Boycott Black…THANKSGIVING?!

Many bloggers have already weighed in on this, so much so that my two cents worth may be mere ripples in a cheap mall fountain. In fact, when I got Matt Walsh’s blog in my inbox recently, I nearly aborted this post because he said a lot of what I wanted to say, what I’d already been ranting about, and said it better. Then I thought, nah, not everyone reads his blog* and I want my few and faithful readers to know what side I’m on and why.

Here’s what side I’m on: Shopping sales on sacred days is stupid. Thanksgiving may not qualify as a holy day, but thankfulness certainly ought to be sacred, as opposed to the cheap game we’ve turned it into by thanking God for parking spots, for discounts on the latest technology, for our favorite food. It’s disturbing that much of what people are showing gratitude for is based on some sliding scale of specialness: “I’m thankful for my home because many are homeless. I’m thankful for my well-stocked pantry because many are starving.” Yes, we ought to be genuinely thankful for our provisions but not because they compare favorably to the provisions of those who didn’t happen to win the born-privileged-in-a-first-world-country lottery. Comparative gratitude is just veiled bragging.

Sort of like this: I’m thankful that I ended up in a profession that allows me to have the week of Thanksgiving off. And while I don’t get paid for those days, I’m thankful that my contract is such that I can enjoy the break without fearing financial ruin. But I’m even more thankful for those who chose the medical and public safety professions. Emergencies don’t take holidays, so those folks can’t always celebrate with their families. I salute them. And gas station attendants. I’m thankful there are a few bright spots providing fuel and coffee to those who must be on the road to assist the rest of us.

But I am not in the least bit thankful that some retailers will be open on Thanksgiving day, and I don’t give a rip how deep the discounts will be.

Here’s why: We already suck** at family time, at setting aside even an hour to just sit and talk to one another without distractions. When I poll my high school students about how many have family meals sans technology, the response is depressing. Fewer than one-third of my bedroom-community, Bible-belt sophomores eat a TV/cell phone free meal with their families once a week. Thanksgiving is a family-oriented holiday. Shopping on Thanksgiving is no more a family activity than the Hunger Games is a harmless contest. Stay home and talk to your kids, parents, crazy aunts and uncles. Play a game. Take a walk. Try some face time that doesn’t require a smart phone.

Here’s another why: We already have enough stuff, hence our shallow list of things for which we are thankful. I’m not saying never make another purchase; I’m just pleading with you to not make it on Thanksgiving. It’ll keep. And it will likely still be on sale, especially if enough of us don’t show up on Thanksgiving. Basic economics, people…We drive the market. It’s time we took the back the controls.

And then there’s this: Because some knuckleheads think it’s a good idea to start Black Friday on Thanksgiving, the people who work for them will miss time with their families (and this it the part that ticked me off the most) to wait on people who have the luxury of having the day off with theirs. Granted, not all of the shoppers will be middle class professionals, but I bet someone could make a pretty distinct have/have not pie chart out of customer/employee stats.

I pointed that out to some acquaintances when the “Open Thanksgiving Day” announcements started hitting the newsfeed, and I was stunned at the responses: “So, they’ll probably get time and a half. I bet they could use the money” and “If they don’t like it, they can just quit, work somewhere else.” Um, no. I was a single mother for several years when my three children were young. I had not yet completed my degree, I was receiving no child support, my car was good for only short trips. My employment options were limited, so–because social services programs don’t pay for everything (or end poverty) and because I knew that I alone was responsible for my children and my choices–I took various low-paying jobs with few benefits to keep the electric bill paid and the kids in second-hand shoes. I could not have afforded to walk off those jobs: If I had been scheduled by my employer on a Thanksgiving, I’d have had to find a relative to keep my three small children so I could spend the “holiday” waiting on people who were getting discounts on things their children didn’t need at any price. I would not have been grateful for the time and a half. I would have been…sad.

I know exactly what it feels like to be treated like a scullery maid by someone who could not give a flip about my forlorn little family as long as she gets “an amazingly good deal, y’all!” and still has time to enjoy a latte and designer pie with her little darlings…or Folgers and leftovers…or whatever. And I know exactly what it feels like to have to work for whatever whenever so a corporation can provide bonuses to its already far-above-the-national-average executives who fly their families to resorts for the holidays.

I’m thankful I am not–and never will be–one of those jerks. I’m spending Thanksgiving with my friends and my family. I challenge you to do the same.

James 1: 27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. 

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* For the record, almost everyone reads Matt Walsh’s blog. And if my audience starts reading it, I’ll have a lot less to write about.

**A lot of you recoil at this word because you associate it with a very narrow, very inappropriate connotation. But it existed long before that vulgar usage (if you don’t know what I’m referring to, don’t ask me to explain it) and has maintained several meanings during and since. Bottom line: It fits here.

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Bad Grandpa…Down, Boy!

Note: I know I promised to finish the tale continued in “An American in Babel” in my next blog, which would be this one, but I could not NOT write about this (yes, that makes sense; read it again), so I’m asking my two or three faithful readers to please forgive me for leaving you hanging once again. Part III of my journey is coming soon-ish.

I think I’ve mentioned this before: I teach high school English. When people ask me why I’m a teacher, I tell them it’s because I was born that way. I’m serious. When people ask me why high school, I tell them it’s because that’s the only age group I can tolerate being trapped with in a block building. So serious. Why English? Because I like it; at least I like the reading and writing and discussing of it. And that’s where things get really serious.

Imagine a crowded high school English class, the last block of the day. We are reading a dystopian novel because every teenager needs to understand the danger of “the man” and the oppressive nature of the unknown they…Yeah, not so much.

Ensuring a successful reading of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 with regular ed sophomores requires a good deal of pedagogical wisdom and even more dramatic pausing. I am determined that my students recognize not only the literary elements of what is read, but also their society and themselves, especially in the more culturally prophetic pieces.

So I can’t read Fahrenheit 451 without asking them about the Mildreds they know, without discussing caves and masks and mirrors, without commenting on our perpetual technological distractions and our mindless entertainment. And that’s where things picked up in my fourth block class the other day.

“Ms. VanMeter,” a student asked, “have you ever seen [insert title of random stupid movie made in the last ten years]?”

I get the question a lot. The kids are trying to kill time or sneak in something they’d rather talk about or, more often than not, set me up for a diatribe. They are amazed at the list of shows I’ve never seen, and I have a repertoire of blistering one-liners on their “entertainment” choices that they seem to enjoy. But we had a lot of ground to cover that day, so I wasn’t taking the bait.

Me [deadpan]: Have you met me?

Other students [voices overlapping]: Don’t be stupid…you know she hasn’t…why’d you ask her that?…

Student: Why not? 

Me: It’s junk. You know I don’t watch junk. 

Student: How do you know it’s junk if you don’t watch it?

I take the bait.

Me: Things, like people, usually let you know pretty quickly what they are.You just have to pay attention. We can start with the title. And the previews. (In my head I add “and the maturity level of the people who enjoy it,” but I know they’ll get a kick out of that, so I stop short of saying it. For now.)

Student: So are you gonna watch Bad Grandpa?

Me [nonplussed]: Of course not.

Student: But that movie’s hilarious! 

Other students chime in affirmatively, though most, like me, have only previews to go on. I turn the discussion to weightier matters, but it isn’t long before we are back to Bad Grandpa, thanks to a discussion of how men have been portrayed in the media in the last couple of decades–despicably. In everything from cartoons to comedies, men have been dumbed down and damned to the lowest common denominator of human decency. Thus, I said, my disgust with movies like Bad Grandpa. To take the patriarch of a family and reduce him to a juvenile expression of baseness and prurience, someone who tosses one dollar bills at a child dressed up and dancing like a stripper on a pole

Laughter. Lots of it.

Uh, oh. This was going to get ugly.

And so it did. My pointed lecturing gave way to fury. The next few lines were delivered with a pounding of both hand and tongue, so loud my words were heard by the teacher next door.

THAT’S NOT FUNNY! THAT IS NOT FUNNY! There is nothing funny about a child on a pole, about a man throwing ones at a child on a pole. Every day on this planet children are sold to satisfy the sexual desires of the depraved and anything that so much as implies that and makes light of it is foul and disgusting, and a society that finds that funny is hopelessly corrupt!

Now–do you want to ask me any more questions? 

They did not.

But I have a question: What the heck are these kids doing watching that garbage? Two questions: Who the heck is letting them? This is the 21st century. We should have “come a long way, baby” by now. I recently asked my class why they thought such films were even made, and I got this from a perceptive young woman who rarely volunteers her wry observations: “Because we set the bar so low for ourselves and the people who make those movies know it.”

And therein lies the problem. Just like that stupid old Virginia Slims ad, our “long way” has been down. Students who are positively aghast when I toss a Bible on the floor and step on it (yes, yes, of course I do; it’s the it’s-not-the-books-but-what’s-in-the-books-getting-into-you-that-matters routine) are watching movies that would make the Harlot of Babylon feel right at home. Rather than raising our standards, we’ve degraded ourselves. And our children.

All our claims of being a godly nation, all our insistence on what a civilized society should not tolerate, all our scrambling to protect our offspring from danger, and all the while our box offices and inboxes are full of things that only a dog would down. Or only a dog should down. We have blithely pulled the family up to a buffet of vomit and vulgarity and are shoveling it in one over-priced popcorn at a time. And you know what they say–you are what you eat.

So let’s chew on this instead: Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.  Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it–he will be blessed in what he does. If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. (James 1:21-27)

Seriously.

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That’s the Word, and I’m a witness.