On the Corner


by Robert Docter, Editor-In-Chief – 

After looking for several days, I finally found a shoe repair store.

It wasn’t easy.

We seem to live in an age that abandons useful items. “If it doesn’t work—throw it away.”
Me, I’m a product of the Depression, and my brother and I never gave up on a pair of shoes until the tops wore out or the fit made walking impossible.

There were many repair shops in those days.

I took a pair of shoes in to be re-soled the other day. I believed that only one shoe really needed it, and I made that conclusion clear to the European immigrant behind the counter.

He immediately gave me much confidence in the wisdom of my choice by “out-asserting” me and disagreeing with me while using considerable arm movement. I was sure his voice could be heard in the parking lot as he stated with certainty that I would do irreparable damage to my spine, my hips, my knees, and several inner organs unless I repaired both soles at the same time. Then, throwing the shoes back down on the counter he stated: “And the heels—look at them. They must be replaced.”

Well—I agreed quickly with a slight stammer and even failed to ask, “How much?”

A few days later I had an “almost new” pair of shoes for a third of the price of a new pair. And these shoes, shined for the first time, were already comfortable.

I guess for much of my early years I thought the leather sewed to the bottom of my shoes was spelled S-O-U-L, and the rubber thing at the back of the shoe was spelled H-E-A-L.

(These are both examples of how this Army complicates the lives of its junior soldiers.)

My dad went to training in Chicago from the Great Falls, Montana corps at age 16. The corps was located in an old store front, a former shoe repair shop. He told me that on the side wall of the hall one could easily make out the white-washed remnant of a sign advertising its major function, repairing “SOLES and HEELS.”

He never spelled the words for me. He just let me think about it.

I’ve thought of that sign on many occasions during the years, and I always see the words on the side wall of that little store-front Army hall in my mind spelled my way—SOULS and HEALS. How wonderful to go to a church that writes on the wall that its main function was to repair souls and heals.

I still go to that kind of church.

It’s really kind of old fashioned in many ways. We don’t have to worry about “postmodernity” because we’re always just a fraction behind the curve in achieving modernity itself.

We still preserve a belief system that says everyone can be re-souled. Everyone can be made new. Nobody ever has to ask: “How much?” We might have worn out the soles of our shoes by walking through this world ministering to the “down but never out” group—healing both the socially and spiritually poor, throwing life preservers and lending a helping hand, but we know how to engage in the process of re-souling. We also know that walking through a “world” doesn’t mean we have to embrace it.

That belief system guides a persevering commitment to the idea that there are no throw-away people—that “worth” is equally distributed in the eyes of God.

We are “option providers.” We try to bring people out of the “basements” of their lives. It’s a healing process. “Basement” needs are never measured by dollars or numbers. They deliver pain beyond human assessment. The healing salve is love. Then, when the process helps them become a little less depressed, a little more stable, ready to take hold of some kind of life—we present them with the choice of spiritual renewal, and through it, a new life.

It can’t be imposed or, eventually, it will be rejected.

It can’t be provoked by fear or the seeker will never understand the nature of love.

It can’t be motivated by negative judgmentalism or the individual will never experience grace.

We never give up on people

We teach people how to read the map that reveals the way home.

We’re in the re-souling business.

I wonder if I can talk the Captain into helping me find a wall in our corps where I can put my sign?

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