December 2006


Suppose, for example, you were the type of person who really liked the IRS website.  The kind of person who might relax on a Thursday evening with a copy of Taxes for Dummies, and feel genuinely guilty that you were getting to enjoy yourself, while your poor spouse was in the other room scraping glue off the kitchen floor to prep it for tiling.  Maybe you are the kind of person who just loved your class on business law, or, if you never got to take business law, you are the kind of person who wishes you had.  Not because you needed to know business law, but because it is so much fun to learn about it.

Now suppose, in addition, you are catholic.  One of *those* catholics, you know, who really likes the church and her teachings.  And furthermore, the kind of catholic with no axes to grind, just a sort of cheerful catholic.

In that case, you might enjoy this link,, the Code of Canon Law.

I had always avoided it, because it seems to be read mostly by unhappy people.  Which I am perfectly capable of being without help from a vatican website.   But I stumbled upon it this morning, and it was fun.   Even more fun after I had my web browser increase the text size so that I didn’t get a headache from all that fun.

Happy New Year!

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I am writing to you as I promised my daughter I would.   She is four years old, and on Friday she learned to ride her bike without training wheels.  A two-wheeler!  She rode all around the driveway shouting "I’m doing it! I’m doing it!".  I was the proudest mommy in the whole world.

She was very happy to hear I was the proudest mommy.  I told her I was going to tell everyone about it.  "Everyone?" She asked me, skeptically.  "Yep, the whole world."  "Even the people in Mexico?" she queried.  "Yes, even the people in Mexico," I replied confidently.  "How are you going to do that?"  she wanted to know.  "I will write them a letter," I replied.

She was satisfied.  And now, here is my letter. 

Sincerely,

Mommy. 

P.S.  After she learned how to ride, naturally her six-year-old brother had to learn too.  We had to put him out on the street, because he kept running into the cars in the driveway.  But he learned.  He did not complain that he had to crash to stop.  But he was very happy when he did finally figure out how to stop without crashing.

Finally got a picture of the green castle posted in the avatar.  In case anyone was thinking maybe I was just making that up.

For those who are curious, what you are seeing is the top two stories of the keep.  A ladder behind those red doors takes you to the upper level.  In the space in the foreground of the red doors is a deck, with a large PVC-pipe slide off to the right.  Below is the ground story, which houses the kitchen and steering wheel.  (It’s a very historically-accurate castle — didn’t all medieval buildings have steering wheels in them?)  Swingset is in a separate structure. 

Our castle’s yard also includes sandbox, turtle-shaped wading pool, and red mailbox.  And of course, the workbench.  Mr. Boy did not get the chainsaw he longs for, but he did get a low-speed cordless drill-and-screwdriver.  We searched and searched for an eggbeater drill, but no luck.  Lightweight cordless drills have apparently caused the demise of the eggbeater.

Weather and Garden News  The past few weeks had been mostly warm and sunny during the day– I rediscovered the pleasure of driving with windows down.  My favorite kind of weather.  Yesterday for Christmas we got a nice thick misty day — my other favorite kind of weather.  Not cold.

Prior to the mild spell, we had had a good hard frost, which killed off those crazy sunflower sprouts once and for all.  Now I’ve got some bulbs coming up under the bird feeder in their place.  These are the bulbs that did not come up for me last spring, when they were supposed to.  So, another reckless plant for us to watch.  Will they make it to spring?  Will we find out what they are, or will they go the way of the sunflower sprouts before they bloom?  I vaguely remember planting bulbs last fall or winter, but can’t remember what exactly I planted.

The maples have been bare since the end of November, except our one miserly maple that clings to its old leaves every year until the new ones show up.  The apple tree, long since bare, has soft downy buds getting ready for next spring. Oaks, meanwhile, are finally starting to turn, and some are shedding leaves.  They waited until after we had broken down and paid the neighbor kid to rake (or rather, mow) the maple leaves that were being such a nuisance blowing on the other neighbor’s yard.  So it could be a good year for the neighbor-kid’s college fund if the oak leaves in turn make a nuisance of themselves.  But I doubt it, they are small, clingy kinds of leaves, and the trees themselves are pretty small.

Pansies are doing well!  They looked for a moment like they weren’t too keen on that hard frost we had, but they sprung back to their normal cheery selves after a day or so.  Friday we had a nice rain, which they appreciated mightily.  I had completely failed to notice that the long stretch of clear sunny warm days meant they probably needed a little watering.    They are still waiting for that pansy food, though.

Best Christmas Present We have a small collection of Christmas books.  Every year they show up in the stockings or presents.  I picked a couple for Mr. Boy that were far too easy to be interesting, but that I thought he might be able to read if we worked on them together.  He opened them.  Complained that I was giving out the same presents I’d given out last year.  And then proceeded to sit down and read both books then and there, and the baby’s book as well.  Actually had to be pulled away from his reading to open his second present (the drill).  Whatever homeschooling mother dreams of — a first-grader who actually learns to read.  I was thrilled.

Sunday morning our deacon closed his homily with a reminder that we can turn to Mary in our times of need. He mentioned all the bits that can make a protestant really squirm: She is a mother who loves us, that she will answer our prayers, and that she will pray with us to Jesus.

It is understandable that evangelical protestants view all of this as a bundle of blasphemy, wrapped up in idolatry, with a little necromancy thrown in for good measure. And the reason for their concern ought to be self evident: Mary is doing God’s work.

Years ago when the SuperHusband and I were first married, I went with him on a business trip to Quebec city. We went to dinner one evening with another person attending the conference, this really entertaining eccentric old guy that SH knew from previous conferences. It was mid-June, so conversation naturally turned to plans for the rest of the summer. Our dinner partner informed us he was going to the Ukraine. (This was in the the early post-cold-war era.) We asked what he was doing there. And he answered very plainly, these are his exact words, “Doing the Lord’s work.”

Now neither SH nor I were Christians at that time. We were, however, faithful agnostics, so we understood that God is omnipotent. Or at the very least, He ought to be. Our immediate reaction, therefore, was, “Why isn’t the Lord doing it Himself?”

We are no longer agnostics, and know that we can turn to the sacred scriptures to learn exactly what God is like, and how He does things.  

Is He a Delegator?

The answer is yes.

Consider the commissioning of the 72: During his ministry on earth, Jesus went about healing people and proclaiming God’s kingdom. And then he turned to his disciples, and sent them out to do the same thing — heal people and proclaim God’s kingdom.  Our Lord gave his disciples the power to do His work.

After his resurrection, Jesus does it again. He turns to the eleven apostles and tells them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. For those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven. For those whose sins you retain, they are retained.” (John 20:23). Jesus is here delegating his power to forgive sins. He could have told the apostles to simply direct people to God for forgiveness of sins, but instead He chose to delegate.

Making disciples, healing, forgiving – these are all the Lord’s work. And scripture records very plainly that the Lord in turn assigns these jobs to mere men.

There is a logic to this, in that if we are to be the children of God, it makes sense that our Heavenly Father would do what any father does, train his children to do the work of the family.

Therefore though some may disagree over the precise details (a topic for another day), I think there is a general consensus among all Christians that while we are here on earth, yes, we are expected to do the Lord’s work. When our dinner partner referred to his pending mission trip to the Ukraine, yes, indeed, he was about to go and do what His Lord had delegated to him. 

I think, however, that a parting ways occurs among Christians when it comes to the question of  what will happen in Heaven.  And this is the root of disagreement over the catholic understanding of the communion of saints.

In the book of Revelation we see the saints in Heaven offering prayers and singing praises to God. Christians agree, therefore, that one of our eternal activities will be something like a giant praise and worship service. Only much, much better. Songs everybody likes, for one thing. Maybe that’s why St. Paul tells us to quit our grumbling and complaining – because there’s no sense practicing now what we won’t be doing later.

And I think that is where catholics (and the orthodox) part ways with evangelicals: Catholics recognize that all this doing of the Lord’s work here on earth is not just a way to bide time until we get our new, glorified voices that make us fit for a heavenly choir. We practice doing the Lord’s work here on earth, because we will actually be doing the Lord’s work in heaven.

Why should Mary, or St. Jude, or any other Christian be given the power to hear and answer prayers and perform miracles? Because they are the grown-up children of God, now working side by side with their heavenly Father. They proved themselves trustworthy with small things delegated to them on earth, and now they are trusted with much greater things in Heaven.

 

So yes, Mary is doing the Lord’s work when she hears and answers prayers.  But this isn’t because she is a deity.  It is because she is a Christian, doing what all Christians are called to do — be a true child of God.  Be a real, active part of the family.  And thus to live with Him in Heaven, as we all hope to do one day, and to share in the work of the Lord, whatever it is that He chooses to entrust to us.

After this I’m going to make my serious post, which I have been forming in my head for a while now, and which the deacon’s sermon this morning is my excuse to finally get it out.  So first some light entertainment, and then a little sermon whenever the next post is completed (this morning? tomorrow? Next week?  You never know what’s next during Holiday Time).

Caroling Party Amusement  The party was a success, if you go with the "define your own success" philosophy of social life.

  • There seems to be this rule that whenever I host a social event, I will commit at least one major hostess faux pas.  I’m pleased to report that I did manage to offer everybody food and drink at least once time, an improvement over previous events.  So this party’s learn-from-your-mistakes highlight was a brand new brain failure: I forgot to unwrap the food.  Not all of it.  In fact very few people noticed, because the food that remained sealed up in plastic wrap . . . all evening long . . . was the boring food.  The special yummy holiday food, nobody had any trouble remembering to open that.
  • We, um, "forgot" to go caroling.  But we had a fabulous time (I am not joking) helping one of our guests analyze her business plan for a bakery she is hoping to open soon.  (And we got to eat her baking in the process, hence the other neglected food).   Naturally, being the person who both loves Song of the Week, and loves the IRS website, I cannot say for certain whether it is better to spend Christmas Eve Eve caroling or strategizing.  But I know our party was successful because as my friend was leaving, I told her that the SuperHusband and I would be more than happy to get together again to work through her business plans.  And she said that she would take us up on the offer.  Nothing says "good hostess" more than a guest who wants to come back again, and soon. 

If you are a C.S. Lewis fan (isn’t everyone??), go see Fr. Longenecker’s series of posts concerning Anglicans who ought to be Catholic, but aren’t. 

I’m serious about that title.  The SuperHusband has been doing some SuperConsulting, which, like the many odd income streams that have come our way over the years, is not so much about an increase in income, as it is about an increase in tax forms. 

Let’s clarify right now: the IRS does not create tax law.  Congress does that.   The IRS just enforces the law, and bless them, they are really doing a nice job of "simplifying" the process of compliance via their website.  What a pleasure for this accountant, to be able to settle down with a cup of coffee in my cozy home office, nursling in arms, to educate myself on our latest foray into the world of big forms for small numbers.  Ahh. 

Seriously, the web-surfing method is much, much better than dragging small children to the federal building, which was how this process worked in the old days.  The calculator, the spreadsheet, the Internet.  Each in turn has been a tremendous leap in productivity for accountants.

That said, I’ve started reading Off the Books, a look at the underground economy in Chicago’s Southside.  And among my many thoughts is that small-time entrepreneurs would be much more likely to report income if there were a simpler method for low-dollar income streams.  I know the EZ forms are meant to do that, but they deal only with simple situations. 

If your situation is complex, even if the dollars are low, you have to wade into forms and publications only an accountant could love, if you wish to comply with the law.    One of the characteristics of the underground economy is many small, diverse income streams — a few dollars for babysitting, a few dollars for renting a room out, a few dollars for making homemade meals, a few dollars for shade-tree mechanic work, etc.  All of it can add up to a meager living — enough to get by on, not enough to afford accountant’s fees to get the reporting straight. 

Meanwhile,  most of the details of the tax law are designed to catch major loophole-abusers. It seems to me that when revenues are low enough that you *know* the taxes on the net income aren’t going to amount to much, why not go with a simplified set of regulations?   

I guess I’m thinking of sort of a middle ground, where your 1040 would include spaces to report income from small businesses, small amounts of stock bought or sold, small amounts of rental income, small amounts of farm income, etc., but with a thought that if someone depreciates at the wrong rate, or allocates too much of the power bill, or what have you, it’s probably going to be immaterial.  Better that they report the income and be legal, then tempt them into non-reporting because the prospect of even getting informed about the law is so daunting.

******

In other news: 

  • Gingerbread structures this afternoon.  We did this two years ago, did not last year (morning sickness), and are at it again.  I used the recipe in The Joy of Cooking and it turned out well.
  • Not looking good for the caroling party.  So far the only people who have RSVP’d "yes" are my in-laws, whose job is to stay at the house and take care of stragglers.  (Mother-in-law sings for a house or two, but isn’t up to a full hour of door-to-door. )  If we don’t get the critical mass — about six strong voices are needed, or 10-12 so-so ones — we’ll just carol to ourselves, I think. 
  • The SuperHusband built us a new computer!  ("Once you know, you Newegg")  My idea of "setting up the computer" is to go hunt for interesting wallpaper images.  In the process I stumbled across "Bishop Nicolas Loses His Cool".  Tells you what kind of catholic I am — I like that story.  I also figured out I’d make a lousy Orthodox person, since I seem to have a strong preference for cute icons, like this one.  Somehow I don’t think icon-as-interior-decoration is what it’s supposed to be all about.  Oops.

Not sure what blogging will be like over the holidays.  We’ll be here, the uncertainty is in how much computer time I’ll be getting.  Just in case, Merry Christmas & Happy New Year.

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