Friday, November 23, 2012

Black Friday of the heart

The sign of Thanksgiving is a turkey, a reminder of gratitude for the food that helped American pilgrims survive a harsh winter nearly 400 years ago. I doubt that the survivors would recognize their simple feast in our gluttony of food and deserts. Thanksgiving gives cultural permission to eat too much among the comfort of family and friends. I'm glad we have the abundance here to enjoy the feast!

After Thanksgiving, the country goes mad. The sign of post-thanksgiving is "Retail = $X; BUT SALE = $x" on what we call Black Friday. I joined the fray a few years ago to see what the "fuss and fun" was about. The jostling, anxious faces, and greed appalled me. I've never had the stomach to participate again.

Some families or girlfriend groups make a sporting tradition of the occasion, taking the day to compete for bargains and shop together. That's cool -- sort-of. Great that it gets families together. Great that it helps the economy shake off a lethargic fall sales. But ...

I'm going to issue an unwelcome challenge today, based on this question: "Are our traditions and celebrations built more around American values than God's pleasure?"

Every tradition celebrates a core value. Thanksgiving demonstrates our gratitude for God's provisions and human relationships. In the Church, the Eucharist (or Communion) celebrates the death and resurrection of Jesus and our ensuing salvation. Baptism showcases the commitment of believers to live for God within the community of faith for the rest of his/her life. We have valuable family traditions, community traditions, and national traditions.

But what does Black Friday memorialize, with its rituals of spending precious life/time marking out deals and routes to stores? Of lining up in the early morning hours for the best bargain? Of spending beyond our budgets to buy things we want but don't need? Of pushing others aside for our "right" in a competition to snatch up temporal goods?

How much time have we (myself included) spent mapping out how to reach our neighbors for Christ? Have we arrived early to church to volunteer for set-up or to welcome those coming to our community of faith? Have we spend beyond our budgets to meet missionary appeals or support church projects? Have we pushed other volunteers and attendees to the forefront for recognition that they are serving and worthy of notice, regardless of our part in serving (or do we snatch the glory "due us" as volunteers or coworkers)?

SOME of you have! And kudos to you. God recognizes the honor due you and will reward every deed done in secret, every effort done for his Glory. He has said he will not share his glory with any others, gods or human. So when we glorify ourselves and stuff, how will God respond to us?

Confession time: I've overspent on things I want, just like you have. When my husband has noted our credit card entries, I have given him "good reasons" for expenditures. But God has been speaking to me about the values of time spend earning that money, time invested in maintaining the goods acquired, and the clutter in our lives because I've focused on acquisition of goods rather than on "treasures in heaven," things that matter to God.

At SBL last week (a conference of Bible scholars), presenters commented on the rituals of societies. Like us, the peoples of scripture celebrated passages of time, rites of birth, puberty, marriage, and death, and other significant times of life. The Canaanites of biblical times ritually sacrificed humans, as did later Aztecs, to appease their gods and ensure prosperity.

Today, on Black Friday in the USA, I'm examining the expenditures, the full house, and time spent on things that don't last. We've set up the tree and hauled the decoration boxes into the living room. A friend comes Monday to celebrate the beginning of the season by helping me decorate it. However, I will take time today for soul-relief, quietly reflecting on scripture, searching my heart to consider the month ahead in light of my spiritual formation. I'm asking:
  1. What is important? - to God - and to His Church - and to us / me? Do these values align?
  2. How am we demonstrating our core values? Has the world pressed us into its mold?
  3. How can we glorify God and bless others in the coming Christmas season by living by true and eternal values?
  4. Once the shopping season and Christmas celebrations are over, what will remain? Trash and wrapping paper? Excess stuff jammed into closets and cupboards? Fights over who got the best gift? Disappointment that we didn't get the present we hoped for? 

Will you and I waken to the New Year with a sense of satisfaction, brimming with soul treasures and memories of God-among-us in His Presence and Glory? That's my desire! What's your deepest wish for Christmas this year?

Read more:
*God said, “I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.” Genesis 9:13

*Show me your glory, I pray. Exodus 33:18

*Then Jesus took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to the disciples, and all of them drank from it. He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.” Mark 14:23-24

*Jesus revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. John 2:11

Moravian Prayer: Lord, we admit that it is often personal glory that we seek. Today let us seek your glory; for when we see it fully we will be blessed. That blessing is far greater reward than any personal achievement. Together we look both outward and inward to see your presence.

Father, you give us signs of your promises each day. Help us to be aware of the signs you show us today. Amen.

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