Along with most of the rest of the United States, my husband and I are in the final stages of paying taxes for 2013. As most people who handle the process themselves — as opposed to hiring a CPA to do it — know, the US tax code is not exactly an intuitive document, nor is it easy to navigate. To complicate matters, we are both clergy and clergy taxes have their own byzantine structure which involves hundreds of receipts and reams of paper both at the input and the output end. (This year the documents we submitted to the state and federal government ran slightly in excess of 140 pages.) I consider it a testament to the strength of our marriage that we emerge April 16 every year without having consulted a divorce lawyer.
But this year, I began to see the experience of answering 2673 confusing questions from TurboTax as more than a reflection of our ability to survive a highly stressful and challenging process. Something shifted just enough that I saw it as a spiritual discipline. This is still a new thought even as I sit here writing, so I offer these observations and reflections as something closer to a raw(ish) stream of consciousness than a polished essay. But I think there is a blessing waiting to be recognized…and one does not discard a blessing lightly.
The first blessing is the necessity to look at what we spend our life energy to accomplish at the micro level. Not knowing exactly which receipts will be necessary any given year (since the tax code is patched and repatched annually and what was a deduction in 2011 may not be in 2012 or vice versa), I keep far more scraps of paper than we ever use. But at tax time these all need to be sorted into “keep and use” and “discard”. And this means we get to look again at what we have spent money on all year from charitable donations to medical expenses to household purchases to travel to office expenses to automobile repair to insurance.
And there is nothing like a reality check to notice when one’s stated values are not exactly in alignment with one’s spending habits. But it isn’t just an opportunity to feel guilty; it is an opportunity to celebrate when you meet a goal you set a year ago or more, or to grieve a little that a whole stage of life has ended — for instance, when our daughter vanished off our taxes to become her own household, or when we received a bequest from the death of a parent.
The second blessing is the opportunity to pay attention to the political climate — really pay attention. I know I am not in the majority when I say this, but I feel honored to pay taxes. I believe in taxes because taxes are the only way I know to insure that the whole community systematically participates in the common good…and to nudge us all to notice when the common good is being undermined by unjust legislation. I don’t know who said that you can judge the quality of a civilization by the way it cares for those who are most vulnerable, but I agree with her or him with every fiber of my being.
My husband and I have been blessed with enormous privilege: from the excellent public schools we attended, to the clean water in the pipes that run through our home; from the ability to work, to good health; from the freedom to vote, to the freedom to practice our faith. Three of our parents (all of whom worked outside the home all of their adult lives and all of whom were the first in their respective families to attend college) benefited in their later years from Social Security and Medicare. (My mother died at 58 before she received either.)
I believe it is an honor and a responsibility to contribute, in my turn, to seeing that others have such blessings through the voting booth and the checkbook, as well as in direct face-to-face ways. It is a responsibility to live the values I hold by voting to continue essential social services that support education, health care, food for the hungry, veterans’ benefits, public safety (whether that is police and fire fighters or an energy grid that insures refrigerated food and streetlights). And it is a responsibility to pay attention to where those are being eroded by legislation that perpetuates economic and social injustice.
Is paying taxes my favorite activity or my favorite expense in the year? No. But I do believe it is a spiritual activity because it invites me to realign with the deepest sacred truths I hold and to work ceaselessly for the common-wealth of this amazing creation into which I have been born.
So: May your April 15th be equally blessed!
Text © 2014, Andrea La Sonde Anastos
Photo © 2014, Immram Chara, LLC