righting the religious right

(The following is an article I wrote for ConversantLife)
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There’s something in the air right now . . .

Something familiar. A growing sense of frenzy that was kicked up around election time, and seems to have re-emerged with the conversation surrounding health care reform. People are panicking. They aren’t just disagreeing, or questioning the administration, or sharing opinions. People are yelling and screaming, threatening and freaking, and believing and perpetuating some seriously creative stories about the government’s desire to kill disabled children and leave our elderly “out to pasture”.

I wish I could just sit and watch this unfold as a detached observer. People are drawn to drama – this is a universal truth. It would be easier for me to laugh it off and shake my head at the antics of some imaginative figureheads who enjoy cattle-prodding the masses into mass hysteria. The trouble for me, though, as a Christian, is that as I watch this unfold, I am unsettled with the fact that most of this is coming from other people who share my faith. The conservative right and “Christiandom” have been inexplicably linked in our nation – so much so that I think many people have difficulty differentiating between the two. What’s worse, the conservative right are being represented in the media by people whose communication tactics are manipulative at best.

It is baffling to me to watch people who invoke the name of “Christ” so loudly, to be so deceitful in recruiting for their political causes. It is also confusing for me that so many Christians are not outraged at this behavior. When a previous candidate for the religious right suggests that retarded children will sit in front of death panels who will decide their fate, it’s time to question their integrity as a leader. When a popular conservative mouthpiece starts showing posters of Nazi’s preparing to execute a person with cerebral palsy in a conversation about national healthcare, it’s time to seriously consider if this person has a grasp on reality and should be informing anyone on anything. When that same person jokes about poisoning the speaker of the house, accuses the president of loathing white people, and acts complicit when a caller suggests that Obama is the antichrist, then it’s a bit confusing to learn that this man still has a huge audience amongst Christians. And when a subsidiary of a big Christian university puts out a “factsheet” on the healthcare bill that is widely circulated amongst Christians and yet refuted by most fact-checking websites, then one has to wonder when honesty became an optional virtue for the religious right.

There is nothing Christian about stoking fears, scaring the less-educated, freaking out the elderly, and then winking and shrugging when a mob mentality starts sweeping the nation. Will this still be funny when someone resorts to violence, because they are believing the political swill? Because in case you haven’t noticed, there are some seriously crazy people out there who are just waiting for a good fight.

Yes, our nation is grappling with healthcare. Boiled down, some of us think our employer should keep paying, while some of us would prefer the government to foot the bill. As Christians, we are free to respectfully disagree with the government on this issue. But please hear me – my concern is not about that. I believe there are many Christians who are able to agree to disagree on this issue and have intelligent debate about it. My concern is with the hysteria I’m seeing sweep the nation. While passions are high on this issue, I think most of the brouhaha has been guided (or misguided) by some savvy members of the conservative media who are now watching with glee as their Republican public is fueled by fear. If their fantastical predictions do come true, and a death panel is instituted, or the elderly are left for dead, or our country is dismantled, I hope we all have enough faith in our country and fellow citizens to believe that ALL OF US will be fighting back. But for now, it seems like fear is a powerful recruiting tool that some are using at the expense of integrity or truth. As Brian McClaren recently said,

“But we Christians, it seems to me, have a high calling – to be radically committed to integrity and civility, even (especially) with those with whom we disagree. God, after all, is merciful, generous, and kind to “the just and the unjust”: How can we not have that same obligation regarding those with whom we disagree? Even if others resort to dirty political tricks and distortion of the truth through exaggeration and fear-mongering, we simply cannot. At the very least, we should be seekers of truth, seekers of wisdom, not consumers (or purveyors) of propaganda – even if it comes from members of our own political party and people who quote a lot of Bible verses (often out of context). We have a higher calling. “

People love the thrill of a fight, and bonding over a common enemy gives people a sense of purpose. But inciting riots over imaginary scenarios is a dangerous game. Our job as Christians is to keep doing God’s work – to be His hands and feet – until He returns. Our job is to seek justice, to do mercy, to walk humbly . . . Perhaps it is time for all of us to seek these qualities in the people who will represent us. At best, it’s time to turn down the voices that don’t, and to be accountable for the information we give and receive so that our words and thoughts are based in the truth. (i.e., checking the truth of incendiary emails we receive before sending them on).

Recently, Keith Olbermann made a plea for the religious right to act with more integrity. Let pause for a moment on that sentence: Keith Olbermann made a plea for the religious right to act with more integrity. He’s not my favorite person, and I often think he is prone to emotionality as well, but this time I think he’s got it right. His words here cut to the quick of the matter and I encourage you to give it a listen:

We don’t all have to agree with the same political ideology. But making things up about the people we don’t like? Even my four-year-old knows better than that.

assuredly uninsurable

I’ve been wanting to write about healthcare reform for a while now. I feel really passionate about it, but I have so much to say that I end up getting overwhelmed and then say nothing. I’ve also been a little hesitant on what to say and how to say it, because it is such a divisive and polarized political issue. I know my views are sure to tick a few people off. But my unwillingness to choose a side in the conservative/liberal identification game, along with my tendency to blather on about my personal political agenda, basically means that somewhere along the lines I am sure to piss off EVERYONE I KNOW. Especially my mom, but probably more so for saying the word “piss”.

Anyways, there are a million things I could say on this issue, but for now, I want to start with just telling our story. The reason I think our story is important is because I think that most people who are against healthcare reform have some notions about the “uninsured”, and also about what government-run healthcare is really like. In our family, we have struggled with private insurance, but we have a child who is on a government-run plan. I will talk about Jafta and our experience with his insurance another time. But today, I want to give a face to the problem for an average American family like ours.

Mark worked at a church for the first ten years of marriage. He had decent insurance at this job. During this time, I didn’t really know much about the health insurance crisis. We had insurance, and so how other people were affected wasn’t really a huge concern of mine. Like a lot of people today, I assumed that people who didn’t have insurance just needed to look for a different job with better benefits, or just pay out-of-pocket and get it on their own. But it wasn’t my problem, so mostly I just didn’t care.

My first brush with the systemic problem came when Mark was in a major car accident. It was a freak accident – something you never expect will really happen to you, and one of the reasons insurance is so important. Had we not been insured, we would have lost everything to this accident. Thank God we were. We had an HMO at the time so most everything was covered. But when we saw the bill, two things stuck out. First, there seemed to be a serious game of “name your own price” when it came to the bills. The hospital/doctor/ambulance would state their price, and then that price would be considerably reduced to the contracted rate. Which begs the question, WHAT IS THE REAL PRICE? When you buy something from a street vendor in Tijuana, you expect that the first price thrown out is just a high-ball starting point for bargaining. You don’t expect it from healthcare professionals, but that is exactly what happened on every bill received. Usually the “contracted price” was about 25% of the initially requested price.

The other systemic issue we noticed, which is no surprise to anyone, was the exorbitant cost and low quality of care Mark received in his month in the hospital. He went days, literally days, without seeing a doctor. I had to chase nurses down in the hallway to ask for help when Mark was struggling with basic functioning. As a family, we felt we couldn’t leave him at all or he would be ignored. We had to advocate constantly for him, and often took to doing things ourselves (bathing, toileting, etc) because it was so hard to get someone to respond. It took days for someone to notice that his brace was on incorrectly, and the result is that his bones healed incorrectly which led to two later surgeries. He was booted out of the hospital way too soon, and came home completely and totally dependent on 24/7 care. I literally don’t know how he would have survived if he didn’t have family to care for him. And the hospital bill for four weeks of substandard care? $500,000. Then another $190,000 for two subsequent surgeries to fix the crappy job that was done in the hospital. And do you think the hospital offered a refund for their shoddy handiwork? No.

There is a lot more I could say about that experience, but I am already digressing from my point, which is to talk about how we became an “uninsurable family”. When Mark left his job at Rock Harbor to do private practice, we knew that insurance would be a factor, but I was completely ignorant as to how big it would be. I had seen commercials on tv for insurances plans “starting as low as $90 a month”. I figured we would just buy our own insurance, and that it would just be something we added to the budget. I knew we would have some pre-existings, but neither of us had cancer, right? Mark’s accident was in the distant past, and while I figured we would pay a higher premium, I had no clue that some people just can’t get insurance no matter what they are willing to pay. We called broker after broker. We filled out forms and answered honestly. Because of Mark’s car accident, he was considered UNINSURABLE. He wasn’t given a higher premium . . . he was flat-out denied. And surprisingly, so was I. A string of miscarriages (that required no medical intervention whatsoever) also rendered me uninsurable, and we found ourselves with no options, even if we were willing to pay. The church did not offer COBRA, and we talked to numerous underwriters, all of whom told us the same thing. We won’t insure you, and NOBODY WILL.

Now, Mark and I did manage to find a way around this. We were able to form a corporation and gain insurance as a company of two people, since we are in the same field. But not everyone has the education, savy, ability, or money to do something like that. I know there are many people out there without insurance because of health conditions. And these are the very people that need insurance. Why we would want the government to stay out of offering this right to every person, especially the sick, is beyond me.

We are very fortunate to be insured, but this is still a broken system. We pay $1000 a month to insure the two of us. That’s $12,000 a year, and doesn’t include our kids. This is only catastrohpic insurance. We have a $5000 deductible every year. I got pregnant in August, so we paid that deductible in 2008, and then it started over in 2009. And once I had Karis, we had to pay the deductible again for her hospital stay. Even after the deductible, our plan only covers 75% of a hospital stay. So my delivery bill was $1900 after the deductible.

So, if you do the math, my pregnancy cost us:
$9000 (9 months of premiums)
$5000 (deductible in 2008)
$5000 (deductible in 2009)
$5000 (deductible for Karis)
$1900 (hospital stay)

= having Karis cost me $25,900.

And I have insurance.

Please know I’m not saying this for a pity party. Mark and I are fortunate, we’re scraping by, we don’t need anyone’s sympathy, yada yada yada. We may have to lay off the Starbucks and eating out for a while, but we will manage. The point I want to make, though, is that some people can’t. This kind of expense would put some people into bankruptcy. People WITH insurance cannot afford bills like this. That is not okay. And these numbers are for a pregnancy. I can’t imagine what a serious accident or illness would cost.

I share all of this in an effort to put the insurance thing into perspective. Regular, hard-working people are struggling. This is not a problem that just effects illegal aliens or the unemployed. (Although those people are deserving of sympathy, too). This is a problem for many average Americans.

There is so much more I want to say about this . . . I want to talk about how we are already paying for the uninsured, about how government-funded health insurance does not mean socialism any more than libraries, public parks, or schools do. I want to question why we think money-hungry HMO’s are managing our health with any more benevolence than the government would, and how 0ur current system has most of the very issues we fear about countries like Canada and England (long waits and crappy care). I’m hoping I will get around to talking about that, but for now, I would really encourage everyone to look at this issue with FRESH EYES. Move beyond the political, because this is not a political issue. This is a social justice issue, and our level of compassion should not be defined by our political alliances.

Fear Not

It’s election night. Facebook is abuzz with people leaving their commentary on Obama’s win, and here are some quotes from friends who were obviously looking for a different outcome:

“I am moving out of the country”
“I am about to drive off a cliff”
“Come quickly, Lord Jesus”
“I feel like the floodgates of war have just been unlocked”
“I am buying a gun tomorrow”
“I hope American doesn’t implode”
“I am fearful of things to come”

Oh boy.

Sorry to call you out, my dear Facebook friends. I’m sure you didn’t want me quoting you on my blog. But when you post this “the sky is falling” drama, it’s like you are just begging me to comment on it.

I am annoyed by these comments not because I am a Democrat. (’cause I’m not). I am annoyed by these comments as a Christian and as an American. I realize that some people are disappointed, and that may prone them towards a little dramatic license right now. But this is ridiculous.

First of all, as a Christian, I know that God is in control. I know that the president will not change my faith or how I practice it. The government will not dictate what values I give my children, who I call my friends, or where I go to church. And (gasp), from what I’ve heard, Obama does not have an agenda to drive the church underground, persecute Christians, throw us into war or usher in the end days. Sure, it might suck if our taxes go up, or if Roe vs. Wade doesn’t get overturned anytime soon, or if there is a new supreme court justice who doesn’t think just like us. But is that a reason to live in fear? Sorry to rain on the alarmist parade, but this stuff didn’t radically change with our previous presidents, either.

But more than that . . . People. Get some perspective!!! Are you really scared about the future of the United States because our president just changed? If so, I encourage you to get off your spoiled American hiney and go visit Haiti. Or Burma. Or Taiwan or the Congo. Talk to someone who lives in a country ruled by Robert Mgabe. And then come back and tell us all how freakin’ good we have it here, and what an oppressive and corrupt government really feels like. We have had liberal and conservative presidents in the past 30 years. We have had democrats and republicans. Do you really think that our country, and the way we live our daily lives, changes that much with a change in the presidency? Do you really the the government is in charge of our moral fiber? I mean, seriously, look at the history books. I sure as heck didn’t want Clinton to be president. But do I look back on those years of my life with fear and trembling, remembering the horrors of life in the US and how I wanted to flee the country? No. I have full confidence that our country is and will continue to be the greatest place to live.

America is awesome. God is good. I thank God I live in this country, and I refuse to live in fear. Stop shaking in your boots and say a little prayer for the new leader. I think we’re all gonna be okay.

When Did We Sanction Slander?

DEF slander (noun): words spoken that damage the reputation of another

I have debated writing about this for the past few weeks. I really don’t want to come off as judgemental, and it’s hard because I already feel like I have ruffled feathers with some of my friends and family with my political jabbering. But I really feel compelled to ask this question, of all of us:When did we decide that slander was okay, as long as it pertains to politics?Now when I say slander, I don’t mean people opposing a person’s policies, asking questions, or saying we don’t like a particular candidate. That’s all fine by me. I’m talking about people repeating rumors that are untrue, or stating things that are partly true or manipulated, or forwarding an email before checking the facts. I don’t think this is being done intentionally, I think it’s just passing along information that we get from friends that sound alarming.Now let me be blunt here. I run in Christian circles. And the slander that is infiltrating my inbox seems to be singularly focused on one person: Barack Obama. I think that some of the things said about EVERY candidate in this election have been detestable. When Palin was accused of faking a pregnancy for her teen daughter, I was livid on her behalf. But I’m talking about the Obama-smearing right now because that seems to be, somehow, completely acceptable in Christian circles. It’s like everyone has given each other a wink and a permision slip to spread lies and repeat gossip only if it pertains to Obama.In my experience, generally speaking, slander is considered uncool for Christians. And lest I sound self-righteous, let me confess right away that I have certainly been guilty of slander a time or five. It is sometimes irrestistable not to pass on a morsel of tabloid fodder, especially when it’s scandalous. I’ve done it too. But what concerns me here is that political slander has become corporate, loud, and out-in-the-open, with no apparent shame or accountability. I would like to think that if I decided, one day, to cc my entire group of friends on some juicy piece of unfounded gossip about somebody, that I would get a few friends who would call me out. If I emailed weekly updates of The National Enquirer to my family every week, I think I would get a metaphorical hand slap.So why is this acceptable when it pertains to a politician?I know it feels like the media is biased to the left, but I have heard incredible bias from Christians questioning everything from Barack being Muslim to being a terrorist to not even being American. I’v received emails about Barack painting over the flag on his plane. He won’t say the pledge! He only worked in the senate for 143 days! He’s racist!. And he doesn’t know how to use the phone! I’ve even been forwarded a video put out by an organization called “NoHussein.org”. Don’t even get me started on the racial undertones of that one. (I find it insanely offensive when people are subtly comparing Obama to a convicted criminal because they share the same name). And now, there is a Focus on the Family letter that is projecting that under an Obama presidency, pornography will litter our stores, Christians will have no religious freedom, churches will be stripped of rights, homosexuality will take over the Boy Scouts, and the pledge will be banned. That’s right. All at the hand of that evil Barack Obama. Sheesh, Dobson. Exaggerate much?To me, this is the very stuff that makes non-Christians look at us like a bunch of reactionary idiots who can’t think for themselves and like to proselytize with fear. People, it’s not okay to spread false info, even if it’s someone we don’t like. I often feel like I am on truth patrol with the email forwards I receive, and I never know how much to say. I dont’ want to seem like a nag, or be written off as a liberal nutjob, but it bothers me so much that we seem to be perpetuating the perception that Christians are judgemental fear-mongerers.Ultimately what I’m saying is that we should all do our research to be sure of the truth of things before we share. Youtube, email forwards, and blogs are sources of great misinformation, and taking all of it as truth and then passing it along is dangerous. One resource I like for checking for facts is this website. I feel like it is unbiased and shows the spinning that happens from both sides. I am very aware that there are untruths coming from the Obama camp. I just don’t see them promoted in my circle as much.If you know me, you know I really enjoy political discourse. I think it’s good to question, to debate, to think, and to share ideas. I also think it’s fine to look at each candidate with a sharp eye, and make sure we feel they have integrity if they are going to lead us. I guess sometimes it’s a hazy and difficult line between being critical and being slanderous. So let’s keep ourselves in check. Like checking here or here first. So be warned. If you send me an email forward, and I research it and it’s not true, I may just have to “reply all” and call you out. Or just forward this article back to the whole lot.

Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon: Politics Style

I love to play this silly game called Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon: where you name an actor and then, in six movies or less, you have to connect them to a movie that Kevin Bacon was in. It’s silly and trivial but, well, so am I.

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I’ve been noticing this game being played out in politics all month. It’s a fun little guilty-by-association game. Six Degrees of Desperation, if you will. And both sides are playing. Hard. Here are some of the gems I’ve heard online this week:

1. Obama is on the board of a charity for education
2. A University of Chicago professor is on the charity board
3. This professor planted bombs in the 60’s protesting the Vietnam war
DING! DING! DING!
4. Obama pals around with terrorists

1. John McCain sought the endorsement of evangelical leader John Hagee
2. John Hagee said some crap about Hitler fulfilling God’s will
DING! DING! DING!
3. John McCain is anti-semitic

1. Obama goes to a prominent Black church in chicago
2. The church calls their members to upholding, supporting, and creating pride in the Black community
3. Black people who support the Black community must not like white people
DING! DING! DING!
4. Obama hates white people

1. Sarah Palin goes to Wasilla Bible Church
2. Palin’s pastor had a guest speaker from the Jews for Jesus organization
3. The speaker suggested that terrorism in Israel was divine retribution for rejecting Christianity
DING! DING! DING!
4. Sarah Palin thinks the Jews are getting what they deserve

1 The pastor of Obama’s church used to be Revered Wright
2. Reverend Wright read a book by James Cone written 40 years ago
3. James Cone said, using some extreme hyperbole, that he “will accept only the love of God which participates in the destruction of the white enemy”
DING! DING! DING!
4. Obama wants to kill white people

WOW! This games is even more fun than the Hollywood version. I mean, if I spin things enough, I can make anybody look like a complete and total A-hole. I LOVE POLITICS!!

And according to this theory of being guilty of your friends’ past actions or public remarks, Mark and I are in big trouble. Because based on this logic and our own circle of friends, we are guilty of supporting adulturers, drug dealers, extortionists, mobsters, communists, drunks, homosexuals, and white supremacists. And that’s only the junk we know about! Who knows what dirty secrets abound in the lives of Mark’s fellow charity board members. And I love the idea of being held accountable for everything said from the pulpit of the churches I have attended.

Oh, I know. I know. We do need to look at who a person associates themselves with. We must be responsible for what other people around us say or do. I mean, who would want a leader who knowingly hung out with prostitutes, or tax collectors, or blatant sinners? That would be CRAZY.

PS This is my own discovery, and one no other media outlet is willing to talk about. But I noticed, and felt I needed to bring to your attention:

1. The AKIBA Christian bookstore sells a Max Lucado book
2. The AKIBA Christian bookstore sells a Chuck Swindoll book
3. The AKIBA Christian boostore sells the aforementioned James Cone book
DING! DING! DING!
4. Max Lucado and Chuck Swindoll hate white people