04 August 2022

August shorts

Judy and I will be on the road most of August, so the next few blog posts will be briefer and less ornamented than usual. I plan to be back with normal format and content in September.

In the meantime, I hope you will consider subscribing to our yearly meeting's newsletter. It has begun a feature that promises to introduce you to Sierra-Cascades Yearly Meeting of Friends by way of introductions to some of the people helping shape our young yearly meeting.

The two introductions published so far are to Julie Peyton and Faith Marsalli. Through Julie, you'll also get a sense of what makes her meeting, West Hills Friends Church, such a welcoming and category-defying community. Faith's story is vitally important for this point in the history of our country and beyond: addressing the breakdown in communications that happens when people—citizens, neighbors, families—become polarized.

Speaking of West Hills Friends Church, for much of their recent history they have had two released ministers serving their community. (Follow this link for their explanation of the term "released ministers.") Mark Pratt-Russum continues to serve in this role, but Klarissa Oh ended her service last month. She plans to continue her active participation at the church side by side with other members and attenders.

I strongly encourage you to listen to her final Sunday message in that role, "Reflections on Released Ministry at West Hills Friends." With all the advantages and blessings of the church that she lists in her message, she still questions the sustainability of the model of church that West Hills shares with many other small congregations.

Among the factors that stress us is white supremacy culture, as she explains (starting about 16:43):

… The template of church, especially predominantly white churches, have templates, traditions, ruts, that often diminish rather than encourage the people inside of them. I want us to courageously, humbly, and even joyfully explore our culture and recognize the strengths, along with the hard spots. I want us to consider that our earnest intentions do not immune us from the toxicity in the water that we drink, specifically the water of white supremacy. White supremacy is not solely about the obvious and outspoken bigotry and hatred we see, but it is about the norms we set up, the way we do things. And white supremacy has its own power, impact, and authorization in churches that often hold an ethic of sacrifice at its center.

White supremacy culture habits such as prioritizing the comfort of white people over the equity of people with less cultural power, of being afraid of open conflict, of scarcity thinking, of seeing people’s work rather than their wholeness, of overworking—these can be interrupted if they are recognized.

In this political season, both in the USA and in the UK (and no doubt elsewhere), politicians are trading on the dislike of taxes to gain popularity. Republican opposition to Democratic initiatives are routinely blasted with the old "tax and spend" epithet, and the Conservative leadership campaign in the UK has featured competitions for who can cut taxes the most.

A biblical view of taxation might be hard to pin down. We have God's sour view of what a king would do to the people of Israel (1 Samuel chapter 8), but also the attributes of good rulers (Psalm 99:4; Proverbs 16:12). We have examples of the positive uses of taxation (to support the central institutions of the nation, particularly the Temple, and to prepare for drought; more generally, to maintain the nation's leaders so they can protect the people and serve justice). John the Baptist tells tax collectors to collect only the required amount (Luke 3:12-13). Jesus treats tax collectors positively (especially Matthew) and tells his followers to pay Caesar what is Caesar's (Mark 12:17 and parallels).

In the USA and similar democracies, the fundamental functions that governments must do, and pay for, are described in a constitution (written or unwritten) and in subsequent legislation. We vote for the people in the legislature and authorize them to draw up budgets based on the commitments we have made to each other, all based on those authorized purposes of the government. We then have to pay for those commitments that keep our nation viable and livable. The sum total of those costs represents the amount we have to raise, one way or another. 

Right now our national conversation seems to be "what commitments can we slash to save money?" A more honest conversation would admit that we're often actually asking "what commitments to others can we slash to save money, while keeping the commitments that benefit people just like us?" A popular variation: "What commitments can we privatize so that we can buy them if we want, and those who can't afford them ... well, we just won't worry about them."

The conversation I truly want to have across political lines is: "Who do we [and who do our critics] want our policies to bless, and who are we willing to leave out?" Once we've decided what we're willing to pay for these blessings to ourselves and our fellow human beings, we can then figure out how to divide the burden with equal attention to fairness. Evading our fair share is not an honest blessing.


Chicago blues, London style. Doc K's Blues Band, "Give Me Back My Wig."

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