Archive for January, 2010

Life, tax avoidance, and healing prayer: 27 January

January 27, 2010

A British Crash is no longer for sale on Amazon – too expensive. There’ll soon be a new page of reviews on www.abritishcrash.co.uk  This book isn’t likely to make my fortune!

Last week I went to a financial services seminar in Leeds, because I had been invited by someone at church the previous Sunday. A presentation about getting as rich as you can as quickly as you can, through avoiding tax and using the money to buy flats. Not my usual milieu! The presenter explained how they take the tax dodges used for the very rich (like off shore trusts) and make them available through accountants to smallish business owners. If there are loopholes why should only a few benefit? It’s hard to argue against that. Christians are to render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s but what if Caesar’s rules make it possible for us not to pay? What if Caesar doesn’t seem to want us to pay?

The method the financial wizards explained in detail was using ‘Employee Benefit Trusts’ which began in the early 1900s, well before the Welfare State, as a way of helping workers in need. They encourage business owners and managers to use these trusts for themselves. I want to look into EBTs more with a view to using them for all the workers instead.

Is it a matter of intent? If our intention is to pay as little tax as possible, are we going too far from what Jesus said, even if we stay within the present law? The seminar presenters seemed to be wholly anti-tax, even anti democratic government. The speaker said twice that he doesn’t vote because ‘it only encourages them.’ Yes indeed democracy is worth encouraging. They fully expect that the loopholes they use will soon be closed. Whereupon they will find new ones. This seems to me at least against the spirit of what Jesus said.

But what if our primary intention is to provide for our family, and even chosen charities, and paying less tax helps us to do that? I expect most people would say that paying less tax was only a means to the laudable aim of providing for others. How can we discern what our real motives are? Providing for our own family, however, at the expense of the NHS is not loving our neighbour as we love ourselves.

My father gave much time and energy to setting up off shore trusts for the family. He lived in Austria largely to minimise his tax bill. (Having been brought up in Germany it was also where he spent happy childhood holidays, the equivalent of British people retiring to Brighton.) My father also had the experience of seeing his father’s taxes going to pay for gas chambers being built to consume his relatives. I felt I couldn’t criticise much his aversion to tax.

Our family, especially in the last year or two have also been well provided-for by the NHS. If only we could vote for where our taxes were going! Those who support Help For Heroes could vote for military spending and people like me who see our involvement in Afghanistan as an ever-growing disaster could vote for bigger cleaning budgets in hospitals. If only…

A friend told me that his local hospital was closing wards because of a ‘super bug.’ Some wards had security guards on the doors.

His 4 year old daughter had been admitted with an unidentified infection. Her temperature would go up to 40 at night, causing her to fit, and then would be normal in the day when she was taken to the doctor. My friend had tried praying as I had suggested a while ago, asking the Holy Spirit to come in some kind of picture and telling the germs to leave. He asked the Holy Spirit to wash down through her like a shower of water and told the germs to leave through her feet.

A little later my friend’s wife was cuddling the girl and noticed that her feet were burning hot while the rest of her was normal. She hadn’t known what had been prayed. They both thought there was a connection. But the germs didn’t leave and the girl had to go to hospital.

I then suggested that my friend pray again, this time telling the germs to leave through the normal, natural processes and openings. The day after he prayed this, his daughter kept, unusually, asking to go to wee, and the doctors worked out that the main site of infection was her kidneys. With prayer and pills she is now fine. Alleluia!

Roger Harper

Advertisements

Snow, Christmas, Church and Fair Trade: 12 January

January 12, 2010

Snow time! Living on a main road means that we have few of the disadvantages of snow. Our road is as serviceable as ever, but quieter. Living in the country gives us many advantages. A hill to sledge down just behind the house. Pristine white hills to walk across in the bright sunshine, or to admire from before a bright coal fire. And we have the gift of time to enjoy this wonderful thick blanket protecting the ground from biting frost. (Sorry if your experience is more negative!)

Why was Christmas Day warmer? This cold spell began around December 17th and continues today – expect for around the 25th. For those few days there was a mini thaw. My daughter and I went for a two hour walk on Boxing Day in sunshine and chilly, but not biting air. This little spring in the middle of winter is not uncommon. Last year was the same, Christmas Day the warmest day in a few weeks. Previous years have seen a similar pattern. Is this a freak? Is it some interesting effect of the days becoming longer, somehow drawing in Southerly winds for a day or two? Or is it because so many people remember and honour Jesus that creation responds with gentleness?

This last explanation will exasperate most 21st Century Brits. ‘What medieval tosh! Loony religious fringer! How could there possibly be a scientific connection between Christian worship and the weather?’ The proper scientific approach would be to look carefully at the data, make and test hypotheses until one is verified, without ruling out any before testing. I think the data is there: Christmas Day has been warmer than surrounding days often enough to be statistically significant. (Good news for bookies.) If this observation is verified, an expert could look for the causes. Comparisons with other countries, Christian or otherwise, could easily disprove the ‘Christian worship’ theory. Something new could be learnt. Any meteorologists want to have a go?

‘Why is this night different from all other nights?’ was the theme of the sermon my daughters and I heard at a Christmas Midnight Communion. The speaker didn’t mention the weather, nor, surprisingly, the Passover from which this question originally came. ‘This night is different, but not different. Everything is the same, yet everything has changed.’ That was her message, nowhere near the tremendous mystery of the Incarnation. Much about the night; little about Jesus. My older daughter, who teaches RE and connects with her Jewish heritage, was annoyed at a sermon which said nothing. It was all elegantly stated, but, indeed, vacuous. Poor Church of England.

Last Sunday I walked to Ashbourne for church. Every congregation begins at 10.30. Young families were walking up to the Methodist Church and the new Baptist Church meeting in a Ballroom. No one accompanied me as I walked up to the Anglican Church. Inside the central pews were half full, more than I had expected. The priest commented on how many people had stayed away because of the snow. The choir was numerous, but, even when processing through, did not lift the singing as the five older ladies at the Good Shepherd West Bromwich do regularly. This was partly because the Ashbourne choir sit far in front. The medieval building enshrines the medieval monastic sense that the really important worship is beyond the screen, with the normal folk more spectators. From my Roman Catholic childhood I don’t mind this much, but it would be comparatively easy to ‘pipe’ the choir voices to lift the congregation.

The church was so cold, I was glad to walk out at the end. Most of the service was worthy but uninspiring. (I wonder how many services like that I have led!) But, it confirmed that the direst service can be a vehicle for blessing, if we look. A phrase from the gospel reading connected happily with my plans for writing a book proposal this week, setting off productive musing. And I met again Carry Somers, sitting two pews behind me, the owner of the Pachacuti fashion shop.

Carry and I first met through the Greenbelt festival when she heard about my thinking on Christian Equitable Companies. I hadn’t seen her for about three years. Her business is now the world’s first company to be Fully Certified Fair Trade in all its operations! Brilliant. See http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2009/dec/14/pachacuti-fair-trade-fashion  Their clothes and hats look and feel good as well as, by golly, doing other folk good. See www.panamas.co.uk

Roger Harper