Scattered Thoughts on Tithing

My post on planning to give made me think about tithing: the Christian practice of giving the first ten percent of income earned to charity. I found myself going in two different directions on this topic. So, while my thoughts aren’t particularly organized, I want to take a post to lay them out.

On the one hand, tithing seems like a reasonable, achievable, and worthy goal. The post at ideas42 that I originally linked to pointed out that the average American gives about three percent of her annual income to charity, and believes that her neighbor ought to give about six percent. In other words, she believes that she should be giving about twice what she currently gives. Tithing would be an even bigger jump, tripling the amount of money going to charitable causes. That would be about $500 billion more dollars going to feed, clothe, house, educate, and care for people (among other things).

Moreover, for many people, this doesn’t seem like an unreasonable amount to give. Yes, reducing our take home pay by ten percent would mean changing our lifestyle. But perhaps it would be beneficial to have smaller houses, eat out less often, own less expensive cars, buy fewer new clothes, and so on. This is especially true if it means that low-income families would have houses, food, transportation, clothing, and so on.

Of course, I realize that not everyone is in a position to tithe. For some people, ten percent really does represent a significant portion of their income. But, for those of us who are in a position to entertain the idea, working our way towards tithing can be a good thing.

On the other hand, giving should encourage generosity, and tithing seems to – at least sometimes, as in the header image to this post – create a ceiling instead of a floor. We can come to believe that once we hit the ten percent mark, we’re doing enough, and we can say to the next person who asks for help, “No, sorry, I’ve already done my part.” We can come to believe that, as the sign says, “10% is good enough for Jesus.”

The problem, of course, is that ten percent is that ten percent is not good enough for Jesus. The Biblical narrative is clear that Jesus demands no less than everything:

Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Luke 12:33-34)

Now, I’m not saying that Jesus demands that we sell everything we have, give our money away, and live in destitution. What Jesus means – and I can go into this more another time – is that our lives should show that we don’t care about money. We shouldn’t be counting our way to ten percent and marking the task completed. Instead, we should give generously; perhaps even foolishly.

Tithing is good when it’s a starting point. Tithing is good when it leads us to always ask what more we can do for our brothers and sisters who are the least of these. But it’s bad when it becomes an accounting tool or a task we can get out of the way.

And that’s how I think the principle of tithing – even if we’re not concerned about a percentage – can be good. Rather than striving for ten percent, our average American, who gives three percent, might ask: what needs to change so she can give four percent next year? And, after that, so she can give five percent? In other words, tithing and percentages and all such things can be a tool for growing in generosity until she doesn’t care about percentages, but gives freely to people who are in need.

People I Read: Comics

In the early-ish days of blogging, it was normal to have a blogroll: a list of links to other (often more popular) blogs that the author was interested in. The blogroll would sit calmly in the sidebar and let readers browse their way to other blogs and other authors, discovering fresh ideas and insights. Now, nobody maintains a blogroll. The best hope you have of finding someone else is to follow a link in the body of a post or in a comment or in a link dump. Around here, they also show up in link posts that I share fairly frequently.

But the fact is that I kind of miss the blogroll, and I think that it’s worthwhile to share some of the blogs I read and a note one why I read them. I’ll try to put up one example every couple of weeks.

Today, I’m doing something a little different. Since it’s the day after Thanksgiving, I thought I’d simply list some blogs I read that cover a more fun topic: comics.

Buttersafe

The Oatmeal

Comics I Don’t Understand

Garfield Minus Garfield

Outcast

Questionable Content

XKCD

And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

How Edwins Leadership & Restaurant Institute Is Changing the World

A while ago, I had dinner at the amazing Edwins Leadership & Restaurant Institute in Cleveland, Ohio. I went to Edwins for two reasons. First, it’s an absolutely amazing French restaurant. Second, it’s changing how people in its community move from prison back into society.

Let’s start with the food. Between the four of us (me, my wife, and my wife’s parents), we had roquette salad, a salad special, tofu grillé, steak au poivre, horseradish encrusted salmon with cucumbers and cream, créme brulée, and orange sorbet. All of it was amazing. Even a couple of people who had doubts about whether they would like sophisticated French cuisine left satisfied.

But Edwins is more than an excellent restaurant and a special treat when I’m visiting the in-laws. It’s also a business that’s taking a very purposeful approach to changing the world. And the problem that it chose to address – how ex-offenders reenter society after prison – is a perfect problem for the restaurant industry to address. After all, as anyone who has spent time in the industry knows, there are plenty of former – and, often, current – criminals working in both the back and front of house. Restaurants are where people with no other job prospects end up. And, at their best, they’re where people find real second chances.

Edwins takes that fact and turns it into a mission. It began as a six-month culinary arts program in prison. Now it’s a full service restaurant where former prisoners learn basic culinary skills and other aspects of the restaurant industry while having access to free housing, clothing, healthcare, job coaching, employment placement services, and literacy programs.

And this brings me to the most powerful fact about Edwins. Edwins was started because Brandon Chrostowski saw a problem and got to work solving it.

The most common response to seeing people without jobs today is to create job training programs. We assume that they don’t have skills so we teach them skills. We assume that they don’t have soft skills or middle-class cultural competencies, so we teach them soft skills and middle-class cultural competencies. We might help them with their resume or interview skills. We might help them find some likely employers.

What we (usually) don’t do is give them jobs.

Edwins started as a six-month culinary training program in prison. But the goal wasn’t just to provide training, it was to help people reenter society. So Edwins grew into a place that doesn’t just provide job training… it provides jobs. When Chrostowski saw that housing was an issue, Edwins began providing housing. It provides clothing and healthcare and literacy programs. And, I imagine, it will provide more next year and the year after that and the year after that.

It’s empowering people by meeting needs. And that’s a good thing.

So, if you’re in the Cleveland area, make a reservation. Bon appétit.

Sean Patrick Hughes: What Now?

Many of my devout conservative friends were remarkably quiet when their candidate trashed their personal values. And they were remarkably quiet when their candidate made inexcusable first hand remarks about minorities, women and disabled Americans. And they were remarkably quiet when the dark forces of white supremacists aligned themselves in support of their candidate. I understand why. You couldn’t live with the alternative. So you rationalized out of fear that speaking up would enable it. Well, that risk is gone now. You avoided the end you couldn’t live with. That excuse is gone. And now it’s fair to say that tolerance of that behavior from here on can only be seen as an endorsement of it. So when there’s a KKK rally in North Carolina to celebrate the election of the candidate you support, you no longer have any excuse not to condemn it with the same uncompromising vigor that you condemned Hillary. Let’s see the memes. Let’s see the Facebook posts. Let’s see the outrage.

Planned Giving

A couple of weeks ago, I posted this link to an article from the folks at ideas42. Here’s the key point:

On average, survey respondents indicated that people should give 6.1% of their income to charity. This recommended level of donation is more than double the amount that people in the U.S. actually give…

…One factor stems from the fact that people are rarely, if ever, prompted to think about how much they currently give or how much they want to give overall. As a result, people often end up donating by happenstance or in response to direct appeals, sometimes giving much less (or more) than they’d actually like to. It’s similar to saving money. Unless you are prompted to set a savings goal or are enrolled to automatically save a percentage of your income each month, you may end up saving less for your future than you want to.

In other words, people think that they should be giving more to charity than they are. And a big reason that people don’t give as much as they think they should is because we don’t plan. We don’t think about how much we are giving, how much we’d like to give, and how we bring those amounts closer together.

I’m sure this is true in my own life. I don’t know what my family used to give, but since we started doing our budgeting in You Need a Budget (we use the free version 4), I know that we average around nine percent of our spending going to charity. And the biggest contributing factor to that percentage is that we budget for giving. We maintain a few different charitable line items. We put money in them every month. We give out of them regularly.

When fundraising professionals talk about planned giving, we usually mean gifts in the form of bequests or complex financial instruments. But all of us can benefit from planning our giving. All of us can benefit from thinking about how much we want to give and setting that aside as we make our budgets. All of us can benefit from saying, “This month I will give this much.”

I urge you to try it. You’ll make a different in your own life. You’ll make a difference in other lives.

I will come to a time in my backwards trip when November eleventh, accidentally my birthday, was a sacred day called Armistice Day. When I was a boy, and when Dwayne Hoover was a boy, all the people of all the nations which had fought in the First World War were silent during the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of Armistice Day, which was the eleventh day of the eleventh month.

It was during that minute in nineteen hundred and eighteen, that millions upon millions of human beings stopped butchering one another. I have talked to old men who were on battlefields during that minute. They have told me in one way or another that the sudden silence was the Voice of God. So we still have among us some men who can remember when God spoke clearly to mankind.

Armistice Day has become Veterans’ Day. Armistice Day was sacred. Veterans’ Day is not.

So I will throw Veterans’ Day over my shoulder. Armistice Day I will keep. I don’t want to throw away any sacred things.

What else is sacred? Oh, Romeo and Juliet, for instance.

And all music is.

Mazarine Treyz: You Matter More Than Ever

If you know anything about revolution, you know that as systems break down, they leave lots of sharp bits. These sharp bits will hit vulnerable people… Fundraising is hard, but today, and for the next four years, you are the voice-for those who cannot speak for themselves.

Please Remember to Vote Tomorrow

This election – like all elections – matters.

I’m not going to take a public position on this election – though people who know me can probably guess who I voted for (I voted early) – because it’s important to me that this website be reasonably nonpartisan. But it’s also important to me that this website be Christian, and as a Christian I am asking other Christians to vote with Christ’s words in their heart:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (Luke 4:18-19)

I know that it can be hard to decide which candidate comes closest to realizing that ideal. But please, take that call to bring good news to the poor seriously. And please remember to vote.