I recently had the opportunity to ring the bell for the Salvation Army. Somehow I ended up on the Advisory Board for the Jackson Salvation Army — I say “somehow” because, well, let’s face it — I’m just some dude. Actually, I see it as a rare chance to serve the community without it feeling like it’s part of my job description as a Pastor. I see this as a healthy thing for many reasons, some of which I bet you could guess. I will say this: a Pastor does lose one small aspect of Christian living that others get to retain, and that is the chance to volunteer as a normal churchman/churchwoman. Sure, we put in our time and enjoy it, but there’s no ignoring the fact that it is tied to a paycheck. Not literally, of course. Have you ever tried to tie a subjective factor to a paycheck? Even if you could find some kind of magic rope that would somehow lasso “volunteering”, you would still need to put grommets in the paper check. Otherwise, the rope would rip right through the paper. I think that this whole idea is beyond absurd. I will abandon it and move on to the next paragraph. Thank you for your patience up to this point.
A bell ringer stands outside a store where people are both entering and exiting, presumably to shop and perhaps act on specific plans to buy something for Christmas. This is where the Salvation Army comes in. Though the community is served year ’round, it is especially important to remember those who are in need during the Holidays. Enter the ding-a-lingy doo. I stood there for two hours, smiling and greeting people in a very non-guilt inducing way, wishing them a Merry Christmas and commenting on the weather (when it’s 50 degrees after Thanksgiving, you feel as though you’ve moved to a warmer climate — which is most places besides Michigan). “What a nice day” I would remark as people walked into this Mart with Walls. “Thank you — Merry Christmas” would regularly pour from my mouthy works to the ears of a donor. It was a very low key ask. A ringing bell, a donation bucket and a sign that says “Salvation Army — Need Knows No Season”. It’s true.
For two hours, I rang the bell. I discovered new rhythms and checked the acoustic value of ringing near glass vs. ringing near cement. I thought about catchy things to say to people as they walked by, things like “I can’t get my ears to stop ringing” or “Have a good Wal-Marting” or something. It rarely if ever worked. Some people looked away. A few smiled and said hello. Most just went about their routine, just as I have so many times. It’s not that I personally get any of this money, though I know the difference it will make in our community. So I’m pulling for it, but I’m not depending on it. They can certainly see that I’m not wasting away. Yet, I care deeply about people donating. Yet again, I tried really hard not to make anyone feel guilty. It’s a delicate balance that I would guess all ringers have felt and most are better at than me.
That’s when the purple lady came by. She walked up and made a very nice donation. The only reason I noticed her specific monetary amount is because the bucket was getting full and I had to use a paint stick to compress the donations into the bucket. She waited for me to finish and then grabbed my arm. She said “you see this big purple purse?” I did. It was nice. I think I remarked about its niceness. She then said “and do you see this purple jacket?” Indeed I saw the jacket, too, and said something about how it matches the purse with wonderful accuracy. She said “now remember — I’m the lady with the big purple purse and the purple jacket — when I come back out of the store, don’t make me feel guilty because I gave on the way in, OK?”
OK. Consider it done.
I must admit that I was tempted to catch her on the way out and give her an “I’m so ashamed of you, purple purse and jacket lady” look, albeit jokingly, but I didn’t see her. And maybe that’s for the better. Oh, there were other strange things, like the fight in the parking lot or the near fender-bender as people pushed for the spot that was closer to the door (and the bucket, right?). There was the tatted & pierced kid who carefully folded up a donation and placed it in the bucket as if it were some sacred act. Maybe for him it was.