Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Looking to Lent

It will soon be Lent. And again the Church will try to understand what it means to turn towards the cross. And people, touched by Christ, will try to walk the Jesus Way.

You might not get this immediately, given the way Lent focuses on our legacy of sin, and in accurately knowing where we are now.

But the season of Lent is inherently forward-looking.

“Forgiveness is giving up all hope of having had a better past.”
Anne Lamott

In Lent we look back not out of nostalgia, nor out of obsessive fixation. And we focus on where we really are not out of excess narcissism, nor to wallow in shame. We simply need to get our bearings. And we look ahead to the cross, because of the way it reveals not just the old ills, but the new life God is always bringing forth.

Picture: Release, by Random Cathy .
 

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Does Mitt Romney have another tax problem?

Overlooked in the news over the large size of Governor Romney's income and small size of his tax bill is the issue of his faith, expressed in donations to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (also known as the Mormon Church).

Mr. Romney has served as a Mormon bishop (head of a local congregation) and as a stake president (head of a regional group of congregations, equivalent to a diocese). His faithful church membership has been part of his public resume.

Yet the tax returns reveal an interesting anomaly. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints practices a tithe as a requirement of its members. A Biblical tithe is usually thought of as 10% of income. While there is some debate within the LDS church as to what constitutes a tithe,* official church policy sets the tithe at 10% of gross income. "...[T]he simplest statement we know of is that statement of the Lord himself that the members of the Church should pay one-tenth of all their interest annually, which is understood to mean income" (March 19, 1970 letter from the First Presidency to presidents of stakes and missions, bishops of wards, and presidents of branches in answer to the question, "What is a proper tithe?").

Looking at Mr. Romney's 2010 returns (as summarized by the Washington Post's "Tale of the 1040s"), Mr. Romney seems to have underpaid his tithe to his church. With a 2010 gross income of $21,661,344, Mr. Romney gave charitable donations of $2,983,974 (13.8%), including $1,525,000 to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (7%). Donations to other charitable institutions, while commendable, do not help to fulfill one's religious obligation to tithe to the church.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, in addition to defining the tithe, also recognizes that it is a gift, and offering, and a spiritual matter. Thus, the letter which defines the tithe as 10% of income also goes on to say "We feel that every member of the Church should be entitled to make his own decision as to what he thinks he owes the Lord, and to make payment accordingly." This is an honest recognition that tithing is hard. Choosing to give a large portion of your income is a sacrifice, and cannot be compelled of someone else. It requires generosity, but also commitment, and work.

I am not a student of Mormon faith and practice, so I am open to correction on this point, but it appears that Mr. Romney's tax returns reveal that his giving to his church comes up 30% short of what the church expects.

I wonder if any Mormons - whether in the one percent or the ninety-nine - who pay the full tithe have noticed this.

* Some argue that the 10% tithe only applies to "surplus" income, or income in excess of basic needs. Others debate whether the tithe is applied to gross or after tax income. Official church policy is 10% of gross income.

Photo credits:
Mitt Romney official portrait, public domain
Salt Lake Temple, Utah - Sept 2004, taken by Diluff.
 

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Eucharistic prayer - Epiphany

Blessed are you, O God, giver of all good things. You bring forth order from chaos, abundance from scarcity. Your kingdom overflows with gifts. In Melchizedek, you gave bread and wine as a sign of your kingdom of peace. You gave children to Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Tamar, Ruth, and Hannah, blessing them and fulfilling your promise. Gifts dedicated your Tabernacle. You open the hearts of the righteous, freely scattering gifts to the poor. You gave seers of old the gift of prophecy, and let them see the coming of the Messiah. You led kings from the East to come and worship your gift to the world, God in human flesh.

On the night he was handed over to death, our Lord Jesus took bread, and gave thanks; broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying: Take and eat; this is my body, given for you. Do this for the remembrance of me.

Again, after supper, he took the cup, gave thanks, and gave it for all to drink, saying: This cup is the new covenant in my blood, shed for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sin. Do this for the remembrance of me.

Remembering, therefore, his coming in humble circumstances, his ministry of healing and forgiveness, his death and resurrection, we await the day when he comes again in glory. Come, Lord Jesus.

By your Spirit bless us and this meal, that it feed our hunger for justice and fill us with your love, your wisdom, your transforming power for good. Come, Holy Spirit.

Bless your people and pour out upon us spiritual gifts, that your Church may ever live in your Promise and sing your praise, Source of life, Redeemer of the world, Spirit of grace and truth, now and forever. Amen.


Top: "Gift to the Magi" by Richard Jesse Watson.
 

Monday, January 2, 2012

Eucharistic prayer - Baptism of Jesus

Blessed are you, O holy God, Light and Life of the world. In the beginning, your voice flew over the mighty waters. You separated the waters and made the dry land, and brought forth life throughout creation. You led your people Israel through the sea and out of bondage, and through the river Jordan into the land of promise. You brought forth streams of water in the wilderness, and commanded your children to wash in the water for purification and for healing. You have given prophets and seers visions of the river flowing from the heavenly temple as balm and blessing. You sent your prophet John to prepare the way of the Lord, proclaiming a baptism of repentance. And in Jesus, you stepped into the raging waters, identifying with the penitent, and extending your hand of salvation.

In the night before his trial and death, our Lord Jesus took bread, and gave thanks; broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying: Take and eat; this is my body, given for you. Do this for the remembrance of me.

Again, after supper, he took the cup, gave thanks, and gave it for all to drink, saying: This cup is the new covenant in my blood, shed for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sin. Do this for the remembrance of me.

Remembering, therefore, his incarnation in human flesh, his love of those in need and his prayer for his disciples, his dying and rising, we await the day when all creation rejoices in his Light. Come, Lord Jesus.

By your Spirit bless us and this meal, that it be for us the gift of faith, nourishing and strengthening us to plunge into service in your kingdom. Come, Holy Spirit.

Welcome into your kingdom all who call upon your name, beloved children of the Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, to whom be all glory and honor and praise, now and forevermore. Amen.

Modern Coptic icon of the Baptism of Jesus Christ, from St-Takla.org. Note the way Jesus' immersion in the river is depicted as a foreshadowing of the shroud which wrapped him at death, echoing the way theology talks about baptism as the drowning of the old Adam and the death of sin.