Black Friday. Good Friday. Jesus died on the latter. In a sense Jesus died on the former as well.
We know that Good Friday was Jesus’ execution date. Caesar’s world executed him because he posed a threat to Pax Romana. The upside down world of the gospel was a counter narrative to a world in which peace came not from the bread and the cup, but from weapons of violence. Jesus’ resurrection showed the world that radical, inclusive love has the final word in a world organized by fear.
Black Friday’s message runs counter to the gospel. It’s not quite as bad a Caesar’s world, but it runs a close second.
I haven’t shopped on Black Friday for years. Maybe I did before it took on the midnight openings, but now I avoid stores on the Friday after Thanksgiving as much as possible. I just don’t see bargains as a sufficient reason to spend hours on line in the very early hours of the morning. I don’t like shopping when the store is packed and crowded and people are seemingly maniacal in their pursuit of “stuff.”
Black Friday is so not the gospel. Specials which advertise steep discounts for the first two or three hours after a store opens are a sinister enticement because they implicitly tell people that the sale item is limited in quantity – “we only have enough to sell for the allotted time,” even though they can sell it at the regular price a few hours later. Without saying specifically, the retailers prey upon the consumer’s fear of scarcity through manipulation.
Scarcity is contrary to the gospel. God’s creation is one of abundance. There is enough for everyone – that’s what we proclaim at the communion table.
Preying upon scarcity, heightens anxiety, which distorts our values.
This year big box retailers opened on Thanksgiving Day (except in states like Massachusetts where blue laws still have some teeth). People left their tables, their family, and their friends to shop. Anxiety and the fear of scarcity provoked people to abandon what really matters in our lives for consumer products. And let’s not ignore that manipulating people to give up Thanksgiving in order to shop also made people who work in the stores leave their tables, their families, and their friends in order to serve them.
OK, so one can argue that no one forced people to shop at a ridiculously early hour. But if we wonder what happened to our community fabric or the values instilled by being in each other’s presence around the table, we only need to look at Black Friday and now Grey Thanksgiving.
Black Friday’s implicit preying upon the fear of scarcity is powerful. Not everyone can stand against it on his or her own. It takes a community to keep a community together and to make the community stronger. Sometimes, we need laws (blue laws are an example) to save us from ourselves in order to preserve something much greater.
Black Friday is not like Good Friday because we don’t place any religious significance on the day, but in some ways we’re executing Christ in a different way, a way that is more sinister – a way that might make Caesar proud.
If there is hope to come out of Black Friday, it would be Advent and the reminder that we must look for signs of hope for God’s reign of peace. We might begin looking at ourselves to understand how retailers manipulate us by creating the impression of scarcity. We might also remember to look for signs of God’s abundance, remembering Paul’s words from 1 Corinthians 13:8a, “Love never ends.” And it is ultimately love that we should seek for that is the value that binds each of us to each other and creates the beloved community for which we pray, “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”