I save 10% of my income specifically to give it away. I call it tithing, but tithe is a loaded term.
If you are not Christian, then you probably don't know what tithe means. If you are Christian and were brought up in church and or attend church now, you know exactly what it means. Depending on your experiences and your family's attitudes, the word tithe may conjure up very different reactions.
In my family, it brings tension.
At the church where I grew up, the pastor would preach a fiery sermon, hopping up on tables, marching up and down the aisles as the organist and drummer punctuated every step, every turn and every pronouncement with thundering sound. There were shouts of Amen and, occasionally, someone would break out in a holy dance.
When all the exhulting was through, the pastor proceeded with the tithes and offering portion of the service. This part could take longer than the songs, sermon and announcements combined. In my church, the offering would more than likely start with the pastor saying something like "The Lord has put on my heart to ask 20 people to share $100." The usual suspects would get up and share their Benjamins. When he got 20 people -- and he'd wait until 20 people shared -- he'd then say "The Lord has put on my heart to ask 40 people to share $50." You get the picture. And we'd go this way until he finally got to the rest of us, who were asked to share what we could. But that was the offering, not the tithe.
So what the heck is the tithe?
Put short and simple, it's 10% of your income offered to the Lord. There are plenty of Bible verses that explain the concept and the requirements, but I won't get into that here.
But this isn't simple at all. You can get into debates about whether this practice was under the Old Covenant, but not the New Covenant. About whether that was a practice for a millennium ago and no longer applies. Whether it's 10% of your gross or net income. Whether tithes are sufficient or whether you should tithe and add extra for offering.
My family has gotten into shouting matches over it. My grandmother contends you should only give what you can afford. My aunt says that's not biblical. My cousin and her husband fought over him writing checks for 10% of their gross income when she insisted only 10% of net was necessary. They fought over whether that was biblical. For years, I was riddled with guilt for only giving $5 here or there, which was nothing close to 10% of anything.
I am Christian, but I won't lie, I haven't belonged to a church nor regularly attended services in about three years. Thus, I pretty much figured the whole tithe thing had nothing to do with me. But then I started thinking about my journey out of debt.
It was not all about me being disciplined. There were people that helped me considerably along the way. I blogged before about how a close friend of my family paid off my school loan without asking or expecting to be repaid. It wasn't a fortune (hooray for scholarships and Pell grants!), but it was still a few thousand dollars I didn't have to repay. My mother helped me out with some bills while I was getting my career together out of graduate school. I did laundry at my aunt and uncle's house when I visited and I never had to pay for meals when I went home.
Then there were just those nights where I'd pray for help -- despondent about my finances and clueless as to how I was going to get through a month. No, money did not magically appear on my kitchen table in the morning. But, almost without fail, something or somebody would provide extra income or make a bill go away. Maybe it was a freelance opportunity that came through right on time. Maybe it was a big check for birthday or Christmas that I was not expecting. Maybe someone would give me something that I thought I would have to buy -- but they didn't know I needed it prior. Or maybe it was a friend offering to cover dinner when I didn't ask or expect her to.
Answered prayers? I certainly believe so, but you can call it what you want. So, biblical or not, I decided that I wanted to be open to being the vessel that provides those same blessings to someone else.
I save 10% of my gross income expressly to give it away. Some of it I have given to charities. I've given money to friends raising money for causes they believe in. I've given money to causes I believe in. My brother got his financial act together and has nearly paid off his own debt. I gave him some money as a reward for his diligence and tenacity. My cousin finally got his act together and moved into a new place, with a new job. I gave him mpney to help him on his way. I give to my alma mater. I plan to establish a scholarship there in honor of my grandmother -- the family matriarch whose generosity has been our saving grace.
Ten percent of one's income is a lot of money. Most people are only saving 10% of their income period. But I figure, while I have it, why not share it? The time has been and may come again where I am relying on generosity. I don't know about you, but it feels good to be able to give without crossing my fingers, begging or stalking people to make sure I get it back.
Now, don't get this confused with being the First Bank for Your Broke A$$ Family and Friends. NO SIR. I am not advocating that at all. If people try to guilt you into giving to them because you have and they don't, tell them how to get their own. If they don't want to hear it, shake the dust from your feet, so to speak.
I'm talking about being the resource that, at some point in your life, someone was for you. Bless someone the way you've been blessed. Advance something you believe will make your community, some distant community or the whole world a better place.
I think most of us can tell the difference. You can feel it.