Monday, March 17, 2014

A Spring Meditation

“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now life in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and delivered Himself up for me.”  (Galatians 2:20)

Here it is… spring… again!  I don’t know about everyone else, but I am definitely affected by the seasons.  And fall and spring are the two seasons that affect me most.  I’ve known this about myself for a long time so much so that I actually start preparing for the fall as early as the end of August, psyching myself up for the inevitable depression I have to contend with every year from late September until sometime in January.  I’m sure I’m not aware of all that is behind that depression and probably the shorter days and longer nights have something to do with it though probably not the most significant piece of the puzzle.  The most significant piece of the puzzle is that it was in mid-December that my mom died after several years of dealing with cancer.  I was seven at the time and to say the I was not well equipped to deal with her death is certainly an understatement.

It took me years to connect my fall slide into depression with the death of my mom and in fact it wasn’t until Teresa, in a conversation with my dad, learned about the timing of my mom’s death and then bringing it up with me latter that I learned the date of her death – I was in my late twenties when this conversation took place.  Over the years I had learned to anticipate and cope with my fall slide into depression mostly by simply bearing up through that time of the year knowing that by the end of January I’d start snapping out of it.

In the same way I started dreading the fall in late August, I would begin anticipating the spring in late January!  Spring has always brought with it for me a surge of life and energy, hope and aliveness.  I never tire of the sense of life and energy that feels the air as we move into spring with its unstable weather, the warming of the soil, the swelling of buds, the sprouting of a new crop of grasses and wild flowers – the magnificent and majestic symphony of the emergence of life!

I love the spring and its lead into summer… but I have also come to love the fall and its slide into winter – because, through the years, I met God in both seasons.  In my mother’s grave, and trust me I spent a lot of time in that grave, I met the crucified God and over the years, a good many years, I came to discover that the Lord of Life is also the Lord of the Grave!  And he is Lord of the Grave, because in the end, the Grave could not hold the Lord of Life!  And so we sing, “Up from the grave he arose, with a mighty triumph o’re his foes!”

Lent is a season of examine.  Lent is a season of preparation. Lent is a season of anticipation.  Lent is the season of increaseing light as the Sunrise approaches.  Lent leads to Easter, and through Christ Jesus, Easter is our future!

As you experience spring, remember, the Lord is risen!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Affordable Healthcare 2

OK, I'll throw this out there.  The problem is that I don't think we are addressing the real issues in this
discussion over affordable health care.  But here are some more of my thoughts for what they are worth.

Julie Borowski has her opinions about the Affordable Healthcare Act and expresses some of them via her YouTube channel.  You can see her comments here.  She monetized here videos so you'll have to watch a short ad before her little talk.  In this particular episode, Julie raises two issues.  One has to do with the functionality of the federal web site... I have nothing to say about that as it is for all intents and purposes a non-issue other than some embarrassment for those responsible  and fodder for unhelpful, insubstantial and irrelevant criticism (not that I don't think there should have been a lot of care putting the site together and making sure it was highly usable in the first place so as not provide such fodder and has little to do with the real issue of health care in the USA).

The other issue has to do with the requirement that everyone have some form of medical insurance.  Julie is young - 20 something I would guess.  She doesn't want to have to buy insurance because she is young and healthy and doesn't need the services whereas it's all the old people who use medical services and she doesn't want to pay for their medical care (fact check: According to the CDC of all emergency department visits in 2007 45.8% were made by folks in the 15-45 age range and 36.7% were kids 0-14 years old who are mostly the children of the 20-44 age range group accounting for 82.5% of ED usage whereas those in the 45 and older group accounted for 39.1% of ED use.  hmmmmmm).  Her argument is full of holes but she uses lots of cynical humor which seems to carry the argument for many.  Also, as I commented elsewhere:   
...the young and healthy won't be young and healthy in 20, 30, 40 years... whose going to pay for their health care when the time comes and they "suddenly" need health care... or will they simply refuse health care when they are no longer young and healthy... Oh, and another by-the-way, I'm guessing all these young and healthy who don't want to pay for other folks care haven't given much thought to the $241,000+ spent on keeping them healthy up to their 18th birthday... what if all the "old people" had the same attitude toward the young and healthy?
However, there is a real issue behind her fuzzy headed thinking - pooling resources for the common good.  We do it all the time for all kinds of things even those not currently paying into the pool.  For example our road systems we use everyday.  Other examples would be our public school system, law enforcement, legal representation to name a few.  Then there are the hidden ones like supplementing the farmers who produce our food and other consumables but can't make a living at it and need subsidies to grow, or NOT grow certain crops.  Some of these things are so ubiquitous that we are hardly conscious of why or how they come to be available to us especially for many of the younger members of our society.

One of the questions is whether or not health care is something we want to classify as what we call a right.  And if not a right, is it the right thing to do as a community to insure accessibility to healthcare for all members of our society.  Does it benefit our society to insure that adequate health care is accessible to all members of our society?  What is adequate health care?  Another of the questions is how do we afford/pay for the state-of-the-art healthcare available today, which has only been available as it is today for less than a century.  The issue is this: The current advances in healthcare are expensive and require some kind of corporate funding process if we are going to sustain them and "benefit" from them.  Even if it's only the wealthy who have access to the most modern advances... those advances come at a cost to all of us, wealthy or not, through community funded research whether public funding or private fund raising, .

It seems to me that we have to answer this question before we can move on to addressing the craziness of our current system.  Is healthcare a right as we have decided education up to a certain level is, or is it a convenience that should be left in the realm of personal choice as to whether I seek it out and pay for it out of my own resources?  This made sense up to the first couple of decades of the 20th century before the explosion of modern medical science, institutionalization of medical care and stricter and more rigorous training became the norm for practitioners of the medical arts.  As mentioned, health care fell into the second category up to the early to mid 1900's but with the increasing costs associated with the development of the medical/industrial complex how to pay for it's benefits became more complex with the evolution of what we now call medical insurance as we have come to know and experience it.  At the same time it seems we as a nation have failed to be as rational about access to health care as we have been toward research and development of health care procedures.

I'm not advocating for or against the current "Affordable Healthcare Act."  I'm not convinced that pumping money into the insurance system is a solution to accessibility.  I am convinced that the emotional rhetoric that is being used to "debate" the issue is not going to move the discussion forward... for example this "conversation" which ends up going nowhere.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Affordable Healthcare

I'm not saying the current attempt to insure medical care is the way to go, but I have a question for those of you who don't want to pay for any medical insure because you're "young and healthy" now: who will pay your medical bills when you get older and start wanting that care, or, God forbid, something happens to you today or tomorrow that requires medical intervention for you to survive or be repaired? Will you refuse that care if it's more than you can personally afford?   This is an honest question and has nothing to do with whether or not the current "affordable health care"  legislation is workable or even desirable.  Still, I do wonder about whether you are considering the whole picture and if you are looking at the bigger picture, what are your ideas about how to cover the costs of medical intervention if and/or when it becomes necessary for you or those you love and care about.  (That is if health care or medical intervention is ever really necessary in the first place or it's simply a very nice convenience.)

Perhaps we need some kind of opt in/opt out solution.  If you want medical care to be available to you whether you end up using it or not, you can opt in and pay some kind of premium along with everyone else who has opted in.  Or you can opt out and not pay any medical premium, but then you also opt out of any medical care you cannot personally afford - or that your family and friends can't afford or are willing to pay out on your behalf - for the rest of you life... no opting in at a later date when you start needing or wanting medical services.  Certainly the issue is much more complex than this scenario suggests.

Of course, this all begs the question of whether or not you can afford the premiums required to opt in.  It also begs the question of whether or not healthcare and access to medical services are a right or not.  In a just society seeking the common good, is health care, as we have come to practice it, something that every member of our society deserves?  It also begs the question of just how much "health care" can we afford across the board regardless of who is paying for it?  At what point do we say no to further treatment at any cost in any given case?

The list of questions expands as you delve into the topic and most of the conversation I see isn't doing much delving.

Still, I'd like to hear your ideas about how to handle health care availability and costs if you decide you want medical treatments at sometime in your life.  If you read this and care to respond, please don't YELL at me and don't simplistically spout "the party line."  But conversation is welcome.

Monday, May 06, 2013

The Smile

I came across this piece some time ago and for some reason I can't remember or fathom I don't have the
author's information. (Though this sounds a lot like something Kim Fabricus would write.)

1. The precursor of the human smile was the caveman’s savage grimace (Angus Trumble, A Brief History of the Smile, p. 3). The invention of dentistry is the main difference between this threatening grimace and the polite social convention of the modern smile.

2. In the Protestant West today, smiling has become a moral imperative. The smile is regarded as the objective externalization of a well ordered life. Sadness is moral failure.

3. The motif of late-capitalist society is the stylization of happiness, the cultivation of lifestyles from which every trace of sadness has been expunged. Peter Berger identified ‘the Protestant smile’ as part of Protestantism’s cultural heritage in the West. In a Catholic country like France, it is still considered crass to smile too often, or at strangers. Evangelical churchliness is the ritualization of bare-toothed crassness. Our cultural obsession with health, happiness, and positive thinking is a secularization of the evangelical church service.

4. The cultural triumph of the smile leaves behind a trail of casualties. Where evangelical churches theologize happiness and ritualize the smile, sad believers are spiritually ostracized. Sadness is the scarlet letter of the contemporary church, embroidered proof of a person's spiritual failure.

5. When the church’s theological rejection of sadness was secularized, sadness became a pathology requiring medical intervention. The medicalization of sadness is the final cultural triumph of the Protestant smile. If Luther or Kierkegaard or Dostoevsky had lived today, we would have given them Prozac and schooled them in positive thinking. They would have grinned abortively – and written nothing. The truth of sadness is the womb of thought.

6. Somehow the appellation ‘man of sorrows’ attached itself to the church’s memory of Jesus. The sinless humanity of the Son of God was manifest not in happiness or success but in a life of sadness and affliction. Erasing sadness from our culture, we also erase Christ.

7. I know a little boy whose mother had to go away for a few days. When she came home, he cried and told her he had missed her. Touched by his infant sadness, the mother said, ‘It’s nice to be missed’ – and he replied, ‘It’s not nice to miss.’ It is nice to be missed because we learn what love means in the sadness of another. The face that always smiles is the face of a stranger. Love is written on the face of sadness.

8. I know a fellow who was interviewed for ordination in an American denomination. Asked to describe his hope for the church’s future, his eyes filled with tears and he admitted, ‘I don’t know if I have any hope for the church.’ Perplexed by this response, his ecclesiastical interviewers furrowed their brows, scribbled little notes and question-marks, conferred gravely about his fitness for ministry – though they ought to have asked for his prayers, or poured oil on his head, or sat at his feet and made him their bishop.

9. Where sadness is expunged from a culture, the cry for justice falls silent. Johnny Cash carried darkness on his back, refusing to wear bright clothes as long as the world is unredeemed. Why do we dress our priests in black? Are they not in perpetual mourning for a world that is passing away? Is not Christian joy carried out in the shadow of this sadness? In a culture of happiness, it is all the more necessary that our priests continue to wear black, refusing the cheap comfort of bright vestments and the empty promise of the rainbow.

10. At the turn of the millennium, J. G. Ballard wondered how the next generation would perceive the 20th century: ‘My grandchildren are all under the age of four, the first generation who will have no memories of the present century, and are likely to be appalled when they learn what was allowed to take place. For them, our debased entertainment culture and package-tour hedonism will be inextricably linked to Auschwitz and Hiroshima, though we would never make the connection.’ How do we explain the fact that Auschwitz and Hiroshima are immediately succeeded by the cult of happiness and the triumph of the smile? How can it be that the worst century was also the happiest? Our children will interpret our happiness as blindness and self-forgetfulness. We have drugged ourselves against history; sadness is truthful memory.

11. Why are clowns so frightening? Their demonic aura comes from the fact that they never stop smiling. Hell is the country of clowns, where tormented strangers smile at one another compulsively and forever. The devil is the name we give to the Cheshire Cat that is always vanishing just beneath the surface of our world, leaving everywhere sinister traces of a cosmic painted grin. This grin is the secret of history.

12. The Bible promises the end of history and the end of sadness: ‘And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away’ (Rev 21:4). This can be understood as eschatological promise only on the presumption that history is catastrophe, a vale of tears. Sadness is overcome through cosmic redemption. A culture without sadness is a culture without hope. The cure for sadness is God.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

A Rant

Someone mentioned to me a book and an accompanying "primer" written by Hugh Halter and Matt Smay.  There book is titled "The Tangible Kingdom" accompanied by "The Tangible Kingdom Primer."

So I looked them up on Amazon.  As you may know Amazon often gives you the ability to take a peek inside many of the books they sale.  This gives you the ability to more or less do what you would do at a bookstore when browsing for books - you can look at the table of contents and do a bit of reading...

I was digitally leafing through the table of contents and then started reading the Forward by Reggie McNeal.  Now, I don't know any of these three fellows but I have at least heard the name, Reggie McNeal.  And since he is writing the forward he must have some influence at least among those who would typically buy a book with the topic "The Tangible Kingdom" is addressing.

Here is an excerpt of what Reggie McNeal writes in his Forward:
  Recently I walked by a "church" that was holding "services" on a Sunday in an upscale community in Northern California.  Organ music drifted out of the open doors, spilling onto the streets where passersby made their way to coffee shops, art galleries, and antique stores, oblivious to the goings-on of the band of worshipers ensconced behind stucco walls.
 Is this situation worrisome to that congregation?  Apparently not.  No one was outside to engage anyone on the street.  Name tags were on the prominent display in the entry plaza next to the "sanctuary."  The clear message was "Members only."  If you wandered in on the activities absent a name tag, you'd stick out like a sore thumb.
Reggie goes on to make a comparison with the first century church which, in his words, describes something different than what he just described in the preceding paragraphs.  I'm guessing the purpose of the Forward is to convince people to purchase the book which will help those who read it be more like the first century church - or at least Reggie's idealized vision of what the first century church was like - and less like the apparent aberration of church he just described.

However, Reggie seems to draw a lot of conclusions and make a number of assumptions from a, by his own admission, passing observation of this Northern California church.

First, his use of quotation marks.  The way I take his placement of "'church,'" "'service'" and "'sanctuary'" in quotation marks indicates that he is suspicious of the use of these words to describe these folks and what and where they are doing whatever it is they are doing if they are not indeed somehow being and doing some aspect of church.

Second, did Reggie do more then pass by?  If not, how can he even begin to imply this congregation is not engaged with their community in significant, missional and relevant ways?  (I almost used quotation marks around significant, missional and relevant!).  Did Reggie interview any of the members of this particular congregation?  Did he take time to discover if what he heard that particular Sunday is indeed the only thing this particular congregation does as a church body?  Did he take time to meet with the leadership of this congregation to discover how and where or if there is missional engagement with their neighbors and community?  If this church is engaged with the community and if this congregation does have more going on then a Sunday morning service , did he take time to talk to those being served or who are being engaged to determine how this congregation is impacting them.

Third, is there indeed no New Testament first century precedence for followers of Jesus to turn aside form engagement with the community to gather for worship, fellowship, study and prayer?  Jesus himself often took his disciples away from missional engagement for private exclusive time of teaching and fellowship.  If there was a gathered community in the cities and towns he visited during his mission trips, Paul often started his preaching and teaching among such gathered communities and in the buildings they met in.

Fourth, what's wrong with name tags?  I'm not for or against the use of name tags except that if they are used the same type of name tags should be available for all who want to wear one.  By-the-way, did Reggie go into the gathering to see whether or not everyone there was wearing a name tag?  If not, and I strongly suspect everyone was not wearing a name tag, then it wouldn't matter if one wore one or not - no "sore thumb" syndrome, in other words.  Perhaps this congregation is so effective in community engagement that they have so many first time participants that the name tags are a courtesy for everyone to help learn names.  Besides, I don't know about Reggie, but I have attended many conferences and seminars both religious and secular and I can't remember when the last time I attended some such event where we weren't asked to wear name tags.  Perhaps Leadership Network conferences don't use name tags at their events.

As a result, I'm not sure how legitimate Reggie's critic of this anonymous church really is.  That being the case, what got my goat, so to speak, is the attitude that so many of us adopt towards the other.  This is indeed a case of one person stereotyping and dismissing out of hand a whole group of folks that are assumed to be less Christian, if Christian at all, simply because, in passing by, Reggie notices a certain kind of musical instrument in use, the presence of a table with name tags on it and people outside the gathering place who have other things on their mind.

How often do we do this to each other.  How often do I assume that the other is less than me simply because I haven't taken the time to get to know them, or because there is some marker that indicates the other is not part of my group (thus "other")?  The irony of all this is that the Forward to "The Tangible Kingdom" seems to contradict what I suppose the intent of the "Tangible Kingdom" indeed is - to make tangible in real acts of love that connect people to people and to not be judgmental of those outside the group.  This grace doesn't extent to fellow followers of Jesus?

End of rant.

P.S.  I'm still thinking about whether I want to invest in the book or not.