When the discussion wandered into proper money management, the instructor asked about budget priorities. What should get paid first?
Someone immediately answered "tithing." Regardless of whatever else was pressing, it was 10 percent right off the top. Paying the Lord first is what good, obedient Mormons are supposed to do.
Apparently, I'm not a very good Mormon. The Lord is farther down my list of creditors. Before God gets his, the feds want theirs. No offense, but going to jail scares me a lot more than not being blessed.
Second is my 401(k). Like taxes, the money for that gets sucked out of my check long before I get it. Then there's automatic withdrawal for stuff such as insurance, utilities, loan shark, etc.
Finally, there's my wife, a fiscally responsible woman. She takes the rest and gives me an allowance large enough to see me through the week but not substantial enough to afford real trouble.
I'm OK with paying tithing. In fact, I think a major part of a provident life is sharing what you have with those less fortunate. Some pay it to a church in the form of a tithe, but it's also charitable contributions of any kind.
Oddly enough, I was even OK with the lesson. Then someone said that a mandated 10 percent tithe was clearly the Lord's plan because it was so fair. Rich or poor, it affected everyone the same.
Um, horse [crap].
If you're pulling down $200,000 a year, giving 10 percent still leaves enough room to choose between steak and lobster for dinner. But 10 percent of $15,000 a year nudges a family that much closer to cat food.
I used to think tithing was a black-and-white issue, too. It was all about obedience. Pay it, get blessed. What could be simpler?
Of course, that was back when I was a genius and didn't understand the difference between simple inconvenience and genuine risk. If I chose tithing over gas for my car, I might have to ride the bus to work. How long, oh Lord?
Mercifully, the church sent me on a mission to South America. For two years, I taught the law of sacrifice to families whose entire net worth was a sick chicken. And I was just stupid enough to be inflexible about it.
Still, I could see Hermano Gomez looking around. Ten percent? How do you want that in feathers?
Eventually, I learned the difference the law of sacrifice has on people whose kids may risk going to bed hungry and people whose children already do. It helps me keep my own financial priorities in order today.
I came home a lot more flexible about things like obedience, the law and even me. I like to think it makes me a little more understanding of those sometimes forced to seek their blessings through disobedience.
Robert Kirby can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or facebook.com/stillnotpatbagley.