Dethroning Mammon (by Justin Welby) Chapter 3 Bible Focus: John 12
What we have we hold challenges us all to let go, or at least to loosen our grip on what we think we have. The chapter encourages us to consider into what or whom we pour our time, energy and money. To do this we need to see and value rightly, to begin to understand the meaning of God’s economy and to respond to God’s bondless love.
- After three weeks of thinking about the power wielded by Mammon I am continually aware how dominant it is. The clinching arguments in many of the debates of our time are perceived to rest on money. Examples that come to mind are the relationship of the USA and Europe, or Scotland and the United Kingdom, where economic gain and loss are often seen as paramount. The danger here is that we all become guilty of ‘tunnel vision’ and fail to appreciate and give due weight to the fact that our fellow human beings may have other, less tangible, priorities.
- In Chapter 2 of Dethroning Mammon Archbishop Justin points to the fact that costs far into the future are ‘discounted’ both corporately and individually. Something that our great-grandchildren will have to pay in a hundred years from now has little impact on our present financial situation. What about ‘discounted’ travel? A flight costing 36 zł from Warsaw to Gdańsk may clinch a decision about how to travel, but what are the real costs of the large carbon ‘footprint’? My son once bought a flight from Birmingham to Gdańsk for £1, an example of gross undervaluation of the true cost to others. I’m also more conscious now of the intangible costs, the health and youth of factory workers producing ‘cheap’ clothing, which may similarly be grossly undervalued by the shopper as well the manufacturing business. And chocolate…?
- The chapters in Archbishop Justin’s book often seem to apply the lectionary readings for that Sunday! Nicodemus had a lot, not necessarily in financial terms, but in social standing and achievement. It was seemingly not easy for him to understand that he could not bank credit with God, but needed to accept in simple trust the free gift of new life that the Creator was offering him. By contrast the circumstances of the woman of Samaria in John 4 showed that she had little on which to count. It was she who was enthusiastically responsive to the Lord’s promise of ever-abundant ‘living water.’
- Speaking personally, I hope I don’t hang on too much to the trappings of Mammon, but I know that I am probably deceiving myself. I was once in a serious fire. While watching (from outside!) the flames leaping from a window on the second floor of the building I lived in, I faced the possibility that all my possessions might be lost. However, I remember the experience as one of thanksgiving for my life rather than a sense of loss. When I prepared to come to live in Poland permanently in the 1980s, I actually gave away most (but not all) of my possessions, not out of generosity, but because I was not able to bring them into my new country. Both these situations were matters not of necessity. I experienced the joy of letting go, but the experiences themselves were gifts and not my own choice. Bishop Justin, while encouraging us to let go, also warns against the ‘grand gesture,’ the generous gift which is actually the exercise of control and can become a source of pride. I fear that the motivation for ‘generous’ giving away can be complex and our own motives difficult to be sure of. How can we be honest with ourselves about this? We may say that it is all God’s and not really ours at all, but how do we prevent our ‘stewardship’ becoming an end in itself (as in the case of Judas in John 12)?
- Archbishop Justin points to worship as the key. Lots of questions bubble up. How do you shape your life in order that worship of Jesus comes first? (Justin Welby)
Dethroning Mammon (by Justin Welby) Chapter 2 Bible Focus Luke 19
What we measure controls us is the far-reaching theme of the second chapter of our Lent study book. Some of the basic economic calculations on which western financial systems rely are identified as being misleading or even dishonest, contributing to distorted vision, disillusionment, social injustice or even economic breakdown. As a result, what is difficult to measure economically, such as voluntary work, environmental factors or prayer, become undervalued. We need to adjust our values to a different scale.
- I am encouraged by Archbishop Justin’s point that an action is not defined by its strategic importance as seen from a human time-bound perspective. After Jesus had driven out those who were commercialising the worship in the temple in Jerusalem, ‘the temple may well have gone back to its old ways.’ Mammon, had, however, been dethroned, as it is in all the moments of resolution ‘when we seek all that we need only and exclusively from Jesus.’
- We need to be alert to the dangers of acoustic measurement, assigning the greatest value to what shouts the loudest.
- What are the other measurables (apart from money) that control our lives? In what ways do they influence our habits and motivations (Justin Welby). There are probably too many ‘checklists’ and ‘to do’ lists to which we can become enslaved. 10,000 steps per day? Preparations for Christmas? Achievements on our CV?
- We need to be awake to the way in which all aspects of life can become ‘Mammonised,’ whether in national life, church life, or personal life. One example given is the difficult relationship between worship and church buildings.
- While agreeing with what Archbishop Justin says, I’m also left with nagging questions about the need to measure/calculate in order to live responsibly, without ‘sponging’ on others or causing difficulty or even suffering to those close to us. For those of us brought up by parents who had experienced post-war ‘austerity’ such behaviour represents a lack of care for others and moral disgrace. How can we distinguish Mammon and the instinct to ‘look after the pennies’? How much is enough?
- I’m also left with the practical question of whether the economy of the society we live in should measure the value of all work. On the one hand it seems necessary if voluntary contributions are not to be taken for granted and the ‘donors’ exploited. On the other, the true value of the work cannot be measured simply in relation to national wealth.
Dethroning Mammon (by Justin Welby) Chapter 1
Bible Focus: John 11
Here are just a few observations and questions arising from the first chapter of our Lent study book. Rather than identifying particular moral or ethical issues, Archbishop Justin attempts to encourage us to adjust our vision of the world in which we live. This is extremely difficult to do and to communicate.
- We may see and react to some of the issues of injustice and greed in our society but still be unaware of the creeping tide of materialism that is continually washing around us whatever our surroundings and personal lifestyle.
- Materialism is made even more pervasive by the fact that the economic system that tries to claim our lives is global and not simply local. An example of this that occurs to me is the impact of commercially developed infrastructure and patterns of employment on nomadic people. In the case of the Inuit people of North America and Greenland this change has taken place within my own lifetime. It has inevitably made paid employment a necessity for many and has brought about sudden urbanisation, bringing in its wake problems such as alcohol and drugs. Within a few decades Mammon has dramatically increased in power.
- We allow our lives to be circumscribed by money so that even people of faith view it as a fact of life which limits hope (as was death in John 11).
- Many people in society would be prepared to admit that their lives are spent mainly in the service of Mammon, accepting this as a fact, whether enthusiastically or reluctantly. Those who worship Christ as Lord, however, cannot “serve two masters” and must therefore distinguish their attitude to money from that of a society committed to serving it.
- Why is it that when we feel compassion or the need for urgent action, the first instinct is to give money? Is this the only way problems can be tackled?
- What would a truly Christian “alternative society” look like?
- What might God want us to see that we’ve never truly seen before? (Justin Welby). Will we know when God is directing our attention to something new?
- Consider the groups, communities and institutions of which you are a member. How do they see the world? In what way has their vision been affected by Mammon? (Justin Welby). It seems fairly safe to assume that these bodies have all been affected by Mammon. Should we challenge them and attempt to correct their view of the world? How might we do so?