God and Mammon

When I was first struggling to forgive the church for what it's been turned into by greed and humanity's lust for power, I was looking for ways to prove to the faceless "they" that I felt had taken it over that they were, with their exclusivity, love of money, and general self-satisfied certainty that they had all the answers, the very opposite of Christians. I discovered this passage in Matthew while reading through the New Testament (for the very first time, but hey, have YOU ever read it?) in a laundromat on a winter afternoon in Queens:

"No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You can not serve both God and Money [Mammon]." (Matthew 6:24 NIV)

"AHA!" I said aloud, thinking that I, in my infinite wisdom, had unearthed yet another snippet I could point to when doing battle against the Evil Right-Wing Christian Republican Fundamentalists (like, if I ever ran into Sarah Palin at the grocery store. Which may be why I'm so big on wearing makeup there: can't fight evil with a shiny t-zone.). Because think about it-- when you picture "Fundamentalist Christians," or even just "Jesus Is the Only Way" types, are they ever poor? A minority? Uneducated? Or are they white, well-off, pro-Bush, educated suburbanites? Are they spiritual, compassionate people with unflinching integrity, or are they wealthy, self-absorbed materialists who are overly concerned with their image and the way... they... look...?


"Mammon" is usually translated as the love of money (so, greed) or the love of power, and here in the NIV it's taken to mean "money" itself. I love that, because the writer is essentially saying that you can't love both God and stuff. I think that for me and maybe others who live in any image-driven Westernized culture, "Mammon" means something more amorphous. I think that in my case, Mammon is the need to be envied. It's the thirst to be approved of based on external markers, like possessions and success, and most of all, youthful beauty-- the kind I can buy, with good teeth and a flat tummy and really well-applied eyeshadow.

What made me think of this connection between the Experiment and my relationship with God was that yesterday, I needed to pray, and after that, I needed to read the Bible. Now, like most people I go through phases with my prayer, and I'm still struggling mightily even with calling myself a "Christian" because of what that has been allowed to mean. So sometimes I pray a lot (especially when I'm sad or angry), and then when things are going well I just sort of chat to God in my head during the day. I read the Bible, oh, maybe once a week (don't tell the people in seminary who think this makes me a heathen). But what made yesterday so remarkable was that I felt a need to be replenished by the Spirit, and I'm not going through a rough patch. In fact, I couldn't be happier: I love school, I have a car, my family adores me, I have a man whose love makes my life better daily... I'm absolutely joyous, and still, at the end of the day I needed to sit with God. And so that's what I did.

I'm not saying that, when I force myself to give up my attachment to how I look, I can finally accept that Jesus is the only way. This isn't about "accepting" any particular faith-- it's about needing to connect with God, and yesterday I experienced a powerful thirst to be in the presence of the sacred, not to ask for anything but just to spend time there. It felt centering, peaceful, and most of all, fulfilling.

I wonder if there's a connection between the hole I was filling with making myself up every day and the need I experienced to spend time in God's presence, just kind of sitting there and being a receiver. It wouldn't be surprising, since the choice to dress modestly is most often connected to faith (from the Church of Latter Day Saints to Orthodox Jews to Muslims to Buddhist monks). I can't think of a single situation where a woman would choose to cover her hair, arms and legs that wouldn't have something to do with having a deeper relationship with the divine. 

The Bible tells me that the love of God and the love of approval are mutually exclusive. Wouldn't it be a cool discovery if yesterday is just what happens when I spend less time on "Mammon?"