by Catherine Malotky
We have seen both negative and positive giving models in people who surround us. We have lived through tough financial surprises and pleasant ones. Our experiences inform us and shape our behavior. Our challenge is to respond to the invitation to live generously, not react to it.
When you tithe, you make a decision about how much you plan to give, and it usually depends on your income. Some of us think of a tithe as 10 percent of our salaries, and others consider a different proportion appropriate. The tithe has been incorporated into our Christian piety, though most New Testament references to it are about the dangers of tithing to show off, rather than giving out of gratitude.
Many people believe tithing is unachievable, unrealistic and demanding. Some have been in faith cultures that require a tithe as a cost of belonging. Some feel money talk in church is out of place, adopting the injunctions about refusing to talk about how much they make, and, in turn, how much they give. Our cultural taboos lead the way, but our faith traditions also promote this behavior.
And no wonder. Think about the awkwardness of knowing you are much better or much worse off financially than a friend, relative or neighbor (remember Luther’s notion that anyone is a neighbor). What are our obligations if we have more? And how do we manage our dependence if we have less? This is complicated emotional territory and difficult to think through from a socioeconomic point of view. Is dramatic wealth disparity good for our society or not?
The Rev. Catherine Malotky, an ELCA pastor, serves at Luther Seminary as a philanthropic adviser. She has served as a parish pastor, editor, teacher, and retreat leader. She writes the “Amen” column as a prayer that closes each issue of Gather.
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