Thursday Shopping

The Mall

Shopping at this time of year has become a ritual of our culture, with its own high holy day– Black Friday. Religion in the Balance was pleased to discover the continuing existence of “blue laws” that, in some places, restrict retail hours on Thanksgiving Day (article excerpt below). Might the continuing existence of “blue laws” mean that commerce has not yet won total victory and become the highest good, and sum total, of our public life together?

To hope that the answer to the above question is “yes,” is to accede to the idea that a government’s interest may not always coincide with economic interest. There’s money to be spent and money to be made, if it were legal for big stores to be open in Rhode Island on Thanksgiving– so why wouldn’t the government of the state of Rhode Island make it legal to do so? Because, hopefully, the government of Rhode Island maintains a definition of the common good that doesn’t end with the lazy-minded identification of the common good with what’s good for business. They’re not identical.

A time of rest, at least in Western culture, has its roots in the Jewish practice of sabbath. While this practice of sabbath was tied directly to the proper way of worshiping the God of Abraham, in a modern pluralistic society “blue laws” need no such justification– in fact, of course, they CANNOT have such a justification. In a modern pluralistic society, enforced periods of economic rest must have a secular, not a religious, purpose. The secular justification for “blue laws” is easy: a people will not govern themselves well for long, if their common life amounts to shopping (and football). It’s good for us to have laws that force us to take a break from consuming.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Shoppers won’t be lining up for Thanksgiving Day deals at stores in Rhode Island, Maine and Massachusetts. They can’t.

It’s the legacy of so-called “blue laws,” which prohibit large supermarkets, big box stores and department stores from opening on Thanksgiving. Some business groups complain, but many shoppers, workers and even retailers say they’re satisfied with a one-day reprieve from work and holiday shopping.

Some business groups complain it’s an unnecessary barrier during an era of 24-hour online shopping, and there have been some recent failed legislative attempts to change things. But many shoppers, workers and even retailers say they’re satisfied with the status quo: a one-day reprieve from work and holiday shopping.

“I shop all year. People need to be with their families on Thanksgiving,” said Debra Wall, of Pawtucket, R.I., who will remain quite happily at home Thursday, cooking a meal for 10.

The holiday shopping frenzy has crept deeper than ever into Thanksgiving this year. Macy’s, J.C. Penney and Staples will open on Thanksgiving for the first time. Toys R Us will open at 5 p.m., and Wal-Mart, already open 24 hours in many locations, will start holiday deals at 6 p.m., two hours earlier than last year. In recent years, some retail employees and their supporters have started online petitions to protest stores that open on Thanksgiving — but shoppers keep coming.

via Thanksgiving shopping? Not in states that ban it – U.S. News.

The Omnipotent Killjoy

Eric Voegelin, Political Philosopher and Historian

I had a conversation yesterday with the guy who washes dishes in the kitchen at the local high school. He told me about the political philosopher Eric Voegelin. Intrigued– but not knowing much about him– I subsequently found the Eric Voegelin Institute website. If you want to hear thickly German-accented English, the website has mp3 files of cassette recordings that were made of Voegelin, in the early 1970s.

I listened for an hour. Although the recordings were made 40 years ago, Voegelin has something to say about the predicament we are in today. He characterizes the pathology of modernity as our turning away from God: not away from the god of Church or from the god of Religion, but away from God as the Ground of Being. Turned away from the Transcendent Source in this manner, we live in a state of  perpetual alienation, and are cut off from our own humanity. Some people believe we are most human when we leave God out of the picture; Voegelin is precisely the opposite. We find our full humanity when connected to the Ground of Being.

I’ll say it again: for Voegelin, a pinching or narrowing of our humanity happens when we are dis-connected from God. I love this, because he’s standing Freud on his head: the by-now popular view is that God is an overdeveloped moralistic superego, a kind of prissy prude shaking an accusatory finger at the life-force alive in us all. In short, per Freud, God is the Omnipotent Killjoy. Voegelin’s theological anthropology flips this: connection to God frees us to embrace all parts of our humanity, including the shamed parts. In this theology, God is a nurturing parent/wise mentor/passionate lover– not a scold.

via .: The Eric Voegelin Institute :..

Can the Future Be Better Than the Past?

America the Young

The God of the older and newer Testaments does not stand on tradition, and has no use for nostalgia. Tradition and nostalgia have their place in human life– sometimes it’s nice to curl up with the photograph album– but as a cage to contain the Holy One, they are less than unhelpful: they are futile.

The God of the older and newer Testaments is a god of history, however– a god who is involved in unfolding time. The pattern of that divine involvement is the pattern of promise and fulfillment: “I brought you out of slavery, out of Egypt, and delivered you to the Promised Land.” The past contains this pattern, and the future will contain this pattern too. It’s not a mistake to expect God to fulfill God’s promises in the future; the mistake is to expect God to fulfill God’s promises in precisely the same way they were fulfilled in another time and place.

That is how nostalgia falls short: it expects “the way things were” to be the fulfillment of God’s promises for today.

The fundamental promise of the God of the Bible is to abide with us– not to leave us or forsake us, but to be present to us: “I am with you,” God says, over and over again. We are not given “how” or “under what circumstances” or “by what signs” that promise will be fulfilled. Part of our job is to wait, and look for God fulfilling God’s promise with eyes trained by trust. The other part of our job is to participate with God in redeeming the world, by loving kindness, doing justice, and walking humbly.

Regular readers will know that Religion in the Balance takes a dimmer view of human nature than does your average  Enlightenment-saturated, in-progress-we-trust, optimistic American. If a better future is up to a humanity that strays wildly from the God of Love so as to be effectively cut off from that Source, then the word here is: no, the future will not be better than the past.

On the other hand, if a better future is up to a humanity that can find a way to trust a God who wills more good for us than we can possibly imagine for ourselves, then the word here is: yes, we’ve got a chance. What is yet to come will be better than what we have known ’til now.

Home page of History.org : The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation’s official History and Citizenship site.

Lance Lee, Educator

“We’re not building a boat, we’re building YOU.” –Keith King

Two weeks ago I was lucky enough to interview Lance Lee, for the film project “Full Sail.” Back in the 1970s, Lance started the Apprenticeshop at what is now the Maine Maritime Museum, in Bath, Maine. Today he continues to work with people and boats, from his oceanside home in Rockland.

Lance is an educator. If the saying is true– that “education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire”– then Lance is an educator on the side of fire. He wants to inspire people, and change lives.

This kind of teacher is a gift because– to paraphrase Howard Thurman– what the world needs is people who have come alive. (Full quote: “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”) Good teaching invites us to find out what makes us come alive, challenges us to confront the fears that hold us back, and encourages us to live to that standard. Failure is not defeat, but the opportunity to begin again.

Jesus’ teaching and healing were on this line. A church worthy of Jesus is a place where people learn and grow, fail, forgive, and start over.

“The things we’re anxious to see restored are craftsmanship, human energy, a concern with the quality of whatever is being done, and the sort of long-range thinking that involves people in pride-creating endeavors.” – Lance Lee

via THE SCHOLARSHIPWRIGHTS : Apprenticing Land & Sea.