Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Helping us do right

I'm more and more impressed by Christians. I've been deeply suspicious of religion in general since leaving the church at age 11, but lately I've been noticing more and more of its good side. And living at a Quaker center, I've been noticing Christianity especially. I think it gives people some good tools for living well.

I was recently introduced to the idea of an "environmental sabbath day". Of course the most complete observers of the sabbath are Jews, but most of the sabbath observers I know are Christians. Spending a day at home or in the neighborhood, not driving, using less electricity (or none) - it would make a difference. In my current schedule of working six and a half days a week I'm realizing that a sabbath would be good for me as well as for the earth.

My (Episcopalian) friend Mary not only finished her taxes weeks before I did, but afterwards she tithed a percentage of her income from the past year. Glowing, she told me that she had become a member of Bread for the World and a few other charities.

Not many of us give the traditional Biblical tithe of 10%. Our national average is 3.1%. It's not that we can't afford to - poor Americans give the highest percentage of their income and assets. The most famous philanthropist in my hometown for a long time was an impoverished postal worker who would regularly give $1000 checks to people he thought were doing good work. "People say, 'How can you afford it?' Well, how can people afford new cars and boats? Instead of those, we deliberately kept our standard of living down below our means."

Some comparison: according to this calculator, my income of about $5,000 puts me in the world's richest 15%.

As far as anyone can tell, Americans sort of think they ought to give to charity but aren't very organized about it. What a good thing it would be if we all finished our taxes every year and immediately gave away a tenth of our income (or more, as these folks are doing). Putting off giving makes it less effective, considering that problems like AIDS, climate change, and environmental destruction are growing constantly. Head on over to Charity Navigator and see what's out there.

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