Whistling In The Dark

Part of the dinner conversation I had the other night with someone close to me concerned one of the most common dilemmas we face when working for any hierarchical organization; the abuses a subordinate sees taking place yet has no bestowed authority by which they can mandate a remedy. What is left to them is either silence, which is a distasteful form of collaboration, or what we term whistle blowing.

If a person takes the latter path, they do so without really knowing how high up in the organization the moral corruption exists. In any entity where this kind of behavior persists long enough to be considered the norm, you can be assured that the sky is the limit when it comes to the lack of the courage and integrity amongst the leadership to address the abuses. The whistle blower is then literally as well as figuratively whistling in the dark.

Another undesirable aspect we must confront within the confines of whistle blowing is that it is a decision taken in admission that we can never be part of the solution. It is an act of surrender since the unstated aspect of this tactic is the implicit acknowledgement that changes from within is beyond one’s capabilities to implement. Heads may roll, but the avalanche is just as likely to include the bearer of bad news as well as the culprits we wish to bring to some sort of justice.

The sad news is that there is rarely any justice within the framework of human operations. Human nature assigns blame to all who are involved in any investigation. And there is a certain stigma attached to the whistle blower for being another kind of offender, a stooge or a snitch if you will, a person who has violated the trust of everyone else affiliated with the organization in question. For when the whistle is blown even the innocent will bear the mark of guilt by association if only for being blind to what the rest of us now know to be obviously true thanks to the superiority invested in us by hindsight.

My sympathies are with the person of integrity, who knows that there is something wrong with the system, which fails to serve the people who are supposed to be the beneficiaries of the organization’s reason for existence. There is no easy solution for how to act on such knowledge. The analogy I have often employed when attempting to address any type of abuse is that it is like striking the tar baby; even if you can subsequently extricate yourself from the offender, you will still come away with some measure of stain from the experience. Hopefully a measure of wisdom also ensues as experience is credited with being our best teacher.

Despite my occasional susceptibility to cynicism, I am an optimist. I can honestly campaign for the premise that right makes might, with the caveat that might in this case is the struggle to maintain one’s own good name in pursuit of a worthy cause. Success for correcting the abuses cannot be guaranteed. Success, however, in emerging with one’s soul intact is a given.

My suggested solution is to personify right behavior and always ask – especially in the presence of others – if the correct tactic can be implemented. Then be prepared to illustrate how this can be done to achieve the best result. The why is less important than the how as abuses often arise because a supervisor has been elevated to a position of authority beyond their means to perform, not because they are congenitally immoral.

A credible solution, which you will help to implement, has its own appeal, especially if you do not care who gets the credit for its success. Applaud the work of everyone involved and give your supervisor the necessary accolades for choosing the best path. Maintain a modicum of humility in order to position yourself for the next opportunity to amend a deficiency and then act once again with the same resolution.

I do have an ulterior motive for suggesting this strategy as an alternative to whistle blowing. The advantage here is that it creates its own form of accountability. The “A” word for the incompetent creates discomfort, which in turn can lead to early retirement or a late in life career change. Ultimately abuses are corrected with personnel changes, not adjustments to policies and procedures. Being the good and faithful servant to an abusive leader means having one eye on the benefits bestowed on those you serve and one eye on the abusers eventual exit – peacefully achieved. When successfully done, you can whistle a happy tune resonating with a clear conscience.

The Eyes Of The Heart

There is a line in a prayer which intrigues me. Actually there is more than one, but this particular line or phrase is beguiling enough to become the subject of this week’s message. It tells us of a person’s earnest request that the eyes of the heart be enlightened. The intent of this illumination is that the heart may come to gain certain insights exclusive to its inherent ability to comprehend and employ such revelations as a mitigating factor in our behavior.

For the heart to have eyes which need to be enlightened, implies first of all that the core of our feelings generally abides in a darkness imposed by ignorance. The eternal command spoken at the creation to allow the light to shine resonates here in the pleading of one whose supplication was for the benefit of others.

Second, it asserts the belief that certain knowledge must be felt as well as thought. More than just an attainment of verifiable facts, this concept of knowledge uses informed emotions to fashion our capacity for understanding. It foresees how knowledge requires the presence of compassion to soften the blows from the blunt force trauma of naked truth or mercy overruling the cold calculation of results.

We attribute knowledge to the mind, emotions to the heart. Both are needed. The soul in balance is a prerequisite for delving into the deeper meanings of such essentials as hope, contentment and security. This, at least, was the passionate opinion of the supplicant, whose meditation and writings inspired my own brief message. My trust is in the efficacy of another’s prayer to produce more in me than the mere fulfillment of a writing assignment. My mind is skeptical, my heart reassuring.

Questions From Answers

I took advantage of the inclement weather during my visit to my daughter’s farm as the reason to stay indoors away from the outside work of clearing more pasture land on which her horses can graze. Inside is something of a euphemism as it includes being inside a car for a reasonably short drive to the small Oklahoma town where my family resided in the early 1900s. The balance of my inside time was in the Genealogy Room of the Okmulgee Public Library, my interest being the discovery of information about my maternal grandmother in order to resolve some of the mysteries about her quiet life.

Everyone who knew her loved her. Sher was a major player in my young life as she would stay with us during the school year in order to help my mother, her only daughter, manage three young school-aged boys. We were a trial, but not an ordeal. From oldest to youngest there was an eleven year span of time, which means our interests and activities were as unique to us individually as they were varied when taken as a whole. My scholarly older brother excelled in school activities while my childish younger brother was too small to do anything without adult supervision. Me, I majored in play, which included every sport and every juvenile game as long as it took place outside despite the weather.

These memories are of a time when we lived in Southern California, the Promised Land of the continental U.S. My grandmother’s heart, however, was in her small town, Oklahoma home. Summers she would take the train “back east” to my young way of thinking, and live with her oldest son and be accessible to her female grandchildren of much gentler pursuits.

All of us, regardless of the location of our homestead, remember our grandmother as a kind, caring, quietly helping and supportive soul. We loved her then and love her memory still. It is her quiet nature, though, that causes me keen displeasure in my own old age. She did not talk much about her young life, which has created many a mystery about her. Before my mom’s passing I asked her what I regarded to be simple questions about her mother, but was amazed that she often answered “I don’t know. I never asked.” It seems we all took grandma’s compassionate qualities for granted. We absorbed her love like a gathering of sponges and rested secure in her ability to leave us satiated with the joy of her presence.

Grandma, I have since come to appreciate, was something of an illusion. Her life with us was real enough. Her past, however, was left where she once lived it, seemingly content with the knowledge that she did her best to handle the pain of life’s challenges and willing to leave it all behind, where it could no longer hurt anyone she loved. There were some good times, no doubt, but what we know based on family lore and legend is that the pain was likely greater than the joy one associates with one’s childhood. It seems that Grandma intentionally forged for her children and her grandchildren the kind of life she did not know when she was young.

Grandma never spoke about her father. He disappeared from the family records without a trace other than leaving behind a wife, a daughter and two dead infant sons. This part of her history is so shrouded in mystery that we do not even know where grandma was born. She always claimed Missouri as her state of origin, but the specific location remains unknown. I have a copy of her obituary (an answer of sorts), but the community named as her birthplace never existed (leaving me with further questions). We know Grandma’s birthday and the year, 1888, but the U.S. census for 1890 (a potential source of answers) was destroyed in a fire (leaving me with questions once again).

My great grandmother remarried. Her second husband was a widower with seven children and their own union contributed three more daughters to the expansive household. Family legend (a source of answers) says that Grandma pleaded with her mom not to marry the man. But women alone in that day were bound for hardship. And my guess is that great grandmother Mollie was not well educated and therefore not very well suited for any other life than that of being a wife and mother (a guess and therefore an unresolved question).

During my trip to that small Oklahoma town where Grandma spent most of her adult life and where my own mother was born, uncovered some good documentary evidence about her life (answers). She worked as a checker in Cowden’s Laundry and lived with her Aunt Lizzie and Uncle Bart. Their obituaries disclosed that they made the trip from Missouri to Oklahoma with their two daughters in 1901. Did Grandma make the journey with them or arrive at a later date (a question)? I know from an ad in an old directory that the laundry was founded in 1906 (an answer), but the earliest edition of that directory listing all the residence of the town and their occupations was 1909. That is where I learned that Grandma was one of their employees. It would be nice to think that she was an original employee of Cowden’s, but that is just a guess (another question).

I asked my mother once if Grandma ever talked about her wedding to my grandfather. She said no. All she knew is that his family, a prominent one in that small Oklahoma town, opposed his marriage to a lowly laundress. I found a copy of their marriage license (an answer). It was issued on the same day their wedding ceremony took place before a justice of the peace and not the church wedding one would anticipate Grandma desired. But then the young couple disappeared from all documentary evidence until grandfather’s death just eight and a half years later. The cause of his death is unknown (a question).

Family lore says it was due to typhoid fever, but his death occurred at a time when the Spanish influenza carried away many. He left Grandma with three young sons, a daughter to be born five months later, and me with a lot of questions about their life together during the brief time they had. From his death on the story is pretty clear. Grandma went back to working at the laundry and remained there until she retired in the late 1940s. Photos and personal memories abound, all of them good and well cherished by those of us who knew her. I could only wish my own children had the opportunity to experience the love, which pervaded my childhood home due to her wonderful presence.

I am committed to finding out more about her as the opportunity arises to visit places where the evidence might linger. Grandma was born into a time and place that did not easily submit itself to paper. There is no birth certificate for her and no death certificate for her father. They were not prominent enough to make the news reported in the short-lived newspapers of those days. Then, as now, politics dominated the press coverage. Murders made the grade as did the chicanery of those in the east, who connived to keep prices for crops and livestock sales low. Widows and their children were of little concern. They were too plentiful and lacked the voting power sufficient to be anything other than a nuisance.

My hope is to do Lula’s story justice, even if its publication remains confined to family members, even though questions arise from every answer I find. Love wills out. And I have the time in my retirement days to pursue my investigations, when not helping my children cope with their own challenges in life like expanding pasture land. Grandma would be pleased with my attempts and would have a wonderful dinner waiting for us, when our labors were through. It is what I know about her life that suggests this would be true.

About Being A Letter

Most of my messages are based on books that I have read. The most influential of these has always been the Bible. I was told as a child that it contained all I needed to know about the meaning and purpose of life. Such a notion has provided adequate motivation to make its acquaintance a daily habit. I have subsequently often found small things in its contents, which are very intriguing, to me at least, and allow my imagination to ramble along lines of reasoning uniquely my own.

Take for example a comment made by the Apostle Paul in his second letter to the Christian community in the Greek city of Corinth. This is a group he had founded, but it was also one that caused him a good deal of grief. It seems appropriate that he considered himself to be their spiritual father for their behavior mirrored that of many a mischievous child.

Defending his intrusion as a disciplining parent, he asked if he needed a letter of introduction to them in order to justify his attempts to impart some much needed guidance. Many of us as children have been on the receiving end of such a rhetorical question. No answer is really being sought by our parental authorities. Rather it is simply an introduction to the current lesson on proper deportment.

In the case of the Corinthian problem children the good man answered his own question by telling them that they were his letter; one written by their lord Jesus. The implication was that its contents were not of introduction but of commendation; another’s assessment of Paul’s efficacy as a parent. It is his use of this metaphorical image where the cogs in my brain begin to churn even though I have no obvious association with the apostle’s hard core case of delinquents.

My mental meandering begins with the simple act of demystifying the authorship of my own revealing epistle by asking, “Whose letter am I?” As a child, the answer would be almost exclusively my parents. As an older perpetrator of mischief the answer would be much more complex; teachers, friends, employers, a spouse and ultimately my children of natural and supernatural origin.

A follow-up question is far more challenging to contemplate. If I am a letter, what is my message? I can best answer that by telling you what I want it to be. Disregarding titles, although I have attained a few of them during my career, my preference would be for comments – and hopefully compliments – about my character. Honorable, trustworthy, loyal, truthful, compassionate, dependable and loving are the words I would want to hear spoken in eulogy at my funeral, if I could only manage to be in attendance for that particular occasion. Suffice it to say, I will be elsewhere.

What about you? If you think of your life as being someone else’s letter, what would your message be? What we value says a lot about who we are. The pursuit of fame and fortune seems to dominate the news as the popular measures of a person’s worth. At least these are the things that will make you newsworthy, if that is indeed your goal. If your self-appraisal is not all that commendable in your own eyes, it is not too late to make a change. That is one of the joys of life; we are never actually done living – learning, maturing and developing – until the eulogist has cause to prepare his or her comments concerning the message of our life.

Piling On!

A popular game on the playground, when I was in grade school, was one we called Piling On. The rules were simple: tackle some unsuspecting dupe and then encourage everyone else to pile on. The goal was to crush the guy on the bottom, a condition we found to be extremely delightful for some reason. And this being our prepubescent years, we never saw any reason to let the girls play. It would take a few more years for us to discover that gender equality has its merits.

The only reason this game has come to mind after all these years is watching the reaction to the Muller Report. No matter who you are or what your political affiliation might be, it seems the name of the game is that of piling on. Everyone has a comment to make. Well, almost everyone. I have to admit that I have not seen any quotes coming from Princess Charlotte yet, but give her time. She is cute, adorable and extremely fashionable, which are all perquisites for having highly sought after opinions. Just ask the family members that no one seems to be able to keep up with.

My own opinion is merely an echo of a wonderful line written by Eva Stachniak, author of The Winter Palace. Regarding the court intrigue surrounding Catherine the Great’s rule over Imperial Russia she writes “Life is a game and every player is cheating.”

This is perhaps the best executive summary of the Mueller Report. No redaction needed.


My new initiative concerns my website. It is old, as am I. It can be renewed and in a way, so can I. The transformation for us both is essentially internal. For me it’s a change of perspective and for the website it’s a change in plug-ins, widgets and content. But once these modifications are complete the appearance of the website will be different than before, while I will remain the same old man I see in the mirror on those occasional mornings, when I determine there is a need to shave.

The transformation of us both is taking place, as usual, with the help of someone younger than myself, someone more computer literate, and certainly someone more prone to take risks in the digital world. Her presence confers on me the mantel of being in charge, while remaining clueless as to the actual functions she is implementing, which need to be activated to achieve the desired result.

This is all humbling to my aging ego. But if I am to make progress in the current age of communication, then a little humility is an acceptable currency I can afford to expend in the name of progress. There are some other concessions I must also make if I am to look my best in the virtual marketplace. Chief among them is a new identity.

It has been several years since another young friend set me up with a website promoting my consulting services for non-profit organizations. The emphasis of the content then was to highlight my experience with strategic planning, budgeting, accounting, financing, fund raising, and volunteer recruitment. Good stuff all, but no longer in keeping with what I truly want my retirement life to entail.

Escaping the bean counter imprimatur of my professional career, I am resurrecting one of my youthful aspirations and that is the role of being a writer. My new website will promote this identity first and foremost, while allowing the past to remain just that in an honorable fashion befitting its former success.

My seconded concession is closely related to the first and that is a change in persona. Self-promotion has never been a characteristic of my work. Low-key, restrained, and stable are the terms the people who know me would likely use if asked to describe me in one word or less. And in public that will continue to be the case. I am those things as I occupy any tangible arena.

But on the web a new character will be evident; one who is letting his various forays into event planning, marketing and public relations to further define his enhanced identity by using titles like producer and director as well as that of writer. Once the website is completely updated, it will hopefully justify my claim to such fame.

A modicum of humility will also be in evidence as I make a third concession in order to moderate the excess of the cosmetic appearances of a new identity and persona. This concerns my pursuit of being published. In all likelihood my website will be the extent of my public presence. So the site is going to suffer from serious overload of content rather than just containing headlines, blurbs and images of book covers that published authors can get by with. They have more, which you can find on a library bookshelf or download from a service like Audible.com. I am not surrendering to something inevitable, just resigning myself to the internet being my one and only publishing house.

The trade-off is a change in attitude. Bean counters are not allowed to be creative or frivolous. That mindset is all behind me now. The point is to enjoy these moments to the fullest. If self-proclaimed titles are all I have, then I say let’s celebrate even this modicum of success and have a little fun.

Humorist Will Rogers once quipped about the income tax making bigger liars out of us than golf ever did. Now we have the internet and our websites offer a far more robust opportunity for fibbing than Rogers ever imagined. And once the weather improves, I’ll start working on my golf game.

The Cupboard is Bare – Temporarily

I have spent the morning stripping away the content of my website. Built with the materials of a now extinct management career, the substance of what I long ago placed there changed little and became essentially obsolete as far as reflecting my retirement interests. So now my digital cupboard is bare, but only temporarily. For I am also in the process of compiling new stuff to present in a new format that will hype what I plan to do during the remainder of my earthly existence.

This is not happening in isolation, however. I have engaged the services of someone more experienced than me at web design. It goes without saying – although I will say it anyway – that I am working with someone younger and female. This does not mean that younger males lack the necessary skills to design a highly functional website. It simply means that my easily shattered ego prefers the gentler reprimands of the kinder sex when I am being told that something is intuitively obvious. My intuit falls far short of the obvious.

I am working on one seemingly obligatory page and that is a bio about yours truly. This is actually a rather difficult thing to do for someone who has spent a marginally successful career without being a self-promoter. In the new age such a statement goes with the territory of traveling the internet’s multi-lane, high speed highway. This is a point I am willing to concede, but you will find me cruzin’ at the posted speed limit, while slowing down traffic no doubt. I will be easy to recognize since I will be the only one using his turn signals when changing lanes. This kind of change will be a rare feat, but will occur when absolutely necessary.

What I primarily want my website to do is highlight three aspects of my career, which generally went unnoticed (partly due to that self-promotion avoidance factor resolutely lodged in my character) and which I intend to do some more of as time permits. In addition to my Bio page you will also find pages labeled Writer, Producer, and Director. These seemingly creative exploits might appear to run contrary to my primary role as a non-profit administrator with an accounting background. But I did do them. In fact I enjoyed doing them and hope to do some more, even if only on a diminutive scale, such as can be encompassed on a computer, laptop, or iPad screen. In an old guy’s retirement world, size does not matter.

No one ever wanted to hear me use the words creative and accountant in the same sentence, especially when applied to me. So I am shedding one of these appellations. I am no longer an accountant. Hopefully I can lay some claim to being creative. The pages of my new website will tell. It may prove to be worth your while to stay tuned. It will certainly be worth mine.

What We Don’t Know

What we don’t know won’t hurt us. That is a silly maxim we use to justify ignorance as the best antidote to worry. When we know things, we tend to obsess over them or over our inability to use such knowledge to further our education, careers and (eventually) our retirement.

What we don’t know is an ever present companion throughout our lives. It starts at birth, even though we are too enamored of life just then to know it. It is there when we discover for the first time that hot things burn, sharp things impale, and people we innately trust can be the source of unbearable trauma. It haunts every school test, entrance exam, first crush, blind date and marriage proposal. It has the last word in our choice of jobs that have nothing to do with our college major. It is the extent of what we fear when we consider, however briefly, our own mortality.

What we don’t know can be remedied to a limited extent. A lifetime is too short for anyone to become an expert in all things academic, polemic, or legalistic. Big Blue, or one of its heartless cousins, has won at Jeopardy, chess and the Chinese surround game known as GO. But we can learn. Even old dogs can learn new tricks. That thought became evident to me once again as I sat through another workshop to improve on my skills, this one on web site design. I came away knowing at least one thing I personally can do to improvement this site, which bears my name. The only question remaining is will I actually take the time to implement this new found knowledge. The responsibility worries me.

What we don’t know won’t improve us. We can retain the dubious gift of stasis by remaining ignorant. Worry won’t actually keep a respectful distance from our psyche, but true joy will. Vision, attainment and the gratification that comes with success will. Neglect learning and your smart phone will retain a higher IQ that its owner and your car’s built in GPS will have a better answer to the question “Who am I” since it will at least know the answer to the question “Where am I”; and this without input from you.

What we don’t know will remain the answer to all life’s questions and most of our problems.

Short Order Cook

One of the joys of being retired is waking up each morning at your leisure rather than responding to the dictates of an alarm clock. Another is having the time to engage in activities denied you when work took priority in setting your agenda and family dictated how you used your otherwise “free” time. The irony of all this is that, now that I supposedly have all the time in the world, I have selected to fill some of my new found chronological wealth with a volunteer opportunity that requires me to set the alarm for a time of morning even earlier than when I had a day job.

I am learning to be a cook of a short order nature, which has nothing to do with the quick pace of the preparation, such as you would find in a small town café. Rather it refers to the short list of menu items I am responsible to produce. In point of fact there is only one. I am learning to cook sap collected drip by precious drip from maple trees with the goal of making pure maple syrup.

This past Wednesday morning the alarm went off at 4:30am. This allowed me just enough time to put on my work clothes and make the pre-dawn drive to my first lesson in sap boiling. The term used by my mentor is that I was a shadow cook. Despite my ephemeral status I still felt the frigid conditions of our open-air shanty. Extreme cold has no mercy for shadows, despite our lack of depth.

Here is another point of fact: the temperature was too cold for the sap to run. It had more sense than I did and stayed within the warm confines of the tree. But we had a school group coming to learn about making syrup from nature’s own raw material and so we had to fake it in order to provide a truly educational experience. Essentially we cooked water to make the steam, which has the same appearance as the vapor arising from boiling sap. It simply lacked the sweet, sticky residue, which is a natural by-product of reducing the sap down to the necessary sugar level. The kids didn’t seem to mind. They were out of the classroom for the day. And I am sure that their parents didn’t mind since their children came home steamed cleaned.

The process we demonstrated was low tech, dating back to the Civil War era. There is a rectangular firebox on top of which sits a ten-gallon rectangular tank. The fire we build using oak and maple wood burns at more than 1000 degrees Fahrenheit and over the course of a nine hour period – on a day when there is an ample supply of sap – you can reduce 100 gallons of sap down to about 3 gallons of amber liquid with about a 62% sugar content. During that time the cooks monitor the steady flow of raw sap into the tank in proportion to the amount of water vapor lost into the atmosphere; impurities are skimmed off; and like any cooking process on the stove at home, the liquid is constantly stirred to prevent it from being scorched on the bottom of the pan.

Those final three gallons of near perfect maple bliss are then transferred to the finishing house, where the liquid is refined even further until the sugar content is slightly above 66%. This is the requisite percentage that is acknowledged to constitute pure maple syrup. It is bottled, labeled and set aside for distribution to the volunteers, whose combined labor produced such liquid gold. I am anxiously awaiting the opportunity to bathe my homemade waffles in this sumptuous concoction at my leisure, in a warm kitchen, well after sunrise, when my shadow status will be well transformed by a substantial appetite.

Generosity or My Lack of It

I like to think of myself as a generous person, but on certain occasions my lack of this quality is quite apparent. This unseemly feature of my character usually raises its ugly head from time to time, when someone within earshot says something I simply cannot abide. Strangely, this is most often the case when someone expresses well-meaning, but poorly reasoned, advice. If I have redeeming quality, therefore, it is that the lack of generosity is not about money, food or controlling the remote.

A friend says of me that I do not suffer fools easily. That explanation, however, strikes me as a bit biased in my favor since it implies that the person or opinion I am speaking counter to is a fool, which may be true but is not a fair assumption to use as a blanket assessment of my opposition. The folly of speaking up may rest solely on me, after all. Verbosity, sometimes with lethal consequences, has plagued me for most of my life. So I would prefer to simply state that there are times when I feel the overwhelming need to set the record straight – or to at least express a necessarily contrary opinion, foolish or otherwise.

My target this time around concerns a recent sermon I heard on the topic of generosity. Sadly, mine is a less than generous response as my accountant’s brain jerked its knee in light of what was said by a well-meaning pastor dispensing what was purported to be godly advice. From my contrarian perspective it laid the groundwork for potentially addressing the topic of generosity as it was just one segment of a sermon series. This gave the message a cliff-hanger appeal to tune in next week, but the enforced delay in waiting for the next installment of the message merely taxed my patience, a virtue of which I also expend as reluctantly as any miser caressing his fortune. Perhaps this is because patience for me is a very dish. There’s not much depth to it and any amount of taxation threatens to create an arid wasteland.

First and foremost, Jesus did not deal in fractions. A tithe was a percentage of one’s resources, usually defined as 10 percent. However, the compounding of references to tithing in the Old Testament places the cumulative impact on one’s annual income somewhere between 20 and 30 percent. Not that the amount is egregious, thereby making it as objectionable as any Congressional tax plan. It is just that with Jesus you are all in to the point that you are no longer your own person, let alone a possessor of property and resources outside the bounds of God’s sovereignty. As was said often in the sermon, “God owns everything.” We might therefore consider adding God’s name to our checking accounts, car registrations and home mortgages.

Second, there I a tendency among those conscientious souls of Christian identity to marvel that their life-long practice of tithing has miraculous resulted in their never lacking for any of life’s necessities. I do admire those who have maintained this level of fiscal discipline over the course of many years. My less than generous opinion, however, concerns the projection of miracle status to financial conservancy. This assertion may seem blasphemous. It certainly lacks a charitable perspective. My contention, though, is that those committed souls who make the choice to tithe – and especially to set aside their 10 percent as their first expenditure out of each paycheck – also make other related choices, which encourage budgeting even in an informal manner akin to flying by the seat of one’s pants. Knowing you have less to spend inspired one to make those other expenditures just as strategically significant as the choice to tithe. Hence, you are more likely to confine your spending to the remaining balance in your wallet or checkbook.

This inherent relationship between tithing and budgeting leads to my third point. The tithe was just one component of a fiscal strategy designed to create individual wealth among the people of a burgeoning nation. And there are more verses about these contingent components than there are about tithing. The rules are complex and cover animal husbandry, horticulture, slavery, debt cancellation, restrictions on labor – think a Sabbath Day’s rest and the Year of Jubilee – and much, much more. Yet it is the tithe which so often is extracted from this socio-economic structure and promoted as a stand-alone precept. “Bah! Humbug!” says my inner Scrooge.

If you want a true representation of what generosity is you will find it in the last imaginative tale Jesus shared with his most intimate followers. It is known for its portrayal of two groups of people, classified as being either sheep or goats. The sheep are rewarded for their generosity, described for them in this way: For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.

And when those in the sheep category asks when did they do these things for their lord and king, he answered in keeping with one of the most dramatic aspects of what it means to be a follower of Christ: I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me. There is no mention of a tithe in this story. Rather it is about personal sacrifice taking form in various ways without any reference to money and percentages.

Generosity is a heart-felt condition not an accounting equation. It is not about how much but about what and for whom a gift is made. The reward for the sheep, the representation of the truly generous person, is excessive in its comparison to the transient nature of sharing one’s food, clothing, shelter and fellowship: Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. Not only is the exchange rate in this story excessive, it is eternal. What a wonderful way to consider the outcomes of one’s own generosity.