Fighting against Black Friday, our challenge.
“But we don’t need another ice rink,” Jacqui patiently explained to me. “I know,” I replied, showing even more patience, “But it’s three-for-the-price-of-two. So we’re getting it anyway!” As you can see, I’m now in full Black Friday mode. In my defence we were looking for Lego sets for Christmas presents for our ten grandchildren, a daunting task. Boots were selling them online for a competitive price – but this being the Eve of Black Friday, they were selling three for the price of two. And selling them very quickly. Tragically the ski lifts had already sold out. Life can be tough on this day of all days for the retail industry. This year it was Aldi who had to handle shopper rage. As the BBC reported yesterday, Kevin the carrot was completely sold out. “The £3.99 version is not available online and there are reports of queues and even fights at the stores.” Today – as I’m sure your inbox will remind you – is Black Friday. This consumer-fest only started a few years ago as an import from the US but this year it seems we will be spending some £10.4bn, 3.1% more than last year. For we all love a bargain. I like to think of myself as a canny shopper but sadly I concede that my self-image isn’t always totally accurate. As my Mum used to say, a bargain is only a bargain if you were going to buy it anyway. But there is another dynamic at work, more powerful and certainly more insidious. Here the Guardian quotes Jon Holt, head of financial services at KPMG: “Black Friday plays on the excitement of spending while frictionless finance and cheap credit puts that buying buzz within everyone’s grasp. “Our poll found that 51% of respondents didn’t even think the discounts they’re offered on Black Friday are a genuine saving. Having an economy disproportionately built on debt is not sustainable for consumers, retailers or financial services.” Basically it can be difficult to stand firm against the flow, when everyone else is shopping while we do the ironing. We are no longer citizens, we are consumers. This is how we belong, through our consumer purchases. I for one, unlike one of my previous curates who will be reading this blog, wouldn’t be seen dead in last year’s colours. But as disciples of Jesus we are called to stand against the flow. “It is easy to go with the flow,” observes author Jasper Fforde. “It takes a person of singular courage to go against it." A key theme, of course, in scripture. So for example, the letter to the Hebrews (the author is anonymous) aims to strengthen the resolve of this particular congregation to stand firm against the entreaties of this world. “It’s crucial that we keep a firm grip on what we’ve heard so that we don’t drift off.” (Hebrews 2:1). The choice of the Greek word translated as drift suggests the picture of an object being carried downstream, a danger for us all caught in this world’s currents. We simply go with the flow, without realising there’s a huge waterfall ahead. For FOMO is a very strong flow, particularly for young people and especially through social media. Some 70% of millennials, those born between 1981 and 1997, admit to this as being a major problem in the way they live their lives. FOMO? The Fear Of Missing Out, defined this as “the uneasy and sometimes all-consuming feeling that you’re missing out – that your peers are doing, in the know about, or in possession of more or something better than you.” Hence, the success of Black Friday: everyone else is doing it. Jesus warns us of the temptation of the wide gate, the easy road, that is the way everyone seems to be going. Don’t follow the crowd and certainly don’t worry about missing out. Instead enter through the narrow gate. “For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Matthew 7:12). That means a decision to be different, even sometimes alone. Except we are never alone, Jesus never leaves us orphaned. He promises his disciple, anyone who resolves to follow him, his Holy Spirit. “This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.” (John 14:17) So as we abide in Christ, we have this dynamic at work within us far stronger than any FOMO. And a key part of the Holy Spirit’s dynamic is the need to belong to his church, even the body of Christ. I recall that as a young Christian this made all the difference. If all your friends are going out to get drunk on Saturday night, then to belong to a Christian fellowship can make all the difference. Moreover, each and every decision to resist FOMO, however insignificant, gradually produces a mindset which gives us a resilience to stand firm against the world’s most powerful currents. So Jesus urges: “Steep yourself in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. Don’t be afraid of missing out. You’re my dearest friends! The Father wants to give you the very kingdom itself.” (Luke 12:32, the Message translation)
PS Anyone want a Lego Friends Snow Resort Ice Rink?