Sunday, November 4, 2012

Evangelical Poverty: Part 1

We all have so much.  Even those of us who are reading this wondering if the budget sheet is going to be in the negative numbers this month.  If you are reading this, then count yourself among the world’s wealthy.  You are literate and have internet access, even if it’s at the public library.  You also have leisure time to spend reading the scribblings of some Midwestern housewife.
I hope you don't mind pictures from our garden way back in July.  I never posted them, and it seems to fit with this post: Very full of promise!
Guilt trip, yes?  Sorry, but I do have a point in beginning that way.  Well, are you worried about finances?  No matter how much we have, we worry about how to hold on to that level of financial “freedom,” but really we are kind of enslaved because of how much of our energy is devoted to money:  Working to earn it, time and thought about how we’ll spend it, worrying about how we haven’t saved enough of it.  I have to confess that I often stress out when I need to spend money unexpectedly, or even on stupid stuff like I need a haircut.  Last Friday I had a fender-bender (We are all fine!) and got a $130 ticket.  Ouch.  Plus fixing both cars and likely our insurance rate will go up. How are we supposed to get out of debt and start a farmstead now?  Yes, I am aware of how stupid that sounds, since I’m not bashing around like Cruella De Vil.  But I still have those sort of discouraging thoughts with each setback.  It’s human nature I think.  But that is not what God wants for us.  God does not promise us earthly riches, but something much much better. 

“Fear not, little flock.  For it is God’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.  Sell what you have and give alms; provide yourselves money bags which do not grow old, a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches nor moth destroys.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.  (Luke 12:32-34)
Before I get too far into this subject, let me be up front that Ryan and I are not struggling financially.  On the contrary we have been very blessed with a good job and a comfortable home.  We do have significant debt from our student loans and mortgage, which we are working hard to pay ahead of schedule.  This information might lead some people to say for me to talk about the virtues of poverty is just ridiculous and insulting to those who are really in need.  I hope I don’t come across as just some starry-eyed girl playing at being a saint.  Because I am well aware I am far, far from detached from this world’s material goods.  I like birthday presents and ladies’ nights out and buying something pretty for myself every once in a while.  I’ve just been thinking about this subject an awful lot lately, and I’m trying to organize my thoughts as well as share them.  I think it's very important, especially as more and more people are having trouble paying the bills and might give up on giving.  I’d be very interested in any additional insights or even corrections my readers (all five of you!) may have.

So, the kingdom.  Something money cannot buy, but we have to be detached from money before we can obtain it.  “One cannot serve both God and money.”  Money is a little thing in comparison with what we are promised.  Few of us are called to the radical poverty of St. Francis of Assisi or to give all of our money to the poor, but I’ve become convinced that we are all called to tithe.  The fifth Precept of the Church is, “You shall help to provide for the needs of the Church.”  This is not specified as a set amount, only “according to his own ability.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church #2043)  So I don’t claim that not paying a 10% tithe is automatically a sin.  However, I think giving 10% of one’s income—before taxes—is the first step in trusting God with our finances, of letting go of our attachment to money.  I don't think attachment to money is exclusively in the realm of the rich man; Jesus' admonition to not worry about our food and clothing applies to everyone.

The Old Testament is full of exhortations on the importance of paying our tithes.  The Old Law may have passed away, but human nature has not changed.  God doesn’t need our money.  A million dollars is nothing to Him.  The tithe is ultimately for our own benefit.  The 10% figure is high enough that we have to make a deliberate decision to give that much and lay claim to God’s promises, yet low enough that God is still very lenient with us.  If you think about it, God lets us keep 90%, when He could justly claim all.  He is God, after all. 


It is a “stepping out in faith” to begin to tithe.  I can only say for now that the only way to learn to trust in God is to do it!  Pray for grace, read the Scriptures.  The ones I referenced here were important to Ryan and me in beginning to tithe, also Mark 10:21 and Matthew 6:31-32.  Tithing changed my whole outlook on stewardship and Divine Providence.  Our money is not really ours.  Charity is an obligation.  God WILL provide.  We'll talk about all of this.
Meanwhile, God makes another incredible promise regarding the tithe that is still true, because God never goes back on His promises: “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house, and try Me in this, says the Lord of hosts: Shall I not open for you the floodgates of heaven, to pour down blessing upon you without measure?” (Malachi 3:10)


  1. Letting you know I read this, I appreciate you writing it, and I want to hear more. Not sure that I have too much to add...

    But yeah, we have an amount figured into our budget to tithe each month. And I hate to admit it, but even that little bit - less than 10% - pains me a little each time I give it. I like to believe that it's not because I'm selfish, but because I am looking out for my own family (but I'm sure that's not the whole story.

    A lot of months, we come out in the negative (like, hundreds of dollars!)- despite our fairly stringent cost-saving measures. I have no idea how we haven't gone completely broke yet. The math doesn't seem like it should add up...but I suppose that is God's grace, somehow keeping us afloat.

    I feel like if we upped our tithe to 10%, there's NO POSSIBLE WAY we could pay all our bills. But then I read all these stories of people in similar situations, just totally trusting God, and ended up being blessed, being taken care of somehow, and not living on the street!

  2. Do you think it's possible to tithe time, instead of money? Gordon devotes 3-7 hours per week to parish work with the choir. If you consider a 40 hour work week, that's at least 10%, right?

    I do often feel guilty about us not putting money in the basket, but at the same time, 10% of Gordon's salary... isn't much... whereas the choir is really hurting for men who are accomplished, trained, classical singers, so it's a valuable thing.

    I don't know. It's hard to figure this sort of stuff out. You make a pro/con list and you look at the pros and tell yourself "you are making excuses" and you look at the cons and tell yourself "you are being scrupulous." It's lose/lose.

    IDK I guess I should just hold on to the advice our priest gave us on this subject and continue not putting money in unless/until the financial situation changes...

    1. Karla--personally, I think that time and money are important but very different gifts. I'm not saying a person would be required to do both, necessarily, but I don't think one gift could replace the other. (And that's coming from the other end of the spectrum--I'd personally prefer to write a bigger check and have my time to my busy self. I often feel guilty that I don't do any sort of volunteering or active work for the Church...)

      Mary--Good choice of topic! I'm interested to hear more of your thoughts on this :)