This blog post is specifically challenging those who reflect on Black Friday from a spiritual (and perhaps especially a Christian) perspective. Here's my assumption: that many of us are secretly judgmental of such a day, find something problematic with the Advent season opening with such a secular and consumptive event, and think something ought to be done to remember the "reason for the season," bringing renewed focus to the spiritual dimensions of the season rather than such a crass practice of shopping till we drop.
Here's where I think this secret judgmentalism goes astray. First, it strays in being so quickly judgmental, almost hypocritical, for even those of us who don't shop on Black Friday still do consume plenty of material goods. The true ascetics among us are few in number.
Second, it strays because it lifts up a particular spirituality as being a Christian and theologically astute one when in point of fact it is not. It is helpful to remember that it is the assumption of Geek paganism and philosophy, not Christianity, that all knowledge of God comes through the activity of the mind purged of impressions received by the senses. Ancient philosophers believed that "only when freed from the perception of tangible objects can the mind lift itself to God" (The Spirit of Early Christian Thought).
One of the more famous and quoted versions of this comes from Celsus in his criticism of the Christianity he encountered in his studies:
If you shut your eyes to the world of sense and look up with the mind, if you turn away from the flesh and raise the eyes of the soul, only then will you see God.However, Christianity does not approach spirituality in this way. Christianity is earthy, materialistic, tangible, precisely because Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came down to earth in Nazareth, born of the Virgin Mary. There is absolutely nothing in the entire Christmas narrative that expresses spirituality according to the view of it espoused in ancient philosophy. Just the opposite, Christianity was so earthy that it was roundly condemned by all early ancient philosophers who encountered it.
So, what this means is that whenever we preach sermons or lift up laments against days like Black Friday in a way that buys into the detachment philosophy, completely misses the point, and drifts from classical Christianity.
This does not mean that Black Friday is a crypto-Christian liturgy. Christians do have something to say about Black Friday; it's just that what we have to say about the day isn't what we typically say about it.
What we should say about Black Friday is that God is active in and through Black Friday. God is at the mall on Black Friday. It is much more interesting to try to read the biblical narrative while at the mall on Black Friday than to sit apart from it, detached, and express condemnation of all those fools who went out shopping at 3 a.m.
How precisely, or where precisely, is God on Black Friday? Well, for one, God is working in and through all the craftspersons who have designed, with love and fidelity, art and goods that serve their neighbor. Stores all over the world have lots of material goods we can purchase that honor God as a material creator who has given the vocation of craft and art to those created in God's image. We fail to honor our neighbors who work in factories and design items for the holiday season when we simply scoff at holiday shopping without realizing that this is how they make an honest and meaningful living.
Second, God is concerned for the poor who are suffering because we have not attended to how and what we purchase with more care. God is concerned for the underpaid workers at the kiosks. God is concerned about how we treat each other and speak to each other while we're at the mall together. God may be especially concerned for those who are unseen, working in the background, who clean the floors, repair the shelves, and in every way do the hard work of making sure we can celebrate this holiday season. God is certainly concerned for any underpaid or unjustly employed workers who made the items we purchase, and God cares about the quality of the items we purchase. God made a beautiful and wonderful creation, and the "stuff" that we make should echo God's creativity and beauty.
Finally, from a theological perspective, there actually is something appropriate about buying stuff in honor of Christmas. God in Christ "bought" into material creation. We participate in this in some small ways through our own purchasing and gifting. We should not overlook this, and we so seldom say it that it's almost like we all go shopping without ever believing that shopping is an appropriate and faithful activity, within proper limits and according to ethical norms we can learn in Christian community.