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?
Chapter 3 What We Have We Hold
The chapter begins with a provocative assertion – that even philanthropists are gripped by the force of Mammon, the belief that what we have is ours to determine what we do with it. He explores the story of the woman in John 12:1-11, who pours perfume that today would be worth over £25,000 on to the feet of Jesus. She seems to be the only person who realises that Jesus is to die in less than a week. There will not be time to anoint him then, so she breaks every social convention to interrupt the meal and anoint him now. Her act is one of worship, which is how we defeat Mammon. Judas is the one who, perhaps speaking for others, declares it a waste. The same accusation is levelled against those who choose to dedicate themselves to prayer. Welby sees himself as being too task-focused and he sympathises to some extent with Judas’ view that Jesus’ mission would have been much better served by turning the perfume into cash. Worship is the way in which we see the cosmos centred on God – Judas and Mary represent two different economic systems – Judas has an economy focused on Mammon and Mary has one focused on God. Judas sees people in monetary terms, Mary sees all things in relation to Jesus – she assumes that there is enough perfume in the world for God to achieve all he purposes. Judas is defined by what he has; Mary is defined by what she gives. The UK is an incredibly privileged country, but it is often gripped by fear – both sides in the referendum fought on the basis of “What we have we hold”. Mammon drives us to fear and to cling more tightly to what we have. How do we challenge Mammon’s lie that what we have we hold? Through worship.In worship, as we meet with God, we are changed by his Spirit. As we pray, we are drawn together in unity. We also dethrone Mammon with a generous lifestyle. The family is a God-given unit of society (and the church), but when it assumes the first place in our lives, above God, Mammon has won. We need to open up this family life to the outsider, the stranger, the alien. We replace Mammon with manna – convinced that there is plenty for everyone! The motto of his parish church was “more parties, less meetings”.
What would that do for us at Redland if we adopted that as our motto?