November 15th, 2012
November 15th, 2012
My wife Judy and I don’t aim to give a specific percentage of our income--we simply give each year as we feel led. Only when I prepare our tax return do we see what the total represents. I firmly believe that proportionate giving is what we are supposed to be doing, and for many of us, a tithe is simply not enough. We were delighted in the 1980’s when our giving reached 50% of our gross income. Some years in the late 1990's we gave more than 100% of our gross income. As an attorney, I wrestled about giving more than we could deduct on our tax return, but my heart won out over my intellect. Even though we’re now both retired, last year (2011) we gave about 40% of our gross income.
This hasn’t always been easy. At times earlier in our life, we were maxed out on credit cards to maintain what we felt was an appropriate level of giving and still pay for our kids’ college educations. Because I feel drawn to a number of different causes and needs in our world, I do not follow the normal advice to confine giving to a few large donations where “they will do the most good.” Smaller donations can mean a lot to smaller organizations.
We're fortunate to have few wants, so we don't feel like we're doing without. Several years ago, a retreat leader suggested we look at our spending in three categories: needs, wants and luxuries. Aim to meet all needs, some wants, and one or two luxuries. As we look in retrospect at our spending decisions, we see this model guides us.
Twenty-six years ago, Judy gave me a present of going on a retreat offered by the Ministry of Money (now called the Faith and Money Network), an organization that offered people a safe place to reflect on money, values, and social justice. One of the retreat leaders, an attorney who seemed very much like me, talked about money and his dreams for effecting change in his own community in ways unlike any other attorney I had ever heard. I planned a Ministry of Money retreat here in Dayton soon after that, and in 1991 I was invited to join their Board. I’ve served on that Board for twenty years now. I love that the Faith & Money Network serves as an encouraging voice for values-based simplicity -- helping people connect their material possessions with their faith and their values in a secular, consumer society.
For a decade I served as a volunteer staff person for the Faith & Money Network, even though I was working full-time as a lawyer. I helped to lead twenty Faith & Money Network “pilgrimages of reverse mission” as we call them, to Kingston, Jamaica, Tijuana, Palestine and Gaza, Haiti and Bosnia. In addition to the personal impact these experiences had on me, I’ve had the joy of seeing many people from our comfortable U.S. culture transformed by having real relationships with the poor. It has been like watching flowers bloom.
Meanwhile, in my “real job” as a business lawyer in a firm of nearly 200 lawyers -- serving Fortune 500 companies as well as large nonprofits -- some of my colleagues drove fancy cars like Porsches or had much fancier homes than Judy and I. I tried not to judge their spending decisions, and I fought feelings of self-righteousness. I told myself, "That's their choice. You're content; quit judging what others do." I was not a big “rainmaker”; so when the firm lost about half its lawyers in the late 1980’s, I was grateful to remain as a partner as our firm merged with a larger firm in 1989.
Twelve years ago, I decided to try an experiment with my family. Around Thanksgiving, I told each of my three grown children and their spouses that I would be giving them a specific amount of money at Christmas (in addition to the normal gifts) on two conditions. One, that they give it away, and two, that at Christmas Eve dinner they would each share with us where they had decided to give the money. It was one of the best Christmas dinners we've ever had. Even our son and his wife who were struggling financially were grateful for money to give away. They gave it to a friend who was also struggling, and this meant so much to them and to him. We've continued the tradition every year since then, and now our children are passing this tradition to the next generation, starting with their school-age children.
I believe that Jesus meant it when he said, "Even as you have done it unto the least of these you have done it unto me." So I give primarily to organizations that are helping the "least of these" in various ways both in the U.S. and around the world. The issues I’m most passionate about are income and wealth inequality, eliminating the death penalty, microcredit opportunities, the Israeli/Palestinian search for peace, and addressing discrimination.
I don’t consider my giving to be a big deal. There is so much joy in giving, and I am just grateful for the privilege of being able to give.