From the time that each of my children was learning to speak I made a point to emphasize that I do not promise something that I have said I would do. The point is that if I have said I would do something, to say “I promise” in follow-up brings into question whether I meant to agree to something in the first. I would always quote, “let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no, no’”—say what you mean to say. My assumption is that most parents would agree truthfulness is an important value to instill in our children; furthermore, to be true to our word.
Standards and rules are set in place for the purpose of sustaining an ordered and congenial society. These are not meant to constrain, per se. Rather, they are meant to allow for the greatest freedom to the greatest number to live peaceably and equitably in community. These all are quite clearly elaborated on and exemplified in the book of Acts, for Christians, and the constitution, for all Americans.
So, when Michele Bachmann “jokes” about God bringing a hurricane to get the attention of the president, my soul shudders. I absolutely believe that God has a sense of humor and God does not take offense to our need for levity in dark situations. I also believe discernment and self-control, sensitivity and decorum are necessary elements of character when seeking to attain the office that would lead the entire country. Bachmann claims she lives to follow Jesus Christ, and she tells us that she takes seriously the office of parenthood. Does joking about God’s movement in relationship to the suffering of others coalesce with Jesus’ example or that which she would teach her children?
This is only a minor, though important, point. But it is indicative of this double-sided message of Bachmann and her ilk. When one sets a standard, creates an order so each may enjoy a mutual regard for the livelihood of another, it is assumed that all would abide by these standards. When they are obviously violated, repercussions are instituted to discourage further violations. But what is it that we tend to do when there is a rule? Find a loophole! It is something that all of us are tempted to do in some measure, for some gain or another. And while, as Martin Luther King, Jr., so beautifully asserted, any who commit injustice will affect the freedom of others, no matter how large or small—nothing we do is in a vacuum—and when the offense is so blatant and affects so many…I’m at a loss for words.
The actual percentage of taxes that corporations contribute is much lower than stated, “due to a dizzying number of deductions, write-offs, and other accounting tricks that allow corporations to legally reduce their tax burden.” Loopholes, untruthfulness—not following the same tax code as, not just the majority, but, what? 95% of Americans? Additionally, “The U.S. corporate tax code includes a host of special provisions that significantly reduce the taxes that most corporations owe. In addition to being economically inefficient, these provisions are expensive: in its 2007 report, the Treasury Department estimated the revenue loss from corporate tax preferences at more than $1.2 trillion over ten years.”
So the people defending this dishonest gain offer solutions that put those already suffering at a more pronounced disadvantage. One such suggestion is to raise the age for Medicare eligibility from 65 to 67. Yet doing so would have the effect of raising health-care costs. The burden would fall most heavily on senior citizens, employers, states, and those who buy the resulting even costlier health insurance. The net federal savings would be $5.7 billion, while the increase for the people would amount to $11.4 billion. And this, while the grossly rich pay lower taxes.
As I have been pondering these things, I have been reading some beautiful reflections of Mirosloav Volf on God’s love. This, in turn, has conjured reflection on the fall and the nature of sin. My mother-in-law has quipped that sometimes it has seemed that the garden episode was one big set-up. I agree that it appears that way. We are also told that God made us to desire to know God, that we are created in God’s image, and thus long to understand self-identity. This was, in part, the lure of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. The difficulty was in, first, heeding the lie that God did not want them to obtain such knowledge and that with it they would have comparable power; and, second, the possibility that perhaps God did want them to fully yet see, but would be revealed by God during the course of being in relationship with God (i.e., not taking it into their own hands). The real sin, then, was in hiding—not talking with God about having done this, their eyes subsequently opened. After hearing the lie, there was great shame—going against the truth of God’s instruction while still not entirely understanding the extent of God’s love. This love would be revealed to them as they grew in relationship with God, but was superseded by their shame. So they looked for loopholes. She said…he did….
I cannot know the plan God has for our nation. I do know that we have been granted the freedom to practice what we believe in the ways that we are compelled. I am also convinced—more than about any other matter—that my God is love. Not just a God who loves, but God is love. God exists in love by that which we articulate as being Trinitarian, demonstrated love through the supreme sacrifice of God-in-man, and empowers us with love by a Consuming Fire. This God is justice and righteousness, making all things right. And I cannot believe that this God would support a tax system as it presently stands in the United States, one that blatantly allows this dishonest gain, just as job losses from the start of this recession were unprecedented.
Hamza Yusuf Hanson tells the story of a Persian Sufi, Abu Yazid al-Bistami (804-74). Abu Yazid “was at the public bath when a thief stole all his clothes. [He] went out to catch the thief, and when the thief saw him, he began to run faster. Abu Yazid called out to him, ‘Stop, I’m not going to do anything to you.’ So the man stopped. And Abu Yazid said, ‘I just wanted to tell you that you can have the clothes.’” Hanson “explains Abu Yazid’s generosity: he did not want the thief to have the wrong action on his soul and on his account on the Day of Judgment.” [taken from, Miroslav Volf, Allah: A Christian Response] Unconditional Love and mercy.
The right to enjoy the separation of church and state is a sacred one I am grateful to possess by having been born into this country. By the same token, the developers of the Constitution understood that goodness could only come from God. God who is Love. The God who teaches us to know and love God. One who makes remarkable promises—and keeps them. One who anticipates that those who claim to follow God do the same—most especially those who are placed in positions of leadership. This God also gives me the Spirit freely for discernment and wisdom, grace and love. My prayer is that I may be found worthy to reflect God’s character (grace upon grace), as imperfect as I am, to be an instrument of peace and justice in whatever miniscule way I may!