Sunday, September 13, 2009

Slowly Processing...

Wow, there has been a lot to think about lately. As I have tried to process through it all, I have only realized that I am not wise enough to process it all, so I'm going to try to lay it out there and pray that the Holy Spirit makes some sense of it. I have so many thoughts rolling around in my head, and somehow I know in my heart that they are all linked together. I just need a moment to process them, to see where they tie together. In warning, this one might be a bit long winded, but I am hoping that it comes to a point, somewhere along the line. Feel free to move on, though, if it's too long-winded for you. I guess this one is much more for me to work things out than anything else. You're free to stick around if you like.

My grandfather wrote to me this week in response to all the buzz of the healthcare reform. While my grandfather and I have profoundly different political views, I deeply respect him as the elder of our family. He has seen things in his lifetime that I cannot fathom, including an amazing advancement of technology, a few wars, more than a few presidents, a Great Depression, and many more dips and rises in the economy through the years, etc. Here is a bit of what he wrote to me that really caught my attention though. For some reason, this has stuck on my heart everyday since I read it:
I believe that the term "entitlement" as commonly used re government/citizen relationships in this country refers to the obligation of our government to take care of the citizenry of our country. In my memory, the first entitlement program in this democracy was social security, established by Franklin Roosevelt in the 1930s. We were in a deep depression, as you may know. We did not spend money we did not have. Dad sold my small flock of chickens I had raised to pay the grocery bill. Many times during my highschool days, I caught a ride home with a neighbor so that I could pick two ears of corn from our adjacent farm as my lunch for the day. In the summer, I worked at a grocery from 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. five days a week and 7 a.m. to 10:30 P.m. on Saturdays all for $7.00 a week--and glad to get it. Out of that, I bought my lunch, daily for about $0.40 at a nearby cafe. Many people had no work at all. The grocer was a family friend!!!
Mercy, this has so touched my heart. I know nothing of this world that he speaks of, of the values that he refers to. Now don't get me wrong, we work hard to instill values into our family and our kids, but somehow, this is so different. I am inspired by what my grandfather has written. See, when I moved out of my parents' home at 18, I was armed with 3 credit cards and absolutely no knowledge of stewardship whatsoever. If I had, I spent. If I didn't have, I spent. If I wanted it, sure enough I could buy it. Just whip out the plastic. And 3 credit cards slowly (quickly) grew to more than three, my favorite at the time being my Victoria's Secret card. Now don't judge. I didn't know Christ in those years, somehow in my mind, I didn't know that sacrifice and going without was better than debt. In fact, in my mind, sacrifice was a humiliation that was not worth its weight.

businesswoman wearing ball and chain in desert, low angle view
Well, as you can imagine, it didn't take long to amass an incredible amount of debt. An INCREDIBLE amount of debt. When I came to know Christ at 22, I was just about buried in my debt, so when I began to learn about stewardship and dealing responsibly with my finances for Kingdom sake, I was so overwhelmed with where I was. By God's grace, though, He does not leave us where we are, and He did a great work in my life. I can boast in Him these days that we worked hard and sacrificed to get all of that credit card debt paid off, but somehow I still had not fully learned my lesson. I am stubborn and quite hard-headed, and obviously quite slow to learn lessons. God knows this. You see, I still carry plastic with me. Initially it was for "emergency sake," but that morphed over time to using the plastic for points, or for convenience sake. And then it was being used if we came up a bit short on cash at the end of the month. You can see where that's going.

So, in the midst of all of this, the healthcare debate began to take shape. I'm chiming in on the debate, all the while praising God that we are healthy and not needing healthcare attention, knowing that that sort of cost would be devastating to us. I had vowed in my heart before God to go back to our "cash only" system, as that seemed to hold me accountable for spending the best. And then sickness struck our home. So, two urgent care visits later, and a $300 plus bill wiped out our grocery budget for the month.

My first instinct? Break out the plastic and head to the grocery store. It was just about this time that the email from my grandfather arrived. And somehow in the midst of all of this turmoil, I knew that God was teaching me a lesson. You see, several times within the last few days, I have come across the story in Exodus 16, of God providing the Israelite people with manna in the morning. They were told to take exactly enough to get them through the day, and those who did not trust the Lord took too much, hoarding it for the next day. But the extra manna that had been taken for the next day ended up rotting and full of maggots. I have read it, I have blogged about it, someone used it conversation with me to encourage and exhort. Praise Jesus that He knows I am slow to learn. He just continues to drive it home. I'm started to realize that maybe I should get this one. Just what exactly it is though, I have not nailed down yet.

To me, this is all very interesting thoughts in light of our current situation. I am accustomed to doing grocery shopping for a at least a week at a time, for convenience sake, of course. I like to plan out a menu and do one thorough grocery trip. But now...well, now I can only look at how creative I can be for our next meal.

How do we ask God to provide for our daily bread if we've already taken care of it ourselves?

Well, needless to say, I have put the plastic away, yet again, and began to get very creative with the "staple" items in the pantry, until those have become very depleted. And then, God provided bread for us. Literally, as a friend dropped off a loaf of bread, some butter, meat in the freezer and two gift cards for the local grocery store. I felt some of the glory of the early Church in this generous act of a friend.

It is humbling, downright humiliating, to struggle in such a manner. But I have seen God's grace in it as I have pleaded for a content heart. I want to glorify Him. I want to depend on Him.

In all of this talk about healthcare, stewardship, and daily bread, I know that God must be in it somewhere. The events are too "coincidental" to not be Him. It leads me to thoughts of Jubilee and of the early Church, and the system that God had set up originally for His people. Surely there is a better way for us, as followers of Christ, above political lines, above partisan biases, above denominations, above national boundary lines.

That's probably enough for today. I'll try to unpack more of it tomorrow. I can't seem to get away from thoughts of the early Church. Maybe it'll make more sense tomorrow.

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Thursday, September 3, 2009

Whoa, I seem to have struck a nerve

Oh how I love challenging conversations, even disagreements! Scriptures says, “Come, let us reason together,” and it is through this challenging reasoning that we grow and come to see other perspectives outside of our own. Thank you for engaging in that. Also, I now know how to get comments on a blog; Challenge you with an idea you don’t like. You don’t have to like it or even agree with me, but as long as we can engage in the conversation, there is hope for us as a body of Christ. It’s good to know that someone out there is reading along, even if I just lost some. There were some very good points that were brought out in the comments that I would really like to address.

The phrase “sense of entitlement” was used. It’s a very interesting phrase and very appropriate for this culture. You see it more and more in the upcoming generation as they demand their cell phones and video games, insisting that they just can’t do without these modern amenities. Well, we know that’s not true and even in my own generation, we remember life before all our gadgets and toys. But more and more it is harder to say no to these things. It is a sense of entitlement and it’s incredibly dangerous.

Did government really create that, though? Or was it born out of capitalism in general? Isn’t that the fueling wind of capitalism? I deserve it all? The entire American dream is based on this sense of entitlement. When the system of credit cards were introduced post World War 2, it was based on a sense of entitlement. I deserve a better life and I’ll just pay for it later. The feminine movement was based on entitlement. “I am woman; hear me roar!” I can do it all and have it all, and I don’t have to wear a bra to do it! There is a well-known gospel that is still being preached in countless churches across the nation known as the “Health and Wealth Gospel” that thrives on this sense of entitlement. “Come to Jesus and everything will be just fine!”

It seems like a bit of a scapegoat, though, to blame this sense of entitlement on government alone. The health and wealth gospel that riddled so many churches for so many years propelled Christianity into a religion of gain and not give. Hoard and not sacrifice.

Even some of the comments left on the blog were in reference to saving up for rainy days, as if poverty is due to irresponsibility. If only I would save more responsibly or give up my cell phone, maybe we wouldn’t be in the position we are in today.

Who am I to hold on to anything, when my brothers and sisters are toiling endlessly for the sake of the gospel, and have nothing to eat? Who am I to tuck away $25 for a rainy day, when it’s pouring over there? How can I hoard the extra that we have left over, when our family abroad is attempting to feed the mouths of orphans and other families who lack even more? Everyday they pray for God to multiply the fish and bread just as Jesus did when He walked this earth, so that each mouth may receive even a little. And selfishly, we tuck it away for a rainy day.

It reminds me of the story of God providing manna for the Israelites in the desert. He told them to take just enough to get them through the day, for He would provide again tomorrow. Those who did not trust the Lord hoarded extra manna, but by morning it was rotten, full of maggots worming their way through the bread.

We stress the importance of saving for retirement, saving up for a rainy day, setting aside a portion so that we do not lack, and yet in our global disconnect, we have forgotten the toils of our brothers and sisters around the world who received not even one bite today. Our brothers and sisters in Kenya and Ethiopia are working tirelessly for the sake of the cross, setting up clinics, planting churches, seeing to the needs of the orphans, discipling new growth, and yet they have not received a paycheck in months, and what they do receive, they give away because surely there is someone who has less indeed. Those are your brothers and sisters as well. You just might not know their names.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that no one should save anything. I'm just trying to look at this conversation in the light of Scripture and put it all together.

I have not yet heard why people are so completely opposed to the public option for healthcare. I have heard fear, speculations, doubts, but nothing solid. They’re scared of losing their doctor? According to, this is what Obama said:

Obama, Aug. 15: [i]f you like your health care plan, you keep your health care plan. Nobody is going to force you to leave your health care plan. If you like your doctor, you keep seeing your doctor. I don’t want government bureaucrats meddling in your health care. But the point is, I don’t want insurance company bureaucrats meddling in your health care either.

Scared of losing your doctor? Try not having one at all. Like 46 million people across this nation. These are the selfish conveniences that I referred to in my previous post. I don’t want anyone else to have coverage because it might adversely affect my own coverage. Not that anyone would ever say that out loud (except for the woman sitting next to my father at the town hall meeting), but the implication is there. Sure, idealistically it would be great if everyone had coverage, but not at the expense of what I’ve got. Don’t mess with what’s mine.

Others protest the idea of government running healthcare, saying that they are incompetent. Just look at the mess of social security. Two thoughts on these statements: social security is a mess, but it has long outlived the intended plan for which it was created. The life expectancy when social security was created was only 55. Now the life expectancy is 85. That’s 30 years that the plan was not necessarily intended to cover. That plan needs to be revisited, revamped even, to make it more applicable and more relevant to the day and age we now live in.

Second thought is this: the government currently runs the VA medical system and Medicare. In 2008, Medicare was providing health care to 45.3 million elderly and disabled people across this nation. According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, over 80% of those 45.3 million covered are quite satisfied with the care that they have received. I guarantee you that my father would trade his big, broken toe to have that coverage. It works, and has been working for 35 years. Has it been flawless from the beginning? Absolutely not. Has it needed to be revisited, tweaked, and revamped in portions? Absolutely. But it was a plan that was put on the table and put into action, now providing care to over 45.3 million.

I have heard, and even seen in these comments, folks saying how sad it makes them that others don’t have health insurance or access to health care. It is sad. But then they follow it up by saying that this plan that has been proposed is not the answer. They just aren’t sure this is the best way, and so for now, we'll do nothing. So my question is this: is it better to sit back on our heels and do nothing while we hem and haw about how this isn’t the best way forward? Or is it better to act on a good plan that has been laid out and be prepared to revise as better ideas are illuminated?

It reminds of the passage in James 2:14-17:

What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed, “ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

I agree that it is prudent to carefully consider the options and consequences, but seriously, at some point you have to take a step. For those with coverage and those without, there is a much different sense of urgency. The system is thoroughly broken, from top to bottom. The prices for all things are in a cycle that is spiraling higher and higher. That’s why this overhaul is necessary.

I will stop there for now. This is a lot to mull over. In all things there is grace. In all things we remain bound by the blood of Christ. This conversation is an attempt to live it out, and encourage others in the same.

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Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Chiming in the Debate

What is wrong with the world that we live in today? What has happened to this culture that grown men and women think that it is acceptable to yell, “BOO” and shout out “LIAR!” in the middle of an overly crowded town hall meeting? Grown men and women behaving like rotten, rebellious, teenagers. Truly disgraceful behavior.

Last night I attended such a town hall meeting. The purpose of the meeting was to have an open dialogue with our local Congresswoman about the proposed health care reform. But the anger and fear of many turned a diplomatic forum into a display of completely uncouth, rowdy juveniles clothed in the bodies of middle to late age retired veterans depending daily on government-run healthcare called Medicare. The hall was filled with an over-representation of older, retired folks who had been forming a line to enter for 4 hours prior to the beginning of the event, while the rest of the attendees watched on big screens outside the hall because they were not able to show up until just before opening due to the second or third job they were working to be able to afford health insurance for their family.

The former Surgeon General of the United States stood before this passionately noisy, and often rude, crowd and spoke about the desperate need for reform, about the unsustainability of the current system, and about the already high price tags of health insurances premiums that will continue to rise all too quickly. All the while this ridiculous crowd of grown adults booed and hollered as if rude rebellion is an acceptable standard. One of the men lucky enough to have his ticket called by lottery to be able to ask the Congresswoman a question, boldly proclaimed, “85% in this nation today have access to healthcare. Isn’t that enough? Why do we need to fix a system that isn’t broken?”



Is that all we’re shooting for? Clearly that man has never been part of the 15%. I am eternally grateful that God’s numbers and merciful economy do not work like that.

Remember the story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 18-19. Abraham pleaded with God to not destroy the cities, testing the depth of God’s mercy. Abraham starts off by asking, “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it?”

The Lord replies that He will spare the whole place for the sake of fifty righteous.

Abraham continues with the questions until he reaches 10. He says, “May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak just once more. What if only ten can be found there?”

He answered, “For the sake of 10, I will not destroy it.”

Even just for 10 righteous, mercy will be shown to all. Much better economics than shooing off the unfortunate 15% simply because the privileged 85% are getting their needs met. They’ve got theirs; who cares about the rest?

How did this culture become so selfish, so egocentric? The woman who was sitting next to my father at this town hall meeting is currently receiving Medicare benefits but is not yet 65. She actually said to my father that she didn’t want him to receive the same Medicare benefits that she currently receives because it might take away from her benefits. Seriously? I’ve seen that same attitude in my 2-year-old who has not yet learned how to share. But in a 2-year-old, we quickly correct such selfish behavior. What do we do with it in a well-aged woman? Have we lost touch with mercy and compassion altogether?

I have heard many people say that all this talk of health care reform just seems to be happening so fast. That statement can only come from someone who has access to healthcare. They have options, so what do they care about rushing to change anything? They don’t seem to understand the urgency that comes with having no options and no access. Imagine having a sick child and not being able to do anything about it. Imagine having a parent, who has no insurance, walking around on a broken toe for months because he can’t afford to seek treatment. Imagine getting a simple infection and not being able to seek treatment.

I have heard many balk at the number of 46 million uninsured, saying that the number is not a true representation. Seriously? Isn’t that splitting hairs? Are we going to make that the issue? Are there 30 million uninsured? Are there 10 million uninsured? Are there 5 million uninsured? Isn’t that 5 million too many? I think that the number is easy to hide behind, keeping it impersonal and distant. But I have a face, and a name, and a husband and three precious girls, and we have no insurance. I have a family member who has a great job, but still cannot afford health insurance for his family. He just recently got a second job to pay for it. So he works all week to pay the bills, and all weekend to pay for health insurance. That is wrong. The system is broken and in need of desperate repair.

The irony for us is that we work so hard to see that villages across Africa have access to healthcare, yet here in our own country we just cannot afford it. And should something happen, as in a trip to urgent care this past weekend, we get to choose which budget that money comes out of…groceries or bills? And don’t get me wrong. We are not living outside of our means. We live QUITE frugally, and pass any extra on to others who have less than us. So, yes, for us, there is most definitely a sense of urgency.

Proverbs 3:27-28 says, “Do not withhold good from those who deserve it, when it is in your power to act. Do not say to your neighbor, ‘Come back later; I’ll give it tomorrow’- when you now have it with you.”

It reminds me of the story that Jesus told of the Good Samaritan, who stopped, allowing himself to be inconvenienced, in order to help a man whom has been beaten and robbed. The beaten man had already been passed up by two religious leaders who just simply could not be bothered to help him. This Samaritan, though, carried the beaten man to lodging, saw that he was cleaned up and taken care of, and then paid his bill. The Samaritan withheld nothing, but gave of what he had to see that the man was properly taken care of.

We are talking about compassion and mercy here. For those who know Christ, this should strike such a heart chord! Christ called us to care for the sick, to have mercy on others. When Jesus was teaching on the Mount of Olives, he said:

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes, and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry, and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’”

Isn’t it time to get on the side of compassion? Isn’t it time to set aside notions of selfish conveniences and look to the good and care of the whole, including those who don’t have? What if we, as a body of Christ, were united for the sake of mercy to the uninsured, and I’m not even referring to myself, but to the body as a whole? Why is everyone so angry about the possibility of universal coverage? Because it will inconvenience you? Because you will get less quality than what you have now? Imagine life on the other side.

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