Tag Archives: Isaiah

Why we can’t support this tax bill

I have something to admit.

On Saturday morning, after weeks of seeing proposed changes to this tax bill and fighting against the disastrous impacts it could have on people with disabilities, people who are sick, and people who are poor, I got lost in the numbers.  You see, as I started to comb through the final outline of the bill, I started to wonder whether it was really all that bad.  It does seem to be providing more generous tax cuts to many more people than initially forecasted.  It’s possible cutting taxes for corporations could create economic growth.  And they did remove some of the truly egregious aspects–taxes on graduate student tuition, while expanding medical expense deduction thresholds.

But then I scanned the text for the lectionary the following morning—Isaiah 61:1-4, which reads:

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the broken-hearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners; 
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn; 
to provide for those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the Lord, to display his glory. 
They shall build up the ancient ruins,
they shall raise up the former devastations;
they shall repair the ruined cities,
the devastations of many generations.

And I was reminded that our God is a God of justice (by Isaiah, because he says so, in verse 8).

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Church under construction in Yunnan, China.  Photo by Evan Schneider.

So tax bills, especially for us Christians, aren’t a matter of crunching the numbers but of seeing the bigger picture, and we simply cannot support policies that cut taxes for the wealthiest among us while ignoring the plight of the poor.  Numbers aren’t just numbers.  They represent people.  And people who are struggling should be prioritized over tax cuts to those who are wealthy.

But that’s not what our government wants us to think.  

Our government wants us to believe that by helping the rich, we can all help ourselves, that not everybody needs or deserves health insurance, that Puerto Ricans aren’t entitled to the benefits of other citizens, and that poor children don’t deserve healthcare as much as rich ones.

But just stop for a moment and think about why you pay taxes and who you want those taxes to serve?  Our family moved to a high-tax district but one that we knew would support Lucia’s special needs at school in spite of the cost, and I’m so thankful that those who live around us are willing to pay more so children can get a good education.  Our family also benefits from services through the Medicaid program that is funded by federal and state tax dollars to support people with disabilities, people who are poor, and people who are old, especially those who have substantial medical need for daily living.  Many elderly people who are sick and disabled benefit from the substantial Medicare program that threatens to be cut to support this bill.

So here we are again, cutting benefits for people who really need them, so rich people and corporations can get a tax break.  For a moment, I accepted that there could be some breaks for all because that’s what the government is saying, but that’s not only fuzzy math, it’s fuzzy morals.  Our taxes can’t pay for the things people really need and give huge breaks to the wealthy, and what’s more, they shouldn’t bother with making the rich richer, ever, because it’s wrong.  The Old Testament prophets and Jesus, whose birth we celebrate in this season, make it clear that Christians are called to liberate those who are oppressed and to bring good news.  This tax bill is not good news and we cannot ignore our responsibility, as unpopular as it may be, to speak otherwise.  We cannot turn mourning into gladness unless justice is justice for all.

Wake up, American Christians, it’s almost Christmas, and we have work to do.

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Joy amidst despair

It’s been a few weeks since we lit the Advent candle of joy and here we stand, poised to celebrate another Christmas Eve.  And yet, the world is dark–ravaged by war, injustice, insecurity, and violence.  And so perhaps you do not feel it.  At first, I did not feel it.  At first I was wont to ask, where, how can I find joy this season?

But we do not find joy.

We do not carve joy, just as we do not carve prayer, peace, patience, or goodness of our own devices.  We wait, as we have for at least the last twenty-seven or days, if not much, much, much longer.  We wait on God for joy.

As we studied the words of Isaiah’s prophecies these past weeks, we were met with a world full of judgment, impending doom, violence, and war.  And yet, God, through the words of Isaiah, called the people not to ally with foreign forces but to wait upon God for Emmanuel.  Hundreds and hundreds of years later, the terms of the census, the reign of Herod, and the world Jesus was born into were inhospitable to him and to his family.  His parents struggled to stay together in a culture that shunned their out-of-wedlock pregnancy; and when they made the pilgrimage toward Bethlehem, they probably did so with not joy but great inconvenience, with great fear and awe and worry.

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Hold onto joy.

The Christmas joy we want and we expect, that burst of joy from the heavens, joyous singing, harmony, and peace is not how I know God to have made joy biblically or in my own life.  Rather, God in God’s almighty wisdom seems quite wont and capable to carve joy from the most unlikely of circumstances, to bring joy when despair is the currency of the day.  Perhaps this, rather than trumpets and fanfare and glee, is what the birth of Jesus is really about–about God’s will to bring light to a dark world when it seems so bleak, so impossible, so, so, so difficult?

Look back on your own life and think about the moments were joy peeked inexplicably, unexpectedly, impossibly through the veil of sadness, despair, and fear.  Think about the breath and the beauty of light in a world or a room filled with darkness.  And care and coddle and nurture that kind of joy this season.  Welcome and look for and do not dismiss that kind of radical joy that finds the world and finds us in the midst of despair.  In fact, strive to remind the world that that kind of joy is not only possible but present, and let us live with this joy not only one day, on Christmas, but each day, even if the world remains dark.