First of all, I apologize for this strip being five days late. Did you know that corporate taxes are due on March 15th, not April 15th? I didnít! At least I didnít know until March 4th. By then, of course, I didnít have a lot of time left. I spent last weekend working on taxes for Sheepcomics.com Inc. and for myself. This ordeal lasted until almost midnight Monday night. By then, of course, my self-imposed publishing deadline had passed.
On top of that, the first anniversary of the launch of the Sheep Comics is March 22nd. This meant that I needed to renew the contracts for each of the main five characters. Four of them eagerly signed up for the next year, but negotiations with Baabaa were difficult.
She pointed out that she had yet to be the star of a Sheep Comics episode. (Of course, Eunice could say the same thing, but sheís way too nice to complain.) Baabaa reminded me of how difficult she was to design, and how my limited artistic ability made my chances of replacing her very slim should she choose to "explore other opportunities for career advancement."
What was I to do? She was right, after all. I offered her the leading role in the next episode; the one youíll see below. Not only that, I promised there would be at least one close-up so she could demonstrate her dramatic acting ability. This was an offer she couldnít refuse, so Iím happy to report that Baabaa will be part of the Sheep Comics for at least one more year.
OK, I made that stuff about Baabaa up, but I did not make up the part about income taxes. And, I could have chosen to crank out a quick cartoon to meet my deadline, but I opted to do the one on my heart instead, and to take all the time I needed to do my best work. As president of Sheepcomics.com Inc., I can choose to miss a deadline for the sake of quality, an option not always available in the corporate world. Also, I can act on my heart and not simply do something because an established tradition tells me I need to perform at a certain time. This option is rarely available in the "church world".
Besides, my tax ordeal gave me insight into my own comic strip. You see, my experience with the IRS can be likened to my experience with Christianity.
A week or so ago, I was faced with the inevitability of accounting to the United States Internal Revenue Service for the past year. The problem was that I didnít know the rules for corporate taxes well enough to confidently fill out a corporate tax form all by myself. The consequences for doing it wrong are unpleasant. I had the rules in front of me, but they were complicated and confusing. I could have taken the time to learn them, but I didnít want to. I decided to hire a professional, someone who knows the system, to fill out the forms for me. I was happy to pay his fee to get this over with, until next year anyway.
In short, I was confronted with an entity (the IRS) way bigger than I am. The entity would punish me for avoiding it, but it made its rules so scary and complicated that I couldnít deal with it myself. So I paid a professional, a mediator of sorts, to work it out for me.
Our culture has turned Christianity into much the same thing; a system we pay professionals to run for us so we donít have to learn it or do it.
Christianity says that we all must deal with God someday, and that God will someday punish us if we spend our lives avoiding Him. We must be reconciled with God in this life, or be punished for not doing so. Reconciled or not, we someday must give an account to God for the way we spent our lives on Earth.
What shall we do? Find out the rules, of course! Where are the rules? Theyíre in the Bible. The problem is that the Bible is a huge book, and many parts of it are confusing (especially if youíve never read it before). Another problem is that the New Testament, the "Christian part" of the Bible, isnít written as a legal contract with a list of rules (unlike the IRS publications, which are literally lists of rules). Itís written like four historical documentaries (counting Luke and Acts as one book), a series of letters to people weíve never met, and one miraculous revelation.
For centuries, people have been trying to find "the rules" in the New Testament, and they have come up with different sets of rules for finding those rules. So we have two layers of rules: the rules in the New Testament, and the various sets of rules people have devised for finding the rules.
This is confusing, but now for the scary part. The Word of God has another characteristic that can make us want to avoid it directly. As the writer of Hebrews says in chapter 4 verse 12: "For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart." (NIV)
That doesnít sound remotely fun. Now Iím confused and scared, but I canít run away. I have to deal with this, but I really donít want to take the time involved to work this out for myself.
What shall I do? Iíll find a system that can work it out for me; a system run by professionals that have got it all figured out. These professionals can reduce that confusing New Testament down to a few slogans and prooftexts. That saves me a lot of time. The professionals can make rules for me, so I donít have to find the rules myself. Not only that, they can maintain a comfortable set of rituals and routines that I can attend without getting my "joints and marrow" sliced and diced. God expects a lot more, but a well run system will keep us from discovering this sobering reality.
Of course, this institutional insulation from Biblical reality isnít free. I have to pay for it, and the rules say I pay once a week. Oh well, at least I donít have to fill out a "church tax return" at the end of the year.