Healthcare Debate Unraveled. Thanks Jim Wallis.

I’m getting so tired of the misinformation, soundbytes, and extreme rhetoric of the current debate on reforming the US healthcare system. Rather than talk about the facts and what’s really being proposed, most of the discussion seems to revolve around crazy assertions (like killing senior citizens?) that are not based on any part of the actual bills. Our current system is unjust, giving top-of-the-line healthcare to those who can afford it and leaving almost 50 million others completely without care altogether.  We should be ashamed that we allow such conditions to exist in a Western nation such as ours. The debate should not be about whether or not we reform the system but how quickly we can do it, including a public option for those who the private system just will not support. Every other developed nation has done it. That in and of itself should tell us its a good idea.

Today Jim Wallis of Sojourners (and author of God’s Politics: Why The Right Gets It Wrong And The Left Doesn’t Get It) sent an excellent letter to his supporters. He wrote:

As a nation, we are engaged in making decisions about our health care that will impact our families and communities for generations to come.

And I must personally share with you that I’ve had enough of the misinformation and, frankly, misleading statements coming from those who oppose the transformation of a health system that currently renders the best health care to the wealthiest, depletes the savings of solidly middle-class Americans, and leaves 46 million people with no health-care coverage at all.

We don’t have to fall victim to the naysayers – those seeking to prop up the status quo and sustain the profits of the massive insurance corporations.

Business as usual is not what we’re about. It’s not what change is about. It’s certainly not what people of good will from all faiths, who embrace the Golden Rule and seek the common ground of justice and fairness, are about….

This must stop. We are the ones who can stop it. Together, speaking out, acting out, and joining as one on a mission, we can push back the clouds of misinformation and fear-mongering, and allow the light of truth shine through.

Today, right now, let’s join together making the health-care debate factual, worthy of our families and communities. Let’s put the special interests on notice that we want real health-care reform, not misinformation and fear-mongering.

On Wallis’ site he’s posted a fabulous, faith-based guide to the healthcare reform, talking about what’s really true (you’ll be able to keep your own doctor) and what’s not (senior citizens will not be exterminated), as well as the pros and cons of various aspects in the reform such as the public option being proposed. I praise Wallis and his team for speaking out on behalf of the Christian faith community in a reasonable, calm, fact-based way. Such influence is badly needed in the discussion. Check it out and let me know what you think.

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Happy Holy Week

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“Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” Matthew 21:11

We’re now in the week leading up to Easter, the greatest celebration of the year for followers of Christ. Yesterday was Palm Sunday and our local paper ran an interesting article about fair trade palm branches. I had no idea unfair palm branches were an issue but, like so much that we use and buy without thinking twice, something joyous to us can be painful to others. Knowing the truth is a good thing.

Many of the palm branches churches order for Palm Sunday are harvested using unsustainable farming practices and workers are paid less than living wages. The Presbyterian Church has launched the Eco-Palms project to work with famers in Guatemala and Mexico. Farmers are paid 5-6x what they were previously getting, and the focus is on quality rather than quantity (typical  harvest of palm fronds can result in up to 50% being discarded because of trying to get the greatest volume possible).  The project also ensures the palms are harvested sustainably, meaning that the trees are not killed in the process.

This project seems like a wonderful idea and they are definitely getting the word out. This year over 600,000 palm fronds were sold to US churches through the project, up from 5000 palm fronds just 4 years ago when the project launched.  My church was even more creative. We didn’t use any palms at all, but instead used sword ferns harvested from members’ yards. Sword ferns are a native plant in Oregon so not only are we celebrating with our local version of palm fronds, no fossil fuels were burned to get them to us from far away.  Consider one of these options for your congregation next year!

While we’re thinking about integrating justice into Holy Week, don’t forget to look for fair trade chocolate goodies for any Easter baskets you get to fill. Why support child labor, slave labor, or ecological damage in the sweet treats you buy?  Check your local natural foods store for their selections of fair trade Easter chocolates. Yum!

Who Or What Do I Trust?

These are uncertain times. Everyday it seems the Dow drops lower, the powers-that-be come up with a new “rescue” plan, and the political candidates both swear they can get us out of this mess.  My husband and I have watched our long-term, hard-earned investments plummet in value, some lower than the original purchase price. It’s enough to make my stomach turn.

But then if I pause and really think about it, when was my financial foundation ever secure? The answer keeps coming back to me: never.  Placing my hope, my trust, my sense of security in finances is always shaky ground, no matter how high the strength of our portfolio might be on any given day. It’s easy when times are good (which they have been for a long time) to forget how volatile financial markets are. Financial markets aside, just about anything else I put my trust in is just as unstable. One day it might be my house – a fire could burn that to the ground. Another day it might be friends or family – tragedy could strike at any time. Other days the facade of well-being might be my health – which anyone who has been diagnosed with an illness knows can be gone in a flash.

I’m not trying to be morbid. In fact, I think I tend to be more pollyannaish than anything most of the time. But today I’m feeling realistically joyful. Why? Because all this uncertainty has brought  me back to the truth that can not be shaken by anything. My trust and my hope lies in Jesus Christ alone, as much as I forget that when other things seem somehow more real.  This week though, everything else seems so fragile and if nothing else I’m grateful to be reminded to “not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” (Matthew 6:34, RSV)  And why not worry? Because “It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” (Deuteronomy 31:8, RSV).

Voting As A Christian – A Refreshing View

I received the email below from my mother-in-law, Florence, who attends the Vineyard Church of Columbus, Ohio. I was inspired by this pastor’s perspective on how believers can approach voting with a unique perspective. I especially appreciated his thoughtful example working through the issue of illegal immigration. Voting is not black and white for anyone, regardless of faith, and I’m glad to hear this challenge to think before voting and to use the Bible as a springboard.

Voting as a Resident Alien

Rich Nathan
Congregational Email – October 2008

In the upcoming election, the question that ought to be on the hearts of all Christian believers is, “How should I approach my voting decision?” About 20 years ago, Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon wrote a book provocatively titled, Resident Aliens. Resident Aliens had to do with the way that we Christians understand our fundamental identity and our calling in contemporary America. The idea behind this title, Resident Aliens, came from a quote from the Apostle Paul: “But our citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20-21). In other words, our primary identity is not as Ohioans or Americans. We Christians are, first and foremost, citizens of the kingdom of God.

Hauerwas and Willimon argue that we must regain our vision of being a distinct community with a calling to be faithful to our Lord Jesus Christ. Christians need to be different than people around us and have a distinctive way of looking at issues that affect our society.

Wearing Bible Spectacles
What is the peculiar way that we Christians should look at the issues affecting the upcoming election? John Calvin, the great Protestant Reformer and author of The Institutes of Christian Religion, said that we Christians look at the world through “Bible spectacles.” In other words, everyone looks at life through a set of lenses based upon our culture, our life experiences, our self-interests, etc. Calvin suggested that for the Christian, the Bible serves as the God-given set of lenses profoundly shaping our vision of life.

So what does this mean for the upcoming election?

Inadequate Bases for Voting
There are many inadequate bases upon which the majority of Americans (including Christians) vote. For example:

  • Voting by Heritage – My parents always voted Republican or Democrat, therefore, I will vote as they did.
  • Voting by Tribe – My tribe (white suburbanites, black city dwellers, evangelicals, Roman Catholics, etc.) always votes a certain way, so I will vote that way.
  • Voting by Voter Guides – Virtually all voting guides (including “Christian” ones) are by their selection of the issues designed to push the voter towards a certain candidate.
  • Voting by Campaign Advertising – Guess who the campaign advertiser wants you to vote for?
  • Voting by Media Interpretation – Do you think that CNN, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Fox News, or Michael Moore are wearing Bible spectacles as they interpret issues and candidates?
  • Voting by Purely Secular Concerns – Secular concerns may include cost-benefit calculations, security concerns, pandering to fears and prejudices, appeals to self-interests, etc.

Most of these things have nothing to do with looking at life through Biblical lenses.

The Limits of Biblical Thinking
Just because we read the Bible doesn’t mean that we will all arrive at the same conclusion. If we did, we wouldn’t have hundreds and thousands of different denominations. And just because we all read the Bible doesn’t mean we will all share the same political viewpoints. Why is that?

  1. Because we can’t point to any particular verse in the Bible that plainly tells us to vote Democrat or Republican.
  2. Because though the Bible is infallible, our interpretation of the Bible is not infallible. And our application of the Bible to contemporary issues is certainly not going to be infallible.
  3. Because reasonable Christians may differ on the prioritization of items upon which the Bible speaks.

And even when we agree on the specific issues on every Christian’s agenda (poverty, war, abortion, religious freedom, etc.) reasonable Christians may very much disagree on the best way to tackle these issues. In other words, we may agree with each other on the principles, but reasonably differ with each other on how to apply our principles.

Beginning with the Bible
My concern as a Christian pastor is to disciple our church to begin with the Bible in all of our thinking. While we may differ on working out the Bible into such complex issues as voting, I would be overjoyed to discover that members of Vineyard Columbus at least began with the Bible in thinking about voting.

Let me apply this to one real world issue, illegal immigration. Recently the Columbus Dispatch ran a series of articles on illegal immigration. Their secular analysis focused exclusively upon security concerns for Americans, economics (Do immigrants take jobs away from Americans, or simply take jobs that Americans would not take? Are illegal immigrants a burden on the American taxpayer, or do they pay back more in tax money and in unclaimed Social Security than they put in?), and issues of crime (are illegal immigrants more or less dangerous than American citizens?). Arguments for and against these secular concerns were marshaled.

While these issues are not unimportant, I would hope that attenders of Vineyard Columbus would first put on biblical spectacles when approaching the issue of illegal immigration. The biblical Christian would:

  1. Begin with the conviction that illegal immigrants are persons made in God’s image and are, therefore, worthy of respect and dignity. (Genesis 1:26,28).
  2. Appreciate the fact that many of our spiritual ancestors were themselves economic refugees. Thus Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob moved from the Promised Land on several occasions in search of food (Genesis 12:10; 26:1; 41:57; 42:6; 43:1-7). The story of Ruth is the story of an immigrant who continually crossed national borders in search of food. Other spiritual ancestors of ours were pushed out of their homeland because of war or persecution (Joseph, Daniel, Moses, David, and the baby Jesus). So immigration because of economics, war, and asylum-seeking is not far from every Christian’s own heritage.
  3. Specifically apply the Second Commandment to illegal immigrants: “The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 19:34).
  4. Care for immigrants since they had a central place in the laws and practices of ancient Israel. Israel was commanded to love immigrants because God loves immigrants. “He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigners residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt” (Deuteronomy 10:18-19).
  5. Be hospitable according to New Testament teaching which literally means to “love the stranger” or the alien (Romans 12:13; Hebrews 13:2; 1 Peter 4:9). Jesus commanded his followers to welcome people who had no social standing such as the poor, the sick, and the outsider (Luke 14:12-14).

Now none of these Bible passages answer the question about whether we should build a wall covering the whole length of the border between the United States and Mexico, or whether we ought to educate the children of illegal immigrants here in the United States in our public schools. But these biblical considerations, in my mind at least, do shape a Christian’s heart so that we are more inclined to be tolerant, welcoming, and inclusive of immigrants who come to America seeking work or asylum.

My bottom line appeal to you, who read this letter, is this: We Christians must look at issues facing America differently than does the rest of society. We should not be motivated primarily by partisan rhetoric, economic expediency, or ingrained voting preferences. Rather, we Christians are to look at the world through the spectacles that God has provided for us – the lenses of biblical thinking. Our citizenship in heaven ought to be more important to us than any earthly nationality. And on any specific issue, the tack we take ought to correspond with our Lord’s heart revealed in the Bible.

In this election, vote as a resident alien, someone whose loyalty is first and foremost to the kingdom of God.

I Couldn’t Agree More

“As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.” James 2:26

Why the “law of attraction” doesn’t attract me

Everywhere I go these days there is this buzz around the “law of attraction.” Hardly a day goes by where I don’t hear someone (usually female) talk about “the universe” and what they are giving to it or getting from it. In all the conversations I’ve participated in or eavesdropped on, I haven’t heard anyone say what I’m about to announce: I don’t believe in the “law of attraction.”

I can almost hear the gasps as I type. If the law of attraction does exist despite my unbelief, then I suppose this will come back to bite me, since the basic premise of the law is that what you put out into the universe is what you get in return. I guess we’ll see about that.

The topic is on my mind tonight because I just watched a DVRed episode of Oprah featuring a panel of experts on the “law.” It’s really fascinating stuff. Much of what they say I have found to be true in my own life. Loving myself is important. Having a peaceful soul can be my reality. Having a vision for my future is helpful in achieving my goals and dreams. But I just don’t buy the central idea they hold as gospel, that what I put out into the universe is what I get back.

I think I missed the spiritual shift in our society from believing in God to believing in “The Universe.” I don’t think I even know what “the universe” means but I do know that belief in a faceless, nameless, personality-less cosmos does nothing to bring me any peace or hope. At the risk of sounding preachy, I hold fast to the traditional belief in a loving God whose son Jesus died for me. I love myself because He loves me and no matter what comes into my life, I believe He cares for me so I can trust what He sends my way. Notice the difference here – He sends it my way, I don’t attract it myself.

Ultimately the “law of attraction” is overly simplistic and leaves me with my mouth gaping open at how many important questions its proponents leave unanswered. What about the hundreds of millions of people in the world who go to bed hungry every night. Did they not put out enough “good energy” into the universe to get even their basic needs met? If the “law of attraction” is true, why are children orphaned from HIV? Did they not have a strong enough vision of their parents living? Or the millions of Americans who can’t afford basic healthcare for themselves. If they all could just envision having health insurance would the system immediately shift in their favor? Or maybe it’s a cosmic power struggle between the haves and the haves-nots. The haves are envisioning getting so much stuff for themselves that they are in fact creating the injustice around them.

If the law of attraction is true, it follows that we are each responsible (or to blame) for whatever wonderful or horrific events or things come into our lives. When I look around me and around the world I see far too many humans suffering, often at the hands of other humans, through no fault of their own and I shudder at the suggestion that it is only for lack of “visioning” that the sick are sick, that the poor are poor, and that the oppressed are oppressed.

I feel I’m alone in my disgust at this popular idea. Am I?

Humility and Justice – I think I get it now

Yesterday at my church a fellow member I admire, Maggie Englund, spoke in place of our pastor, who was away. She chose the topic of “justice” so naturally I was scribbling notes the whole time.  Although a central theme of both the Old Testament and Jesus’ teachings, it’s surprising how little air-time the topic of justice actually receives sometimes in evangelical churches.

Most profound to me of what Maggie shared was a brief but powerful explication of Micah 6:8:

He has shown you, oh man, what is good and what the Lord requires of you. To do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.

This is one of my favorite verses from Scripture, but one I have viewed as a laundry list, albeit a powerful laundry list.  Maggie showed though how these three requirements are inseparably linked.

Here’s what I gathered from Maggie’s comments:

  • Justice and mercy are impossible without humility. Humility before God, before one another, and even before the planet.
  • When we are humble we have a right understanding of who we are in relation to God (as well as to one another and to the planet), and therefore are able to extend mercy and justice.
  • Humility involves loving my neighbors as I love myself, as Jesus stated was the second greatest commandment (Matthew 22:39).
  • In today’s global world my “neighbors” are people next door as well as people on the other side of the globe, because my actions today affect those people on the other side of the globe.  I say in “today’s global world” but actually, as Maggie pointed out, God probably meant that broader understanding of “neighbor” in the first place.