How should the church respond to Black Friday: a social media conversation

Perhaps it indicates the shallow nature of my faith, but the best ethical reflection I've been part of in the last two years have been social media conversations about Black Friday.

Last year on the The Lead blog here at the Cafe, we began to examine how the church should respond to the commercial bacchanalia that breaks out on the weekend after Thanksgiving and has now gotten its teeth into the holiday itself.

Rather than simply criticize shoppers, many of whom go out driven by generosity in search of much-needed bargains, we asked ourselves how the church best minister to the masses at the mall. Could we come up with an Ashes to Go for the shopping season?

The Rev. Noah Evans of Medford, Massachusetts, came up with the idea of opening a Blessing Station, and the idea caught the fancy of editors at The Boston Globe which wrote about Evans' efforts here.

This year the conversation got rolling when the Rev. Torey Lightcap (@fathertorey) mentioned on Twitter that last year's conversation helped change his attitudes about Black Friday. You can follow most of the backing and forthing about how issues of class color our critique of Black Friday, the need to avoid judging shoppers whose economic circumstances might be quite different than our own and whether bargain shoppers were actually finding bargains on my Twitter page (@JimNaught).

Eventually, we returned to the issue of how the church can make itself present during the shopping season, a conversation that included contributions from more than a dozen people including the Revs. Megan Castellan (@revlucymeg), Scott Gunn (@scottagunn), Maggie Dawn (@maggidawn), Anne Lane Witt (@VaPriestess), David Kendrick (@frdavidken) Jordan Haynie Ware (@GodWelcomesAll) and Laura Catalano (@LesitCatalano) among others. Maggie returned to the idea of an Ashes to Go type practice, and proposed some sort of flash mob. I wondered whether we could make the liturgy of the hours work for us. Megan combined the two ideas and suggested that on Black Friday, when the stores are open all day long that parishes try a flash mob matins at the local mall. I was quite taken with this idea, and am waiting for someone to try it.

Scott Gunn wrote an essay on his blog inspired by our conversations. He wrote:

So while it’s easy to be self-righteous about the excesses of Black Friday, staying home might be a luxury that not everyone is able to partake in. But then, the internet being the internet, we saw plenty of self-righteousness going the other way. How dare you condemn Black Friday!

Jordan Haynie Ware pointed me to an excellent reflection by Morgan Guyton on "the three 'family values' behind Black Friday" (those being focus on the family, looking for bargain and not waiting until the last minute), and Rebecca Wilson found a characteristically incisive blog by Peace Bang on how the church should respond to a phenomena that isn't going away.

Updated with one more relevant blog essay from Sarah Condon at Mockingbird, about the Women of Pre-Chirstmas.

What are your ideas for how the church should respond to Black Friday?

Comments (3)

A local ELCA church located just south of the big shopping area hosted an all-night breakfast. They started at 11 p.m. Thursday and served until noon Friday, with eggs, bacon, pancakes, etc., available free of charge to anyone who stopped in. TV reports said some came before they got in line, some came afterward and some took a break mid-shopping.

I like the idea of doing something that offers an antidote to the frenetic pace and crowds - a "meditation booth" in the middle of the mall, or something like that - something that offers people just a few moments of peace and quiet anticipation. That way it's not adding to the noise and insanity, but offering a service that helps people get through all that (and maybe even reminding them there's probably a large building near them that is always there to serve as their "meditation booth" when needed).

This summer, my church ran a three-week adult forum based on the book "Unplug the Christmas Machine," by Jo Robinson. I was not able to attend, but my friends who did said it was very useful and planned on making changes to their Christmas activities.

The social justice outreach group also put together a list of non-commercial Christmas gifts such as donations to Kiva, and other organizations.

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