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).
 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.