Integrity in Washington – Fixing What is Broken in Health Care

I breathed a great big sigh of relief when the repeal and replace health care law was pulled yesterday and wondered if President Trump secretly did too. The American Health Care Act, the bill that would have replaced the Affordable Health Care Act, was opposed by almost every medical organization in the country from the American Medical Association to Hospital Associations and every specialty in-between. Millions were projected to lose their health care coverage. It would have put a greater burden on the working poor and given tax breaks to our wealthiest citizens. The bill was a train wreck ready to devastate the country.

In the months since the election many people learned that the Affordable Care Act, they or family members have found help and relief in, was the Obamacare they loved to hate. I have both friends and family who have been helped through tough stretches because of this law. I am personally grateful that it stays in place. I also know people who have experienced too high premiums and deductibles. What has been a blessing for some of my friends is neither affordable nor available for others. Clearly, the law which exists needs help.

Now that the replacement law has failed, I hope and pray that Washington decides to fix what is broken in the Affordable Care Act and not spend any more time playing political games with Health Care. Since the Affordable Care Act was passed in 2009, all efforts to repair the bill have failed in congress. What is forgotten are the hurting people depending on this Congress to come up with genuine solutions which will work for everyone. They live in every district in the country. They are not just Democrats or just Republicans they are Americans, representing all political parties and those who have none. The people who are hurting are not the wealthy in these districts and probably not big donors. This group will never carry the political muscle of billionaires and their threats to financially support another person carry little weight. But, they are those “salt of the earth,” hard-working people who are the essence on which our nation has grown and flourished.

When Medicare became law there were any number of issues which arose in the following years. Back then, we had a Washington that was more concerned about fixing the problems than playing political games. Our representatives and senators worked across the aisle to make the new Medicare law work. It’s called integrity. Would that there was more of it in our nations’ leaders today.

The psalmist in a difficult and challenging time promised God, “But as for me, I walk in my integrity; redeem me, and be gracious to me. My foot stands on level ground; in the great congregation I will bless the Lord.” Psalm 26:11-12

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Living as a Christian Nation in the Post Election World of 2016

(First Published – November 14, 2016)

The election of 2016 has torn at the very fabric of our nation. Words and actions have brought out our darker angels. Facebook posts tell both sides of the long battle for the White House. Some of my friends are deeply troubled by the outcome. Others are celebrating. I know people who are afraid, while some feel misunderstood in the backlash of being labeled a racist.

What I have learned in this election is that all of us need to begin listening to people who have different political beliefs. Until we hear the pain, we will never understand what lies in the hearts of people we differ with. What are the hurts, hope and aspirations of our neighbors? What is the source of anger that rages? Are their common values that can guide us?

I dare to believe that our Christian faith can show us the way. First of all there is love. Love for God and love for each other. If our nation is to resolve our vast differences, it will be because we take time to listen to each other in love. For in listening we gain empathy, compassion and understanding.

Back in the first century, the apostle Paul, wrote to a group of people in the city of Corinth urging them to start living the Christian faith they claimed. In simple eloquence he sent words to bring about understanding and reconciliation, saying, “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing . . . Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.” * Love includes respect, compassion and caring. Love treats the other as we would want to be treated.

We say that we are a Christian nation. Votes were cast based upon Biblical values. Perhaps, the best way for us to bridge the distance between us, is for all of us who claim to be a Christian, to live and speak like one.

“And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.” *

*Scripture is taken from I Corinthians Chapter 13.

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Jury Duty and the Question “Isn’t Christianity all about Forgiveness and Redemption”

(First published November, 2015)
“Isn’t Christianity all about forgiveness and redemption?” was the question I was asked, as I sat as a potential juror in a courtroom in the Hennepin County’s Government Center. Hennepin is Minnesota’s most populated county. Criminal court would see a steady stream of trials that day. My trial would decide the guilt or innocence of a man who had been charged with conspiracy to receive stolen property, through a sting operation.

The prosecutor continued his questions by asking if I would be able to make a judgement about guilt. “How,” he asked, “would you feel if you had to make a judgement of guilty?” The man in front of us would face devastating consequences if he were found guilty. Not only the possibility of prison, but his immigration status would change. He could be sent back to West Africa where he would be separated from his family. From the prosecutors questions I knew what I had only suspected before, there would be no way that a clergy person would be serving on this jury. Our prosecutor was weeding out anyone he thought would tend towards leniency.

Until then, I was curious about our system of justice. My last experience of being contacted for jury service for a different court was during a very busy season in my life. I was relieved when my name wasn’t drawn for any actual case. But this time was different. Being retired has given me more time. My love of a good mystery fueled my interest in court proceedings in the actual world. I had not really asked myself how I would feel about finding a defendant guilty until that moment. What came to mind was a sense of heaviness – heaviness in my spirit, in my heart.

Not surprisingly, I was one of those who were sent back to the larger jury pool that day. The question asked of me, however has stayed with me. It’s not that I’ve never judged another person or made decisions that have impacted another’s life, through my judging. Jesus may have let us know that judging others put us in some shaky territory when he said, “Judge not, that you be not judged.” (Matthew 7:1 NKJV) but it hasn’t kept me from being quick to judge way too often in my life.

I don’t know how it is possible to go through life without doing some judging. Being a mother of seven put me in the position of deciding who was guilty and who innocent on any number of occasions. Trying to be fair and just was difficult and challenging with competing stories. We make judgements when we decide who to trust and who not to. Throughout our lives we find ourselves in a position where it would seem the only response is to make an honest judgement, given the information in front of us.

I think that Jesus was getting at another type of judging . . . The way we too quickly blame the poor for being poor, or the sick for being sick. We cast our stones at those we perceive have been bigger sinners that we are. We like to think of ourselves as superior to others. Casting our eyes about us on any given day, we are likely to size ourselves up as somewhat better human beings than others we are looking at. And when there is a scandal breaking in the neighborhood, office or on the political front, (especially on the other side of the political spectrum) we can quickly throw in our lot with those who criticize, while we secretly celebrate the downfall of another.

The problem is . . . We have this Jesus who called us to accountability. He asked then, as he asks now, “Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3 NRSV) God who knows us better than we know ourselves, is well aware of our faults and our failings. Marianne Williamson, in her book “Illuminated Prayers” writes these words. “Dear God, When they accuse me falsely, help them see the innocence in me. And when I judge, Lord, help me see the innocence in them.”

The prosecutor was onto something that day. Christianity “is all about forgiveness and redemption.” The forgiveness that allows us to live our lives washed from the stain of failure, mistakes and our own sins. And a Redemption which lifts us above yesterday’s mistakes, giving us the joy of a new and better life.

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What is a Christian to do in this World of Alternative Facts, Values, Assumptions and Differing News Sources?

What is a Christian to do in this world of alternative facts, values, assumptions and differing news sources? How do we stand as people of faith, living our lives with the hope of Christ? Does it matter what our neighbors think? If it does, then is social media the best transmitter of transformation? Has anyone’s view of the world changed because of someone’s political post, or has it only reinforced one’s own view?

My younger brother is using humor to cope with the barrage of political differences on social media. His Facebook posts have sported a variety of comics which lighten the spirit. A recent Friday night was an especially potent day of competing views of the new President and the series of executive orders that have been signed. Some posters were asking for tolerance in the expression of their view point. One wrote with dismay about people who had de-friended her after she had posted a political post. She said that she didn’t want to lose friends who disagreed with her position. She would much rather have a conversation and hear what her friends believed.

In the midst of the Friday barrage an old friend had posted these words of Madeline L’Engle. “We do not draw people to Christ by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.” The definition of a Christian is still, to be a follower of Jesus. Jesus had a lot to say about the way we treat each other. He was heavy on the bit about loving one another. He didn’t limit that to people who shared our particular expression of faith or our politics. In fact, he directed us in an entirely different direction. “Jesus said, You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbors and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:43-45 Jesus never said that this would be easy. What he said, was to love.

So, in that light, can we be gentle with the people we disagree with? Can we show God’s love to each person and not just those in our political camp? Do we have to agree with each other politically, to be friends in this new era? Are the people we disagree with, really our enemies? Or are they simply people who view the world differently? Can we respectfully disagree with one another, have a conversation and not slam those who don’t believe like us? Can we pray for people on the other side of the political divide? Certainly, those misguided souls need somebody’s prayers. Does that mean that we can’t find a way to fight for our values and beliefs? Of course not. But do we really need to leave that divisive mean-spirited post in the comment section of our newspaper? Or the equally nasty one on social media? Or would we be far more effective communicating our concerns by contacting our elected leaders, through phone, email, actual letter or a visit to their local office? And doing all of that with respect.

The late Madeline L’Engle was wise. We are drawn to those whose expression of Christian love radiates out of them. We bask in their light, in the loveliness of it. When I think of people who have altered my view of the world, it has been those who were shedding kindness and light who have had the greatest influence. In this seriously divided time, may we be the people who spread kindness, compassion and love.

For you see, as Christians we do have a common news source. We call it the Bible. We have the words of Jesus to guide us. We have the truths of Scripture to reflect on. We have reminders of how we are to live and speak and be with each other. Jesus said it best, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” John 13:34

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The Enigma of Donald Trump in the Evangelical World

(This was first published in February of 2016, before Donald Trump was chosen as the Republican nominee for President. The questions I raised then, are still my questions. Today’s budget underscores my earlier concerns.)

The enigma of Donald Trump has both fascinated and frightened those of us who believe a country should be governed by people of principle, integrity and compassion. From the very beginning of his unlikely run for the presidency of the United States, he seems to be immune to the very attitudes which would get the rest of us fired from jobs, lose friends and be banished from the world of politics.

Some people believe that he is feeding off the anger in our nation. Others that his success is a product of obstructionism in Congress. His campaign is certainly fueled by an anger that is both real and inflamed by media talk. Talk which has fanned imagined as well as genuine wrongs. I would never have thought we would get to this place in my country. I have begun to understand how Germany was given over to the Nazi’s in a different era.

What puzzles me the most is how Donald Trump has captured so many people who are Evangelical Christians. I’ve wondered, is there no correlation between faith and action? How can a follower of Jesus be a supporter of one so unlike Jesus? It isn’t that the Bible doesn’t offer some guidance. When the apostle Paul wrote to the people of Galatia, it was to give direction on how a Christian lives in the world. He bemoaned the reality he saw, of good people confused by other voices, giving into a faith that no longer resembled the faith of Jesus. He writes to them, “You were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Galatians 5:13-14

Nothing in the campaign of Donald Trump shows any indication that he has taken seriously the words of Jesus. From his attitude toward, immigrants, minorities, women and the disabled, there has been a distinct lack of compassion, empathy or concern. So how can people of faith, accept this man as the person best prepared to lead our country? Paul goes on to talk about what a Christian looks like saying, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.” Galatians 5:22-23

I can understand people being angry who feel left out of the economic recovery. What I don’t understand are people of faith, turning to a person who lives so outside the values of their faith. Because if our following of Jesus is real, if it means anything at all, we ought to be growing more and more Christ-like in our attitudes, our actions, our values and our beliefs.

We should be looking at people to lead our nation whose faith is real, whose lives reflect the fruit of God’s spirit. We ought to be looking at people who are at the core of their being, filled with compassion and kindness. Political ideology aside, I want someone who reflects the values and beliefs of the faith they claim as their own.

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Will We Live Out Our Heritage as People of Faith or Will We Succumb to fear?

First Published November 17, 2015

In a scene reminiscent of World War II, when nations around the world refused refuge to Jewish people fleeing the death camps of Hitler, today we are preparing to abandon another group of refugees. Fear can paralyze. It can keep us from honoring our commitments to people in need. Since the Paris attacks, fear has swept around this country and Europe. Fear of the stranger and fear of the refugee. Some in Congress are already preparing legislation to prevent any more refugees from Syria coming to our borders.

The scripture says, “Perfect love casts out all fear.” (I John 4:18) I once mixed the wording of the verse up when I was putting together a sermon. Instead of “Perfect love casts out fear,” I wrote, “Perfect fear casts out love.” This is the paradox of love and fear. When we allow fear to rule our hearts, it is difficult to love our neighbor. Fear pushes love away. It sets a barrier between “us and them.” Instead of concern over another’s well being, we are fearful that reaching out will be a danger to ourselves and our families.

In the Biblical drama the people of Israel seek refuge in foreign lands as desperate situations arrive. Abraham and Sarah move when famine breaks out. The Israelites will seek refuge in Egypt as another famine threatens their lives. Mary and Joseph, under threat, will take that same journey when they are warned of impending death for the infant Jesus. So it is that Jesus begins his life as a displaced person seeking political sanctuary from the vicious regime of Herod.

We are placed in this time of history and called to live out our faith in action. It would be easier to site security and let someone else deal with the refugees. History records the trauma of decisions made to the Jewish population before and during World War II. It is the same kind of mentality which caused us to imprison people of German descent during World War I and Japanese decent in World War II. We look back with regret on our fears as we sort through the lessons of history.

Today we stand on the cusp of another decision. Will we live out our heritage as people of faith or will we succumb to fear?

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Syrian Refugees – Adrift and in Desperate Need

Every Thursday morning we held a Bible Study in the church kitchen of a small rural church I served between 1988 and 1994. Stories were told and memories of earlier days shared. What surprised me most about the history of the area were stories of World War I. The church was located only a few miles from a large German community which had at first questioned the wisdom of going to war with Germany. That question drew the attention of state and federal authorities, making the whole area suspect. Mail was scrutinized for signs of treason. The parents and grandparents of my class members had lived under constant threat of making a wrong comment, angering a neighbor, or being perceived as less than supportive of the war. Fear of these German immigrants had a grip on the nation.

World War II brought additional scrutiny, but at a lesser scale. Another ethnic group was arousing more fear . . . Japanese Americans. We would build Internment Camps, for almost 120,000 Japanese. Of those 80,000 were second generation Americans. In 1980 an investigation into the camps revealed that racism, and not national security, had led to their creation. Prejudice had led our political leaders to wrongly assume these citizens were just not American enough to trust.

The furor over a decision to take in 10,000 of the hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees, adrift and in desperate need, has challenged my understanding of the country I call home. I fear for the soul of our nation as the conversation about receiving Syrian immigrants has become more and more hostile. Politicians have in turn said, they would forcibly return Syrian refugees, or only allow Christians to enter our country. A mayor even suggested we create a new set of Internment Camps.

Jesus was once asked, “Who is my neighbor?” He responded by telling the story of a man from Jericho on his way to Damascus falling among thieves. (Luke 10:25-37) Jesus’s first listeners would have been aware of the dangers of traveling from Jericho to Damascus. One would not take the trip alone unless absolutely necessary. As the story unfolds, first a priest, then a teacher of the law saw the injured man, but decided to ignore him. Stopping to help the injured man would put anyone who did so at risk. This was a dangerous road. The threat of more robbers hidden behind the rocks could not be discounted. Then a Samaritan came along the path. He also would have been anxious about unseen bandits still in the area, but he, in seeing the injured man, went to him. This stranger of a different culture and religious tradition, bound up the man’s wounds and took him to an Inn where he continued to care for the man.

Jesus was not unaware of fear that would keep us from loving our neighbors. I think he told this story to remind us that there are times when we simply need to face our fear and do the right thing. Jesus cuts to the heart. He tells us what we need to hear and not what we want to hear. Jesus speaks truth to power . . . truth to callousness . . . truth to our prejudices and biases . . . truth to our fears. He cuts through our defenses, to the reality which lies behind. The Samaritan confronted his fear, then crossed cultural and religious obstacles to care for a wounded man.

In the end Jesus says, “It’s about love.” Love for God . . . Love for others. He reminds us that we are loved by God. Our best response to that love is to reach out in love to those who most need our care. As Jesus ended his story about the man we refer to as the Good Samaritan, he asked the one who had posed the original question, “Who then is the neighbor?” The response was immediate, “The one who showed him mercy.” Then Jesus said, “Go and do likewise.” Does Jesus ask any less from us?

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