Two things in life are certain — death and taxes, but taxes repeat and get worse every year Congress meets. They have almost simplified the tax form beyond human understanding. In April, millions of Americans have a long form and short memory.
I prepare my own taxes. It is like a do-it-yourself mugging. My son-in-law is a CPA and he says I should let an accountant do my taxes for me to save time. I asked how much time and he said twenty years. I figure if I use the short form the government gets the money and if I use the long form an accountant gets the money. Why can't I have some money? It is so complicated.
I've heard they are going to simplify the instructions again because on 44 percent of the questions people answer, "Duh." It reads like a math word problem. Remember those?
If you are in a boat leaving from New York City for Charleston, South Carolina on Thursday with a head wind of ten knots, traveling thirty miles per hour with thirty people on the board, and the boat weighs 50,000 lb., what is the Captain's name? "Duh, I don't know."
Just like I don't know what is supposed to be on Line 7. It says, "Take the lesser of line 2 divided by line 5, multiply by line 3, divided by the number of dependants and put that number in line 6 and if it is larger than line 7 you can skip line 7 altogether and go on to line 10." By the time I've added a few numbers I feel like I've just rolled three doubles in Monopoly and I don't have a "get out of jail" card. If they really want to simplify the form they need one that I can color.
I've learned a few things you cannot do. You cannot write off last year's taxes as a bad investment. You cannot claim depreciation on your wife (by the way if you are single, you also cannot marry your car). You cannot deduct health club dues as a total loss. You cannot claim a contribution to the family of the Unknown Soldier. You cannot send the IRS twenty-five cents and say you are going to pay your taxes by the quarter. You cannot get Social Security numbers for your pets and claim them as dependants. When you file electronically, you cannot pay the payment by repeatedly running a $10 bill through your fax machine. They also won't buy the idea that if you spend it before you earn it, it's not income. I have learned a lot of things you can't do by trying to reconcile my net income with my gross habits and raise three daughters who claim they don't overspend but I under-deposit.
I have learned that the IRS has no sense of humor. I thought up some really funny answers for some of their questions and they didn't even laugh. Wouldn't you think adding the Tooth Fairy to the bottom of you dental expenses would at least bring a smile? No, it just brings another form asking for the receipts for the Tooth Fairy. Now how am I supposed to keep up with receipts when I can't even keep up with my socks? You would think they know the Tooth Fairy doesn't give receipts. I guess I've learned over the years that the IRS believes it is better to give than to deceive.
Now if you think the forms are tough, wait until you get audited. Being audited is like the javelin thrower who won the toss and elected to receive. It is right up there with root canals and leprosy. You actually get to meet a tax collector. Even in biblical times, tax collectors were not the people's favorites. They didn't generally win ABC's "Person of the Week." One guy was asked to contribute $50 to the burial of a stranger. When he found out the stranger was a tax collector, he gave $100 and told them to bury two.
I've been audited a couple of times and have actually met many nice likable people who work for the IRS. But, on one occasion, I was audited by the taxman from the Inferno Revenue Service. This guy was a poster boy for the National Jerk Association. He possessed all the characteristics of a Doberman with a tie.
To everything I said he responded, "You can't do that." He basically accused me of being a liar. He said my kids weren't staying with a sitter but that they were staying with a relative and I was paying a relative to keep my kids. I was angry. King James would say "wroth." I was talking to God (audits do improve your prayer life) saying, "God, you have to help me. This guy is getting on my nerves and I'd just like to punch his lights out. You know it'd look bad, God, if the headlines read, 'Christian Psychologist Kills IRS Man.'"
I'm praying and asking for help. All of a sudden God helped me. This man was sitting behind a long, glass-covered desk. I was sitting beside him and in the far right hand corner of his desk was a little picture of Jesus. I saw it and said, "Thank you, Lord, I've got him."
He was on some tirade and telling me what for when I said, "Excuse me, Sir, I have a question: Who's that?" And with his head dropped the man said, "That's uh, that's uh." He couldn't say the name, then dropped his head further and was silent. I said, "That's Jesus, isn't it?" You know what he said to me? This guy who wouldn't give me the time of day, no respect whatsoever said, "Yes, Sir. That's Jesus."
From that time on he was a changed man, he treated me with dignity and respect. He knew Jesus but he wasn't acting like it, and when it was pointed out to him, it broke him. This reminds me of another tax collector who was a little guy but ended up with a big heart because he, too, was changed by the power of the name of Jesus.
So as I work on my taxes this year and get a little disgusted with the power of Caesar — big brother IRS — I'll stop and smile at how reversed and backward this world is, even in my own life. When I look at my contributions, I get excited about how much I have given because I can deduct it. Yet, I remember that when I gave, my spirit wasn't quite so excited. Now my giving is a plus to me because it is a deduction. No matter how bad my kids acted this year, they are still a deduction. Which makes me think of that last audit when the One with the power will distribute our rewards and the meek shall inherit the earth — tax-free.
Charles Lowery is pastor of Hoffmantown Church, Albuquerque, N.M., www.charleslowery.com