I've got very mixed feelings. Two years in Elektrostal has recalibrated my sense of "home"--I miss our apartment there, our cats, our kitchen, our friends, students, neighbors, Moscow Quakers. But we've been received with such warmth everywhere we've visited in Oregon, Washington, and Idaho. The visit began with the wonderful 2011 edition of the Waterfront Blues Festival. In Oregon we had an absolutely delightful time at Northwest Yearly Meeting sessions; and if anyone got tired of hearing all our stories from Russia, they certainly concealed it well! In Washington, we learned to drive tractors; in Idaho, we were treated to authentic shashlyk; and everywhere we enjoyed countless reunions with friends, relatives, and Friends.
Even so, I'm ready to be ... home.
During these weeks in the USA, I've been hearing a lot about taxes. Very few people seem to be in favor of them! Two rather odd thoughts hit me as I listened to some of the intricate discussions about the difference between raising taxes and increasing revenues. Here they are:
FIrst, progressive Democrats generally call for taxes to be increased (or tax loopholes reduced) on rich people, or as the President often says, "those like us who can afford to do a little more." In return, some Republicans seem to dislike the "rich" label entirely, preferring some alternate label such as "job creators." Why not redefine the category entirely? I suggest raising taxes for those who benefit the most from the stability, legal protections, and infrastructure that those taxes pay for. I don't know anyone who is opposed to reducing waste and corruption, but once those are found and eliminated, taxes are just like all other transactions--they circulate in the economy. Let those who don't want to pay taxes also refuse the benefits of a stable country with roads and courts and an educated workforce.
Secondly, how do we apply Jesus' guideline, "Give Caesar what is Caesar's and give God what is God's"? (Mark 12:13-17 and parallels). This is not a rhetorical question--in a democracy, who is Caesar? I just note with some amusement that tax refusers (conscientious objectors to paying military taxes) are told that they must pay taxes to support the whole federal package, regardless of their beliefs. Does this also go for the rich?
It's the time of year when I find myself reading Jeremiah again. This time through I was particularly struck by these words from chapter 23: (Eugene Peterson's The Message)
25-27 "I know what they're saying, all these prophets who preach lies using me as their text, saying 'I had this dream! I had this dream!' How long do I have to put up with this? Do these prophets give two cents about me as they preach their lies and spew out their grandiose delusions? They swap dreams with one another, feed on each other's delusive dreams, trying to distract my people from me just as their ancestors were distracted by the no-god Baal.This gives me a clue as to why earlier generations of Quakers were extremely reluctant to put words in God's mouth. I was really struck by Eugene Peterson's rendering of verse 35: "Instead of claiming to know what God says, ask questions of one another, such as 'How do we understand God in this?'...." Might this be the biblical basis for our practice of using queries for mutual accountability?
28-29 "You prophets who do nothing but dream—
go ahead and tell your silly dreams.
But you prophets who have a message from me—
tell it truly and faithfully.
What does straw have in common with wheat?
Nothing else is like God's Decree.
Isn't my Message like fire?" God's Decree.
"Isn't it like a sledgehammer busting a rock?
30-31 "I've had it with the 'prophets' who get all their sermons secondhand from each other. Yes, I've had it with them. They make up stuff and then pretend it's a real sermon.
32 "Oh yes, I've had it with the prophets who preach the lies they dream up, spreading them all over the country, ruining the lives of my people with their cheap and reckless lies.
"I never sent these prophets, never authorized a single one of them. They do nothing for this people—nothing!" God's Decree.
33 "And anyone, including prophets and priests, who asks, 'What's God got to say about all this, what's troubling him?' tell him, 'You, you're the trouble, and I'm getting rid of you.'" God's Decree.
34 "And if anyone, including prophets and priests, goes around saying glibly 'God's Message! God's Message!' I'll punish him and his family.
35-36 "Instead of claiming to know what God says, ask questions of one another, such as 'How do we understand God in this?' But don't go around pretending to know it all, saying 'God told me this...God told me that....' I don't want to hear it anymore. Only the person I authorize speaks for me. Otherwise, my Message gets twisted, the Message of the living God-of-the-Angel-Armies.
37-38 "You can ask the prophets, 'How did God answer you? What did he tell you?' But don't pretend that you know all the answers yourselves and talk like you know it all. I'm telling you: Quit the 'God told me this...God told me that...' kind of talk.
"Clearly, this is not a pacifist God we serve." "In the days since the attack and arrest, the media has been abuzz with reflections on whether or not Breivik can or should be called a 'Christian.' Each argument depends upon some stated or implied criterion for what constitutes Christian identity: a form of 'belief,' of personal piety or religious experience, of ethical comportment, of ritual practice, of theological commitments, of cultural identity, of ecclesial participation, of relationship to political orders."
"Let's discuss ... the Lord's Supper." There's a genuine discussion in the comments.
"If you're struggling with loneliness...."
"Marvel overcomes its fear of a black Spider-Man." Thanks to Sharon Smith for the reference.
"Geek Theologian." Wired founder Kevin Kelly: "Technology can maximize our special combination of gifts, but there are so many technological choices that I could spend all my time just trying out technologies. So I minimize my technological choices in order to maximize my output. The Amish (and the hippies) are really good at minimizing technologies. That's what I am trying to do as well."
Back to Russia with the "Little Red Rooster." (Mishouris Blues Band.)