Thursday, March 14, 2013
Why I dread getting the Deseret Book Catalog
Along with all the other junk mail we receive, we get regular mailings from Deseret Book. We live far from the intermountain west, so we can’t wander into a store and browse, and I used to enjoy getting the mailers to see what latest church books were available.
I have enjoyed reading LDS books over the years. The apostles’ books that were either the result of their year’s focus in talks (like Elder Maxwell’s) or those that are edited talk collections (like Elder Eyring’s) appealed to me, as did collections of Women’s Conference addresses (these were especially helpful when I was a new bishop many years ago; they helped me gain a better understanding of a key part of my flock). I’ve never been too big on LDS fiction, though I enjoyed reading the Tennis Shoes series with some of my kids, and though I didn’t read any of his other books, Gerald Lund’s book on the Hole in the Rock expedition was interesting because of a family connection to that story (not my family, but my wife’s; I have no Mormon pioneers in my heritage, just old fashioned American pioneers…).
I also have enjoyed a variety of biographies published and marketed through Deseret Book, including those of church leaders and prominent members. And recent efforts at church history like Massacre at Mountain Meadows and the Women of Faith series have been awesome.
But the catalogs that come in the mail trouble me. Now, I am a fan of the free market. I work for a huge corporation that is very happy that customers buy our very expensive products. But I grimace when I turn the page in the Deseret Book mailer and see framed temple pictures selling for $250 (and that at half price!), and Christus statue replicas for $100. I realize that several hundred dollars for an object of art isn’t much in the grand scheme of things, especially for some consumers. And I surely want artists to be compensated for their work. But the framed temple pictures are photographs. And the original creator of the Christus statue has been dead for some time.
Is there something wrong that there is a market for high priced trinkets of our faith? I can’t help but have the same question in my head as arose under different circumstances in the New Testament. Couldn’t that money be better used to help the poor?
I know I’m really on sensitive ground here. Each of us makes purchase decisions that are unique to us. One man’s luxury is another man’s normal. And our covenant to consecrate all we have to the building up of the kingdom doesn’t come with a ledger book for keeping track.
After each reading of Nibley’s Approaching Zion (and I haven’t read it in a while), I find myself thinking twice about many purchases – do I need to go out to that restaurant? Do we really need the low-fat hamburger? Do we need the artisan bread instead of the store brand?
I’ve lived enough places in the world to know that my middle class American standard of living is far above that of most of the world’s population, and, frankly, it’s well above many of my fellow Americans’, too. And so from time to time, like when the Deseret Book mailer comes, I find myself wondering about how I use my resources. Am I sharing my surplus with those in need? And what is my surplus? And how should I share it? Is a generous fast offering enough? Is there more I should do?
There are no set answers to these questions of course, and my answers will be different from yours. And that’s ok, as long as we periodically ask ourselves the questions.