Thursday, July 24, 2008

Tithing and Giving

I have been researching the area of Christian tithing for a little while now. A couple things stemmed this particular quest of knowledge:

#1) I am a big fan of Dave Ramsey, a financial talk show host who is also a Christian, he promotes the (wonderful) idea of being debt free, and recommends tithing 10% to your church or synagogue no matter what your financial situation.

#2) I recently (beginning about five years ago after we lost our son) became a churchgoer. I was born a Catholic, tired of organized religion in high school, and continued for many years as a Christian who worked directly with God and "eliminated the middleman" (church). My wife and I started attending a wonderful United Methodist church in Michigan when we needed support after losing our son. At this church, the pastor (who became one of my best friends) hated to talk about money. People gave out of a sense of need, as we did.

#3) After moving to Texas, we started going to a wonderful church here. It is a large Methodist church with lots of property and plans to build. It has fancy lighting and sound, a computer lab for it's elementary school, and big plans for the future. They are also big on the tithe (giving 10% of your take home income to the church). Although they are good about not picking on you individually, it is brought up frequently during church. They are also big on annual pledging (I am not). Anyway, when you join the church, you make a pledge in front of God and everybody, I don't have a problem with most of it but part of the pledge is "I will give ten percent of my money." I cannot pledge this. It is the only reason I still don’t feel called to join, even though I love going to that church.

So, really, that is what has me thinking about tithing right about now. Personally, I believe in giving to the church, from the heart, as you would give to any other charity. And for a while, I was thinking that all of your charitable giving should count toward your tithing, as, when the tithe was created so many, many years ago, the church was pretty much the only charity around. If I had to give 10% to the church, I would have no money left to give to other organizations that I find to be important. So, when we get to church (depending on my travel schedule and my wife's work schedule (she sometimes works on Sundays)) we write a check for $25 and feel good about it. If we made more, we would give more.

Another thing that bothers me about their "10%" rule is that this church has so many bells and whistles. Don't get me wrong, I like bells and whistles, with my A.D.D. I need bells and whistles to stay interested. They have fancy automated stage lighting that changes colors and can be aimed anywhere in the room. The seats are comfortable, and the sound system is excellent. They also have a wonderful multimedia system including three projectors and monitors in other parts of the facility. They are looking at putting in a large expensive telephone system. If I gave 10%, I would want that money to go towards the poor, to spreading God's word, and doing other churchy things. The bells and whistles are icing on the cake. Don't get me wrong, if they wanted to buy another bell or whistle, and they wanted to take a special collection, I would be happy to give. But I don't think a biblical tithe should go toward maintaining a fancy facility. Now, I would freely admit, that they would need to take tithe or giving money for general operating expenses, including phone systems, computers, and infrastructure. In this day and age, you need these types of things to run a business, non-profit or not. I call these types of expenses the "icing in the middle of the cake" -- it holds the layers together. But you really don't need the bells and whistles, the icing on the cake, to hold a church together.

As far as annual pledges, I don't participate in those because I feel it is pledging money that I don't have yet, and if the worst happened and I lost my job and we had to scale back on our giving, I would feel bad about not keeping my pledge promise. I know, I know, there are compelling reasons for churches to have pledge drives. It helps them create their budgets, for one. But I just can't pledge money I don't have yet. It's a personal problem, I know.

After saying all of that, I love to give money to charities. My wife and I are blessed with good jobs, a healthy income, an affordable mortgage, and no other debt. We save well, we budget well, and we are able to give well. Starting last year, we set goals for the end of the year to give larger one-time donations to a few charities. This year, our goals are even higher. I won't provide amounts here, but we gave large sums to St. Jude's Children's hospital, the American Radio Relay League (a national amateur radio organization that focuses on radio education and public service), and the USO, with some smaller donations to a few local radio clubs for good measure. Basically, we split the amount evenly and my wife decides how to give her half and I decide on my half. It's fun. Our goal for this year is a 50% increase over last year. (And these goals don't include the collection plate offerings at church).

Anyway, I found an interesting website today called Now, they have some interesting biblical interpretations about tithing. As with most of the biblical interpretations out there, there may have been some bias against tithing while they did their research and picked bible verses. There may be conflicting verses that they didn't quote as well. I don't know. I'm not good enough at reading and interpreting the bible (remember my A.D.D.) to really know if they know what they are talking about. But they bring up some interesting points (everything within quotes, including links, from, some links did not transfer but the asterisks did, they point to bible text):

#1) "A Biblical tithe is 10% of certain agricultural products from the land of Israel to be paid by the farmers to the Levites, who in turn tithed to the priests. Wage earners and the poor were exempt from tithing. The poor were allowed to benefit from tithes."

#2) "Israeli* animals, seeds and fruit are tithed: When your herds or flocks go out to pasture, remove every tenth animal* that passes by. If you only have 9 or less, then there is no tenth animal, hence no tithe. You tithe on cattle and sheep*. Produce of the land is tithed by calculating what is one tenth, and that is your tithe. Examples: Seed and fruit* Grain, wine and oil* Grain, wine, oil and honey* Spices* and herbs* "

#3) "Money and wages are not tithed as money is considered as unrighteous*. Other things not tithed: Unclean animals, beasts of burden, fish, birds, insects, reptiles*. The spoils of battle are not tithed."

#4) "Israelite* farmers*, gardeners* and Levites*. Wage earners did not tithe since only agricultural products were tithed. See Jesus."

#5) "Charging a fixed 10% of everyone's income is unjust because the poor can't afford it. The Bible recognized this, and granted the poor the right to receive tithes, instead of having to pay them.* It was only the land owners (farmers), and the Levites who tithed. Most countries recognize the injustice of a flat taxation rate for everyone, and charge a progressively higher income tax on the rich, and often nothing on the poor, who are sometimes sustained by the state. "
Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! OK, I personally believe in a flat TAX. I think a flat TAX to the government is fair, with perhaps an exemption for poor people who simply cannot pay… but up into the middle class and higher, flat fair taxes for all! So let's not get confused. However, as it applies to charitable GIVING, I approve of this statement. One should GIVE according to their own ability.

#6) "The biblical principle of giving, is that we give whatever we feel moved to give from our hearts, without compulsion. This was stated by both Moses*, and Paul* Tithing and giving are different concepts."
Could not agree more! is an interesting website. Again, it may tweak some people off. And there may be other parts of the bible that promote monitary tithing that they did not mention. But it raises a lot of good points and I enjoyed reading it. That being said, I am going to continue my quest to learn more about tithing and it's modern day applications.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Bill's Blog goes Green

Alot of people these days seem to like the color green. I like the color green. It's a nice color. Not my favorite, but I do enjoy green things -- mint chip ice cream, money, shamrock shakes, the seaweed wrapped around my sushi, and even asparagus (although I could do without the green pee that results from the green asparagus).

I was on an American Airlines flight last week and started reading the American Way magazine. It pronounced that it was the annual Green edition. Cool. I like green. Again, not my favorite color. A nice blue may have been a nicer "annual issue."

Unfortunately, the magazine lied. It wasn't about the color green at all. The whole issue was packed with environmentalist tree-hugging stories. Bor-ing. I just spent four days in Pennsylvania driving a rented SUV, and then was flying home, burning jet fuel, trying my best to increase my carbon footprint. I don't need an airline magazine, fooling me with the color green, then trying to guilt-trip me into driving my pickup truck from the aiport parking directly to a car dealer to trade it in for a Prius immediately upon landing.

So it is because of the stupid prank by American Way Magazine last week that I dedicate this blog entry to the color green. Just because green is a nice color. Maybe not the best color. But a nice color nonetheless.

Glenn Beck in Dallas, all of USA in one night

Kellie and I went to see Glenn Beck's summer tour "Beck '08: Unelectable" at the Majestic Theater in Dallas last Thursday (which was also our 9th anniversary, bless her heart!). This show was also simulcast in high definition in over 350 movie theaters all across the US, including one in Mishawaka, Indiana that my folks were able to get tickets to.

Mr. Beck is a comedic genius, a political genius, and just a damn good guy. The second half of the show was a political speech that we all (well, we conservatives, anyway) want to hear from a political candidate. After this, I would definitely vote for Glenn... He would have a fighting chance to win a presidency. But his wife would kick his ass if he did.

This show will come out on DVD and I highly recommend that you buy a copy when it does. I just can't explain it -- you need to see it for yourselves. Your views on America will either be changed or strengthened, depending on your point of view, of course.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Letter to the Editor

Letter to the Editor

This was a letter that was allegedly submitted to the Orange County Register and was subsequently rejected due to it being politically incorrect. I have not vetted this fact (I received it forwarded from a friend who got it forwarded to him, ad nauseum), but the letter, pasted below, is an especially well-written critique of those who illegally cross our borders and try to compare themselves to the immigrants coming through Ellis Island in the early part of the last century. When will people learn the difference between a legal immigrant welcome to come into our culture, and an illegal immigrant who is absolutely not welcome within our borders?

Dear Editor:

So many letter writers have based their arguments on how this land is made up of immigrants. Ernie Lujan for one, suggests we should tear down the Statue of Liberty because the people now in question aren't being treated the same as those who passed through Ellis Island and other ports of entry.

Maybe we should turn to our history books and point out to people, like Mr. Lujan, why today's American is not willing to accept this new kind of immigrant any longer.

Back in 1900, when there was a rush fro m all areas of Europe to come to the United States, people had to get off a ship and stand in a long line in New Y ork - and be documented. Some would even get down on their hands and knees and kiss the ground. They made a pledge to uphold the laws and support their new country in good and bad times. They made learning English a primary rule in their new American households, and some even changed their names to blend in with their new home.

They had waved good-bye to their birth place in order to give their children a new life; and they did everything in their power to help their children assimilate into one culture!

Nothing was handed to them. No free lunches, no welfare, no labor laws to protect them. All they had were the skills and the craftsmanship that they had brought with them to trade for a future of prosperity. Most of their children came of age when World War II broke out. My father fought along-side men whose parents had come straight over from Germany, Italy, France and Japan. None of these 1st generation Americans ever gave any thought about what country their parents had come from. They were Americans fighting Hitler, Mussolini, and the Emperor of Japan. They were defending the United States of America as one people.

When we liberated France, no one in those villages were looking for the French-American or the German-American or the Irish-American. The people of France saw only Americans.

And we carried one flag that represented one country. Not one of those immigrant sons would have thought about picking up another country's flag and waving it to represent who they were. It would have been a disgrace to their parents who had sacrificed so much to be here These immigrants truly knew what it meant to be an American. They stirred the melting pot into one red, white and blue bowl.

And here we are in 2008 with a new kind of immigrant who wants MORE rights and privileges. They want to achieve that by playing with a different set of rules, one that includes the entitlement card and a guarantee of being faithful to their mother country. I'm sorry, that's not what being an American is all about.

I believe that the immigrants who landed on Ellis Island in the early 1900's deserve better than that for all the toil, hard work and sacrifice in raising future generations to create a land that has become a beacon for those legally searching for a better life. I think they would be appalled that they are being used as an example by those waving foreign country flags.

And for that suggestion about taking down the Statu e of Liberty, it happens to mean a lot to the citizens who are voting on the immigration bill.
I wouldn't start talking about dismantling the United States just yet.

(signed) Rosemary LaBonte

Diners, Drive Ins, and Bill

So I found myself in Harrisburg, PA this past weekend, and I will be finding myself there for the next three or four weekends as well. One of the most wonderful pieces of the culture of the Pennsylvania/New Jersey area is the diner. I have my favorites, and my all time favorite is the Menlo Park Diner near Edison, NJ.

I found another good one in Harrisburg, and I ate there three times this past weekend! High quality food, good prices, and -- best of all -- they had pork roll! For those of you in the rest of the country, pork roll (also known as Taylor ham) is a delicious breakfast meat that is only made and sold in that part of the country. (See the Wikipedia link for a description).

My single disappointment? No lemon meringue pie. They had a lemon cream pie that was pretty good but there was too much cream. Very very rich. Oh yeah, one more disappointment -- no substitutions! Can't substitute pork roll as a breakfast meat. Gotta order it a la carte. Oh well.

Diners are a staple in that part of the country. Most are open 24 hours, have lots of gaudy neon and metal trim, and serve great food and desserts. Just about everything is good there, from the seafood to the chipped beef on toast (also lovingly known as "$#!+ On A Shingle"). Many have a gigantic refrigerated dessert case that is the first thing you see as you come through the door. The Starlite Diner (where I was a frequent customer once) in Allentown, PA is an especially good example of this.

So, keep lookin' for me at the Capital Diner over the next few months!