Wednesday, March 08, 2006

God's Dirt

God is sitting in Heaven when a scientist says to Him, "Lord, we don't need you anymore. Science has finally figured out a way to create life out of nothing. In other words, we can now do what you did in the beginning'.""Oh, is that so? Tell Me..." replies God. "Well," says the scientist, "we can take dirt and form it into the likeness of YOU and breathe life into it, thus creating man."
"Well, that's interesting. Show Me." So, the scientist bends down to the earth and starts to mold the soil.
"No, no, no..." interrupts God, "Get your own dirt."

Some time ago, I received the joke I copied above from a friend in my email box. It really resonated with me on many levels, because I have spent most of my life outside of organized religious practice, and at least according to some, I am in violation of certain religious tenets. I have often been told that I am projecting an image that says God is not necessary in my life. WOW, not to dictate to others what their perception should be, but if this is the way I appear to you, I assure you that that perceived attitude is definitely NOT ACCURATE!

I have been told by some that this "dismissal" of God from my life that is manifested in my choice not to join or regularly attend a church, might very possibly lead to me having a day like Jack's in the cartoon above. As I read this joke, I began to think about all of the things my friends and family members who practice various organized religions believe and have faith in based on what they have been taught in their respective churches. Though I believe with my whole heart in the existence of God, and strive to live in such a manner as to please Him, I very simply do not subscribe to most of their practices and beliefs. I think that most of the rituals that accompany membership in these organizations are just that, rituals...intended to impress "The Omnipotent".......get real! Thus, things such as attending church on a regular basis or baptizing my son as a baby are not things I feel or felt obligated to do. Admittedly, I accept that there is ample room for my perspective to be broadened and I actively seek education from those whose opinions I respect...folks like my college roomie Lisa, my best friend Angie, my friend and former colleague Bernard, and since just recently, Serenity of blogland fame. I feel that surrounding myself with individuals like the ones mentioned above and others fulfills God's expectation that I be amongst those of a like mind, even though we all differ in how we express our faith in Him.

One practice of organized religion that I do feel is worth participating in, is the practice of tithing. To give of my time, talent, and treasure to show my appreciation for the blessings I've personally experienced through God's grace, and to honor the sacrifice God has made on my behalf just makes sense to me. I know many of you are probably scratching your heads at this point saying, "If she doesn't belong to or attend church regularly, where is she tithing?"

Well, here's where things get interesting. Tithing to a church is not part of the tithing equation as I see it. I have been in many conversations with church-goers as well as others like me who don't attend church regularly during which the issue of tithing and subsequently, where the proceeds are utilized has arisen. I've heard more thoughts on these issues than I can recount, and I believe "Serenity 23" blogged about this issue in the past week as well. My thoughts on the subject are that if I was a member of a specific church I would tithe there as where the proceeds were going would not be an issue since I would NEVER join a church if I had concerns about the appropriateness of how the funds were being handled. If however, I found out after the fact that funds were misappropriated, I would most likely move on if the situation was not dealt with to my satisfaction and allow God to take it from there. Remain there and continue to give monetary tithes.... I could NOT do it!

Additionally, I must say that I do feel that it is a misappropriation of funds for a church's pastor who doesn't have any other means of generating his/her personal income outside of the church to be living in splendor when members of his/her congregation are barely making it. I think that one who chooses a life in the ministry as his/her sole vocation, should do so with the acceptance that his/her lifestyle should be idealy, a reflection of no more than an average of the lifestyles of the church members he/she services unless that minister has other means of income or a spouse who generates additional income. Does the wealth of a minister such as T.D. Jakes bother me? No, as he has many ventures from which to generate income which go beyond the available finances of his church. At this point, I'd be appalled to find he still receives any monetary support from his church though I realize it is very likely he does. [Sharon with one eyebrow raised if she could do it.] For a church whose members barely have the means to buy bus passes to be financing a minister's Mercedes Benz is inexcusably callous on the part of the minister and somewhat stupid in my opinion, on the part of the congregation at large. It would be like me mortgaging my house because Ryan (my son) wants designer clothes and a luxury car...I'm obligated to provide his basic needs, luxuries he should get for himself if this large a sacrifice is required!

Okay, okay, I don't belong to a church so where does that leave me as it relates to tithing? First, I don't set a limit on the amount of monetary tithing I do. My budget is set for handling my household and savings, and the rest is up for grabs, first come first serve. I am generous to a fault, and will help anyone I perceive to be trying to help themselves. I think this is how God would have it. If the situation is severe enough and warrants, [i.e. evictions, medications, etc.] I have been known to sacrifice even my savings and household expenses to help out others, knowing all the time I will be okay because once again, I believe this is how God would have it and subsequently know he will take care of me.

Secondly, I think that the tithing of time and talent in most situations carries more weight than tithing monetarily. I'm constantly amused by those who seem to feel that they wrote their check for 10% and have essentially paid their dues so to speak. If you ask them to give up some of their precious time, you'll see the true "Christian" show up. Asked to donate whatever it is that is their talent, and they mentally start to count up what the cost would be if they were charging for said talent. I eagerly and willingly VOLUNTEER my time and talent often resulting in my plate being over-filled. It's okay, it keeps me young, vital, and my blood flowing! Many tithe only because they believe the biblical lesson that what you give away will be returned seven-fold. I don't know if this is the true, underlying reason behind my willingness to tithe time and treasure, but I can attest that the tithing I have done throughout my life has boomeranged back to me.....and to a tune much larger than seven-fold!

Whether tithing is tied to church or just something you do whenever or wherever you can, I believe it is essential to becoming the fully realized person each of us hope to be. When you reach out to help someone else by any means, you fulfill the promise of yourself, and your promise to God. Helping someone else helps us to forget what troubles we are having...and if you think about the requests we all send up in prayer, "God please take away my troubles", we see that in tithing there is always a positive return both in the lives of those we help as well as in our own as our troubles seem to diminish when we focus on the troubles of others.

I'm sure there are those of you who will feel that what I think of as tithing is not tithing, and that is okay with me. I am very interested to hear your perspectives, and am even open to the possibility that some of you may in some way change my mind. However, based on what I currently accept to be the truth, I am confident that God, the only being who truly knows my heart [including me], is happy with what I believe it is that I am doing!

So in closing, I know that God is essential to my life and I know that He is necessary! Therefore, I have no fear of "No Vacancy" signs on The Pearly Gates nor of the gates being locked upon my arrival. I know without question, that if I need it, He will allow me to use His dirt!


James Manning said...

I wrote about this and I agree with you about tithing. Even a firm understanding of the bible shows that tithing is not something Christians need do. However, like you, if I belong to a church then I'm more than willing to support that church financially.

Old post: Welcome to God Galleria

nosthegametoo said...

I have a friend from St. Louis that kind of thinks the same way.

Just stopping by. Nice post.

DJ Diva said...

I see I'm gonna have to do a post on this...

Sharon...I am so curious...U say "I think"...and "I believe"...from where did you form all these ideas about what God wants you to do?

Yall are so lucky I started a new job this week....

Serenity23 said...

Ok, you know I've been waiting on this post since Sunday. I would like to offer my two cents on some of your positions. Let's start with your view that tithes, include not only monetary amounts, but time and talent as well. I wholeheartedly agree. Just this past Saturday, I gave a testimony in church school on how I stepped out on faith to tithe. The lady leading the lesson replied and said that my situation was almost immediate b/c I was able to see improvement in my situation almost immediately. She was trying to forewarn others that it may not be the same. I countered by telling her that just giving 10% was only the first step and you can't simply give money and not invest other parts of yourself. For me that means that I sat down and decided that I wanted to also give 2.4 % of my time each and every day to the Lord. Meaning I am so hungry to get closer to him and know his Word that I will spend 10% of my day reading the Bible, other spiritual books, praying and praising him. I want him to know that the buck just doesn't stop with my bank account. As far as my talent, I know that my talent is writing and I try via my blog and other articles that I have written for publication that relate to my spiritual journey. I am also told that I am a good teacher, so when I learn something, I try my best to share the wealth of knowledge with others. So in the talent, treasure and time arena, I think I am well on my way. However, you'll realize that once you start doing something for the Lord and you do it genuinely and not in expectance of something else tied to it, you will crave doing it. Now I give 10% and often give more. The more I'm blessed with, the more I will give. Now on the issue of you aiding others in bad situations, I totally commend you. However, on the issue of you giving whatever you have after you meet your basic needs, let me refer you to this scripture. Proverbs 3:9-10 "Honour the Lord with thy substance, and the first fruits of all thine increase: so shall thine barns be filled with plenty, and thine presses shall burst out with new wine." Why don't you take some time and research "first fruits." In everything I do, I want to place the Lord first. This means even before Tyler b/c I know he will provide. Giving him whatever I have left over is nothing special. Now the last thing I will address is that ministers should live at the standard of the average of their congregation. How many scriptures do we see in the Bible about the Lord abundantly blessing those who seek righteousness and follow him with their spirit, soul and body? Ministers have a right to have a life of abundant blessings, if they strive for righteousness. Why do we expect them to live modestly when they are living according to the Word? Those same members of the congregation who are struggling, they can live a life of abundance as well. All they have to do is put away the things of the world and live according to the kingdom principles. I'm going to end here b/c I don't want to be too longwinded, but you get my point.

Serenity23 said...

One other thing, I wrote an article for Bahiyah Women's Mag on the issue of attending church. Check it out when you get a chance.

Sharon said...

@ James,
I'm going to check out your post as soon as I'm done here, but wanted to say that at this point in life, I'm probably more likely to tithe "intentionally" outside of church than in...I guess my "problem" is that I don't have the ability to be unconcerned with what happens with the proceeds of the time, talent, and treasure that is given. Hopefully, someone reading this post will direct me to something that will outline and define the error of my ways for me as right now at least I believe that I am on the right path re: this issue...Thanks for commenting!

Yeah, there could be an epidemic of "Bible backwards" folk in the Louie, you know how country they say we are! Come back soon!

@DJ Diva,
Now how did I know you would have something to say about this post ;)

I know, the same way I know the things in the post that "I know" and/or "I think" and/or "I believe", God told me directly--no middle man! Now tell me he didn't if you're bad!

I also know that I have just guaranteed myself a post in which I will receive a very public education (a.k.a. BUTT WHOOPIN'), though my name may be changed to protect the "not so innocent"! But I can take it, and another thing I already know is that I am sure to learn something from it though I warn you DJ my friend that it will more than likely not change my whole perspective. But go on, I can't wait...Madame Serenity in this morning's comment has already got me re-thinking on one point, so take your best shot...I'll be your target!

@ Serenity,
What I love about you and the way you approach those of us whose ideas are far apart from your own is that you are so very respectful of them while asserting with no room for doubt your own ideas/beliefs...commendable! So I start by saying "Thank you for not ridiculing or being dismissive of my perspective."

Now, we need more discussion here in a different one to one format once I've done some reading b/c I've not spent much time considering the timing of my tithing [i.e. before budgeting bills, savings, etc]. Intuitively, I think of the idea that God helps those who help themselves, and this justifies what I have always done. Keep in mind that I will hit the pre-budgeted resources and/or savings if necessary, but I think this point is worthy of some thought.

I will head over and read your article on church going, but unless you can land me in a church full of people I love that is a church which by my standards is well-run organization, I would not hold out much hope for me there ;) Afterall, much of my extended family [i.e. people I love]attend one of two local churches to which I visit occasionaly but don't feel comfortable in the hands so to speak of the people running the church. You have to also understand about me that I am one of the "lost folks" who does NOT believe that church is necessary to fulfill the promise to gather together in His that definition, you and I are in church almost everyday in a way. For me, what church is, is a place with fellowship...not necessarily of the spiritual nature though occasionally it might be, good music if I'm lucky, and only very rarely a place where I can get a better understanding of the Bible [my thoughts about which would probably set off the next Crusades if I published them a story for another time ;)] if the pastor is a good teacher as well [rare...very rare]. But as they say, NEVER SAY NEVER!!

Now about those ministers, I can't go with you on this point. I have no issue with them living well, but it is so rare to see one of that elk [at least I never do] personally reach out to help someone else...and they have the means. When I see this from a minister pastoring to a flock full of folk who have nothing and are giving half of that to someone with multiple Mercedes, a beachfront second home, and the like...well suffice it to say, that minister stands no chance with me. Even I, in my lowliness will share what I have with those I say I care about...I would not allow someone I love to be homeless while I have a how can a minister especially when he is living in a home or homes paid for by those same folk who barely or maybe even don't have a home? I'm not suggesting they should not have or display their wealth, only that like the rest of us, they should share it. BTW, do ministers tithe? [***disclaimer: I use the title "minister" generically here...same applies to Catholic priests or anyone who else who fulfills this role in a variety or religious denominations***]

You know I love you and the way you make me look differently at things than I ever did before, so welcome to my life, and hang around for a very long time if you would...I surely appreciate your presence ;)

Serenity23 said...

Thx! I have one last comment regarding your church attendance comment. I know that you are a woman of knowledge and wisdom. You are probably like me, always seeking to learn more. One of the studies in our recent church school quarter dealt with Paul advising Timothy and Titus on how the church is supposed to be set up and organized. In his writings, he speaks on how ministers and other church elders are to conduct themselves as well. When you get a chance, check that out? Don't let what one or two or even ten churches do, dissuade you from flourishing in your personal walk. I try to explain to people all the time that the church is full of evil doers, sinners, hypocrites, etc. but in the end, we will all answer for ourselves. Nobody else can answer for us. I say that to say, if they are participating in wrong doing, then they'll be held accountable. One of the main premises that I will stress to you regarding church attendance is that it is a venue for us to be taught. Not just by a minister either. By other people just like us who are on this same path. Sometimes they have so much to teach us just from their experiences and their revelations on reading the Word. Lastly, a church setting also gives us a method of reading and discussing the Word. How many times do you read a scripture on my blog or anywhere else and i have one interpretation and five other people come along and interpret it in a different way. God gives different revelations to different people and even if we stayed home and studied on our own, we'd still be missing out on the breath of life that other like minded believers can give from their walk and study of the Word.

LadyLee said...

You see, that's why you have your "Original Oldgirl" Platinum Plus card... And you handle the microphone so so well (as always)!

This was a great post...

Interestingly, I can see where you are coming from when you say...

"if I was a member of a specific church I would tithe there as where the proceeds were going would not be an issue since I would NEVER join a church if I had concerns about the appropriateness of how the funds were being handled."

What a loaded statement! Because this is a such a true and honest statement, and in my opinion, the way it should be! Interestingly, this is not a tenet held by a lot of church members who actually go to a church that is handling money correctly... The long held thought of "I don't give because the preacher might be taking my money" is the more prevalent reason why people who go to church don't give. Which I feel is a straight up cop-out, cop-out, COP-OUT!!! Not your thought, but the "church folks" thoughts...

Tithing is a strange thing in people's minds... A lot of that preacher stealing stuff is based in fear... and it proves to me one thing: that a person's giving
should be an issue between themselves and God. Period.

For if it was an issue between me and God, as it is for me, then the tithing 10% of my income would not be a problem... Personally I could care less what the preacher is doing... That's between him and God. Ain't got nothing to do with me... And shoot, I figure God knows all of what is going on behind the scenes. Better than I could ever know.

So folks look at me strange when I say, if you can't give purely out of a love for God, or to honor God, His house of worship, and His Kingdom... then don't give at all. If you're in a place where you gotta wonder about if the money is being dealt with right, then don't give....

I attend one of the so-called Mega Churches, and my preacher has been called all kinds of things... But the tithe rate at my church is only 35%. That's only 35% of the people tithing on a regular basis... And amazingly, that is a high tithe rate as far as church giving goes... This goes to prove to me that it has to be something between that person who tithes and God. A complete trust thing...

And I didn't realize that my pastor and church did so much for the community and for the poor, even the less fortunate of our church... He's built houses, given away transportation, all kinds of stuff... My sister who was jobless and who was a nonmember at one time, and did some investigating, hipped me to all the free career services available to the community through my church, much of what she took advantage of, much of which helped her secure a job that she loves... Go figure... But, of course, we will never hear such things on the evening news, now will we? Nope. They are positive things, you see.

And what I find quite interesting is that I have yet to met a tither who has not seen some dramatic changes in their life... As a matter of fact, I am able to do more for myself and others when I began tithing, than I did when I wasn't... Seems backwards, but it isn't. That's the way it is suppose to work out...

You also said "I'm constantly amused by those who seem to feel that they wrote their check for 10% and have essentially paid their dues so to speak."

You and me both... I personally don't think it should be that way, and it is not that way with me. But I absolutely commend you on your "giving spirit" when it comes to those in need around you... I feel like you are doing more than some so-called uppity church folk do... And no matter how you look at it, you are getting involved in spiritual laws... That is what got to me when I read this post. I gotta commend you on that right there, Oldgirl...

Alright, I do have more to say, but I have blogged long enough in your comment section...

Again... good thought provoking post, OG!!!

Hiari Shouts said...

Church is a overated tradition that will not keep you from going to heaven. GOD is the way and if we follow his truths heaven is ours.

Hiari Shouts said...

ooohhh... you have tapped into the truth and we all have thought it but could not articulate as well

DP said...

I dont have time to address this...i should be on I-35 already...but I will leave a nickel on the table.

Do you.

If God isn't pleased, he has an amazing way of letting you know.

Church is NOT overrated. You can NEVER overstate the value of a quality man(or woman) of God leading a group of truly dedicated folk in the right direction. It can broaden your family influence and give you a resource of Grace and goodness that cannot be replaced with good old self-reliance.

That said..there is nothing more frustrating than belonging to a do-nothing church.

yeah..thats about a nickels worth.

**RPM** said...

This post is brilliant Sharon. Such a meaty topic and full of lots of opinions. Personally, I tend to subscribe to many of your beliefs. I have struggled greatly with organized religion, some of the double standards and conflicts in stance have always bothered me a great deal. This was a very compelling essay, a great read!

DJ Diva said...

I'm not here to fight with you Sharon...or beat down what you have convinced yourself of...I asked merely to see if you were following any school of thought other than your own...what you say in some of these posts and in your comments...smacks of Bible related teachings and studies...for someone who doesn't believe in "organized religion" (which is another post altogether) speak the language very well...this leads me to think that at some point you were introduced to God by someone who had the Christian it's probable that you have had these nuggets implanted in you from a early age and just chose to adhere to some of them while not following a particular faith

But if you ready for the you go...

God has been telling you stuff...I wouldn't deny that...but all He's doing is reminding you of His Word...which is already written and which you have been reading...your presumption on what God wants...and what God needs...are according to YOUR own understanding...cause what He has already written down that he pick and choose what you want to follow....and that's cool...we all do that to some extent...even me! Do you... like DP said....ultimately when we each come before our Maker...and he asks us those hard questions...You will have to say "Well I thought...."

You read my know how I feel....but i'm not here to beat you or anybody else over the head with it...i've had my own struggles...and I'm not perfect....and I don't judge anyone....I just speak what God tells me to say...which is to convey the Good News...that I found in His manual...If you saw a baby walking toward a hot would try to catch him right?...Well that's all i can do...try and throw you a lifeline.

Sharon said...

@ Ladylee,
I love the idea of "spiritual laws" as you put it:

**And no matter how you look at it, you are getting involved in spiritual laws... That is what got to me when I read this post. I gotta commend you on that right there, Oldgirl...

This is the very concept that I hoped to convey when I wrote this post. Oftentimes, those in church can't see the sameness of what they do within the confines of the church and what I do outside the confines of the church. I tend to believe that the location is irrelevant if you are doing right and see the afore mentioned perspective as somewhat narrow-minded.

Now, thanks to you, I'll have a concise term to use when trying to explain the perspective I have on this issue...I'm just following spiritual laws as I understand them...nothing more, nothing less!

Thanks OG!

@ hiari shouts,
Thanks for stopping by and I appreciate your comments...I'm glad I was able to articulate this perspective such that it spoke to/for you as well as me. Come back soon!

I'm glad you stopped to weigh in my brother, and you know we will be having more in-depth discussion on this at a later date. For now, I think I'll continue as I have to this point and take your advice to "Do Me"!

Be safe and hurry back to us all soon!

@ rpm,
I am so pleased that you came by and that you posted. I have really enjoyed the posts I have read on your site and felt from my first visit a certain kinship so it comes as no surprise that this post resonated with you.

The double standards and conflicts in stance of which you speak have always caused me great turmoil in accepting much of what some have tried to convince me. I was not out to change anyone's mind when I wrote this post, only to inform minds which I feel are typically somewhat closed to the way that I see these things.

Love your blog so look forward to catching me hanging around on the regular...

@ DJ Diva,
My dear Lady DJ, hopefully I did not give you the impression that I thought you came to fight or beat me down. If I have, scratch that as it is NOT the case. My remarks were simply alluding to the fact that I know you are strong in your knowledge of scripture and based on your earlier comment "I see I'm gonna have to do a post on this...", I knew I would soon be finding out just how strong in the scripture you are;)

Now, to address your comments...
Not only was I introduced to God, I at times in my life attended both a Baptist and Catholic church simultaneously coming from parents who practiced two very different religions. Additionally, I spent my college years attending a Baptist church regularly.

I have given more churches/people than I can countt the opportunity to convince me other than what I currently believe, and really can't say that I have had any truly negative experiences at any church I've attended. On that same token, I also can't say that any of these experiences were what I consider to be spiritual either. Thus, I don't see any reason for me to feel compelled to go there regularly, or to participate in the activities they organize.

You are correct that God has been telling me stuff, but from this point forward we part ways. I don't believe that my beliefs are according to my own understanding as you suggest, but according to the understanding given to me by God. At the risk of starting a whole other conversation, I will say that I understand your perspective based on your view of the Bible as the word of God written down. I don't perceive the Bible in this way [if people of faith can have different interpretations of the same scripture, why can't I have a different interpretation of the entire Bible], and thus feel that just as the authors of the Bible are purported to have received the Word from God Himself, it is just as possible that God guides my steps directly in much the same way. I know this sounds delusional to many and that's okay with me...but just as in some manner you and others who believe as you do had to receive a direct "push" from God to go in that direction initially, I too am waiting on that direct "push" so to speak. I must admit that it does seem to me something of a conflict to suggest that God is speaking to me while at the same time suggesting that I am being presumtious about what he wants or in other words "what he is telling me". I think when all is said and done, its this type of inconsistency that is rampant in organized religious teaching that reinforces my decision to stay clear.

However, I appreciate you following through on the promises you made to God and knowing that this is your true intent, I appreciate and welcome every lifeline that you ever throw my way...and that is said with absolutely no sarcasm, real or implied!

afrochelle said...

For a church whose members barely have the means to buy bus passes to be financing a minister's Mercedes Benz is inexcusably callous on the part of the minister and somewhat stupid in my opinion, on the part of the congregation at large.

I can't help but agree with this. My church is this way. My husband and I are doing well financially, but when our S class Mercedes driving pastor starting preaching about how people need to sacrifice to support the church, I couldn't help but think, that maybe he should sacrifice that Benz, and buy a civic before he starts telling everyone else that they should give above their tithes and offerings to support the building fund. I've been told that the it's "the devil" that makes me think that way, but I think that it's just common sense.