Friday, October 31, 2008

Pearl 24: Make Stewardship a Personal Commitment

Dearest Eliana and Gehrig,

Happy Halloween!  Your mom has told me about all of the parties and parades you will be attending to celebrate All-Hallows Eve (later Halloween).  The day was renamed by Pope Boniface IV to merge the ancient Celtic pagan celebration of Samhain with All Saint’s Day on November 1st.  The Celts believed that on Samhain, October 31st, the ghosts of the dead returned to earth and hence our current-day fascination with ghosts and goblins and all things spooky on Halloween.  I have no idea how millions of kids going door-to-door begging for candy got into it, but I suspect a conspiracy between the candy manufacturers and dentists.

My, it has been a long time since we have seen you two little people and Granny and I miss you terribly.  Fortunately, you will be with us for a whole week just after Thanksgiving and we are so looking forward to your visit.  It will be such fun! 

Well, as of this writing there are only 72 hours left before the Presidential election, which many people are saying will be the most important in our lifetime.  Whether that is true or not, there are substantial differences between our two parties about how to tackle and solve the problems facing our nation at the moment.  Healthcare is a huge issue as is education and energy independence.  Most Americans are still deeply concerned with our national security and how to fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and defeat terrorist groups like Al Qaeda.  But the most pressing issue on the minds of most Americans today is our economy.  As of this moment, it isn’t doing well, children, and many of our neighbors are suffering like never before.  Just trying to stay employed or find employment, keep their homes, or even just pay their bills in this time of rising costs is a bigger challenge than ever.

On this issue, as well, the two candidates disagree on how to fix the problem.  One side says we need to not raise taxes on anyone during these tough times.  The other side says we need to raise taxes on the rich and redistribute that money to the poor and not so rich.  Some people are calling the latter socialism, a failed socio-economic and political system which is the antithesis of our capitalistic system, and should be avoided at all costs.  Others say the former gives tax breaks to the wealthiest people in America and corporations, some of which are making record profits as it is and, instead, the wealth should spread around.

Obviously, this is a complex issue.  When I face complex issues, sometimes I try to think about what Jesus would want us to do.  So, many times I call Pastor Kirk, a very dear and long-time family friend whom I hope you get to know someday.  He has always provided spiritual insight into even the thorniest secular issues.  My question had to do with stewardship and whether it was our responsibility as good stewards of the gifts God has given us to provide the help and assistance to our neighbors which they need in these hard times or if it was the governments responsibility to do that for us.

Pastor Kirk responded that many times in the Bible Jesus says we need to feed His people, minister to them, heel them and take care of the poor.  Further, he pointed out how statistics show the average giving of most Americans to churches and other charitable organizations is less than 2 % of their annual income; something quite short of the tithe, or 10 %, that God asked of us as a minimum.  He went on to ask, consequently, why would it be so bad if government stepped in and did for us what we cannot seem to do for ourselves and take care of those in need.  Which brings me to my next Pearl.

Twenty-fourth Pearl:  Make Stewardship a Personal Commitment

After careful consideration, I respectfully disagreed with Pastor this time.  Based on my understanding of scripture, I took issue with the connection between Jesus’ admonitions to feed the poor and government mandated redistribution of wealth.  It seems to me Jesus wanted us all to search our hearts and respond appropriately to those less privileged than ourselves.  He didn’t petition Rome or appeal to the elders of the church to get them to mandate feeding the poor, he appealed to every individual to take it upon themselves to help and to serve.  Individual stewardship was what Jesus preached; i.e. voluntary and willing sharing of the wealth, not forced, mandated sharing.    

Then I asked Pastor a hypothetical question.  If the government raises our taxes so that an additional 10 % of our income disappears to be redistributed to those who pay no taxes and those who will get their taxes lowered, would it be alright with God if we stopped tithing because the government is taking over our personal stewardship responsibilities and activities?  Same amount of money being redistributed, right?  Of course not.  It would be our responsibility as good stewards to do both.

Oh, but wait.  Our tithe goes to churches, homeless shelters, battered spouse shelters, national and international disaster relief, national and international food distribution programs, national and international medical research, healthcare and well care programs, and a host of other well researched, well documented charities who put our money to work where it is needed most.

A government redistribution program would work a little differently, wouldn’t it?  I am sure some of it will find its way to those who are really in need (the sick, the homeless, the jobless, the helpless, the hopeless) but MOST of it will go to middle class families who may be struggling more than usual with the high price of gas and rising cost of food, but still have jobs, still have a roof over their heads, still have two cars in their garage, maybe a lake house, even a boat. No, this isn’t taking from the rich and giving to the poor.  This isn’t even good socialism (from each according to their ability to pay, to each according to their NEED).  This is from each according to their ability to pay (but only if your family makes more than $ 200k a year) to each regardless of their need.  I see nothing scriptural in that.

So what do we do, little ones?  My advice is to make certain each of you understands your obligation and make a heart-felt response to honor God by sharing the gifts of time, talent and possessions with your fellow man, who is not as fortunate as you, and do so willingly and with love.  If you do that, and encourage others to do it as well, maybe someday we won’t need our government to become involved in our personal stewardship.

We love you bunches and bunches,

Grandpa Jud