It isn’t generosity when it’s required

Once again I was prepared to discuss the Higgs-Boson particle, which is essential to the mystery of Jesus (at least according to some blogs). But then Ann Romney spoke up. In the wake of the controversy about her husband's falsifying records about his stint at Bain Capital, she said Mitt was one of the most generous men she knows. Her example? Mitt gives ten percent of their income to the Mormon Church.

First of all, let me explain to Republicans and members of the Christian right why Romney's record at Bain is so important in an election that will be primarily about the economy. First, he lied to the government about when he ran Bain. When you lie to the government, you are officially, on the record, lying to the American people who are the government.

What did he lie about? His economic record as CEO. This should send a warning flag when he says that he will do as President what he did as CEO.

It should also send a warning flag since he oversaw massive layoffs and outsourcing to maintain profitability. This is the clearest indicator of his economic policy's effects since his policy is pretty much to cut corporate taxes and let them create jobs elsewhere.

It's hard to be upset about the lying part since we already know the Christian right has pretty much struck that off the ten commandments to make room for their abortion plank.

But I'm interested in Ann Romney's claim that giving ten percent to your church is generous. Jesus pretty much said the opposite. Tithing is not an act of generosity, it's an article of faith. You aren't being generous until you give more than asked.

Romney may be generous (even though his employees might not feel that generosity). But it isn't for paying his bills to God.

My family had a hard time getting a handle on this, but I was raised Baptist Preacher's Kid (BPK) so it may have come with the territory. My family loved to ask us to be generous with each other, so much so that we twisted each other's arm until the spirit of generosity overwhelmed us.

It would begin simply and innocently. With a suggestion like, “Wouldn't it be nice if you…?” Innocent to people who don't speak Baptist (or Stephens). To those of us who speak the language, it meant “You will.”

Nor was a gift really a gift so much as an obligation in its own right. The master of obligatory gift giving was my grandmother, who wan't Baptist but a conservative Presbyterian raised in the heart of John Birch country in Ohio. My sisters and I learned to keep our gifts still wrapped in our closets so we could return them whenever she said, “How can you be this way when I gave you such a wonderful present.”

Perhaps the best example of this was the fifty dollar gift an uncle gave to a family in need who were also in his employ. He had just hired the dad, so he floated him fifty dollars to get by until the first pay day. We learned about this gift at the next family dinner when he complained that he spotted the family at Kentucky Fried Chicken that very evening. Even worse, when he saw his employee in the grocery store later in the week, he was buying beer.

That ungrateful lout. It seems my uncle expected his employee to spend the money on baloney sandwiches and milk because that's what poor people should eat to stay on budget.

I thought it might be useful to touch bases on a few tips that you might not be a generous as you think. From what I read in the Bible, you aren't being generous if:

  1. You have an obligation to give.
  2. You give but you don't want to.
  3. You give less than you tell people you do. (This actually got some people killed by the Holy Spirit.)
  4. You do it because someone twists your arm.
  5. You complain about it.
  6. You have to tell everyone how much you gave.
  7. You have to remind them constantly that you gave.
  8. You have a plaque with your name mounted on the gift.
  9. They have to wear it or put it on display whenever you're around or you make them feel guilty.
  10. You expect something back.
  11. You expect it to be used differently than the recipient wants it to be used.
  12. You claim it on your tax returns

By my calculation, Romney's tithes aren't really generous by counts 1, 6 and (most likely) 12. Oh, and, by the way, it isn't generous if you feel you're being generous. That's pride. (So maybe we should add 13 to 1, 6 and 12).

And my hyperactive dog Pearl tells me it isn't being generous to give your dog a ride on the roof so she can share your vacation.

I don't claim to be a generous person myself, by the way. Generosity is difficult by any measure. Grace allows us to slide when we fail to be generous, and we shouldn't jeopardize grace by proclaiming our generosity.

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