Is it better to be the consumer or that which is consumed? What if the answer is both at one and the same time? How might that even be possible and were it possible why would that be something to which people should aspire? In William Cavanaugh’s text ‘Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire’, he suggests that not only is it possible but, being both consumer and that which is consumed is the embodiment of what it means to be a follower of Jesus.
To meaningfully contemplate this perspective, it is necessary to come to terms with his understanding of consumerism and its impact on both individuals and society as a whole. For Cavanaugh the most powerful influence of consumerism is not the accumulation and attachment to ‘stuff’ but, rather the detachment to any meaningful connection to material things. “What really characterizes consumer culture is not attachment to things but detachment. People do not hoard money; they spend it. People do not cling to things; they discard them and by other things.” Further, he reinforces this perspective by recognizing that; “Consumerism is not so much about having more as it is about having something else; that’s why it is not simply buying but shopping that is the heart of consumerism.”
The tragedy then of being engulfed by consumerism is the restlessness that ensues; the insatiable desire to consume with no real purpose for the consumption or means of arresting oneself from the compulsion. “Consumerism is a restless spirit that is never content with any particular material thing.” That restless spirit is unable to find peace or satisfaction through the very compulsion that promises as much.
Some of the detachment that people experience as a result of this consumerism has much to do with the reduction of the ability to produce on one’s own. Cavanaugh suggests that production of goods and services in one’s home permitted opportunity to utilize the creativity God instilled in humanity. Simply consuming either resources such as food or material goods leaves most people bereft of the ability to fulfill one of their core, God ordained, purposes. It “detaches the consumer from the process of production and from the people who produce our goods.” It is necessary to accept that people have a need to be producers and not simply consumers. This is just as true in Christian worship experiences as it is in our use of material necessities.
The Church appears to have bought into this perspective and continues to produce ‘goods’ and ‘services’ in convenient packages for willing and largely unsuspecting congregants to consume as though they are partaking in a spiritual smorgasbord. Cavanaugh states that; “Businesses clearly expect more from the billions of dollars they spend on advertising/marketing than the mere purveying of objective information to the consumer.” While the Church may not have the vast budgets an argument could easily be made that we operate under many of the same assumptions. Yet, certainly “The church is called to be a different kind of economic space and to foster such spaces in the world.” We have almost universally removed the opportunity for individuals and families to produce for themselves meaningful worship experiences. We need to seriously consider how the Church be more proactive in promoting opportunities for and instructing individuals and communities how to meaningfully participate in worship experiences or even produce their own.
Further, the Church has in the practice of the Eucharist, an integral aspect of its tradition that not only reminds us of the material embodiment of God in Jesus but, compels us toward incarnational connection to others. “The Eucharist as a Christian practice that offers an alternative way to practice consumption.” This is where Christians can embody the spiritual practice of both consuming and being consumed. “If in consuming the Eucharist we become the body of Christ, then we are called, in turn, to offer ourselves to be consumed by the world.” “The insatiability of human desire is absorbed by the abundance of God’s grace in the gift of the body and blood of Christ” It is in the Eucharist that the spiritual restlessness, the insatiable desire for consumption, the reception of something eternal rather than temporal takes place. In another seemingly oxymoronic thought, in the Eucharist “God is the food that consumes us.”
This is not simply the weekly, monthly or quarterly practice of communion. The Eucharist represents the ongoing discipline of being filled by the spirit of Christ and being a vessel for Christ to be available to others. For those who continue to search for meaning and find their incessant consumption wanting, they have in the understanding of this practice the perfect antidote. May we work diligently to communicate the message of Jesus and of the fulfillment available in consuming and being consumed for his purposes.
The Church should be the community in which people learn to conquer their compulsions and develop a Godly perspective in relation to material things. It is to be a community which recognizes that; “Humans need a community of virtue in which to learn to desire rightly.” (9) “The solution to the restlessness of desire is to cultivate a desire for God, the Eternal, in whom our hearts will find rest.” (90) May we be willing to assess our practices and motivations with a critical eye to fostering communities and enhancing worship traditions that serve this function more completely.
BTW – Jason Clark I really enjoyed reading a book cover to cover again!! It provides me a feeling of completion that is severely lacking in almost any other area of my life. Thanks for the short book!
 Cavanaugh, William T. Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire. Grand Rapids, Mich: William B. Eerdmans Pub., 2009. P. 34
 Ibid p. 35.
 Ibid p. ix.
 Alexis-Baker, Andy. “Review – Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire.” The Conrad Grebel Review 27, no. 3 (Fall 2009): 79-81.
 Ibid. P. 17.
 Ibid. P. ix.
 Ibid. P. 35.
 Ibid. P. 84.
 Ibid. P. 94.
 Ibid. P. 95.