A snotty letter arrived from the Revenue Commissioners in yesterday:
Dear Mr Poulton
I am returning your tax return for the year specified above received on 15th August 2008, as it has not been adequately completed. The items requiring attention are indicated below.
Please complete line 102 (description of Trade) on page 5 and also line 104( a) OR 104(b) also on page 5
Extracts From Accounts not completed. Please complete pages 6 and 7 where “x” is marked.
(When providing information in “Extracts From Accounts” pages you must complete each section that is relevant and for which there is a corresponding entry in the accounts.)”
Pages 6 and 7 were marked with a succession of large crosses written with a blue biro. The missing pages they required were the profit and loss statement appropriate to businesses.
The accountant who helped me complete the return says that the letter is a reflection of inexperience; the government had decentralised departments and filled them with whatever civil servants wanted to be posted to remote Irish towns. It seemed more like a calculated insult; the official would have known that the return had come from a Church of Ireland cleric; we are such an odd species that we even have our own Social Insurance code letter. Mistake or insult, it would not have happened to someone significant.
Someone significant would have received a response from the same Revenue Commissioners to a letter sent to them last February. Someone significant would not have the daily irritation of calls to various offices that go unanswered; letters that are never acknowledged; emails that seem to disappear into the ether.
In times past, the clerical collar held some sway.
I remember going to visit an old man who lived alone and had no family. Scarcely able to breathe, he lay in bed. A neighbour and I summoned the man’s GP and nagged until the GP called an ambulance. “I want to make it clear”, said the GP, “that he is only being admitted to hospital for social reasons”. The man died from pneumonia the next day, I considered asking the GP whether this was what he described as “social reasons”.
Being a cleric makes no difference anymore, perhaps a good thing after the oppressive theocratic society created by Archbishop John Charles McQuaid. The only measures of significance now are money and influence and without either you have small chance of being heard. Perhaps much of the success of Joe Duffy’s ‘Liveline’ programme is the huge sense amongst people that they count for nothing.
Like house flies or traffic jams, most hassles of clerical life are no more than minor irritations. I wonder about all the people in our society who find it hard to raise a voice in response to those who would tread on them. There was a song I heard at a Gospel service earlier in the year about the role of the church in a society where little people don’t count:
I will speak out for those who have no voices
I will stand up for the rights of all the oppressed
I will speak truth and justice
I’ll defend the poor and the needy
I will lift up the weak in Jesus’ name
I will speak out for those who have no choices
I will cry out for those who live without love
I will show God’s compassion
To the crushed and broken in spirit
I will lift up the weak in Jesus’ name.
There is still a long way to go before the church reaches the experience described by Saint Paul in writing to the church at Corinth,
To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. Up to this moment we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world.
Snotty letters are pretty small stuff in comparison with what he describes. Perhaps experiencing life as he did, we might genuinely understand those who have no voices.