Disciplined Giving in The Era of AutoPay

You guys left some really thoughtful, really insightful comments on my previous post about charitable giving (I would expect nothing less from you smarty-pantses). Your comments have been rolling around in my head for the past few weeks, and have sparked some new ideas, so here’s a follow-up post, and I’m sorry if it rubs you the wrong way.

A couple of you expressed a similar point, and that’s that giving isn’t about me and my growth (or us and our growth), so much as it is about providing for the needs of others, and I have to admit, at first I was a little stung by the implication that I’m giving selfishly. But then I thought about it some more, and there’s a couple things I see happening:

  1. I didn’t explain my thoughts completely the first time. This is a bad habit for me. This might sound like a cop-out, but here it is: in my head, one idea expands into a giant web of interconnected ideas so quickly, that I rush though explaining how I got from point A to point B (and C, then D, then E), in favor of writing everything out as quickly as I can, lest I forget everything. The result is too many big ideas that lack sufficient background or explanation. I’m trying to improve in this area, but also, I want to keep my posts under 500 words, so….It’s a tough compromise.
  2. I bit my tongue, and censored myself, because I don’t want to piss anyone off, or alienate you wonderful people. I have some things to say about automatic giving, and I’m afraid of how it will be received. More on that in a moment.

That all being said, let’s do this thing.

To the point that “giving is about meeting a need, and has nothing to do with what get out of it:” I don’t think God is concerned with the bottom-line, when it comes to giving. An easy example of this is the story of the widow’s offering in Mark 12:41-44, wherein she gives far less amount-wise, but far more in terms of sacrifice. This shows her great faith and gratitude. Jesus says she gave more than all the rest, though in dollars, she gave a fraction of a penny. So when I talk about not giving “enough,” I don’t mean enough in terms of the dollar amount, but in terms of expressing my faith and gratitude. In this regard, my family is very much like the wealthy folks in that story, throwing in our excess money and not even thinking about it. And boy, is that humbling.

Giving is a Discipline. Disciplines Take Practice. (Maintain a Loose Grasp.)

Our nature (and this is strictly my opinion here) is to keep a firm grasp on what “belongs to us.” You can see this in children, who are reluctant or unwilling to share toys, out of fear that the toys will never be returned, and the feeling that those toys belong to them. I think grown-ups are kind of like that, only that we’ve learned to put a smile on, and share just enough to be socially acceptable.

Because of our very human inclination towards maintaining a tight grasp on our material possessions, I know that I need to practice giving. I need to practice putting my hand into my pocket, pulling out some money, extending it to another person, opening my hand, and not expecting a single thing in return. I need to practice remembering that none of what I have “belongs to me,” and I need to practice letting that understanding overcome my will, and my desire to give just enough to be socially in the black.

(Question I like to ask myself, to check-in on the state of my heart: “How tight is my grasp on “stuff” and money, right now?”)

Automatic Giving/ Auto-Tithing Stunts Our Spiritual Growth

Someone in the comments said that automatic giving is great, because it shows that I’m “disciplined” in my giving. I would argue that the opposite is true. It’s not “disciplined giving” if it’s automatically withdrawn. “Discipline,” by definition, results from training, and training takes effort and thought. (Interesting that “discipline” and “disciple” share the same root.)

Automatic giving/auto-tithing circumvents a spiritual process of recognizing that what I have is not really mine, and really only serves the legalistic purpose of meeting the bottom line. And like I said, I don’t think God is at all concerned with the bottom line. I think God can, and does, work miracles with even the smallest portion, given from a full and loving heart. (Loaves and fishes, for example.)

I think God is more concerned with the condition of my heart, than whether or not I’m giving a lot of dollars, and in that regard, giving is more about me than meeting a need. I think God wants me to go through that process every single time: saying thank you, counting my blessings, and giving what I can for the benefit of others. And I can’t do that if my church is automatically drafting tithes from my bank account. The very reason people use auto-tithe is because it simplifies the process, and they are assured that they’ll fulfill their giving obligation for the month. And I just don’t buy that line of reasoning.

(The pastor of the church my family used to attend would remind folks, in the weeks running up to summer, that they should consider enabling auto-tithing before they go on summer vacation, that way they don’t “forget to give.” This would always make my ears ring “so the money is more important than the act of worship?” Perhaps, rather than treating the symptoms (tithing slows to a trickle over the summer), we should treat the illness (congregants don’t understand giving)?

(Um. Also, how reverent is my worship when my automatic-tithe gets the same amount of my attention as my student-loan payment?)

Giving is an Antidote to Greed.

This one is pretty easy. Habitual, intentional giving breaks us of our habit of greed, and keeps us from tightening our grasp too much. And one of my favorite things Jesus said, can be found in Matthew 6:19-21 — “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Bingo. I’ve heard this said and re-said (“Want to know a person’s priorities? Take a look at their checkbook”) so many times over the years, and it is as true today as it was when Jesus said it.

Other Assorted Bits That I Can’t Be Bothered to Organize Right This Moment:

Giving is meant to be a joyful expression of thanks to God from the heart, and not a legalistic obligation.

Amy (in the comments of my previous post) said “I think sacrificial (truly joyful) giving comes from a truly thankful heart. If we come to understand that everything given us is completely unmerited, then I think GIVING then becomes a true act of worship. It’s not the amount…not at all…it’s our attitudes behind the gift.”

And now I’m 600 words over my self-imposed limit.

I hope you’re happy. 🙂 But seriously, I want to continue this conversation, because I think we’re beginning to touch on some really sensitive issues. It’s been a long, long time since I’ve heard anyone address finances in a church-setting (not counting Dave Ramsey), and I think there’s a lot of unresolved tension in this. Wanna sort this out with me? Lord knows I have more blind-spots than I can count. Say what’s on your mind in the comments, below.

—————

Let’s be friends!

Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest | Instagram | YouTube

What Christmas Means to Me

So, I got some interesting feedback about my “I’m failing at Christmas” video, and I thought I’d just address it here. Lots of people seem to think that I’m not aware of the history of Christmas, or the origin of many of our most popular christmas traditions. Rest assured that I’m aware. Nowadays, anyone with a computer can become privy to the details without investing too much time. So yes, I’m aware that a Christmas tree has nothing to do with Jesus. I’m also aware that Christians have co-opted many traditions that they themselves did not create.

I’m aware.

I’m educated.

This is not about that.

This is about what Christmas means to me, and before I get to that, I need to share some history with you.

This might come as a surprise to you, but I’m not perfect. (Shocker, right?) Actually, if we’re going to be totally honest, I used to be a pretty rotten person. So if you were unfortunate enough to know me (or perhaps date me) many years ago…I’m sorry. Basically, I was a bitter, cynical, mean, selfish jerk. I was manipulative, and took advantage of a lot of good people. But, because my misdeeds aren’t the point of this post, we can leave it at that.

I was incredibly judgmental, and I didn’t like most people. Christians, specifically, were probably my least favorite, but religious folk in general were intolerable to me. I thought they were stupid (belief in Creation), lazy (“God’ll keep forgiving me, so I can keep on sinning as much as I want!”), hypocritical (Christian marriages end in divorce as often as secular marriages), mean, judgmental (treating my tattooed/pierced friends like demons), intolerant (“It’s Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.”), and hateful (Westboro Baptist Church, etc). And guess what?

They are.

We all are.

Not just Christians, but people in general. People can be pretty wretched. Don’t get me wrong, we certainly have our shining moments, but in general, we all are very very far from perfect, Christians included. But that’s not the point. Perfection I mean. Perfection is not the point.

So, at some point, in the middle of all of my partying and raining on everybody’s parade, I met a few new friends who represented Christianity differently to me. They were way smarter than me for starters (Computer Science, Mechanical Engineering and Organic Chemistry, to be more specific), and more thoughtful, and just happier in general, and as much as I wanted to dislike them the way I disliked most other religious people, I couldn’t, because they were different. They didn’t pretend they were holy and above reproach, and I respected that. And I think that’s, in part, what made it possible for me to give God and the Bible a chance. (Like, a real chance.)

I already knew a lot about Christianity and God and the Bible, because I was the kind of person that would argue points of the Bible with Christians until they broke down and cried in front of their friends. I did that. (True story.)

Eventually I made the decision to give God a chance (which felt TERRIBLE, like, almost humiliating in some ways) and considered the question “what if what they say about God is true?” And slowly (v-e-r-y slowly), I began to see things differently. Opening my mind (and heart) to the idea that maybe, possibly, I didn’t “know” as much as I thought I did, kind of set a change in motion, and I haven’t been the same person since. Which is so totally cliché that I feel nauseous even writing that. I didn’t have some radical, in-the-moment conversion experience, and even if I had, I don’t think I would have believed it. (I’m still too cynical for that kind of thing.)

So my mind began to change about some things, and as I started to learn about God as a Father, my heart began to change, too. Growing up, I never had a Father, and my Mother was never really interested in me enough to set any kind of standards for my behavior, or an understanding of having healthy boundaries or anything. Basically, there was no one in my life offering any sort of guidance, and no one was really into me enough to care about who I was becoming or what kind of person I was. And I ended up engaging in a lot of behaviors that are totally embarrassing to look back on now.

Once I began to realize that I do have a Father in God, and that he created me intentionally, and that I’m accountable to Him, I naturally shifted away from my old lifestyle, and started living in a way that a child of God would live. And it felt (and feels) SO GOOD. I think a lot of people see living life with God as their father as restrictive, or boring or whatever, but it’s so totally the opposite. Even in my down times, I’ve never been happier, and I can say with complete honesty that every day gets better. Even when crummy things happen. If I seem happy at all, it’s because my deepest joy is totally unconnected from the events of the day.

So, nowadays, I call myself a Christian, albeit reluctantly, because I know first-hand what many people think about Christians. But now I know that being a Christian is about knowing God as my Father, and understanding that he loves me enough to trade all of my nastiness for a life with him, through the redemptive work of Jesus. It’s about knowing that even though I’m still not perfect, and never will be, that He will always be my Father, and will always want me as his child. He loves me enough to care, and that’s huge. For someone without a father, and with no contact with her mother, it’s a lifeline. Sure, the fact that I don’t have like, real physical parents makes me sad, but knowing that God is my father…that’s where all of my joy comes from. (And you can psychoanalyze my daddy-issues as much as you want, that’s fine. I sure have. You wouldn’t be the first to do so.) I’ll never be able to convince you of anything, but at the very least, you can trust that I’m being sincere.

So Christmas, to me, and to some other people, is a celebration of God’s love for us. That he loves each of us–you too even if you don’t know it–and desires us as his children. (Yes, even if you are a total Christian-hater like I was.)

He wants us to recognize and claim our role as his children, because here’s the thing: we’re all equally flawed. Knowing God as your father isn’t, like, limited to just the “good” people. Don’t let those holier-than-thou Christians keep you from experiencing life with God, just because you’re gay, or divorced, or have a prison record, or a substance addition, or have persecuted Christians to the point of tears, just for sport (that one’s all me). He made you and He loves you, regardless of whatever messed up stuff you’ve done. Christmas is a remembrance of the day that God turned his love into flesh and blood and revealed himself directly to the world, just like he promised he would. Christmas is a promise kept, and a promise of a future with God. For everyone. Equally.

I can’t convince you that anything that I said about God is true, but really, that’s not my goal. All I can do is share my story, and how I’ve changed, and what I believe, and listen to your stories and your perspectives. And I hope that you give as much value to me and my experiences as I give to you and yours. Chances are, I used to be in your shoes.

Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays!

%d bloggers like this: