Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Being Lloyd Dobler

Written by: on March 31, 2022

I don’t want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career.  I don’t want to sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed.  You know, as a career, I don’t want to do that.”[1]  Lloyd Dobler

We are approaching the 33rd anniversary of the release of Say Anything, the iconic romantic film that tells the story of a mismatched couple. Lloyd Dobler is questioned by his girlfriend’s father to share his career aspirations.  Often Dobler’s quote is interpreted from a Protestant and consumer driven work ethic outlook; Dobler is seen as lacking ambition for not wanting to participate in a productive manner in society.  However, 33 years later Dobler’s worldview is more deeply appreciated by those who seek to find space and meaning within the “voluntary simplicity movement”[2] as well as Millennials who are leading the “unconsumed lifestyle”.[3]

Being Lloyd Dobler came to mind as I dug into Vincent Miller’s Consuming Religion: Christian Faith and Practice in a Consumer Culture. Miller is a Professor of Systematic and Philosophical Theology at Dayton University.  His focus in Consuming Religion is unpacking the disconnect humans have between their religious beliefs and their practices while living in a consumer culture.  Although Miller teaches theology, and admits that theologians are silent on this important cultural issue of consumerism and commodification of religion, he also confesses he “would not offer a thick theological narrative in order to focus on the habits of interpretation with which contemporary believers receive such narratives”.[4] Indeed he spends a great deal of energy addressing the sociology of a worldview lived in practice that is in contrast to the Lloyd Dobler’s in today’s capitalistic economy.

I appreciate Miller’s foundation, that the ethos of a consumer culture has infiltrated the Christian faith and practice. This reality is what informs my own NPO for my Doctorate project. However, I found myself pushing back on Miller’s argument that cultural/religious appropriation of rituals and symbols are the process in which commodification of culture/religion happen.[5] He implies that this act dehumanizes/desymbolizes into abstraction and weakens value.[6]  On one hand I agree that marketing of rituals and symbols feeds consumer buy-in.  On the other, Miller avoids talking theological or Biblically about the ways in which Jesus appropriates, or in positive language, adapts, integrates and transforms rituals, symbols and teachings (i.e. seder becomes communion, altar becomes table, bread and wine become body and blood).[7] Another issue I get itchy on is Miller’s black and white approach to this subject that avoids emphasis of one’s responsibility of being intentional in choices and practices.[8] I imagine Friedman would have a sentence or two to say about the need for accountability in this toxic consumer system.

Jason Clark reminded us on Monday of the important practice of engaging theologically regarding our leadership.  For me – implicit in that charge – is to think theologically about the books we consume that inform our identity of leadership.  It is why I found it ironic that Miller addresses the narrative of commodification of religion without diving into the theological ramifications of living of the world instead of in the world.  Miller recounts beautifully the story of DJ musician Moby and his creative process that appropriates music from other cultures. Although Miller doesn’t seem keen on the commodification, he gives a nod to Moby as a “quasi-clerical figure”.[9] As Miller makes this argument, I cannot help but ask Miller, “What do you think pastors do every time they stand in the pulpit to speak proclamation?”

Being in the world and acknowledging that God is the creator of all, it seems unrealistic for us as disciples and theologians to avoid contextualizing our faith.  Jason Clark noted in his dissertation, “I have demonstrated that, for Evangelicals, retreating from the world, embracing natural theology, and liberally dissolving the distinctiveness of faith, are similarly not acceptable.”[10] This reality of both/and ought to inform how I teach and lead in a Christian parish.  Being able to theologically contextualize all that God offers in space and time through adaptation, integration and transformation of rituals, symbols, teachings, and culture is an important tool for my toolbox.  This also informs how I hear this quote from Frederick Buechner “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet”[11] pushing the bounds of commodification by inviting intertwining of desire, poiesis and praxis.

““Knowing what we ought to love is not enough to form us rightly, because we imagine what we love first, where imagination is cognitive, but is not “intellection”. Being able to imagine the Kingdom of God is different to being able to know about it. This means that we act in the world “more like characters in a drama than as soldiers dutifully following a command”.  The stories that captivate and form me are ‘understood’ at a gut level.””[12] Being responsible for what we love, what we have passion for impacts what practices we live.  This reality informs our living out our faith with authenticity inf the face of a commodified consumer culture.  Perhaps we can enjoy being Lloyd Dobler who chooses the power of being in relationship with another human instead of driven to be productive.

“What I really want to do with my life – what I want to do for a living – is I want to be with your daughter. I’m good at it.”[13]    Lloyd Dobler



[1] Crowe, C. (Directors). (1989). Say Anything [Film]. Gracie Films, 20th Century.

[2] Miller, Vincent J. 2005. Consuming Religion: Christian Faith and Practice in a Consumer Culture. New York: Continuum. Page 2.

[3] https://www.pointbleudesign.com/blog/the-decline-of-consumerism-and-how-brands-are-coping-with-it/

[4] Miller, Vincent J. 2005. Consuming Religion: Christian Faith and Practice in a Consumer Culture. New York: Continuum. Page 226.

[5] Ibid. Page 4-5

[6] Ibid. Page71-72.

[7] https://cardinalscholar.bsu.edu/bitstream/handle/123456789/202388/Parallel%20Teachings_WolfeG.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

[8] Miller, Vincent J. 2005. Consuming Religion: Christian Faith and Practice in a Consumer Culture. New York: Continuum.   In Miller’s introduction he talks about the Tibetan Prayer flags and the questions that are raised for him regarding his own faith symbols.  He says” They compete on common ground where they are all gauged in terms of their visual impact rather than the tradition practices associated with each.” He speaks in generalizations that assume a lot of individuals who may be in a similar quandary. Miller does not speak to the theological act of accountability. It also seems to speak to a shallow understanding of how big God is.

[9] Ibid.  Page 77

[10] Clark, Jason Paul. n.d. Evangelism and Capitalism: A Reparative Account and Diagnosis of Pathogeneses in the Relationship, Page 202.

[11] Buechner, Frederick. 1993. Wishful Thinking: A Seeker’s ABC. Revised, Expanded ed. edition. San Francisco, Calif.: HarperOne.

[12] Smith, Imagining the Kingdom, 123, 125, 127, 133 as cited Clark, Jason Paul. n.d. Evangelism and Capitalism: A Reparative Account and Diagnosis of Pathogeneses in the Relationship”. Page 220.

[13] Crowe, C. (Directors). (1989). Say Anything [Film]. Gracie Films, 20th Century.

About the Author


Nicole Richardson

PC(USA) pastor serving a church in Kansas City. In my spare time I teach yoga and scuba diving

11 responses to “Being Lloyd Dobler”

  1. mm Roy Gruber says:

    Nicole, great post! I like your “push-backs” on Miller. I also like how you point out the shift with Millennials and their rejection of aspects of consumerism. What do you think are the implications of the church in regard to younger generations that are holding different values about capitalism? I really like this statement: “Being responsible for what we love, what we have passion for impacts what practices we live.” Would like to hear more about that!

    • mm Nicole Richardson says:

      Thank you Roy.
      Regarding Millennials, I think we see it in their critique of lack authenticity in the church. As Miller noted, theologians don’t engage in reflection on this subject of consumerism/capitalism. I think they see the church being about money and perception…the church is all about being bigger and the best. Pastors/Leaders don’t address the subject of money well (I believe I said something about this in a blog post earlier in the semester). It is important for Pastors/Leaders to be able to understand the responsibility we have to address healthy relationship with money…being prophetic to challenge God’s people to be more intentional about our choices…to be authentic to what we say we believe. The church universal needs to find ways to hold each other accountable…not in shame but in love to support each other in the hard work of faithfulness. This raises therefore the importance of the body of Christ to understand what it means to live faithfully as branches of the vine.

      You asked about my thought, “Being responsible for what we love, what we have passion for impacts what practices we live.” I was thinking about what Jason wrote in his dissertation about desire being embodying in our actions/choices. Friedman challenges us to responsibility…so these two thoughts converge. Being intentional instead of just living in the thrill of the molecule of more, or just plain laziness. It takes effort to discern what we deeply love, what we are desperately passionate about…to allow our hearts beat to the heart of God. It also takes responsibility to see, to know, to own when we have chosen to consume from the stale pond of stuff instead of the living water of life.

      Sermon over…lol

  2. mm Troy Rappold says:

    Nicole: Nice connection with “Say Anything.” This book has a lot to offer and after reading your analysis I thought the reason this book resonated so much with me is because it occupies a position between Theology proper and the application of theology into ministry. It isn’t easy to navigate our culture and try to grow the Kingdom of God into people’s lives. I imagine in your new capacity you will find many of the challenges that Miller describes in this book.

    • mm Nicole Richardson says:

      Thank you Troy. It’s funny, I like to have a deeper dive into theological discussion before I get to praxis. I recognize I am an odd duck though.

  3. mm Eric Basye says:

    Nicole, as always, such a good, interesting, and challenging perspective. I really appreciate your pushing back on Miller given your context within the church and pastoring. For me, your blog is a good read to bring some more balance as I might have to hastily jumped on the commodification bandwagon. Not saying I left it, but your blog sure did challenge me to reconsider my position.

    Thanks for always challenging my perspective!

    • mm Nicole Richardson says:

      Thank you for being up for challenges Eric 🙂 It is one of the things I admire about you so much…you really don’t shy away from growing!!

      I wouldn’t want you to give up on the commodification conversation! I think there are really important truths of it that we must be able to talk about and with other people. I just think it is more nuanced than we sometimes make it. There is so much grey in the middle of the black and white. We benefit God’s people and ourselves when we wrestle into the wee hours to get the blessing from God…even if we end up with a limp. 🙂

  4. mm Andy Hale says:

    What’s fascinating about this topic is when you lay it out as a blueprint for how and why we do what we do. Even as ministers, we can get caught in the trap of letting our ministries and programs become a commodity-measured thing. How often are we disappointed by worship numbers or the number of people that came to an event. Pretty soon, we are the consumer of people.

    • mm Nicole Richardson says:

      Indeed Andy. Church leaders struggle with the markers of success. It’s much easier to use tangible markers or the markers the world uses. In the process we loose our navigational skills.

  5. Elmarie Parker says:

    Hey Nicole…thank you for your thought-provoking post! Your analysis of Miller in light of the day-in and day-out work of pastoring provided a real-life expansion of what he only lightly touches in his closing chapter and conclusion. He writes: “The problem calls for something akin to the immersive methods of ethnography, whereby the anthropologist spend extended time with members of a culture, attending to the implicit logics of their practices and the texture of their daily lives (p. 227).” When I read this, I thought to myself…”this is what a pastor does!” Or at least it ought to be what we are about doing, and your blog reveals this to be your practice and your prophetic call to the rest of us! Your highlighting of how Jesus did this in his own ministry was also very helpful. I do continue to wrestle with how we can best invite people to journey into this deep work of reflection and action when ‘life’ takes so much of their energy and it becomes easy then to simply superficially adopt various religious symbols and practices, thereby diminishing their value and influence in our lives. It seems this is a tension we are called to navigate. What have you found to be most helpful in this communal discipleship journey? I agree that preaching provides one avenue. But what communal practices encourage people to take hold of what they encounter (and Who they are encountered by) during worship and live more deeply into divine reality in their everyday lives?

    • mm Nicole Richardson says:

      Thank you for chewing on my blog Elmarie!
      Regarding your (and mine) wrestling how to invite people…I think it is about the constant proclamation…and I don’t mean just Sunday morning. I mean in all the relationship building that occurs it is important to keep teaching the heart of the message. And I think it just requires time and a willingness to accept that it will not look they way we want it to look.

      I am convinced that this pandemic is requiring us to redefine communal practices but to be even more intentional and diligent in sharing the message of challenge to consume the Triune God. But just as Jesus meets people where they are we have to find ways to do the same…that means finding ways to adapt, integrate, and transform the language and “liturgies” we have at hand in order to reclaim them for God.

  6. mm Denise Johnson says:

    Nicole, Amazing post! Thank you for pushing back on the text and highlighting a gap in Miller’s thesis. I am curious if and how you might integrate aspects of Friedman to reshape Miller?

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