As a kid growing up in Arkansas I remember not being able to buy much of anything on Sunday’s except gas. All grocery and department stores were closed. Sound rough? It wasn’t really.
It was the norm. No one complained. No one talked about it. Gradually things changed. Today, few things are not open for business on Sunday due to a change in cultural values across society reflected in the law. Blue laws, also known as Sunday laws, made it illegal in states that had them to be open for business on Sunday.
I did not realize a change had occurred until the late 1990’s while I attending Asbury Theological Seminary for graduate studies. I found myself engaged in conversation with a person who attended the school a couple of decades earlier as an undergraduate. He shared how the small town had been even smaller then. Smaller? It only had a couple of restaurants now unless you counted the deli in the gas station. “You couldn’t even play tennis Sunday afternoons,” he lamented. Really? Why not?
His answer was two-fold. First, because of the Blue laws, which had since been repealed. Second, because the courts were on school property, which had even stricter rules for Sunday activities than the local municipal government. “I hated it,” he said. “However, I wish now there was a place like that I could live.“ Of course, I asked him to explain.
It seems as a student he found himself searching for something to do Sunday afternoons. He did not have a car to go into Lexington, a forty-five minute drive away. There was no movie theatre in town and you could not play tennis. Sunday’s were slow although the lack of distractions did enhance his study ethic and the amount of time available to interact with others just for fun. Today, as a husband and father in the workplace he rarely lacked for something to do. In fact, he longed for that slower pace, fewer distractions, and encouragement to share life with people rather than be entertained by himself or alone with others. Life had more meaning back then he said.
What he railed against as a student, he yearned for as an adult wage earner. He did not know what he wanted earlier, even as he was sure he did.
The U.S. Supreme Court has held blue laws as constitutional when used by states to promote the general welfare or to encourage a day of rest. The origin of blue laws may have been for religious purposes, but they are legal if a secular interest is the goal. The court ruled it was appropriate for that day to be the one preferred by the majority of the state’s citizens.
Before the last Blue laws in Arkansas ended Mar 3, 2009, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette encouraged the state to allow free enterprise to determine which stores stayed open and their hours of operation.
What would happen if citizens determined it was in their best interest not to shop or be entertained on one day of the week? What if people across the land remembered that time for conversation and relationship building with friends and family was one of life’s highest pleasures and deepest rewards? Is there enough patience, wisdom, and discipline in the land to follow through with individual commitment even as each one sought to encourage other’s to make the same commitment?
Perhaps God was not such a backward ignorant tyrant when He instructed Moses to set aside one day to focus on their relationship. “On it you shall not do any work”. Perhaps as the Creator, He knew and knows just what men and women need to stay in good health; body, mind, and soul. Perhaps He knows what we really want, even when we do not.