Catalog Jesus

I confess: I was a catalog girl who grew up to be a catalog woman. We had stacks of them when I was a child: Lillian Vernon and the petite Avon booklet left by the neighbor lady; a bounty of cookware, knickknacks, clothes, and books laid out appealingly on glossy pages. And, of course, best of the best, the Sears and J.C. Penney

Christmas wish books. I whiled away hours, days, weeks flipping the pages, compiling my lists: Lego sets, the Barbie Prom Ensemble, a giant Raggedy Ann. Catalogs were about fantasy and the potential fulfillment (it seemed) of every want, need, and dream.

Now that I am grown, my favored catalogs are most apt to hold clothing or shoes. (Hey, if you wore a size 11EE, specialty shoe catalogs would be your friends too.) The process of catalog shopping is second nature to me: The casual flip-through, noting things of interest (unrestrained at this stage by cost or practicality). The closer look, the discerning of desire or disinterest and the limits of budget. The selection, expression of commitment, the waiting, receiving, the resulting elation/disappointment/apathy. I name size-color-quantity, recite my credit card number, expiration date, amen with the practiced rhythms of one raised in a high church. Best of all, the priests and acolytes of this congregation wear the chocolate brown and purple vestments of UPS and Fed Ex and deliver the blessings right to my doorstep.

HERE'S THE POINT in this commentary where I'm supposed to repent from all that and decry the increasing materialism of our lives. The materialism that is inescapable in the season just begun—the autumn-long festival of marketed indulgence. In the Western world it will build in frenzy and size, like a slow, sure tsunami, and deposit us dazed and battered on Christmas morning, surrounded by stuff and trying to ignore the nagging voice that always asks, "Is this all there is?"

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Sojourners Magazine November-December 2000
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