Friday, November 29, 2013

Reflections on a Black Friday

I remember how much fun my best friend in high school and I used to have taking my mom to work early on Black Friday, and then hitting the sales. We were more in the market for $10 deals, rather than big ticket electronics, but we always had a great time, and felt very adventurous. 

I know many folks are opting not to shop today (I'm too lazy to get up that early anymore!) and were very upset to see all the shopping deals yesterday. I get that. I delight in being able to spend the time surrounded by family on Thanksgiving, the chance to, for one precious day, cut away from the relentless pace of our world as a collective body, and say, "There are much more important things to do." I feel sad that we are eating away even at that small practice. 

But, I also think the issue is bigger than when we choose to shop, and so we need to think carefully about how we speak about what we see happening. I'm at a point in my life now where if I miss the sale price on Black Friday for something I want, I can afford to pay the higher price another day. I can afford to choose to shop locally instead of from big corporations. I can choose organic and whole foods over imported and processed items. And so I try to whenever possible.

But this hasn't always been the case in my family. In my Doctor of Ministry Research group, we've spent a lot of time talking about costs, and how the cost of things always goes *somewhere* when we are able to get something cheaply - it doesn't just disappear. But most often, the costs shift more and more to the poor - domestically and internationally - but become more hidden. Rarely do the most wealthy pick up more cost. For the cheap prices today (and every day), we perpetuate a system where the most vulnerable incur more costs - in low wage jobs, in lack of benefits, in organizing and labor rights power, etc.

We continue to live in a culture that says that all the items on sale today are valuable to have. A bigger (or super smaller) TV, headphones, tablets, smartphones, whatever. I certainly have many of these items! We create a culture that says these things are necessary. And then, we shame people, who are already struggling financially, for trying to fit in to the culture, and buy the things we've determined everyone must have - we shame them for trying to secure them at a cheaper price! 

When I think about the message of the gospel, the message of Jesus, I'm reminded that his message was so much more than opting out of a day of shopping (which I know you all know!) Jesus was about opting out of a whole system! Jesus was about opting out of the relentless culture of stuff, and offering a kingdom of God that said people were far more valuable than things, than status, than corrupt power. That true power comes from vulnerability, from service, from heading to the end of the line. And Jesus never communicated this message by shaming anyone - except maybe the rich and powerful and influential - to whom he simply to spoke the truth. 

Anyway, sorry for the rant. But I want to make sure that when we're shaking our heads at the commercialism of the day, we're doing it for the right reasons. Not because we can't believe "those people" are fighting over a good deal - but because we've created a culture where "those people," just like the rest of us, believe that these things will bring us life. That, indeed, is something to be sad about.

(This post was originally shared here on my facebook page with slight variations.)
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