The Great Paradox of Religious Life

TithingI am no stranger to tithing. Since 1984 I’ve been tithing. But, an explanation is in order:

In ’67, I responded to a spiritual “call” and began dedicating a half hour each day to a meditation practice which I continue to perform to this day. And, by 1984, that practice grew by gradual increments, finally consuming two and a half hours—one tenth (or a tithe)—of each day. Spiritual dividends have stockpiled, exceeding my expectations; my time tithe is a decision I have never once regretted.

Here, another explanation is in order. Anything or anyone to whom I willingly dedicate a tenth of my precious resources must have more than met muster in my book. Well, it took from 1967 to 1984 for me to have experienced that my ever-deepening daily meditation practice was valuable enough to merit a tenth of my daily allotment of time!

Now, over the last five years I have had more than sufficient experience to be certain that membership in the spiritual family that is First UU of Wichita affords me an abundance of the best things life has to offer: cultural growth, expanded intellectual horizons, spiritual progress, meaningful relationships, and Love. Over the last five years I have had more than sufficient experience to know that our church merits my committing a tenth of my “treasure” to its preservation and expansion.

Let me go back and develop further my initial point. Since 1984, by tithing to ensure an evolutionary trajectory to my spiritual development, I have been blessed with a wealth of extraordinary, nay, breathtaking and miraculous experiences which I doubt would have come my way but for my dedication, my spiritual tithing.

Still, the call I answered in 1967 was a call to reform my life and character that I might be as Buddha, as Christ, as Arjuna, as Merlin, as Mevlana Rumi—you get the picture. It was a call to transform my consciousness and behavior, a kind of subjective evolution I knew I had to effect to qualify to be and think and do did as my spiritual heroes above-mentioned.

My years of experience at First UU have bequeathed to me a second “call.” It is articulated well in the centuries old rallying cry of progressive religion. It is the century’s old UU legacy. It is the timeless cry of the Beloved: CHOOSE TO BLESS THE WORLD!

But, acting in ways that bless the world requires robustness: robustness of spiritual vision, robustness of mission, and robustness of financial resource.

Okay. Some months ago, to achieve our goal of financial strength, we hosted a seminar by longtime UU and noted author Michael Durrall. (His series of books on creating and sustaining vibrant churches is highly regarded because his shared wisdom has a potent, transformative impact on churches seeking growth and prosperity—and willing to heed his advice.) Durrall, by the way, was recommended to us by the acknowledgement of All Souls Unitarian Church of Tulsa (the largest and, arguably, the most financially prosperous UU church in the world), that Durrall’s advice played a major role in their success.

In his book “The Almost Church, Revitalized,” Durrall offers advice about tithing:

“When I meet with people who commit 10 percent of their incomes (and sometimes more) to the church or to other causes, I often ask what they gave up to become so generous. To a person, they do not understand the question. The universal response is that they gave up nothing, not a thing. They report their lives have been immeasurably enriched by the experience. Even more surprising, many say they used to worry about finances until they started giving 10 percent, and now that worry has almost completely vanished. This is the great paradox of a religious life. Give it a try and see what happens.”

Having met and heard from Michael Durrall, having studied his writing, and having experienced firsthand the enormously beneficial results of donating a tenth of my time to my spiritual practices, I am making the commitment to nourish the compassion centered, love based, counter-oppressive dream of progressive religion by the act of tithing. Beginning this month, January 2014, I am committing myself to “the great paradox of religious life;” I will donate one tenth of my gross income to First UU of Wichita.

I have been blessed with two powerful “calls” to spiritual life, inner and outer, and two equally powerful opportunities to tithe. Truly, I am blessed!!!

Rev. David Carter