Here’s some unhappy post-Thanksgiving news: Wal-Mart Store Employee Trampled to Death by Black Friday Shoppers. It’s a grim story. Not only did frenzied shoppers trample an employee, but they just kept on stepping over his body once he fell. They pushed fellow employees who were trying to help him out of the way. And then they got angry when the store closed, in the wake of the poor man’s death.
Do we need any more proof that the American Dream has collapsed into a commercial nightmare?
My friends, we who believe that life ought to be organized around contemplation rather then consumption have a large and difficult task ahead of us. First of all, I think we must be clear that traditional forms of religion, or even currently popular forms of spirituality, appear to be powerless to fight against the forces of mammon. I’m afraid that we can expect little or no help from the various institutional churches, since the liberal churches seem to be stuck in a quagmire of declining membership while the conservative churches come across as ignoring pretty much all issues except those involving the regulation of middle-class sexuality. And we most assuredly cannot expect any help from the panoply of new age or post-religious spiritualities, since they are so mesmerized by the ‘law of attraction’ and so forth that they appear to be more part of the problem than part of the needed cure.
If you’re a conservative Christian and you’re worried about sex, then do something about human trafficking. If you’re a liberal Christian and you’re worried about the ongoing relevance of your faith, then take a stand against excessive consumerism. If you’re a non-Christian but interested in Christian contemplation, then at least recognize that contemplative spirituality demands that people come before either things or money or ideology. Regardless of your political or theological persuasion, we all need to address the question of how our faith should inform our relationship to the earth, to natural resources, and to sustainable living. And in any case, I believe this kind of activism will only make a difference if it begins with a life of deep, sustained, daily prayer.
The Rolling Stones once sang, “I shouted out, ‘Who killed the Kennedys?’ When after all, it was you and me.” Likewise, my friends, it was you and me who trampled to death that Wal-Mart employee in the midst of a Black Friday rush. We must avoid the temptation of seeing our culture as divided into consumerist goats and non-consumerist sheep. That just introduces another dualism into our lives, and solves nothing. We are all mad shoppers, we are all air and water polluters, we are all eagerly hypnotized by our baubles and trinkets while the world around us gasps in a fever.
The question is, what are we going to do about it? And I think the answer must begin in silence, sustained silence. From there, we must remove the beams in our own eyes. And I’m not sure what comes next, because I’m still working on those first two steps for myself. But I believe the Spirit will lead us. We just have to snap out of the reverie long enought to be lead-able.
I may not have the answer, but here’s something I do believe: the Spirit’s leading must involve a combination of contemplation and action. We who hear the call to silence do not have the luxury to recite our Jesus Prayer ad nauseum while everyone else goes to hell. At that point, our contemplation becomes infernal. No, we bask in the silence in order to be empowered to live Christlike lives. We must be prepared to cast the money-changers out of the temple. And we must begin by dealing with the money-changers who are our own selves.