In Praise of Taxation

Here’s a brief argument: it is short, believe me, simply because it’s simple and clear, and it comes from a little news item that was debated today on a discussion show. While all my ‘right-leaning’ friends have an inbred disdain for government taxation, they miss the basic value and merit that good taxation and spending brings to society i.e. everyone who lives under such a government.

Amidst all the austerity cuts we are facing, it is clear it’s not just ‘welfare scroungers’ and ‘wasteful councils’ who are being dealt the bad hand. It is slicing away practically everything that we hold dear in our society, but if you have people in power who have no real belief that society ‘exists’, what were you expecting? Perhaps the most incredible of these cuts is in policing, since even the most venomous libertarian who cries for minimal taxation and minuscule government wants protection from the criminal elements in our society (sorry for using that ‘defunct’ word, but what else should we call it?). As the rich grow ever further away from those beneath them, one inevitable result is that criminals come calling to their houses to rob them of their vast hordes of money. Yes, they will face criminal elements, or even those who have found themselves choosing crime over any other means of eking out a living since being law-abiding members of society (oops!) doth not butter any of their parsnips.

The wealthy borough of Hampstead in London has seen a rise in violent crime, but also saw their 100-year old police station close due to cuts! So the residents (well, some of them) have decided they could get together and pay £13/ year each for three extra officers for their borough, but these officers would not be allowed to be diverted to any other events outside their borough if needed. The basic story is here. The debate then inevitably ensues that it may not be right that wealthy boroughs can simply pay for extra policing while poorer boroughs have to put up with less police, and cannot even call upon the police from the wealthy boroughs if things ever get bad. Then the proposal is made that maybe these boroughs should be allowed to pay in a ‘contribution’ to policing in general, and they get half the extra officers and the rest of us get the other half. Maybe their borough postcode could get a gold star?

Then the next question, of course, since this is not taxation but a voluntary choice, is “what if one millionaire in their mansion pays this charge, but their neighbour doesn’t?” They shouldn’t all get that gold star! Surely that would also mean that the ‘extra police officers’ would only be allowed to attend to the houses of those who have paid! They’ll not be allowed to apprehend a criminal on the lawn of the neighbour’s house! So… this becomes compulsory, if the majority of residents decide they want it, and so you have a local tax! It’s the only way it would work!

Hold on! Why don’t we all just agree that we do all live in one big society (‘Big Society’ – anyone get the sheer irony?), and accept that we all just pay our taxes and allow the revenue to cover things like law and order and the criminal prosecution service, and our roads and street lighting, and our children’s education, and… is this not just plain common sense?

Grace be with you.

The Prodigal Father

prodsonI awoke early this morning. This is very unusual for me; I only find it hard to get to sleep on rare occasions, but once I do, I usually need to be awoken. It’s one of the duties my wife performs diligently, believe me!

One of the things that awakens you unexpectedly is pain. This time it’s not the pain from my wounds received on the operating table, but it is pain in my chest, since that is where the heart lies.

In my book, I used a wonderful thought from a devotional that said we should change the name of one of the best known parables. It is called the parable of the lost son in the NIV and other translations, but we have known it as The Prodigal Son for a very long time. I used to think that ‘prodigal’ meant lost, many have thought it to mean sinful, but it simply means wasteful, reckless or lavish. The devotional I read suggested we call it The Prodigal Father since it was the father who was reckless in giving his wayward son his inheritance too early and lavish in treating him so well on his return. This new angle was a wonderful one, and the parable has so many angles; I even used the elder brother in an earlier blog.

I knew at the outset of my book that I would face trials, because the search for true contentment means that I must learn, and my Father in heaven seeks to teach me. I have faced a lot lately, and some I never foresaw; some unexpected, like awaking in hospital facing death after a brain haemorrhage, some physical, like my recent operation and recovery, some nightmares, like the awaking again in intensive care and the flashbacks and paranoia I underwent (only briefly, praise God, but the memories remain). The last time I sought contentment, I asked God to stop teaching me, since I couldn’t take it any more. Now I’m stronger, but I’m at the point of asking him again.

Now this is a pain I cannot bear; it is worse than all that has gone before. Now I know, Lord, I understand! The Prodigal Father lost contact with his beloved son, and stood looking to the horizon every day for his return, never knowing. How long, Lord? How many years did it take for that return to happen? We are not told in the story, but I want to know, because my own daughter has gone, cut the ties, changed her number. A father-daughter relationship is special; I honestly don’t think a mother really ‘gets it’!

The parable is there to tell us about the pain that a loving father went through, so we’d know just how our heavenly Father weeps for his lost children who have gone their own way, and never pray to him. I feel it now, Lord, just as Hosea had to suffer an adulterous wife to grasp how you felt about your children going after other gods, I now know exactly what that Prodigal Father felt. I know what you feel. Please stop the pain now! This hurts too much, my emotions are in a total mess. I want the lessons to finish. Please.

But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. (2Cor. 12:9)

Grace be with you, readers.

Why I weep for Kim Davis

Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis listens to a customer following her office's refusal to issue marriage licenses at the Rowan County Courthouse in Morehead, Ky., Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2015. Although her appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court was denied, Davis still refuses to issue marriage licenses. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

Social media is alive with this, since it involves Christians and atheists, gay activists and anti-gay lobbyists, Socialists and Libertarians, and various political party groupings, all approaching from different angles. It is chiefly concerned with US law and government, but the issue also spreads across the Western world. As an evangelical Christian, I am expected to ‘side with’ the poor woman at the centre of the debacle, Kim Davis. However, I actually don’t support her right to refuse to do her job. I certainly do not believe she has a right to make her co-workers behave in the same way as she does; she has her own conscience, but she does not own theirs! In the hurry to condemn this, though, I judged the woman, and I overstepped a mark, for which I repent. I do not know her heart, nor have any idea what life she has lived. I am not God!

She does have a right to not do something against her own conscience, but if that makes her incapable of doing the job she has been employed to do, the ‘right thing’, as far as I’m concerned, is to resign and look for work elsewhere. She may well suffer through this, and find it difficult to get work, but did Jesus not tell us quite clearly that we would have to ‘take up our cross’ (Matt. 16:24), and that his followers would face trial and suffering in this world (e.g. 2Thess. 1:5), that we share in his sufferings (e.g. Rom. 8:17), for the purpose of producing perseverance and fruit in us (e.g. Rom. 5:3), but that also we may be able to share in the comfort when we rely on Jesus (e.g. 2Cor. 1:5)? Yet many are stating how she should ‘stand her ground!’ or ‘defend her faith!’ and intimate that her suffering is seen in her jail sentence.

My first problem with this is that I have always said that my God does not need defending; he’s far bigger than all of us put together! In the lyrics of Bono: “Stop helping God across the road like a little old lady!” Taking a ‘stand’ for God and his gospel just reeks to me of pride and arrogance on our part, as if God has been disempowered by the world and needs our help! Everything I have and cherish in my salvation has been done by him, and to even imply that I have to take action to defend him sounds ludicrous to my ears, and begins to actually undermine the gospel of grace! As John the Baptist said in heralding Christ; He must become greater; I must become less.  (John 3:30) I truly believe this focuses the issue on flawed individuals trying to express their beliefs (not very well in my opinion) and take it away from Christ, who is the one we should be showing and sharing with others.

My second problem is the more important one: what would Jesus do? This is an often-asked question offered to Christians facing a dilemma, and it is very apt here. More specifically: what is Jesus telling us to do? In his Sermon on the Mount, he launches into a very peculiar section that I am sure shocked his listeners as much then (if not more) than it does now, where he goes through a series of you have heard that it was said… but I tell you… statements, each taking us beyond what is ‘acceptable’ righteous behaviour and ‘lawkeeping’ to a place where such ‘standards’ are just not good enough for him; he wants a deeper commitment to righteousness that springs from the regenerated heart. The relevant one for this is:

‘You have heard that it was said, “Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.” But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. (Matt. 5:38-42)

Do I like this command? Heavens no!! I’m human, I don’t want to give anything to an enemy of mine, I don’t want to ‘lose’ what I have and see the person who was trying to take from me walk away with even more!! This is a very hard command for anyone to follow, but it does not mean that we ignore it or excuse it away. If we are called to follow Jesus, that means we are called to obey him! Yet in all the calls I hear to be obedient to God, this is one of the most overlooked commands! It’s perfectly understandable, of course, since none of us like it, but hey, I never thought for one second when I answered the call to my spirit to follow this Son of God that it would be easy!!!

So it was that I saw a blog posted on Facebook by a friend, stating that Kim Davis was doing exactly the right thing. This fellow wordpress blogger would like a debate on this, I thought, and I posted a reply to him, calling him brother, but saying I was disagreeing with him. In my reply, I posited a question I have said to other believers; in the ‘gay cake’ rows (which we have had here in NI as well as in the US), what if, for the sake of argument, the baker who received the request from the ‘gay militant’ for a cake, simply decided to bypass their personal conscience, and say “yes, Lord, you want me to give to my enemy. You want me to go even further than their request. I may not understand this, but I rest in your will.” – the customer returns, and the baker gives him the cake as requested and charges him a fair price as agreed. What happens then? The ‘militant’ leaves with a cake and an attitude; of either: “****’S SAKE! WHAT HAPPENED THERE? THEY WERE MEANT TO REFUSE ME! I can’t make a court case out of this now!”

If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat;
    if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head,
    and the Lord will reward you. (Prov. 25:21-22)

Or…. he might leave thinking that he received good service from them and think that they are nice sincere Christians and aren’t actually going out of their way to frustrate homosexuals, like he had always believed. He might be won over to listen the next time he hears a Christian share their faith with him! While I believe that forcing a baker, or any other private individual to do something against their conscience is wrong, my question is that were we to follow a simple command, to the letter, would this not be better?

His response to me? He deleted my comment within minutes!! Later on, someone else posted a comment saying that Davis should resign (though from a different angle than mine) – deleted too! If you find a social media post or page, or a blog, where all the comments are supportive, with no (coherent) dissenting voice, ask yourself: across the whole of the internet, why are there not any other opinions? I’ve had comments deleted many times, and been blocked, and even dirtier tricks played on me by Christian sites (blogged on before). Being one who loves debate, and often finding myself dissenting on (mainly minor) points, I have been blocked on a number of Christian sites, but the vast majority of them have been evangelical/ conservative. In fact, I can only recall one progressive/ liberal site doing it to me! Those who control the conservative agenda have a plan in mind to make it look like we all sing from the same hymn sheet (pun intended!). Anyone who does raise a hand and say ‘excuse me!’ is quickly silenced, and an implication is made (sometimes bluntly) that such a person is ‘doubting their faith’/ ‘a troublemaker’/ ‘not a real Christian!’ And this is all for political gain!

Just look at the tactics of the religious right; were you to agree with their theology but not their politics, they’ll delete and/or block you, but those who do not share their theology but agree on their politics are welcomed into the fold! I see it again and again. This is why Billy Graham went to see the Pope, to answer a question a friend asked me a while ago. Graham was one of the greatest evangelists of the 20th century, until he got involved with political stuff – the world tainted him. I went back to look at that blogger who deleted me, and then noticed he was more than ‘just’ a lowly blogger like me! No, he is a Christian preacher who has pictures of huge crowds listening to him! In the tags on his blog (which are designed to draw traffic) I saw ‘Benghazi coverup’!!! WHAT HAS THAT GOT TO DO WITH THIS ISSUE? In my explanation to him that the religious right are political, I didn’t realise he was one of them! This is someone who is incapable of responding to the words of our Lord that I posited towards him, yet many, many people will listen to him… as he spouts more politics than theology, but makes it sound ‘spiritual’!

To add to this, all the cries of “persecution is coming!… No, it’s here right now!” are just ridiculous: some are even trying to say that Davis “will be held in jail until she denies Jesus”! COME ON, GET REAL! Stop twisting truths – it’s deception!!!!… and while there are other believers facing torture and execution for their faith in the world, this sounds so utterly pathetic. Those people suffering under ISIS or fleeing across the ocean to escape would cut off their right arm for the warm cell and hot meals of a Western prison! And many of them are not even Christians!!! Thank God we don’t face that!

And so we now look at this poor woman, standing on her convictions, but while she languishes in jail, many of those leaders who encouraged her to ‘do the right thing’ return to their mansions to sleep soundly in their beds. Some suited men behind closed doors right now are plotting how they can milk this situation for their political ends, and if you don’t believe that, you are the one being deceived.

She is nought but a pawn on the chessboard of their bigger games, and that is why I weep and pray for her. I hope she can see through this sooner rather than later, for many of those ‘supporters’ will drop her as soon as she leaves the headlines, of that I am sure.

Grace be with you.