In the early 1980s, the iconic video game, Pac-Man, hit the arcade scene. The little consuming Pac-Mac swallowed up dots to sustain life, needing to either avoid the enemy or eat power pellets in order to change its capacity to eat the enemy (their names – Blinky, Pinky, Inky and Clyde). While I’m not much of a video arcade person, I will confess to be addicted for quite a while. Little did I know that many years ago that I was falling in line with what both William Cavanaugh and Vincent J. Miller illustrate in Being Consumed and Consuming Religion, respectively. I have been a Pac-Man when it comes to my religion and faith. Consumption informs how I approach most everything in culture.
Interestingly enough, both Cavanaugh and Miller don’t set out to pronounce judgment on culture’s embedded consumption as all bad. Rather, their treatises reflect on the impact that consumption has on how we operate in culture, the place where we fight to either run away from that which kills us or become shopaholics in order to eat what ultimately owns us through our addiction. In particular, their focus is on “how the habits of consumption transform our relationship to the religious beliefs we profess.”
With both books, like the Pac-Man maze, there are so many directions I could reflect upon in the richness of their descriptions. However, to limit to one thought for the purpose of some depth, I want to speak to “desire.” Consumption is directly related to desire. Cavanaugh correlates each topic – freedom/unfreedom, detachment/attachment, global/local, and scarcity/abundance – to the similarity of consumerism and the function of a vibrant Christian faith. All of the topics centers around desire. For the consumer, desire is about the chase, trying to find that which satisfies (and ultimately does not). For the Christian, “the key question in every transaction is whether or not the transaction contributes to the flourishing of each person involved, and this question can only be judged, from a theological point of view, according to the end of human life, which is participation in the life of God.” Our desire is for God; that is our telos, our chief end. Only God can fully satisfy, but even that is not fully realized until the coming of the Kingdom.
In the meantime, how are then to act as followers of Christ? Do we eschew consumption entirely? That’s where both Miller and Cavanaugh offer what I would characterize as a third way, a place of reflecting on what actually motivates us in our choices around our faith, the integrated place whereby we live and operate. By acknowledging our desires, we begin to be honest about we think we want and that which God has formed in us to desire. Sometimes they are the same thing; sometimes they are not.
Since both men are Catholic, it seems appropriate to interject Ignatian spirituality as a focus around desire. Part of discernment and the 30 Day Exercises whereby one discovers God’s call in her/his life requires an intentional focus on inordinate desires that lead to a pathos (Colossians 3:5) and what leads to what is rightly ordered whereby one’s “hearts fall under the rule of the Anointed’s peace (the peace you were called to as one body), and be thankful.” (Colossians 3:15). This favorite chapter of mine reminds me that God gave us desire, a desire for himself, but that it needs a discipline of reflection, “sacramental operations,” and “willingness…to be shaped by the grace of God.”
For example, when our church recently went through a discernment process on which denomination to be a part of, ultimately switching from PCUSA to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, I wanted to leave. It wasn’t so much that I agreed with PCUSA and some of their stances, but I didn’t want to be a part of a another denomination that in its current past (and still the case in some parts of the country) relegated women to subordinate places in the church, not allowing them in leadership. However, after considerable discernment both individually and corporately, I realized that by leaving I was falling prey to a consumeristic approach to my church – belonging only when it satisfies my needs. By choosing to stay connected to my community, while I don’t necessarily agree with everything, I am following in the footsteps of Jesus through kenosis, a self-emptying of what I want to what God calls in me. The third way is “participation in the infinite fullness of the Trinitarian life.” That’s where freedom happens, detachment from bondage occurs, where we can live into the particularity and universality of Christ, and ultimately operate in abundance rather than scarcity. That’s where my desire meets God’s desire.
So I’ve left the arcade. No longer do I want to let a little Pac-Man dictate how I run my life, my choices, my desires. Rather, I’m stopping, reflecting, pausing in order that I might consume that which truly brings life – the place where “God breaks in and disrupts the tragic despair of human history with a message of hope and a demand for justice.” My hope (and desire) resides in God’s reforming of my life in the midst of a consumeristic society, an ongoing moment-by-moment possibility (to steal from another author, Caroline Ramsey).
 Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, s.v. “Pac-man,” accessed March 18, 2015, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pac-Man.
 Vincent J. Miller, Consuming Religion: Christian Faith and Practice in a Consumer Culture (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2005), 11.
 William T. Cavanaugh, Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2008), viii.
 Miller, 190.
 Ibid, 139.
 Cavanaugh, 86.
 Ibd, 98.
14 responses to “Pac-Man Mania”
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Mary, your narrative about sticking with your local church as they aligned with a different ecclesia body is really intriguing. In it I observe that you lay assign a higher value to the fellowship of LOCAL believers than you do the communion of a more global entity. I’m curious, am I correct in that observation? When you consider a working definition of “church” where do your thoughts most quickly and naturally land? On the local community of faith, with people you see and touch and laugh and cry with? Or is it a body of orders and rules that give definition for you?
I know I have more questions than observations and I want to make sure and ask them well. (This is one of those times that it would be really good for us to all be together around a table to learn from each other…) When you decided to align with the local fellowship and break covenant with the broader ecclesial body, was it primarily because you desired ongoing communion with those in your local community or was it primarily because you could not in good conscience walk in union with the doctrinal positions being adopted by the PCUSA?
An interesting conversation happened a few weeks ago between a young lady who is in leadership within our church and a young pastor of a PCA (Presby Church in America) congregation. To this moment I don’t think he has any idea how insightful, and potentially offensive, his words were. In the conversation they were just casually describing their various roles and our girl (Nakisha) innocently asked how the PCA differed from other brands of Presbyterianism. His answer was very casually: “Mostly, the PCUSA ordains woman and homosexuals…”
Just sit with that for a minute…
It is equally offensive to him that a woman be ordained as it is a practicing homosexual.
Nakisha serves alongside her husband, Michael, who is an associate pastor to my wife, Tina, who is the senior pastor of the Living Way Network and a regional superintendent for two states. Nakisha would take a bullet for Tina, and is growing in her calling as a strong woman, leading the church into the future (she is 22 years old) and in that moment, in a casual comment, this other young man (maybe 30 yrs old) categorized Tina’s calling and ordination in the same light as a practicing homosexual’s. We all kind of laughed about it later… Our disciples know full well that we swim in pretty broad waters and whenever they accompany Tina and I to meetings and such, they will likely run into divergent views on peripheral doctrines but this comment was a bit jarring for Nakisha.
Mary, I say all that to say I am sorry that you found yourself in that place of decision. Leave a tribe that would support your ministry whole-heartedly and move into one where, at best, you will fight and claw for legitimacy, always operating from the margins inward OR remain in a body that endorses things which you cannot in good conscience affirm…
Come to Foursquare! We’ll take you!
First, thank you for sharing Nakisha’s story. I’ve heard far too many of them. What a gift you and your wife are in her life to help her navigate the calling God has on her life.
Then you ask me some questions – here are some answers as I appreciate the reflection they required of me:
“I observe that you lay assign a higher value to the fellowship of LOCAL believers than you do the communion of a more global entity. I’m curious, am I correct in that observation?” – actually it’s a both/and. I made the decision based on wanting to worship with my family, both figuratively and physically (my daughters and their families go to my church). But it was actually an act of obedience to the next “highest” body of church which is the session, made up of elders (including women), who made the decision. After checking my own conscience, I wanted to hold in tension the act of obedience with how I would want to choose.
“When you consider a working definition of “church” where do your thoughts most quickly and naturally land?” – oh, how often I’ve had this conversation with trusted confidants (both in and outside my church) as I try to understand the purpose of God’s body of people. I think institutionally there is an advantage to belonging to a particular group of people, but overall, I see wherever I am able to worship God is my church.
To go with your word you’re exploring for your dissertation – I’ve struggled with being a constructive deviant. It’s a difficult balance of always discerning.
Again, I sure appreciate the way you stepped into my world with this post.
I believe you offer great advice for us all when you say, “After checking my own conscience, I wanted to hold in tension the act of obedience with how I would want to choose.” Too many times we run from situations, and we don’t take the time to live in the tension while we seek leading from the Holy Spirit. There could be good reasons to stay or go, so understanding the role that we are to play is important. Is our role, in the circumstance, one of being a constructive deviant or to speak by exiting? Too many people would blindly follow others instead of discerning their individual place. This blind following of trends and other people is one symptom of a consumer mindset. It is as if we become incapable of making individual choices, from buying decisions to where we live or go to church.
Pac Man ha ha ha. I used to like that too. It kept me being late for class when was in Community College years ago. That is a good anaology of how people are in society. I was like that too for years and thank God he finally delivered me. I would just want more to consume more and its an never ending thing. The more you would get, the more you would want. I think this points to the spirit of America and debt. Americans will get in dept just to have more and dont realize that you just got into more debt and you really dont won nothing. “The blessing of the Lord makes rich and adds no sorry to it.” I had to learn this. And sometimes its being content with what you have and own until you can do better. Blessings!
Oh to be content with what we have. So difficult, yet so freeing when we get to a place where we not always clamoring for more.
FYI – I used PacMan as a way to escape having to study for school too 🙂
Ha ha ha
Mary, Great words. Great reflection. I appreciate your example of not playing pacman anymore and sticking with your community. Time will tell but I believe your commitment to them will provide great fruit. That’s the thing…you need them and they need you. If you left they might never have to deal with the tension of women in leadership.
I also greatly appreciate you putting deep words to our desires. Desire was also the thought that stuck with me from the readings. I loved how you voiced slowing down and reflecting…consuming that which brings life. Thanks Mary.
Whether or not “they need me” has yet to be decided. But I’m realizing that my focus doesn’t have to be on that expectation anymore. I’m only asked by God to be faithful with what I can do and with who I am. Thanks for your kind words of encouragement. I can see why your wife has stuck with you for so long 🙂 Hope you had a happy anniversary.
Mary and Nick… Oh, they need you. They may not know it but they need you. Just like Foursquare needs Tina, they don’t know it (and sometimes probably wish she didn’t provide such a glaring contrast between our stated doctrinal positions and the reality in the field) but they need her.
Pac-man is such a great example of consumerism. Once he consumes everything he can, he just moves on to a whole other set of dots to consume. He can never stop running and consuming. This is such a vivid picture of our society and is such a contrast to resting in Jesus and consuming the living bread and water.
I loved Cavanaugh’s insight about consuming Christ. I thought it was a prime example of not throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Yes, consumption for consumption sake destroys us. But we are meant to consume – and here in the Eucharist/Communion we are invited into sharing Christ’s body as a way to commune with one another. Such beauty and such freedom.
Mary, My dad and thus my family actually left the PCUSA in the early 80s. Wow, your post brings back some deep memories. His reflection was the PCUSA was being inconsistent with it’s theological and biblical roots as they opened up more opportunity for women in leadership and looked into a different stance on homosexuality. Yet what I liked about your post was how you reflected on the tension of staying or going. Which led you to reflect on Jesus; the self-emptying of Jesus on his incarnation. The loss of our own preferences and sometimes demands (golgotha). The necessity of walking humbly. Yes when we take that road we are far more likely to dance with the trinity then be consumed by our lesser desires. Thanks.
Some of your words are worth savoring – the self-emptying (kenosis) and dance with the Trinity. I have recently been exploring what it means as we age to be in the process of kenosis, a choice to divest of oneself. And I think it has something to do with the dance you speak of – choosing the partner of the Holy Spirit versus my own choice that’s based on my shadow (dark) self not my true self as God intended me to be.
Mary, Being consumed happens so easily. It is truly the default in our culture. Your example of the not changing denominations is a good example of the challenge of not being consumed. I think we can tend to oversimplify how difficult it can be and how messy it can be to stand against consumerism. It is not like we can move into a bubble and it is not like we can choose one area of our lives to address. Consumerism is so pervasive in our world and sadly it does not appear to be any different in the Church.