A wide spot in my imagination.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Taxes and Questions and Prayer


I'm weird, I guess, because I think they make sense. I wouldn't say I like paying taxes. In fact, I'm horrible at the actual acts of filling out the forms, doing the math. My lovely spouse does all that.

But I appreciate the things our taxes pay for: roads, health insurance for poor kids, breakfast for hungry people, mental hospitals for terribly bothered people, schools, teachers' salaries, research that tries to end horrible diseases, firefighters and other public safety workers. Those are good things. I'm glad to do my part to pay for them.

There are things I'm sad my taxes pay for. I do not like that my money buys weapons to kill other people. I don't like it that some of my tax money is frittered away and used sloppily at times.

Having had my own salary paid by tax dollars for a while in a previous job, I know that there are good, diligent, hard-working folks toiling away in our bureaucracies; and I know there are some lousy, lazy people earning tax dollars as well -- about like any workplace, I suppose.

Lately, I've been thinking about Jesus and taxes. He befriended Zaccaeus, a corrupt tax collector (which says to me we don't hurl bombs and names at people we don't like). And Jesus was accused of subverting the tax system (Luke 23:2).

Governments shouldn't abuse, exploit and over-burden everyday people, just trying to get by. And it's much easier to point that out when "Caesar" is on the throne. It's harder when "we the people" all sit together on the throne.

Governments (again, functioning as "we the people") have a covenant (by virtue of our basic humanness) to take care of each other.

So, taxes. How much is too much? How do we make sure it's spent in the right ways? What would Jesus do? I don't know, to all of the above. So, I'll sign my name to form, and pray -- pray that it's filled out correctly, and pray that the money's going to the right places.

Bread for the World offered this prayer for taxpayers to consider as we work our way through our tax forms:

Gracious God, all that we have is a gift from you, including this country in which we live. As April 15 approaches, help us see our reporting to the Internal Revenue Service as a reminder of our interdependence.

Jesus taught us to love one another as he loves us, and scripture reminds us that each is given a manifestation of the Spirit for the common good (1 Corinthians 12:7).

We remember all employers, all who are self-employed, all who labor to feed themselves and their households, and all who are unemployed and seeking work.

Loving God, Bless the people whose lives are linked with ours

We remember all who have had capital gains or losses and all who manage money, especially those who are entrusted with the savings and financial well-being of others.

Loving God, Bless the people whose lives are linked with ours

We remember all landlords, all tenants, and all who own their own homes, while we especially recall those who have no place to call home.

Loving God, Bless the people whose lives are linked with ours

We remember all who farm, all who produce food for others to eat and all who depend upon the land for their survival.

Loving God, Bless the people whose lives are linked with ours

We remember all who receive social security and other government benefits.

Loving God, Bless the people whose lives are linked with ours

We remember all students and teachers, all who pay tuition, all who have student loans, and all who devote their lives to education.

Loving God, Bless the people whose lives are linked with ours

We remember all whom our nation’s tax policy deems worthy of special credits: employers creating jobs, parents adopting children with special needs, people buying their first homes, and those raising children on low incomes.

Loving God, Bless the people whose lives are linked with ours

Bless those individuals whose lives have touched ours in ways that are now reflected on a tax return, through a filing status, deductions, credits, or alimony payments. And Lord, bless also all those who make decisions for our common good.

All this we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.

From the webpage www.bread.org/April15.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Tomato Stakes and Waiting on Holy Saturday

Ernst Schrieben- festen stood behind Old Josh in line at Di Popolo's Feed Store this morning.

Ernst is the editor of the paper here in Zen. Old Josh, a preacher, had tomato stakes in his hand.

"Tomatoes already up, Josh? On the first of April," Ernst asked. For Ernst to speak at all was unusual, but Josh was one of his favorites.

Josh replied with half smile, "Faith is the substance of things hope for..."

"...the evidence of things unseen," Ernst replied. "Sounds like an Easter sermon."

"Yup," Old Josh said. "Maybe." He looked at the stakes. "Tomatoes, though, they're my Holy Saturday project. Every year, the day before Easter, I put stakes in the ground 'round my little plants, knowing, hoping, that by the end of May or so those vines'll reach up round this metal and take off toward the sun."

Ernst nodded. The two men stood there in silence waiting on the flustered women in front of them to dig out the money from her purse. She was buying a crate of baby chicks, and she spoke very loudly.

"We're having an Easter egg hunt down at the Baptist church at ten o' clock this morning. And I'm buying baby chicks to give to to the top ten kids who find the most eggs. Aren't they the cutest thiiiiiiings!" She trilled the word "things" like a tenor singing an aria from Handel's Messiah.

"The chicks, I mean, not the kids. Oh, the kids are cute, too," she rattled on. "They'll be there in their little Easter dresses and matching sailor suits. Boys hate those clothes, so I figure winning baby chicks would make 'em glad they got dressed and came. Last year I bought baby bunnies for the winners. Kids was just knockin' each other down to get those eggs. But the preacher told me they was pagans."

"The bunnies I mean, not the kids." She laughed loud, long and high. "Anyway, this year we're giving these chicks as prizes. So ya'll come. Ten o' clock at the Baptist church. Everybody'll be there."

Old Josh and Ernst watched as the woman bustled out of the door with the crate of chicks.

"So, Josh, you going to the egg hunt? Might win yourself a chicken," Ernst said.

"B'lieve I'll pass on that, Ernst," Josh said. "You better go and take some pictures for the paper. Kids in sailor suits knocking each other down to win baby chicks to commemorate Jesus dead in a tomb -- that'll sell papers, for sure."

In a rare public outburst, Ernst bellowed a giant "Ha" of a laugh. He wiped saliva from the the corner of his mouth.

"So what do you do on Saturday, Josh? Holy Saturday, you called it? Besides putting out tomato stakes," Ernst asked.

"Well, we leave the egg hunt to the Baptists," Josh said. "They do that pretty well. The Episcopalians, they put on pretty moment with their organist playing Bach and all. They're solemn. I like that. And the Methodists are the most earnest -- they get together and scrub their building from top to bottom, all day. Leaf blowers and weed eaters. They're diligent."

Old Josh stared at the floor for a good long while. Ernst waited. Even the pimply teenager working the cash register leaned forward.

" 'Bout seven o' clock this evening, we'll gather at the church. There may only be three or four of us, maybe as many as eight or ten or so. We'll sit there a for a few minutes. Then I'll stand up and read a scripture. Maybe Psalm 22, about being forsaken and our bones being out of joint. Then I'll say that's probably how Mary and Mary Magdalene and Joanna and the rest of Jesus' disciples felt with their friend buried and gone. I figure we all feel that way sometime, even when we're looking for Easter eggs or using a leaf blower in the flower bed. A lot of the time, if we're honest. Life is painful. We're lonely. Then I might pray and ask God not to be far off, even when our souls lay down in the dust. Then we'll sit still for a while, then go home."

Silence in the feed store.

"So, that's it," Old Josh said.

"That's it," Ernst said quietly.

"That's it," the pimply teenager said, even quieter still. "Uh, I mean, that'll be $7.49." His voice was scratchy, as if his tongue was stuck to the roof of his mouth.

Old Josh paid and went home to put stakes around his tomatoes that were growing, unseen, in the dark earth.