Over the coming weeks a number of us are going to be reading the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Lent Book, which this year is his own Dethroning Mammon.
The book is being widely read – including by Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England, seen below reading his copy on the tube.
There are a number of groups meeting during the week to discuss the book – if you are interested in joining one, please email Beth Symmons. Alternatively, you can join a virtual discussion and post your comments on here – please keep comments brief!
You may also like to look at the BBC website where there is an online discussion group based on the book with material from Justin Welby and Sunday readings.
Chapter 1 What We See We Value
The opening chapter compares mammon to death – observing that ultimately death has the last word on money, since we famously can’t take any with us. The central biblical story that is explored is the account in John 11 of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. Having read this passage over the years I have never stopped to wonder why Lazarus was living with his sisters. Welby cites the suggestion of Jean Vanier, of the L’Arche community, that perhaps he had learning difficulties and was being looked after by his sisters. Certainly there is a difference in perspective about his resurrection between those who loved him and those who did not think he mattered. He also quotes Cardinal Van Thuan’s comments about God’s ‘ludicrous over-generosity’ that contrasts with the impact that Mammon (in the shape of its modern aliases of economics and finance) has in its capacity to overlook people who don’t serve any great economic purpose. The challenge is to see people in the way that God sees them.
What have I missed in this summary that spoke to you?
What challenged you most about this chapter?
Chapter 2 What We Measure Controls Us
Justin Welby challenges the widespread belief that ‘What we can measure, we control’ and says that the reverse is often the case. Our concentration on what we can measure blinds us, for example, to the massive contribution to public well-being made by unpaid volunteers – not least in churches. Another manifestation of our fixation on the measurable is that we lose sight of our responsibility for future generations – notably in relation to climate change. This is in contrast to King David, who saw a promise by God to his distant descendants as of immediate value. From 1992-2008 there was continued economic growth, fueled by increasing levels of debt on the part of individuals and the government and accompanied by businesses not investing but paying large dividends and executive salaries. In 2008 the bubble burst. Since then, the areas that are the poorest (and therefore matter the least by our measurements) have suffered the deepest cuts. There is evidence that we have not learned the lessons of the crash and that debt is rising again. The problem is not materialism, but that the voice of Mammon is so much louder and more insistent than the word of God. Luke 18-19 shows that the answer to the power of money is seen in a right attitude to people, to worship and to God. The blind man, who is an economic drain, sees who Jesus is more clearly than his seeing contemporaries. Zaccheus, the despised and corrupt traitor, is also recognised by Jesus and finds freedom as a follower of Christ. The enemies of Jesus see things in terms of risk and return rather than abundance and generosity. Simple measures lead to simple solutions that ignore the complexities of life represented by things that are unmeasurable. The difference that Jesus makes is that he can bring transformation – he can dethrone Mammon (as he did by his actions in the Temple) – by focusing on what matters most “the utterly cosmos-transforming love of God in Jesus Christ”.
Any comments on what God might be calling us to value more or to value less?