As soon as the thanksgiving meal ends, the ads come out and the preparations for the next morning’s shopping begin. Once we’ve eaten our fill, it is time to plan out our Black Friday adventures. We read the ads, find the best deals, and plot out our day in order to get the door-busters and complete our shopping lists. And now the deals begin even earlier than ever.
And I’m all for the deals; I’ve partaken in the Black Friday rituals in order to snag doorbuster deals for myself.
But here’s what I want us to consider. This practice shapes us. Because everything we do and participate in forms us in some way. And repeated practices (the ones that we do every single year) are important in how they form us.
Black Friday helps form us as good, American consumers that need more stuff. This is the way it always has been; companies push the day in hopes that consumers feel the need to buy more things. And the more that we buy things, the more we feel the need to buy more next year.
While we might not initially think of it this way, Black Friday is ultimately about worship. Now, I realize that many of you are not going out on Black Friday and abandoning your relationship with God for the sake of deals. But let’s consider, the events that happen on Black Friday.
People set their alarms and plan out their day in order to make it to the place of worship. They’ll likely grab a coffee on the way, find their way through the parking lot and join their fellow worshippers as they wait to enter into the house or worship. Once they get in some greeters excitedly welcome them in and help them find the altar of the latest video game system that was just released. Once you figure out what you want, you make an offering and in return you are offered a gift in return that will hopefully provide some sort of satisfaction for you or a loved one once you take it home.
Note: James K.A. Smith's book Desiring the Kingdom greatly helped shape this description when he describes the mall as a place of worship.
Ok, I’m being a bit facetious, but as we live out our ordinary lives doing things like shopping for Christmas, I think it is important to understand how our culture forms us.
Glenn Packiam writes, “The way we worship is not just an expression of our faith; it is part of what shapes our faith.” And this also means that the way our culture worships is not just an expression of what is important in our culture, but it is also what shapes those in the culture. What does the culture worship? And how do those worship practices form them?
Would Black Friday be a picture of the worship practices and the values of our culture?
There’s a traditional church-word that has often described worship practices; liturgy. Black Friday is the liturgy of the traditional, consumeristic American religion. One brilliant author, James Smith describes cultural liturgies when he suggests:
Liturgies aim our love to different ends precisely by training our hearts through our bodies. They prime us to approach the world in a certain way, to value certain things, to aim for certain goals, to pursue certain dreams, to work together on certain projects. - James K.A. Smith
There is a liturgy that takes place on Black Friday. And the preachers and worship leaders (the marketers and the business owners) want us to value certain things and have certain goals that ultimately help their business be more successful.
So what do we do with Black Friday?
I don’t want this to just raise a bunch of questions and then make you feel like you shouldn’t shop on Black Friday. But I do want to raise some questions and make you think about how the tradition of shopping on Black Friday forms you.
Perhaps for some Black Friday is an issue of idolatry. Luther defines an idol as anything we fear, love, or trust above God. If you are a looking for joy, satisfaction, or hope in what you purchase for yourself or someone else, it’s going to fail you.
Perhaps for some Black Friday is an area of temptation. For many that allure of deals doesn’t actually promote good stewardship. You might be able to boast, “Look at the good deals!” all the while watching the bottom line of your budget go deeper and deeper into the red.
Perhaps Black Friday is the best opportunity for you to get away from the kids and get your Christmas lists finished. Maybe you love the change to the Christmas season, you love the company of friends, and you love the accomplishment of getting your shopping completed.
I’m not going to say Black Friday is evil, but I will say that it has a way of shaping us as a culture. It shapes American culture to the point that it has bled into Thanksgiving itself. And so as you celebrate thanksgiving and perhaps make your plans for Black Friday, ask, “How will Black Friday form me?"
And if considering that leads you to regret past decisions on those shopping events, confess and confidently know, "He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west.” (Psalm 103:12) And if considering that leads you to walk cautiously into the mall on Black Friday, walk boldly knowing how the enemy will fight for your love and affection and be confident that Christ walks with you.