Thursday, December 3, 2009

All In This Together

O Holy One, though you inhabit eternity, you still infuse our time; though your thoughts are not our thoughts, you still stir our minds; and though your ways are not our ways, you still walk with us. We pray now for you to so sharpen our awareness that we may (live) trusting your presence; to so excite our minds that we may dare to use them in your service; and to so open our ways to your bidding that we may find nourishment for our life with you and our neighbor ... Assure us, as well, that your limitless love for us scrubs away our need for pretense and frees us to ask from our hearts to yours, seek through our minds for yours, knock with our longing on the portals of your kingdom in the company of our brother ... Jesus ... Excerpt from Loaves, Fishes and Leftovers Sharing Faith's Deep questions

Jan and I shared Thanksgiving with family at State College from which I returned with a cold that's turned out to be a doozy. Colds are not at all selective (could have caught mine from numerous sources) and remind us, however obliquely, that we really are all in this together, "this" referring to life, quandaries, challenges, blessings, world and so on. Such reminders are not the first thing, or even the hundredth thing we think of when we get a cold. The problem is, not many even more nagging, obvious reminders seem to get through to us that we really are in this together. The closest we've come to that awareness is the threat of nuclear war in which only two combatants could ring down the curtain on us all.

Which is a somewhat roundabout way of bringing me back to my cold plus my murky musings about it and on to the debate about health care in our country. If my cold gets worse, my options include a visit to the doctor, prescriptions for medications and even time in the hospital if necessary. Since it's customary to label what I have as a common cold, then why doesn't anyone who gets one, and could suffer its complications, have the same options to take care of it as I do? Is that really such a trivial or ridiculous question to ask of such serious minded people as supposedly represent us in congress? If it is, and they don't get the point of it, then,\ what about diabetes, heart problems, measles, TB, breast cancer, ulcers, asthma, migraines, colon cancer ... go on fill in a hundred blanks yourself.

Maybe you could speciously argue that most on my list aren't contagious diseases. But the fallout from them is contagious. Those diseases do afflict our real, live brothers and sisters in the human family. And unfortunately indifference to them seems to be very contagious and short sighted. In fact, if you don't have medical insurance, or are denied it for a "pre-existing condition" or have it cancelled when you get a serious medical problem, and have to go to an emergency room for treatment, we all pay for it even if we don't realize it. Our government subsidizes those costs. It subsidizes Medicare and Medicaid and the CHIP program (Child Health Insurance Program) for poor kids, thank God. One way or another, like it or not, we are all in this together. That's how life is, how it works, what it's about. So the basic issue isn't whether we're all in it together, but how we choose to be.

That's really the issue at stake in the debate on health care going on in Washington. The debate has at least two sticking points. One is our congresspersons fight over whether a public insurance option is needed or good; OR would undermine the private medical insurance companies which help many of us who can afford the premiums on way or another, gain access to excellent medical care -- many BUT NOT ALL OF US.

Why? Because medical insurance is a business and business operates on maximizing profits, profits from which the insurance business contributes millions to campaign funds for many of those same elected officials who are debating the issue. To increase profits, insurance companies leave out people who can't afford their coverage. That's over 40 MILLION of the brothers and sisters with whom we're all in this together. And that doesn't include billions of others without health care around the world. But forget that for now. The irony, the hypocrisy of this debate is that it goes on among members of congress who have the most extensive health care insurance in the nation and - AND - it's paid for by our government. Why, then, shouldn't comparable health insurance be available to everyone? Why should congress ally with insurance companies to deny health insurance access to millions and not provide some form optional insurance program for everyone. Can't you guess the answer? Of course.

And everyone means everyone, poor, middle class, wealthy. And women. That's the second sticking point about the bill. My friend, Arvin Luchs, Senior Pastor of First United Methodist Church of Portland, Oregon, recently referred to a study that discloses that there are many roadblocks to health care for all women, especially poor women. Thought the health care reform bill goes a significant way toward correcting that inequity.

But there's also a significant omission, especially when it comes to poor women. Congress is debating whether any government money should be used for abortions. Of course, there are two compelling sides to the issue of abortion and, to be clear, no one is Pro-Abortion just Pro-Choice. The truth is that moral issues, moral choices, are seldom if ever between absolute, immutable moral positions. Why should anyone, why should women, why should poor women, be prohibited from or have to overcome burdensome financial obstacles, in the process of making such an agonizing decision about their own bodies and lives? Why should a religious institution pressure its members to forbid women from having that choice when it apparently didn't instruct its own clergy not to use their bodies to abuse children?

Of course, health care reform, which everyone agrees is necessary, is a complex and difficult issue. But the fact as reported in research quoted by my friend Arvin Luchs, is that among the 23 richest nations in the world, the United States ranks last in the percentage of citizens who can access health care. The report goes on to say, "While the other 22 provide health care through a variety of systems ... they all agree that a moral duty of a state is to provide for the health of its citizens." Surely our country has that moral duty and that's I'm advocating for here, not the exact kind of health care bill that's passed. With or without a public option, surely there's a moral imperative to cover all citizens with affordable, or subsidized, health care bill.

Jesus was a healer concerned about peoples' health, their bodies as well as their spirits because each profoundly affects the other. In some way, his parable of the Good Samaritan applies to the challenge of our situation because it highlights the truth that we are all in this together. Surely, you know the parable. A man lies beaten by the side of the road, his life threatened by his condition. Two men come by, look at him, and decide to go past and leave him lying there. Two men, both of whom are religious people, a priest and Levite, one who assists in the temple. Both well-off; neither willing to risk a thing, or pay even a little, to help the beaten man. But then a Samaritan comes along, stops, feels empathy and compassion, goes to the beaten man, bandages his wounds, puts him on his donkey and takes him to an inn -- like a hospital -- stays with him and pays the innkeeper and tells him to take care of the man and the Samaritan adds that he'll come back and pay whatever the bill is. Remember, the Samaritan was a foreigner, someone looked down on in Israel.

And here we are. So who is the beaten man for us? Who are the two who pass by and don't want to be bothered, or have their privileges tampered with? Who is the Samaritan? Or better, who are the Samaritans? Who will step up and tell their congresspersons to take care of the beaten, and we'll help pay the bill because love and justice are about our all being in this together. Good Samaritans need to get off
their ... donkeys and get organized.

Think about it while I go back to my sniffling, wheezing and sneezing. Ted


  1. This is a thought-provoking and interesting topic. Our healthcare decisions must be made with and between doctors and patients. That insurance companies have the last say in who and how treatment occurs is, though complex, not difficult to interpret and needs to be a high priority of those who ultimately make this decision for reform in our government. All of us in America must have the opportunity to have healthcare and that we don't is anathema.

  2. So glad you're still "preaching"/reflecting/sharing with us! As someone who has been puzzled and whining about catching a cold every time I have to make the day-long trip to Prescott to be with my wee grandkids, I loved your taking me deeper into the place of identification with others "under the weather". We are all in this together! Hope you got my e-mail with Dan Callahan's piece on "America's Blind Spot..." about health care and the common good (common cold) -- all goes back to community! Hope you are feeling better and not laid too low by this winter stormin'! Love, Judith