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

Lisa’s Story: A Practical Attempt at Clearer Living

Written by: on April 1, 2023

Many Americans are born into a consumer culture. Our bodies and hearts are hardwired for a consumer system and our brains follow, knowingly or unknowingly. Can we possibly disengage ourselves from this life routine and worldview?

Miller and Clark: Christians Entrenched in a Capitalist Landscape

Vincent Miller, author of Consuming Religion: Christian Faith and Practice in a Consumer Culture, analyzes “how the habits of consumption transform our relationship to the religious beliefs we profess.”[1] He points out that consumer culture interprets the world through a lens of commodification and, he notes, “When we relate to cultural and religious traditions as commodities, they lose their power to inform the concrete practice of life.”

Jason Clark, in his thesis, “Evangelicalism and Capitalism: A Reparative Account and Diagnosis of Pathogeneses in the Relationship,” joins Miller in this conversation, asking how Christians, rooted in consumer cultures, can counter these deformative forces and live more authentically in their desire to know and follow God in their practical behaviors.[2] He quotes James K.A. Smith, who believes humans are “liturgical animals, creatures who can’t not worship and who are fundamentally formed by worship practices because it is these liturgies – whether Christian or secular – that shape what we love. And we are what we love.”[3] Liturgies train our hearts through the habits of our bodies and thus direct our lives.

Can We Disengage?

For Clark, the key to disengaging our bodies, hearts, and minds from a consumer mentality lies in worship. He asks, “What kind of worship is able to affectively order Christians around the body of Christ?”[4] Smith proposes the need for better curricula.[5] Miller thinks all curricula fall to the commodification machine that checks us at every move.[6] Clark’s answer: “Only a form of worship with a whole-of-life social imaginary can begin to compete affectively with the social imaginary of the market.”[7]

As I read the above authors’ ideas, I thought of my friend Lisa, who was a stakeholder in my DLGP design workshop.[8] She recently committed to buy nothing in 2023, other than food, toiletries, and books. Though Miller points out that we can be caught up in the marketing schemes of “simplifying” our lives and remain entrenched in consumerism, I wondered if perhaps Lisa was discovering and experiencing some somatic and cognitive keys to illumination on this subject.[9] I decided to give her a call to learn more. The following summarizes our conversation.

Lisa: Breaking Through to Clearer Living

  1. What motivated you to commit to this challenge?

Lisa: I have been wanting to do this for many years, but this year, I had a shift in my thinking, spurred on by two things. First, I watched multiple delivery trucks come up my street during the holidays, bringing hundreds of packages to our neighborhood. I asked myself, “Is this what Christmas is about?” Second, my son gave me the book Braiding Sweet Grass for Christmas. It talks of having a mindset of abundance, as opposed to scarcity. I asked myself, “What if I lived as if the world is abundantly full with all that I need?” Capitalism seems to feed off of a fear of scarcity of resources. I wanted to change my worldview and stop buying so much and instead, use what I have.

  1. What are you learning through this experience?

Lisa: I feel calmer and more peaceful. I’m not on the treadmill of always looking for and buying things. I have more time. Life is spacious. It’s a relief. I realized I can appreciate something without acquiring it. For example, I can appreciate that clothing item on someone else. I don’t have to own it. I also don’t have to feel like things are going to run out. There is an abundance of resources in our world, and I don’t have to be storing them in my home.

  1. Do you agree or disagree that consumerism influences the way we live out and experience our faith in God?

Lisa: I agree. I’ve seen a lot of church shopping in the United States. People are shopping for the right sermons and educational programs for their kids, instead of staying in one church and building community in that place. It used to be that people went to the parish in their neighborhood. You belonged for a lifetime.

I recently heard a pastor respond to a question regarding her declining denominational membership. She said, “We’re not running a membership campaign. We’re following Jesus.”

  1. What are your ideas on how we can disengage from our consumer mindset, specifically as it influences our spiritual life and practices?

Lisa: I think that will take a whole different sense of our understanding of belonging. For example, church shopping is often based on looking for a church that has a youth group that will be best for our kids. Instead of looking for a group that can best feed our kids, what if we asked, “What can my kids contribute to building a strong youth group here at our church?” Can they contribute to fostering belonging [founded on Christ and not programming]?

When I was raising my kids, I was always watching other parents and the opportunities they were securing for their kids. I felt pressured to do the same. It was that scarcity mindset again. I wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t tried to navigate their opportunities for them and just let them be who they were in the world, naturally.

  1. How will you proceed once this year-long commitment is over?

Lisa: I’m not sure yet. I need to see what I learn. For now, I’m taking myself out of the consumer running and am no longer in that race. I’m not letting myself be driven by the culture’s “shoulds” and “oughts” and I can’t imagine that I will ever again be so caught up in the consumer world.

  1. Regarding my doctoral project, do you have any suggestions as to how I can offer an opportunity for people to deepen their relationship with God through engagement with nature, without commodifying one more curriculum?

Lisa: I think rooting it in the church is a good idea. What comes to mind is a couple groups that I belong to. Anyone can join, everyone is welcome, and it doesn’t cost anything. Maybe that’s a place to start.[10]

Concluding Thoughts and Questions

In our readings, Miller and Clark claim that for many Christians in a consumer culture, “worship is not primarily about Christian identity and faithful living, but about God providing a way of life that the heart is set upon within the capitalist landscape and social imagination.”[11] I have to admit, this seems true. What are we to do?

I think my friend Lisa is on her way to clearer living through practicing new life habits that call her out of a capitalist landscape and imagination and into “whole-of-life” experiences. I’m intrigued by the calm and spacious living she described. My thoughts turn to my doctoral project. How do I avoid creating one more curriculum? Can I be successful in offering an opportunity without commodifying spiritual practice? What responsibility does the participant have for their own experience within the church setting? What responsibility do the leaders in the church have to offer opportunities free of consumer-tainted values? I will continue to ponder these questions and prayerfully ask God’s guidance.[12]








[1] Vincent Miller, Consuming Religion: Christian Faith and Practice in a Consumer Culture (New York, NY: The Continuum International Publishing Group, Inc.), 11.

[2] Jason P. Clark, “Evangelicalism and Capitalism: A Reparative Account and Diagnosis of Pathogeneses in the Relationship” (2018). Faculty Publications – Portland Seminary. 132. https://digitalcommons.georgefox.edu/gfes/132, 218.

[3] James K.A. Smith in Clark, 215-216.

[4] Clark, 223.

[5] Smith in Clark, 229.

[6] Miller in Clark, 229.

[7] Clark, 223.

[8] The Doctor of Leadership and Global Perspectives (DLGP) design workshop is an assignment of the Portland Seminary class 895 and part of the Project Portfolio.

[9] Miller, 2.

[10] Lisa W., virtual interview with Jenny Hale, March 31, 2023.

[11] Clark, 218.

[12] In the conclusion of Chapter 6 of Clark’s thesis, he says, “The self, understood within the recapitulation of the Christ-event, might find needed relief from the perverted liturgies of capitalism,” Clark, 236. The Christ-event includes Advent, Passion, Restoration, and Exaltation, Clark, 232. Perhaps I could build my NPO around these events, as opposed to the natural seasons Fall, Winter, Spring, and Summer.

About the Author

Jenny Steinbrenner Hale

4 responses to “Lisa’s Story: A Practical Attempt at Clearer Living”

  1. Tonette Kellett says:


    What a wonderful idea to interview your friend Lisa. She gave you a lot of great feedback. It’s very hard to disengage yourself from the rat race we live in… almost impossible even. I congratulate her! I’m also fascinated with your project as it’s unfolding.

    • Jenny Steinbrenner Hale says:

      Hi Tonette, Thank you so much for your positive comments on my blog. Sorry to be so long in getting back to you. I appreciate my friend Lisa and her wisdom. I will have to continue following her and ask about the things she has been learning.

      Hope you’ve had a great couple weeks!

  2. mm Chad McSwain says:

    Love the interview! Lisa may inspire a revolution – buy nothing for a year!
    I related to her initial feelings of being calm and peaceful once she decided to jump off the treadmill. I feel something similar taking a break from social media.
    I resonated with her thoughts on church shopping. Interestingly, her thoughts on community were the subject of a recent book on happiness called The Good Life based on longest study of happiness ever done. The conclusion – its all about relationships.
    How might building around the church calendar change the direction of your NPO?

    • Jenny Steinbrenner Hale says:

      Hi Chad, Thanks so much for your positive comments. I’m thankful for the book you mentioned, The Good Life! I’m going to order it. Have you read it? I would love to hear more at some point about your break from social media. Has it changed anything for the long-run for you?

      Thanks for your question about building my NPO around the church calendar. I’m thinking on that. My original idea was to build seasonal opportunities, Fall, Winter, Spring, Summer, to interact with nature and deepen our relationship with God. I’m now thinking about how I can create these opportunities around the events of Jesus’ life… and maybe weave them into the seasons? I’m not clear yet, but I’m working on it.

      Hope you’ve had a good two weeks.

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