Today, I want to talk to you about how I learned to stop worrying and love the tithe.
I didn’t always tithe. When I first started going to church again 13 years ago after being away for 16 years, I didn’t give any money at all. At the time, I was a struggling actor, working for temp agencies that paid me just a few dollars an hour above minimum wage. Rent accounted for more than half my income and theater had a way of costing me more money than it paid me. It was too scary for me to give away money I needed, so for many years, I’d pass the plate without contributing, only occasionally throwing in a five dollar bill that I thought I could spare.
I don’t remember when I started my first feeble steps toward pledging, but I do remember that my gratitude for the privilege of worshipping God with a beautiful liturgy and within a beautiful setting moved me to want to be more intentional in my giving than the occasional offering.
Being a freelancer at the time, my income could fluctuate wildly from week to week, so committing to a firm number felt like a bold act of faith. As I wrote down the amount of my first pledge ($25 a week, less than what I would spend on a night out), I had mixed emotions: gratitude and doubt, joy and fear. As I dropped my pledge card in the mail, I prayed: “Okay, God. I don’t know how this will work out. I don’t know if I can afford this, but I love you and I want to give my life to you, so here’s a small token of my faith in you. Help me to trust that it will all work out.”
Each payday, I paid my pledge right away, before I paid any other bills. This was an outward and visible sign of my desire to put God first. As I got used to pledging, I began to realize that I was changing. I began to see the world as less competitive and more cooperative. Internally, I began to shift away from a narrative of want to a narrative of abundance. Somehow, even with pledging, I had enough to get by. I sometimes even had more than enough to get by. I began to notice generosity in others and the positive effect it had on me and the world around me. My faith was strengthened and I found myself trusting more. As my trust increased, I found myself wanting to give more.
Around that time, I heard my first sermon on the tithe. I began to wonder what percentage of my income my pledge took up, how close it was to 10%. Surely, I was giving that much already, if not more!
When I crunched the numbers, it turned out to be 6% of my income. Okay, I thought, not bad. I don’t know why but knowing that percentage gave me hope. I began to understand tithing as a spiritual practice that benefited me more than it benefited God or the church. This practice of intentional giving felt good, so I decided to start to work toward the standard 10% tithe. Over time, I increased my pledge to 7% of my after-tax income and set aside 3% of my income to give to causes outside the church.
Three years ago, I started to coming to St. Paul’s. It’s turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life. I’m deeply in love with this community. I’m in love with our liturgy, with our silences, with our love for one another and with our deep longing to serve our diverse neighborhood. This community truly is the salt of the earth and the lamp on a lamp stand.
As I pray with the question, “What is God calling me to give to St. Paul’s?”, I find myself wanting to give even more. Not out of a sense of obligation or because the bills need to be paid, but because, in this place, I’ve fallen madly, deeply, completely head over heels in love with God.
Currently, I tithe by giving 5% of my income to St. Paul’s and 5% of my income to the Companions of St. Luke, a dispersed monastic community to which I belong as a postulant.
This year, because I’m a man in love, I’m increasing my pledge to St. Paul’s to 7% of my income.
It’s my grand romantic gesture, my “boombox over the head” moment, if you will. But instead of Peter Gabriel coming out of the speakers, I’d play a song by the Chemical Brothers called “Swoon”, a song that I believe sums up everything Jesus is trying to teach us: “Just remember to fall in love. There’s nothing else. There’s nothing else.”