IVP - Strangely Dim - The Truth About Taxes

April 8, 2009

The Truth About Taxes

Congratulate me. Last year, I earned not $5, not $2, not $1 in interest, but 84 cents. You can almost hear it jingle in your pocket, can't you? That's enough for three gumballs, with a little change left to spare.

Why do I taunt you with my wealth? While Christa is thinking about Holy Week, I'm thinking about a not so spiritual but oh so necessary topic: tax season, of course, and only six days left to file for all of you who work best under last-minute pressure. (For the sake of the people who have to stand outside tax service businesses dressed like the Statue of Liberty, waving, I feel relieved there are only six days left. As if the Statue of Liberty can wave. Sheesh.)

Usually, like (I'm assuming) most of you, doing my taxes does not make it onto my Top Ten Favorite Moments of the Year list. In fact, once March and April roll around, I start thinking of all the things that sound more fun . . . like scrubbing scuff marks off my kitchen floor with a toothbrush. Or even scrubbing scuff marks off your kitchen floor with my toothbrush.

I'm not sure why I hate doing taxes so much. Really, mine are relatively simple. I think some of it is that I feel toyed with; the formulas, though no doubt arrived at after excruciatingly minute debates and calculations, feel so arbitrary: Subtract 3,500 from line 36a if line 36a is less than $25,000 but more than what your father made in 1936. Multiply line 17 by 3 percent (and don't forget, you non-math majors, that's .03). If line 4 is over $120,000, skip to line 11. If you can stand on your head and sing "The Star Spangled Banner" backwards at the same time--heck, just write that in and forget about the rest; we'll call it even. By the time I get to the end of my state tax form, I'm not feeling so inclined to give to the homeless or wildlife preservation, noble causes though they be. In fact, I'm feeling more inclined to go recklessly spend my 84 cents on the aforementioned three gumballs and chew them all at once, to relieve a little stress.

It's not just the numbers that get to me, though. It's the categories. Single? Yes. Thanks for the reminder. Don't get me wrong; the single life has many merits. But I'm reminded of the fact that, if I were married, I might not have to do my taxes at all, since there would be two of us to share the household duties. I could, for instance, offer to scrub the kitchen floor while he does the taxes. And then there are the eligible deductions. Are you a student? No. Thanks for the reminder. Maybe in two years I'll finally start grad school. If they're still offering student loans then. First-time homebuyer credit? No. Thanks for the reminder that I will most likely never be able to afford to buy a house in these suburbs . . .

And if all of those downers aren't enough, this year, of course, had the potential to be even more depressing with the current state of the economy and investments. Not to mention the fact that the day I did my taxes--this past Sunday--it snowed here, as Christa mentioned. Snow in April is the second most cited cause of bitterness for people here (after taxes).*

For some odd reason, though, this year I worked on my taxes with relatively little moaning and bitterness, which pleased me. It pleased me because it indicates to me that, for how self-absorbed my life feels, something must be sinking in and taking root to give me a change in perspective. Something like the IVP book I'm reading, Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion & Truth in the Immigration Debate by Matthew Soerens and Jenny Hwang, that makes me mindful of all the undocumented immigrants in the United States who are working--and therefore paying taxes and paying into Social Security--but who will never receive any of the benefits their money is going toward. Contrary to popular belief, statistics cited by the authors say that each year the government collects $6 to $7 billion in "no-match Social Security contributions" (contributions from people using a false Social Security number), and that the majority of that money comes from unauthorized immigrants. Another statistic says those without valid Social Security numbers contributed about $5 billion in taxes in 2005. (Not convinced? Or want to know more specifics? Read the book. It's very eye-opening.)

And something like effects of the sputtering economy. I feel extraordinarily grateful to have an income to fill in on my tax forms, and particularly grateful to be in a job I enjoy so much at a company whose values and vision I love. Even something like taking food to church Sunday morning for a food drive, and being reminded later as I ate my lunch of the extraordinary privilege of having money to buy the food I like to eat. In these hard financial times, I'm learning to not take what I have for granted--but I also don't want to just keep it to myself. I want to share it with others in need.

And, okay, even something as frivolous as rewatching Stranger Than Fiction a few weekends ago. It's just hard not to like Harold Crick in the movie, which, even though it's not real, influences my view of the IRS in general. They're probably nice people, like Harold and Dave, just trying to do their jobs and dreaming about learning to play the guitar or going to space camp.

So, taxes? Still not my favorite thing. But I am grateful for how my tax forms revealed my slightly changed, not-so-self-absorbed, more-compassionate-and-aware-of-the-world-around-me perspective. And perspective is a very powerful thing when it's rooted in truth. Oh--and if you're raising money for the homeless, call me next week, and we can chat. I might have a little spare change.

*This is based solely on my own experience and opinion, and not on any poll, official or unofficial.

Posted by Lisa Rieck at April 8, 2009 9:34 AM Bookmark and Share


Hi, good post. I have been woondering about this issue,so thanks for posting. I’ll definitely be coming back to your site.

Comment by: AndrewBoldman at June 4, 2009 7:08 PM

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Behind the Strangeness

Lisa Rieck is a reader and writer who likes to discuss good ideas over hot drinks and gets inspired by the sky. She takes in all kinds of good ideas as a proofreader for InterVarsity Press.

Rebecca Larson is a writer/designer/creative type who has infiltrated IVP's web department, where she writes and edits online content. She enjoys a good pun and loves the smell of freshly printed books.

David A. Zimmerman is an editor for Likewise Books and a columnist for Burnside Writers Collective. He's written three books, most recently The Parable of the Unexpected Guest. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/unexpguest. Find his personal blog at loud-time.com.

Suanne Camfield is a publicist for InterVarsity Press and a freelance writer. She floats ungracefully between work, parenting and writing, and (much to her dismay) finds it impossible to read on a treadmill. She is a member of the Redbud Writers Guild and blogs at The Rough Cut.

Likewise Books from InterVarsity Press explore a thoughtful, active faith lived out in real time in the midst of an emerging culture.

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