The Last Judgment of the USA

Then the people of the United States were brought before Christ, and were divided in two, the sheep and the goats, and the goats were placed at his left hand. And he said to them, “You who are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and you did not cure me, in prison and you did not visit me.” And they all answered, “When was this precisely, Lord?”

And he told them:

“Whenever you drove past East St. Louis or around Watts, and did not stop; whenever you passed over Gary or avoided the South Side; whenever you ignored Baltimore or the Bronx, stayed away from Philly’s heart, fled DC at nightfall. Continue reading

Microactivism

I have developed some habits of action that I try to follow when I am out in the world — small gestures or practices that I hope make our society a somewhat better place. But after reflecting on them, I’ve realized that some don’t do much good unless shared. So I pass these along to you, in hopes that you may find them useful.

I doubt I invented the term “microactivism,” which I derive from the term “Microaggressions,” referring to the small assaults on human dignity that women, LGBTQ people, ethnic minorities, and (occasionally) straight white men run into on a daily basis in this society.

My “microactivism” may in fact be too small to have any effect, but I still do these things anyway. Better to light a single candle, etc.

Unlike my other posts, I may update this one from time to time as more ideas come to me — and if any of you out in the audience have ideas or practices of your own, put them down in the comments! I’d love to get some talking going.  Continue reading

Neutrality

“Anoka-Hennepin staff, in the course of their professional duties, shall remain neutral on matters regarding sexual orientation including but not limited to student-led discussions.”
— Anoka-Hennepin school district policy

“We are not a homophobic district, and to be vilified for this is very frustrating.”
— Anoka-Hennepin superintendent Dennis Carlson

“Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.”
— Acts of the Apostles 7:58 (NRSV)

 

As I write this, I have just read an article in Rolling Stone about a series of school policies in the Anoka-Hennepin School District in Minnesota, and about a series of suicides among the student body. The article is worth reading in full, but the short version is this: under pressure from Christian groups, the school district adopted a policy of neutrality on gay issues (as you can read above). The immediate result: if incidents of bullying or harassment had any anti-gay overtones, the faculty ignored them. At least one teacher let a fight go on unchecked because the attackers were yelling “faggot!” at the kid they were beating. Astonishing, unbelievable, but true.

A further result: nine kids in the district have killed themselves. Continue reading

Tax Hikes

Over the past few years, the University of Washington has been raising the cost of tuition. This year the university has taken the additional step of accepting 150 fewer in-state residents as freshmen, since out-of-state students pay much, much more. This is because the State of Washington has typically paid the rest of the in-state tuition cost — but now the state will only pay 28 percent, down from 72 percent. The state has been cutting funding for the university so drastically — $204 million less this year, not to mention another $278 million in cuts to other public colleges — that the UW in essence cannot afford its primary function of providing a superlative education at a reasonable cost. (A new proposal to allow the school more latitude in setting tuition may help, but I foresee more tuition hikes — which comes to the same thing.) This means that a Washington high-school student with great grades but nothing else will now find it rather harder to get the world-class education heretofore possible — or, to put it another way, telling our children to get good grades so they can get into a good college will be true only if we’re speaking to rich kids, and a lie the rest of the time.

This cut in state support is a tax.

The traditional definition of a tax is money taken by the state under duress, but is this much different? The state is not taxing money, but futures.

The state is also cutting funding for the Washington State Ferry system, once one of the jewels of our public transportation system, by $30 million, meaning that there will be fewer runs and (probably, in time) fewer boats. I know many people who rely on the ferries for many reasons, including islanders who have no other way of getting home. The cuts to the ferry system will inevitably fall on their shoulders in increased ferry fees, more difficulty in travel and commute, and a strain on their time.

This is also a tax. A tax on islands, perhaps.

The state, furthermore, is cutting 17,000 people from the rolls of Washington Basic Health, the lowest-cost health insurance available in the state, to the tune of $108 million. As those 17,000 people were on Basic Health because they could afford no other coverage, this essentially puts them out in the cold with no protection at all. Speaking as someone whose only insurance for the past two years has been the grace of God, I can understand the fear and dread of those 17,000 citizens, who have committed no crime other than being poor in a state that apparently considers poverty worth punishing.

This, too, is a tax. A tax on lives.

These taxes I’ve described strangle people. They steal hope, they steal days and years, they steal breath from bodies. Considering that here among our residents (I need not name names) we have several people with enough wealth to wipe out the state’s deficit and not worry about the check bouncing, and considering we have companies (I need not name names) that make more profit in a quarter than Basic Health costs in two years, and considering that this wealth has not been taxed, I am forced to conclude that there’s one more tax in effect here: a tax on souls. The state government, through its actions and its failures to act, extracts a portion of every soul resident in Washington. This tax policy that lets money go by while putting lives at risk is no less than criminal, and it tarnishes everyone in the state — the politicians for proposing it, and we the citizens for permitting it.

For our own sakes, for the sakes of our leaders, we should end these brutally punishing taxes on the poor and the sick, these levies on those who just happen to be living in the wrong state at the wrong time, and take our taxes from something that — despite appearances — is relatively plentiful: the money that’s out there.

I understand that governments cannot do everything. But if that is true, why must it take its pound of flesh from those who have so little, rather than from those who have so much? I understand the desire to retain one’s property. But does one’s right over property extend to hazarding the lives of your neighbors? I understand that the citizens have reason to distrust the state government with the power of taxing money — I’ve watched one state-sponsored, tax-funded megaproject go up despite the explicit disapproval of the voters, and now I’m watching another roll in without any voting at all. But to respond to such injustice and betrayal by withholding taxes is to punish a dispute between children by starving them to death.

We can do better. We must do better. Yes, there must be reform. Yes, trust must be regained. But when we cut taxes on our wallets we impose taxes on our neighbors. What matters more, our money or their lives? The whole history of human morality cries out, “Life first.” If we cannot help our neighbors through that form of community called government, we deserve neither help nor neighbors.

Tax your thinking on that, and make your choice.