to?

Are you keeping track? In many towns, Walmart has a delivery service. All sorts of foods are now delivered. I haven’t bought a book in a bookstore in nearly a decade. I do all my banking on my phone. Donuts are delivered too. Malls are fading away. The sad truth is that retail merchandising, where you go the store is on its way out. Amazon and the digital marketplace will do in big box brick and mortar stores, eventually. Everything comes to you now. Health care is even changing its delivery system. The house call is making a comeback.

Hey church-people, is there a sign you should see? We will always have a Sunday morning worship service. The signs say it is time for the church to take Jesus to the world and stop waiting for the world to come to church.

Talk about returning to our first century roots! Can you see the signs?