I have the “luxury” of being home today (waiting for a roofing contractor thanks to the rain of the past weekend) so I was able to drink my coffee as I read the local paper. As a health care professional, I am particularly interested in news abut the health care industry, and this weekend a very well-done article on health care in this region ran.
“Poor Health: a frayed safety net” highlights the many challenges facing low-income and poor individuals when it comes to accessing basic health care services. The article quotes one area in the greater Pittsburgh region as having 65 percent of its population living below the poverty line. That’s the kind of story that makes me stop whining about what I might have to pay for my roof, and get real thankful about a lot of things in my life,…but I digress.
As someone who, from a young age questioned everyone (especially Sunday School teachers and parents) about everything, I continue to poke at several long-held New Thought ideas, including the law of tithing (I have a slightly different interpretation of this based on an extensive literature review of the Bible, which I present in my seminar, “Reconnecting to Source“) and giving to need. Today I’ll be highlighting the challenges I see to the admonishment around giving to need.
In the Jewish tradition, which is part of my mixed religious experience, there is a Hebrew word (tzedekah), which is often assumed to mean ‘charity’ or charitable giving. Its translation from the Hebrew is actually more closely aligned with justice, or the definition righteous behavior and therefore takes on a different meaning.
Before I go into this concept much further, I want to call your attention to the fact that the ancient rabbinical teaching on tithing is taken pretty much at its word by many New Thought teachers and adherents. Malachi 3:10 is oft-quoted as the basis for this teaching:
“Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.”
I don’t disagree with this counsel, although I do think there’s more to it than just the 10%, but that’s for a future post.
Given the full-body adoption of tithing as it is written in the Hebrew Scriptures I have to ask if we (‘we’ being New Thought thinkers) can take that commandment and make it one that must be followed, but ignore the biblical guidance on giving. Throughout those same scriptures, the Israelites are held accountable when they neglect the poor, and rabbinical interpretation suggests that God has particular concern for those in need.
In addition, the rabbis whose writings form the foundations of classical Judaism considered tzedakah to be “equal in value to all the other mitzvot combined” (a mitzvah is a commandment; mitzvot are lots of mitzvahs – i.e. plural), suggesting that those who practice tzedekah attain the same level of holiness as does one who brought sacrifices to the ancient Temple. This belief is so strongly rooted in Judaism that the Rosh Hashanah liturgy lists tzedakah right up there with repentance and prayer as acts capable of averting a negative divine decree. In other words, it’s IMPORTANT!
Now I realize that New Thought isn’t Judaism, nor Christianity but I do think that if we’re going to utilize Biblical quotes as some of the foundations of our guidance in spiritual matters that we ought to be consistent. More so than any other religious or spiritual teaching, New Thought emphasizes the Oneness that we are with the Universal Spirit, the Thing Itself or God. I believe this particular aspect is one of the key aspects that draws so many seekers to our teaching. Unlike traditional Judaism or Christianity there are not hard separations between this group or that; Gentiles, goyim, sinners or saints. We are all One.
It is this very concept of Oneness that bothers me when some in the teaching insist that we can only give to THIS cause, but not to THOSE causes. That sounds a lot more like separation than Oneness. One article I read even suggested that it is better to give money to a rich person than to give to charity. Again,… if we are all One,…why the insistence on giving to the rich at the specific exclusion of giving to the poor?
I’m not buying it.
One of the things that my research has turned up is that while the Bible is indeed filled with prosperity promises, it is also replete with counsel on giving. It is of particular interest to me that Jesus, whose teachings form the foundation for Religious Science and Unity perspectives, arrived on the scene (speaking historically; not religiously or metaphysically) and though he was clearly an observant Jew in practice, he regularly challenged the status quo and suggested over and over that the Law was not fulfilled without love.
In John, chapter 13 he says, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another...” and in Matthew chapter 5, just after the Sermon on the Mount, he highlights the importance of being right with other people before strict adherence to the Law.
“So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift”
In other words, yes – it is still important to go to the Temple and make your sacrifice – BUT, it does not supersede peace and love among people. This sentiment is punctuated throughout the New Testament and best represented, I believe by 2 Corinthians 9:7
“So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver.”
When I donate money to the Free Care funds at local hospitals, knowing that families who need expensive and often life-saving care can now go home without life-ruining hospital bills, I am cheered that my Abundance can be shared with others. When I give money or food to the local Food Banks and know that in the same way that my family and friends helped me when I was a struggling single mother, I can help other single moms, my heart is filled with gratitude. When I teach at-risk youth in a jobs program how to use computer software so they have a chance at work that is not retail or fast-food, I am thankful for the education I received.
My heart is cheered by the power of these gifts and while giving is giving, I’m not sure that giving to someone who already has an abundance of prosperity would cheer me quite as much. I have seen the immense gratitude in a poor family when a bag of groceries arrived just in the nick of time; I have seen the tears of joy in a graduate who had a job waiting, after generations of welfare and public assistance and I have seen relief flood the face of a concerned parent when they realized that they could concentrate their energy on the recovery of their sick child and not on whether they will lose their house when the medical bills come in.
To me, this kind of giving is God in action at its highest level.
In his publication, “Money is God in Action”, Raymond Charles Barker quotes Reverend Dr. Harry Emerson Fosdick at the beginning:
“A dollar is a miraculous thing. It is a man’s personal energy reduced to portable form and endowed with powers that the man himself does not possess. It can go where he cannot go; speak languages he cannot speak; lift burdens he cannot touch with his fingers; save lives with which he cannot directly deal, so that a man busy all day downtown can at the same time be working in boys (& girls) clubs, hospitals, settlements, childcare centers, all over the city.”
In my lifetime I have had (at different times) a lot of money and very little money. When I had a lot of money, $100 wasn’t much to be excited about, in fact; I wouldn’t go too far out of my way to get an extra $100 because it was that inconsequential to my budget and life. However, in leaner times, $100 could make a significant difference in my life, and the lives of my children. I remember both sides of this coin, and so I know the love and gratitude that is generated when giving is directed to those who can benefit most.
Having spent a significant portion of my working career as an educator (professor), I hope that this post stirs you to think about your own perspective on giving. In academic environments, a scholar reads, researches, performs experiments, taps their own life experience and presents data that is almost always not brand-spanking-new, but is presented from their particular perspective. In Humanities, Education and other “soft” sciences it can be described like this: “I read a bunch of things that experts in the field have written, and here’s my interpretation of it.”
When presenting a Master’s thesis, defending a doctoral dissertation or writing a journal article in your area of research, you get ready for the push-back, which is high-sport in academic circles, and all a part of the game. At the end of the day, if the candidate (student) can show that their perspective is worthy for consideration as part of the discourse in the subject, they pass. For faculty, if the journal write-up gains wide review, that’s nothing but GOOD for their academic career. So it is in this academic spirit that I propose this perspective on giving and after a number of years in that arena (academia), I fully expect some push-back, and even welcome it,…but you better bring your references/sources! 🙂
And so It is.
Special appreciation to My Jewish Learning for the details on tzedekah!