Princes, Paupers, and Black Friday

Thanksgiving is about perspective and proportion.

I sat before a Thanksgiving meal this week and surveyed the sumptuous spread. I couldn’t really get my brain around it all. The easy drive down the four-lane interstate to my in-laws’, the warmth of their home, the antacids at my fingertips for post-meal relief—the ease of my life is vastly beyond comprehension.

I imagined what it would seem like if I had the ability to pluck most any person from history and insert them into my day. I imagined Abe Lincoln watching us talk on cell phones to friends and family, using dishwashers, coffee makers, refrigerators, microwaves, and two-ply toilet paper.  There would be an absence of smoke from coal ovens and fumes from kerosene lamps; the clothing would be washed free of horse smell and hair products and deodorants galore. I could show Abe the football games on television, download the Gettysburg address, or Google the medicines that would have saved his son Tad.

Princes and Paupers

We live as princes, we do. But we shop like paupers.  Need proof?  Looming behind the bountiful Thanksgiving table is the frugal frenzy of Black Friday….

After the Dallas Cowboys squeaked by the Miami Dolphins, the Black Friday sales circulars were spread out on the table.  There were deals on tools and ladders, televisions, clothing, toys, and gadgets. An hour later I was catching the fever. I was being overpowered by two strong feelings: 1) This Friday thing is really developed its own identity (plus its crazy!); 2) If I don’t get into the game, I am likely to miss a fantastic deal!

Hunting Season

I didn’t get to see a couple of family members. My nephew left just as soon as his meal was swallowed. He was off to a deer stand. Meanwhile a couple of nieces conspired about their own hunting strategy. They would be stalking deals. Deer or deals, it takes patience, experience and good aim to be successful either way. Thank God the shoppers don’t have guns.

Now I know that nothing is free.  But the next best thing is to at least having that FEELING of something being free. That’s how I felt when I saw the 6` ladder, regularly $59.99, being sold for $19.99. The whole ladder may not be free, but at last three or four steps seemed like they were free!

When I say that we shop like paupers, I’m talking about my family. For three or four hours, we obsessed on deals and sales as though we had great needs. The stores were practically giving stuff away and we had to figure out how and where to get in line. We needed to GET THAT STUFF!  We needed to!!!

And when my wife explained the brilliance of our tactical planning session (“No, we don’t need the stuff, but we do need to get the Christmas shopping done.”), I finally got what all the Black Friday madness was really about: we need to buy stuff.

So I figure it’s something like this: only princes can think like we think. Sure, we have plenty of stuff in the cabinets, storage shelves, and attic, but we can get newer, better, and more. But we act like paupers when it comes to accumulating all this stuff we think we need.  We rush to “save”, though I’m not particularly sure we know what we’re saving all that money for.

The irony of this season is the comfortable way I can think about the economics of Black Friday.  I don’t mind pretending that this is financial prudence and not, as it might appear to be, a need to consume.

I’m pretty amazed at life. I’m ultimately humbled and haven’t quite figured out why I wasn’t born to French peasants in 1743. I don’t know how I would have fared in the Jewish ghettos of Warsaw in 1942. I can’t imagine being born in a thatched hut in the Sudan or to a crack-addicted mother of six in Detroit. What if my dad was a Shiite Kurd in northern Iraq?  Do Christmas lights matter to a six year-old whose parents have died of the plague in 1348?

Plague/Black Death 1348

Would Black Friday mean something altogether different to a lady named Mary Magdalene, an ardent follower of the man killed on a cross two-thousand years ago?

Do I feel guilty knowing the unbelievable blessings of life when contrasted to the history of the world? In a word, no.   Am I humbled? Am I get-down-on-my-knees grateful? You better believe it. Is there anyone, anywhere, at anytime who has more to be grateful for than me?

I love that Thanksgiving helps prepare us for the Christmas season.  Because we are much obliged, we have great reason to STOP. Let us stop early and stop often to see what is coming.  This is what advent means.  God is coming in. The Creator of the universe is breaking through and the opportunity to see Jesus is beginning . . . again!