Trees and Taxes


By Jim Bahn (Sherman Tree Uploaded by hike395) [CC-BY-2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

Those who organized the Revised Common Lectionary think they’re so clever. As so many churches make a push for members to begin or increase their giving, they throw in readings like this one from Matthew about paying taxes:

“The Pharisees went and plotted to entrap Jesus in what he said. So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away” (Matthew 22:15-22).

The Pharisees thought they would surely trap Jesus by forcing him to either confirm that the Roman emperor was due taxes or else anger Rome and provide himself a ticket to jail without passing “Go.” Does the emperor deserve this money, or does it belong to God? But unless these Pharisees are also ready to answer the question for themselves, they are barking up the wrong tree.

There’s a lot of this—barking up wrong trees—going around the United States right now as simplistic and often despicable campaign ads and debate performances intentionally churn up negative emotions about opposition in order to win votes by default.

After November 4th, I’m going to be in need of a major detox.

Sometimes I wonder if all of the wretchedness in campaign season is motivated by the candidates’ desire to have an overall low voter turnout—to dissuade conscientious people from the thought that their votes make a difference, leaving a select groups of voters to bring about more controlled and predictable results. Wherever the actual practices come from, those in power too often put humanity and progress at risk for the sake of maintaining power.

I was glad to see that the mayor of my old stomping grounds, Vancouver, Washington (no, not the one in Canada) recently risked at least some popularity by boycotting a prayer breakfast which is to be keynoted by, “former Army Lt. Gen. William G. ‘Jerry’ Boykin, who in interviews, speeches and writings has said that the war on terrorism is a Christian war against Satan and that followers of Islam are ‘under an obligation to destroy our Constitution.’”[1] But the mayor’s boycott is merely a political stunt if it does nothing to bring about acceptance, tolerance, and compassion, for which he claims the community strives.

It’s possible to hear Jesus’ phrase, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s,” and think that Jesus is making a quick getaway from an uncomfortable situation—when, in fact, he’s saying something quite radical: namely that where, when, and to whom we give our time, money, votes, energy, and compassion matters…

…and that we must think for ourselves how we go about making those decisions. To that extent, he’s not only talking about taxes, but about priorities. In a world where so much is too often sacrificed for the sake of power and control, how are we to give to God what is God’s?

Maybe I’m barking up the wrong tree.



Oct 14 – Samuel Schereschewsky – Scholar + Translator + Bishop

Oct 14 - Samuel Schereschewsky

Samuel Isaac Joseph Schereschewsky
Scholar + Translator + Bishop
14 October 1906

click here for books about Samuel Schereschewsky

From the Satucket Lectionary

Portrait of Samuel Isaac Joseph SchereschewskySamuel Isaac Joseph Schereschewsky was born in Lithuania in 1831, went to Germany to study for the rabbinate, there became a Christian, emigrated to America, trained for the priesthood, and in 1859 was sent by the Episcopal Church to China, where he devoted himself from 1862 to 1875 to translating the Bible into Mandarin Chinese. In 1877 he was elected Bishop of Shanghai, where he founded St. John’s University, and began his translation of the Bible into Wenli (the classical Chinese style of writing). He developed Parkinson’s disease, was largely paralyzed, resigned his position as Bishop of Shanghai, and spent the rest of his life completing his Wenli Bible, the last 2000 pages of which he typed with the one finger that he could still move.

Four years before his death in 1906, he said: “I have sat in this chair for over twenty years. It seemed very hard at first. But God knew best. He kept me for the work for which I am best fitted.”

by James Kiefer

Largely because of the quote above, Bishop Schereschewsky has been chosen “patron saint’ of the Anglican internet mailing list, sometimes known as the “cyberparish of St. Sam’s”. You can find out more about him at their web site:


Redeeming Columbus?

Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus – by Orson Scott Card

by Ken Howard

Few figures have fallen further than Christopher Columbus in the estimation of the general public. Once lauded as a courageous explorer and the discoverer of the new world, Columbus is now lambasted as a royal toady, sucking up to Queen Isabella of Spain to garner financial and political support for an ill-planned get-rich scheme, whose avarice and racism ultimately led to the decimation of the indigenous tribal populations and the enslavement of those who survived the slaughter. Even his eponymous federal holiday has suffered from his disgrace: while few are willing to go as far as giving up a day off from work, many have lobbied their respective state legislatures to change the name of the holiday to less onerous appellations, such as “Native American Day” or the somewhat ambiguous “Discovery Day.”  Just a couple of Sunday’s ago, we found comedian John Oliver, on his weekly show Last Week Tonight featuring Columbus Day in his occasional segment, “Why is this still a thing?”

However, if we dig underneath the trending opinions of the day, we would discover that real Christopher Columbus was a mixed bag: neither saint nor Satan.  Columbus was a Christian: a closet converso, some say, whose ancestors had converted from Judaism to Christianity to escape the Papal Inquisition of the 13th century, and who was now seeking the favor of Ferdinand and Isabella not long after the two monarchs had kicked of the not-unexpected Spanish Inquisition, which focused its suspicion largely on converted Jews. So at the very least, one might credit him with a certain degree of chutzpah.

Columbus was – as all historical figures are – a product of his age. Particularly, his thinking had fallen victim to influence of religious paradigm of his age, the Christendom paradigm, under which Church and Empire merged, and as the Church began to pull the levers of the Empire to achieve its ecclesiastical ends, it became something that the earliest followers of the Way would not have recognized, having transformed itself from an trans-religious movement centered in the love of Christ, to a hierarchical institution, proselytizing new members and enforcing the uniformity of its existing members through the use of power and (implicitly) violence.

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The Spirituality of Autumn

red-maple-tree-in-autumn-fall_w725_h544By The Rev’d Curtis Farr

“You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we will die.”

Are God and Moses in cahoots, subjecting the Israelites to a good cop/bad cop routine? It certainly seems that way, despite the fact that Moses says to the people, “Do not be afraid; for God has come only to test you and to put the fear of him upon you so that you do not sin.”

“Oh, that’s all God is up to with the thunder and lightning and trumpets and smoke? Whew, I was worried for a second that God was making some demand of us!

God was and God is making some demands, and God speaks to us in a number of ways—none of which will literally kill us, silly Israelites.

However, we misunderstand the Ten Commandments when we pretend that the narrative in which they occur is all about making us follow rules we don’t want to. In this case, the Israelites are learning to survive and thrive together—they’re learning to be a community. Their journey through the wilderness is one of different stages or episodes, and each one helps them to become a more unified people for the purpose of participating in the unfolding God’s kingdom of reconciliation.

The Ten Commandments exist to save us, more than they do to restrict us. Dan Clendenin writes that, “The commandments save us from false covenants and idols that promise so much and deliver so little.”

It would not be too difficult for any of us to make a list of things in our lives that promise us so much while delivering so little. The pursuit of more money or things, the desire for more popularity or control…none of these ground us in reality—the lock us away from the goodness in the world.

If Nietzsche is right, and autumn is more a season of the soul as it is of nature, maybe a good spiritual practice this season might be to shed some of those false covenants and idols as a tree sheds its leaves. After all, who ever said that you can’t repent outside of Lent?

The Rev’d Curtis Farr is the assistant rector of St. James’s Episcopal Church in West Hartford, Connecticut. He offers reflections on the lectionary readings for the upcoming Sunday. He keeps a blog at

An Experiment in Year Round Stewardship

By Ken Howard, part of the Vestry Papers issue on Sharing Our Gifts (September 2014)

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over,
and expecting different results.”
Albert Einstein

Town Hall Quarterly

St. Nicholas’ year-round stewardship experiment has centered on quarterly ‘town hall’ meetings.

Like many – if not most – Episcopal parishes, my congregation has never been completely satisfied with our stewardship program. Despite frequent, intentional experimentation with a variety of approaches since our founding in 1995, we have continued to feel a “disconnect” between the way we describe stewardship and the way we facilitate decisions about giving.

We talk about stewardship as a lifelong, year-round process of thoughtful and prayerful individual and congregational discernment, based on our responsibility to God and our responsibility to each other (our neighbor in the context of the congregation). Yet in practice our programmatic efforts to provide stewardship education and facilitate stewardship discernment and decisions have been limited almost entirely to a single, intensive campaign conducted in the fall of each year. Despite earnest desires and repeated plans, a truly year-round steward program never seemed to materialize.

Reflecting on this conundrum, we realized that no matter how we adjusted the content, process, timing, or title of this annual giving campaign (we no longer call it a pledge drive), this campaign-centered approach to stewardship has consistently produced effects inconsistent with our intentions. It reduced the congregation’s sense of responsibility and sense of stewardship as a way of life by reducing their opportunities to discuss, discern, and decide about stewardship practice. It increased the anxiety of parish leadership about the financial health of the congregation by reducing their opportunities to dialogue with the congregation regarding the congregation’s finances (and this anxiety bleeds back out into the congregation). It made our best efforts to make stewardship “not all about money” seem like make believe, and our most heartfelt theological explanations of stewardship sound like a cover story for getting into peoples’ wallets. And by the time the campaign was “put to bed” each year, there remained neither the energy nor the appetite for building a year-round program on top of it.

Finally, after asking “Why?” enough times, we came to see the “elephant in the room.” The problem was the campaign-based stewardship model itself: as long as the annual giving campaign lived, a truly year-round stewardship program would not be born. So we decided it was time to stop doing what wasn’t working. Taking a decision that was simultaneously exciting and scary, our vestry, with the support of our finance committee, voted to kill our annual giving campaign.

And now for something completely different.”
Monty Python

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