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Regis Nicoll Christian Blog and Commentary

Regis Nicoll

Regis Nicoll's weblog

Black Friday, 6:15 AM. The checkout lane was already twenty persons deep, but worse—it hadn’t moved in five minutes. As I scanned the other seven lanes, they were no better. Resigned, I took my place in line clutching the electronic gadgetry I had snatched up in my bargain-hunting frenzy.

As everyone knows, deep mark-downs await the deal-hungry consumer on the day after Thanksgiving. But the experienced shopper knows the real deals go to the “doorbusters”—those gritty individuals who forgo shaving, makeup, and even breakfast to be the first in the door. Of course the scarcity mentality of a disheveled and hungry horde can lead to some pretty uncivil behavior…

The lady behind me, also bothered by the slow lane, settled into the queue sighing, “Well, at least this is orderly—not like the first store.”

“First store? It’s only 6:15. What time did you start today?”

“Four. I tell ya, them folks was crazy … pushin’, shovin’, and grabbin’ stuff left and right. They even started fightin’ after a guy broke in line … two of ‘em rollin’ in the aisle … crazy folks!”

“You’re kidding.”

“It was ugly! I got no complaints now. Believe me. Them folks was crazy!”

As I listened, I recalled a scene from Jingle All the Way (1996) with Myron Larabee (Sinbad) and Howard Langston (Arnold Schwarzenegger) in an aisle-rolling melee on Christmas Eve. In their determination to grab up the season’s most popular toy, the warring duo resort to lying, stealing, wrestling, and even bomb threats. Why? As Howard’s son explains, “Johnny’s gonna get one. So is everybody else I know. Whoever doesn’t is going to be a loser.”

The “L” word seems to bring out the fight in us. While Jingle is hyperbolized for the sake of humor, there is much truth in its caricatures.

Marketing Christmas
Let me first say that Christmas is my least favorite holiday: not for what it represents, but for what it has become: a heavily marketed secular event in which the pressure to wow family and friends with presents, decorations, and Christmas dinner is enough to unravel all but the most determined Martha Stewart wannabe.

Indeed, for many folks the holiday’s months-long juggernaut can lead to post-Yuletide trauma, as the good news of “For to us a child is born” is buried in the rubble of discarded gift wrappings, turkey scraps, and unmet expectations.

For businesses, Christmas sales account for up to 50 percent of annual profits. Consequently, the season is a “make-it-or-break-it” time and retailers must be ever creative to avoid being a year-end “loser.”

One of the most prevalent schemes is “Christmas creep”—the continued expansion of the holiday season. If you’re like me, you barely recall the time when stores waited until after Thanksgiving to put out their Christmas merchandise. Today, many stores begin their retail campaign the day after Halloween and some shortly after Labor Day.

Not surprisingly, the resultant holiday overlap can lead to some awkward product placement. For instance, in Rite Aid stores Halloween merchandise was displayed across the aisle from Christmas items in symbolic tension.

Another strategy is to design obsolescence into products. How many of us have electronic or computer devices gathering dust which, although just a few years old, lack connectivity or compatibility with newer products and software? This tactic is optimized by introducing the latest techno wiz bangs during the Christmas season. Even the film industry gets in on the act by releasing their big wave of blockbusters and Oscar hopefuls after Thanksgiving.

Over the last several years, though, a new marketing ploy has been gaining momentum. Continue reading. 

The Sutherland Springs shooter, who took the lives of 26 men, women, and children in a small Texas church, was, like scores of others before him, one of the living dead.

Dylan Klebold, James Holmes, Adam Lanza, Stephen Paddock, and Devin Patrick Kelley represent what the apostle Paul warned would characterize the latter days: people who, in the New Revised Standard Version rendering, are “inhuman.” Not inhuman as to “sub-human,” but “counter-human”—individuals who are set against humanity and their own humanness, often to the point of taking their own life after taking the lives of others, beings who are physically alive, but emotionally, socially, and morally dead—zombies.

In 1946 the proto-man of this strain was introduced by Albert Camus in his novel, The Stranger.

The Stranger
The title character of The Stranger is Meursault, a man out of harmony with the society in which he lives, a person for whom there is no rational order to the universe, no transcendent pegs for ultimate significance, and no fixed standards for human conduct; life is merely the sum-total of his autonomous actions, the moment-to-moment procession of sensory inputs.

As the story unfolds, Meursault drifts through life from one experience to the next in zombie-esque detachment until he fatally shoots a man, then fires four more rounds into the lifeless body. He later muses, “it was like knocking four quick times on the door of unhappiness.”

The extent of his “inhumanity” is revealed at his execution when he wishes only for “a large crowd of spectators … [to] greet me with howls of hate.”

Importantly, Meursault’s crime was not the result of mental illness or “going postal,” but of a faulty worldview. Once he accepted the cosmos as uncaring and unsupervised, he was destined to conclude that fellow-creature sentiments were absurd, and that any action, even the choice to kill or not kill, was bereft of moral value—beliefs that would transmogrify him.

Twenty years later, Meursault was enfleshed, with a vengeance. Continue reading here.

Probably each of us has had an experience that awakened our conscience, one that changed the way we looked at the world and ourselves, a moment of moral clarity that made us reflect, “I was blind, but now I see.”

As a young boy growing up in the rural south, water fountains labeled “White” and “Colored” were as normal to me as men and women restrooms. So when my grandmother took me to Woolworth one day, what caught my eye was not the separate lunch counter for “Colored”; it wasn’t even the fact that the “Colored” counter was located on a mezzanine just below the one for whites, which was a social statement, in and of itself. No, what was out of place was the “white” man sitting among all of those black people.

“Grandma, what is that white man doing there,” I asked.

Grandma surveyed the lower counter, then turned to me in a whisper, “Oh, he only looks white. He’s just very, very light, son.”

Somehow her answer failed to satisfy my young mind. I stole another look at the man at the counter. But try as hard as I could, the man was not “colored,” he was white. Obvious to my confusion, grandma leaned in and explained how differences in skin pigmentation can make one appear white.

For the next half hour, between sips on my cherry Coke, I glanced down at the mezzanine. It didn’t help that there were customers in our section darker than the man below. I remained puzzled.

That is not to say I didn’t have prejudices of my own; I certainly did. But that day was my first awareness that there was something much deeper than skin color here. In the following years, my conscience was stirred each time I returned to that scene. Nevertheless, it would be much later before another experience would bring me full-face with the evil underlying my thinking.

The West Wing
For Dr. Richard Selzer a moment of moral clarity came in the west wing of a university hospital in 1976. It was there that he witnessed the abortion of a 19-week old fetus involving a needle injection technique. In the Esquire article, “What I Saw at the Abortion Clinic,” Selzer writes,

I see something! It is unexpected, utterly unexpected… I see a movement—a small one. But I have seen it. And then I see it again. And now I see that it is the hub of the needle in the woman’s belly that has jerked. First to one side. Then to the other side. Once more it wobbles, is tugged, like a fishing line nibbled by a sunfish…

Dr. Selzer goes on to say that the vision of the fetus struggling for life will be ever etched in his mind; and, that whatever language is used to defend abortion is powerless to erase that image. “For what can language do against the truth of what I saw?”

I was blind, but now I see.

The Streets of Birmingham
Shortly after that lunch in Woolworth’s, I heard terms in the schoolyard like “high yellow” and “mulatto,” which I later learned wasn’t a matter of one’s skin color, but of one’s bloodline. That made it sensible, giving me a rational basis for discriminating between “us” and “them.”

Then on May 2, 1963, Birmingham firefighters turned fire hoses and dogs on a group of young civil rights protesters. Although I had heard about this shocking incident, it didn’t become real until I saw the actual footage years later. The vision of young black students pounded to the ground by water guns, and others with their clothes and flesh ripped open by German shepherds shook me to the core. But more chilling was seeing that this wasn’t the act of angry citizens; it was the work of law officers acting on the orders of elected officials. That became my moment of moral clarity. No more could I justify my complacence about racial prejudice.

I was blind, but now I see.

The Streets of New York
Moments of moral clarity can also come upon an entire community. Dr. Selzer tells of an experience that jolted a neighborhood out of moral slumber. Continue reading here.