Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Put Your Money Where Your Faith Is

A few months ago when I was down in Salem, Peggy suggested that I dedicate my blog entirely to the topic of Quaker tithing. I think she may have been kidding (it is sometimes hard to tell with her), but clearly I have not chosen to take that route. I think I would probably lose interest in talking about money eventually, and I doubt that even my closest friends and family would keep reading after months of nothing but suggestions that people give to their faith communities.

But today I am all fired up to talk about money again, so consider yourself warned. If you are already giving as much as you can, bless you. If you will not give under any circumstances, you may as well stop reading now because this post is not going to be about some cute Quakerisms or my strange attachment to emo musicfor this post at least, it's all tithing, all the time.

Yesterday I received a letter from the treasurer of Freedom Friends Church, letting me know that if the financial situation does not improve, it may not be possible for the church to stay in its current meetinghouse. This made me very sad because I was there when we went through the process of deciding to move, looking for a new place, and negotiating the lease on the building. I know how much work that was. And I think it was a good move because Freedom Friends is growing to fill the space. Freedom Friends is not making any decisions now, but taking the next few months to discern the best direction for the meeting.

As I read this letter, I also had a sense of déjà vu. About a month ago, University Friends Meeting sent out a very similar letter to its members and attenders. Although University Friends does not need money for rent, there are many long overdue repairs and maintenance that the building needs and not enough funds to cover the costs.

Now I am sitting in front of my computer with both letters and a Bible in front of me, trying to figure out why these meetings are in such dire straits. I know the economy is bad, gas prices are up, and everyone is broke, but I think the problem runs deeper than that. I think that this is one situation where the tendency of some Quakers to shy away from biblical language is actually hurting the meetings. Asking members to give donations is not the same as asking them to tithe, and Quaker meetings need members to tithe.

I have met so many Quakers who are absolutely committed to social justice. And in the meetings there are committees and individuals who are doing so much good work. Over the past few months, I have had the opportunity to meet with several committees at University Friends and talk to them about what they do and what they need. I think I can safely say that the top two things committees would like to have is more people and more money.

But it seems like when Quakers give money to support social justice causes, a lot of it goes to organizations other than their meetings. I believe that most meetings would like to do more work in social justice, but they are limited by the funds that they have. It is very difficult to try to change the world when you can't make rent, and that applies to communities as well as individuals.

One of the reasons that we form Quaker meetings is to meet with others who have the same values and goals. If our meetings are not making the changes in the world that we want, we need to fix that. And we need to give as we are able to ensure that the meeting can take care of its own needs as well as meet the needs of others.

When I was discussing tithing with my sister Rachel, she told me that Jesus talked about money more than any other topic. I have not gone through the Gospels to see if she is correct, but it seems likely. The verse that keeps going through my head is the one I have always heard in relation to taxes and tithing: "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's." (Matt. 22:21).

As I was thinking about this verse, it occurred to me that money does not mean anything on its own. It is what money represents that is important, whether it is food, shelter, security, or toys. And then I was wondering what we can give to Godit seems like God pretty much has everything already. The answer I have come up with seems too simple to even say: we can give God our faith. God needs us to have faith that even if we give some of our money to the meeting, we will be ok.

So please consider giving some money. It would do the meetings good, and I believe it would do you good too.

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