Leafing through the Yellow Pages

The “yellow pages” arrived the other day. You know—the telephone book with the listings and ads for the businesses in the area. It’s a relatively small book: 8 ½” by 7” but thick: 560 pages long. It covers only two counties: Lake and Geauga here in northeast Ohio. Before I put the book on the shelf, I sat down for a few minutes and leafed through it. I wanted to see what this book says about our contemporary society and what it reveals about our needs, values, fears, and priorities.

The first thing I looked up in the Yellow Pages were churches. After all, I am a nun. I found 4 pages of churches. The Baptists have the most churches with 24. But if we combine the Methodist with the United Methodists, they have 24 too. The Catholics and the Lutherans come next with fifteen each. I saw no fancy ads for any of the churches. Just listings. I imagine the advertising budget for most churches is pretty small. Next I looked up restaurants. I found 28 pages of restaurants. I wondered: Are we more interested in getting physical nourishment than in receiving spiritual nourishment?

Next I looked up physicians. I expected to see a lot of pages for doctors. Sure enough, there were 12 pages worth of doctors. Then, I looked up dentists. There were 12 ½ pages of dentists. When I looked up insurance, I found 10 pages worth of insurance companies. That’s understandable. After all, we have many, many things to insure–most of the items falling under these four categories:  auto, home, life, and business. I noticed that florists had 7 pages of listings. I’m glad sending flowers is still important to us.

I expected to find a lot of pages for auto dealerships and repair shops. After all, we Americans love our cars and would be lost without them. Sure enough, the yellow pages had 19 pages devoted to car sales and car repairs. Heat contractors had 8 pages; air-conditioning had 6. Plumbers too had a respectable 6 pages. (I really value plumbers. We had water gushing from our living room ceiling a few years back, and when a friend showed up and made it stop, I was ready to kiss him on both cheeks!) I also learned that burglar alarms had 5 pages, computers had 4, and funeral parlors had not quite 2 pages.

But what profession do you think had the most pages in the yellow pages? Take a moment to think. (Tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock). Ready? (Drum roll please!) The answer is: attorneys! Yes, our two-county yellow pages has 30 pages of attorneys! Many of them have big fancy ads. Now what do all those pages say about us and/or our legal system?

We can detect our society’s values in many ways—even by leafing through the yellow pages.

Did anything surprise you in this post? In what other ways do you detect our society’s values?

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  1. Joan Campagna on October 15, 2012 at 9:23 am

    It’s a gifted writer that can make reading through the Yellow Pages a spiritual exercise! Thanks for your post. Down here in Miami I believe they have stopped even sending out the Yellow Pages. Yelp.com is more practical now.
    I find another way to learn what a society values is in salaries. Sports players making millions of dollars a year? But who’s more important-the guy who fixes the gush of water in house, or a guy who might hit a homerun or might strike out? That’s what really interests me.
    PS You deserve a raise!
    Joan C

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on October 15, 2012 at 9:56 am

      Thank you, Joan, for writing. I agree: the salaries we pay individuals say a lot about our priorities!

  2. Mo on October 15, 2012 at 10:43 am

    Melannie, what a most interesting activity you took on. I especially enjoyed finding out who had the most pages as I read on. The tick tock and drum roll put me into the action state… Really great use of words in this writing. You are over the top with a special talent in writing on the most interesting subjects.

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on October 15, 2012 at 3:01 pm

      I’m glad you thought the yellow pages were an “interesting topic,” Mo! Thanks for “going along” with me on this one! Melannie

  3. Sister Maureen Crosby on October 15, 2012 at 11:26 am

    Melanie, I enjoy reflecting on Sunflower Seeds. We have weekly prayer among our office staff and on my day I use your column. It it a great tool to share prayer.

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on October 15, 2012 at 3:00 pm

      Dear Moe, Thank you for using my column with your office staff. I’m grateful! Thanks for writing! Melannie

  4. Betty Nagel on October 15, 2012 at 11:37 am

    Melannie, only YOU could write of something so mundane and at the same time give us food for thought. Thank you for that eye-opening perspective.
    My prayer group ladies think that you are “inspired,” and I agree. We have just begun using “When the Blue Heron Flies” for faith sharing and study. You write with great depth and insight but in a very readable and understandable way. Thank you for using your God-given gift.
    (P.S.) Would have love to seen you at the BBQ. Hope you are well.

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on October 15, 2012 at 2:58 pm

      Dear Betty, I’m honored that your prayer group is using my book, “When the Blue Heron Flies.” Thank you for suggesting it! And I’m sorry I missed you at our annual cicken BBQ. I was there only the second Sunday working at the Book Nook. Sr. Melannie

  5. Ellen Svette Huntsman on October 15, 2012 at 12:01 pm

    As always I enjoy your finding the Spiritual in the everyday things this life affords.

    Here in Charlotte, NC my husband and I went to a NASCAR race this past weekend. I was amazed at the number of $300,000 plus motor homes that were there; not to mention the cars they towed behind. Some even had a separate trailer for the car. I also thought of the amount and cost of gasoline they all took.

    I listen to the Catholic Channel on XMRadio (which is the only reason I have XM). Gus Lloyd touched on a similar topic this morning. What if we were as excited about our Faith as we do a sports team, favorite restraunt, wine, vacation spot, rock star ?….we could go on and on.

    Why are we so reluctant to be openly enthusiastic about His Precious Gift?

    Keep writing and making us all think!

    Peace & Blessings

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on October 15, 2012 at 2:57 pm

      Dear Ellem, I like what Gus Lloyd said: what if we were as excited about our faith as we were for our favorite sports team, restaurant, rock star, etc? When I see our packed stadiums on Saturdays and Sundays, I ask: what could our church do to attract such loyal and enthusiastic crowds? Good questions to ponder. Thanks, Ellen! Sr. Melannie

  6. mary james on October 15, 2012 at 1:26 pm

    Who but you would have thought that the yellow pages could offer spiritual nourishment. Goes so much with the gospel priority of option for the poor in many ways. You could carry it deeper and deeper. You could definitely tmake an examination of conscience with it! Thanx much!

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on October 15, 2012 at 2:53 pm

      Dear James, I like your idea about using such a finding to make an examination of conscience. We can examine our own consciences while reflecting on the conscience of our culture. Good idea! Melannie

  7. Annie on October 15, 2012 at 3:37 pm

    You are totally amazing! Thank you,!

  8. Sister Maresa on October 18, 2012 at 7:09 am

    Dear Sr. Melannie,
    I always knew that you had the power to make even the phone book interesting. Thank you.

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