Black Friday is the high holy day of conspicuous consumption. Thanksgiving is supposed to be the day that we look toward God in gratitude for his provision. Instead we glut ourselves and whet our appetites for a day at the mall. It is the Friday after Thanksgiving when most retail stores go from being in ‘the red’ (owing) to ‘in the black’ (turning a profit). We awake from our tryptophan-induced slumbers to hunt for the best prices, the biggest and best Christmas gifts (some of which are for ourselves). We will push carts through the crowd and will maneuver to get what we want. We will hunt for the gifts that say, “You are special and we love you” at the least personal cost to us. Nothing says I love you like a new blender for $14.99
In previous years I have abstained from Black Friday, at the very least avoiding big stores and shopping malls. This year I am working at a hardware store and have set up the displays for tomorrow’s sale. I am complicit in the mass consumption. Others will participate by going to the mall or big box stores because of the promise of the best prices (or best shot of getting the item you want).
I find the name ‘Black Friday’ ironic. There is another Friday we call Good where the sun disappeared from the sky, the ground shook and God died. We call that Good Friday because through such a death God opened up the way to new life for humanity. A day of buying and selling of goods, we call Black Friday and the name communicates more than the move from credits to the debits. Black Friday has left an indelible mark on our souls.
In Desiring the Kingdom (2009) James K.A. Smith explores how the ‘liturgy of the shopping mall’ both reflects what matters to us and shape what matters to us (93). The telos of the mall is antithetical to the Kingdom of God and represents an alternative vision. Smith observes that the mall’s version of the Kingdom carries an implicit notion of human brokenness (I’m broken, therefore I shop), a strange configuration of sociality (we size up people based on our own shopping habits), promises the hope of redemption through consumption (always something newer, better, shinier), and provides an unsustainable vision of human flourishing (96 ff).
Smith uses the mall as an example of a secular liturgy. His project is to get us to pay attention to our practices of worship and the implications for Christian education (and formation). My question is, if Smith is right about the mall both reflecting what matters to us and shaping what matters to us, what does it say about us that we begin our Advent season every year with a day of mass-consumption? If our participation in Black Friday shapes us into good consumer capitalists, how are we being shaped as citizens of God’s Kingdom? What practices nourish us? Where can we find an alternative vision of the mall?
Black Friday has muddied our souls and still many of us will brave crowded parking lots and long lines tomorrow. No judgement. If you come into my store tomorrow, I will sell you a power tool you don’t need for someone who doesn’t really want it. I want you to know that consumerism is a lie which subverts the truth and dulls your senses. Shop if you must, but guard your heart.