Friday, January 15, 2016

The Wish Book

     Several weeks ago, several of us went to the History Colorado museum in Denver to see the "Toys of the 50's, 60's and 70's" (if you haven't seen it, go now!). For some of us (the parents), it was a bit of a trip down Memory Lane. We compared notes about which of the toys we had, or weren't allowed to have. We shared our various jealousies about our friends who had a larger collection of matchbox cars or horse dolls.  We marveled at the shift from cardboard and metal to plastic. Of course, the kids (aged 4-12) were fascinated. Many things, like the "Cootie" game seemed "SO BORING". Other things -- not necessarily a toy -- like a Princess Dial Phone were extreme curiosities.
      The exhibits had more than toys, as I just implied. There were "living rooms" with furniture from the various decades (that's where the phone could be found -- in the 80's room), and commercials playing on period televisions (commercials mostly about toys, of course).  In one room, however, there was something that REALLY took me back:  a Sears Roebuck "Wish Book"!  I was not alone (in our little group) remembering when, in early fall of each year, that catalog would arrive in the mail (preceded, or soon followed by, Montgomery Ward's counterpart).  I would sit down with those books, flipping quickly past the front pages--which were mostly dolls, until I got to the "boy toys".  I would go back and forth between the catalogs, making my "wish list" from the "wish books", noting for my parents, which page each item could be found, and the corresponding price.  What was GREAT about those books is that they showed me things I "needed" that I never knew even existed!  I had no idea that my life could be made SO MUCH BETTER because of the things on those pages! No surprise, now, that. Most of us know that advertisers want to create a need that their product will fill. And, for a pre-teen boy, their efforts were pretty successful.
       I found myself recalling this catalog-mania the other day as I was listening to a conversation in which one of the discussants referred to the current "spiritual but not religious" phenomenon as a sort of catalog approach to satisfying the inner life.  As the world has "gotten smaller", I think, and we are more likely to be cheek-by-jowl with someone of a different religious background than we were when I was reading the Sears Roebuck catalog, the options for spiritual belief and practice have multiplied. Coupled with other distractions (not necessarily of a religious sort), many of us have lost touch with some of the deep waters of our own traditions, and have found substitutes in others. Yet I wonder how well such a "catalog" approach really "works" -- in the long run? (And, of course, maybe I'm simply musing about how well it would work for me?)
     In the conversation I mentioned, one of the points that the discussant put forward is that such a "pick-and-choose" religiosity often retains no (or little) grounding, and/or little community accountability. We can easily pick the bits and pieces that make us "happy" and ignore (or turn the page past) those bits that challenge us -- either challenge our preconceptions/prejudices, or challenge us to take some meaningful action.  I suppose it's much the same as our options to read/listen/watch ONLY the news outlets that will support our already-held positions; the internet and cable are virtual "Wish Books".
     I still look at catalogs -- the old saying is often true that "the only difference between men and boys is the price of their toys". And they still make me wish for things I don't really need. But I'm becoming less enamored with the offerings of other religious traditions, not because I doubt their validity for their adherents, but because I realize that I can go deeper within my own to find a consistency and resonance I won't probably won't find elsewhere.  Probably our own sacred texts and traditions can become the best "Wish Books" we'd need -- if we actually knew them!



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