Before the turkey gets cold on Thanksgiving, millions of Americans will prepare themselves for the retail quest that is Black Friday. My concern is not the shopping event itself, but the number of Americans whose identity is enslaved to unhealthy and unsustainable habits of acquisition, debt, discontent, further acquisition, increased debt, deepened discontentment, etc…
Black Friday, Cyber Monday and the holiday retail season are for many the beginning of yet another cycle of material acquisition, just as the previous cycle comes to a close. After all, the items we purchased last year should be cast aside for what is upgraded, updated, and repackaged in a newer version. Why? Because the items from last year are so, well…365 days ago. Pay no attention to the fact that you are still paying off the debt incurred from those “old” items (and perhaps some items from the year before that), just make the minimum payment and you’ll be fine. At least that’s the story we must buy into.
How many cycles like this will it take for us to acquire enough to be content? When do we have enough? Is there a limit to desire? Should there be a limit to desire?
In his book “The Unintended Reformation,” Historian Brad Gregory observes, “Westerners live in societies without an acquisitive ceiling. A distinctly consumerist economic ethos depends precisely on persuading people to discard as quickly as possible what they were no less insistently urged to purchase, so that another acquisitive cycle might begin. “
So, the “must have” item from last year now “must go” in order to make way for the new “must have” item. That’s the story, but must we buy in? Why not determine for ourselves what we “must have”?
Gregory also observes, “In proportion as an individual’s identity is derived from consumption, the quest to reconstruct and rediscover oneself is inseparable from endless acquisitions. There can never be enough; if to be is to buy, if self-fashioning depends on evermore and newer fashions for the self.”
Why not redefine what we “must” have within the context of genuine contentment. That would require us all to rediscover our identity apart from what we consume and acquire. It would demand of us a reconstruction of self-concept based in character, virtue, integrity, and love for one another. Our value is not determined by what we possess, but in who we are as humans created in God’s image, and who we have in relational community with each other.
I think shopping is great. I think Black Friday and Cyber Monday can be fun ways to shop for our loved ones, but let’s keep them in perspective. During Jesus’ ministry, the Sabbath had become detached from its role as a time of rest and reflection. To turn things right-side up, Jesus stated, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27) What if we tamed and reframed Black Friday because we finally understood that Black Friday is for you to enjoy, but you are not defined by Black Friday?
This post also appeared at Columbia Faith and Values