Monday, February 23, 2009

Launch into Lent: Cultivating Generosity

I thought about using the word "tithing," but I decided to use the idea of generosity instead. People who tithe often forget how impossible it sounds to give away 10% of our income; most of us can't even give away 10% to our own savings account. If we can't convince people to give away 10% of their income to their own selves, how can we convince them to give away 10% to charity or justice operations?

The answer to that question is to encourage people to start small. Starting at 10% is overwhelming. Giving away 1% is more manageable. Then at some later date, increase it to 2%, and so on.

Or perhaps we should move away from the idea that tithing can only be measured in financial terms. We can clean out our closets and give away all those clothes we never wear. Most of us have too much stuff, and there are people who can use our castaways. Use the time of Lent to purify and strip down. We can ship books to schools and seminaries to second and third world countries that can use them (go here to read about the Theological Book Network, which redistributes the world's book wealth).

We can give of our time. For many of us, time is more valuable than money, or at least in shorter supply, and these days, to give up some time in the service of God might be closer to the spirit of tithing than giving up money. For Lent, choose a charity or service organization that needs your help, and show up to help. Work with an illiterate student, help a group with a clean up day, go bag food at a food bank: the possibilities are endless.

I understand that many people are racing faster than ever simply to stay in place: working two jobs for reduced wages, while trying to make sure that their children or aging parents get where they need to go. If that's your situation, you could still offer your prayers for those who are working for peace and justice.

Why do this? What was the original idea behind tithing?

Money--and the power and status that it brings--is a powerfully seductive thing. Once, when facing reduced circumstances as my husband left his job, my Charismatic Catholic AA friend acted as if I'd had a death in the family.

I shrugged and said, "I think having too much money is spiritually dangerous."

You wouldn't think I'd have to explain that to her, but I did.

If we have too much money, we tend to think of ourselves as capable and smart and able to go about our lives on our own. We think we don't need God. And soon, we begin to worry that we don't have enough money, and we lash ourselves to our jobs, jobs that require ever more of us, so that we can ensure we have enough money. But we'll never have enough money.

We will never have enough money. We will never be safe and protected by having enough money.

The only way to win that game (to paraphrase books and movies about other subjects, like female beauty and nuclear war) is not to play.

Giving money away loosens its grip on us. Giving away money reminds us that we can live on less. Giving away money reminds us that we are people of God, not people of the capitalist systems which would like to enslave us.


In May 2008, the magazine Sojourners published a series of stories on how Christians should handle money. They've expanded their offerings online. Go here for insightful reading and links.

The Theological Book Network will take not only your religious books, but a wide variety of books--or you can donate money to help them do their important work. Go here for more details.

1 comment:

ROBERTA said...

welcome to revgals! and i love your writings on lent. thank you!