Tuesday, April 30, 2013
The last few weeks, I have been trying hard to work through a couple of conflicting and difficult thoughts.
On one hand, I believe that, in the United States, no one should do without. As a nation, we are rich beyond measure. Even our "poor" are rich by the standards of the rest of the world.
On the other hand, I don't believe that government programs are the best answer for those in need - that higher tax rates and more government-taking of an individual's earnings will somehow solve our societal ills. One of the great, false, arguments that is made today is that all American's need to pay their "fair share." What is a "fair share" and who gets to decide?
We are told that the "rich," whoever they are (and I most assuredly am not), need to pay just a little more to cover all of our national financial woes.
I just want you to remember the amount $7,190.
I'll get back to that amount in a minute. It is important, I think, because of what it symbolizes for all Americans.
We are an incredibly generous nation. There is not a disaster that we do not respond to. I am amazed at the number of young people in the US who made a contribution to help the Red Cross respond to Indian Ocean tsunami victims in 2004 and again in Japan just a couple of years ago. Frankly, most of those youngsters with smart phones cannot spell the word "tsunami" but they knew there was a need and they had a burning desire to help fix a problem they saw.
At my son's school, one that we might have called a country school years ago, there is a specific program for the 8th-graders which gets them into the community, volunteering to help with those in need, learning to raise money to alleviate a specific problem.
They learn that they are part of a bigger community.
They learn that they are expected, as a part of their citizenship, to give back to those who are less fortunate.
They know that this expectation is a foundational truth of how we live with our neighbors - looking around for ways to help, seeking out opportunities to make a difference with what we have.
Sometimes, the kids see, there is a chance to make a difference with money.
Sometimes, the kids make a difference with their hands by actively helping.
Sometimes, the kids find that they make a difference by simply reading to other children.
That is how we build expectations of upcoming generations that we are responsible to look out for one another. Not expect that someone else will solve the problem.
Now, for me, my faith helps guide this sense of responsibility. Because I believe that I have been given the greatest gift of all - the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on a cross for my sins and for my eternal life, I want more people to have that experience. As a result, I try to find opportunities to help others and to do so because I have been given that gift. My faith drives me to do the work that will show others that there is goodness and rightness in a world that is, most days, horrible.
As most of you know, our daughter has been very sick for a number of years.
I think that a big part of my drive to make a difference for other people comes, also, from my inability to help her. I can't get her well - so I need to keep finding a way to help other people. Maybe it's a naïve belief that by pushing hard to help those who can't help themselves, God will grant a positive answer to my on-going prayer to heal Victoria. So I work, through the Oklahoma Dental Foundation to help end oral health pain for children and women leaving prison and people with mental health issues. We bring an end to suffering for a lot of people.
And we do it because dentists volunteer their time. They give their money. They help make a difference.
There is no government program that is doing anything like what we do. It was created by "the rich" as defined by politician's views of doctors, to help those who would never, ever see a dentist. They gain nothing from it except the knowledge that they are helping.
Remember the amount $7,190.
Now, politicians tell us that, in order to help our neighbors, we need more government programs, more money for existing programs and more tax dollars from those who can afford "just a little more" to make it all happen.
Non-profits are funded by the voluntary contributions of individuals from all faiths, all colors, all backgrounds.
All financial means.
Now, if we follow and believe the thinking that "just a little bit more" for government programs assures that all people get taken care of then we would have to assume that the "more" has no impact on other giving. I happen to live around a lot of people who give generously and don't, generally, wait for the government to deliver some service.
But, by increasing taxes (fairness if you will), a person's ability to continue to provide support to non-profits decrease. At the same time, President Obama has recommended that charitable donations have a lower tax deductible "cap," thereby putting more money into taxes and less into the non-profits that are doing so much.
We are told that the government programs are, in fact, charitable. That, by their very existence, government programs are the best way to solve our problems. So, forced charity - taking tax dollars (because no one is yet ready to willingly pay extra for taxes) and putting them into government programs that are not on par with non-profit programs (in terms of administrative costs vs. direct benefit to the recipient, etc.) makes some people feel good because they are not - frankly - very generous.
Vice President Joe Biden is a huge proponent of increased taxes to build these "safety net" programs. His huge annual income is supplemented by an additional payment from the taxpayers for a house on his property. A house the Secret Service uses to help protect him. He charges the Secret Service (read you and me) $2,200 per month (annually $26,400) to stay on his property to protect him.
He would tell us that we need to be more generous.
In fact, he makes speeches to that effect all the time.
His charitable contributions in 2012?
$7,190 - Approximately 1.8% of his income.
It's 3 times less than he makes in rent from us - while telling us to be generous.
Current political leaders like to tell us that we need to increase our taxes to be "fair and generous."
I look at non-profits all around me and see the generosity of people who give their time, their money, their talent, their property - all in order to help.
Charity, forced by the government in the form of higher taxes creates a false sense of comfort. It is the small business that helps the little league, the preacher who performs a funeral for free, the businessperson who serves on a board to assure good management.
The dentist who takes time away from their office to perform care on someone who would not be able to afford care otherwise.
Those are the generous people among us.
It is not my place to criticize Joe Biden's charitable giving. That is between he and his wife - and his God.
He, likewise, needs to lay off of those who are helping well beyond 2% of their income to make this a better nation. And those people are all around us.
Tuesday, April 9, 2013
My daughter, Victoria, took this picture a couple of nights ago from the back yard at our house. She didn't touch it up with any of the "photography tools" that are out there.
Just her telephone.
And God's touch.
Sunsets in Oklahoma tend to be exceptionally beautiful. From a scientific perspective, I understand it has to do with the wind kicking up the dust and the clouds. upon which the light reflects an assortment of colors.
From a spiritual sense, God shows us amazing things, doesn't He?
I look forward to sunset when I am at home. After the stresses of the day I am always dazzled at God's hand literally unfolding in front of my eyes. Some evenings, it is possible for us to anticipate that the sunset will be picture perfect. We can see it as the clouds settle just right or the clarity of the sky appears just perfect to create a color of blue that is usually only seen painted on canvas by great artists. The colors come alive as the owls hoot in trees behind the house. The coyotes and their pups start yapping away. Our dogs, Tucker and Charli, get into their protective mode and patrol the outskirts of the yard to keep those outsiders out.
It becomes a time of reflection and one when, hopefully, we never hesitate to say out loud "God made an amazing sunset tonight, didn't He?"
As we have raised our children, my wife and I have tried to keep in front of them the beauty of the world and the realization that without God, none of this would exist. Even though I tell myself that I am saying the words for the kids and their friends about the wonders of God, in reality, I suppose I am reminding myself of the same thing.
I really get to thinking. How much credit do I claim for the good things in my life? How often do I seek out someone else to blame for the myriad of bad things? In all of the difficulties we have experienced over the past years, do I blame God? When He sees us through the hard times, do I credit Him or try to say that I steered us through the turbulence?
My faith is, at the same time, both fragile and durable. I see the Oklahoma sunsets and realize His handiwork in front of me. No one could convince me otherwise of the overwhelming power of God.
And yet, during a recent overseas trip on behalf of our church, our daughter texted at 1:30 in the morning (Croatia time) to tell us some difficult news about her health - another trip to the ER, another problem that is painful, worrisome and unfair for her. And my confidence in God's handiwork started to crumble - even in the midst of seeing great things happening in churches in eastern Europe.
Fragile faith. Durable faith. All wrapped up in one frail person.
So I look in awe at the beauty He creates. I cry at the destruction that surrounds us. And I live with the amazement that God holds it all.
I wonder, when I see all of that, what is the right perspective?
My feeble answer is all of the above. Often at the same time.
Sunsets draw people to consider the end of something. When I am sitting in our back yard, watching the colors, listening to the sounds and being protected by Tucker and Charli, I am drawn to the idea of being refreshed.
I've done all that I can today. You created an amazing view, Lord.
God, what do You have in store for tomorrow?