The Old Guitarist Takes a Walk

Old_guitarist_chicago Picasso

(The Old Guitarist by Pablo Picasso)

Pablo Picasso  has become one of my favorite artists.  He was especially good at depicting street people and the poor in a way which brings to life their sufferings as they matriculate through this world.  Today, I thought of his  “Old Guitarist” from the blue period.  The period name comes, obviously, from the coloration of the pictures.  Blue is so appropriate in this case as this old man who had been such a wonderful artist in his day has suffered that malady from which we all do, or will suffer, someday – old age.  His fingers are not as agile or quick, his tempos may be slowed or erratic but the rich sonorous sound he creates is textured by generations of experience.

Old age what is it good for?  Today’s prophets of health and fitness would say Old Age – Ha!  Your just as young, or old, as you feel so get out there and stretch, do yoga, walk, stretch some more and, oh yes, don’t forget the vitamins, the Co Q 10, the omega 3 etc. etc. Saint Paul, on the other hand, would admonish us not to be worried about the gradual deterioration of our bodies .  He contends that as the body withers the spirit grows and the old body which held us in check and portended us toward sin will be shed and a new more radiant perfect body will grow in its place.

Today man met mortality as I attempted to walk about downtown Columbia in the Spring heat.  Given it was after a meal and I hadn’t been walking as much as I should have recently,  my legs felt like concrete posts. My feet were buckling under the strain.  But, despite those handicaps I was able to make three and a half blocks walking to the restaurant and six and a half more on a round about course back to the office.  The going was tough and the aftershock was debilitating but I survived and as they say if it doesn’t kill you it makes you stronger.  Really?

But, today I couldn’t get the picture of the “Old Guitarist” out of my mind.  Despite, weight training , walking and stretching and bolstering up with loads of health food vittles the legs just wouldn’t  move.  Agility we were not.  I certainly hope Saint Paul knew what he was talking about.  I suppose there is some proof in my own experience as my ability to rationalize and interpret the world has grown sharper while my motor skills have begun to fall by the wayside. I sense that there is much more “unseen” than there is “seen” and I find myself fascinated by the prospect of  being able to experience it directly someday.

The Old Guitarist, I am afraid, I have become.  The music may come out a bit slower but it is richer in texture and depth .  And, don’t tell anyone,  but many parts of the Bible are starting to make crystal clear sense.

So “Old Age”  come on in;  we’ve been waitin for ya,  and we promise to give you a run for your money until our new bodies are quite ready. Until then we will play our guitar with its richest sonorous sounds until we can’t play any more.  PN

 

 

 

He is Risen!

christ risen icon

 

Easter Greetings to All

“Χριστὸς ἀνέστη ἐκ νεκρῶν θανάτῳ θάνατον πατήσας,
καὶ τοῖς ἐν τοῖς μνήμασι ζωὴν χαρισάμενος

Christ is risen from the dead, death with death defeated He
and to those in graves life He gave…

A Very Happy Eastertide to One and All!   Paul Nicholson

Tetelestai!

Donne wrote that “This Church, by letting these days join, hath shown / Death and conception in mankind is one.”
“Death and conception in mankind is one.” From the moment we begin to exist, we are vulnerable to death. This is the sad truth of the human condition. No matter how wise we make ourselves; no matter how wealthy we become; no matter how advanced our technological achievements or vast our information networks; no matter how high we build our walls to keep the enemies out or how deep we dig our vaults to hide away our treasures, we cannot escape death.

That Blessed Dependancy

Annunciation-Crucifixion

(Saint John the Baptists, Annunciation, Crucifixion, Saint Catherine of Alexandria,               Francesc Comes, circa 1400)

A Sermon Preached on Good Friday, March 25, 2016

By the Rev’d Canon Dane E. Boston, Trinity Cathedral, Columbia, South Carolina

Texts: Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Hebrews 10:1-25; John 18:1-19:42

May I speak in the Name of Christ Crucified. Amen.

“It is finished.”

Those are the dying words of Jesus.

“It is finished.”

Those words are the key to understanding the meaning of this day.

“It is finished.”

Those words make absolutely no sense in the context of the story we have just heard.

Of course, if all Jesus meant was, “This is done with,” or “This is over,” then we might think that “It is finished” makes perfect sense. And after everything Jesus has been through, who could blame him if what he meant by “It is finished,” was…

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Holy Saturday – A Day of Mourning

Bennett, D.  Jesus in the Tomb

The day of the Crucifixion has passed. The master – the hope of the world , the light of the world is gone. He lays in the tomb. The disciples have dispersed and all are afraid, afraid to admit they knew him and  loved him as he loved them .   Is this truly the end?  Are the forces of evil and darkness triumphant over us?  Is everlasting damnation to be our fate?  Has God given up on us and decided to destroy us again as in the flood? Briefly and fleetingly this seems so yet to be dispelled by the morning light and the discovery that “He is Risen”.

O God, Creator of heaven and earth: Grant that, as the crucified body of your dear Son was laid in the tomb and rested on this holy Sabbath , so we may await with him the coming of the third day , and rise with him to newness of life; who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

In our daily lives and work we all experience birth, and crucifixion at the hands of our fellows, but then resurrection as new life beckons and we once again experience the reawakening of that spark within us which is God himself.  Let us mourn in the hope of the Resurrection.

Art: Bennett, Jesus in the Tomb licensed through Creative Commons

 

TENEBRAE at Trinity Cathedral TONIGHT

 

The Clergy and Choir of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral will present the office of Tenebrae this evening, 24 March 2016,  at the Cathedral beginning at twelve o’clock ante meridian (twelve o’clock midnight)  All are invited and welcome.

About the Service this excerpt is taken from the Book of Occasional Services of the Episcopal Church:

The name Tenebrae (the Latin word for “darkness” or “shadows”) has for centuries been applied to the ancient monastic night and early morning services (Matins and Lauds) of the last three days of Holy Week, which in medieval times came to be celebrated on the preceding evenings.

Apart from the chant of the Lamentations (in which each verse is introduced by a letter of the Hebrew alphabet), the most conspicuous feature of the service is the gradual extinguishing of candles and other lights in the church until only a single candle, considered a symbol of our Lord, remains. Toward the end of the service this candle is hidden, typifying the apparent victory of the forces of evil.  At the very end, a loud noise is made, symbolizing the earthquake at the time of the resurrection (Mathew 28:2) the hidden candle is restored to its place, and by its light all depart in silence.

……This service provides an extended mediation upon, and a prelude to, the events of our Lord’s life between the Last Supper and the Resurrection.

There is no more fitting way to experience the depth of the mystery of the Crucifixion and Resurrection that by saying or singing this office. Please consider attending and you will receive a truly spiritual experience.

Pictured above:

A candle “hearse” typically used during Tenebrae.

A photo of Seibels Chapel during Lent.

 

 

INADEQUATE DISCLOSURE KEEPS THE STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS OPEN

HAMILTON
Alexander Hamilton, First Secretary of the Treasury

(This Post is for my estate planning /tax law nerd buddies who worry over matters such as this:) 

Some time ago I made a presentation to the Columbia Estate Planning Council concerning adequate disclosure with regard to transactions which were not meant to be gifts.  The following recent Field Service advice underscores the need for care in making “adequate disclosure” under the provisions of IRC section 6501(c)(9).  In this case the failure to sufficiently describe the property and explain the methodology used in determining its value caused the disclosure to fail the adequate disclosure rule.

From Trusts and Estates Magazine  March 2016

• Field Attorney Advice concludes that inadequate disclosure of gift of partnership interests on gift tax return kept the statute of limitations from running—In FAA 20152201F, the IRS held that the taxpayer’s disclosure on a gift tax return was inadequate and, as a result, didn’t cause the statute of limitations to run. The taxpayer had made two gifts of partnership interests. On the Form 709, he noted the percentage interest given, the name of the partnerships and their employer identification numbers (EINs). He attached a short supplemental paragraph to the gift tax return titled “Valuation of Gifts.” The supplement stated that the partnerships held farm land that was appraised by a certified appraiser and that an overall discount was applied for minority interests and lack of marketability. The taxpayer’s attorney noted in correspondence with the IRS that the taxpayer had provided the appraisals of real estate, appraisals of discounts and partnership agreements to the IRS.

The IRS held that the disclosure wasn’t adequate. Treasury Regulations Section 301.6501(c) provides the rules on what constitutes adequate disclosure on a gift tax return that will start the statute of limitations running. These rules require, among other items, a description of the property transferred. The partnership names were abbreviated on the Form 709, and both EINs were missing one digit. The description didn’t include the type of interests transferred (general or limited partnership interests or limited liability company interests). While these more formalistic errors were certainly problematic, the IRS also explained that the Treasury regulations require “a detailed description of the method used to determine the fair market value of the property transferred.” The appraisal valued the farm land but not the partnership interests. The valuation description attached to the Form 709 didn’t describe the valuation method used to value the farm land, identify any restrictions that were considered in valuing the partnership interests or break down the type of discount and the basis for each.

This FAA shows the importance of obtaining a complete appraisal that meets the requirements of the adequate disclosure regulations. Providing basic facts, generic conclusions and the partnership agreements may not be enough: The IRS wants to see the methodology and reasoning behind the valuation.  (emphasis supplied)

The Stone Which has Been Rejected A meditation on The Parable of the Vineyard

Tenants Unruly

 

In the Gospel appointed for the Wednesday in Holy Week we hear the recounting by Jesus of the parable of the Vineyard from the Gospel of Saint Mark at Chapter 12, verses 1-11.  We have all heard the parable either as it was read during Mass or in Church School:

The owner of a vineyard let it out to tenants and went to another country. When it came time to collect the rent from the tenants the man sent a servant to collect.  The rent was payable must have been payable in  kind as the Gospel says he was sent to “get from them some of he fruit of the vineyard”.  And this first servant was beaten by the tenants and they sent him away.

The owner then sent another servant who was killed and another and another some of whom were killed an some beaten. The the owner had an idea.  he thought is I send my son the tenants will respect him and pay him the rent.  But alas no the tenants thought if they killed the son somehow they would reap the inheritance.  And, so they do.

Jesus then asks : “What will the owner do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others.”  He then concludes by saying “Have you not read this scripture: “The very stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner;  this was the Lord’s doing and it is marvelous in our eyes? “

Now, I am not a theologian or a trained priest or minister so I have to relate my thoughts on how this struck me as I read it at Morning Prayer this morning solely from an individual layman perspective.    Jesus seems to be saying that God has sent countless messengers to the world and that and each has been rejected.  He then decides, like the owner, that if he sends his son we will respect him and listen to him,  But as with the tenants the world rejects and kills him (quite literally) by ignoring him and  thinking it does not need  God but can obtain the “kingdom” without him.

This  morning as I prayed concerning a very difficult time in my life I saw this parable in a more personal light.  It ” came home to me”.  Throughout my life God has sent me countless messengers and I have ignored them thinking that through prayer and study I can “obtain the kingdom” on my own. I find myself, as did the tenants, seeing their lives destroyed and the vineyard passing to others.  But, in the midst of this realization and despondency there is a bright beacon.  Turning to Christ with our whole heart will transform a rejected life into a “cornerstone” Amen.

 

Reference:  Please see the Daily Devotional of the Living Church for March 23, 2016 at Doubt, The Daily Devotional of the Living Church Foundation.

Art:The Stoning of Stephen (while Paul watches) / painted in 1944, during World War II / by Jose Clement Orozco / the Vatican Museum licensed through Creative Commons.

 

THE FEAST OF THOMAS CRANMER, Archbishop of Canterbury and Martyr (1556)

001 Siebels Christmastide   Cranmer (Unkown Artist_

Thomas Cranmer was the principal figure of the English Reformation and was primarily responsible for the first Book of Common Prayer of 1549 and its first revision in 1552. (from Holy Women Holy Men, Church Publishing (New York, 2010).

A biography of Cranmer by Diarmaid MacCulloch, Professor of Ecclesiastical History, St. Cross College, Oxford, contains an academic prelude which describes Cranmer very well:

No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;

Am an attendant Lord, one that will do

To swell a progress, start a scene or two,

Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool:

Deferential, glad to be of use,

Politic, cautious, and meticulous;

Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;

At times, indeed, almost ridiculous –

Almost, at times, the Fool.                                                                                                                                                                       T.S. Eliot, The Love-Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

After a chance meeting with the King, Henry VIII in 1529 Cranmer was enlisted to assist in the “Kings Great Affair” that is the quest for an annulment of Henry’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon.  Cranmer represented the King’s position before the universities in England and Germany and to Rome.

On a trip to Germany Cranmer associated with the Lutheran reformers, especially Andreas Osiander, whose daughter he married.  In 1553 King Henry obtained papal confirmation of Cranmer’s appointment as Archbishop of Canterbury.  As such one one of his ear;oest acts was to declare the King’s marriage null and void and to validate the King’s marriage to Anne Boleyn.

When Henry broke with Rome and declared himself the supreme head of the church in England the worship, doctrine and practice of the Church continued according to the Roman rite.  Upon Henry’s death and the accession of his young son Edward VI Cranmer, who was one of his most trusted advisors, had a free hand in reforming the Church.

After Edward’s death Cranmer fell into disfavor with his successor Queen Mary and was arrested, deprived and degraded.  He was burned at the stake on March 21, 1556.

The life, ministry, and death of Archbishop Cranmer will be commemorated tomorrow at Morning Prayer in Seibels Chapel, Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, Columbia, South Carolina at 8:00 a.m. All are invited and welcome.

Further Reading:

Holy Women, Holy Men, Chruch Publishing, New York (2010);                                                      Thomas Cranmer, A Life, by Diarmaid MacCulloch, Yale University Press (1996).

 

 

 

 

TWO LOST BROTHERS AND THE ROMAN TAX LAW

 

Rembrandt The Return of the Prodigal SonParker Reoncilliation

A few weeks ago I was privileged to hear a sermon at a local church which dealt with a famous parable which is commonly called the Parable of the Prodigal Son.  It comes from the Gospel of Saint Like Chapter 15 verses 11 to 32.The preacher called the parable  “A Tale of Two Brothers”.  She emphasized the fact that both brothers were prodigals in a sense and that neither was really more prodigal than the other.  She then called for the congregation to welcome home and forgive any member of your family, or any friend,  who might have done the unthinkable or the unforgivable.  God, she says,  longs for nothing more than for us to love him and to love one another. So God says “please come home as it is not home without you”.

In the mid-point of the sermon there was a reference to a sculpture located at the Divinity School of Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.  The sculpture name, “Reconciliation”,  and the identity of it sculptor, were not initially identified but it was described as showing the prodigal hugging his father on bended knee while the father reached out to his other son. The older son was portrayed as standing aloof with his hands folded on his chest and with a disapproving look on his face.  This was the son who had stayed at home and been dutiful by performing his tasks with faithful service all the while failing to give his heart to his family or really love them in any real way.  The reappearance of his younger brother and his acceptance back into the family had taken him aback and aroused a series of complex emotions running from consternation to outright jealousy.  A photograph of the piece appears above on the right.

As a lover of religious art who is striving to become more knowledgeable on the subject I attempted to locate some information on the piece on the internet.  I was initially unsuccessful and I was not willing to bother the preacher of the sermon to ask for more details.  So in  searching I stumbled across a painting by Rembrandt Van Rijin,  which portrayed the same scene in a slightly different way as pictured above on the left.  The fascinating thing about the Rembrandt is that it contained two almost imperceptible figures standing just behind the father and the prodigal.  The Wikipedia article cited a noted art historian as surmising that the figure standing was a portrayal of the family’s mother and that the figure who was seated was either an estate advisor (like an estate planning lawyer) or a tax collector.

Now, having been  estate planner and estate lawyer for a number of years this little fact aroused my curiosity. Now why would a lawyer, or a tax collector, be present at a family reunion such as this?  It occurred to me that perhaps Rembrandt might have known a little something about how the folks in Palestine were taxed by the Romans during this period of history so I turned my research in a different direction and ultimately found what I was looking for.

The information I found suggests some answers to my question as well as shedding light on how the Romans collected their revenues and why the “tax collectors” were detested as reprobates and sinners by the scribes and Pharisees of Judaism.

According to Ando in his “The Administration of the Provinces” The (Roman) tax code was “bewildering” in its complicated system of direct and indirect taxes, some paid in cash and some in kind”.  Andro, page 187.  Ah, this sounds very familiar.   The primary source of tax revenue was from individuals, who paid a poll tax and a tax on their land.  And exemptions could be had by filling out supplemental forms.  For example Egyptian farmers could register fields as fallow and tax exempt depending upon the flood patterns of the Nile.  The tax obligations were determined by the census, which required each head of household to appear before a presiding official and provide a head count of his household, as well as an accounting of his property he owned that ws suitable for agriculture or habitation.

As for the collectors one source had this to say about them:

Tax farmers (Publicani) were used to collect these taxes from the provincials. Rome, in eliminating its own burden for this process, would put the collection of taxes up for auction every few years. The Publicani would bid for the right to collect in particular regions, and pay the state in advance of this collection. These payments were, in effect, loans to the state and Rome was required to pay interest back to the Publicani. As an offset, the Publicani had the individual responsibility of converting properties and goods collected into coinage, alleviating this hardship from the treasury. In the end, the collectors would keep anything in excess of what they bid plus the interest due from the treasury; with the risk being that they might not collect as much as they originally bid.

Tax farming proved to be an incredibly profitable enterprise and served to increase the treasury, as well as line the pockets of the Publicani. However, the process was ripe with corruption and scheming. For example, with the profits collected, tax farmers could collude with local magistrates or farmers to buy large quantities of grain at low rates and hold it in reserve until times of shortage. These Publicani were also money lenders, or the bankers of the ancient world, and would lend cash to hard-pressed provincials at the exorbitant rates of 4% per month or more.

This was “private government” contracting with a vengeance.  Think about it,  the “Publican” tax farmers had every incentive to value farm land and goods at their highest possible value, perhaps even to overvalue them.  And, they were the also the liquidators and the agents of foreclose, who seized properties and sold them at auction. Finally, they were also bankers who loaned money to distressed farmers at what were probably usurious interest rates. No wonder they were so despised and accounted as sinners against God.

Now, let us return to the prodigal brother.   In the beginning of the parable the prodigal asks the father to divide the estate and give him his inheritance in advance.  As an estate lawyer I see this as a gift.  It is unclear to me as to whether the Romans taxed gifts during life but it really doesn’t matter.  The division diminished the estate and thereby diminished the tax base the Publican would have used to compute the tax.  The parable says the properties constituting the younger son’s share were liquidated and that the son took the money derived from the liquidation and lost it.  It is easy to see that the return of the son without the return of the property could easily cause some concern to the Publican in charge of the family’s district and also cause some serious tax problems for the family, especially considering the confiscatory proclivities of the Publicans.

So we see here the central message that God wants us to forgive the transgressions of our family and friends and even those we do not know.  He also wants us to love with our whole heart and not just do lip service, or just put on a “good show” for the sake of appearances.  And, I feel sure the Romans had a similar policy to that of my agency being that “To err is human but to forgive is not company policy” Unlike God the Publicans and Imperial Rome demanded a full unforgiving compliance with the tax law or else.

As an aside Hopkins states in his work , Hopkins, “The Political Economy of the Roman Empire,” at page 184 that :

An inheritance tax of 5 percent was assessed when Roman citizens above a certain net worth left property to anyone but members of their immediate family. Revenues from the estate tax and from a 1 percent sales tax on auctions went toward the veterans’ pension fund (aerarium militare).

Low taxes helped the Roman aristocracy increase their wealth, which equaled or exceeded the revenues of the central government. An emperor sometimes replenished his treasury by confiscating the estates of the “super-rich”, but in the later period, the resistance of the wealthy to paying taxes was one of the factors contributing to the collapse of the Empire.

It just goes to show that history does repeat itself and that people and nations who fail to heed its lessons are doomed to repeat it.  We may be doing son in the present age.

Further Reading:

Keith Hopkins, “The Political Economy of the Roman Empire” Chapter 9 in The Dynamics of Ancient Empires: State Power from Assyria to Byzantium (Oxford University Press, 2009)

David Ando, The Administration of the Provinces, from a Companion to the Roman Empire, Blackwell Publishing edited by David S. Potter (Oxford 2006)

Art

“Reconciliation” by Margaret Adams Parker (2005) For more information: http://www.margaretadamsparker.com/sculpture/sculpture_reconciliation.aspx

The Return of the Prodigal Son, by Rembrandt van Rijn (1669). For more information https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Return_of_the_Prodigal_Son_(Rembrandt)

Art licensed by Creative Commons.

 

 

 

A LIVING SACRIFICE, HOLY AND ACCEPTABLE TO GOD

 

The Daily Devotion for Lent from Emily Hylden and the Living Church.   Making ourselves, our souls and bodies a reasonable and holy sacrifice is our calling. This devotion gives us a new perspective on today’s lesson from Chapter 12 of Saint Paul’s Letter to the Romans. PN

 

Daily Devotional is a ministry of the Living Church Foundation.
Image licensed via Creative Commons.
Fr. Lawrence Lew, OP/Flickr
A Living Sacrifice
Daily Devotional • March 13
By the Rev. Emily R. Hylden
When I am given the joy to celebrate the Eucharist, I often use the first words of this chapter of Paul’s letter to the Romans as the Offertory Sentence. While I’ve had this verse memorized (from the NIV, 1984) for almost 20 years, it’s taken on new meaning as I’ve undertaken to lead God’s people in celebrating Eucharist in the last four years.

The first two verses were paired together in my mind and heart as I grew up, and they encouraged me as a teenager to not be concerned with the way others’ lives looked in comparison to mine; it was to be expected that my habits and my lifestyle would look different from many of my peers, as I was primarily concerned with being “transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

While this is of course an important truth to continue meditating upon, what strikes me about this pair of verses now, especially when used at the Offertory, is the fleshy and sacrificial nature of our calling as Christians. Further, reading out of an RSV or KJV relative, brings a new understanding by considering the sacrifice singular while the bodies remain plural. The communal aspect of this charge is unmistakable.

As we approach the table with trembling and with joy, it is fitting to be reminded both of the intensely intimate, fleshy nature of our calling, and how critical our community’s unity is to our salvation. To think of laying our own bodies on the altar, to be so willing to cooperate in the life of the kingdom as to allow our personal beings to be sacrificed, is uncomfortable but unavoidable.

How might we be putting ourselves and our own bodies above the needs of Christ’s body, the Church?

Romans 12:1-21

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.

3For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. 4For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, 5so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. 6We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith;7ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; 8the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.

9Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. 11Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.

14Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. 17Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” 21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.