There is a certain element of doomsday prophecy about Black Friday, isn’t there?
The name is reminiscent of plagues, death, blotted consciousness. Then there is the day itself: the frantic ads, the capitalistic society clawing for dominance. Stores pitted against each other, shoppers doing the same. The lines outside the door, the crush of people wanting to snap up resources first, the trampling of those too weak or too old or too tired. Are we in an apocalyptic novel, or has our carefree shopping day become something else?
The ironies of these juxtapositions are not lost on me. I think the time has come to go beyond the tired arguments against Black Friday (and indeed, an entire month dedicated to relentless consumerism). Yes, our goods are most likely made by underpaid, overworked individuals from fragile economic situations. Yes, it takes away from the true meaning of Christmas, dulls our senses towards the spiritual. Yes, it fractures our relationships, dehumanizes people, commodifies love. Yes, yes, yes. If you are here, reading this blog still, I am assuming you know this.
But this sense of panic, this horror of amped-up consumerism, is interesting to me. Our society at large is obsessed with the apocalypse, and the issue has been explored in length in both literature and cinema. Christians too, have a history with being preoccupied with the end of days. I myself was raised with consciousness, and was certain that I would one day be martyred by the anti-christ (ok, who am I kidding? I still do). But when I was a children, raised on 1970s Christian films such as A Thief in the Night, the end-times always came about with a convenient, evil, dictator-like antichrist. Everything was easily identifiable, and we all knew how it would end. This sort of language has always been a part of evangelical Christianity, and I think in small doses can be even quite helpful. It keeps our eyes to the sky, after all, waiting and straining for Jesus to return in all his glory and justice.
But Black Friday is the opposite sort of apocalypse. It is obsessed with the here and now, with getting by with more than your fair share. But as I have been reading and researching our dependence on the things that make this kind of economy go ’round (see: oil), I have had to face the shaky realization head on: this way of life won’t last forever. Oil is a limited commodity; we don’t have the technology to sustain current American standards without it. Things will change, probably sooner than later.
A part of me wants to laugh the day off, take part in Buy Nothing Day, perhaps wander around a mall dressed like a zombie (a la Occupy XMAS) if I am really feeling radical. I just want to sleep off the excess of yesterday’s pie, just roll over and let another American absurdity live it’s best life. But this year, I can’t. It feels too real.
When things change (and let me repeat: they will have to) I will find myself in one of the most vulnerable places: amongst the urban poor. So I am making changes now, weaning myself off of my ridiculous dependencies because I am finally starting to get a small glimpse of how holistic love thy neighbor as thyself really is.
I fear that history will not look kindly on this day, nor the cavalier attitude the church in America took towards it. In decades to come it might be looked upon as the ultimate symbol of excess and hubris, of a country committed to frantically buying $2 socks at 4am, too harried to realize that the human costs were so very high. This is no longer a day to ignore, but one to plead against.
This isn’t a rant to tell you about how you are supposed to be pursuing justice in your own life; thank goodness I am not the Holy Spirit and that is not my forte. But this is a reminder that we are all called to justice, and we are all currently sitting at the richest table in the world. We live in a place where we are entirely dependent on corrupt economics, where Black Friday has become patriotic, where both the haves and the have-nots are crushed both by debt and by consumer goods that reflect no heavenly value.
For me, the day was celebrated earlier in the week, when I bought a share in my local co-op. It will be celebrated later, when my toddler receives very few presents for Christmas (but the one doll she will get comes from an economy of justice). It looks like thrift-store clothes and hand-made presents made with love (nevermind how wobbly they may be). It tastes like beans and rice and tofu and squash; it tastes like chocolate every once in a while, of saving the splurges for the celebrations, and inviting everyone you know.
I guess the apocalyptic part of me is here to stay; I guess a few more prophets calling out woe wouldn’t hurt any of us. But even those dreary old truth tellers knew what we don’t believe: being attentive to the most vulnerable in a society brings the blessing of God.The opposite of Black Friday isn’t doing without; it is living life as we were always called to: with prayer, celebration, and community in mind. It is living for the gaps in how our children live and how the children in India live, of the privilege of seeing justice roll down like waters.
So, let’s use our prophetic imaginations here. Let’s move beyond boycotting this one utterly depressing day and start living like it is the end–the end of living life at the expense of our world, and our neighbors.
I shared a few thoughts: won’t you share yours?
Note: I am indebted to the ideas in Sharon Asytk’s books–which introduced me to such topics as peak oil, and I would highly recommend that you read them.