Discipleship in America, Part 3: Some Responses to Individualistic Consumerism

Written by Mark Van Steenwyk : January 29, 2006

At this point, I want to unpack some of the statements I made in my last post.  It is easy to point at problems.  And it is just about as easy to offer vague solutions.  But we must go deeper than simple prescriptions.  We need to re-ground Christian practices theologically, and practice them in an intentional contrast with the Powers.  In my previous post, I named the "power" of consumerism.  Our response to consumerism shouldn’t be capitulation.  Instead, we should resist it inasmuch as it caustically erodes our faith.  Since "individualistic" consumerism undermines an authentically Christian, Trinitarian, approach to prayer and reading Scripture (because it causes us to find our identity outside of the context of the Church and because it reinforces and hardens our own inadequate and incomplete God-images), it must be intentionally resisted in our Christian practices.  We cannot confront it only within the realm of ideas since, as Vincent Miller suggests, we can only challenge consumerism and commodification with Christian praxis, since ideas can easily be commodified and consumed. 

So, how can we practice prayer and Scripture-reading in ways that intentionally confront the power of Consumerism?  Here are just a few suggestions.  I’d welcome any additions from you, my readers:

  • Bring in performative reading into our gatherings. Peformative reading means that someone has taken the passage of Scripture and read through it in advance enough to read it in a way that begs for attention.  Performative reading is much more emotive, deliberate, and engaging then the sort of reading that many preachers do–skimming through to find the highlights that they want to mine for their sermon-agenda. 
  • Read prayerfully through Scripture in smaller gatherings. It is always helpful, in my opinion, to read Scripture in a group of people, since our assumptions are much more likely to get challenged than if we are reading alone.  But there is a Perspective that the Spirit brings that we often neglect unless we slow down and read Scripture prayerfully, opening ourselves up to the Spirit’s leading, and making ourselves willing to be vulnerable.
  • Give more time for prayer in church gatherings.  Some suggest that early church worship assemblies had much more prayer than singing, and that singing was more creedal and prayerful than our modern notions of musical worship.  We’ve made prayer an addendum to our gathered Christian experience.  Prayer might not be as seeker-sensitive, but if we were to give ample time for guided prayer within our church gatherings, people will begin to learn to pray within that context.  We must go further than a handful of liturgical prayers, but allow for times for silence, and times for more spontaneity and interactive prayer.
  • Practice communal discernment in leadership meetings. Too often I’ve seen leaders pay lip-service to the Spirit by making their plans and only including prayer as "book ends" to the meeting.  When we merely ask the Spirit to be present in the begining of the meeting, and ask the Spirit to bless our plans at the end of the meeting, but don’t include prayer throughout the meeting itself, we are communicating that we value strategies over discernment.

These are just a few thoughts.  I’ve mentioned other contra-consumerism practices on my blog.  This will be also be a big focus of the Consumerism Conference, so if you are at all concerned about the way in which consumerism errodes our faith, please attend if you can.

Next time, I will name another of the "powers" that challenge Christian discipleship in America: Capitalism.  Later, I hope to address the problems of political party affilation, wealth, and personal taste…and more.

for further reading . . .

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