Sunday, June 23, 2013

Postmodern Incarnation of a Mitzvah

Early on in our formative years, my Dad and my Mom inculcated in our family the habit of what is popularly known in the Christian lexicon as "tithing" which has its origins in biblical and Marian spirituality alike.  In this book however "tithing"  simply refers to giving, to sharing, to contributing, to donating and the measure is ever so subjective, i.e. one can give as little or as much.  Tithing is a religious matter because it is between one's self and one's God.  One's deeds are the direct reflection of one's God.  Tithing is one of those frailer virtues that require other virtues to support it or else it can easily weaken and dissipate without much forethought or effort.  Everyone can tithe irrespective of race, creed, gender and sexual orientation, educational attainment, physical abilities or disabilities, and socio-economic status.

Tithing is a discipline.  It requires the following:

1) HUMILITY, to accept that all that we own belongs to God.  That we are stewards of such talents.  That we are asked to manage it well for the glory of God and not ours.  Therefore we need to ask ourselves - do we tithe in order to respond meaningfully to the need of a fellow human being or do we respond to plume our feathers and to leaven our egos, or worst of all to condescend or to patronize the one we are to help thinking that such a one is less than us, which is the most wicked form of prejudice.  Beware that we are not overtaken by our own "goodness'.  It is a fine and a dangerous line to tread without prayer.  I still feel discomposed when I remember the "tithe" that I made based on pride and needless to say, this proved to be fruitless to put it mildly.

2) PRAYER AND LOTS OF IT because it is the leading of the Holy Spirit that will direct to whom to give, what to give, how much to give, and how to give it.  Sometimes the better part of tithing is NOT to give, to stay still,  and wait for God's bidding.

3) A DISCERNING AND AN ASTUTE MIND because a budget has to be set.  One has to determine  what one can afford to give.  Tithing is meant to be painless and an act of compassion first towards ourselves and then towards others.  We cannot give what we do not have.  And God frowns upon unnecessary and thoughtless suffering.  However it is amazing to discover how much we have, in surplus even, once the desire to tithe takes root in our hearts.  The collateral advantage of paying heed to this desire is having our financial house put in order, properly placing things where they belong, giving to Caesar what is Caesar's and, to God what is God's.  It is akin to putting together an investment portfolio that pays rich dividends in unforeseen and unforetold ways and more importantly, this market of justice never crashes.  The ancient truth holds true, what you sow you reap.

4) A GRATEFUL HEART because a grateful heart is a merciful and a forgiving heart.  Sometimes untoward and unintended consequences happen to a tithe.  Tithe is sweat, blood and tears as it is a by-product of hard work.  Therefore we want it to benefit whom we intended it would.  My Mom was on her way to bring alms to church when she was robbed.  During 9/11 donations poured in for the Twin Tower victims via an organization only to find out later, that the organization's administration was bogged down by corruption.  Is it possible that God redirected the money to someone who needed it more...can our heart grasp the possibility of such seeming impossibility?  Once we have discerned what to give after prayerful meditation, the moment the tithe leaves our hands, it goes on its way according to God's plan for it.  We have to let it go to do what it must.

5) HOPE, the deep knowing that we tithe because it is the right thing to do irrespective of the cost to us, or even irrespective of the rewards to us.  I have yet to meet a consistent tither who has not been abundantly blessed by it.  Tithing in itself is its own irrepressible benediction, it frees us from anxiety, and it makes us fearless.  It has its own justifying power that is outrageously beyond-the-pale.  If one does not believe in a Benevolent God one will never comprehend the seemingly unlikely relatedness of one current good event to another future good event or even an event that was considered not good now that turns out to be good later.  I know of someone who does not see the connection of his demeaning ways to his subordinates and the pathetic suffering of his autistic son.  Can you fathom how those two phenomena are possibly cause-and-effect?  How can one have more if one has given away?  The more we give, the more we receive.  Poor mathematics.  Paradoxical.  Counter-intuitive.  But true. A devoted tither does not assume returns.  Yet good fortune happens to him and his.  For a personal example, I just was several months into my employment contract at the hospital when I had to leave it to take care of my full licensure.  I had no emergency fund yet as I was newly employed.  It took me six months of unemployment before I was reinstated to the same contract.  How did I survive?  The federal income tax refund check that I thought I lost turned up and the funds were just enough to meet all my needs during that period of time. Is this supernatural, or superstition, or plain, old coincidence?

As part of the tithing culture in my family, we attend to the following as best we can:

1)  Visit the sick.  Respect the sick, including their privacy and their dignity.  Do not insist to visit, to call or bring gifts if they do not want you to.  Be present but do not overwhelm.

2) Go to wakes.  In the Philippines wakes took place in the home.  My Dad admonished us to not pass by a house holding a vigil for the dead without paying respects.

3) Pay your bills right away since you have received the service already.  If you completed a job yourself, wouldn't you want to be paid as soon as possible also?

4) A debt must be paid.  When you don't, you not only dishonor your family and your ancestors and your God, you heap misfortune on yourself.  Unless it was rescinded by your creditor and even then,  you have a debt of gratitude that you pay back not necessarily to the creditor but forward, to someone else who arrives in your sphere of awareness and influence who now needs help.

5) Do not return to the store and get a refund for goods you have already used and enjoyed.  If that store goes bankrupt we are all affected negatively in one way or another.

6) Be fair. Expect unfairness. Wait and watch as God puts to right what was wronged.  Another personal example, for some unknown reason, our work scheduler was preventing me from working extra calls.  I was livid.  I prayed, if only to detoxify myself, and had no more expectation.  All of a sudden the scheduler became indisposed and there was no choice but to give the overflow work to me and guess what, my earnings from the overtime was greater than my basic one.

7) When you pray, pray for everyone, including the flora and the fauna and now including tectonic plates.  If everyone and everything is well, you will be assured wellness yourself.  Anything that is not to rights out there in the Universe will ultimately reverberate to affect all of us.

8) Never say never.  Never say:  "I am busy.", "I don't have money.", or "I definitely cannot."  This mentality closes off your own accessibility to grace and precludes God's power.  Words breathe and live.  Say instead: "I don't have it yet, but it is coming in God's good time."  "God-willing, it's on its way."  "Let me pray on it and see what I can do."  In the same token, if your knee is painful, don't say you're paralyzed because it is an insult to those who are.  Don't give food you cannot eat.  Don't give clothes you cannot wear.  Don't give anything that you yourself cannot use properly.  Ultimately, you are the final arbiter of what is good and useful.

9) Exercise the wisdom of 24 hours.  Who will be served better by this resource given the next 24 hours, you or me?  If I have something that will ease your burden, why should I not give it to you now?  If I did not give it to you, how would hoarding it help me?  Will I even remember fretting over today's decision tomorrow or at the same time next year?

10)  To increase, decrease.  If the vessel is full, it cannot take anymore.  It is more useful when it is empty.  God is best glorified through us when we act from our position of lackness and poverty because we give Him a wide berth to work in His miracles.

What do you do when you think you have nothing to give?

***In the first place, it should never occur to you that you have nothing to give.***

One has to bring one's soul into silence, to rest and be still, and to settle down comfortably into one's skin.  No matter what our external circumstances are, by virtue of our belonging to God, we are endowed with the power to multiply loaves and fishes...literally!!!  There are plentiful opportunities for gentleness, mercy and genuineness it we are open to them.  The only requirement is the desire to share to be unwaveringly rooted in one's soul so that God can act on it, enable you to be led where your personality, your wealth (you have more than you think) and even your poverty are best suited to be "the" response to someone's supplication.  In a somewhere unbeknownst to you at the moment, either in your locality or in the wider world, there is a someone on bended knees begging our Good God to answer his/her prayers. Here lies the calming and healing properties of tithing, where you are able to advance God's ministry by dint of who you are.  Because you might be "the" answer to this someone's prayer.  There is no one but you who can respond perfectly to the supplication and so only you are called to do the task.  No one else would suffice except you.  Be at ease.  You will know when you are called and then the Holy Spirit will guide you how to respond.  Unless you decide squarely though, the wealth of resources out there will stay inert, waiting patiently to be deployed under God's faithful auspices on your say so.

How does one develop a do-able and a fruitful system of tithing?

Make an inventory of your assets.  Everyone has an asset no matter how poor one is.  In my mind, the only poor person is one who has no desire whatsoever to share and that is indeed one pitiable person!  Your assets are your time, energy, talents, material possessions, money, demeanor.  Balance your checkbook. Pray and pray again.  Then pray some more.

God loves a cheerful giver.  So extend to others what you enjoy yourself.  What are your favorite things to do?  Are you an extrovert or an introvert?  Do you prefer working alone or in community?  Are you a good listener?  Do you love to read?  Are you good with numbers?  Do you love clothes and dressing up?  What is your expertise?  What is your avocation?  Do you love music?  Sports?  The outdoors?  Politics?  Are you a nurturer?  Do you like children including bratty ones?  Are you a day person or a night person?  Do you have an embarassment of riches like appliances, shoes, clothes, stuff, cash?  How would you like to be relieved of the burdens of such redundancy in your closets or bank accounts?  Will your spouse and children want to participate in these endeavors too?  Are you homebound and a great pray-er?  Know thyself and take it from there.  There is a reason to your gifts.

By managing your assets ("talents) wisely, you are not only present to those who are marginalized but more importantly you help avert more people from becoming vulnerable.  It is far easier to help someone who is down and out than to give a leg-up so that someone do not fall through the cracks.  It is a no-brainer to help a beggar, but the same person in better clothes might be more difficult to help even if the one critical help we provide will avert disaster for him.  We are so used to hierarchical levels of living that imagining a world where everyone is equal in everything is difficult to do.  More often than not, unintentionally perhaps, we contribute to the vulnerability of our world.  Hence, the value of prayer to open our eyes to what is true, to open our skin so we can leave it and enter into the skin of another and know what it is like to wear it, and to open our hearts to discern what is best for everyone to the boundless extent that God provides through our doing.