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

Maps, GPS, and the Commodification of Home

Written by: on April 7, 2022

I love maps. It may feed my need to be in control and aversion to be being told what to do by a mechanical woman or maybe it is my desire to see the whole journey all at once. I even prefer a good hand drawn path on a paper napkin complete with the personal highlights. It was not until I could not read a map without glasses that I got a GPS for the sheer practical reason of it because it became dangerous to drive and read a map at the same time.

My purchase of a particular item is determined by its cost-effective means of meeting a practical need I have. There are few things that frustrate me more than a product being discontinued. And there is no great joy than to obtain an object that comes with a meaningful story from someone I know, even better is when it is a family member.

The texts for this week were extremely challenging for me to engage with. While intellectually I can comprehend to concepts of consumerism, commodity, and I observe their impact in the world around me, but this is not where, or should I say how I prefer to live. Even in the last couple of months as I have been attempting to establish a home here in the USA, I am constantly confronting my lack of skill in navigating the consumer culture reflective of the Walmart shopping experience. I have found myself wandering aimlessly in an environment void of relationship or meaningful connection of any kind. [1] Vincent J. Miller’s Consuming Religion: Christian Faith and Practice in a Consumer Culture [2] and Dr. Jason Clark’s chapter “Rival Ascetics of Desire: Beyond the Eucharist” [3] brought my own personal culture clash to the surface and challenge me to look beyond my discomfort to discover a broader understanding of everyday life outside my comfort zone.

Vincent J. Miller is an esteemed University of Dayton professor of Catholic Theology and Culture and committee chair of Doctor of Theology Programs. He has authored three books, contributed chapters to numerous books, as well as articles. Consuming Religion is a Christian look at consumption Economics. He explores the evolution of society and culture as it embraces elements of consumerism. Miller takes it a step further by discussing the impact on Christian faith, practices and the symbols of faith. His focus is primarily how, why, the impact of consumerism and how to live out one’s faith vibrantly rather than opposing it. [4]

Map-making is akin to storytelling, [5] and storytelling is foundational to the preservation of faith, the establishment of home, [6] and at the heart of communicating the nature of the Judeo-Christian God. It is in the telling of the story of how God personally intersects with a person’s or group of individuals lives that gives life to narrative. In Deuteronomy 11 the Israelites are instructed to tell the story of all that God has done, continuously. They are instructed to not only keep his words in their “hearts and minds” [7] but to create “symbols,” [8] “teach,” [9] and “talk” [10] about all they have seen and heard all the time throughout their days. [11] This would indicate that it is the story that gives the symbols meaning that is then passed on to the next generation.

Miller talks about the impact of the single-family dwelling as an agent of consumerism that contributes to generational isolation and disconnect. The emergence of “device paradigm,” or appliances that make it possible for a nucleus family to survive without the extended family. [12] This one unforeseen effect of consumerism has a devastating effect on every aspect of life. In essence it creates a map of unhealthy independence resulting in isolation, weak social skills. [13] There no longer is the need to resolve conflict or even engage in conversation when the elder generation is living in a senior community and the emerging generation can be cloistered behind closed doors. The disenfranchised elderly struggle to maintain a voice and with that a purpose for their golden years. While the identities of the youth are shaped more by what one owns than the relationships in their lives. [14] Ultimately, this fluid progression that is based on the constant consumption of the next great thing [15] deteriorates the worldview of the individual, their values, beliefs, and practices within and outside their walk with God. [16]

It appears that the tentacles of consumerism are here to stay, unless we have a global depression that forces us to revert to a nineteenth century view of items in terms of their usefulness. [17] It seems to me that if the church community desires to have a cultural impact there needs to be a shift toward simultaneously empowering multigenerational voices by facilitating opportunities for them to tell and hear their faith journeys. At the same time empowering them to make the meaningful connections with our shared symbols and practices that they in turn share with others. Just maybe then we will be able to transform our places of worship into a home [18] where the people of God actually live as the multi-generational family they were intended to be.

[1] Vincent Jude Miller, Consuming Religion: Christian Faith and Practice in a Consumer Culture (New York: Continuum, 2004), 30.
[2] Miller, Consuming Religion.
[3] Jason Paul Clark, “Evangelism and Capitalism: A Reparative Account and Diagnosis of Pathogeneses in the Relationship” (Faculty Publications – Portland Seminary, 2018), 198, https:// digitalcommons.georgefox.edu/gfes/132.
[4] Daryl McKee, “Reviewed Work(s): Consuming Religion: Christian Faith and Practice in Consumer Culture by Vincent J. Miller,” Journal of Marketing 69, no. 4 (October 2005): 264, http://www.jstor.org/stable/3016659.
[5] Clark, “Evangelism and Capitalism: A Reparative Account and Diagnosis of Pathogeneses in the Relationship,” 198.
[6] Steven Bouma-Prediger and Brian J. Walsh, Beyond Homelessness: Christian Faith in a Culture of Displacement (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Pub, 2008), 57.
[7] Zondervan Bibles (Grand Rapids, Michigan), ed., NIV Study Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, Fully Revised Edition (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Bibles, 2020), 256. Deuteronomy 11:18.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Ibid. Deuteronomy 11:19
[10] Ibid.
[11] Ibid.
[12] Miller, Consuming Religion, 47.
[13] Ibid., 49.
[14] Ibid.
[15] Ibid., 37.
[16] Ibid., 52.
[17] Ibid., 57.
[18] Bouma-Prediger and Walsh, Beyond Homelessness, 56-66.

About the Author


Denise Johnson

Special Education teacher K-12, School Counselor K-12, Overseas field worker in Poland,

6 responses to “Maps, GPS, and the Commodification of Home”

  1. mm Eric Basye says:

    Thanks Denise. I bet your take on the US and Christianity is very interesting given your experience, travels, etc. I bet it is a bit sobering and sad as well! I hear discouragement in your blog. In what ways are you hopeful for kingdom impact in the US and the Church? Or, do you believe it is on the wayside?

    • mm Denise Johnson says:

      Eric, I think the sadness to hear is partly due to my current reversal culture shock. I am forever changed by my overseas experiences, but the challenge is always to hold onto those worthwhile experiences and learnings so that I can choose to implement here and not just get caught up in life here.
      I am hopeful that by creating opportunities to talk about these issues and to model a different way there can be change. I am particularly encouraged by my prototype and the response of thirty-somethings to a more intentional relational fellowship model.

  2. Elmarie Parker says:

    Hey Denise…thank you for sharing your interaction with Miller’s work on commodification, consumerism, and faith. I appreciate your authenticity. Your personal examples brought to mind one of the things I love about Middle Eastern culture, where women from multiple generations still gather in the kitchen to make delicious food that takes hours and hours to prepare. Most old-style kitchens have a couch in them–a visible marker that sitting, talking, sharing story and task is all part of what is valued.

    One of my take-aways from Miller was this sense that in highly commodified societies, we have come to place our sense of both security and identity in stuff. With what are we left when that is stripped away?

    As I drive by one tent encampment alongside the freeway here in Oregon after I another, I am left wondering how these families and individuals who have lost their material status in our highly commodified society now understand themselves? How do we, who still have our ‘stuff,’ understand them? And, how might a community of Jesus followers who still have their ‘stuff’ befriend and learn from those who have lost it all? How might they together come to a new experience of ‘home’? I wonder how such a relational journey might transform all who are involved?

    I’d value your ruminations on the above…

    • mm Denise Johnson says:

      Elmaire, I so appreciate that our overseas experience has given us a similar understanding community. I too struggle to understand the numerous tent encampments around the Northwest. It is so much more complex than just housing. Yet, there is something very powerful in being seen and being heard. The commodification of culture is fixated on the quick fix or answer, but relationship and community always require time and personal investment. I am reminded of when Peter and John approached the lame beggar man on their way into the temple. The New Living Translation says that they “looked intently” at him and proceeded to engage in conversation. While they may have had “some” money they listen to the Holy Spirit and addressed the greater issue, making it possible for the man to be empowered to care for himself.
      Just thoughts.

  3. mm Nicole Richardson says:

    Denise I appreciate your honesty in struggle with these texts.

    What distinctions can you make between working outside of your comfort zone on this subject and your thought, “It seems to me that if the church community desires to have a cultural impact there needs to be a shift toward simultaneously empowering multigenerational voices by facilitating opportunities for them to tell and hear their faith journeys”?

    • mm Denise Johnson says:

      Thanks Nicole, for your feedback.
      I continue to chew on this, but I think we can learn something from the Polish people and their attitude toward Ukrainian refugees. Somehow, we need to find ways to create a stable multigenerational “home” environment within our church communities. In this environment of stability, yet flexible, there can be a security to be more inclusive without imposing. We need to be better communicator by being listeners and experts at asking gentle clarifying, reflective questions. Finally, to provide opportunities to work together, cross-generationally, using and appreciating one another’s strengths with grace for our weaknesses.

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