Three moments have affected my outlook on this Advent season.
They all happened in the last week and a half, and they all have to do with shopping...
Darlene and I were returning from Portsmouth, NH the Saturday before Thanksgiving. We had a fun day there, including taking JJ to the ocean shore. While there, I collected rocks for or Stewardship Gathering service: choosing individual stones that would later be chosen by members of the parish to represent themselves during the service. I was feeling pretty good.
As we drove up Route 93, it occurred to me that the New York bishop election, where my friend and mentor Tracey Lind was on the slate, was likely concluded. I needed internet ASAP. So we stopped at a reliable spot to enable my wi-fi iPad: the Starbucks at the Tilton NH outlet mall. I will admit that I love Starbucks coffee, and stopping here is a RARE treat since it is the CLOSEST Starbucks to our home in Littleton NH.
Upon reaching the outlet mall, we were greeted by these words:
“Black Friday begins: Thursday at 10PM"
There were Christmas lights EVERYWHERE, and worse still, Christmas music.
I connected to the internet only to be further disappointed to learn that Tracey had not been elected. Feeling really defeated, we left and continued home.
All the way I was in a fowl mood, and not just concerning the election disappointment (I thought Tracey would have been a PHENOMENAL Bishop of New York). I felt angry for all of the people who would have to leave their families on Thanksgiving to work ridiculous hours with frantic people. I felt sad to those who would get sucked into the “have-to-have” mentality of the super sale. And I was, of course, personally annoyed to be hearing Christmas carols not just in place of Advent, but even before Thanksgiving,
Later, when I started working on the sermon for the first Sunday in Advent, I was reminded of my feelings, and thought of the movement called “Advent Conspiracy”. It calls for a change in the way we approach this time of year.
Americans enter this season of self-created stress, spending 450 billion dollars every year on holiday shopping. Often people buy what they cannot afford, and give things to people that they simply don’t need.
Advent Conspiracy suggests that, in many cases, we would be better off buying less and giving something more valuable: our very selves.
The time we freely give to each other...within a shared conversation, a common meal, working together, or gathering for something fun...is often so much more meaningful than any gift we can buy. It reflects the relational gift Jesus gave of himself.
The second event was the arrival of my family. My parents, sister and her boyfriend all arrived Tuesday night. We had a great Thanksgiving together. My sister and her boyfriend had to return Friday, but Mom, Dad, Darlene and I all went to Vermont Friday on what I like to call the “cholesterol tour”: Cabot's Creamery, and Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream Factory.
We ended up Montpellier, had a fun lunch together, and walked around the town. The town had a celebration going: they called it “Flannel Friday”. They celebrated living in Northern New England, they discounted their goods, and encouraged people to buy locally from the small stores that make up the town. It was great to see the local businesses doing so well. It was a reminder to me that, when it comes to the gifts that I will buy this season, to try and purchase from our local stores, our neighbors, whenever possible.
I was feeling pretty good about myself for shunning the Black Friday mega-sales, until the third moment happened...
I was making my final preparations for Sunday’s sermon when I ran across a blog post by Diana Butler Bass on Black Friday.
(Most) in lines at the discount stores are either poor, working class, or marginally middle class. These are the very people who attend church regularly, express higher levels of belief in God, and are more likely to give a higher percentage of their income to those in need. Indeed, nearly every survey in religion shows that the poorer the American, the more likely they are to be both faithful and generous.
By contrast, the rich—the people who aren’t in lines on Black Friday—are less likely to be religious, more likely to find meaning in materialism, and give a lower percentage of their income to help those in need. According to a recent New York Times story, the wealthy will spend most of their holiday cash at stores like Nordstrom, Saks, and Tiffany where there will be few sales and no door-buster specials.
We tend to think only of big-screen tvs and high-end electronics concerning Black Friday: but it might not reflect the truth.
A reporter interviewed two women at a mall, who had arrived early for the sales. He asked, “What are you going to buy?” The woman, clearly not a well-off person, responded: “Shoes.” He said, “Shoes? You’re not supposed to be buying shoes!” She said, “But I need shoes.” He pressed the issue, “Are you buying anything else?” “No,” she replied. “I just need new shoes.” Her companion was buying jeans. The reporter didn’t know what to say. How many people on Black Friday are like these two women?Of course, there are plenty buying electronics and other things they don’t literally have to have. But Butler Bass rightly points our that people who are suffering under the weight of economic inequality would like to have nice toys for their children and decent electronics...things most Americans have...and the only time of the year they can afford such things is during the super-sales pushed on us by mega-business on Black Friday. Diana rightly suggests that the problem isn’t those who stand in line for Black Friday super-sales.
The problem is that America is mired in deep inequalities, that the middle class is dying, and that many millions can’t afford to buy nice things for their families without waiting in long lines on Thanksgiving night.
The three moments help me remember how Advent works...
Advent is the time of reflective preparation:
to consider everything anew, and from multiple angles
---To see more than what is first seen
---To think more deeply than the first thoughts
---To act intentionally and with purpose
Advent is the darkness before dawn...
The possibility of what is to come...
Advent is an invitation to consider what God REALLY wants for us and for the world,
and the real gifts we have to give for making that vision come true.
Blessings for you this Advent