Tithing the Mint?

August 18, 2005 | 41 comments
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I have a small herb garden: a couple of varieties of thyme, some tarragon, chives, basil, dill, oregano, rose geranium, parsley, lavender, sage, rosemary, and two kinds of mint, regular and chocolate, though the chocolate is gradually disappearing, replaced by the spearmint. I use some of them in cooking, but not often (except for the basil when the tomatoes are on). I like growing herbs and seeing them and smelling them. Usage takes an important but second place.

I let the mint grow as a ground cover. It gives the garden a good scent, helps keep the ground from drying out, and isn’t that difficult to control: every two weeks or so I have to pull it back from the plants it is trying to overcome, and cut it down to about six inches high so it doesn’t block the light. The product of pulling and trimming is two or three bushels of mint, most of which goes into the compost. I don’t have any use for that much mint, nor does anyone else I know.

The other day, trimming the mint, I began to think about Matthew 23:23:

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.

Luke changes the quotation slightly: “ye tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass over judgment and the love of God.” But the message is the same: those he condemns have been rigorous in their interpretation of tithing, even tithing something as insignificant as mint, but they have not been nearly as rigorous in their attention to the heavier, more important parts of the law, justice, mercy, and trust in God. In spite of their claims to righteousness, they are “blind guides” to those who would seek to be righteous.

I remember wondering whether we should tithe the produce of our garden. Years ago we had a large one that went a long way to feeding us during the year. I asked the bishop about tithing it, but he didn’t take me seriously. Looking back, I think he was probably right not to; I may have been showing off. I might even have been pharisaical, proving my righteousness publicly by showing my scruples over even little things like mint or, in those days, tomatoes and broccoli.

Trimming the mint and remembering the verse from Matthew made me wonder how often I am a blind guide to my family, to my friends in church and out, to my students, to my acquaintances. How often do I scruple about essential but lighter things and neglect the weightier matters of justice, mercy, faithfulness, and the love of God? I wish I could say “Seldom,” but I’m not sure. Indeed, I think it is our natural tendency to emphasize our scrupulousness with regard to the light things in order to avoid dealing with our attention to the weightier ones. “Look at me! I pay my tithing exactly–I often pay more than is required. I never watch inappropriate movies or listen to inappropriate music. I abstain from all caffeinated drinks, and never touch alcohol in any form. And I have done not only four generations of genealogy, but six. I dress modestly, attend my meetings regularly, and do my home teaching. Etc., etc.” How could anyone accuse me of unrighteousness when the marks of my righteousness are so obvious? By tithing my mint, I blind myself and try to blind others to my unrighteousness.

We are all familiar with that kind of hypocrisy. We find it easy to condemn in others and fail to see it in ourselves–but tithing my mint isn’t the only way for me to justify my failure to take up the weightier matters that Christ commands. One alternative is to use the fact that I don’t tithe to demonstrate quite vividly that I cannot yet bear the weightier matters: “Look at me! I try as hard as I can, but how can you expect much from me if I cannot even tithe my mint?”

Another is to pooh-pooh mint tithing by congratulating myself for my superior righteousness: “I know that justice and mercy are more important than tithing mint. In fact, I know it so well that I don’t worry about tithing. Look at me! Unlike you self-righteous hypocrites, my concern is with what is important.” I go wrong in two ways when I do that. I forget that I ought “not to leave the other undone.” And, I forget that the weightier matters include faith and the love of God, which preclude my condescension toward and derision of my fellow Saints. Instead, what is weighty is what I judge to be weighty (and, often, the more abstract and far away, the better). Not all blind guides tithe their mint.

I ought to spend more time concerned for justice, mercy, faith, and the love of God in my daily affairs–in the way I treat my colleagues, acquaintances, and family at least as much as in my political dealings. Unfortunately, it seems that a lot of my acts and a lot of what we discuss in our church classes, our private conversations, and on the bloggernacle amounts to a worry about tithing mint. But if my focus is on whether I tithe my mint, the yoke that would allow me to bear the weightier matters slips from my shoulders.

41 Responses to Tithing the Mint?

  1. Melissa on August 18, 2005 at 6:32 pm

    Jim,

    Nice thoughts.

    Most of my life I lived as a Pharisee. Somewhere in my early twenties when I realized that I was actually the Prodigal, I swung the other direction, not in my behavior as much as my attitude, feeling secretly superior—because of my humility—to my previous friends, those proud mint tithers. It remains a challenge for me not to ride back and forth on this schizophrenia-inducing pendulum and focus instead on the weightier matters. Thanks for the reminder.

  2. JKS on August 18, 2005 at 6:33 pm

    Wonderful and interesting points from various levels and angles. Thanks for sharing.

  3. N Miller on August 18, 2005 at 6:34 pm

    Kudos, Jim, excellent post.

    I bet we all could benefit from taking a step back to smell the mint.

  4. W. Poulson on August 18, 2005 at 6:37 pm

    Great post. I believe “tithing the mint” is one of the greatest and widely used tools of the adversary. The emphasis in our world is on the facade. Very rarely do people introspect anymore – myself included. We are only concerned about our appearance before others. Once we can convince the world of our righteousness, we have no need for an atonement (thus a favorite tool). This, I believe, is because worldly excellence or acceptance brings a false sense of security by superficially filling the void caused by mortality. Of course, convincing others (especially those who only know us superficially) of our righteousness is much easier than actually being righteous because “tithing the mint” is so easy. However, contemplation of one’s weakness and the struggle to overcome it takes a life time of effort. Thus, the mint and our struggle to excel above others takes the place of reality.

    The facade/”mint” also prevents goodness among us. Because we are so concerned about how others “see” us, some do not fill the place harmony requires. A good friend of mine in law school just expressed this concern to me today. He says his fear of being called on in evidence class is making him crazy (and I must say, being called on is not my favorite thing either). I suggested his fear is caused not by his inability to answer questions or make insightful comments, rather by his fear of the facade being torn down.

  5. Mike Parker on August 18, 2005 at 6:58 pm

    Wonderful thought, Jim. There are so many people in (and out of) the Church who need a friendly smile, an arm around the shoulder, someone ready to listen to them rather than judge them. Unfortunately they too often get scorn.

    One of my favorite passages in the OT comes from Isaiah 1:10-20. We’re all familiar with 1:18, but the context adds so much more to the passage. Apparently the problem we face is not a new one.

    Hear the word of the LORD, ye rulers of Sodom; give ear unto the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrah [speaking to the wicked people of Judah].
    To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the LORD: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats.
    When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts [of the temple]?
    Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the [feasts of the] new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting.
    Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them.
    And when ye spread forth your hands [in prayer], I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood.
    Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil;
    Learn to do well; seek judgment [justice], relieve the oppressed, judge [do justice to] the fatherless, plead for the widow.
    Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.
    [Paraphrasing Deuteronomy 8:] If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land:
    But if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.

  6. Nate Oman on August 18, 2005 at 7:01 pm

    Jim F.: Mint makes a wonderful addition to lemonade. Heather also makes fresh mint tea, mixes in sugar, and then refrigerates it as Mormon Ice Tea, which is also yummy.

  7. Nate Oman on August 18, 2005 at 7:01 pm

    You can also add mint to a fruit salad, or an iced fruit smoothie.

  8. Ana on August 18, 2005 at 7:15 pm

    What of the idea that outward observations (such as “tithing mint”) might help us attend to weightier matters? Ideally I think we don’t choose one or the other. Ideally we do both.

  9. Costanza on August 18, 2005 at 7:20 pm

    Great post Jim. I have often thought that each gospel act may be divided into lighter and weightier categories: the lighter is the WHAT and the weightier is the WHY. The why is weightier, in my view, because only the Lord and I can gauge my attitude toward any act I perform. The tough part is matching the right “what” with the appropriate “why.”

  10. Jim F. on August 18, 2005 at 7:42 pm

    W. Poulsen: I think you may be right about your friend’s fear. That has often been the fear that prevented me from contributing to discussions. But is that fear, the fear of revealing our stupidity, the same as the hypocrisy of those whom Jesus condemned in Matthew 23:23?

    Mike Parker: Thanks for reminding us of the context of Isaiah 1:18. That is a wonderful passage.

    Nate: Mint in lemonade is excellent, especially if you crush the mint with the lemons and sugar before mixing it. I also like it as a hot tea. And it is good with in number of pasta salads or summer leaf salads. But even with all those uses, I can’t use nearly three bushels.

    Ana: You are right. That’s what the “not to leave the other undone” is about. We can’t use our attention to the weightier matters as an excuse for not paying attention to the mint.

  11. Jack on August 18, 2005 at 7:44 pm

    Thou hast spoken hard things, more than I am able to bear.

  12. Jim F. on August 18, 2005 at 7:49 pm

    Costanza: Interesting idea. And I think you are right that the problem is often one of matching the what and the why.

  13. Jim F. on August 18, 2005 at 7:49 pm

    Jack: Unless you’re talking about the mint and lemonade, ’twasn’t me.

  14. Jack on August 18, 2005 at 7:53 pm

    It was you Jim. It was you all along.

    No, seriously–adding mint to lemonade? C’mon!

  15. ukann on August 18, 2005 at 8:05 pm

    This sometimes concerns me re temple recommends. I’ve known members who have held temple recommends for years, who wouldn’t cross the road to help another person, and members who can’t get a temple recommend because they struggle with some aspects of the gospel, yet their hearts are full of love for others, and are the some of the most Christ-like people I know. Just for the record – I don’t know what the answer is.

  16. W. Poulson on August 18, 2005 at 8:31 pm

    I’m not exactly sure Jim, but I think it may be connected in some way. Because we fear what others will think of our true selves, we continue to build the facade and even buy into the false identity. Thus, our fear fuels the hypocrisy (however, I believe the word hypocrisy is used too often and may not be appropriate?).

    We are taught perfect love casteth out all fear. If we are sure of ourselves in Christ, we experience his Love and our fear is gone. This is the ideal.

    The connection between the fear and the “hypocrisy” is made in Lehi’s dream. The later verses illustrate what happens to those who cannot let go of the facade even after tasting of the fruit – they are lost! Lost, or hypocritical, because they care more about the “mint” than they do about reality because its an easier way.

  17. Ben S. on August 18, 2005 at 8:35 pm

    I think many people, in haste to condemn the Pharisees, miss a second point of the passage. “these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone” or as the NIV would have it, “You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.”

    Jesus does not condemn the Pharisees for their careful and detailed observance, but for doing the outer without the inner. Though Jesus elsewhere disagrees with the Pharisaic interpretation, in Matt. 23:2-3 (which prefaces Jesus’ condemnatory remarks) he says “[As for the scribes and Pharisees], do whatever they teach you and follow it.” Certainly, the Pharisees did not actively teach people to be hypocrites, to avoid justice and mercy, but their focus was not there. Hence Jesus says ” do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach.”

  18. Kevin Barney on August 18, 2005 at 8:38 pm

    Great thoughts, Jim. I sometimes worry about our (in which I include myself) tendency to focus on measurable, bright line kinds of things, such as the Word of Wisdom or meeting attendance or home teaching percentages, as indicative of fundamental righteousness, whereas the arguably weightier matters, the Seven Deadly Sins kinds of things, the love and the mercy, are much more subjective and less measurable, and therefore (being statistics loving people) we don’t put nearly the weight on such fundamentals of the Gospel as we do the trifles. The temptation to Pharisaism has a strong pull among us LDS.

  19. Matt Jacobsen on August 18, 2005 at 8:59 pm

    Thanks for the thoughtful post, Jim.

    Your experience in talking about tithing the mint with your bishop illustrates the point that there is not only peer pressure to appear righteous before others, but also peer pressure not to appear too righteous either. Perhaps you were showing off to your bishop by asking him about the garden. Even you weren’t sure; but we also need to make sure that we don’t let fear of other’s reactions inhibit promptings the Lord may give us to do things differently than our neighbors do. Jesus was wise to tell us to keep some good acts secret, though.

    It’s probably not coincidental that people with “observable” levels of righteousness tend to gravitate towards each other — everyone feels comfortable. Funny how members of a society can both help and hinder each other at the same time.

    My goal is to appear less righteous than I really am so that I can hang out with the fun crowd. :)

  20. Costanza on August 18, 2005 at 9:30 pm

    “My goal is to appear less righteous than I really am so that I can hang out with the fun crowd”–Classic!

  21. Jim F. on August 18, 2005 at 10:38 pm

    Jack (#14): Give it a try. You will be surprised–pleasantly.

    ukann (#15): It seems to me that the answer is the Gospel, which includes both the ability to qualify for a temple recommend and a good heart. I know, that’s the Sunday School answer, but like all cliches, we repeat it over and over again because it has its basis in the truth. As Ana and Ben S. remind us, we make a mistake if we pose tithing mint and the weightier matters as some kind of dichotomy. Both are required.

    W. Poulsen (#16): Good point. The quotation from 1 John (4:18), “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear. [. . .] He that feareth is not made perfect in love,” is certainly relevant to the point you make. Perhaps sometimes I emphasize mint tithing because I am afraid of the fact that I fall short in the weightier matters.

    Ben S. (#17): Thanks for reminding us of this. I find it interesting that we are so quick to condemn the Pharisees when most of us would almost certainly have been members of that sect. I suspect that they not only did not actively teach people to be hypocrites, but that many of them actively taught people not to be–and yet, like us, many of them were hypocrites nonetheless. (And they also seem to have been one of the first fertile grounds for missionary work.)

    Kevin Barney (#18): You’re right, the tendency to hypocrisy has a strong pull among us, but we aren’t alone. I think that tendency to gauge our righteousness by the bright lines and to ignore the weightier matters is universal.

    Matt Jacobsen (#19): Great goal–at least the part about appearing less righteous than you are. I’m a little suspicious of how fun the fun crowd really us.

  22. annonymous on August 18, 2005 at 11:54 pm

    If you really have too much mint, the Bishop’s Storehouse is always happy to give out extra produce that people grow…

  23. Jim F. on August 19, 2005 at 1:06 am

    Anonymous (#22): I’m skeptical that they want two bushels of mint, but I’ll ask the next time I cut it.

  24. Mike Parker on August 19, 2005 at 2:02 am

    It is human nature to want to show how “good” we are, whether it is success in work, a beautiful home, a nice car, what have you. One of the downsides of having a lengthy list of required commandments is that our instinctive nature to show how good we are kicks in. It’s not surprising that our critics often complain that we’re focused on “works righteousness.”

    I’m not suggesting we start doing away with commandments, but that we think about how our desire to show off conflicts with the humility, charity, and service required by the Savior.

  25. Lisa B. on August 19, 2005 at 11:19 am

    This is my whole problem w/ emphasis (especially to youth, but adults also) on “being an example” of the believers. There’s a set up for hypocrisy if I’ve every heard one! (I know, take it up with God since it’s scriptural.) I tend to think “let your light so shine” means let the Light of world (the influence of God) shine through our lives, not let our own goodness shine. The whole point is that our own acts are nothing (of eternal consequence) without God. Even Jesus said “there is but one who is good” (sorry, too lazy to get the reference). Hard to walk the line between being a child and heir of God, and recognizing our nothingness. But scripturally, that balance always seems to follow a theophany (Moses, Hannah, Enos, Mirium, Enoch, Mary the mother of Jesus…)

  26. Jim F. on August 19, 2005 at 12:13 pm

    Lisa Bushman (#25): You were thinking of Matthew 19:17, an important scripture. Responding to the rich young man who has asked what he needs to do to gain eternal life and has addressed Jesus as “Good Master,” Jesus responds, “Why callest thou me good. There is none good but one, that is, God.” If even the Savior would not describe himself as good or righteous, it is more than presumptuous for us to do so.

    The Book of Mormon supports your understanding of what “let your light shine” means: “Hold up your light that it may shine unto the world. Behold I am the light which ye shall hold up–that which ye have seen me do” (3 Nephi 18:24).

    Just as a footnote: The currently used New Testament Greek text yields a somewhat different translation than the KJV: “And behold, having come to him, someone asked, ‘Teacher, what good might I do so that I may have eternal life?’ And he answered him, ‘Why do you ask me about the good? Only One is good, but if you wish to enter Life, keep the commandments.’”

  27. Lisa B. on August 19, 2005 at 2:46 pm

    Hmm… that is a bit different. As a member of the godhead, Christ would be included in the One. So he did recognize his unity with that good. Thanks for the BOM reference. That’s nice.

  28. Jim F. on August 19, 2005 at 4:47 pm

    Lisa Bushman (#27): I understand what you are saying, but the text itself doesn’t seem to mean that. If he includes himself in the One, then it is odd for him to say “Why do you ask me about the good?” Even as a member of the Godhead, he consistently gives all glory to the Father. Not to deny that he is a member of the Godhead, but I wonder if he ever refers to himself as one. It would be interesting to see whether he does. I can’t think of any instances in which he does, but that doesn’t mean much.

  29. Ashley on August 19, 2005 at 5:22 pm

    Your post brings to mind Moses Mendelssohn’s book _Jerusalem_ (1783), in which he distinguishes between moral and ritual commandments, but insists that both are required for Jews. In fact, it seems that Jewish thinkers have hashed out (centuries ago!) much of what we LDS are discussing today.

  30. Ashley on August 19, 2005 at 5:30 pm

    Although, I should have added, I really appreciate you framing these ideas and issues in our own context.

  31. Jim F. on August 19, 2005 at 5:55 pm

    Ashley (##29-30): Thanks for the reference to Moses Mendelssohn. You’re right. We are hardly the first one’s to think about these issues. Jews have been dealing with them for millenia, as have other Christians.

  32. Lisa B. on August 19, 2005 at 7:08 pm

    I agree that as our exemplar Jesus emphasizes doing the Father’s will & work, and not for his own glory (though that’s a whole ‘nother thing I’m not sure I understand). So what do you think is the significance of the Greek text? It seems less rather than more clear than the KJV to me.

    Maybe (according the Greek text) Jesus is making sure this guy understands who he (Jesus) is/giving him a chance to reflect on whatever he recognized in Jesus that impelled him to pose the question in the first place. Or alternately, maybe he’s asking about this guy’s motives (with emphasis on “the good” rather than “why are you asking ME?”).

  33. Travis Anderson on August 19, 2005 at 8:33 pm

    I think I’m going to stick to reading just your posts from now on Jim–they incline me to reflect, not to grind my teeth. I’m not sure exactly why, but your comments brought to mind a letter one of my district companions received while we were in the old LTM awaiting our visas to Mexico. It was written on two small sheets of colored paper torn out of one of those little 3″ x 4″ writing pads with four layers of colors. Remember those? Anyway, the note was sent by a very impoverished farmer who obviously had labored considerably in writing it. The words were written in a childlike scrawl that betrayed very little schooling. He lived in the deep woods of South Carolina. As I recall, he spoke briefly of his cow having died, and of his wife, whom he had lost to illness many years before. In broken sentences he told my companion that he had prayed for him, and he wished him well in his missionary labors. I can still pictuire those small pages in my mind. Just a few simple sentences written in pencil on colored paper. Again, I’m not exactly sure why your post brought this nearly forgotten experience to mind, but there seems to me to be some connection between this humble, loving man who took the time to pray for a boy he had know since birth, write to him this simple letter and walk several miles to mail it, and those whose tithes come from the heart and not the bank.

  34. Robert C. on August 19, 2005 at 9:37 pm

    Jim and Lisa, thanks for your discussion of Matt 19:16-17, this passage has always been confusing to me. Here’s my new take:

    As Lisa first question (#32) suggests, I think Jesus is asking “why ask ME about the good” to give the young man a chance to reflect. In the new Greek version, Jesus doesn’t deny that he’s good, just says “only One is good” and admonishes the keeping of the commandments. In John 17:21-23 Jesus prays that we might be one, as he and the Father are one. So the implied answer to the young man’s question about how to obtain eternal life is to become one with God, the only one who is good (so why ask anyone other than God about doing good? Is he asking Jesus b/c he’s one w/ the Father, or for some other reason?). So Jesus IS good, but only b/c he’s one with the Father, as he prays we will become….

    Interestingly, related verses in John 17:11 are also different in the new Greek text: “Father, keep them through Your name which You have given Me” rather than KJV “Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me.” The emphasis in the new text stays on the Father. We become good only by becoming one with the Father (through Jesus)….

  35. Wade Poulson on August 19, 2005 at 11:03 pm

    Jim (#21), I think you’re right – the emphasis on mint tithing is caused by the fear of falling short in the weightier matters. However, my suggestion (probably a little of your topic) was that an emphasis on the “drop” is fueled by the worry others will discover our lacking in the weightier matters. If this occurs, then our facade crumbles and the false sense of “at-oneness” goes with it. The false sense of being “clean” because we are perceived by society as righteous.

    EVERYONE is lacking in the weightier matters – if we were not, we would not need the atonement in our lives daily. Thus, accepting the atonement with sincerity is the only way to rid ourselves of the fear consuming us – the fear arising from the unnatural use of enmity fostered by satan.

  36. Jim F. on August 20, 2005 at 1:22 am

    Lisa Bushman: I think Robert C makes good points about the meanings of the older version of the text and the newer version.

    Travis, thanks very much for sharing that story. I’m not completely sure what the connection is, either, but I too think it is related. –And you should be sure always to read Wilfried’s posts. I can’t imagine grinding my teeth in response to them.

    Robert C: Having just referred to the Nestle-Aland 27th Greek edition as “newer,” I certainly understand why you would refer to it as “the new Greek version.” However, I think it is important to point out for readers unfamiliar with these things that it is the most recent attempt to recreate as well as scholarship can what the original text said rather than something new in itself. It is only a new scholarly attempt, not (presumably) a new text.

    Wade Poulsen: Thanks for your patience in explaining a point that I’ve taken far too long to understand.

  37. Lisa B. on August 20, 2005 at 7:57 am

    Agree, Jim & Robert. John 17:21 occurred to me this morning too, though I didn’t know the reference, so thanks for posting it Robert. Interesting that grappling with the text does the very thing that tithing on mint seems to miss–it humbles us to acknowledgement of our ignorance and need for God. Long as we continue to remember and be reminded of that, I think we’ll get through.

  38. Wade Poulson on August 20, 2005 at 12:19 pm

    Jim, the “slow” understanding is indicative of my inability to explain the point.

    Thanks again for the insightful post and comments.

  39. Travis Anderson on August 20, 2005 at 4:00 pm

    Jim, I thought about this some more on my way home from work last night, and I think I perhaps have a clearer idea of what the connection might be (between my mission story and tithing).

    I was thinking back over what you said about asking the bishop if you should tithe your garden, and knowing you as I do, I doubt you were either showing off or being pharisaical. I think a more likely explanation is that the garden reflected a spiritual increase and not a monetary one, and thus prompted in you a desire to render thanks for it in some formal way.

    I keep telling my children that I’d infinitely prefer a note or drawing as a present than something they’ve bought. Of course, being dazzled themselves by worldly goods, they never believe me. But when we want to give something from the heart to a person about whom we truly care, we want to give something that we have ourselves produced, the fruit of our own unique traits and abilities and efforts–and by analogy, something that reflects the sacrifice and consecration of time, talents and life itself that is the pinnacle of our covenant relation to God and family (which is why I think the solution to Derrida’s paradox of the gift is to be found only in the vestigial remains of our diaconate love, not in its phenomenal expression).

    I suspect that tithes in kind were much more meaningful, both to the giver and to the recipient, for precisely this reason. And while it may be impractical to offer tithes in kind today, it is a shame that we have lost that personal connection to those for whom our sacrifice is directed–since it seems that in addition to serving the very practical, though certainly less important, purpose of funding the Church, tithing is surely meant primarily to culture within us a disposition toward self-sacrifice and charitable love. Hence, the amount (10%) and precision (even mint!) of tithes is fundamentally misunderstood if we see tithing as an end in itself, or even as a measure of compliance; like all Old Testament practices, it was surely instituted to lead the struggling sojourner in the wilderness of mortality to greater and less rule-governed forms of holiness. Hence Christ’s condemnation of the Pharisees.

    I think the farmer’s gesture of sacrificial love is exactly the kind of act toward which tithing directs us–the celestial form that tithing will ultimately take: a kind of Levinasian willingness to lay on the altar what is most dear to us. And not for God, considered as a third party, but precisely for the sake of those we hold most dear–those we symbolically lay on the altar, in fact. Having devoted to the Abraham story countless hours of thought (and unpublished manuscript pages), this is the only sense I can make of it–every other reading ends with a perverse conclusion. If the God of Abraham is not understood as but a constitutive member of a triangular relationship with the lover and the beloved, like Plato and Levinas suggest, then the sacrifice is both a betrayal and a murder. And all Kierkegaard’s tortured permutations can’t change that, no matter how mystical the reading.

    So maybe your question to the bishop wasn’t about compliance, but about a murkily perceived desire to give something personal, even if it had to be converted to impersonal currency–something ready to hand, as Heidegger would say, and not just present at hand, something essential to your identity and not just incidental.

  40. Jim F. on August 20, 2005 at 7:57 pm

    Travis Anderson (#39): Very nice response. I’m still not sure about my motivations, however you are exactly right about the material, sacrificial character of tithing. The check I write for tithing is more than only a symbol of tithing, but it is also weaker and less personal than the tithing in kind of our spiritual forebears.

  41. Robert C. on August 21, 2005 at 11:20 am

    Travis, your post reminds me of 3 Ne 9:19-20, giving it deeper meaning for me: “…ye shall offer up unto me no more the shedding of blood… [but] for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit.” It’s our heart that God wants purified, everything else is just a means to that end. Like tithing, it’s just steering us toward consecration, which is more about our heart than anything matieral. And so when we see humble people making offerings with pure hearts, it strikes a deep chord.

    My parents had us only make them cards on their birthdays and father’s/mother’s day. It set a really nice tone for holidays & occassions in our family with the emphasis on the thought and the personal touch, not the thing itself. So on years when we didn’t find the right Christmas gift b/c of lack of time or whatever, we would just write a card, instead of going out to buy something just to buy it.

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