Friday, March 7, 2014

The Difference Between Mother and Monster: Am I Willing?

It's morning. Hectic. Crazy. Already they are amped up and it's not even 7 a.m.. Chasing. Screaming. Battling over bathrooms. Slamming doors.

And I want to explode. I want to echo back with equal amplitude the noise and energy they exude so they Will. Just. Stop.

And the difference between unleashing the fury and patiently working step by step to infuse order and calm is me.

Am I willing?

Am I willing to do the hard work of parenting with intention, of setting limits and enforcing consequences?

Am I willing to pause a beat? To let that bubbled up, boiled over anger dissipate until I can respond out of the genuine love I feel for these amazing little people.

Some days I am, and some days not so much. Some days I can't get over myself and the overwhelming sense of frustration that crushes me. 

Other days I am willing. Willing to open my palms to the sky and receive the grace first given me and extend that love and grace to these amazing little people God has given me the blessing to parent.




Five Minute Friday

Friday, February 28, 2014

Choose or Chosen?

Five Minute FridayI've finally decided to take the leap and join in Lisa-Jo Baker's Five Minute Friday writing challenge and link-up. This is a big leap for me because to do it I have to be willing and available to write on a specific day, and that can be hard. But I'm going to do it today and come back as many Fridays as I can to continue the practice. Today's prompt: Choose.




I think sometimes in the Christian community we get really wound up thinking about "choosing", whether it be the right words and actions, our friends, our children's schooling, a church, clothing, or, in some instances, a relationship with God.

The thing is, this is yet another symptom of our inability to surrender control. Our salvation is not dependent on OUR choices, but on the God who first CHOSE us (a different conjugation of the verb, I admit).

So, whatever we choose, we are first and foremost chosen children of the most high, receiving grace upon grace despite our response. And once that ultimate choice is recognized, we have the beautiful privilege of responding as we extend that grace with the world around us.

And even this sharing is not entirely a choice. Instead it is the work of the Spirit, and much like Paul and the early apostles were so overwhelmed by the power of the Holy Spirit that they could not help but spread the Gospel, so we, too, experience a joy and desire to share this amazing gift of grace that cannot be contained.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

A Hard Truth

Jill, Susie and me at Christmas with our dolls.*

It doesn't seem that long ago since my cousins and I were playing in my grandparents' basement, back bedroom, yard and anywhere else we could wander. Jill, Susie and me. But when I do the math I realize Just. How. Long. It. Has. Been.

At any family gathering you could count on us finding each other and spending hours playing. In those days it seemed like we would always be together. We daydreamed of our future weddings, the children we would have, the houses we would live in and the clothes we would wear.

Today, my cousin Jill is lying in the critical care unit at our local hospital, where she has been for a week and a half. She is doing great, making progress, and they expect a full recovery, but it will be a long, hard process.

She went headfirst off a snowmobile last Saturday night and was life-flighted from Fort Dodge to Des Moines. She has bruising, facial fractures and swelling, but nothing else was broken. They kept her under sedation to keep her from the unimaginable pain for the first few days as her body healed from the trauma. As they wean her from the sedation, her family is beginning to see signs of her personality shine through, making faces when people talk and asserting her strong-willed personality in response to the nurse's directions.

Aunt Sandy, Jill (6) and me (4).*

Jill was the closest thing I had to a sister growing up. I was the oldest of three, with two little brothers, and time with other girls was a precious treasure to me. Jill was older by two years and I looked up to her. When I would visit my grandparents' house, an overnight stay at my Aunt Sandy's to play with Jill was one of my top priorities. Jill introduced me to Friday Night Videos, orange push-pops, and a host of names for colors I had no idea existed ... when dreaming of dress colors the most creative colors I could come up with were"blue" or "pink". Jill dreamed of "teal" and "fuchsia".

Her life, on the farm, was light years away from my city-girl world, and I loved exploring, riding the pony when they had one around, and spending days in the sun. At night we would camp out in the living room, watch TV until late and then talk until Jill wanted to sleep, at which point I would be unable to stop giggling until she was so mad that I gave in.

Jill, me, Susie*

There were years when our age difference was of little significance and others when it was a strain for Jill to entertain her much younger cousin who wanted to play makeup and Barbies. To me, always, she was special, and I looked forward to seeing her.

When I came home from college or teaching in California (my memory fails me) I remember an exchange we had. I -- trying to reconnect after 10-ish years of life in between, trying to pick up where we left off, eager to reminisce about our girlish ways -- jumped right in, unloading my life of late.

But I did not meet with the warm exchange I anticipated. In place of the giggling, warm cousin I knew was a wall so thick my best efforts could not penetrate.

The 10 years in-between had wounded my cousin in ways I had not anticipated. As Jill began to talk, her words stunned me. In her direct, no-nonsense manner, Jill was one of the first and most honest people to tell me how my choices and actions had affected her.

You see, in the years in between I had made a choice. At 12 years old I bent to the manipulation and pressure of my father and step-mother and abandoned my family ... my mother, brothers, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. I traded a life of unconditional love and acceptance for stuff and a false illusion of a better life -- fewer worries and responsibilities, all the little luxuries my mother could not provide, and most of all, the coveted love and acceptance of my father and temperamental step-mother.

Those years were hard. They stole a piece of all of us, and I still grieve for the little girl who learned, once and for all, that no manner of making the choices my father and stepmother wanted could earn their love. Not refusing to see my mother for visitation. Not allowing them to tape record and listen to my calls to make sure I said the things they prepped me to say. Not sitting through their endless "talks" where they explained my mother's every ill and flaw, striving to convince me she was unworthy of my time. Not bearing the onslaught of angry words when my choices were not acceptable or being the scapegoat for every ill. Not getting good grades, making good choices, going to church or keeping the house perfectly.

Nothing.

And don't misunderstand me, I fully comprehend the onus of responsibility on the adults involved. While that stepmother has not been a part of my life since college, the ghosts of those days still haunt my relationship with my father.

But that day I came to understand what happened on the other side. While I was fighting to stay whole, those who had loved me and never hurt me watched me separate myself and spew venomous lines, designed to injure.

Unlike the adults in my life, Jill didn't have the luxury of perspective to help her excuse or forgive.

Jill, too, had been just a child. And for reasons she could not understand, I chose the people who had hurt our family to "side" with. I left.

As her words pierced my heart, I scrambled to defend myself, to draw her into the reality I had experienced.

And it wasn't until much later that I realized how wrong that was.

She did not need to better understand MY perspective.

I had hurt her.

She needed me to admit that, to own it and to apologize.

And I didn't. I was still so close to all of it and wounded. I didn't have the perspective or the maturity.

In the years since I've seen Jill at family functions. We've exchanged pleasantries. Smiles. Greetings.

But I've been missing my cousin, my first best friend, ever since.

As life has carried on, I've convinced myself this is a reality of growing up. Growing apart.

Jill's accident last week made me reconsider that conclusion. I miss my cousin. My heart breaks watching her mom, dad, sister, nieces and nephew hold time while they wait for her to recover and hope the amazing woman they knew returns.

And I hope she does, too.

I still need her, and I've got a few things to talk about, the next time we get a chance.

So, here's to Jill and her return to the spirited, no nonsense woman we know and love.

*A special thanks to my mother for finding and scanning in the images for this post.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Cursing and the Cloth -- Potty Mouthed Pastors Response

Conversation on a friend’s blog exploded this week when he addressed the topic of clergy who use profane language, specifically at the Christianity21 conference (advertised as a gathering of 21 provocative thinkers addressing some of the most controversial topics in American Christianity, so we’re not talking about a synod assembly here.)

I found myself unable to stop formulating responses in my head. My response is below…

Erik –

I, too, applaud your bravery in inviting and continuing the conversation on this topic. To address the conversation thus far, it seems the fundamental beliefs of the participants are in opposition, which overshadows the tenor of the responses but is not the topic up for debate. In essence, they are debating the very topics that have caused a chasm between the faith communities in which the participants learn and worship.  Not likely something that will be resolved via blog comments.

After a good deal of thought, I am reminded that we are reading the story of God’s work in and through his people through different basic assumptions about God.

Do we see God as an authority who demands an ultimate sacrifice to set the scales of justice right and allow us the opportunity to repent of our sins and once again be right with him? A God repeatedly frustrated by the Israelites when they blatantly refused to bend to his will, forcing him to cast them away time and again so they would then find themselves in need and repent. A God who sent his son to be the sacrifice for this ungrateful people so that they would finally come to him?

Or do we see God as the ultimate source of all life, who created humans to long for relationship with him and with one another and who grieves at our sinful selves, not as a judge who will exact justice, but as a father who sees his children hurting and alone and wishes only that they would run to him to be reconciled and made whole. A God who demonstrated this love through the Old Testament by setting up the just system of sacrifice to atone for sin, which ultimately left humanity to succumb repeatedly to its sinful nature, unable to pull out of the cycle, forcing humanity to see again and again that we cannot be redeemed simply by the force of our own will and ability to be good. And this God then sent Christ, his son, as the ultimate expression of his great love for us and desire to reconcile all of creation to himself.  And what we could not do absent of the cross became possible when we observe the cross and respond to that amazing act of love and grace in our now but not yet imperfect ways. 

So these are two of the possible natures of God. A God that would demand perfection would certainly not be okay with cursing so there's no need for further debate there, but a God of reconciliation. Well, that is a good question.

As to my experience with cursing clergy, which is very little, I read Pastrix, and found Nadia Bolz-Weber’s prose to be accessible, honest and human in ways that drew me into her story and brought me face to face with realities of grace and the cross. The language in the book was honest and real and none of it stunned me. I also enjoy reading her sermons online, a nice way to add another perspective to the prior week's Gospel. There is a curse word here or there, but certainly nothing I find offensive.

Having grown up for a while in a home that spewed anger and hate and used cursing to wound (and the f-bomb in particular), I hate the word. It makes my skin crawl, and I avoid it at all costs. Hearing certain types of profanity evokes such a visceral response that I find it difficult to enjoy otherwise entertaining movies and music when laced with f-bombs that do not seem contextually relevant but are being used just for the sake of the word. When it comes to using profanity to reach people, I would certainly not be the intended audience.

But absent my emotional attachment, words are just that. Words. They only have meaning based on our shared understanding in combination with context. No word in and of itself is sinful. No word in and of itself can bring back old wounds, it is the context I bring to it. It is not the saying of the word "Lord" or "God" that is sinful but how it is used, “in vain.” It is a word we have constructed to communicate the attributes we assign to it. We give words power by the way we use or do not use them. The F-bomb only has the power we give it.

I wonder if the context of the Christianity21 conference was one in which it was understood that swearing would be acceptable and all present should be ready to be subject to it? Had I gone to it as an aspiring church ministries coordinator, would I have found myself uncomfortable and out of place? Were participants alienated by the tenor of the language?

That, for me, is where the meat of the issue lies. Honestly, I think a pastor can communicate in any way in which he or she is comfortable in their social settings and among trusted colleagues with whom they have developed a rapport and respect. When they are in the world, context matters and to me that is a matter of personal discernment for each individual.


Monday, October 21, 2013

Weighing In: Personal Responsibility


My sincere thanks for the many kind and thoughtful responses to the blog, Weighing In. My intent is never that we will all agree, but that by pursuing discourse in a respectful manner we might be open to information which we may not have previously considered.

I think before we can begin to address to concept of personal responsibility, we have to first understand what the Affordable Care Act entails. Many negative remarks about the plan begin with heated emotion and several exchanges later result in the same person admitting “I don’t really know that much about it.” So, if you would bear with me for a moment and explore the facts, as available through (I hope) bipartisan institutions, we can come to some common ground about what we are actually discussing.

According to a promotional piece by the AARP regarding the Affordable Care Act, services that all insurers are required to cover include:

  1. Ambulatory Patient Services: Care you receive without being admitted to a hospital — for example, at a physician’s office, clinic or same-day surgery center.
  2.  Prescription Drugs: Drugs prescribed by a doctor to treat an acute illness, such as an infection, or an ongoing condition, such as high blood pressure.
  3. Emergency Care: Care for a sudden and serious condition, such as the symptoms of a heart attack or stroke. Under the health care law, emergency room visits do not require preauthorization, and you cannot be charged extra for an out-of-network visit.
  4. Mental Health Services: Care to evaluate, diagnose and treat mental health and substance abuse issues. Many plans don't cover mental or behavioral health services, but that will change under the law. In some states, coverage may be limited to a set number of therapy visits per year.
  5. Hospitalization: Care you receive as a patient in a hospital, such as room and board, care from doctors and nurses, and tests and drugs administered during your inpatient stay.
  6. Rehabilitative and Habilitative Services: Services and devices to help people with injuries, disabilities or chronic conditions gain or recover mental and physical skills. Plans must cover needed therapy and medical equipment, such as canes, knee braces, walkers and wheelchairs.
  7. Preventive and Wellness Services: The health care law requires insurers to cover a range of preventive services recommended by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force at no extra cost. Preventive or wellness services include immunizations andscreenings for diabetes and certain cancers, such as prostate exams and Pap smears. However, you can still be billed for "diagnostic" tests that doctors order when you have symptoms of disease.
  8. Laboratory Services: Testing blood, tissues, etc. to help a doctor diagnose a medical condition and monitor the effectiveness of treatment.
  9. Pediatric Care: The other nine essential benefits above, but provided to children. Including dental and vision services for children under age 19. The mix of services and common conditions treated are different for different age groups.
  10. Maternity and Newborn Care: Care provided to women during pregnancy and during and after labor; care for newly born children. The law classifies prenatal care as a preventive service that must be provided at no extra cost. And it requires insurers to cover childbirth as well as the newborn infant's care.

Per the AARP “While the law requires coverage for each of these categories of benefits, it does not name the specific services that must be covered or the amount, duration and scope of the covered services.”

It’s in this next section of information where I think the meat of the value to the American people as a whole lies. It’s also the section that Dave Ramsey pointed to when he was talking about how including everybody would raise rates for those who do not fall into these categories. One important thing to note, as far as what many consider “people not willing to work for a living” (and we’ll get to that in a minute), including individuals from the following categories does not correspond directly to people in poverty or unemployed. Most of the people in these categories are among the self-employed, those employed by small business and all those who purchase care outside of employee sponsored benefits (through which pre-existing conditions are often accepted).

Pre-existing conditions are defined as “A pre-existing condition is a health problem that existed or was treated before you applied for coverage under a new individual of family health insurance plan” by ehealth. However, the people who fall in this category include “newborns with birth defects, kids with asthma, cancer survivors, diabetics, those with high blood pressure even headaches and pregnancy, patients who need regular stable health care the most have been denied the coverage they need. Those who currently have insurance are at risk of losing coverage due to a job change, an employer’s insurance provider change, or getting too expensive for insurance companies to cover.” (Doctors for America.org)

So, here is how the Affordable Healthcare Act addresses these situations:

  • Stops insurance companies from dropping coverage: Insurers can’t drop your coverage if you become sick.
  • Adds more preventive care: Health insurance plans must cover more preventive care services at no additional cost to you.
  • Extends coverage for young adults: Parents can keep their children on their family health plan until age 26.
  • Stops insurance companies from denying coverage because of preexisting conditions: No one can be denied health insurance because of a preexisting condition.
  • Bans lifetime limits: Health insurance plans can no longer put lifetime dollar limits on the benefits you receive.
  • Bans annual limits: Health insurance plans can no longer put annual dollar limits on the benefits you receive.

I am willing to pay more to have these assurances, and I’m willing to for those in my nation to be able to rely on them as well.

Another benefit of the Affordable Care Act is the 80/20 provision. Insurers are required to return 80% of premiums collected back to insurers either through paying for health care or, if costs are less than 80% of premiums, return that back to insurers. This prohibits insurers from continuing to raise rates to cover administrative costs or make additional profit. This is similar to the electricity and natural gas industry, where local providers are regulated to only make a percentage of profit over what it costs to produce or purchase said energy. In order to raise the percent profit utilities must present cases to their local utilities boards that costs have gone up, therefore justifying a rate increase (though what you pay for a kilowatt hour of energy day to day may vary because how much that energy costs on the open market varies, but regardless of that base cost, the utility’s profit to provide that energy to you stays the same.) In much the same way as we cannot truly "shop" for electricity and natural gas, health care is not a service for which we receive a menu and can choose which services we want based on price in most instances.

The other hallmark of the act is that The Health Insurance Marketplace makes it easier to shop for health plans in your state. All plans are listed in one place, so individuals can make comparisons of benefits and prices. All plans are required to describe what’s included in simple language, so there’s no guesswork about what’s covered.

Now that we've gotten through the nuts of bolts of what we’re talking about, we can get into the more controversial elements of those who may receive reduced rates in order to afford the premiums on these plans. But first, I’d like to take a moment to understand just who that group of people is comprised of.

One concept I hear repeatedly in arguments against many social aid programs is that of personal responsibility of those who may benefit. While, as in any group of people, there are those who will attempt to abuse a system, there are far more whose stories go untold. When any single entity tries to provide an example, it can seem like “onsie, twosies” as the attempt is made to provide a specific example we can relate to. Statistics dull the senses and individual examples can make it seem like those examples are the only ones present.

I recently watched a PBS documentary of two families followed over 20 years as they attempt to stay out of poverty. I would invite you to watch the one hour and 23 minute documentary that follows these two families in their efforts to achieve the American dream. I found it eye opening. Yes, these are but two examples, but their stories ring true of individuals who work hard and take care of their families to the best of their ability. Are these two families perfect? No, but none of us is perfect. However, I think the documentary highlights many of the challenges and opportunities for the working poor and debunks the myth that all who receive aid do so willingly or are a pariah on the system.

According to the US Census Bureau 15% of the population lives at or below the poverty level. How poverty is determined depends upon the number of persons in the family unit. As defined by the Office of Management and Budget and updated for inflation using the consumer price index, the weighted average poverty threshold for a family of four in 2012 was $23,492.

I’m not sure if you’ve tried to live on $23,492 as a family of four any time in the last decade, but it is very, very difficult for a single person (as I can attest), and for the working poor that income is often cobbled together from several part time jobs, meaning additional child care needs, and no health care or other benefits.

So, to try to dissect exactly who makes up this 15% of the population, some facts:

  • The adult population ages 16-64 is estimated to be 205.5 million people by the U.S. Census Bureau. 
  • So, of the 205.5 million persons of working age, 28.1 million live below the poverty level (less than $23,492 for a family of four and much less if you are single).  
  • As of August, the unemployment rate was at 7.3% of adults 16 years and older approximately 11.3 million people unemployed. 
  • When you subtract out the 11.3 million that are unemployed that leaves 16.9 million people that work for a living but do not make enough to be at or above the poverty level which isn't even entirely accurate because ...
  •  Of the 11.3 million unemployed ages 16-64 likely includes some high school students who don’t work, nonworking college students, persons on disability, early retirees and stay at home moms/dads. A percentage of that is non-working poor.

Case in point, there are far more working poor than nonworking poor.

So, when it comes to personal responsibility, I wonder what our expectations are.

A further interesting read would be the follow up piece “The State of America’s Middle Class in Eight Charts.”  As we contemplate one’s ability to sustain income-generating work, we have to consider what work is available. More and more jobs attainable by Americans without college educations are limited to part time work, which does not include health care insurance. As a result, working for a living becomes increasingly difficult.

While it would be nice to argue that individuals wishing to make more income should obtain a college or community college education, if you were struggling to put food on the table, doling out additional funds to obtain an education, or finding the time when you work 60+ hours a week at three different jobs, just aren't an option. Not to mention that not everyone has the gift required to obtain a college degree. Many are gifted in areas that are not as lucrative when they translate to the workforce.

So there are the numbers. As far as those who will receive aid to purchase insurance on the exchange, “The health care law gives people with low incomes new options for getting health coverage. It does this in two ways. It gives states the option to expand Medicaid to more people. It also makes financial help available to people with limited incomes who buy health insurance through the Health Insurance Marketplace.”

If you are interested in these specifics, this is how the ACA expands Medicare, the joint state and federal government program that pays the health care costs for many people with limited incomes:
  • Before the health care law, millions of uninsured 50- to 64-year-old Americans, as well as many younger people, were not eligible for Medicaid, no matter how low their incomes.
  • Your state has the option in 2014 to make Medicaid available to more people. Your state can also decide not to make this change.
  • If your state does make this change, Medicaid will pay most of your health care costs if you: Are younger than 65 and meet income eligibility.
For those that do not have Medicare, available options include:
  • To qualify individuals must be single and earn less than about $15,500, or are part of a couple that earns less than about $21,000. These figures, based on the 2012 federal poverty level, are subject to change.
  • Helps pay for insurance
  • If an individual can’t get Medicaid, they may be able to get financial help to pay for the health insurance through the Health Insurance Marketplace. The amount of help depends on your income.
  • If individuals need insurance because their employer doesn't make it available, they are self-employed or not working, or they have been denied coverage, they can shop in the marketplace in their state.
In the end, whether those in need of insurance "deserve" it or not doesn't really matter to me, but I know some really struggle with the idea of doing for someone what they (think) those individuals can do for themselves.

I tend to relate to the words of Gandhi: "A nation's greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members." ~ Mahatma Gandhi.

Sometimes weakness translates to behaviors we choose to shame by assuming people's motives or judging their inability to provide for themselves by assuming that it is only for lack of desire that they do not, but weakness is weakness.

Providing access to health care isn't going to buy fancy televisions or designer jeans. It will simply provide access to insurance that can help provide health care to persons who otherwise are not eligible, be that they work part time jobs instead of a full time job, were born with a pre-existing condition and simply have not been able to afford the exorbitant rates charged to those who do not benefit from employee sponsored insurance. And as I said before, we are already paying for that care at a much more expensive rate through ER visits and conditions that could have been caught and addressed much earlier.

But I would refer back to my initial post and reiterate that regardless of all these arguments, there are certain services that further enhance our great nation. Access to education and to health care. Neither of these should be considered a luxury.

The Parable of the Good Samaritan

25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’[a]; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b]”

28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii[c] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

Note: We are never told 'who' the man who was attacked was. He is unnamed, his country of origin unknown. He could have been a villain. He could have been a tax collector. Didn't matter. He was in need.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Weighing In

I've been going back and forth about whether to address this hot button issue or, as I so often choose, let the “crisis of the hour” pass and resume life as I know it. Unfortunately, I just can’t remain silent any longer.  I am hurting. And when I’m hurting I write. And I share what I write when it pertains to growing into a greater understanding of living in community, specifically as God’s people.

So, a number of my friends have shared the video of Dave Ramsey, Financial Peace author, discussing his take on why the Affordable Health Care Act will bankrupt our economy.

And while I appreciate the points he makes, the tone and delivery give me reason for concern, especially from an individual looked to and trusted by so many Christians.

The language and tone were condescending and dismissive, suggesting that those who support the Affordable Health Care Act are incapable of simple math. I have a sensitive trigger for “us and them” language, where we lump all people into categories, as Mr. Ramsey did by repeatedly raising the alarm that “healthy people” will be forced to pay for “the sick people.”  Ouch.

I realize that Mr. Ramsey and I differ fundamentally about how taking care of “the least of these” should take place in the world, as we live out our call to love one another as followers of Christ, however, one thing we should always agree on is that we are called to care for one another, especially those most marginalized, not further marginalize with divisive language. Any time we lump all people of any category together, we are not loving one another. 

I will be the first to admit I am no policy expert or economist, and I am certain there are provisions in this bill that would make me cringe (as I’m certain there are in every bill in our very imperfect system). But as one of those stupid, couldn't-pass-junior-high-math liberals who’s out to take all the money away from the hard working rich people and give it to the lazy no-good poor people, here are some of the things I consider…

Mr. Ramsey (and most detractors of the health care act) spent a good deal of time brandishing the words “communist” and “socialist,” known triggers for any cold-war era American.

What I have a hard time with is that we already apply a socialist mindset to one of our most established institutions … the American education system. Why in the world would a nation that believes so wholeheartedly in capitalism require that each child be educated equally regardless of socioeconomic status, family situation or, often, desire to obtain said education?

It is because universal education is seen as a “Cornerstone of our democracy.” We believe that as a nation, we benefit from an educated public. We believe there is less crime and more opportunity when children are provided an education.

After my brief years teaching English in a very poor and transient community in California, I am the first to tell you, once youth reach a certain age and refuse to hold up their end of the bargain, maybe we’d all be better off just letting them quit. But we don’t. We believe that just being there, having to take the classes and be present even if they fail every one of them is better than having them on the streets. And we may be right. I don’t want to be the person teaching that class, but it’s possible. So don’t think my lily-white complexion means my rose colored glasses keep me from understanding the reality of forcing people to receive a service they don’t want.

In many ways we have begun trying to apply a capitalistic mindset to education through our focus on high stakes testing. But here’s the thing, you cannot evaluate an organization in a capitalist manner without a product. And in the American education system, the product becomes the children.

In industry, when you are seeking to make the “best possible product” you would seek out the best possible materials. You would not choose the materials that needed a great deal of work before they could be shaped into the final product. You wouldn't choose the damaged materials or the rotted wood. (And do not even begin to doubt the pain I feel comparing kids to materials and products and using language of “damaged materials” to describe children, yet, when we apply capitalism to education that becomes a necessity.)

So the only way to make the ideal product is to control the materials. We will never be able to control the messages provided by parents to youth in the home or the home lives of said students (whether they have food in their stomachs, rest, clothing, a ride to school, help with homework). We've tried. We have breakfast programs and backpack buddies and clothing drives and any number of supports, but none of that replaces the caring role of a parent as partner and advocate. So, we’re never going to achieve the ideal of every school producing the same product …unless we further socialize the system and take kids out of their homes and turn them into little “future citizen” soldiers.

Now that isn’t a bit scary, is it?

And yet we still attempt, to the best of our ability to provide a free and “equal” education for all (it is in the application of what constitutes equal that I think we get tripped up). So why, why would a capitalist country continue to pour resources, time, and energy into an institution that can only fail by capitalist, consumerist standards?

Because we believe it is necessary for the health of the nation.

If we believe that an educated public benefits the whole of the country and that the right to an education is a basic necessity for Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness, we believe that in some instances, a socialist system is beneficial.

We believe education is so essential to the functioning of a free society that when we attempt to bring stability to war-torn, impoverished areas of the world, we bring education. We believe education is the single most important component to giving people the tools to make a living and contribute to society.

But it’s not what we bring first.

What do we do first?

We treat the sick and provide basic health resources to sustain life. Because if you’re fighting to live, if your family is plagued by sickness and death, you are in no position to consider learning ways to improve your existence. You are just merely trying to survive.

And while the health issues of third world countries and the poverty stricken areas of the U.S. are drastically different, they are just as life threatening.

But if we see health care as so crucial to empowering a people to learn new ways to provide for themselves in other parts of the world, how is it that when we translate it to the health of the American people we see it as a privilege of those who can afford it?

Yes, including all persons no matter the condition in the equation will certainly raise the cost per person of coverage. However, if those are the only variables we consider, there are current costs we are leaving out of the equation.

Take a young woman with diabetes (And please do not blame her for her diabetes. The cheapest foods are often those that cause the worst health problems.) She makes just enough money to not be eligible for any kind of assistance, but she cannot afford her insulin, so she does not take it, which lands her in the hospital. The cost of paying for her insulin would be far less than an ER visit. Yet, for many uninsured, the option is to let their condition get bad enough to require ER care, which is often provided regardless of ability to pay when life threatening. This is a HUGE drain on the healthcare system and we are already paying that cost, as making up those losses is factored into the cost of care. 

So in many ways “we” are already paying for “their” care.

There it is again. Us and them.

If I bring back the capitalist application from education and apply it to healthcare, what is the “product?” Services that promote good health and provide cure for illness?

Currently, how do we obtain said product?

We visit doctors for checkups to ensure our overall health and to treat us when we are ill or injured. These visits are dependent on our ability to pay for the services even though we are often completely unaware of the cost until the services are rendered.

What? Isn't the point of a capitalist system that providers are to compete for business by offering better products at lower prices?

So, maybe health care already isn't exactly a capitalist endeavor.

Which is where the insurance equations come into play. Any time you are trying to achieve an average, you cut out the outliers. In this case, we cut out those who are the biggest and smallest drain on the system (Oh, wait, I’m pretty sure insurers never turn down really healthy people, so they are still included). We all pay a relatively similar amount for the assurance that, in the event of illness, the insurance company will help cover the cost of our care.

I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that health care is already pretty socialized. Only thing is, we've cut out those who can least afford to pay for their own care to benefit the larger group.

Like the kid not picked for the team because he runs slow, we've eliminated those who will drag the rest of us down. And no amount of elective charitable giving will make up the difference.

The reason I support the health care act is because I choose the slow kid. I’m gonna run alongside him because he is my brother. She is my sister. We are in this together. As a nation, as a world, as the body of Christ.

 “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Jesus Christ

 I happen to believe that translates to my politics. I’m okay if you don’t. But don’t assume I’m uneducated or uncaring. I’m just not willing to protect what’s “mine” at the expense of the “other” because I believe at my core that everything I have and everything I am belongs to God to be used for the care of creation and to the benefit of all, and I believe that caring for health needs is pretty fundamental to life.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Love Wins

I've been thinking about fear and shame and the people who wound us and why we are susceptible to being so hurt by people we often do not even know after a post from a friend and having the opportunity to watch Malala Yousafzai's interview with Jon Stewart.

How is it that some people are able to look into the eyes of one who intends to wound them and simply speak love?

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If you are a parent, it has likely happened to you:

Some act by your child is misunderstood (or just blatantly lied about) by another parent who either confronts you or audibly criticizes your parenting to others in the vicinity. There are few things in life that will throw a mama (or daddy) into that kind of boiling rage, especially if your child is being blamed for something in which said "other parent's child" was actually the culprit.

My stomach turns just thinking about it.

The situation is rife with primal instincts to protect our children and selves as well as social implications and consequences.

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I have a deep respect for Glennon Doyle Melton who blogs at momastery.com, and Glennon has three brief truths that define the community at Momastery, how she approaches life and, I think, what it means to live out the call in Christ Jesus to "love one another":

We can do hard things. Love wins. We belong to each other.


If you put any difficult decision, conundrum, or potential reaction through the lens of these "truths," how we respond to the world around us gets very, very simple.

I said simple, not easy.


Take my friend. Emotions run high when we start talking about how we parent and defending our babies. Based on my friend's retelling of the situation, clearly the mother with whom she was interacting was not operating from the premise that "we belong to each other."

However, despite the world around us, we define who we will become. Imagine if at every difficult decision, every gut reaction, every time we find ourselves defending our intentions, we let that simple three-truth mantra run through our heads, like a little improved serenity prayer?

Imagine how that might change the affect our day has on us? I say "imagine" because I will be the first to admit, I'm not there yet. Especially if that someone is a sibling (wink), someone from my past who has hurt me, or, God forbid, my ever-loving, energetic, often loud, always boisterous, rarely obedient children.

 I tell you what, I fall short more often than I manage to love.

But here's the kicker.

It doesn't just apply to how we treat "other people."

It applies to how we treat ourselves. 

So when we have a crabby crappy day and we've been a monster of a mother?

We can do hard things. Love wins. We belong to each other.

And the hard thing is often acknowledging we were wrong, making amends, forgiving ourselves and starting afresh. But if we belong to each other and your life is inextricably dependent on mine, don't I owe it to you to forgive myself?

If we see one another (and ourselves) as wounded, fearful souls (no matter what exterior we portray) we empower ourselves to operate from a place of grace and love.

And love? That has transformative power.

You have power, my friend.

Embrace it and all you are called to be so that no one can wound you with her fear and shame because when your response is to love even those least deserving, there is nothing to fear.

Love wins.