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Black Friday

March 20, 2008

I was thinking about Good Friday this morning as I was walking back from the local sari-sari (corner store), through a nagging drizzle that muddied the dirt on the streets and encouraged the smell from the sewers. Death anniversaries are the major celebrations for the Filipinos. Sure there are birthday parties for children and acknowledgment and drinks for adults, but it’s nothing compared to Day of the Dead (Nov. 1) and nothing compared to what Filipinos do on the anniversary of their loved one’s death. A Black Friday for everyone.

Black Friday. The first time I heard that term used to describe the day Christians honor Jesus’ death on the cross, I was struck with sadness. As a child of the capitalistic West, Black Friday for me will first be the Friday after Thanksgiving when Americans run out to the malls at 5am to consume mass quantities of goods in preparation for a holiday that bears Christ’s name, but none of his spirit. Certainly I’m over simplifying. Not all Americans get caught in the corporate trap of Christmas, but as Christians who love the American economy, who love capitalism, we must understand that Black Friday (our Black Friday of sales and coupons) is necessary fuel for the greedy American economic machine. We buy into it. And we pay for it.

Filipinos buy into their Black Friday, too. They rise early, still fasting from the night before. They parade from church to church all day, as they have to say a summary of the Rosary at 12 different churches before the day ends. The main mass lasts from 12-3, with silent processions and wailing. In some provinces, men and women alike reenact the crucifixion by having their hands and feet nailed to a cross. Vendors often sell water and snacks to the onlookers, but this can hardly be considered destruction of the holiday’s intent.

My flip flops kicked spritzes of water onto the back of my bare calves. My freshly washed hair hung damp against the back of my neck. I turned my thoughts to our own versions of Christ. The Jesus we’re most comfortable with.

In the US, I think we prefer a newborn Jesus. A Jesus that won’t call us to societal revolution, that won’t ask us to change. He’s just a little guy in need of our protection. And we’re the watchdog of the world, we can protect this little Jesus just fine until January when we stuff him back in a box bound for the attic. We honor him on Black Friday. We open the doors to our shopping centers wide and buy and sell as much as we can- all to be given and received on his birthday.

The Filipinos prefer a crucified Christ. A Jesus who suffers and dies and doesn’t seem to have a say in what happens. He’s a mistreated martyr and understands their pain. As victims of abject poverty and an abusive government, they empathize with this Jesus until Easter dawns. They honor him on Black Friday. They close all the stores and travel from church to church, begging his mother to pray for them.

It’s not my place to judge whole societies of people without understanding the individuals, but as a Christian it is my place to pause for thought. On a rainy Holy Thursday morning, I thought to myself, if the newborn Jesus is in the US and the crucified Messiah is in the Philippines, where is the Resurrected Christ? I suppose for simplicity’s sake one could say, “Somewhere in between”, but I’m fairly sure that’s just an empty spot in the Pacific Ocean. And while I don’t doubt God is out there in the sea, there just must be a easier place to find Him.

Well, maybe not easier, at least not for human beings caught up in either what we can gain or what we have lost. The difficulty for all of us in grasping the Resurrection lies in its open-ended nature; in its lack of tangibility, in its inability to be put on display. We know what babies look like, how they cry and need us. We can understand a Jesus in a cresch. We know what dying men look like, how they suffer and bleed. We can understand Jesus on a cross. But who among us has seen a resurrection? How can the inevitable be defeated? In this horrible broken world, how can we dare to hope?

Neither Filipino nor American Black Friday is really all about Jesus. Americans are just buying up as many material possessions as they can to fill the void, and Filipinos are looking down into the void over and over again, hoping their own death won’t go unnoticed. Meanwhile, Resurrected Jesus is standing on the other side of the suffering with his arm outstretched, just waiting to pull anyone across. Anyone who will dare to look up from the darkness.

But that’s a risky venture, looking outside of ourselves, looking up into the light and believing that something else could be out there. Because when we cross that void, every time we cross that void, we’ll be changed. We have to be. We can’t look the Resurrection in the face and go back to being a good consumer. We can’t grab hold of possibility of life eternal and go back to perpetual grief. Believing in the Resurrected Christ, preferring him above everything else will mean letting go of the world around us. This Christ isn’t defenseless- He’s calling us to give up our lives of material gain and break down the systems that hold others in oppression. And this Christ isn’t broken- He’s calling us to give up our endless tears and dare to believe that life can be better. This Christ is no weakling child and he’s no dying man. He’s powerful and terrifying and even though the scriptures try to enlighten us to who He could be, we can’t know for sure.

The Resurrection is more than just the reappearance of Jesus. It’s a thousand letter word that means ‘if love is enough.’ And that’s what we have to believe if we say we know the Resurrected Christ- love will overcome material wealth and emotional burdens. Easter is a lot harder than Black Friday, a real Easter, that is. Because we can play the trumpet and eat the ham, but if we never look up from the void, then we’re only throwing more tradition into the darkness, trying to see if we can fill the holes inside of us.

But, if love is enough, which I believe, I dare to believe, it is, than we can see Christmas and Black Friday for what they truly are- steps along the journey, acknowledgment that the love that destroys every sadness, came at a price. That love isn’t easy, because when we get a hold of it, when we look up from ourselves and grab hold of Easter, the love will change us. It will want to make itself known. And it’s scary to think what we’ll lose when we really start loving each other; we won’t be able to let others starve while we live in abundance, we won’t be able to grieve endlessly, because we’ll have to believe in more.

I’m still afraid. As I write this in a tiny office in Davao, I know there’s a suffering world right outside my window that needs the love of Christ. And there’s a broken person inside of me that is terrified of letting go of the sadness. We all need to make the choice every day. Is today a day I’ll live as Black Friday, or is today a day, is this moment a moment, I let go of myself and take the Resurrection that’s being offered?

Just look up from the darkness. Christ is standing right there. Drop everything else and reach across.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Linda permalink
    March 22, 2008 4:33 pm

    Hi Lindsey: It’s Jen (on my mom’s computer.) Beautiful posting. Christians in Africa pray endlessly for American Christians because we take our abundance for granted. Ironic. Happy Easter…

  2. Mali Royer permalink
    March 29, 2008 12:41 am

    Wow. That was amazing. Thank you.

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