Sunday, May 1, 2011

Blue Laws

It is uncertain how the term, “Blue Laws” came to designate those ordinances that forbade certain activities on Sunday, mainly buying or selling goods considered inessential. But no such laws were necessary to keep our family from transacting business on “The Lord’s Day.” So complete was the prohibition in the Rapp household that I never doubted that somewhere in the Bible, inscribed in large bold print, were the words, “THOU SHALT NOT BUY OR SELL ON SUNDAY.” Surely they must be written in red, the very words of Jesus.

In fact I was thankful that the restrictions in the Rapp household did not extend to fights between siblings or ad hoc activities near home, like playing a game in the street. They did exclude watching a semi-pro baseball game at the park. Also forbidden was hunting or fishing. A Sunday drive in the country was allowable as long as preparations were made the day before, filling the car’s tank with gas.

Of course, the prohibitions were a carryover from Puritan notions of the Sabbath, derived from the Old Testament Hebrew laws against work on the Jewish Sabbath. Long after the descendants of the Puritans, the Congregationalists, had ceased to observe such prohibitions many Christians, affiliated with the Wesleyan and “holiness” revivals of the late 19th century, preserved the tradition and were even successful in getting them written into law in many communities across the nation. Mom and Dad, with their roots in the Nazarene Church clung to a belief in the sacredness of the Sabbath (Sunday) even when communities were slowly removing the restrictions and church members were feeling less obligated to observe them. It was no burden upon my parents to make their purchases on Saturday in preparation for Sunday’s “Day of Rest.” If some purchase was forgotten, it could wait until Monday.

There was never any doubt about Dad’s commitment to the sacredness of the Lord’s Day, but if anyone had entertained such a doubt he dispelled it once and for all the day he turned down a transaction he would dearly have loved to conclude, because doing so would have required him to do business on Sunday. Dad owned a Model A coup that he wanted to sell. He needed the cash that the sale would produce. Several days passed after he advertized it for sale and there had been no buyers and few prospects. It was beginning to look like the car might not sell. But one Sunday afternoon there was a knock on the door. Dad went to the door and found a man who wanted to look at the car. Apparently it violated none of Dad’s principles to show him the vehicle on Sunday, but when the man offered to purchase it on the spot, and showed Dad the cash, Dad refused to take it, telling the buyer he could come back the next day and conclude the deal. The man indicated that the deal would have to be concluded immediately or he wasn’t interested. Dad held his ground and the prospective buyer left.

Undoubtedly Dad eventually sold the vehicle. Whether the price he got was as good as the one he turned down that day I don’t know. I’m sure, though, that Dad regretted, not for one minute, the decision he had made. Money was dear to Dad, scraped together through hard work, and spent frugally, but principle was even dearer.

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