I was 10 or 11 years old. A very exciting commercial on television informed me that I could buy a “real diamond ring” for only $10. All I had to do was to call a 1-800 number and make the order. It would be delivered C.O.D., which only a few of you will remember meant Cash On Delivery.
The offer appealed to me tremendously. Ten dollars was a lot for a kid back then (my impulse buys were usually a dollar or less), but it was within reach. I knew immediately that I wanted to buy a “real diamond ring” for my mother. You may have seen the small diamond rings proudly worn by the wives of men who were in school when they got married or something of that nature. Well, this one was a WHOLE LOT smaller than that. Plus, it may have been made of diamond dust. It was a pretty poor diamond. I give credit to my mother, though. She received it happily. It was, after all, very well intended.
As I watch television with my children now, I notice how excited they get over advertisements they see. They believe all the promises. The offers stimulate the wild spirits of consumption. They want to go to the store or order online right away. The funny thing is that I envy them.
Why would I envy their gullibility? The answer is that it is of a piece with their youth. The world is a frightening place to them in many ways, but it also bursting with promise and possibility. Something wonderful is right around the corner. And there are many spokesmen for the fantastic, amazing things that can be had for a low, low price! I wish I still had that unjaundiced view of things. Life was more fun that way. Oh, LOOK, a cake pan that makes gigantic donuts!!!!!
Instead, the increase of age has rewarded me with radically improved powers of discrimination. When I view or listen to advertising, I carefully parse out the claims made and the little tricks designed to manipulate my emotions. Is there a tricky phrase? Are the sellers playing on my natural sense of competition with neighbors? How good is the product or service REALLY? After a while, you begin to see the anatomy of the offers. It is the same as when I learned to recognize the six or seven plots all films and television programs seem to be based upon. The magic is gone. I know where it is all going. I have seen it before. The seller or the author had better be awfully darn good or I will pick up his tell and too early.
But all of this makes the real discoveries all the more special. Students at a Christian college may not realize it, but we professors are watching carefully to see whether our efforts are paying off. Is there a point to our work? Should we just give up on this dream we have of an education that is valuable in the worldly way, but also tries to accomplish something so much more ambitious? Ah, I think I have spotted something. I am looking hard, waiting for the sparkle to flake off and reveal plastic, but no. There are those times, now is one of them, when, like Kuyper, I see the gold dust undisturbed on the wing of the butterfly. True blue sanctification in the life of a student. Oh, thank you, God, for letting me see something that can break through all my jadedness.