It is either a countercultural stroke of genius or a foolhardy act of retail suicide. On October 26 I received an email from REI, announcing that they were closing their retail stores on Black Friday, November 27. Yes, that’s right.
“This Black Friday the co-op is doing something different. We’re closing all 143 of our stores. Instead of reporting to work, we’re paying our (12,000) employees to do what we love most – be outside. We want you, our members, to be the first to hear – not just what we’re doing, but why.
“We’re passionate about bringing you great gear, but we’re even more passionate about the experiences it unlocks for all of us. Perhaps John Muir said it best back in 1901, ‘Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home.’ We think Black Friday is the perfect day to remind people of this essential truth.” With the hashtag #OptOutside, REI is asking people to share on social media what they’re doing on Black Friday.
Meanwhile, the opening of the holiday season has been fast this year. Shoppers are not waiting until Black Friday. Large retailers, including Walmart, Best Buy and Amazon, rolled out “door-buster” deals in early November. In case you are counting, there are six less shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year. Plus, shoppers wary of the stock market may be limiting their holiday budget, so whoever gets the dollars first wins.
In addition, for the first time, many retailers plan to open their stores this year on Thanksgiving Day itself. Macy’s, JC Penney, Sears, and Toys“R”Us are among those who have announced that they will open on Thanksgiving evening. Kmart will open even earlier: 6 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day, when you can buy an exclusive Beauty Bag for only $9.99.
The National Retail Federation’s latest survey finds that holiday shoppers plan to spend an average of $463 on family members, up from $458 last year and the highest in survey history. Average spending per person is expected to reach $805, with more than half of shoppers also planning to purchase non-gift items for themselves.
You won’t see me at Toys“R”Us on Black Friday because I hate to shop. And you won’t see me trying on apparel in department stores because whenever I get home from work, I change into clothes that most people would find dowdy. I’d wear the same thing every day if I could get away with it. Where you will be able to find me on Friday is outside, along with thousands of other tired, nerve-shaken and over-civilized people in this world.
I hope to be walking in the woods (no snow, please!) and paying attention to everything around me. But I confess ahead of time that I will also be plotting what organizations I will be donating to on what has come to be called Giving Tuesday, December 1. Giving Tuesday, which is now in its fourth year, was founded as an alternative giving response to the shopping frenzy of Black Friday and Cyber Monday and serves to kick off end-of-year charitable giving. Created by the 92nd Street Y in New York City, Giving Tuesday connects diverse individuals and organizations around the world to celebrate philanthropy and giving with events throughout the year.
I am going to channel my Giving Tuesday donations through The Advance, which is the designated giving channel of The United Methodist Church. Last year United, Methodists from 25 countries donated over $2.5 million online on Giving Tuesday to support mission and ministry around the world. More than 775 projects and missionaries received more than 8,700 gifts, with our General Board of Global Ministries (GBGM) matching the first $1 million in gifts.
Board of Global Ministries representatives were among the partners invited to the White House by the Office of Social Innovation and Civic Partnership on October 6, 2014, to promote and support UMC #GivingTuesday. And an article in USA Today highlighted The United Methodist Church among the significant participants, reporting, “Big names – Microsoft to United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries and PayPal – got involved this year with promises to match donations.”
Through the site www.umcmission.org/give, Gary and I plan to participate in UMC Giving Tuesday this year by donating to Papa’s Ministries in Jamaica, which provides training opportunities for clergy and laity, with an emphasis on evangelism. We’re also giving to HAPI, Haitian Artisans for Peace International, which provides for community economic development in economics, gender equality, health, creativity and spirituality. Both mission projects were founded by laity and clergy colleagues from Michigan and are engaged in long term, transformative ministries that will enlarge the capacity of others to be self-supporting. GBGM will again match up to $1 million in gifts. A maximum of $2,500 per individual gift to a project will be dispersed as matching funds. A project may receive a maximum of $25,000 in matching funds.
What might happen if all those who are tired, nerve-shaken and over-civilized made a commitment to celebrate the beginning of Advent by spending part of Black Friday outside in God’s good creation, preparing our hearts and reviving our spirits? As REI CEO Jerry Stritzke said, “For 76 years, our co-op has been dedicated to one thing and one thing only: a life outdoors. We believe that being outside makes our lives better. And Black Friday is the perfect time to remind ourselves of this essential truth. We’re a different kind of company – and while the rest of the world is fighting it out in the aisles, we’ll be spending our day a little differently. We’re choosing to opt outside and want you to come with us.”
What might happen four days later, when a different kind of tired, nerve-shaken and over-civilized church spends part of Giving Tuesday, December 1, at our computers, uniting together to share God’s love and our resources to change the world in the name of Jesus? And what might happen, if, like REI, we tell our friends, neighbors and colleagues not only what we are doing, but why. We’re not only passionate about helping those in need, but we are even more passionate about telling the world that in the midst of so much fear and terror, the true light of Jesus Christ shines in the darkness, and the darkness will never overcome it.
Wherever you are on Black Friday or Giving Tuesday, do something different.