Friday, November 10, 2006

Faith Works 11-11-06
Jeff Gill

Islamic Tithing and Stewardship In General

As we all try to get a better sense of what Shia Islam, dominant in Iran, southern Iraq, and parts of Baghdad, means versus the Sunni school of Islam elsewhere, some subjects don’t change.
How religious groups teach about stewardship, or managing one’s material blessings, has some commonalities across faiths, let alone between groups or denominations within a faith tradition.
"Tithe" is a word literally (from Old English) meaning a tenth (10%), but has a generic import in modern usage: the obligation as a practicing believer to give a set percentage of their income to the church or to charity. Islam, it turns out, has it, too. There’s a number of points of contact, in fact, between the religions we know and those we don’t.
From the last few weeks, as we’ve looked in this space at the two main schools of Islamic religion, there is much most Americans don’t know about Moslem practices beyond the "hajj," or pilgrimage to Mecca, and the much debated concept of "jihad," which translates as "struggle," but is mainly internal to some traditions but is sadly best known today as the struggle against unbelievers, seen in terrorist groups.
The most frequent question I’ve gotten since starting to outline Sunni and Shia Islam is "so which is Osama bin Laden and al Quaeda?" That’s a bit of a puzzle, in fact.
Technically, they are mostly out of Saudi Arabia, which is home to a very conservative version of Sunni Islam called "Wahabi." Followers of the teaching school of Wahabism, which linked with the now ruling Saud family of the Arab peninsula look to the future re-establishment of the "Caliphate," a ruler of the government called a caliph who works in concert with religious scholars to implement Shariah Law, the civic order of Islam in practice throughout a community.
Sunnis say there has been no caliph since the end of the Ottoman Empire in Turkey in the 1920’s, if not earlier. Osama bin Laden says that he is trying to help re-establish the Islamic Caliphate, with Mullah Omar of the Afghanistan Taliban one candidate. Saddam Hussein considered declaring himself the Caliph, but was convinced not to do so.
Most Sunnis, and even most Wahabis, say bin Laden has pressed to far, too violently, and is effectively beyond the proper bounds of the traditions of Islam, or "sunna."
Meanwhile, Shiite groups were behind the Ayatollah Khomeini in his Iranian Revolution, where Church and State are combined. From our point of view in America, it looks like the same thing, but for Shia, the caliph is only a descendant of Mohammed the prophet of God, and to many he is a mythic figure in hiding called "The Mahdi," who will be revealed in the last days.
The current president of Iran believes that the Mahdi is soon to be revealed, and Moqtada al Sadr in Baghdad has a "Mahdi Army," working for the culmination of Church and State as one Holy Caliphate. Parallel, but distinct, is bin Laden’s desire to re-establish a secular but powerful Caliph who will free true teachers of his ascetic brand of Sunni to guide Islam back to world domination.
Yet both groups hold to an ancient teaching of Islam called "zakat," which is Moslem tithing. It is actually interpreted as 2.5% of your increase, with an additional gift to charity expected in Ramadan.
But even here the two school diverge, with the generally more austere Shia teaching that unexpected windfalls should be "tithed" as a fifth, or 20%. Income you did not expect, that was a "gift from heaven" if you will, should be shared with those in need at minimum as "khoms," or one-fifth.
This is the time of year many Christian churches wrestle with how they will teach and affirm principles of stewardship, the practice of giving a planned, intentional amount to one’s faith community. Some Old and New Testament verses point to a "tenth," with the import being the use of the Temple storehouses as the source of government and charitable assistance.
When the total taxes off of a person’s income comes off the top to the tune of 30% and more, does that effect your tithing obligation? I don’t know how your church teaches stewardship or tithing, but I’m sure of this: if most active believers just gave a consistent 2.5% after taxes to their faith community, we’d see a whole new level of activity from Licking County churches.
And I know I’m preaching alongside most pastors when I say: "have a personal budget, know your income, plan your giving, and set a goal to grow your giving and saving each year." If you don’t really know what your income or expenses are, I don’t care what you’re giving, because recklessness no matter how well intended is not good stewardship.
And some of you may be called by God to give more than 10%, maybe even a "khoms." So make all you can, save all you can, give all you can. Master those three, and you’ve got stewardship.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; talk to him about stewardship at

Monday, November 06, 2006

Notes From My Knapsack 11-12-06
Jeff Gill

Let’s Get This Party Started

Now that the election is over, maybe we can talk some political sense in the next few weeks.
Or at least until the presidential elections of 2008 start dominating the news cycles, and all rational thought.
Actually, as I’m writing this, the voting hasn’t even begun on Nov. 7, which is what often happens with columns, but in this case it is quite happily intentional. The following observations are intended to be entirely independent of party support or reaction, and I defy anyone to find a consistent R or D spin to my concerns.
In fact, most of them aren’t even tied to solutions, so I’m open to any party or candidate who offers a plan or proposal that addresses them.
First off, can anyone talk about the national crisis (a word I don’t tend to use casually) around personal savings and consumer debt? Denison University alum Richard Lugar started a run for president just talking about the subject as a problem, and got hammered even before he started talking about possible policy steps. With American savings rates in negative territory, credit card debt at close to $9,000 per household, and foreclosures racing bankruptcies to the bottom of Ohio’s barrel, can we discuss this at all?
And no, privatizing Social Security doesn’t count. That isn’t a savings plan and never was: it’s a catastrophic insurance program which pays current benefits out of current employees – which means we need to be building back up a real surplus for the easy to anticipate worker to retiree shortage coming soon.
Which brings me to: Unfunded obligations and future deficits. Public employees and private pension plans alike are expecting what really was a savings plan, their pensions, to come out of echoing caverns of empty trust (ha!) funds. Add the deferred maintenance in so much of public life, such as what Bruce Bain and Tim Weisert are facing in Newark, and that’s a pile o’ cash that’s gonna have to be spent somehow.
Somehow that seems to lead directly to the implosion of both educational system and public support of that vital civic resource. Demagoguing on both side of the political aisle have helped create a poisonous climate between voters and schools, to the degree that vile, unscrupulous gambling interests thought they could exploit that bile to sneak in personal profit as public service. You’ll know by the time this is printed if that worked for them, but however Issue 3 turned out, we still will have for the next few decades an overpriced, tragically underfunded state college system. Our local campus of The Ohio State University has received stellar private support, masking the depth of this problem statewide in crumbling buildings and missing resources.
After college, and if you can find a job, you’ll wonder how we missed responding to five decades of signals that steel-belt, auto-centric, resource-extraction based industries were heading to either irrelevance, or a new high-tech model. So we desperately hang onto the remnants of those industries, while states like Indiana, West Virginia, and (dare I say it?) Michigan do a better job of attracting the industries – and jobs – of the future. The Republican party is going to get, has gotten by the time you read this, an old fashioned whoopin’ at the polls because their only economic development plan is "cut taxes, cut taxes, cut taxes." Even tax cutting conservatives have started saying: "Y’all got any other ideas? No? Well, buh-bye then . . ." Good luck, Mr. Strickland, I mean "Governor."
And by the same token, those same Ohio conservatives are turning against a purely reflexive stand on "no federal involvement in health care." Our population is already largely served by Medicare, Medicaid, VA, and public employees’ health plans, and the employment based model is already being undermined in states like Ohio as more employers try to escape that imposed responsibility. The global marketplace is asking them to compete against economies where none of their competitors have to spend half their management energy managing health care costs. We owe it to entrepreneurs and growing industries in Ohio to be part of looking for a new way to do health care.
This is no longer a fringe benefit or luxury good in the America we've built in so many other ways so well. No one wants to live in a country where children having congenital heart defects make their parents unemployable. That’s just wrong, morally and politically.
All this, and I haven’t even touched the global scene yet. See you next week…

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; raise your favorite unaddressed issues at