Back in Black: It’s Thursday But Friday’s Coming!

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.

Consumer Constantine and Christian bookstores.

Two criticisms are often leveled at the church in America: (1) we are far too consumeristic and (2) we are under the sway of Constantinianism or Christendom. What is meant by the second criticism is that Americans have a blend of faith and politics and are often confused about where one begins and the other ends (that is the sort of dumbed down bastardized definition that makes everyone unhappy. You’re welcome).

If you want to see American Consumerism and Christendom in full force, look no further than Christian retailing. My dirty little secret is that I sometimes wander into my local Christian book store just to get an eyeful of the religious kitsch they’re hawking. Long before the folks on Portlandia were putting birds on it, Christian bookstores were slapping crosses and stick figure fish on everything they could. It is really a wonder to behold.

And of course there are the patriotic products, and book titles promoting a conservative republican political agenda (plus a few books tucked way in back that offer a mild critique).  But what brings me great joy, is that my local Family Christian Bookstore has just rolled out this year’s patriotic tees.  These T-Shirts do a good job of confusing American Patriotism with the Christian gospel so you can look stylish for Memorial Day, Flag day and the 4th of July. Plus they are only $5.97. What. a. deal.

I don’t have pictures of this year’s designs, but last summer I was so taken with the selection I took pictures (most of  these are still available): Originally I was going to give you my commentary on each shirt; however I think these fashions speak for themselves. Feedback and comments are welcome! Behold  I give you the Family Christian Patriotic T-Shirt Collection:

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Lenten Prayers from Walter Brueggemann

The following two prayers are excerpted from a collection of Walter Brueggemann’s prayers Awed to Heaven Rooted in Earth (153-4). Brueggemann  is brilliant at exposing our complicity in systems of injustice (both in his scholarship and prayers). May these prayers guide us in this season of repentance:

Loss is Indeed Our Gain

The Pushing and Shoving in the world is endless.

      We are pushed and shoved.

      And we do our share of pushing and shoving

           in our great anxiety.

     And in the middle of that

           you have set down your beloved suffering son

           who was like a sheep led to slaughter

            who opened not his mouth.

     We seem not able,

     so we ask you to create space in our life

     where we may ponder his suffering

     and your summons for us to suffer with him,

     suspecting that suffering is the only way to newness.

So we pray for your church in these Lenten days,

     when we are driven to denial —

           not to notice the suffering, 

           not to engage it,

           not to acknowledge it.

So be that way of truth among us

       that we should not deceive ourselves

That we shall see that loss is indeed our gain.

We give you thanks for that mystery from which we live.


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Revise our taking

You, You giver!

You have given light and life to the world;

You have given freedom from Pharaoh to your people Israel;

You have given your only Son for the sake of the world;

You have given yourself to us;

You have given and forgiven,

                 and you remember our sins no more. 

And we, in response, are takers:

       We take eagerly what you give us;

       we take from our neighbors near at hand as is acceptable;

       we take from our unseen neighbors greedily and acquisitively;

       we take from our weak neighbors thoutlessly;

       we take all that we can lay our hands on.

It dawns on us that our taking does not match your giving.

In this Lenten season revise our taking,

               that it may be grateful and disciplined

              even as you give in was generous and overwhelming.




First World Christian

1stWrldXianSo if you follow me on twitter (@jamichuk) you might have noticed a series of retweets from a @1stWrldXian. 1stWorldChristian is my new satirical twitter feed poking fun at the privileged western expression of church. I plan to make fun of Christian consumerism, the pettiness of first world christian problems (ala FirstWorldProblems, FirstWorldPains), worship styles, and a sometimes petty christian subculture.

If you would like to contribute tweets you can message me on facebook, DM on twitter, or comment here and I will work appropriate tweets. Please keep it relatively clean and good spirit (we’re laughing at ourselves not just other people). Also I won’t post tweets that slam God, the church or Christianity in general. I am not making fun of ‘the Church.’ I’m making fun of our western expression of church. So contribute if you like, otherwise just add me to your feed.