An anthem for Black Friday – reprise

Just had this piece posted on the CRC Network site so figured I’d repost an edited version of it here today.

Today is Black Friday south of the 49th, the biggest consumer bender known to humanity.  Called black because merchants’ books finally crossover from the red into the black, it’s an apt adjective for other reasons.  And it would be so easy to watch the spree and smugly gloat, believing I’m free from that, above it all.  Truth is, what separates me from a Black Friday binge is merely opportunity.

In the past year, since stepping down as Sr. Pastor at River Park Church and stepping into a time of pared down living, I’ve spent a fair bit of time simply scraping away the accumulated clutter of life.  I find myself surprised, wondering where all this stuff came from? I’m developing a theory about the reproductive capacities of inert material things, certain that my books, the children’s toys, electronics and clothes are all mating with each other, my desk drawers, filing cabinets and closets their dimly lit breeding grounds, with Barry White playing somewhere in the background.

I’d happily settle for that convenient explanation but the uglier truth hitting home is that for all this stuff, I saw it, I desired it, I justified its importance to my life, I had to have it, I pursued it, and in the end, I bought it.  Here’s an illustrative event, the moment a box of books (my drug) arrives from Amazon (my dealer) – the immediate hit is like a drug entering the bloodstream; I’m flush with excitement, feeling a boosted sense of identity (just having “that” book or clothing item/gadget/outdoor gear/music/artwork/whatever makes me feel smarter and savvy, well-read and in-touch, manly and spiritual).  And yet the same unbelievably boring cycle repeats itself, that in weeks, if not days, the gleam is gone and whatever it was I saw and wanted now becomes what it really is – stuff that clutters my life, needs to be maintained and cared for, and gets stored away somewhere, forgotten, stumbled upon, then hauled off and either sold, recycled or tossed.

I’m struck scared by how deep the demon is in me (the evidence is strewn all about me), how my life has been discipled into this consumer way of living without me really seeing it happen at all.  Consumerism has become an alternative but dominant religion in our world, hawking meaning, identity and purpose for our lives.  Count up all the time, energy, and hope, let alone money, that get invested in researching, ogling, desiring, pursuing, purchasing, enjoying and acquiring stuff – then tell me how free you are from this thing.

Arguably, the problem is not the stuff itself, it’s the wantings.  It’s your heart, my heart sick with desire, the wanting for something that an Ipad, sweater, new house or Chia-pet will never fill.  Something has us and how we need healing.

Which brings me to needed beauty, a shot-to-the-heart song of confession from the Avett Brothers.  If you’ve never heard of them, Seth and Scott Avett are two Jesus looking dudes with raw, beautiful music that heals and brings life.  They blew me away two summers ago in a fantastic festival show, and now they’re on repeat in our Ipod at home.  And I can’t think of a better anthem for Black Friday than Ill with Want.

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  1. #1 by Keith Shields on November 25, 2011 - 2:00 pm

    Phil, I am glad you reposted this since some of us did not see it the first time around. Unfortunately I see myself in your post. I resolve today to make at least a small change in the cycle of want.

  2. #2 by sheila on November 28, 2011 - 7:22 am

    I am in agreement with you, Phil, that we are “ill with greed”. Yes, it pulls at the heart of the best of us. I have, however, had a taste of satisfaction while using black Friday as my alibi and not my enemy.

    My husband’s life work is at the height of busyness in December and January. It’s just the nature of the beast. When he arrives home–finally–I NEED to have this place filled with the signs and smells of Christmas and void of any strife that may come with the season. It’s just how we have “made it” in our marriage of 20 years. He can’t handle much more in life than his work and to come home to craziness would throw him over the edge. After a few years of failure, I vowed pretty early in our marriage to make this place peaceful at Christmas. The compromise…I get to shop for ALL Christmas gifts for one day. From 12am to midnight, I get that day to myself. You can get alot done on one day–every single gift. When you have a time limit and so much to do, you realize what you NEED and what is excess. You cannot on that day go without a plan and get absolutely everything for the season done. If I do not get something purchased, I usually buy it online and treat the rest of the month just like the rest of the year buying fresh fruits and veggies once a week and meats when I need them. This system has reduced my need for stuff for ME quite a bit. On black friday, I also go to local drug stores and scarf up on the deals for toiletry items, too. Toothpaste and such for the entire year. This helps when the food pantry at church needs personal items. I have plenty to donate without too much excess at the end. If I do have excess, I donate more. Not to mention I did not pay an arm and a leg.

    Consumerism is rampant. We all see it. We all fall victim to it at some point. It would appear that my outing on black Friday is selfish. I have, however, embraced the holiday season better in my own life by grabbing great deals while accomplishing the goal of keeping my family sane.

    Hope this gives a different twist to the use of a day that many people waste on themselves.

    • #3 by phil on November 29, 2011 - 12:04 pm

      Shelia – thanks for your “other side” of Black Friday. I agree it can be redeemed. My post wasn’t to blast Black Friday but the ethos or spirit that seems to animate it. At another level, as you’ve found, it can be leveraged in an important way to serve other kingdom values. I think the key in all this is about our heart orientation. I think you can participate in Black Friday sales and not bow down to the consumer god. So thanks much for sharing another side to Black Friday. Much appreciated.

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