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

The Great Transaction

Written by: on March 6, 2014


Watching the Oscars last weekend I was struck by the number of commercials for Cadillacs. I’m not usually that perceptive, but I wondered aloud, “Why are they showing all these commercials? How many people watching the Oscars would be thinking, I need a car, and that seals it, I’m buying a Cadillac?”  Then returning to my reading it started coming together, they aren’t selling Cadillacs, their changing the horizon we gaze upon. Watching the famous, rich and (mostly) well dressed creates a desire for more than what we currently have. We see the commercial for the car and it creates a desire for more than what we currently have. “Close examination of the texture of desire in consumer culture reveals that it is not simply about fixing one’s heart on material things or sensual pleasure. Indeed, it is about never being satisfied with them.” [1]

We won’t satisfy that desire today, but planting that desire is enough. General Motors doesn’t care whether we want the Cadillac, they are happy to sell us the Chevrolet that shares the car lot, because it keeps us dissatisfied with our current circumstances and sets us off on a divergent path, pointed at a different horizon; one of continual dissatisfaction while increasing our consumption patterns. We’re not being sold a product, but life choices.[2]   The question that we need to answer, as those who claim to follow Jesus Christ, is: are we glorifying God with those desires?

Each deepened desire toward one direction is a desire that is turned away from another direction. The exchange that continuously takes place in the marketplace of our hearts is more intense even than the exchanges that take place in the world in which we live.

“There would not be a market for all the goods that are produced in an industrialized economy if consumers were content with the things they bought. Consumer desire must be constantly on the move. We must continually desire new things in order for consumption to keep pace with production.”[3]

Both authors, Miller and Cavanaugh, point back to religious traditions and point to current consumer patterns to sound an alarm about the dangers that already seem to be diluting the influence of our religious frameworks; sending their leaders to spend their time and energy clinging to a symbolic presence in society to which they seem relegated…unless something changes.

In Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus shares the details of the distant eternal horizon. In so doing He also challenges our perspectives on the suffering around us and our capacity to respond. It’s a Kingdom picture, a global picture that is shaped by our everyday individual choices.

“This integration of suffering into the broader flow of the media diffuses its challenge to the dominant sense of evolutionary time. But there is more to the relation between suffering and spectacle. Human suffering is neither ignored nor comprehended as a necessary part of some larger ideational totality; rather, it is packaged and sold as media spectacle.” [4]

That the global world in which we live includes those who suffer needs no elaboration. Interestingly, it’s the understanding that the local world in which we live that also includes suffering that we seem to need more convincing.

Many would say, “but of course, I donate food and drink, I give my old clothes for resale or even to someone in need and certainly I support care agencies that reach the sick and imprisoned.” In fact, some would say, “isn’t that what we’re supposed to do, give?” My concern is that we’ve reduced Jesus’ call to a transactional relationship rather than a transformative relationship.

Here are some of my reflections of Matthew 25:31-46

  • We have turned the food, drink, and clothes into commodities and we have co-opted the hospitality to a stranger or the caring for the sick or the prisoner to others.
  • We have focused primarily on the supply, the response, the action of giving and the feeling we derive from being kind.
  • We have turned Jesus into a consumer of the products we allow him to possess by our relative benevolence.
  • How often is our giving done so that we can replace what we have with something newer or better?
  • Those who were rewarded seemed to give in such a way that they didn’t even notice it; there was a generosity of character that reveals a transformative depth that does not wait for a news headline, a facebook event or a bulletin announcement.
  • I say we, because these comments are not accusatory but are from my own reflection and from conversations I’ve had with others; they often condemn my conscience and challenge my thinking and my actions, while shaping the way I lead with others.

To read these words again, listen, not for the product being exchanged, but the relationship being enhanced. Notice the nearness of the hands coming together around a dinner table, a glass, clothes. Notice the hand being held at a bedside or a comforting, assuring smile of a true friend.  But then ask yourself this, if engaging in these actions is like ministering to Jesus, who among us would hurry past Him or quickly replace what we’ve given with newer, brighter, faster, better? Wouldn’t we want to talk to Him, learn from Him, understand Him? Has our consumption culture deafened and blinded us to see the needs and relationships Jesus is waiting for us to engage in?

“The problem calls for something akin to the immersive methods of ethnography, whereby the anthropologist spends extended time with members of a culture, attending to the implicit logics of their practices and the texture of their daily lives.”[5]

It’s interesting that even in this message, Jesus understands our consumer tendency and invites us to delay our gratification for a reward that He has been preparing for us from the dawn of creation. Perhaps it could even be called the Great Transaction.

Note: Since we’ve been quite lyrical these days, here’s a song by two of my favourite artists that sum this up well:

[1] Vincent J. Miller, Consuming Religion Christian Faith and Practice in a Consumer Culture (London, UK: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2009), 110.

[2] Ibid, 124.

[3] William T. Cavanaugh, Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 2009), 46.

[4] Miller, 133.

[5] Ibid., 227.

About the Author

Deve Persad

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