Sunday, April 28, 2019

My Sunday Feeling

Last Sunday was Easter.  We went to the United Methodist Church in the neighborhood where I have attended for years.  I like Easter.  Maybe it's because, like my mother, I always look forward to the spring, as crazy as the weather can be around here.

As we sat together in the pew I couldn't help but wonder how many more Easters I would attend in that space or whether the United Methodist Church will even exist at all in the fullness of time.  Or 5 years from now even.

The UMC has gotten itself wrapped around the axle over the issue of gay marriage and gay clergy.  The same thing that the Episcopalians went through ten years or so ago is now at our door and for the same basic reason.  The African branch of the UMC formed an alliance with social conservatives of the church in the United States to adopt policies banning gay marriage and gay clergy.  Indeed, the Judicial Council has upheld these policies.  And they have teeth in them.  If you as a UMC minister marry some gay folks, you can get canned.  And people HAVE been canned.

And these firings have been upheld despite the fact that to my way of thinking church trials should have gone out with burning defendants at the stake or placing them upon the rack to induce them to recant.  Then again, maybe we will bring those penalties back.  

Let me get back to you on that.  

My friend and former pastor Vic Nixon over a lunch we shared together over 10 years ago predicted a schism over this issue.  I pooh-poohed this notion.  Frank Zappa once said WWIII would never start in Los Angeles because there's too much real estate involved.   I figured the same would apply in the case of splitting up the UMC.  Surely that daunting prospect of what to do with church property and/or pension plans would cause cooler heads to prevail.

Looks like "wrong as usual."

Some of my friends have cut back their tithes to the national and/or international church as a matter of protest.  Some have quit tithing altogether.  And some are considering joining another denomination.

I've been a Methodist all my life.  I was educated by a Methodist college.  The Methodists helped me pay for law school.  While I hardly hold myself as a model of right living, I have tried to "do all the good I can." Even if John Wesley didn't really say it.  It sounds like something he would have said.  And that's good enough for me.  Throughout my life, the UMC has stood for civil liberties, equality and justice.  What now?  The church is going to blow up over the belief that the entirety of knowledge concerning human sexuality is to be found in a cramped interpretation of the Old Testament?  Is that really where we are at now?

Nothing good will come of a schism.  The so-called winners in this debate are on the wrong side of history. They will inherit the wind.  The next generation will look on them as my generation looked at the racists before us.  

There is a banner above the entrance to my church that proclaims that "All are welcome.  All  means ALL."

Yeah.  At least for now.  

"Do all the good you can."

Even if nothing good will come of a schism.  And it looks like one is on the horizon.  


Sunday, April 14, 2019

My Sunday Feeling

If I were more prescient, I would have seen the storm on my personal horizon based upon the comments from other folks on social media about how they came out under the new tax code.  Most of these folks are my age and I'm guessing in my tax bracket.  And they all reported that they took a hit.  Actually, they used words that were graphic than that.  But this is a family friendly space so I won't go there.

I was expecting some tax liability on my part.  After all, I actually made a little money practicing law last year.  And I had to liquidate some investments to fix up my house for sale, buy furniture for the new house, pay for this, pay for that, et cetera et cetera.  So I expected to pay some additional taxes as my taxable income went up.

I did not expect to get clobbered.    

But I damn near passed out when I got the email from my accountant yesterday afternoon giving me the news.  And the other person that lives here has been happier too, although if I got clobbered she only took a glancing blow, albeit one she didn't anticipate.

Now I am not a stupid man.  I realized that the decrease in taxes would result in an increase of taxable income based on my monthly check.  And I realized that my dipping into the IRA was a taxable event.  I also can do without a tax refund.  Indeed, I haven't had a refund from the State of Arkansas since I left the government and some years I don't get one from Uncle or have to pay a little. So, unlike many Americans I don't count on it one way or another.  But I wasn't prepared for this.

And I gather from the tenor of the remarks on Facebook alone that many other people weren't either.  

I think it was Oliver Wendell Holmes who said that taxes are the price we pay for civilization.  I'm pretty sure he said it but I'm too lazy to look it up.  And I get that.

But for the first time since I became a taxpayer, I feel that the system, always rigged for the wealthy, has become unfair.  The Donald Trumps of the world (I suspect) pay no taxes.  Amazon paid no taxes.  TurboTax beat back a proposal in Congress that would let folks file electronically with the IRS FOR FREE.  

It is manifestly unfair if the burden of paying taxes disproportionally falls on those that do not have access to the myriad of deductions and shelters available to the very wealthy.  As a buddy of mine that plays the market pretty hard said to me the other day,"It makes absolutely no sense that some of these trades I make are not taxed.  It makes no sense."

And my buddy is no wild-eyed commie.  

I was grateful to have the funds available to buy a house, move a family from Conway to here, and do all the other stuff that you have to do when you move and to do a 360 with your life.  Because of this I was able to do all of this without going into debt other then the mortgage on the new house.  Well, that's not true, I took out a bridge loan to use for a down payment on this house secured by the equity in the old house.  But that got paid off when the old house sold.  Worked like a charm.

And I had money set aside for what I thought I might have to render unto Caesar this year.  But I wasn't even close.  

Thank God I have money once again and can handle this.  But that means I'm going to think long and hard about buying stuff I don't need for awhile.  And if I'm thinking like this what about the folks who actually depend on their refunds to make ends meet?  I'm guessing that a lot of discretionary spending or non-spending will keep dollars from going into the economy.  Which brings with it its own set of problems from an economic perspective.

So will this be the wakeup call alerting the trumpers that they have been had?  Probably not.  As long as their leader keeps on about "building a wall" and how the Mueller report supposedly exonerates him that is sufficient red meat for them to keep them in the fold.  

What will happen after Monday when the bill comes due?  We shall see what we shall see.

As for us, my accountant says that next year we should "break even."

I'll take it.  It ain't fair.  But I'll take it.

Sunday, April 07, 2019

My Sunday Feeling

A gas station in Tallulah, Louisiana is pretty much the last place I would expect to get panhandled.  Now I almost got my ass kicked at a truck stop there back when I was in law school when some local rednecks took umbrage at the DEVO tee shirt I was sporting.  But that didn't seem odd to me at the time given the close proximity to Monroe (Correctly pronounced "MUN-roh," As in "Rut-roh.") which was then, and is now, the epicenter of toxic rednecktitude. But getting hit up for money in otherwise bucolic Tallulah genuinely surprised me.

"Excuse me Sir," said the voice behind me.

I turned around to see a tall, heavy set black man wearing a chef's smock.

"I'm not trying to scare you.  So don't be afraid,"he said.

"Do I look afraid?" I said.

"No, and that's good.  I just need some help. As you can see, I'm an executive chef," he said.

"I can see you are dressed like one, I suppose." I replied.

"Oh, I am, Sir," he said.  "My car broke down and I need to get to work.  We don't have cabs here but we have jitneys that will carry you where you need to go.  But they charge $22 and I only got 15.  You think you could help me out?"

I just stood there and looked at him.

"Look around here.  All these black guys won't help me.  My own race has turned me down. So I'm humbling myself to ask for money from a white man."

At this point the bullshit detector in my head- and I have a good one- was banging the red zone. 

"I see," I said.  

I looked at the bay next to me.  The young black guy filling up his truck looked at me.  He rolled his eyes heavenward and back down while shaking his head.

"I'm sorry.  I don't carry cash," I said. Which is my standard reply if I am required to interact with a panhandler.

The Chef turned and walked away.

I didn't feel badly.  I never give money to panhandlers.  Ask anybody in law enforcement and they will tell you that 90% of the time a donation to a panhandler will get smoked up or drank up.  That and the old "my car broke down" or "I ran outta gas" appeals for money are almost always false.  

I didn't feel badly.  But I felt a pang of ambivalence about taking my usual hard line approach.  I am married to a woman of the cloth.  She is involved in a United Methodist mission to the homeless downtown called CANVAS where she spends her Wednesday and Sunday nights. 

Walking around the French Quarter last week, we were routinely hit on as anybody who has ever visited there has been.  She routinely and freely gave any spare change she had to some of them.  I guess her eye is better than mine and she can cull out the needy from the con artists.  That and she is a better person than I am.  

Not that I'm so bad.  I refuse to get hit up for money not merely because I am heartless or believe all begging is a con. Although a good 75% is.  I don't give money to panhandlers because it is inefficient.  CANVAS can take two bucks and stretch it a lot further and serve more people.  So I donate to them and and other homeless and hunger organizations.  And I accept referrals from Legal Services.  Giving back in this fashion is a more efficient use of finite resources because a community is involved.  

But I refuse to give to panhandlers just like I tend to give the heave-ho to most salespeople that show up on my front porch unbidden by me.  I will at least be polite to the Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses.  I'm not completely heartless.  

After I was through gassing up, I went inside and bought some bad gas station coffee with a dollar fifty that I had lied to the Chef about not having.

I pulled out of the station and pointed my car back to Arkansas and home.

I hadn't gone too far when I saw him walking north up US 65, umbrella in hand.  I figured back at the station that his "broken down" car was around the corner somewhere.  But there he was hoofing it.

And the thought occurred to me.

"What if he was telling the truth?"

Melissa might have pulled over to give him a few bucks.  I kept going. I felt a pang of something like guilt but I kept going.  After all, just because he left the station on foot didn't mean that his story wasn't complete bullshit.  After all, 90% of the time it, and similar stories,  are.

But then again, Melissa and all of the people that deal with the homeless and the dispossessed are better people than me.  

Way better.