• The tulips are finally blooming here, the pink ones anyway.  But snow is forecast again for tonight, so we're not quite settled into spring yet in these parts.
  • Today's sermon was entitled, "Jesus is not a Ghost."  When Mindy asked me on the phone earlier in the week what I would be preaching about, she thought I said, "Jesus is not a Goat."  After hearing the sermon earlier today, she thought it was sort of interesting, but she would have preferred hearing what I would have come up with on the goat theme.
  • Reading Richard McGonagal's historical book, Rocket Men:  The Epic Story of the First Men on the Moon.  Also finishing up an autobiography by Elias Chacour, Blood Brothers, an account of a Palestinian Christian who was a child when Zionist soldiers drove his family out of their home and destroyed their orchards.  He writes about his own inner struggles to avoid either hate or passivity.

April 15, 2018
Taxes Again
Well, it's April 15 today, which means it's tax day.  Except it's not, because today is Sunday.  And since we live in a polite country, where our government neither taxes people nor executes them on a Sunday, we have all been allowed to wait until tomorrow before we fork over our money. 

That would (theoretically) make this years's tax day  April 16. Except it's not, since April 16 is Emancipation Day in Washington D.C.  

I always thought that Emancipation Day was January 1, as that was the date in 1863 when Lincoln's proclamation (setting free all the slaves in the Confederacy) was due to take effect.  Or maybe it could be September 22, since that was the date in 1862 when Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.  Of course, December 6 would have made a good Emancipation Day, since that was the day in 1865 when the 13th amendment was finally ratified and every slave in the country was legally set free.

So why does D.C. celebrate April 16?  Not that I mind having an extra day to finish my taxes, but sad to say, I've wasted the better part of that day trying to chase down why we've been given it.

It turns out that this Monday is the anniversary of the  Compensated Emancipation Act,  which only applied to slaves in Washington D.C.  In the  Compensated Act , (signed by Lincoln on April 16, 1862,) congress set aside $1 million to buy off Washington D.C.'s slaveholders.  For their crimes against humanity, our government paid these oppressors $300 for each human being they were willfully holding in violent bondage.  Plus, that same bill also offered freed slaves a little money:  $100 each if they promised to go back to Africa.  It is in honor of this hideous historical factoid that we now get an extra day to finish our taxes.
But let's not waste words getting all peevish about how they handled slaves 156 years ago.  Let's moan about taxes instead.  

Negative attitudes toward taxes go all the way back to the Old Testament, and appear to be attributed to God. When the ancient Israelites, who lived in a loose tribal confederation, started to envy the nations around them that had highly evolved governments, (Israel hankered to have a king like everyone else) the Lord gave them a warning.  "Okay, but these will be the ways of a king who will reign over you:  he will draft your sons into his army, he will make himself rich off your labor, he will confiscate your lands for himself, he will sleep with your wives and daughters, and he will tax you, and tax you, and tax you.  And you will cry out because of your king."  (paraphrase of 1 Samuel 8)
A few centuries before that warning, when the Hebrews were subjects of the ancient Pharaoh, everyone in Egypt had to give the government 20% of everything they produced.  If you couldn't come up with the 20%, you were forced into slavery.  

And that's how all the Hebrews originally ended up in slavery: taxes.  It took some major muscle by both Moses and the Lord in order to get them emancipated.  (Passover was Emancipation Day in the Old Testament.)  After the slaves were freed and settled in the Promised Land, the Bible would command that only 10% need be given to the government (or, the Lord, as the government was a theocracy.)  That's a 50% cut in taxes from their time in Egypt, a better deal than we just got from the  Republicans.  

But the people blew it because someone obviously didn't get the memo in 1 Samuel 8.  The people gave God's Kingdom away to guys like Solomon and Rehoboam, and gosh darn if their taxes didn't end up even higher than when the Pharaoh was in charge.

Over the years the people were subject to taxes and tributes (taxes paid to foreign powers.)  And by the time of Jesus, they were groaning under the taxation policies of King Herod (and his sons) who needed to increase taxes to pay for all the palaces and improvements to the temple complex.  Plus, Herod and his sons had to pay off the Romans, who needed money for their roads and their occupation army.  While popular with the ruling authorities, the tax idea never did catch on with the biblical masses.
Opponents of Jesus tried to draw him into a tax debate quagmire, but he slipped away with a typical political non-answer when he said, "Give unto Caesar what is Caesar's, and give unto the Lord what is the Lord's."  I've been a biblical scholar for 45 years now, and I'm still not sure what that means. Jesus did, however, love the tax collectors, as he included them in dinner invitations, and even made one of them a close disciple.
Randall Balmer, in his book, Redeemer:  The Life of Jimmy Carter, asserts that the religious right (80% of whom are goo-goo over President Trump) got its start as an anti-tax movement in 1970 when Richard Nixon ordered the IRS to deny tax exemptions for religious colleges that practiced segregation.  Out of the ensuing rage emerged the Moral Majority, Jerry Falwell, and Liberty University. Of course, nothing even remotely Christ-like emerged from any of that, but the modern anti-tax movement was suddenly wedded to the Christian right-wing.
Anti-taxation, of course, is in the DNA of the American character, going back to before the Revolutionary War.  The British wanted to tax American colonists extra for whiskey, newspapers, commercial contracts, wills, playing cards, sugar, paint, cloth, coffee, and tea.
All these extra taxes provoked the rebels into throwing a new kind of tea party.  Instead of sipping the tariffed brew politely in a formal parlor, they convened in the Boston harbor, threw all the crates of imported tea leaves into the water, and thus evaded the tax . God bless America.  

Being a red-blooded American, I admit I'm not all that happy myself about paying taxes.  But I guess I am thankful, for much of what my taxes cover:  social security and pensions for all my old friends, nursing homes for church members who've run out of money, schools for our kids, roads to get around the country, first responders who run into situations others are trying to escape, parks that preserve history and nature...  

And yes, there are plenty of things I'd cut from state, local, and federal budgets. And I'd tax people more fairly, more progressively, if I could ever get a candidate of my liking elected.  But on April 17,  this year's  tax day, I've decided not to gripe.  I'll just be thankful for what we have:  as a nation, as a state, as a community.  Thanks be to God...and  some  of the ways our officials have decided to spend the dues we pay for living here.  --Mike

 The Sunday letter is something I have done now for over 20 years.  It is a disciplined musing:  mindfulness, memory, and imagination.  I write it when I first wake up on a Sunday morning and then share it with the congregation.  The letter you see published here is usually revised from what the congregation receives.  This discipline of thinking and writing puts me in the place of describing rather than advising.  It prepares me to proclaim the gospel rather than get preachy with the souls who will sit before me.  --JMS


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