The name ‘Black Friday’ has always sounded to me like the commemoration of a massacre, as opposed to what has become a kind of pseudo national holiday. The way the calendar is structured, an alien new to this planet would think Americans give thanks on Thursday for the unencumbered right to shop on Friday.
It should be said that Black Friday gets unfairly singled out and beat up in this way often. I don’t mean to pick on shopping, or on those of us who will take advantage of great sales (I’ve been known on past Black Fridays to hit the sales rack at Banana Republic with zeal). Besides stimulating the economy and supporting our businesses, there is no crime in getting a jump on Hanukah/holiday gifts.
Maybe it is because we are just coming out of an election season, but one looks around these days at what seems to get us excited and wants to ask – is this what we have been given freedom for? We could ask this question not just concerning political freedom, that granted us by our Constitution, but also concerning the freedom each of us was born with by virtue of our being a human being with a body and a soul. How are we exercising our freedoms? Do we see freedom as a means or an end?
Roger Waters was prescient twenty years ago when he penned the song, Amused to Death. “This species has amused itself to death / We watched the tragedy unfold / We did as we were told / We bought and sold / It was the greatest show on earth / But then it was over.”
Back when Waters wrote that song in the early 1990s, we were just getting warmed up. One has the sense that our energy is getting misspent. We go to great lengths to exercise individual liberty in relationship to our personal property, while we resent the collective demands our country makes on us to serve the goal of cultivating a society that reflects our core values and shores up our core institutions.
Leon Botstein, the President of Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, offered remarks at this past year’s commencement that I thought were as direct and challenging as I’ve read recently. He wrote, “Our freedoms will not be taken from us by tyranny. We are letting them atrophy through disuse and negligence. We permit our freedoms, our political rights, to be stripped of any potent content…We will flourish as free individuals only to the extent that the shared space we inhabit – in terms of the health of the world we live in and the health of the human community – renders liberty possible.”
Freedom is not an end. It is a means whereby we can be of service to one another. Freedom is the starting point. It is not a static state. It makes possible our collective lives as human beings. It allows us to love each other, to move towards the other. And it is up to us to respond to what freedom demands of us, which I would say is inseparable from what G-d demands of us.
As Thanksgiving weekend passes each year, we all strive to be in touch with what are we grateful for. I am grateful to live in a community, here in the Rogue Valley, where I feel people do take this to heart, where we have a network of faith communities and other communities taking this call to serve seriously. It is nothing less than a call to open the heart. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take advantage of a good sale here or there. What it means is that we shouldn’t be too distracted by our consumerist society so that we forget what real freedom asks of us.