Tithing Myself

I was raised Christian. The religion didn’t stick, but a lot of the philosophy did: I believe that my purpose in life is to leave my corner of the world a better place than I found it; that I must treat others the way I wish to be treated; that the virtues which are worthy of my aspiration are faith, hope, charity, fortitude, justice, temperance, prudence, and the greatest of the virtues, love. I believe firmly that one person can make a difference, and that the way to make that difference is to live my beliefs. I believe in the husbandry of talents — in the admonition to take what I have been given and use it to the best of my ability and for good purposes. And I believe that I have a duty to tithe.

Being human, I fail more often than I succeed. And being non-Christian, I have no obvious method by which to tithe. Tithing, for those of you not raised Christian, is giving ten percent of what you have back to God. The usual form that tithing takes is money — Christians can give ten percent of their income to their church and be done with it. I won’t donate to churches, though, and distrust the way that charities use the money they get; I’m still seething about the Red Cross’s misuse of the millions upon millions of dollars that it received for the families of the Sept. 11th victims, and am endlessly disgusted by the revelations of charities paying for big corporate salaries and glossy advertising out of the money they receive from people who give it to them in trust and hope that they will use it well.

I’ve ended up being creative about my tithe. I took the admonition I received from Mercedes Lackey to “pay forward” and created this site and the Forward Motion community, passing on to those who have benefitted from either the request that they also pay forward. Some of my tithe was in the form of money — the money to run the site through its first years, cash donations to site members in trouble, buying new software that gave members more ways to learn and share what they had learned. Most of my tithe has been in time, though. Time is the most valuable thing any of us have, because it is irreplaceble and finite. I’ve used my time to write articles, teach classes, develop the community and participate in it, and offer the mistakes I’ve made as examples so that others can bypass those mistakes (to make brand-new, exciting mistakes of their own, which is always painful, but which is at least better than endlessly reinventing being run over by the wheel.)

I’ve tithed writing for a couple of reasons. Writing is what I’m best at — it’s my ‘talent’ in the Biblical parable sense, the thing that I have been able to make grow and bear fruit. So I have faith that if I was given that talent, it is a worthwhile and honorable talent to have. And that if it is worthwhile and honorable for me, it will be the same for others. I believe that helping others learn to make the most of their writing talent is therefore a worthwhile use of my life and my time and that by doing so, I am making the corner of the world that I am most suited to affect better.

This is a hard essay to write, because it’s more personal than I generally care to be. I don’t talk about what I believe much, considering faith to be a private matter better off left between me and God, and not something that is to be trotted out at every turn and waved like a flag. I expect a certain amount of derision for this statement of faith, such as it is. Statements of faith are pretty unpopular right at the moment. But in a society that more and more encourages throwing money at all the world’s problems instead of finding creative ways to solve them, and that does everything it can to hide the fact that money so thrown is rarely used well, it seems to me that the non-religious tithe of one’s talent and time can become a form of quiet activism, a way of taking on a single problem and taking personal responsibilty for the process of solving it. Not all problems are huge. Not all of us have what it takes to fight the big injustices, the big crimes, the big battles. My little thing here isn’t going to save the world, and I know that, and acknowledged to myself some time back that — great dreams aside — I wasn’t designed for world-saving. I don’t have the talents or the drive to be good at that. But all of us are very good at something, and anything done well and with love and the goal of making things better is a step in the right direction.

If you are someone who has despaired at the state of the world and wondered how you might make a difference, I thought I could offer a personal tithe as a possible alternative to being a wealthy philanthropist, or a full-time crusader. Or endlessly sending off checks to places that aren’t accountable to you and don’t want to be. And I figured if I suggested it, you deserved to know where I was coming from, and what I’ve done to put my money, and my life, where my mouth is.

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About the author: Novelist, writing teacher, on a mission to reprint my out-of-print books and self-publish my new ones.

9 comments… add one
  • Grace Jun 17, 2009 @ 18:52

    Hi Holly:
    Thank you so much for this lovely perspective on tithing! It has opened my eyes in new ways about what it means to give of one’s talent (biblically the term talent refers to currency but it carries over to natural abilities in a lovely sense as well). It made me consider how I can give back even at this early stage in my (aspiring) writing career.
    I am sincerely enjoying your site after discovering it today and you have my deepest thanks for what you offer to young writers like myself that help us hone our skills. I cannot get enough of your articles and will soon be bleary eyed from ‘power reading’ through them. 🙂 I feel very blessed that you share your knowledge so generously with the writing community. Honestly, reading one article (A Little Bit of Me, A Little Bit of You) immensely improved a short story I wrote. This site is a gem, Holly. So are you. Thank you for sharing with us.
    But I am sorry to read about your feelings toward the Red Cross after the 9/11 scandal. It is unfortunate but understandable that this left you distrustful of how charities handle donor dollars. This post is nearly six years old though and I don’t know if you still feel the same way. But I understand the anger you had about this. However, I’ve been an active Red Cross volunteer for the last five years and while the situation you mentioned was mishandled by those in charge of such things I have a different perspecitive in the organization. In my experience the use of the donor dollar has been nothing but careful and conscientious in the field in response to disasters, both local and national. At the American Red Cross I’ve worked with some of the most warm hearted, selfless, kind, and generous individuals I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet. Many of these volunteers tirelessly serve others when they need it the most during what (for many) is the worst time in the client’s lives–a disaster. It saddens me that the RC has a blemish due to the poor decisions of those that we all (volunteers included) expected more from. I just wanted to put in my two cents about this because in five years of weekly volunteer service (in the field, not in an office) I see far more good being done for communities than bad. The real RC is composed of the people that never end up in the paper, that no one ever hears about or sees, and they never expect so much as a thank you because for many serving others is its own reward.

    Thanks again Holly! Now back to reading your amazing advice!

    Gracie~

  • cherylp Oct 28, 2003 @ 12:17

    No derision here. You know, I watched a really mediocre movie the other day that had one shining piece of dialogue in it that exemplified what you are trying to say.

    The movie was "The Core", and it’s premise was saving the world from destruction. One of the characters, when asked if he felt like he was saving the world, pointed at a picture of his wife and two kids, "No, I’m not saving the world. I’m saving three people."

    And yet, he was saving the world. Great two minutes in an otherwise forgettable movie.

  • Linda Sprinkle Oct 26, 2003 @ 9:37

    Thanks, Holly. Your thithing has been a catalyst in my being able to make progress toward realizing my childhood dream of writing.

    I think your form of tithing is more valuable than just paying money, anyway. I stopped giving money a long time ago, because I don’t have any extra. But I do give my time and talents and I agree that they’re the more valuable. I also think they’re more indicative of the spirit of Christianity, which I do believe in.

  • Maripat Oct 25, 2003 @ 22:48

    Holly I loved that you tithed your gift of writing onto others. I’m one of them. If it wasn’t for you I wouldn’t have a query package sitting at Bloomsbury USA.

    I think it’s one of the most touching things someone can do, to pass on a special talent to others. You did this without any payment and giving up a lot.

    Through your blogs and posts I’ve learned what it takes to be a writer. A real writer. Thank you Holly!

    Maripat

  • MishaM Oct 25, 2003 @ 21:23

    Holly:

    It’s strange. I disagree with you so often on your political views, and then you post something like this, and I see someone I really respect and believe in. I appreciate that you’re brave enough to post these kinds of personal, but valuable, thoughts.

    I’ve been checking into this blog a lot lately, just to get some insight into the writer’s life and have some company at a pretty lonely time for me (I mean, I’ve got plenty of company with my 2 kids — I homeschool too — but my husband, friends, and family can’t understand or really support my writing and my consternation over the state of this world).

    Right now, I’m ‘tithing’ almost everything I’ve got to my two little boys who had a bit of a hard start to this life. But later I hope I can give back to as many people as you do. It’s really wonderful.

    –Misha

  • Jim Woosley Oct 25, 2003 @ 18:59

    Once again, Amen, Holly.

  • Teddyrux Oct 25, 2003 @ 15:20

    Thank you for all you do for us aspiring writers, Holly. You are more of an inspiration to us than the "best-sellers", because you remind us of what it is to be human and why we write.

    Thank You

    Robert

  • Peggy Kurilla Oct 25, 2003 @ 15:17

    Holly, you’ve frequently expressed sentiments that I’ve barely formed in language so compelling and eloquent that I look at it and say, "That’s it. That’s absolutely right, and I don’t have to struggle with getting the words right anymore." This is one of those times.

    Thank you, both for all your efforts with Forward Motion (not to mention all the efforts you’ve made that I haven’t seen), and for this faith statement. I hope it’s as much an inspiration to others as FM has been (and still is).

  • Gianina Oct 25, 2003 @ 12:41

    Congrats, Holly. I know a lot of us appreciate your particular way of tithing, and that your writing pages have helped out more than a few people. I am a Christian, so in case anyone was wondering, tithe is not defined strictly by ten percent or giving to the church. I use mine to support a missionary. I think people should be more thankful for what they have and be willing to give up some of it to help others, like Holly has done. Keep up the good work.

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