The darkest day on the American calendar is aptly named Black Friday.
No other day so vividly captures the travesty that is the American consumer culture. In recent years, Black Friday has wrought in-store fights and has left dozens injured or trampled to death as crowds are moved into crazed hysteria in the name of big savings.
Now enter pepper spray.
Just last week, pepper spray made its Black Friday debut as it was released into a crowd of unsuspecting early morning shoppers in order to secure a purchase. It's hard to get much lower than the loss of life that has come to be associated with Black Friday, but the pepper spray incident does at least create a new category for Black Friday lows; shopping by use of a lachrymatory agent.
Pepper spray has been getting a lot of national coverage as of late. In recent weeks, we have witnessed its release upon an eighty year old protestor, a pregnant woman, and peaceful student protestors sprayed directly in their faces while seated upon the ground.
When I was a child, I was once sprayed by mace. Thankfully, it was not a direct hit, just some kids mischievously spraying the mace attached to their mother's key ring into the air. But then the wind shifted , and in my direction. It was rather unpleasant. That is an understatement. I can't imagine the pain that must be associated with the intentional spraying of pepper spray in the face.
Our renewed fascination with pepper spraying each other may in fact reveal an unpleasantry as disturbing as our Black Friday madness; we are becoming a less hospitable nation. Any student of history would rightly reveal that hospitality has not always been best exemplified by American practice. Slavery was not hospitable. Neither was violently taking land from native peoples. Nor American concentration camps during World War II. Nor burning down churches and burning crosses on other people's property. Nor denying people their religious freedoms based upon extremist actions by a few. Nor for generations allowing people to undergird American agriculture by working for next to nothing in the fields by turning a blinded eye to the "illegality" of their presence, but now scape-goating them as the cause of drains on an economy they helped to build.
Nevertheless, it appears as though we are a less hospitable nation (Quick, name your neighbors. Their kids. Their dog.). Hospitality has been exchanged for a heightened hostility.
Let's call it pepper spray hospitality, which is, in fact, no hospitality at all.
We are a spray first, ask questions later, kind of society. I don't like your political views. Where's my pepper spray? I don't like your religious views. Where's my pepper spray? I am having a bad day and you are in close proximity to me. Where's my pepper spray? And I fear that through popular media, we are passing on our pepper spray hospitality to future generations as their greatest inheritance.
Much of reality television programming is created to appeal to and to satisfy our pepper spray delight. We tune-in in high numbers to watch wives of celebrities and wealthy people who, in high numbers, are not actually married to each other, duke it out on the small screen for our entertainment. Pepper spray hospitality at its finest! And it is not like national politics has garnered a greater track record of hospitality, not with its tendency to seek and destroy rather than work towards compromise to meet the needs of the American public.
Tis', possibly, is the season of pepper spray hospitality. Can anything be more heart-breaking than the story of a young woman forced to give birth to a child virtually outdoors and surrounded by livestock, to wrap her child in dirty rags, and to lie the child down in the animal's feeding trough all because people neglected true hospitality and were unwilling to make room for her and her young family indoors?
Millenniums later, the words of angels create for us a needed counter-cultural vision to our pepper sprayed madness:
"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men" (Luke 2:14).
In these days of pepper spray hospitality, as you check off items from your holiday shopping list, I have one word of advice;
Cover your eyes!