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Reflections: Tipple-Vosburgh Lectures - God and Mammon, Part 2

Day Two at the Tipple-Vosburgh lectures opened with Worship – Rev. Tanya Linn Bennett, Associate Chaplain, preaching: "Signing In." Tanya talked about the first class of students who signed in at Drew, and invited students who hadn't signed the matriculation book to do so (the book was lost for a number of years until the 1970s.) It was fun to watch the older alumni sign the book and be part of a Drew tradition.

For my morning workshop I went to Dr. Traci West's “Christian Ethical Policy for Rich and Poor: The Magnificat and Welfare Reform.” I've mentioned before that Dr. West was one of my favorite professors at Drew, so it is always nice to get a chance to learn a bit more from her.

Notes on her workshop:

How to keep someone from doing critical thinking:
1) Shaming us. About what we look like, who we are. Makes feel inadequate, go inward.
2) Help us think of selves as superior.

Scripture is our theory as Christians. God looks with favor on Mary’s lowliness.

How do we think about poor women receiving public assistance? Clinton – “I am going to end welfare” – end entitlement. No longer have a national policy for helping those who are poor. State by state block grants. Aid to Families with Dependent Children. Now Temporary Assistance to Needy Families. After certain number of years, cut off completely.

“Personal Responsibility and Work Reconciliation Act.” Punishments. “Personal Responsibility Agreement Plan.” Law with moral language. Pregnancy, reducing out-of-wedlock pregnancy, two-parent families.

Question: What feels good and what feels comforting to us about this kind of welfare policy? People who are wasting tax-payers money are being held accountable. It’s at my expense that some woman is having a life of comfort. Building character from weakness. Morally opposed to sexual ‘looseness’. Sexually reproducing children in a responsible way. DeLay: “Welfare is #1 enabler of illegitimacy.” Giving people an opportunity that they didn’t have before to work, get out of poverty (theoretically).

Poor, unwed Jewish teenager. Center of our gospel. Is there an idea of controlling women in Luke? Zachariah named as prophet by Luke, but Mary is not. Anna and Simeon – Simeon, more words, Anna, not anointed by Holy Spirit.

Vs. 52-53. Is this reversal? Or is it equality? What is God calling us to in this scripture?

Welfare reform: Marriage promotion. Preamble to legislation: Marriage is the foundation of society. Health and Human Services Website – Healthy Marriage Initiative. Should the government promote marriage? (And specifically to poor women?) Father-headed households. Af-Am, Hispanic, Native American initiatives. Poor whites are not the problem. Idea that whites can’t be lumped together in one group like that. Page (under Af-Am) about church attendance because they are more likely to be married.

Policy. Details of policy and how very, very poor get treated. How can I think through my criticism – what is bad about the policy? What are ministries that are addressing issues for both wealthy and poor? What is a matching ministry to those who are wealthy? Train people to acknowledge ways they are dependent. (Ie – people with children benefit from taxpayer dollars. Driving on road. Hospital dollars. OR getting something for almost nothing. I am dependent on somebody’s slave labor.

***

Afternoon plenary: Jouette Bassler, Professor of New Testament Emerita, Perkins School of Theology

Parable of the Shrewd Manager – not just to commend decisive action. Destabilizes the either/or of God and Mammon. Luke is hinting that there is a middle ground. Ambivalence, or a more nuanced view than in Matthew. Luke – “unrighteous” not just “impermanent” like in Matthew.

Related to Zacchaeus, Cornelius, Theophilus, wealthy patrons, etc., who are using their wealth and commended.

The apostles sharing possession conveys a message of the power and authority of the apostles. Acts 4:34b-35a – “laid it at the apostles’ feet.” Sign of submission to authority of apostles. Ananias and Sapphira. Peter declares the line between God and Mammon to be absolute. And yet, continues to be an important signifier.

Paul and Mammon. Mammon functioning as a tool of hierarchy. Mammon tamed into an ally of the gospel of grace. Or Mammon threatening the gospel of grace. Paul’s right to receive the same material support as the other apostles receive. An obstacle, certainly, but also what the other apostles are doing. Jousting over authority? Paul announcing Mammon so publicly as a power play to establish authority – “We don’t take money – they do.” Has a right to it, but better served by renouncing it. Wants it both ways – right to have it (authority like other apostles,) responsibility to renounce it. (True to gospel, sets him apart from others.) Refusing to take money from Corinthians eventually is a snub to them. (Think Myanmar monks refusing with bowls to take money from political leaders.) Mammon defines authority/flows to authority. Accepting refutes message of cross. Acceptance or rejection of Mammon defines who one serves. Mammon won.

Mammon and Revelation: Fornication – biblical language for intercourse of all kinds with surrounding culture. You cannot serve God and Mammon Empire. Mammon defines those who are in and those who are out. Mammon has no authority in New Jerusalem. Ambiguity.

Only in Eschatological or Apocalyptic messages do we find opposition of God and Mammon faithfully maintained. Elsewhere, conflicting signals, distorted lines, and inevitably corrupts. Urgent importance of distinguishing throne of God from throne of Mammon.

My reflections: I really like how Bassler showed the full scope of Mammon's role in the New Testament, especially her focus on the apostles and Paul, and the ambiguity. She shows how even the disciples struggled in their ministry to remain faithful to the clear choices Jesus talked about: God or Mammon.

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