DMINLGP

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

What Are We Becoming?

Written by: on March 8, 2014

Growing up in non-liturgical churches my understanding and comprehension of Lent was filled with indifference.  I remember my cousin giving up oatmeal-raisin cookies during Lent.  I could not for the life of me understand why he would do such a thing especially since oatmeal-raisin cookies were not my favorite.  Maybe he did it because his parents told him (and my other cousins) that they had to give up something for Lent.  Maybe it was because he really did like oatmeal-raisin cookies.  Knowing him as I do now, I realize it was an act of devotion, based on his teenage understanding of  Lent.

Ash Wednesday marked the beginning of Lent, forty days of reflection.  Joan Chittister, speaks of Lent as calling us “to renew our ongoing commitment to the implications of the Resurrection in our own lives, here and now.”[1]  My pastor, Matt Robbins-Ghormley quoting Frederick Buechner wrote, “During Lent, Christians are supposed to ask one way or another what it means to be themselves…to answer questions like this is to begin to hear something not only of who you are but of both what you are becoming and what you are failing to become.  It can be pretty depressing business all in all, but if sackcloth and ashes are at the start of it, something like Easter may be at the end.”[2] Robbins-Ghormley followed this by asking, “What are we becoming?  What are we failing to become? Lord, do your work in us this Lent.”

These words fit with the two books read this week, Consuming Religion: Christian Faith and Practice in a Consuming Culture by Vincent Miller and William T. Cavanaugh’s Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire. Miller confronts the prevailing notion that our beliefs drive our behavior.[3]  This statement comes home to me when I think about our prevailing Christian culture in which the stated beliefs of our political leaders is expected to be a consistent with a prescribed affinity for certain policies.  I recognize the disconnect when I acknowledge that I give little thought to many of the things I purchase, whether that is the clothing I buy or the food I purchase at the grocery store. I am paying more attention to what I am purchasing and its origin, but the truth remains I am disconnected and isolated from its production.  While our garden brings produce in the summer months we are not to the place where it provides much beyond September. Whether it is clothing or food convenience and time are two commodities that factor into my purchasing choices; they are in competition with both my belief and my behavior.  The reality is, as Miller recognized and Cavanaugh also attempts to address, we often want to make changes to our consumption patterns, “to live another way, but we simply do not know how.”[4]

What are we becoming?  Miller asserts that we have to look at and discern the cultural factors and influences of consumerism, centered on the commodification of culture where “religious beliefs, symbols, and values are objects of consumption.”[5]  I’ll see it in my mailbox in a few weeks when I receive postcards from at least two churches in my community advertising and inviting our household to attend one of several Easter worship services, mentioning that their worship band has a CD which is also available for purchase.  We are often conditioned when we talk about the “presence of God” in our worship services, associating God’s presence with particular songs or a style of worship.  It also makes me wonder what we discard when something has served its purpose (and is no longer useful).  There are four evangelical churches in my community that share something in common, when the talk is about new people coming the church a good number of them will be coming from one of the other churches.  For Cavanaugh consumerism is not so much about having more or buying to buy, the heart of consumerism is shopping.[6]  When we shop for churches we are often looking to see and hear certain prescribed affirmations, a certain type of preaching, some with altar calls and some without.  We are shopping our preferences.  What drives my shopping in my personal life?  Things related to household, commuting (auto, bridge tolls & gas/petrol), and family needs.  My exchange is purchase related without connection to their production, their value is in the item itself, deemed by my purchase. However I know from prior experience that even in providing basic needs there is the possibility of manipulation or bricolage, which may mean the intended purpose takes on an entirely different meaning.[7]

The challenge for the Church amid this emerging and transitory place is to reengage with its desire.  Over the past several years I have begun to practice a more liturgical form of prayer.  Although the form of the prayers and scripture readings varies, there is one constant: praying the Lord’s Prayer.  This prayer is shaping me; the words are orienting my heart; it is creating desire.  Within a consumer culture desire is created and never satisfied.[8]  Desire involves, not only our desire for God, but also God’s desire for us, the desire for the kingdom of God and God’s justice originating from God’s steadfast love.[9]

Cavanaugh focused on the depth and breadth of the incarnation placing the Eucharist at the center.  Recognized by God we are sent by God; our “very identity is discovered in one’s mission.”[10]  Earlier in the book he captured our role in revealing Christ’s identity and our part in incarnation, “For becoming the body of Christ also entrails that we must become food for others.”[11]  If I, if we could grasp just a glimpse of what we are to offer the world we would experience not what it is to consume but what it is to be consumed.[12] I was at our Soup Kitchen today, we provided for others.  I am becoming at home among these men and women.  They also provided for me.

 


            [1] Joan Chittister, The Liturgical Year: The Spiraling Adventure of the Spiritual Life (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2009), 110.

            [2] Email received March 7, 2014, Trinity e-News, Trinity Presbyterian Church, Tacoma, WA.

[3]  Vincent Miller, Consuming Religion: Christian Faith and Practice in a Consumer Culture (New York, NY: Continuum International Publishing, 2005), 15.

            [4] Ibid., 18.

[5] Ibid., 19.

[6] William T. Cavanaugh, Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2008), 35.

[7] Miller, 72.  Bricolage is a French term referring to “expediency, adapting one’s actions to the situation at hand.”  It describes the work of a handyman, one who makes repairs or completes jobs utilizing the tools at hand, as opposed to a craftsman who has specific tools for his/her craft.  Refer to 154-156 in Consuming Religion.

            [8] Miller, 110. “Close examination of the texture of desire in consumer culture reveals that is not simply about fixing one’s heart on material things or sensual pleasure.  Indeed, it is about never being satisfied with them.”

            [9] Ibid.

[10] Cavanaugh, 82.

[11] Ibid., 55.

[12] Ibid., 84.

About the Author

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Carol McLaughlin

Carol walks this DMin journey from her locale in Gig Harbor, WA (USA). She is preparing for pastoral ministry in the Presbyterian Church (PC-USA), as well as teaches in the Online Learning Community programs at GFES. Part of the DMin Leadership & Global Perspectives 4 cohort (dminlgp4) her research and dissertation focus is exploring why baby boomers leave the church and what it means for their faith development. The views expressed here are her own.

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