What's Tony Thinking

Sole Salvation


Sometime last year I was in a shoe store when I overheard a clerk say to another customer, “You know, you can have these Samuel Hubbards completely re-soled.”

My ears perked up. I had a pair of said shoes that I liked very much but which had become quite worn. In an earlier era, I might have taken them to a shoe repair shop. But shoe repair shops have pretty much gone the way of the dinosaurs.

I checked out the clerk’s claim and found a “Sole Salvation” service on line. It was located in North Carolina, about as far away from Seattle, my home, as you can get and still be in the lower 48. But the on-line instructions were pretty clear, so I packaged up my shoes, printed and filled out the order blank and took them to the UPS pick-up.

A week or so later I heard from Dave at “Sole Salvation,” who told me they had a pretty big backlog and it would be several weeks before they got to my shoes. “No problem,” I wrote to Dave. I was just glad, sort of amazed really, that there was someone on the other end who was actually in the practice of shoe repair. A month or so later the shoes arrived in the mail. Brand new soles. The leather uppers all spiffied up. They looked so great I could hardly bear to wear them.

The whole experience was a happy exception to a throw-away culture that I find disheartening. Sole salvation gladdened my heart. Not only was this an exception in renewing the worn, it was unusual, in my recent experience, to find a product I liked that was still being made several years after I made my initial purchase. I had grown accustomed, reluctantly, to finding something I liked, going back for a replacement in 3 to 5 years, and finding that product no longer existed.

I discovered a name for this in reading Andrew Root’s, The Congregation in a Secular Age, a book I’ve mentioned several times in recent blogs.

It is called the “decay rate.” The rate at which stuff, but not just stuff, becomes out of date, requiring an “upgrade.” You don’t buy a computer or a phone with the expectation that it will last a lifetime, not even a decade. Computers are “old,” meaning “forget it, get a new one,” in three years. Phones even faster. Root says this applies not just to technology, but to social norms. That is, to our concepts of how to live.

Remember — no you don’t — when people worked at a vocation or kind of work or with a company for a lifetime? That norm is long gone. Now, people expect to work at many different jobs, even in a single decade. Moreover, we must be prepared to “re-invent” ourselves early and often. The idea is to live multiple lives in one life-time. What are the psychological implications of this? The social implications? Is it liberation or a new form of slavery?

The consequence of the shortened “decay rate” for technology and social norms is that the present gets compressed. The present ain’t what it used to be. The present used to last longer. Your tech, your company, your church — YOU — used to last longer. Our decay rate has sped way up.

“Keeping up” becomes our new ethic, which isn’t really an ethic at all. When my sister was sick, and dying of cancer, she said with a laugh, “Well, at least I won’t have to remember any more goddamn passwords!” She wouldn’t have to keep up with stuff in which she had no interest or joy.

Root says that Silicon Valley is now running the show. It is keeping our cultural clock, which goes faster and faster. Disruption! Innovation! Growth!

But Root is writing about congregations, many of which have been urged to “innovate,” “to change or die,” “to keep up.” I’ve done my share of such urging.

He argues that this is but another instance of the church conforming to the culture rather than challenging it. According to Root, we don’t need relevance (keeping up), we need resonance (connections, relationships with others and with the transcendent dimension and experience).

Maybe sole salvation has something to do with soul salvation?

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