Thursday, 16 March 2017

Giving and gaining


MARCH 15th 2017 

In the Hot Potato suppers we have been looking at Archbishop Justin Welby's Lent book, 'Dethroning Mammon'.
The book looks at the way in which the forces of acquisitiveness and dehumanising systems (which is partly to do with the power of money) can control us and shape our thinking. What we can measure, we value. What we have, we consider ours.

Today we got to the chapter that begins to overturn attitudes to do with giving: he suggests that giving is gaining.

His biblical template for giving when it seems irrational, makes no sense at all, is Nicodemus; he who came to Jesus in the darkness to ask him hard questions, is the one who looks after Jesus' body at his death. Not only that, he lavishes great riches by caring for his body with 100lbs of spices. He had nothing to gain. It was, however, the most beautiful of acts which he and Joseph of Arimathea did for Jesus when all seemed lost that Good Friday evening.

But Welby says this is precisely the kind of giving - irrational, beautiful and with nothing to gain - that turns Mammon on its head. Giving is never about 'what is in it for me?', which is a process of 'exchange and equivalence'. Giving is about pure generosity and abundance. I leave you with this quote: 

‘What we gain when we give comes in many forms. First of all, when we give, we recognise, both implicitly and explicitly, that life is not a process of exchange and equivalence, but of abundance and generosity. Exchange and equivalence is a zero-sum approach, the notion that what I give I lose to your gain. It implies a closed system. Abundance and generosity implies an open system, one in which the creative power of God is ever active, so what we give we gain. Mammon wants us to believe the books always have to balance out in the end – that whatever you have I can’t have, and vice versa… Mammon is good at arithmetic, and balancing the books, but very bad at divine economics... in divine economics, where there is abundance and generosity, there is no zero-sum approach.’


  1. Justin Welby's chapter on Nicodemus has had a great impact on me for a number of reasons.

    Today I heard on the radio a brief report about a group called Christian Vision for Men whose aim is to "connect men with Jesus, and the Church with men". I heard from men who spoke about the feminisation of Church which made them feel less comfortable there. And it made me wonder if men might see Nicodemus as a role model. He is a man of leadership and authority, asks hard questions to Jesus about faith, man to man, and with another man, Joseph of Arimathea, gets on with a practical job that needs to be done: the burial of Jesus. Yet he does this with extravagant generosity and as the main blog says performs "the most beautiful of acts". The Holy Spirit has opened his previously closed system from knowing how things ought to be done to being free to express generous love in new ways.

    Then this evening I've been to the cinema to see the film Hidden Figures which is brilliant. I clapped during it and at the end. It is the true story of 3 African American women who worked for NASA at the time of segregation. They lived and worked in a closed system. The film tells their story of determination to do jobs they had the expertise to do at a time when, as one male colleague said, "there's no protocol for a woman to be in that meeting". But with their persistence, and very slowly with the support of a few men, they eventually gain the posts which are rightly theirs. Then life is abundant for them and for NASA. Please go and see the film.

    Who are we not yet generous in attitude towards?
    Where do we see dehumanising closed systems which deny people's dignity and oppress?

    This Lent we repent of our own sin and the sin of the world. Lord have mercy.

  2. My mother's favourite of her dad's stories is one of when a subordinate of Grandad's approached him for a loan of money to conduct his daughter's wedding. Having little to spare, Grandad offered him the only thing he had of any value; his gold wedding ring. He advised the father-in-law to be to pawn the ring and return it when he could afford to. Many moons later, the wedding conducted and ring in hand, from the pawn shop, the borrower, on his way to return the ring to grandad, stopped by the river's edge to wash his face and hands on a hot, tiring day. To his great dismay, the ring slipped off his finger, and was lost for good in the murky waters.

    In immense distress, the man recounted his tale to Grandad. He presented to him the evidence of having recovered the ring from the pawn shop. The man was forgiven. Grandad never mentioned it again to him.

    ...but Grandad was a wise man. He went to the jewellery and pawn shops and informed them about the ring that had vanished. So much time passed that Grandad lost hope of ever recovering it, when a stranger presented to a jeweller a ring with the same distinguishing marks as my grandfather had described. He explained he had picked up a glinting object by the river bed, only to find it was a gold ring. The ring was returned to its rightful owner. Grandad never had to part with it for the rest of his life.

    Both Grandad and Grandma were generous people. They were always giving to people who could never repay them. They understood what St Paul meant when he exhorted the Corinthians to be generous:

    2Cor 9: 6-15
    "Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. As it is written:
    “They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor;
    their righteousness endures forever.”
    Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.

    This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!"

    Every time I read this passage, I am reminded of nuclear fission, where a small reaction sets of a series of further reactions which result in the release of a huge amount of energy. Note how fission is the splitting of nuclei; in my mind, that translates as sharing what we have. Here is the definition of nuclear fission from Wikipedia:

    "In nuclear physics and nuclear chemistry, nuclear fission is either a nuclear reaction or a radioactive decay process in which the nucleus of an atom splits into smaller parts (lighter nuclei). The fission process often produces free neutrons and gamma photons, and releases a very large amount of energy even by the energetic standards of radioactive decay."