DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Looking for Leaves

Written by: on February 21, 2019

We have a nest in our house. Not the kind that birds have, but the thermostat kind. We got it when we moved into this house a little over 4 years ago. What’s cool about a nest thermostat is that you can be wise with your energy consumption, and you get this little green leaf. When you use energy at off-peek times – green leaf. When you use less than your neighbors – green leaf. We got the nest as a way to be more conscientious of our energy consumption, because as an American living in what is an actual desert, we use a lot. Every time I see the leaf, I am proud of how much energy we’ve saved.

 

As I am sitting here, drinking warm tea in my centrally-heated house with my little green leaf, the dishwasher running, and Consuming Religion: Christian Faith and Practice in a Consumer Culture in my hand, I realize just how much of the American dream I am living in. I had no idea that because I have central heating, and not a hearth to warm my family, I was playing right into the hand of the modern nuclear family.[1]

 

In his work, Miller seeks to explore consumer culture changes our relationship with ones own religious beliefs, narratives, and symbols.[2] Essentially, Miller posits that the consumer mentality is so pervasive in Western culture, that we (since I am an American) approach religion as just one more product to consume.[3] Miller points to a significant number of experiences which have led Westerners to view religion as a consumable item, but few are as significant as the shift in marketing to include more illustrations, not just text.[4] Miller goes on to argue that these marketing ploys lead to the viewing of religious symbols and artifacts as consumable items, which results in religious practices and beliefs that function as just products, not significant pieces of tradition.[5]

 

“Although the world has plenty of selfish narcissists, the real problem with consumer culture lies in the structures and practices that systematically confuse and misdirect well-intentioned people seeking to do good things such as show solidarity with others, find spiritual transformation, and practice their sincerely held religious beliefs.”[6]

 

Tonight, I was at work and I overheard a student who had just been awakened to the idea of fast fashion. She watched a Netflix documentary and was “ruined” because of having her eyes opened to the cost of consumption. My husband, who happened to be with me, smirked at me, because I have been “ruined” because of fast fashion for a long time. I looked at him and with a kind of sad realization said, “I can’t be the expert on everything.” What I meant by that was that I could have sat down and given that student some resources, some clothing companies to research, some things to chew on, but I am so busy trying to hold other things, and “live differently” I just can’t help someone else right now.

 

Honestly, I don’t know how I feel about this book. On the one hand, I enjoyed it because it definitely made me think deeply about the role of work, and my own personal consumption. But if I’m being vulnerable, I just feel like I can’t be told I’m failing at one more thing. To read that I am not a narcissist, but that I am constantly being misdirected really makes me want to just give up. I want to throw in the towel. I don’t want to read one more thing that points to my own failures and the grand sweeping failure of humanity and our economic religious practices. I just want to see the little green leaf. I know I am doing everything I can to be conscientious of my lifestyle, and I also recognize my privilege as a white American female with a two income, single family home with a central heating system. I do. But how many times am I going to be told that I am part of a failed system that puts me, a Protestant Christian, at the heart of a jacked-up economy that no one can escape from?

 

My house is cold because my heat cycled off. My tea is cold because I’ve spent too much time typing and not drinking it. My hearts a little cold because I’m hurting. I’m hurting for a culture I so desperately want to fix, and feel called to fix. I’m just looking for the little green leaves showing me I’m on the right track. Will you join me, neighbor?

_______________________________________________________

[1] Vincent J. Miller, Consuming Religion: Christian Faith and Practice in a Consumer Culture (New York, NY: The Continuum International Publishing Group, 2005), 47.

[2] Ibid., 3

[3] Phyllis Zagano, “Consuming Religion: Christian Faith and Practice in a Consumer Culture Review,” Spiritus: A Journal of Christian Spirituality 5, no. 1 (2005): 119-122

[4] Ibid., 119

[5] Courtney Wilder, “Vincent J Miller, Consuming Religion: Christian Faith and Practice in a Consumer Culture,” The Journal of Religion 85, no. 4 (October 2005): 681-682.

[6] Vincent J. Miller, Consuming Religion: Christian Faith and Practice in a Consumer Culture (New York, NY: The Continuum International Publishing Group, 2005), 225.

About the Author

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Karen Rouggly

Karen Rouggly is the Director for Mobilization in the Center for Student Action at Azusa Pacific University. She develops transformational experiences for students serving locally, nationally, and internationally. She completed an MA in Intercultural Studies at Fuller Theological Seminary and is passionate about community development, transformational service and helping students understand vocation and service. Karen is also an active member at the Vineyard Church Glendora where she is a small group leader and serves on the teaching team. She is also a mom to two sweet boys, wife to an amazing guy, and loves being a friend to many.

10 responses to “Looking for Leaves”

  1. Hi Karen. I appreciate your courage for showing your vulnerability. I hope you read chapter 7 because I think Miller offers great solutions to the problem of culture commodification. I know he writes this for a Catholic context, and while his tips may be applied widely, I wonder what (1) non-Catholics would say; and (2) what would non-Catholics propose as a solution to the problem of commodification?

  2. mm Mary Mims says:

    Karen, I understand what you are saying and how all these books can be a bit depressing. I feel some of the same guilt of all I have achieved and all I possess. I wonder what we can do to change all of this? I think just the awareness of the problem is enough for us to prevent reliance on material wealth and possessions, helping us to focus on serving in our ministries. I see the little green leaf shining through.

  3. Mario Hood says:

    Thanks for the honesty in your post. I think we all (if we have a heart) can feel this way at times. I have never heard if fast fashion so now I must watch this doc (thank you in advance) but doing what you can is what I think God calls us to do. Another by-product of consumerism is the disease of comparing and it can be even worst.

  4. mm Rhonda Davis says:

    Karen, I admire your humble approach to this reading. I appreciate your desire to see small progress in what is such a large, complex issue. Perhaps your willingness to continue making the best possible choices while searching for the little green leaves is exactly what God is asking of us. Keep on keeping on, my friend.

  5. mm Nancy VanderRoest says:

    You are not being misdirected as long as you are listening to Him, Karen. And you have shown in so many ways that your strength and direction comes through Him. Because of that, you are right where He wants you to be. Keep up the amazing job you do in your work, Karen. You are a gift to many….

  6. mm Sean Dean says:

    Karen, this may be – with all due respect to all your other posts – my favorite one you’ve written. I’ve formed a level of detachment with all the ways that I’m being told that as a white male I’m failing the world. Am I failing? Yeah – a lot. Am I trying to make my corner of the world better, yeah. Sometimes the green leaf is enough and sometimes it’s not, but it’s all I can do and I have to be OK with that. I’m just happy you’re willing to admit you’re in the boat as well.

  7. mm Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    Karen, Perhaps like Sean, I experience battle fatigue in being told daily that as a white male I am corporately responsible for the historic ills of the US and perhaps the world. Having said that, I daily pick my somewhat aged and scarred persona up and keep opening myself up to being formed into His image. Typically that comes through those who are not white males, those who are not like me. While I am not called to fix and pursue every mission others are called to. I am (personally) called to allow the Holy Spirit to continue to form me and call me to serve others in ministry leadership through coaching. May you continue to find peace and grace in His presence as we swim these waters of consumer culture together. Many blessings.

  8. Bandar55 says:

    Karen, I understand what you say and how all these books can be a little sad. I feel some of the same mistakes from everything I have achieved and everything I have. I wonder what can we do to change all this? I think only awareness of the problem is enough for us to prevent dependence on material wealth and property, helping us to focus on serving in our ministry. I saw small green leaves glowing.

  9. Dadu Online says:

    Karen, I admire your simple approach to this reading. I appreciate your desire to be as small as progress in big and complex problems. Maybe your willingness to continue to make the best choices while looking for small green leaves is what we ask for. Keep going, my friend.

  10. Your post is very useful and I like it very much. Thank you for wanting to share a good post like this. I will always visit your website if there is a recent article update

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