Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Tis The Season To Be Tithing, Fala Lalala Laaa La Laa Laa Laaa

This was one of those odd “trending topics” days where several things seemingly unrelated keep bringing you back to the same topic... tithing!

As I was driving the kids to church tonight, my youngest was doing his civics/economics homework in the front seat. They are working on the economy and household budgets and there was a big pie chart on one page that he started telling me about. X% of your income should go to rent, X% should go to medical (I told him they should have printed an addendum for those percentages in the DC area) and so on, but when he got to charitable giving, it said 1 – 3%. What?!? It lead to a great conversation about tithing and that charitable giving was in addition to tithing not a replacement of it (of course there was not “tithing” slice on the pie) and what other percentages might be shifted around to “fix” the text book’s pie chart. Can’t wait to see the teacher’s reaction to that rabbit trail in his homework!

Then when I came home and opened the mail today, there were two letters from my church. One was a letter from the Pastor to the congregation and one was the 3rd quarter summary statement of our family’s annual tithing. I have to say, I really like this 3rd quarter summary because it always makes me feel so blessed to have had the financial means to be faithful in my giving. It also helps me see the big picture and is often a catalyst for a reevaluation for “what more could I be doing?”

I had an unexpected reaction when I opened it today though…. I saw the number at the bottom and said to myself “What?!?! That’s all I gave this year?!?!” Now, there were two quickly forgotten things at play in my knee-jerk reaction… one was that I forgot there were still two more months of giving left in the year; the other was that I forgot my family had only had a single income for the first 6 months of the year. I knew what our current household income was so when I did the simple math of 10% I was coming up seriously short. I felt much better after I figured out my mental error and that I was ahead of the game, but that still begs the original question “what more could I be doing?”

The second letter was from Pastor Stokes to the members of the congregation about our annual giving to date and a budget shortfall of about $85,000. In an economy like this, I know that we are very lucky that this is the extent of our year-to-date shortfall but I can’t help but be disappointed in a shortfall of any kind. Our church staff work very hard to put together an amazing time of worship, fellowship and Biblical message each week and I feel like we’ve let them down that they should have to worry about $85,000 in the last two months of the year. I know we have the collective capacity to make this up – almost effortlessly – if we all commit to it. If every single person who walked through Fair Oaks Church’s doors gave an extra $7 a week for the remaining 6 weeks we’d make up the difference in no time – for the cost of a 2 Venti Lattes a week. You didn’t need all those calories anyway (500 in the seasonal favorite Pumpkin Spice Crème, by the way).

Fair Oaks Church does not typically “pass the plate” but this Sunday we’re going old-school so be prepared and reach deep my friends. And don’t forget you can always give on line by clicking HERE.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Heavenly Homecoming

On October 20, 2010, my father went Home to be with his Heavenly Father. He was a young and vibrant man of 68 years in the prime of his active retirement. His rapid decline in a matter of weeks from diagnosis to dust was shocking, but to be hiking and ranching and playing senior softball right up to the month and a half before he died is a blessing of sorts. I’ve had several friends and family suffer long physical and mental ailments for years and years before they passed away and my dad would NOT have wanted to go like that.

My dad hated funerals… hated everything about them – the premise, the process, the pomp and circumstance – all of it. He would have hated the idea of a bunch of people sitting around sadly and somberly eulogizing him, paining over his death rather than embracing their own life and celebrating his. Growing up, I’d heard him make disgruntled remarks about eulogies specifically that if people had nice things to say about you, they should tell you while you’re alive so you can appreciate it, not wait until your dead and you never hear how they felt about you. (Of course, I might argue that you don’t always know how people feel about you).

Having had a little taste of my own mortality last year when I was diagnosed with cervical cancer, I had a renewed appreciation for Dad’s sentiment. My eulogistic urge, though, was less about telling people how I feel before they die and more about making sure I said things in case I die. Although my battle with cancer was quick and I was cancer free by February, the following June I took the opportunity to share with my dad some of the moments in our relationship that were important to me and posted it here on my blog as a Father’s Day tribute.

Although it became even more important after he passed away so quickly with little time to squeeze in those kinds of conversations, but it also meant a lot to me at the time that the tribute meant so much to him to receive it for Father’s Day. He wrote me, “Every time I read it I get choked up. It is beautiful. Some of the things you talked about took me some time to remember but other things were as clear as yesterday. I still wonder why you would come to me and throw up, oh well.”  (I guess you’ll have to read it to know what that last reference was about.)

It was very cool to connect with family I hadn’t seen in decades (for better or for worse, funeral are always good for that) and have some “small-world” moments that we’re really not so far away from each other to have let the relational gap to remain. It was also great for me to hear everyone’s stories about Dad… things that make you say “oh, that’s so classic Dad” or “wow, I didn’t know that about Dad” or best yet, “oh that is so ‘me’ – I guess that’s where I get it.” One of the things I thought was most interesting is that no one seemed to know my dad sang. He’d thrown a big party for the church’s choir at one point and I assumed that he was “in” the choir, but no. Not only was he not in the choir, but they didn’t even know he sang.

Since music was one of the earliest connections between Dad and I, in meant a great deal to me to be able to honor him at his funeral by singing. Amazing Grace was one of his favorite Hymns so I sang Chris Tomlin’s “Amazing Grace – My Chains Are Gone” and for the cowboy in my dad, I sang Brad Paisley & Dolly Parton’s “When I Get Where I’m Going.” And although I felt my voice shaking through the whole thing (like Dolly Parton’s vibrato on steroids), I think the lyric choices really honored Dad and he would have been pleased.

I also think Dad would have been pleased with the celebration and “party” that followed his service. Led off by Pastor Mark’s remarks during the service about scotch (the Presbyterian equivalent to the Catholic’s sacramental wine, I think) right into the heavily imbibed party back at the Ranch, this was one funeral and celebration of life my dad wouldn’t have complained about attending. But far more important, Dad was at the party we all aim for – the one with our heavenly Father when we are welcomed home for an eternity with our Lord.

Love you, Dad. Hope you’re singing in God’s choir and saving me a spot next to you!