"A fool and his money are soon parted." Does that describe me? Or you? I am all too acutely aware that my money and I are soon parted. But I am loath to admit that I am thereby proved a fool.
It is likely that we feel a real and serious indignity because so much of our money is taken from us. Our money is ourselves, to a degree now as never before. When we give up our money consciously, therefore, we give of ourselves. When money is taken from us, part of us is taken, as surely as if a finger or hand or foot were taken. In many financial matters we seem to have become captive; we have ceased to be free agents.
It is one thing to have been deceived into a financial problem greater than our capacity, and it is another to have misjudged our capacity and then to become overwhelmed. The result is the same: financial ruin. The combined wiles of easy credit and luxurious living are nearly irresistible. We may be deceived into installment slavery, or we may go willingly, but it is slavery either way, and slavery is unacceptable to man. It is an unnatural state, contrary to man's very make-up. He must fight or be crushed by it. The destruction of persons by financial captivity is one of the major characteristics of our age. The egregious instances of destruction such as suicide are few; the more numerous instances are of a slow withering of the person.
Only when a man has some sense of being a free agent with his money will he know himself as self-determining. A man is not free to love unless he is free to some extent to show love with his money. The exigencies of taxes, rents, payments and repayments leave almost nothing with which to express generosity. Generosity is always dependent on love or it is specious. Generosity is not a means to an end. It is the expression of the end, love.
Discipline is one of the servants of love. Discipline is no proper end in itself: it can become an idol. Discipline in matters of money is only to the end that money and its use may be for each of us a true and good way of expressing oneself. To give money in the Church is not to keep the doors open or to keep the program going, though those are some of the results. Rather it is to show us what we are. It is a candid photograph. No one else needs to see it, but each one of us needs to look carefully at his own picture.
In some families there is a custom of taking a picture of the children every year. There may be families where the whole group is photographed each year. In either instance, over a period of time we can watch the children grow up. This is part of the record of maturity.
The members of a parish have a group photograph made once a year. The occasion is usually called the stewardship campaign.
We respond variously to pictures of ourselves - unemotional acceptance, or mild hysteria, or wild disbelief, "My God, is that a picture of me?
At the time of a stewardship drive we are talking about generosity, and we are talking about expressing generosity through money. Like it or not, that is the way we express generosity in our time. Money is for us a tangible, negotiable expression of an attitude, of a state of mind, of a condition of the will. These spiritual realities, attitude, mind and will, have to be clothed in something which can be apprehended by our senses, or else we shall never apprehend them.
Now, are we talking about generosity or enthusiasm? Enthusiasm is a momentary response: generosity is a state of being. Mere enthusiasm is a characteristic of immaturity: generosity includes enthusiasm within its maturity. We hear frequently that we Americans are a generous people. More accurately, we are an enthusiastic people. We respond to projects, again and again, time after time. Most of these projects are extraneous to our lives. We are not aware how or how much we are expressing ourselves. A parish is not a project. It must not be treated as if it were. A parish frequently has projects, of varying importance in the long view. The parish itself is the normal focus of Christian generosity. The stewardship campaign is concerned with the corporate expression of generosity.
Money is a visible and powerful extension of ourselves, individually or in groups, into the world. With our money we can empower, we can prosper or destroy a cause. In every instance this is an expression of will. We can kill swiftly, or we can starve a thing slowly. We can sustain in full health, or we can sustain on a starvation diet.
1. "Sure, I'll go along with it: here's a dollar."
2. "I've got my expenses, you know: here's a dollar a week."
3. "I don't like the rector, or the changes that are being made: I'm not going to make a pledge ."
4. "I don't approve of the Bishop's policies, so I'll fix him! No money."
5. "I don't agree with the statements of the national church, so..."
What have these weapons of disinterest or to do with that which is a sacrament of generosity? They are anti-sacraments. In an earnest self-searching we can place ourselves in our Lord's presence and say to him, "My God, is this a picture of me?"
There are characteristics of our culture which make it increasingly difficult for us to express ourselves with our money. There are tendencies toward the impersonal. Individuality is easily fused into the crowd. So many people! we can hardly know them except as part of a project, depersonalized. But this can be overcome by some effort on our part. Then there is rampant individualism, whereby each person requires his own interests to be served first. This can be overcome only by candid self-searching and repentance. Then there is the pre-arranged disposition of our money - time payments. "I'm strapped, month after month, with payments totaling 95% of my income!" This can be overcome by the exercise of some self-discipline in individuals and in families. It is a matter of who has the upper hand, each of us for himself or the society of which we are a part.
But the real heart of the matter is this: we have become alienated from the source of generosity. Though we call ourselves after the name of the very embodiment of generosity, we Christians have neglected increasingly to look to the source. Generosity has nothing to do with our income. The response we are able to make in this or in any time of our lives is not limited by our income but by our generosity.
We are talking about generosity, about the capacity to respond consistently in love to our surroundings. Among Christians this is known as maturity. The demands on our generosity cannot be met; we are at a loss to know where it can keep coming from. That is, until we remember what St. Paul said to the Lord's people at Corinth: "In Christ you will always be rich enough to be generous."
This does not mean you will always have a large enough income to be a big spender and also give something to charity. It means that because generosity is of Christ, and because you are in him, you will always have access to the endless supply. It does not begin with us, or as we know, it is soon exhausted. Except there is the regular worship of God there is little generosity. In addition to St. Paul's words, there is the deep and telling statement of our Lord himself which has so often been depreciated by the clergy into a signal for the ushers to go into their act. "It is more in the likeness of God to give than to receive." To whom has the restored likeness of God been given? To you and to me.
The person who signs a pledge card in the stewardship campaign is in fact signing his life away, but only as much as he wills to. Each of us is autographing his own picture. What will that picture and signature reveal?
Concerning the tithe: It is Biblical, not modern fund-raising scheme; it is a proportion sanctioned by Judaism and Christianity.
The real danger of tithing is commitment. It is a matter of the relation between God and the person, not between person and his purse. A pledge is useful; the important thing is proportion. There would be no need for a pledge if we were all sure of the tithe.