a tale of two Fridays

I’ve never made a big deal of Black Friday. This is mostly because I don’t have it in me to wait in line for hours in the cold to get a TV. Look, I understand the appeal, I really do. But I understand more deeply the appeal of my mattress and warmth, and I’ve always had an aversion to engaging in a scuffle at Best Buy. We’ve all heard the stories of death and injury from over-eager, crazed shoppers fighting and clawing to get the best door buster deal,  and I don’t want to appear on the evening news because some middle school kid got to the latest Super Mario Bros game before I did. (Mario is still a legitimate gaming character, right?) I decided I’d go the safe route and go to a bookstore for their crazy Black Friday deals. They’re wild.

I figured not a lot of people would stand outside Half Price Books on Friday morning, so I grudgingly got out of bed and rolled into the parking lot at 6:45 AM. There were already over 120 people in line. For a $5 gift card. Seriously. I didn’t get the gift card, but I went home with some consolation in knowing there are bigger nerds out there than me.

At our annual family Thanksgiving dinner, my uncle quipped that Black Friday is when we trample over each other to get cheap stuff exactly one day after being thankful for everything we already have. It’s a cute line, but I think it points to a deeper issue: consumerism and materialism are the altars at which we worship. The United States has never been a “Christian nation,” but we’ve always flirted with the goddess of “stuff.” Thanksgiving isn’t even over before retail employees have to report to their workplaces to prepare for the madness of Black Friday, some even opening Thanksgiving night. It’s been said that the day after Thanksgiving has been called “Black Friday” because, as the first official shopping day for the Christmas holiday, it is typically the day that most retailers begin turning a profit on their merchandise, going from being “in the red” to “black” in their ledgers. But this definition is more recent than the original, darker implications of the name. Black Friday. It isn’t just a happen-chance, economic term.

There isn’t anything wrong with Black Friday shopping at all! If you have the strength and energy, and more importantly, if you have the funds, to wait and get a great deal on electronics or clothes or other goods, go for it. I’m slightly envious of the massive TV you got for the amount of money I spend on coffee in a year. I like new stuff. I love my new iPhone 5 (sorry Fandroids, I jumped ship). But Black Friday, the day that kick starts the festivities for Christmas, when we celebrate our Savior’s birth, is an indictment on how materialistic, consumerist-ic, and selfish we are every day. We’ll spend money we barely have for stuff we hardly need. Stuff that becomes more obsolete, more worn, and less valuable the moment we get it. E-readers make a joke out of my library of physical books. Technology evolves and improves at an exponential rate every second. Fashion trends change every season. And credit card debt is more of a problem now for Americans than ever before. We build treasuries of  stuff that are on their way to the garbage dump. We gather treasures that are destroyed by moth and rust and stolen by thieves.

Black Friday.

But there’s another Friday that also has a special designation on our calendars. Good Friday is the Friday before Easter Sunday, the day most Christians set apart to remember the day Jesus of Nazareth was crucified upon a Roman cross. That Friday, a truly black Friday, was the day when the Son of God willingly submitted to injury and death, absorbing the wrath of God meant for rebellious sinners. Sinners who disobey the authority of the trinitarian God of the universe, who have affections that are prone to wander, who worship the created things instead of the One who created everything. Sinners who deserved the punishment of a holy God. On that black Friday, God showed the extent of His love for fallen people whose counterfeit gods are money, image, sex and self, by allowing sinless Jesus to die — but not letting death have the final victory. Three days later, Jesus showed His power and authority over even death by His resurrection, proving Himself as the Savior of a needy world, saving them from their sin and death. And that is why we call that black Friday “Good Friday,” because on that day, the “red” in our ledger of righteousness and right standing before God the Father has been wiped clean by the red of the blood of Jesus Christ. That Friday signaled our crossing from being “in the red” to moving into “the black” and into the everlasting Kingdom of God. We don’t have to be enslaved to consumerism and materialism and selfishness and idolatry. We don’t have to hoard treasures that will either rot or get stolen. We’ve been saved to amass treasures in heaven that can’t be destroyed by moth or rust, or stolen.

Good Friday.

I hope you got good deals on Black Friday. I hope they still hold your attention. But more so, I hope you’re not looking to satisfy yourself with stuff, because trinkets and clothes and goods won’t satisfy the deepest desires of your heart. You can’t purchase your way into the Kingdom of God. Satisfy your soul with the One who has purchased you.

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iRevolution

“How Steve Jobs Changed the Auto Industry”. “Steve Jobs’ Reach Into Sports”. “National Federation of the Blind Comments on Steve Jobs”.

All of the above are news articles found on Google on the death and legacy of Steve Jobs, mostly known for being the co-founder and former CEO of Apple Inc. And unless you’ve been living tech-free out in a cave somewhere, you know that Steve Jobs passed away on October 5, 2011 after battling pancreatic cancer. “RIP Steve Jobs”, videos of his Stanford commencement speech, and countless quotes that he said currently litter Facebook, Twitter, and the blogosphere. The tech titan with the turtleneck (always a black one) has been called “visonary”, “genius”, and the Thomas Edison/Henry Ford of our time.

I remember using an Apple Macintosh computer when I attended PS 213 in Bayside, New York. Later, when I was in middle school, I told one of my friends that I had used these machines and he laughed incredulously at the ancient-ness of the Macintosh and Apple line. “Who uses Apple?!” he said. And Apple floated through the 1990s without causing too much of a stir.

In 2001, they released the iPod. And frankly, the world as we know it hasn’t been the same since.

You probably are familiar with the line of Apple products that have taken the world by storm this last decade. The iPod family with its many members, iTunes, iPhones, iPads. Macbook,  Macbook Pro, iMac. Apple products are the hot and trendy items in the gizmo galaxy. They’re used by musicians and moms, pastors and professors. We laud these inventions and devices and wonder in perplexity at how we survived the primitive days before we attached the prefix “i” to a device.

Yes, Steve Jobs truly was a visionary, a unique figure in modern history, but besides putting cutting edge technology literally in our hands, what has been the impact of his creativity? What is the message of his products?

He sparked an iRevolution, becoming the unofficial spokesperson of a new iCulture. This new culture is defined by the prefix “i”. Whereas it originally stood for “internet” for the iMac, it quickly was replaced with another “i”: “individual”. The advent of the technology boom of the last decade has shrunk the universe with you at its center. You with your 3,000 songs of your choosing on your iPod with the white earbuds. Put them on and you’re in your own zone, your own world. You with your versatile mini-computer on your iPad and iPhone, making you a walking resource for anything imaginable. There’s an app for that. This iCulture is a universe, not with billions of planet-filled galaxies, but filled with isolated planets in their own orbits.

I could launch into so many aspects of this different culture, and the resulting phenomenon, things our predecessors of even a few decades would gawk at. But I want to focus on one area: communication.

When I was young and moved to Dallas, I had a few pen-pals that I would swap letters with, letters that I would write with my own hand. Then came emails and instant messaging. Now we text, email, Facebook, and every now and then maybe we’ll actually call someone. And we describe these things as conveniences that have made life so much easier, and why? Because we have increasingly become a culture of busyness, defining ourselves by what we get accomplished. I’ve discovered this disturbing reality in my own life, as I constantly evaluate my day, week, month by what I’ve done and achieved. We’re always on the move, always doing. And to be fair, the new technology helps us with that. Why waste precious time sitting in front of a desktop to send an email when you can do it in the car as you rush to a meeting? Why meet up with an old friend when you can just text them or even FaceTime them if you really want to get personal.

To some, this may sound like the ranting of a bitter old-fashionist. I was discussing this shift in communication to my 14 year old sister the other day and she just couldn’t understand. She has never really known a time pre-internet, much less dial-up internet. She texts constantly and her phone is glued to her hand. Imagine what much older folks have experienced the last several decades.

Do you have friends that you can have incredible conversations with over text messages or Facebook, but when you actually see them, it’s a bit awkward and strained? You really don’t know what to talk about or how to go about the conversation. Isn’t that just a bit weird? Or are you a different person over the virtual medium than you are in person? I have many friends that are soft-spoken and shy in real life but very much the opposite over Twitter and text. Isn’t that just a bit strange? You see it all the time, you can be whoever you want to be with all this new technology. You can escape your real self and live a different life and not be yourself. But you don’t just see this with emails and chat rooms, even virtual simulations like The Sims games have allowed us to escape reality and live a fantasy. Isn’t that just a bit odd? Steve Jobs did not single handedly create all these shifts in culture and communication, but the products Apple came out with certainly propelled and perpetuated the shifts. We find it hard to believe when people don’t have smartphones.

Maybe it’s not necessarily an evil thing, but it is far different than the world our predecessors lived in. The nature of communication and life has changed and bemoaning this will not change the times or culture. But in the midst of this, we can be different. We can choose not to allow our relationships to become only virtual realities. We can still gather and talk face to face and share meals and slow down. We don’t have to define ourselves by what we do or how much we do. We don’t have to get sucked into iChristianity.

God communicated to us and we call it revelation (not the book of the Bible). He has revealed Himself to us through nature and creation and also through the inspired Word of God, the Bible. But that’s not all! God sent His Son, the second person in the Trinity, to actually become a human and live with mankind! “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14) He talked and ate and laughed and mourned with actual people. That’s definitely direct communication! And after His triumph over sin and resurrection, the Holy Spirit comes and dwells in us and we have access and communication with the King of the Universe. Isn’t that more than just a bit amazing?

Steve Jobs certainly was a creative genius, a man who could see ahead and he has certainly left his dent in the world. Don’t throw away your cool gadgets, but don’t allow yourself to be sucked into them. In a society where being an individual is respected and exalted, don’t be afraid to be part of community.

“No man is an island entire of itself” – John Donne