Little White Envelopes

“Money is the root of all evil” -- A corruption (pun intended) of the Christian scripture (1 Timothy, verse 6:10): “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.” (NRSV)

It was a rare Sunday to leave for church, all of one block away, without our little white custom-printed and carefully filled out envelope in hand. Inside, our weekly tithe, soon to join others in the shiny brass collection plates lined in red velvet. My father was among the men who would open all those envelopes and carefully count and record the collection each week. Perhaps that helps explains my fondness for those little white envelopes I  don’t find often these days in UU congregations.

I don’t recall any discomfort then around talking about money in church like the discomfort I’ve encountered since. You knew what was expected and you did your best to meet that expectation. 10% or a commitment to “working towards a tithe.” Little white envelopes. Use them weekly. Just do it. If you fell short during hard times, not so bad. If you fell short by withholding out of an “eagerness to grow rich,” well, that was a matter between you and your maker or conscience.

My experience of tithing as a transformative spiritual practice, rather than a duty, occurred not in my childhood years in the United Methodist church­­­, but in my home UU congregation some fifteen years ago. I remember well that first year when I stepped up my giving significantly. I took the challenge of tithing literally and pledged 10% to the church. (Since that year, I’ve gone with the so-called “UU tithe” …. 5% to the church and 5% to other non-profits.)

It felt good to give generously then, and it still does. Researchers and testimonials confirm there is delight and joy in being generous with our gifts of time, talents and treasures. Certainly, there have been times when honoring my commitments has been difficult. Times when I fell short and needed to regroup and come back to the practice again. For me, it has been a dynamic process and an inward journey of sorts that challenges me to continually orient and discipline myself towards practicing simplicity, resisting the pull of consumerism, and placing people before things. Choosing to live into theologies of abundance, gratitude and sharing rather than scarcity, fear and withholding can be both daunting and emboldening! By tithing, I was reminded of who I strove to be and how I sought to be a part of the change I wished to see in the world.

In her writings on tithing as a spiritual practice, UU Rev. Rebecca Parker shares these words from Steve De Groot that capture the essence of my own experience:
“I tithe because it tells the truth about who I am. …. a person who has something to give. … a person who has received abundantly from life. … a person whose presence matters in the world. … a person whose life has meaning because I am connected to and care about many things larger than myself alone. If I did not tithe, I would lose track of these truths about who I am. By tithing, I remember who I am.”

I wonder – is there room in your life for a serious practice of intentional giving?  Not that clich├ęd “giving until it hurts,” but giving until it transforms your heart, your mind, your understanding of your place in the world and the way you relate to others and your community?

-- Alexander, Scott W., ed. Everyday Spiritual Practice: Simple Pathways for Enriching Your Life. "Spiritual Practice for Our Time," Rebecca Parker. Skinner House Books: Boston, MA. 1999.

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