Who Switched the Price Tags? (by Tony Campolo)

Tony Campolo, now in his eighties, is a strong voice in the Evangelical Left in the United States. As such, I appreciate his writing and ideas a great deal more than I do those in the better-known Evangelical Right. However I have only read a couple of his books. I first read ‘Who Switched the Price Tags?’ back in 2006 when it was already twenty years old; I remembered liking it, so decided to re-read it.

The title of the book is based on a childhood prank that the author and a friend planned in their teens. It’s explained in the introduction (though it’s not clear whether they actually did it!). He uses the idea of switching price tags in a shop as a metaphor for the way that our values in society have become muddled, sometimes back-to-front. He attempts to put that right in the course of the book.

Early in the book Campolo mentions a study where fifty people in their nineties were asked what they would do differently, if they could have their lives over again. Amongst the multitude of specifics, three main answers emerged: they would reflect more, risk more, and do more things that would live on after them. He refers back to these throughout the book.

Much of his focus is on what he calls ‘fun’. It’s an odd concept to me, as I’m rather suspicious of the word - things other people describe as ‘fun’ often sound noisy, messy and exhausting. But Campolo uses it in the wider sense of enjoyment, contentment and fulfilment. He believes that too many people race through life making money or trying to gain bigger and better houses, cars and careers, while forgetting to enjoy the present.

There is a great deal in what he says. Spending time with family and friends is important. Relaxing over a meal or a shared family activity rather than grabbing food on the run is better for our health as well as for our emotional lives. We should take time to appreciate the beauties of nature, play with our children, talk to our teenagers, and unwind with our spouses and elderly relatives.

I was less convinced by the idea of taking more risks. But I’m a very risk-averse person. To me, a high-risk activity would be sending an email to someone I don’t know very well, or going into a shop I hadn’t previously visited. And yet, even for those of us who recoil from adrenaline-filled activities, there’s still a need, sometimes, to take a small step in a new direction rather than being endlessly stuck in a rut.

I was interested in the chapter on tradition: on the importance of liturgies in more formal churches, on rituals and structures that keep families together. Ten years ago I was dubious about these things, but as I grow older I see, more and more, the importance of these little things. Repeated activities become part of who we are. Regularly saying or singing words embed them in our minds. Annual festivities draw families together, and the anticipation and memories are as important as the occasions themselves.

There’s nothing particularly new in the book, in one sense, although perhaps it was groundbreaking at the time it was written. But much of what the author says is still relevant in today’s high-paced technology-driven society. The scenarios are different, but the principles still hold, and I found it a refreshing and sometimes inspiring read.

The book is intended for Christians, or those interested in the Christian faith. There are chapters about being in the church, and there’s an overtly evangelistic appendix. But most of the book could be of relevance to anyone feeling caught up in the rat race of 21st century life.

Definitely recommended.

Review copyright 2018 Sue's Book Reviews

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