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Redefined Stewardship
Not many argue that we are living in times of economic hardship, difficulty and uncertainty. But the bright side is that this provides a strategic opportunity to evaluate our attitudes and paradigms that typically drive our financial priorities and behaviors. Perhaps current national and global circumstances end up demanding a new definition of the bottom line. Here's the way Rabbi Michael Lerner puts it:

"[We need] to embrace a 'new bottom line' in which corporations, social practices, government policies and individual behaviors are judged rational, efficient or productive not only if they maximize money or power, but also to the extent that they maximize love and caring, kindness and generosity, ethical and ecological sensitivity, enhance our capacity to treat others as embodiments of the sacred and to respond with awe, wonder, and radical amazement at the grandeur of the universe."

It's encouraging to hear more and more people calling for this kind of redefinition of economic attitudes. But it's still too easy to apply this process to federal and state levels and miss the need for personal redefinitions. How is my budget shaped by my personal and spiritual values? What influences impact my economic choices and strategies and priorities? Just because I have less money these days doesn't preclude the need for me to evaluate my financial paradigms, does it? The question still is, what do I do with my "less"?

Bill Moyers, renown television journalist and social commentator helped frame this question: "Charity depends on the vicissitudes of whim and personal wealth; justice depends on commitment instead of circumstance. Faith-based charity provides crumbs from the table; faith-based justice offers a place at the table."

Charity or Justice

I'm challenged by Moyers' distinction between charity and justice. When it comes to understanding my role of financial stewardship, I have to face whether or not my giving is based upon having discretionary income or being an integral part of my regular budget. Are my spiritual economic values defined by charity or justice?

For this reason, having a spiritual practice of systematic and proportional giving of my finances ends up being helpful to living out the value of justice and not just charity. It facilitates giving not by whim or opportunity but by commitment to the value.

This is why the Bible in numerous places encourages the spiritual practice of tithing—the giving of ten percent of one’s income to the spiritual community for the cause of social justice and compassion. “You must set aside a tithe of your crops—one-tenth of all the crops you harvest each year. Bring this tithe to the designated place of worship—the place the Lord your God chooses for his name to be honored … Doing this will teach you always to fear the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 14:22, 23).

Do I move personally in that stewardship direction of justice for all only when I have the luxury of disposable income? Or is it a shaping paradigm with whatever I have whenever I have it? If it isn’t, perhaps I need to establish a spiritual practice of proportional giving to encourage my engagement with human need. Perhaps these spiritual values can help redefine my personal stewardship and inform my economic life regardless of how much or little I have. After all, isn't it time everybody has a place at the table rather than just some crumbs from the table?

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By Greg Nelson. Copyright © 2009 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines. Scripture taken from the NEW LIVING TRANSLATION © copyright 1996.

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