Thursday, November 28, 2013

That Time of the Year

It is that time of the year again...

when some people gear up to take advantage of Black Friday sales and others complain about the sales including the fact that more and more stores open on Thanksgiving Day.

Should stores be open on Thanksgiving?  They are open on nearly every other holiday - no one but banks and the government are found closing for Martin Luther King Jr Day or Veteran's Day - so why not, some would say.  Others would argue that Thanksgiving Day is a "major" holiday and an important family time so they should be closed.

While I will happily critique our consumer culture (and not just on holidays)...while I will happily question whether we really need access to our favorite stories 24/7...while I will happily talk about what other things we could be doing with our money rather than buying ourselves and others more things we don't need...while all of this is true for me, I'm also not sure the worst thing to ever happen to humanity is stores being open on Thanksgiving Day.

Consider this:

  • Thinking that stores being open on Thanksgiving Day is an affront to family life assumes a Norman Rockwell picture that is simply not true for many people. 

  • There are those who can't afford to feed their families on Thanksgiving Day and are happy to work to earn extra money to support them.

  • There are those who are far away from their family who will have lonely Thanksgivings and are happy to have a diversion, perhaps even shopping for loved ones they are missing on Thanksgiving Day.

  • There are those who have experienced deep grief, health issues, financial difficulties or some other struggle or trauma that finds them struggling to be grateful and perhaps a bit of normalcy (even if just their local store being open) might get them through the day.
I do recognize that some people who have family festivities going on will have to leave early or miss the fun because their work is demanding it of them.  The same is true of nurses, doctors, and many other behind the scenes people who keep life as we know it going.  I suggest that we go out of our way to appreciate their commitment.

And if you don't think stores should be open today...don't shop today.  The reality is that business will do whatever the customers demand.  Don't criticize Target or Kohl's or any other store for doing what we the people have asked.  If it is important to you, have a conversation with your neighbors, friends, and family about - not demanding everyone do what you want, but talking about why it matters.  Or better yet, be a person whose kindness is so overwhelming that people would rather be with you than be getting a good deal at Target today!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

What Do We Call Truth?

Driving to church this morning I heard a story on the news about a minister who had been shopping at a Costco and noticed that the price tag on a Bible was labeled fiction.  He then took a picture, posted it to social media, and Costco is doing the clean up dance.

While some of you may have the same response he did, I am not disturbed by such a label.  Rather I have long asked questions like:

Why do we place lower value on that which we call fiction vs. that which we call non-fiction?
Do we sometimes forget to acknowledge that much of our written material transcends either category?
Why do we struggle to claim Truth if we can't prove facts?
In my own teaching I frequently talk to people about the difference between Truth and truth when we are reading scripture.  Truth I define as the big picture message about God.  Put a lower case "t" at the front of the word and it becomes about provable facts.  While the Bible has some facts that can be proven (and some that can be disproven) that does not increase or decrease the value of the Truth we find there.
I often look to the story of Noah when talking about this.  There are details in that story - how many of each animal, how big the boat was, how many days the rain fell and so forth - that could (given the right set of circumstances) be proven true or false.  But when that's where our focus is, we miss the point.  It seems to me that the Truth of the story of Noah is that even when God has every right and reason to give up on humanity and even wipe us out (and unfortunately we give God lots of reasons!), God chooses not to.  God is so committed to humanity, even when we break God's heart, that God will seek out a reason NOT to destroy us.  Yes, it is a difficult story.  And yes, many people do die.  But throughout the story what we see is a God whose love for humanity runs deep and who simply won't give up on us.  That's good news...that's Truth worth holding on to whether there was ever a man named Noah or a big boat full of animals. 
On one hand Costco is right...the Bible contains much that would technically be classified as fiction - some that we suspect to be so and some that comes right and tells us it is.  And that's okay.  Alongside fiction is some non-fiction, some poetry, some letters, and all sorts of other writing.  Even if we came to understand the whole document as fiction, that does not diminish the Truth. 
After all, no label we put on the Bible or any other book can diminish the Truth of God's love.