Yes, taxes are necessary

What are the purposes of taxes? What should be your attitude toward paying them?

Those questions came up in a weekly Bible study I’m in. Our discussion leader skipped them, probably because the answers are – or should be – obvious.

We pay taxes for projects that you and I need but can’t afford to pay for on our own. Taxes pay to build and maintain roads, including plowing snow and fixing potholes. They pay for water and sewer projects (homeowners often have to pitch in for those). Our tax dollars pay for trash and recycling pickup every week. They pay for parks and recreation – we have awesome public parks where I live, and I don’t have to pay an entrance fee every time I visit one. They pay for libraries (remember those?). And public transportation.

Taxes pay for police and fire departments to protect us, court systems (including jails) to provide justice, and kindergarten-through-12th grade education to help our children prepare for adult life.

And that’s just local taxes (including countywide, in some cases). Here’s the 2016 fiscal year report for the city I live in, taken from the city’s web site. Page 18 includes a flow chart of what the city is all about.

http://www.cityofelyria.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/2016_City_of_Elyria_Ohio_CAFR.pdf

At the state level, taxes pay for other things, too. The biggest spending item – just over half the state’s budget – is “health and human services.” Second is “primary, secondary and other education,” followed by “higher education.”

https://obm.ohio.gov/Budget/operating/doc/fy-14-15/bluebook/budget/Section-C_14-15.pdf

At the national level, the three biggest federal programs are health care (including Medicare and Medicaid), pensions (including Social Security) and Defense.

Next come welfare, interest on the national debt, transportation, general government and protection.

https://www.usgovernmentspending.com/federal_budget_detail_fy19bs22018n

Communication crucial

What should our attitude be toward paying for such services? Hopefully, we pay willingly, since all of these services are needed.

At the local and state levels, those in charge of the budgets are required to balance income and spending. This often requires tough decisions because voters do not automatically approve taxes for every project – nor should we.

Sometimes voters get nitpicky or reactionary. Sometimes leaders ask for a Cadillac project when a Chevrolet version will do just fine. Our local school district in Michigan discovered this a number of years ago: Many school buildings were outdated and new schools in new locations were needed, and since voters had approved many previous school levies, leaders asked for a very expensive plan – which got shot down. They pared it back, asked voters for a smaller yet effective plan, and got that one approved.

Where we live now, voters recently approved a millage to build five new kindergarten-through-8th grade buildings around the city. We learned a couple of weeks ago that cost overruns led the planning consultants to recommend constructing only three buildings – on the north, east and west sides of town, leaving the south side without a neighborhood elementary/middle school.

As you might imagine, that plan isn’t going over so well. Meetings are being held, petitions are being circulated and pressure is mounting to keep the south side school in the plans.

This is the way democracy works. We expect leaders to follow through on promises. We expect budgets to be met. Creativity is required here.

This is why we pay taxes. Every local citizen has the right to express his or her viewpoint on this crucial issue. Our leaders will make the call, but they are accountable to us. And we will be heard.

The benefits of taxes

If we have a job, and if we own a home or even pay rent, we pay taxes. When our Founding Fathers set up our country more than 200 years ago, they set it up this way. We can tweak the system – are property taxes the best way to collect local funds? – but taxes will get collected in some form.

So often, we focus only on how much we pay. We need to be reminded of what we receive. We take trash collection for granted, for example (unless it’s not collected for some reason, in which case residents will howl very loudly). We want our street plowed in the winter, and complain when it’s one of the last to get cleared. (Hopefully traffic volume determines the priority for street plowing.) We recently learned that our city has only 10 employees that plow snow and fix potholes. For the entire city. No wonder they can’t clean every street the moment it snows.

We get what we pay for.

At the state level, they’re talking about combining the K-12 education budget with the higher education budget, creating one huge education department overseeing all of it. State leaders want to streamline everything; opponents say K-12 and higher education have different purposes, and should remain separate.

Not sure that plan will fly, but we’ll see.

No balanced budget, no decisions necessary

The federal government is not required to balance its budget, so Congress often avoids the tough discussions that local and state legislators must have. That skyrockets the federal debt. Is that sustainable?

I’m one of those who would like to see a mandated balanced budget, forcing legislators (and the president) to actually do their jobs. Not every constituent will be happy. Welcome to the real world. (Pork projects might actually get eliminated, since priorities would have to be set.)

We need a federally funded military to defend us across the world. I don’t think anyone would object to that. But how big should the military be? What weapons do we need, and which ones cost more than the benefits they provide?

I wish we could debate those things. At least, I wish our elected leaders would debate those things.

Are they spending our tax dollars wisely?

We have a right to ask that.

Taxes are a given. They pay for goods and services all of us need.

As we debate how our tax dollars are spent – locally, statewide and federally – let’s give thanks for the government structures that our Founding Fathers established.

The system is good. The devil is in the details.

Advertisements

Peace in the midst of injustice

If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

Romans 12:18

 

Such a simple statement, and yet so profound. You’d think everyone would want to live peaceably.

If it is possible …

The apostle Paul wrote this statement in a letter to a specific group of Christians. He didn’t write it to a nation or a government. He wrote it to us. We aren’t to point fingers at others with this sentiment – or any other sentiment in the Bible, for that matter.

Paul was writing to me. And to you.

I am not to take revenge. Ever. That only escalates any situation, and hurts me as well as the other person.

Road rage

Example: road rage. Just yesterday, I was driving the company van at 20 mph through a school zone. Slightly ahead of me in the right lane was another van. Without warning, the driver of the other van jerked into my lane. Had I not slammed on the brakes (and hit the horn), he would have sideswiped me.

He continued on as if nothing happened. Then, a couple of minutes later, he did it again, swerving unexpectedly into the left lane (thankfully, there wasn’t anyone beside him then).

I let him go. I could have flashed my lights at him, honked repeatedly or pulled up beside him, rolled down my window and yelled at him. Right?

Then what? He might have apologized. He might have given me the finger and cut me off again.

To what end? Likely a crash involving him, me or both.

Because I drive for a living, such an incident would probably cost me my job. That’s a steep price to pay for getting angry in the heat of a moment.

So far as it depends on you …

Facebook anger

Example: political thinking. I’ve been ostracized by a close relative whose political views differ from mine. She wouldn’t let up on my Facebook posts after I asked her to chill out, so last fall I had to de-friend her. She blames me for rejecting her. That feeling of rejection goes back much farther than last year, by the way (and is not justified, in my opinion).

How do I respect someone who thinks differently than I do, and is not shy about saying so? In the short term, we need a cooling-off period, I think. I’m not adverse to a respectful conversation at all.

If it is possible …

I’ve apologized a couple of times for offending her, and she has not accepted my apologies. In real life, she’s a much nicer person than she is on Facebook (she’s not the only one I know who fits that profile). We live in different states so we don’t see each other often. Perhaps a face-to-face is in order. I’ll have to think about that.

False accusation

Example: Joseph in the Old Testament. If anyone has ever understood injustice, it’s Joseph.

After getting sold to a trader by his brothers, he was bought by Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh in Egypt. Potiphar’s wife wanted to have an affair with him, but Joseph said no – because he respected Potiphar and he followed the principles of the living God. As a result, the revengeful wife of Potiphar falsely accused him of rape. Potiphar, without asking Joseph his side of the story, had him tossed in prison.

Then forgot about him. For two years.

So far as it depends on you …

Joseph never complained. He wasn’t happy about it, but he tried to make the best of a bad situation. Eventually, he got out of prison and served Pharaoh very well. Read about these events in Genesis 39-41.

Joseph also eventually forgave his brothers for selling him years earlier, when he could have turned the tables and had them thrown in prison, or worse. Read about that in Genesis 43-45.

Joseph’s attitude?

“Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good.”

Genesis 50:20

If it is possible …

Defending truth

Example: Stephen in the New Testament. Stephen is one of my heroes. We first hear about him when he, “a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit,” is appointed with six others to meet the physical needs of people so the 12 apostles could spend all of their time preaching. He was a behind-the-scenes servant.

And yet, he “did great wonders and signs among the people.” Some of the religious leaders of his day didn’t appreciate that – nor could they defend themselves against Stephen’s wisdom.

As with Joseph, Stephen was falsely accused, Stephen of blaspheming against the temple and the law. In response, Stephen gave a phenomenal history lesson to the leaders who should have already known what he was saying. But instead of understanding their own history, they stoned him.

As Stephen was dying a painful death, he “cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them’.” Read his story in Acts 6-7.

So far as it depends on you …

Remaining true

Sometimes, when we try to live peaceably, there are consequences. Just ask Joseph and Stephen. Both paid a huge price for their faithfulness to peace and to the living God – Stephen with his life.

In the end, I’m sure both would say that living a peaceable life was worth the cost. Other people benefited greatly from their peace-loving ways.

Even if they didn’t understand why they had to suffer, they trusted the God they worshipped for the results of their peace-loving ways.

Joseph saw those results: restored relationships with his brothers, for one. Stephen did not. He became the first martyr to the Christian cause. The results came later.

That was good enough for Stephen.

Wow.

This life often is not very peaceful. What can you and I do to help make it more so?

Daydreams, aggression and creativity: They are linked

I daydream a lot. Always have.

Most of the time, I play the hero in my dreams. When baseball season starts, I’m the star pitcher or the batter who gets the big hit to win the World Series. I’m the defensive back who busts up a wide-open play by the offense. I’m a war hero in a battle for the Middle East. I’m the dad in a big multi-cultural family who helps rescue kids from horrible environments.

I’m just a big kid, aren’t I?

I don’t know any other adults who dream like that. Of course, I’ve never had an “adult” conversation about daydreams with anyone.

I’ve never asked. Probably because it seems so silly.

Maybe that’s the point.

We take ourselves far too seriously.

Never happy

Look at all the troubles that fill the 6 o’clock news and the front page of the local newspaper. School shootings. Tariffs penalizing people trying to make a living (in other countries, true). Scandals in sports. Scandals in politics. Abortion. Sex everywhere, of all types, including harassment. Road rage.

We’re not happy with our jobs. Our spouses. Our roads. Our neighbors. Ourselves.

And on and on.

We’re always angry and never satisfied.

Will we ever be?

Perhaps we need to take a deep breath, look up, and realize that the world isn’t as bad as we make it out to be.

Or, perhaps it is. Because we make it that way.

Children know

Can we dream of something better? Instead of playing the hero, like I often do, can we dream of a better society?

Are such daydreams real?

Here’s where children can lead us – as long as they haven’t grown up yet.

I began mentoring a 9-year-old boy in Cleveland this week, who said his dad wants to move the family to Arizona because the inner city is too violent.

Wow. I’m sure this 9-year-old has seen things that I can’t fathom.

How is he supposed to dream?

I’ve been involved with an after-school creative problem-solving organization called Destination Imagination (DI) for more than a decade. I’ve been a regional “challenge master” for the Fine Arts challenge for two years now. It’s wonderful to see how creative elementary, middle school and secondary school students can get when solving problems placed before them.

This year, the students had to create a two-act musical that features a “spectacle” – combining two production techniques from a list that includes dance, pantomime, illusion and parody, among others – and design a set change into the 8-minute skit. They had other tasks to perform as well during their presentation.

The challenges – DI offers eight of them, with Fine Arts being only one – were announced last summer. Teams formed last fall, and students worked on their solutions for months.

The students dreamed up all kinds of solutions. They worked as a team to come up with the best skit they could.

Our regional tournament was last weekend, with the most creative teams earning the right to compete at the state level in three weeks. The national, actually global, finals are in Knoxville, Tenn., in late May.

No two solutions were the same. I didn’t get to watch most of the performances, because as the head honcho, I was dealing with logistics, problem-solving (there was very little of this; the event ran smoothly) and handing out scores to the participants.

The props and costumes I saw were awesome. I’m sure the story lines were as well. (I couldn’t share details even if I knew them because other regional tournaments are still being held, and we can’t give away secrets.)

Solutions must be creative

Wouldn’t it be cool if our corporate leaders and politicians could work together like that?

Yelling, screaming and pointing fingers are not options at DI events. Ever. That’s not how you solve problems. Our young people know that.

How did we adults forget?

Where did our creativity go?

The Destination Imagination Facebook page posted this story awhile ago, on helping older children develop a sense of imagination.

https://www.kqed.org/mindshift/50429/how-to-help-older-kids-develop-a-sense-of-imagination

It offers suggestions like tell collaborative stories, try improv (also one of Destination Imagination’s challenges) and lighten up.

Play. Get outside. Dream. Think outside the box. Get creative. Work together.

Releasing aggression

I’ve become too serious myself recently. A thought hit me the other day that might help explain that.

For more than 20 years as an adult, I played slow-pitch softball. For nearly 10 years, I also played Ultimate Frisbee – not in a league or anything, just for fun.

I haven’t done either for five or six years.

I try to walk/jog once or twice a week (with no headphones; I let my mind wander where it wants to go), so I’m still getting some exercise. So, what’s my issue?

I’m a guy. By definition, the male species has aggression. It’s the way we are wired, including extreme introverts like me.

With softball and Ultimate, I threw things. Literally. That’s how I released my emotions.

As an outfielder, I threw that softball as hard as I could into the infield. Sometimes I gave a loud “aaach.” My teammates sometimes asked, “Are you OK?” They though I hurt myself. No, I’m fine. I’m just letting out my aggression on that softball.

Or, I threw a flying disc (Frisbee is a trade name). Sometimes, I threw that disc as hard as I could.

Why do guys play with guns, race cars, take advantage of girls, hack computers and do all sorts of other inappropriate things?

We aren’t allowed to show aggression at all in today’s society. We have to play nice.

But we have to let it out somehow.

Seriously.

A better world

But if we could dream of a better world, a place where we had positive outlets for our aggression, seek creative solutions for problems …

We are all on the same team, really. Every. Single. One. Of. Us.

If only we could respect each other, live with each other, work together, celebrate (not criticize) our differences …

That’s a dream worth pursuing.

The future of our country, and our very lives, may be at stake.

And our children just might hold the right keys.