Why Stores Should Be Closed on Holidays

I lived with my family in Germany during the academic year 2009-2010, during which time we had to learn to remember to go shopping before Sundays and holidays, when everything closes. While it was irritating to discover stores closed on distinctively German holidays that I hadn’t even known about, we soon adjusted. I found that I really liked having days on which I did no shopping of any kind. Similarly, most stores closed relatively early, by the standards of American suburbia.

When we moved back to the States, it was a bit of a jolt to realize that I might go into a Michael’s or an A.C. Moore to buy craft supplies at 10pm on a Thursday. It suddenly felt awkward and almost wrong to me that this particular store–full of things that no one particularly needs with any particular urgency was full of workers at such an hour. I was embarrassed. I left without buying anything.

Though I’m not there are the moment, I know that the U.S. is in full holiday shopping mania. Some of my nearest and dearest make a good part of their living from retail, and in the main, I have no objection to gifts and decorations and special food and all the rest of it, provided it is not excessive and does not come at a heavy cost to vulnerable people. On the contrary, I love marking the mystery of the Incarnation at this time of year with all sorts of embodied practices: creches and trees; garlands and lights and gifts. I know that those things originated from paganism, and it doesn’t particularly bother me.

Each of these things is–or can be–reappropriated into that old, old story so well. I love it all.

Nor, as longtime readers of this blog (and those who knows me) know, do I have a dog in the “War on Christmas” fight. It’s okay to say ‘happy holidays’ to me.

Black Friday Line by Flickr/TShein.
Black Friday Line by Flickr/TShein.

What I emphatically do not like, though, is the steady erosion of national holidays by unending waves of commerce. I don’t want the stores to be open on Thanksgiving or Easter or Christmas ‘in case I forget something’; I want them all to be closed so that the person whose job it is to run the cash register has the same chance at rest and observance and celebration as I do. I say this cognizant of the fact that many people in the USA do not observe Easter or Christmas, and that others celebrate holidays that go unacknowledged.

Even so, as Marilynne Robinson suggests in her essay “Family” in The Death of Adam,

“If there is any truth in polls, the American public remains overwhelmingly religious, and religion is characteristically expressed in communities of worship. To take part in them requires time. It may be argued that there are higher values, for example the right to buy what one pleases when one please, which involves another’s right to spend Saturday or Sunday standing at a cash register or to compel someone else to stand there. If these are the things we truy prefer, there is no more to be said. But the choice is unpoetical and, in its effects, intolerant. […] Now people in good circumstances have their Saturdays and Sundays if they want them. So observance is an aspect of privilege, though the privileged among us tend to be the least religious. No wonder the churches are dying out.”

I harbor no illusions that the US will, like Germany, return to the days of stores and businesses being closed on Sundays or on any other single day set apart for family, for rest, for worship, for enjoyment. I do realize that there are always people who must work even on ‘special’ days, and I am grateful for them. But I do want to think long and carefully about what it means that observance has, in America at least (as well as other places) become “an aspect of privilege.” And when people make claims as to the religious sensibilities of the founders, they might do well to consider what ideals are embodied by Americans trampling each other to get a good deal on flat-screen TVs on the very day that they sat around a table ostensibly to ‘give thanks.

{I wrote about the backward encroachment of Black Friday for CT’s her.meneutics blog. Read that here.}


On The Third Day, The Lord Created the Remington Bolt-Action Rifle So Man Could Defend Hisself Against the Dinosaurs.

This is a work of the imagination intended to reflect a common stereotype. Any resemblance to homeschoolers, living or dead, is strictly coincidental.
This is a work of the imagination intended to reflect a common stereotype. Any resemblance to homeschoolers, living or dead, is strictly coincidental.

In case I didn’t tell you before: I homeschool our kids.

It’s a choice that raises a lot of eyebrows, especially among the many Europeans we encounter in the former colonial capital where we live.

“Do you do that for…religious reasons?” a German woman asked me. There was caution in her voice, as if she feared she was inquiring about some kind of bizarre and possibly gruesome secret rite. Another woman told me she doubted that I’d make any friends if I didn’t enroll my children in school. Others ask me—every time they see me—if I am going to keep doing that.

We don’t teach our kids at home because we are afraid they’ll learn something at school that conflicts with our religious views or our values, as was perhaps the primary motivation behind the pioneer wave of Christian home educators. (This might well remain a leading reason why many parents today homeschool their children.) I support state oversight of homeschooled students and fear the Home School Legal Defense Association’s influence, which often comes dangerously close to defending child abuse in the name of “parent’s rights.” At the same time, I’m irritated by the widespread prejudice against homeschooling that is perpetuated by misleading news reports, such as this piece by Michelle Goldberg. She claims that homeschooling “is almost entirely unregulated in much of the country” and opens by telling the story of a girl who died at the hands of her abusive parents. They were homeschoolers, of course.

Homeschooling has fallen out of favor among the demographic I most closely fit: young, “missional”-minded Christians. Last year, progressive Christian blogger and author Tony Jones argued, in a piece unsubtly titled “Death to Homeschooling!”, that homeschooling probably is anti-Christian. Jones wrote: “[T]o withdraw my children from public education is to not play my (God-given) role as a missional member of society.” Recently, Jennifer Slate, writing for Christianity Today’s “This is Our City” project, explained that sending her kids to the “poorest public school in the city” has helped her engage with what she believes God is already doing “for the common good” in her area.

{Read my piece in its entirety at the Convergent blog.}

Happy Easter Monday! Hop along with me!

Happy Easter Monday!

Today I’m participating in Ellen Painter Dollar’s“Best Thing Blog Hop,”  a chance for bloggers to shine new light on older blog posts that we consider to be among our best work.

Visit Ellen’s blog to see a list of other participants, with links to their “Best Thing” blog posts, and click through to read a few. This event is designed not only to give bloggers an opportunity to dust off old work, but also to introduce readers to new bloggers whose work might appeal. 

Click here to learn more about the Blog Hop and read all of the participating bloggers’ entries.

I wrote this piece almost exactly two years ago; it was the longest, most personal piece I’d ever published and reached the widest readership I’d ever had, appearing (thanks to Kendra Langdon Juskus!) in Christianity Today, Catapult/*cino, and ESA’s ePistle.

I’m an American living in the town in Germany where a bomb from World War II detonated 3 days ago, killing three people. Last week, my husband Tim came home early from his regular Thursday pick-up game of basketball at the university sports center here in Gottingen, Germany. I was puzzled to see him; I’d expected him to be much later, and he explained the reason for his premature return: “They found a bomb from World War II near the sports center where they’re doing some construction, and everyone had to leave the building.” This seemed bizarre; we hadn’t realized that thousands of leftover bombs still litter Germany—they’re usually found and deactivated without incident. I didn’t give it much further thought.

My father spent nearly three years as a “cold-warrior” at Hahn Air Base in west-central Germany in the mid-1970s. As an SP (special police) he guarded bombs—lots of very big and potentially very destructive bombs. He never saw combat, spending most of his time in Germany living off the military base, learning German, disco dancing, and flirting with German girls. At the same time, he became something of a military history buff, eagerly absorbing World War II history, and—being a guy with lots of Jewish girlfriends in his past and a fascination with Judaism—he also studied the Holocaust and visited former concentration camps. Later, back in the States, he re-met and married one of those former Jewish girlfriends, and they had me.

Though both my parents are practicing Christians, they were eager for me to have a sense of Jewish identity. They taught me to say the Shema in Hebrew (“Hear, O Israel, the LORD is G-d; the LORD is One”). They had me baptized—but in Israel, in the Sea of Galilee. They dragged me to Schindler’s List when I was way too young to handle it, and I read and re-read my autographed copy of I Am a Star until my mom brought me to work with her to meet Inge Auerbacher, the author. I had Hebrew lessons with the local rabbi when my dad was the pastor of the nearby Baptist church. He was Israeli, made great coffee, had a cat named Nefertiti, and refused to eat anything imported from Germany.

My husband and I moved here, to Gottingen, Germany, last September. When we arrived on the train, I got off first with our two young sons; Tim headed back into the train to grab our suitcase. The train was running late and the engineer must have been trying to make up time, because the doors closed faster than had been usual; I clapped my hands against the glass door, mouthing “goodbye” to my husband before he sped on to the next city. It was silly, but my mind kept remembering horrific scenes of separation by trains—scenes culled from my overexposure to World War II films.

These are my boys on our couch in Germany. I'm sorry, but those golden curls of Graeme's make me want to weep! I miss his long hair!

I work hard to live in the moment. For me, this means I try to live here in Germany without forgetting what happened to people of my pedigree 70 years ago but also realizing that those tragic events are over and done with. When my dad visited me last year, he also returned to the air base. Delightfully, the old weapons storage facility has been converted into a green energy plant with wind and water mills. We rhapsodized about the beating of “swords into plowshares,” quoting Isaiah and feeling comfortable leaving the past in the past to enjoy and admire the peaceful and democratic culture of Germany.

But last night, I came home late from a local saltwater pool, where I’d enjoyed a long swim, to find my husband waiting up for me. “I heard a loud explosion and then an hour’s worth of emergency sirens,” he said. “I’m not sure what’s going on.” This morning, we learned another bomb, an American bomb, had been discovered near the same area; just before it was to be deactivated, it detonated, killing three people, seriously injuring two others, and blowing the fronts off of two nearby houses. One of Germany’s bomb disposal experts explained that the acetone detonators in these old bombs are deteriorating, meaning that as time goes on, they’ll become increasingly fragile and essentially impossible to deactivate safely. Many of these bombs are buried well below the ground, covered by buildings erected in the post-war period.

Continue reading Happy Easter Monday! Hop along with me!