Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Traditional Tithing

Recently, I read an email from a church staff member in some far off land that was concerned about financial participation of the church's patrons.  It would seem that there are tithing members, but they also have many "friends" of the church, who are not officially members - and possibly due to the fact that as such they are not obligated to contribute financially to the church.

I'm not sure if we have that problem in our church.  Our congregation is small, but I'm not sure if we have any "friends" of the church or not.  Our church allows members to give financially or through service commitments (greeters, landscaping, webmastering, coffee making, clean-up crews, etc).

So this guy offered up a question asking his peers what "benefits" or perks do churches offer members, that "friends" of the church do not receive.  I was a bit dumbfounded at the question at first.

I replied to him that the 'benefit' or 'perk' is that this place of worship & community will continue to exist.  That giving financially brings hope that its services & buildings will continue to grow.  It never really occurred to me to ask "what's in it for me?" because I thought that just went without saying.  Obviously not.

He writes back and asks what if that is not enough for people.  I wanted to say to him then maybe those aren't the right people to have in your church...but I don't know this guy from Adam, so I didn't take that path.  

Instead, I pointed out that probably the best route would be to better encourage membership  as opposed to just watching those faces of "friends" come in and out without having a conversation with them about what is holding them back from becoming members.  It may not even be a financial issue.  It may be some deeper spiritual reason that they could work out together.  Even if it is a financial issue, maybe by approaching these "friends" more often, they can let them know of the various contribution options available which may ease them into membership.  

This may be a bit more difficult task for our religion:  Unitarian Universalist.  For many of us, this may be the first time we're attending church as adult, contributing members.  Many of us grew up in Christian churches, but strayed from them as we entered adulthood - for whatever reason.  Now we've found a very accepting church, but we're just not sure about membership etiquette & that can be intimidating to some.  It was somewhat for my husband & I, but luckily there was a New Member official who was there to answer all our questions and put us at ease.

Do parents teach their kids about church membership etiquette?  I don't know.  There is a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff that I never knew about.  Until a few years back, I had no idea that there was this concept of 10% tithing in most churches.  All I ever saw regarding finances was the collection plate passed around, and you never wanted to be the kid who let it pass by them, so you always had 50cents or a dollar to throw in.  But as far as making regular contributions beyond the plate - who knew?  Not me.  

I really had to work through this tithing notion in my head when I first learned about it.  I just couldn't believe you had to pay to go to church!  But I'm one of those thinkers, who has to take something into my brain, let it swirl and settle, before it all makes sense.  

Churches need much more than the collection plate to make ends meet - just like any other business.  Looking at it from a business model, you work in the church or give money to the church in exchange for the worship services they provide.  We don't generally like to think of church in that way because this is our spiritual place, where we can escape such things.  But that doesn't mean the church administration can run away from bills.

Well beyond the issue of church staff compensation, there are many expenses that we take for granted that the church has the burden to bare:  building/land mortgage, electricity, water, sewer, trash collection, phone service, internet service, building maintenance, ink/paper supplies, furniture R&M, Bibles/Books/Hymnals, etc.  This can add up quickly & those few dollars we throw in the collection plate is really just bonus.  Let's not forget all those members clammoring for new services and new buildings which require fundraisers that even regular contributions can't always make a dent in financially.

It takes not only faith & humanity to make a church work - it takes money.  That's just a fact, and we have to deal with it.  So whether you're a member or a "friend" of a church, don't take it for granted that all these expenses are taken care of - share in the financial responsibility of this place which brings you comfort.  

I guarantee you that giving will bring you even more joy than taking ever did!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

A Song for Marriage

"Come to Me (Peace)" by Mary J. Blige

Sometime in the upcoming days I want to discuss "marriage"...the personal side & all the work & responsibility that comes with it.  I was jammin' to this song on the way home Friday, and I think it speaks to a lot of what you have to do when you are married.  So listen & enjoy, and I'll get to that subject soon.

Legal Marriage

I promise to move on from the topic of marriage at some point, but with all that is going on with same-sex marriage issues right now, I feel the need to get all this out on "paper" so I can be done with it in my head.

There is marriage, and then there is marriage.  Does that make any sense?  Well when I think of marriage - in this day & age - I think of two very distinct issues that branch from that word.  There is the very personal side which includes your life-long commitment to another person(s) & all that entails, and then there is the strictly legal side which includes how you navigate through the various legal entities (government) as a family unit.

Understandably (this is not a jab) it is my opinion that the straight folks have been getting married for so long, that they take many things for granted.  It is very difficult for some to separate the two facets of marriage - the personal side & the legal side.  They tend to look at it as one constant process that is inseparable - you fall in love, you get engaged, you purchase a marriage license, you have a wedding.  This is a sequential process that follows (for them) in a linear motion with no branches which separate any part of it.

Because for most gays, there is no legal side to their marriage due to laws in their state, I believe it is much easier for us to look at the different branches - choices - of getting married.  But then even for some of us due to our upbringing, it is entirely too difficult to separate the pieces.

In my situation, my husband & I already had the wedding with our preacher, our family, our friends with "official" ceremony.  However, in our state, there is no legal instrument for our relationship, so as for the technical marriage process that was it.  We did eventually draw up wills, living wills, power of attorneys - you know, all those things that are legally available to us when death occurs - there's not anything for us while we're living though (ironic eh?).  But that was it.  

And I want to discuss the personal side of marriage and all my opinions of grandure on that subject, but I want to just touch on the legal side tonight.  

Through the many, many, MANY conversations I have had over the years with the diverse people about the marriage issue, I have found there are many misconceptions & more education is definitely needed.  I guess this may be why I bring this up tonight.

Many people still believe that this "gay marriage" agenda has something to do with the gay community forcing churches to recognize & perform gay weddings.  Now I certainly have no right nor any desire to speak on behalf of the entire gay community; but that is definitely not part of any gay marriage agenda I have been a party to.   My husband & I happened to find a religion/church that fit our beliefs very closely.  They also happened to celebrate all marriages - gay ones included.  So that is how it came to be that our preacher presided over our wedding.  It never entered our minds to visit any Baptist, Catholic, Methodist, Buddhist, etc. church/temple and demand or even request that they perform our ceremony.  For me, I cannot imagine being a member of any of those churches in the first place, because I would find it very hard to reconcile being a homosexual and also being a full-fledged member of a religion which believes that homosexuality is a sin...but I suppose if I were a member of such a church, I could see how I may desire to make such a request to the church leaders.  So that may be why there are some homosexuals who are pushing for some of their churches that they are members of to actually perform the weddings.  However, I just can't see a gay couple rolling up in a church where they are not members, and knowing the beliefs of the religion regarding homosexuality, and asking them to perform a very sacred ceremony.  I see that as a lose-lose situation for everyone.  For me, such a ceremony should be one of the happiest days of your life, and nothing about it should be forced, or uneasy, or attached to drama.  But I do not believe the gay community is asking for churches to set their beliefs aside and perform ceremonies which contradict their teachings.  If this is happening, it is wrong, and I'll be the first to stand by the church and defend their right to run their church according to the beliefs of their members.

Now what ARE 'most' of the gay community looking for with this 'gay marriage agenda'?  Again, I can't speak for the whole community, but for my husband and I, we simply want to purchase a license which costs all of $36 here in Kentucky.  That's it.  We go to the county clerk's office, fill out a few papers, pay the money, and it's over.  We keep on living as we always have, except now we have a legal document which helps us navigate more easily the treachorous legal waters of the government that runs the country, state, county, town.  We're not going to take this license to the Southern Baptist church on the hill and say "hey you have to accept it now, nah nah boo boo".  What would even be the point?  I think those folks should have all the same rights as us, and to be able to live peacefully side-by-side without all this dramatic discourse.  

But if I have to have surgery on my broken hip, I want to make sure there is no question that my husband will be by my side.  Yes there are medical Power of Attorneys and we have drawn those up (of course it cost more than $36) but those can be contested by biological/next of kin family.  Usually, marriage licenses are hard to contest & are on equal legal footing with next of kin.

Then there is the whole messy tax code which may be or may not be advantageous for us to file jointly.  I have never actually run the numbers, but I believe President Bush signed away that 'marriage penalty' clause, so now it truly is beneficial (in many cases) to file jointly.  Not to mention the fact that legally married spouses can give tax free gifts of money/property to one another up to certain amounts.  Even most inheritances after death pass tax free from one legal spouse to another.  There is no legal instrument in existence for my husband and I to make that happen.  Zero, zilch, nada.  The ironclad IRS has nery a loophole for such a relationship.

The list of legal benefits/drawbacks of being legally responsible for one another via a marriage license goes on and on - and many of them are very detailed, specific situations that may or may not ever be an issue for us.  But it would be nice to know that for $36, my husband and I could ensure that our legal responsibilities to one another are set and no matter what comes up, legally, we can do what we need to do without crashing and burning with the government.  

Now I really have no idea how that desire is going to be the destruction of marriage as we know it.  That idea makes no logical sense to me.  Again, the only thing I can come up with is that people are unable to separate the branches of marriage because it has always been a linear process for them and it is too easy for them to jump from the legal issues into hellfire and brimstone religion.  

One last bit of idealism, and then I'll quit typing...

Truly, I am 100% opposed to the government having complete control over the legality of my personal relationships.  I like to consider myself conservative - not neo-conservative - just conservative - meaning, the smaller the government, the better.  

If we had a vote today on banning the government from issuing marriage licenses, I'd campaign and vote for it whole-heartedly.  We do not need, nor have we ever needed, the government to tell us how we should form our relationships.  They came up with the marriage license business because they believed it was in the best interest of the 'state' to encourage marriage of couples.  That hasn't quite worked out for the best has it?  It's because it's a flawed idea from jump.  

We don't form personal relationships because there is a government license which legalizes it.  We form relationships for a myriad of reasons - but none of which has anything to do with the sanctioning of said relationships by the government.  Creating marriage licenses certainly has not been an effective program in encouraging marriage - look at the divorce rate.  Legally banning recognition of gay marriages has not stopped gay marriage from occurring - my husband and I are very happily married, and will be so 'til death do us part; the government has no bearing on that.

Sure we need social contracts that 2 or 20 people can be a party to in order to handle issues such as property, child custody, and other financial situations.  But that can be a simple contract that is executed in front of a judge in any local courthouse just like we do with any other contract.  We do not need to invoke all of this emotion and religious outrage into it by defining it as "marriage".

I have relationships all throughout my family which I would like to be able to legalize with such a social contract because I will have responsibilities to these people down the road, and right now, there really are no legal instruments that make that possible.  This goes way beyond legal issues that arise with my husband.  I have a female family member who I consider my Mother, but we have no biological connection so therefore we have no legal bond to one another.  But if her husband is not around as she gets older, I am her only child, and I will be responsible for her care.  Why should I not be allowed to draw up a simple legal contract saying that?  Why does the government get to decide that biological ties supersede other ties that have formed during life?  

Ok so that was not a very small idealistic thought eh?  I'll digress for now, but bottom line folks... the government overreaches entirely too far into our personal relationships by dictating what legal bonds we can/cannot create with one another in order to navigate through this red tape they have legislated.  For me, that's really the issue with "gay marriage".  

Go in peace, and laugh often :)

Friday, April 24, 2009

Miss Perez vs. Miss Californication

Now this will be a helluva way to start out a new blog - with a topic that I don't even care about, but apparently people are being consumed with this thing, so not having seen any publications that really address what I'm feeling...so...well here I am.

What the hell am I talking about you say?  Miss Californication & Miss Perez.  If you've been outside enjoying good weather you may have missed it but here's the gist of it:

At the Miss America pageant, Perez Hilton (a judge, wtf?) asked Miss California's question. He wanted to know if she was for the legalization of same-sex marriage.  She replied that her belief was that marriage is between a man and a woman.  And from there it just got dumb. Perez has been berating her ever since on every forum he can imagine, and she is doing the tv circuit "defending" herself.  

I've read blogs and stories from every angle on this.  Oh the poor Christian beauty was crucified by the evil homo.  Oh Perez is so right - that lil pageant princess should burn.  Oh Perez needs to go away because he looks bad for the gay community.  Oh Miss California lost the crown because of her honesty.  Blah blah blah.  So what do I do?  I just add more to the blah blah blah.

My thoughts:  blah.  To me the whole thing is just part of the silly entertainment industry.  

Perez Hilton - who I haven't heard much about til now - is just looking for another 15 minutes of fame to add to his small collection.  Not a bad move if it is making him money, but giving him any more value other than entertainment value is just silly.  He is not anybody's representative.  He's not in Congress, he's not the homo community elected official, he's not the head of some mega-company, he's not in charge of squat except him, his blog, and his mouth.  So just to be clear, Perez does not speak on behalf of all homos - whether some of us agree or disagree with his latest tyrade.  We don't have a leader, we never will, we're entirely too individualized, and you'll just have to ask each of us what we think if you want to know.  

Miss California is definitely getting her 15 minutes of fame.  She's gone from making appearances at local grocery store ribbon-cuttings to national headlines on major broadcast networks.  If that's what she was aiming for then she succeeded.  She says she lost the crown because of the question.  Now according to www.missamerica.org, that question is only worth 5% with all the categories far outranking that one question.  It really does not delve into how they are supposed to judge those questions - is it based on content?  based on the delivery?  based on personal opinions of the content?  But let's face it - Miss America is not our spokeswoman.  That would be the POTUS.  We do not elect Miss America (or Miss California) to do squat.  She has as much ranking as Perez Hilton.  But knowing what she knows about the contest, and knowing Perez is a homo, she - not the question - lost the competition for herself.  Comprising her integrity you say?  Hello...swimsuit competition - didn't she already give up her integrity?  

Bottom line...  these two people mean very little in the big scheme of things.  If they want to parade around all over the net and news bitching at each other so they get a little bit more of face time with those willing to watch - fine.  It's America, feel free to do so.  But let's just all remember this is just entertainment - nothing more, nothing less.  It's no big deal.  Neither of them have any authority to do diddly.  

So change the channel or turn off the tube, find your loved ones, and cook a big dinner & laugh about it.