DMINLGP

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

We’re in this together.

Written by: on February 15, 2018

We all consume. We all utilize commodities of the free market economy in which we live. There is a temptation to vilify or glorify the market and its outcomes based on consumer interaction with the created systems. Yet, to only dwell on the evil or good of the market is to miss a critical point and to focus on symptoms of underlying problems in western culture, and certainly all cultures. The question we must address is, will we consider the intentionality of our decisions in the midst of the economic system in which we live? Choosing to be intentional rather than subject to one of the binaries of the economy provides freedom to act as agents of influence and benevolence rather than as victims of our reality.

As William Cavanaugh explains in his introduction to Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire, “Rather than blessing and damning the free market as such, I want to focus our attention on concrete Christian attempts to discern and create economic practices, spaces, and transactions that are truly free.”[1] Cavanaugh shapes his text around economic topics such as freedom, globalization, and scarcity with the integration of Christian practice to reveal alternative modes of action around the God-given desires placed within humanity. The hope is that Christians would be able to conscientiously consume by first consuming and being consumed by Christ rather than the world in their engagement in the free market. Thus, “The result is an ecclesiologically informed economics whose capacity to transform our lives, if we would heed its various concrete suggestions, should not be underestimated.”[2]

Cavanaugh questions “the human telos [or aim] of free market capitalism, and arguing how it is fundamentally at odds with Christianity’s proclamation as to human ends. What this means is that economic life must be reordered. Through four chapters, the book proposes a revolutionary transformation of economic life with the Eucharist as the model for what a truly free and just economic system might be.”[3] The Eucharist taken with the examples throughout the text emphasize the practical communality of the body of Christ and the essential need for justice in living Christian values in a free market economy.

Cavanaugh is limited in his reach as Lake Lambert explains: “Being Consumed fails to offer a vision for how Christians might live out their callings with responsibility in an admittedly sinful economic system.”[4] Further, John-Paul Spiro confronts the text by stating Being Consumed is “aggressively Catholic without advertising itself as such; its subtitle is Economics and Christian Desire and its first chapter refers to “Christian” resources, but its Eucharistic and Trinitarian theology will alienate many Protestants.”[5] Lambert and Spiro’s critiques aid in a balancing one’s perspective of Cavanaugh, as to not swallow the text whole. Although from a Catholic perspective, Cavanaugh does no disservice to Christianity in his writing, and, in fact enlightens Christians to the importance of the Trinity and the Eucharist as core not only to belief but to everyday life and practice of the faith.

On the positive side of Lambert’s review, he remarks, “The great strength of Being Consumed is its willingness to question basic assumptions of free market capitalism, and this includes the definition of freedom itself. Economists seldom consider the philosophical underpinnings of their discipline.”[6]

Cavanaugh’s text connects with Vincent Miller’s Consuming religion as both consider Christian desire and the structures and practices influencing behavior from a societal perspective. Cavanaugh even quotes Miller as a fellow Catholic in his perspective on consumerism’s damage to the kingdom of God as it leads to “endless superficial novelty” and “detachment from particular objects” while anticipating everything and hoping for nothing.[7] Where Miller is focused on consumerism through pop culture and products, Cavanaugh lasers in on the spirituality of consummation and its counter practice in the midst of culture. He reasons that, “the solution to the restlessness of desire is to cultivate a desire for God, the Eternal, in whom our hearts will find rest.”[8]

In Cavanaugh’s final chapter on Scarcity and Abundance, he reveals the vast difference between the way the market and the Kingdom of God view scarcity and abundance. The market says to care for those who have less we must care for ourselves or “If I take care of me, I will in effect be caring for you.” The miracle of the market is to consumer more to feed others.[9] “Cavanaugh likens this to a secular eschatology because competition in a free market system is said to produce more, reducing scarcity and always promising that, “abundance for all is just around the corner” (93). Here again the Eucharist is the corrective since the sacrament is not about scarcity but abundance, and it is not a contractual exchange but a gift. The Eucharist proclaims an eschatology of both hope (abundance) as well as judgment, since ‘those of us who partake in the Eucharist while ignoring the hungry may be eating and drinking to their own damnation’ (98).”[10]

For Christians to operate first as free market consumers rather than Christ consumers is to reorder our identity into a perception of being made into the image of the world rather than of God. Consuming the Eucharist week by week is an enactment of our oneness with God and each another. Thus, we are not lacking resources or community for we have the abundance of the grace of God, the resources of the kingdom, and the relationship to all people as equals made in God’s likeness and valued as such. The challenge is to live daily into the abundance of God’s consuming life in us in all our circumstances. As I finished reading Cavanaugh’s text, the words from Jack Shephard (Matthew Fox), a character on the TV show Lost began to haunt me, “Last week most of us were strangers. But we’re all here now. And God knows how long we’re going to be here. But if we can’t live together, we’re going to die alone.”[11] If we consider ourselves lost and alone in this world for who knows how long, what’s not to stop us from mindlessly consuming in conformity of the world? But we are not alone. We’re in this together.

[1] Cavanaugh, William T. Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008, viii.

[2] Yong, Amos. “Cavanaugh, William T. Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire.” Religious Studies Review. (2009), 35.

[3] Lambert, Lake. “Cavanaugh, William T. Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire.” Dialog: A Journal of Theology (2010), 169.

[4] Lambert, 171.

[5] Spiro, John-Paul. “Cavanaugh, William T. Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire.” Augustinian Studies, vol 41, 2 (2010), 497.

[6] Lambert, 170.

[7] Cavanaugh, 93.

[8] Ibid., 90.

[9] Ibid., 93.

[10] Lambert,170.

[11] Lost. “White Rabbit.” Season 1, Episode 5. Directed by Kevin Hooks. Written by Christian Taylor. ABC. Aired October 4, 2004.

About the Author

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Trisha Welstad

Trisha is passionate about investing in leaders to see them become all God has created them to be. As an ordained Free Methodist elder, Trisha has served with churches in LA and Oregon, leading as a pastor of youth and spiritual formation, a church planter, and as a co-pastor of a church restart. Trisha currently serves as leadership development pastor at Northside Community Church in Newberg, OR. Over the last five years Trisha has directed the Leadership Center, partnering with George Fox and the Free Methodist and Wesleyan Holiness churches. The Leadership Center is a network facilitating the development of new and current Wesleyan leaders, churches and disciples through internships, equipping, mentoring and scholarship. In collaboration with the Leadership Center, Trisha serves as the director of the Institute for Pastoral Thriving at Portland Seminary and with Theologia: George Fox Summer Theology Institute. She is also adjunct faculty at George Fox University. Trisha enjoys throwing parties, growing food, listening to the latest musical creations by Troy Welstad and laughing with her two children.

17 responses to “We’re in this together.”

  1. mm M Webb says:

    Trisha,
    I support your Eucharist viewpoint with justice and values. Wow, when do you hear the news talk positively about those social ideas these days? Cavanaugh however does, and leverages Augustine’s doctrine of positivity in Christ.
    I like your comment, “The challenge is to live daily into the abundance of God’s consuming life in us in all our circumstances.” I like the Eucharist, consume Christ, theology. I also see liturgical relationships between the Eucharist and the Amor of God. In one we “eat” Christ and in the other we “wear” Christ. I think wearing Christ it a next-level supernatural dimension where we can really stand firm, not metaphorically, but really, personally, and in the presence of Christ, who consumes and wears us too. I doubt this is original thought, but I have not encountered this relationship before, and only last night did the Holy Spirit impress me to explore the “in Christ” (John 14:20) relationships between the Eucharist and the Armor of Christ.
    Stand firm,

    • mm Trisha Welstad says:

      Mike, I have never thought to compare the two. I appreciate your insight and look forward to hearing how they relate as you explore them further. I have the feeling the two contribute to the awareness of the other as well as the benefit of others.

  2. Shawn Hart says:

    Trisha, great post. As I read through your post I heard John 13:34 echoing in my head; “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” You wrote, “Thus, we are not lacking resources or community for we have the abundance of the grace of God, the resources of the kingdom, and the relationship to all people as equals made in God’s likeness and valued as such.” It is the reality of Jesus statement that concerns me of our modern day outlook toward blessing. Too many of us seem to think God is still supposed to pour out great blessings upon us so that we can show that we are God’s people; what they fail to realize is that God poured out His blessings upon us through Jesus Christ. Though God still blesses us today as His people, large church buildings, expensive sounds systems and fancy decorations are not the product of God’s blessings; I fear they are the abuses of it. We have lost sight of the “love” factor instructed to us by Christ in establishing our true acts of worship.

    How do you feel the church could overcome consumerism to progress back toward love as the demonstration of God’s true blessing?

  3. mm Jay Forseth says:

    Hi Trish,

    I have enjoyed our readings the past two weeks about the Eucharist. I have to admit, as a Pastor for 15 years, I did not celebrate communion every week. Do you think I should have? I maybe do…

    Does your church? I would anticipate many in the Global Wesleyan Alliance don’t. Not that we don’t cherish the sacredness of the Eucharist, we absolutely do, but we also don’t want to make it just a ritual.

    Thanks for your writings!

    • mm Trisha Welstad says:

      Jay, thanks for your thoughts on Eucharist through your experience. I have participated in churches that do serve communion each week and those that do not. What I have found (and learned over time) is that I love it every week/every time it is offered and it has grown more rich to me. This is in part due to teaching on it by pastors who have been intentional. It’s a bit of a bummer to me that most Wesleyan churches (GWA) do not serve it weekly or very often as that was a practice in the earliest days of Wesleyanism and remains today in the UMC and other mainline denominations.

  4. Hi Trisha,

    Wonderful reflections, thanks.

    I’m so glad you focused on how the Eucharist brings us together. It’s so mysterious, really. We become one flesh, one body, as we submit and receive and consume. Only as we become one can we begin to recognize the abundance around us. When we are isolated and alone, we operate from a mindset of scarcity and poverty.

    • mm Trisha Welstad says:

      I think the Evangelical church needs to be a bit more Catholic in our participation in the Eucharist Mark. If we could recognize the value of the means of grace offered to us and the possibility for transformation we might not see it as a boring ritual to do monthly or quarterly but as a place where heaven meets earth and the veil between God and us gets really thin.

  5. Greg says:

    Trisha,

    Touching on the intentionality of the choices we make is crucial. It has to be more than just an “awareness” of the problem or an avoidance.
    Like Mark, I appreciated your emphasis on the Eucharist and the consumption (almost in reverse) of the way the world views it.

    • mm Trisha Welstad says:

      Thanks Greg. How often does your community practice the Eucharist? Is it something you grew up doing often and have you seen it have a formative place in your own growth?

  6. mm Jean Ollis says:

    Aloha Trisha!
    Mike asked my thoughts on Cavanaugh’s discussions of the Eucharist – which made me do some research. You too discuss it in your blog. I found this profound statement – “The enacting of the Body of Christ in the Eucharist has a dramatic effect on the communicability of pain from one person to another, for individuals are now united in one body, connected by one nervous system.” Can you imagine? And your thoughts on this statement?
    https://theotherjournal.com/2005/04/04/consumption-the-market-and-the-eucharist/

    • mm Trisha Welstad says:

      Jean, I really loved this quote. I stopped and pondered it for a while as well. I wonder if we’ve lost some of the mystery around the Eucharist because we are so formed by the Enlightenment era and being rationalists, thus disconnecting us from one another and one another’s pain. After watching the student from Florida speak up in the viral video on CNN about the shooting last week it’s a wonder that we are so numb to one another’s pain.

  7. mm Jennifer Williamson says:

    You write, “The question we must address is, will we consider the intentionality of our decisions in the midst of the economic system in which we live? ” I found Cavanaugh really helpful in aswering this question. But like the critics you cited, I also thought that much of his point would have been lost on those who don’t understand the idea of “eucharist.” I found myself feeling like maybe I did not fully understand the “eucharist.” I feel like he may have romanticized this concept a bit too much in trying to move even believers towards a solution. Did you find his resolution satisfying, or did it leave you wanting?

    • mm Trisha Welstad says:

      Jenn, I think he did go further than I have known/grasped with the Eucharist but I also chalk that up to his Catholicism a bit. The friends that I have who have immersed themselves in the Catholic church (especially those later in life) have seemed to find deep spirituality and mysterious beauty in ways I have not known. It makes me curious more than anything as it as a practice they have had for so much longer and for many so much more often than most evangelicals.

  8. mm Jason Turbeville says:

    Trisha,
    Your arguments for the eucharist being a weekly occurrence hit me. Like Jay wrote we do not celebrate the Eucharist or Lord’s Supper in Baptist terms every week for fear it becomes just another thing we do. I am not sure I have ever agreed with this statement your quote from Cavanaugh “The Eucharist proclaims an eschatology of both hope (abundance) as well as judgment, since ‘those of us who partake in the Eucharist while ignoring the hungry may be eating and drinking to their own damnation’” is a compelling argument for weekly. It is something I am praying through.

    Jason

    • mm Trisha Welstad says:

      Jason, as I mentioned to Jenn, I think there is much to learn from our Catholic bothers and sisters in the way of understanding the Eucharist and its depths. The longer I have participated in it and the more often the more rich with meaning and connection to Christ I have had. It’s a way for me to practice connecting with God in a holy and tangible way that communicates His means of grace toward me, not simply a remembrance.

  9. Great post Thisha, and glad to see someone else uses lots of quotes like me. Also hope you are enjoying your time in Hawaii. This line…”For Christians to operate first as free market consumers rather than Christ consumers is to reorder our identity into a perception of being made into the image of the world rather than of God.” was a great summary of your post and the book. It reminds me of the book entitled “Christ Esteem: Where the Search for Self-Esteem Ends” which highlights that fact that our identity and priority is in Christ not ourselves or the world.

  10. mm Trisha Welstad says:

    I haven’t read the book you mentioned Jake. I would be interested in checking it out. Do you find this identity in Christ to be true in curbing consumerism?

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