The Thanksgiving Day Retail Wars

Should retail stores be open or closed on Thanksgiving Day?

This question has been a pretty controversial one in recent years, as annually, an increasing number of major retail stores have opened their doors for business on Thanksgiving Day.

Historically, most businesses have chosen to close their doors on Thanksgiving Day. They've done so, because technically speaking, Thanksgiving is a Federally mandated religious holiday, and was officially recognized by Abraham Lincoln in 1863 as a, "national day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens."

Granted, the holiday isn't establishing any particular "religion," but it is technically religious in nature by virtue of Abraham Lincoln's mandate and prior tradition. Prior to his mandate, Thanksgiving had been celebrated on various days by many Americans as a religious holiday. This is due to the origins of the holiday being rooted in the strong religious influence that Calvinists had in the colonization of America.

(See this link for a brief history of the holiday.)

By virtue of Thanksgiving Day being a "holy day," it is fair and right to say that the intent behind the holiday is for the day to be treated as something akin to a "sabbath day" of rest and worship.

What is a "sabbath day?" In the Bible, God created the world in 6 days, and on the 7th day He rested from His labor. When the Ten Commandments were given, God forbade mankind to work on the 7th day of the week, out of honor and remembrance of God's work, and to give man the opportunity to enjoy the same rest God experienced in His work. The sabbath day was thus "separated" and marked on the calendar as a day that was "different" from the other days in which mankind was allowed to labor. On a sabbath, no work could be done.

Fast forward to the present, and you will discover we live in a society that is increasingly secular. God is rarely invoked in making public policies and decisions. And, as a result of the increasing secularization of America, the concept of observing a sabbath day has been largely forgotten. For in a secular society, the prevailing ethos is that all days of the week are one in the same. There can be nothing holy about any particular day of the week, because there is no God to make any "one day" different from the next. Therefore, all days become nothing more than another 360 degree revolution the Earth completes within a 24 hour period, and is devoid of any sacred meaning.

To the retailer, from a financial perspective, the decision to open their store for business is really a "no-brainer." The Christmas holiday season is the biggest time of the year for retailers to make their companies profitable. These companies often operate on a narrow profit margin of a couple percentage points, and if they don't make their money at the Christmas holiday season, then they risk not being profitable at all. So the idea of a company closing for an entire business day during a peak time of year can actually be viewed as a bad financial decision.

From a business perspective, a retailer needs to get as many dollars as they can from as many people as possible, and they need to get their hands on your money before you spend your limited and finite resources at one of their competitors. As a result, stores have been incrementally opening earlier and earlier every year the day after Thanksgiving, and advertising "door buster sales" because retailers want to put themselves in a position business wise to get the "first dollar" you spend instead of the "last dollar." For if they get the first dollar you spend, there is a pretty good chance they will get your second and third dollar too. But, if you are down to your last buck, then they risk you coming into their store later with less disposable money to spend.

In light of such a reality, I think blaming corporations for being nothing more than greedy capitalists, who are looking to do nothing more than exploit the poor working class by forcing them work on Thanksgiving Day, in the name of making "obscene profits," is a bit misguided. And while there may be some hints of truth in such an accusation, I think such a comment is woefully superficial, and misses the mark.

I think the real problem is something much simpler than this, and it is something I believe we all intuitively know, but because of the prevailing mindset we find in our culture, we lack the ability to pinpoint and express. Therefore in a knee-jerk manner, we take the easy way out and vilify companies like Walmart, instead of really digging down deep to the heart of the matter.

The real problem with the Thanksgiving Day retail wars, is not the greedy corporate capitalist mindset. From a financial standpoint, their position makes sense when you do the math.

Rather, the real problem with retailers opening their doors on Thanksgiving Day is, that in doing so, we as a society show we lack any real sense of a sabbath day filled with rest and worship. We call a day such as Thanksgiving Day a "holy day," but then we proceed to treat it as if it were just another Thursday-- a day as common as the rest, in which we open our doors for business and work.

We find it so tempting to open our doors for business on a holy day, because we live in a society in which we must always be working. And we must always be working, because we operate with a secular mindset that acts like there is no God. As a result of such a mindset, we have become a people that has the inability to cease from our labors like God did from His, and enjoy a sabbath day filled with rest, worship, and thanksgiving.

I support businesses being closed for business on our national day of giving thanks. And I would encourage you to not go out and shop on Thanksgiving Day.


Simplicity: Freedom from the Tyranny of Want

"Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication" ~ Steve Jobs
Love them or hate them, Apple has been a leader in the computing world for decades. Their contribution to their industry (and perhaps the universe!) has been fueled by the commitment of their founder, Steve Jobs, to making something simple.
Prior to the 1980′s, computers were extremely complicated machines to operate. Only die-hard nerds loved them. In order to perform the most basic and simple tasks that we now take for granted today, like searching for a file and opening one, a computer’s operating system required you type in a specific series of commands, line by line, on a black or green screen.
Along came Steve Jobs, who was making computers that he wanted to sell everybody in the world. The problem was that the only people who generally bought computers back in those days were electronic enthusiasts, scientists, and government officials. The average Joe found computers too intimidating to use, and the mere idea of turning one on could be a very daunting challenge.
Steve Jobs knew that in order to be successful, he would have to simplify the computing experience and make it very user friendly. Instead of people having to buy individual computer components and assemble them, Steve jobs bundled them all together, and sold it with an operating system that departed from issuing typed commands. Instead, a computer could now be run by using a mouse to simply “point and click” your way around. Thus, the Apple “Macintosh” was born.
Like computer systems from before the 1980′s, life can be pretty complicated. We feel a bit overwhelmed, and deep down inside I believe we all yearn for something a little less complicated. We want something more point and click. Deep down inside, we all want a Macintosh. We all want simplicity.
Stuck In Our Old Ways
Sadly, for many of us, simplicity is a foreign concept. Lacking any explicit command in the Bible that says, “Be thou simple,” we quickly adopt the culture that our minds were baptized into from the moment of our birth, and unfortunately, our redemption experience via the new birth seems to do have done very little to change any of that. As Americans, we live very busy, bloated, disconnected, and complicated lives. To be a Christian in America is to simply continue in the typical American way of life, minus some really big sins, and seasoned with some church attendance.
Though we are Christians, we still find ourselves to still be an army of consumers, constantly worried that we are missing out on the latest and greatest thing. We are flashy. We have an obsession with novelty, and if somebody tells us something is new or better, we’ll be among the first to stand in line all night in order to get it. Never having enough, we always want more and more and more. We operate with a scarcity mentality, making us cutthroat and competitive, and always trying to be the first and best in all that we do.
In our society, it is no longer acceptable just to dream. Instead, we have to dream big, live big, and do big things. Our French fries have to be big. Our cars have to be big. Our homes have to be big. Our churches and ministries have to be big. Heck, even our God has to be big!
In contrast to all of this, I believe the Lord is calling us to reverse our course, and to live the simple life.
What Simplicity Looks Like
So what is simplicity? First, simplicity is a spiritual discipline. Many often overlook it, because when we typically think of spiritual disciplines we think of individual actions that we incorporate into our routine. We think of things like reading our Bible and praying as spiritual disciplines. Simplicity— not so much.
Simplicity is a mindset and spirit that we embrace. It is not merely an action that you can perform, though some have tried. Throughout the ages, monks have done extreme things, like sell all their worldly possessions and give them to them to the poor, and take vows of poverty. You could do such too. But, as history teaches us, such radical actions can leave one entirely unchanged.
We practice simplicity by adjusting the disposition of our hearts and minds towards the Lord. When we lay down our lives and surrender them to the Lord, day by day with every new step that we take, we become transformed in the washing and renewing of our minds. This requires no extreme monastic gestures; rather, it is the commitment to a new way of life, where we learn to instinctively think in new ways. Nobody can tell you, “Do this and that” and you will practice simplicity. It is something you must weave into the very fabric of your life.
Simplicity is more like a dance. There is good dancing, and there is bad dancing. What exactly constitutes good dancing is hard to say. We know it when we see it. Likewise, we know when we see bad dancing. It’s hard to describe, but easy to recognize.
I like to think of simplicity as nothing more than living out Psalm 23 in my daily life. In recognition that the Lord is my Shepherd, I am freed from the tyranny of want. Jesus Christ alone is more than I will ever need, and by possessing Him, I truly have all things. I see that He is always leading me beside still waters. Though the grass may look greener on the other side of the fence, I see that the grass underneath my feet is plenty green. In simplicity, I see a bounty is always set before me. My cup runneth over.
In simplicity, I do my best every day out of a spirit of thanksgiving for what the Lord has provided me with, not so that I can have a competitive advantage over somebody else at work, and get promoted. While “promotion is of the Lord,” I also recognize that faithfully showing up to the same job day after day for decades at a time, so that I can provide for my family, is also from the Lord.
In simplicity, I discover that I am more than a consumer. I don’t need something simply because it is the latest in fashion, or because somebody said something is new, bigger, and better. I don’t need a new car every couple of years. I don’t need the latest iPhone upgrade. I don’t need the latest and greatest of anything.
In simplicity, I am gifted with patience and freedom. I can wait for things, and I don’t have to become a slave to a bank by taking on unnecessary and excessive levels of debt. Such things only further complicate my life, rob me of joy, and give me something I never wanted: worry. Instead, I see that I have more than enough in the way of food, clothing, and shelter. I don’t need to provide a “better quality of life” for my family. God has already done that.
In simplicity, I am empowered to be a giver. And by that, I don’t mean so that I can increase the size of what I put in the offering plate. Rather, it is in simplicity that I have the ability to look past the offering plate, and open my eyes to all the people around me, and think of ways that I might now be able to bless them.
In simplicity, I find place in my life for community. The less I fill up my life with stuff, the more I make room to fill it up with other people that I love, and invite them to become partakers of the Lord’s table with me.
In simplicity, I transform my life into one of everlasting Sabbath rest and worship. Because the Lord is my portion, I am freed from the tyranny of work, and having to do everything within my power to provide for me and my family a better life, for the Lord has already provided me with all things in Him.
An Invitation
I invite you to incorporate simplicity as a spiritual discipline into your way of life. You will likely find it challenging at first, and you may be discouraged with your progress. But keep in mind; this is a discipline that is meant to be progressively incorporated into your way of life. It doesn’t happen overnight. You will have regular set-backs, and will slowly recognize contradictions existing in your own life. That’s ok. Such is merely an invitation by God to go deeper with Him in your walk. Eventually, I believe you will see that the more you embrace simplicity, the more simplicity will embrace you.
(I originally authored this brief essay as a guest contributor to the blog of pastor Daniel Rushing.  I went to Bible college with Daniel, and he officiated my wedding ceremony.  A pretty cool guy if you ask me.  Check out his blog here.)