Friday, July 6, 2012

What Our Family Budgets Say About Our Values

Yesterday's post set me on the path of pondering family budgets and tithing.  I wonder if tithing is an outmoded concept--not that it's not important, but it could be expressed in ways that are more meaningful.

Would we give more money if we understood exactly what our money was buying?  If we translated every beer into a mosquito net, would we give more?

Or, if we understood some of our spending as truly discretionary (nobody needs beer; I could get all my books from the library and do away with my book budget), would we give more?

In Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire (a book I highly recommend), Brian J. Walsh and Sylvia C. Keesmaat have this interesting approach to charitable giving: "One guidepost we work with is that if we ever find in a given year that we have invested more in our won future by way of retirement savings than we have given away for someone else's present need, there is something terribly wrong. We tend to think the ratio should be at least two to one: for every dollar we invest in retirement savings, two dollars should be given away to an agency that will serve the poor" (page 189).

While I essentially agree with them, I am not there yet, and may not ever meet them there. I would be happy to match my retirement savings with my charitable/social justice giving. Actually, I might do that already and not realize it. In the past few years, I've been lucky at work to have earned promotions and to have gotten raises. As my income has risen, I've tried to also increase my charitable giving. I haven't always been vigilant at raising my non-work related retirement savings (my work 401-K plan is recalculated automatically for me, as my income fluctuates, since I've specified a percentage to be socked away, not an amount--not so with my other accounts).

Walsh and Keesmaat remind us, "We can probably tell as much about the real spirituality and the real worldview of a people by looking at the cars they drive, the food they consume, the gadgets that fill their homes and the garbage they throw out as we can by listening to the songs they sing and the prayers they pray" (page 199).

And the rest of the world is watching too.  Much of the world isn't interested in hearing us yammer on and on about what Jesus means to us--they want to see it in the lives that we live.  If our lives--and our spending--isn't a testimony to that relationship with Jesus, there's no point in opening our mouths.

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