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Comparing how our Federal Income Tax is spent versus how we want it to be spent can be a deep spiritual lesson. Published as a "Matter of Faith" clergy column in the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram on September 13, 2008.
In 2007, 43% of our federal income taxes went to military uses and only 1% to diplomacy and humanitarian aid. Another way of saying it is that about half of every income tax dollar goes to prepare for, conduct and clean up after war, and only one penny of every dollar goes to finding peaceful alternatives and helping our neighbors. Many people have a hard time taking in what that means, so the neighboring graph may give a better picture of the dramatic import of those figures. Is that how you and I would allocate our tax dollars if we were voting our spiritual values and spending in line with our religious beliefs?
Let me make one thing clear as we start - this is not primarily a political question, but a question of morality and faithfulness, of priorities and stewardship. As Jesus points out in the parable of the Talents, we show our fidelity in how we take care of the resources with which we are entrusted. And it is impossible to deal faithfully with our riches if we are unaware of what they are and where we are spending them.
A graph produced annually by the Friends Committee on National Legislation paints a vivid picture of our national spending priorities, and the image is disturbing. How would that graph look if we compiled a physical representation of our religious priorities? How would we change our lives if we realized that the map of our beliefs clashed violently with the map of our impact on the world?
This seemed a perfect opportunity for a hands-on spiritual exercise. I gave local Quakers 10 marbles each and asked them to spend in six budget categories: Military, Healthcare, Poverty, Government Operations, Education/Jobs/Science/Energy/Environment, and Diplomacy/Foreign Aid. You can see the results in the bar graph. Clearly, there is a dramatic and troubling gap between Quaker ideals and Washington’s spending. But maybe this gap is just because Friends’ priorities, oriented toward peace, justice and care for creation, are not representative of wider community values. With this in mind, we set up a table last Wednesday at UW-EC and 140 students voted their values. The results, also on the neighboring graph, speak clearly for values in great tension with federal realities. The students obviously wanted to spend their incomes with concern for the poor and the earth, prioritizing health and education.
Quakers tend less to lecture about what is good and what is bad, than to ask questions, trusting that the person who honestly sits with the questions will confront God’s voice and be led to change. There is an opportunity tomorrow to face such questions. On Sunday, September 14th, between 1-5 pm there will be an event in Phoenix Park called Voices for Peace 2008. There will be speakers, music, workshops, crafts and food, but there will be, especially, a safe place to ask questions and listen to personal experience. And there will be a table at which you will be invited to vote your values, physically. Then, having faced these painful realities, let’s join together in putting our hands to making our prayers real.
I leave you with some words from John Woolman, an 18th century American Quaker.
"May we look upon our treasures, and the furniture of our houses, and the garments in which we array ourselves, and try whether the seeds of war have nourishment in these our possessions..."