This November 27th at around 6pm, shoppers will begin to form lines in in the bitter cold for their chance to shop at Macy’s and the Apple Store and Target. Bellies full of turkey and stuffing and pumpkin pie, these millions of seekers will pack into their cars to brave the cold for the chance to find that perfect buy they’ve been waiting for.
However, these shoppers won’t be waiting in line at REI like they may have last year. Recently, REI—the famed outdoor clothing and gear chain—announced it will not be opening any of its 143 stores to the Black Friday crowd. Instead, it has instructed its 12,000 employees and millions of customers to “get outside” and spend a day in the great outdoors. They’ve given us a hashtag to help us do it.
But,why? The chief executive of the company, Jerry Stritzke, explains:
Black Friday is the perfect time to remind ourselves of the essential truth that life is richer, more connected and complete when you choose to spend it outside.
Two messages are being sent here:
Don’t shop. Go outside.
I must admit, first, how delighted I was to hear this announcement. My wife and I actually teared up for a millisecond as we read the story in the morning paper at the dining room table. It was a welcome respite from the torrent of consumerism we see overtaking our culture each year. Having had a disdain for Black Friday and everything that it represents as the crown holiday of consumerism running rampant in our culture for some time, it was great news to hear someone curbing the tide. Again, I actually cried a little bit.
Secondly, as a writer, teacher, and leader in the Christian creation care world of the Pacific Northwest, I appreciated the subtle reminder to each of us of the direct relation between consumerism and the environment—“don’t shop, go outside.” The economical and ecological worlds weave together inextricably and we must not ignore their intersection.
In short, I have come to believe (alongside many others) that the mutual well-being of the ecological world and the economical world cannot be attained fully if they are attained separate from one another—ecological and economic justice can only be realized together as they are inaugurated together. Economic injustice—views of the economic world that do not account for God’s Kingdom orientation—will eventually lead to some kind of proportionate ecological injustice. By that I mean this: the removal of top soil is the result of an economic view of the world that says land is ours to do with what we will; genetically modified foods are a result of decisions about the land made in labs and not on farms; and so on and so forth. Uncontrolled economic growth must be understood as an injustice for the world, because God’s created world is a limited one. There are, simply put, limits to growth. Unlimited growth is a lie. And God’s creation is paying the price for that perpetuated lie.
To see God’s creation healed, we must be healed of bad visions of economics.
To see God’s creation healed, we must be healed of bad visions of economics. To that end, we must be reminded that most of the arguments for slavery were economic in nature. To stop the practice of slavery was ultimately to destroy the economic system of the time. Similarly, most of our arguments for the slavery of creation are economic. We are forced to choose between God’s creation or a healthy economy. The logic doesn’t hold up. Without a healthy creation, we have no economy. And so we are told that to stop an unquenched, limitless economy would be to destroy our economic system. Slavery is rooted first and foremost in our worship of the bottom line.
But, thirdly, and finally, I find myself a little skeptical. I sincerely applaud the endeavors of REI to close their doors on Black Friday and send their workers and patrons into God’s creation. Three members of my church who work at REI have a day to be with their families now and may even get outdoors. Bravo! For that matter, I applaud Hobby Lobby and any other company who takes an economic hit by giving their employees (and customers by extension) a day off once a week. Sabbath is important. We need it. I believe we must Sabbath from spending, attaining, and earning with great regularity.
I am skeptical because Jesus was skeptical of attempts to do well as a masquerade for subtler, not-so-good desires lingering below the surface.
Yet, while applauding, a small part of me remains cautious. Not in the sense that I doubt the executives at REI care about the world and have a sense of discomfort toward what has become consumerism at its worst. I am skeptical because Jesus was skeptical of attempts to do well as a masquerade for subtler, not-so-good desires lingering below the surface. Jesus, in his famous “Woe to the Pharisees” sermon discusses how something can look quite magnificent on the outside but be wildly selfish and greedy on the inside.
“Woe to you…you clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.” (Matt. 23:25-26)
REI isn’t the first to trade economic gain for doing something that has a broader bottom line. Staples will be closing on Thanksgiving Day. Other companies such as Costco, Gamestop, and T.J. Maxx have closed down on Thanksgiving to give people a chance to go home and enjoy family. REI isn’t the only company toying with this idea. But I have a hard time discerning what is heart-felt, honest repentance, and what is marketing. Steve Kirn, a researcher, argues that this move is intended to bolster the company’s image among the die-hard REI consumers:
I think they’re targeting a message to those particular customers, one that the customers will find very appealing and will probably make them feel even more closely bonded to the company, Kirn said.
His point? This is mostly branding, he contends. I hope Kirn is wrong. I hope REI (and others) sit in their boardroom and think: let’s do what is best for creation and people and our culture’s well-being. I hope that. I don’t know the intentions of companies who close down on Thanksgiving and I have no space to question the hearts of the people in those boardrooms. But one thing I do know: a follower of Jesus should be deeply concerned if he is taking his cues to curb consumerism from a company rather than from Jesus Christ. Jesus refused to live a life of self-indulgence and greed. He was generous. He was gracious. He got angry at oppression. He got angry at sin. He didn’t wait in the cold to perpetuate it.
Jesus has been telling us this for two thousand years. Nothing is new. Have we not been hearing him?
Yes, get outside for Thanksgiving. Or, better yet, love your family. Or read a novel. But, for heaven’s sake, don’t feed the system of greed that has become Black Friday. There are plenty of days for shopping; this should not be one of them.