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WORLDVIEW: What kids learn this time of year

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–Taunts and curses. Police and security guards struggling to control rowdy crowds. Hand-to-hand combat.

I’m not talking about the violence at recent sporting events. I’m talking about Christmas shopping.

If you survived “Black Friday” — the big day-after-Thanksgiving sales — you know what I mean. Black Friday refers to merchandisers’ hopes of moving out of the red and into the black, profit-wise, on a single holiday weekend. But it carries an ominous tone that chills the hearts of retail employees.

Superstore associates prepare for these marathons with a mixture of anticipation and raw fear. They stock shelves with sale items, walk the aisles -– and brace themselves for the barbarian hordes who line up outside before dawn.

“I am on a mission,” guerrilla shopper Stacey Shore grimly informed a Richmond Times-Dispatch reporter outside a local Target store Nov. 26. She had been waiting outside since 4:10 a.m. Mission objective: a portable DVD player on sale.

“These are professional shoppers,” Scott Krugman of the National Retail Association says. “They have a plan and they are not to be deterred.”

A friend of mine learned that the hard way when he was an assistant manager at a department store. He still shudders when he recalls the day. He stood in the main aisle just before the store opened on a big sale day. A mob of shoppers waiting outside the main entrance pressed against the doors a little too hard. The door glass cracked, then shattered.

Wild-eyed bargain hunters poured through the opening like looters in a riot. Two women –- one wide, one thin -– sped side by side toward my friend like Olympic race-walkers on the home stretch. As he prepared to take cover, he saw the large shopper flawlessly execute a hip bump on the thin one without breaking stride. The thin shopper hurtled into a side aisle, while the big one got to the sale items first.

My friend, fearing for life and limb, changed professions shortly afterward.

The comic strip “Funky Winkerbean” perfectly captured the mood of Black Friday. A shopper preparing to assault the sale bins throws back her head and shouts Mark Antony’s call to battle from Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar”: “Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war!”

It’s easy to make fun of guerrilla shoppers. Maybe you’re one of them. Listen, considering the cost of living these days, I applaud anyone who can find a bargain. Nor is this another Grinch-like attempt to make you feel guilty about shopping for Christmas presents. It’s a time for giving. If you like buying nice gifts for friends and family, that’s great.

Just remember this: Your children are watching you year-round -– and learning. If you believe deep down that stuff equals happiness, they will, too. If you load up your life with things you “need” just because others have them, your children will follow the same path.

Consumerism expert Juliet B. Schor, author of “Born to Buy: The Commercialized Child and the New Consumer Culture,” reports the following:

— More American children go shopping every week than read, attend church, play outside or engage in family conversation.

— 44 percent of kids in fourth through eighth grades frequently think about being rich.

— Two-thirds of parents say their children define self-worth in terms of “things they own and wear” more than the parents did at the same age.

— Nearly two-thirds of mothers say their kids are “brand-aware” by age 3, according to one study.

“American children are deeply enmeshed in the culture of getting and spending, and they are getting more so,” Schor observes. “The more they buy into the commercial and materialist messages, the worse they feel about themselves, the more depressed they are, and the more they are beset by anxiety, headaches, stomachaches and boredom.”

Denying your kids nice stuff is not the point. Teaching them to use God’s blessings for His purposes is.

“Using our possessions in a way that makes the most needy glad in God would save us in more ways than one,” writes John Piper. “It would confirm that Christ is our treasure …. And it would transform our society, which is driven by the suicidal craving to satisfy itself with no joy in Christ and no love for the needy.”

Martha Myers, the Southern Baptist physician killed in Yemen two years ago by a Muslim militant, had a motto: “Things don’t matter, people do.” A gifted surgeon, she could have saved a lot of lives and made a lot of money in the United States. Instead, she spent a quarter-century in an isolated land, serving and healing the poorest of the poor with the love of Jesus Christ.

She got her philosophy from Jesus –- and from her own father, physician Ira Myers. He spent most of his medical career working in public health, fighting preventable diseases and bringing basic medical care to poor families. Early on, that meant being on call around the clock, 365 days a year. Later he worked with people like polio vaccine pioneer Jonas Salk through the Centers for Disease Control. Always, he put serving Christ first.

“I’m sure Martha learned some things [about medicine] from living in our house,” the elder Myers admits. “But at the same time, I hope she learned that no matter what your responsibilities are, the Lord is your first and foremost obligation.”

What are your children learning from you?
Erich Bridges is a senior writer at the Southern Baptist International Mission Board whose column appears twice each month in Baptist Press.

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  • Erich Bridges