Monday, August 31, 2009

Stop Being Religious!

Religion is alive and well in the United States and world. Christianity, however, is on life support. Religion justifies our prejudices. Religion sanctifies our actions. Religion tells us who is in and who is out. Religion draws lines in the sand. Religion says you're a sinner and I am not. Religion justifies hatred. Religion is ideologically blind. Religion foments violence. In his documentary, "Religulous", a name blending religion and rediculous, comedian Bill Maher sets out the case for how commitment to a religion, stirs the fires of war.

Christianity, on the otherhand, waters the flowers of peace. Christianity lifts the grace of reconciliation. Christianity opens us to forgivness and repentance. Christianity inspires atonement. Christianity causes love. Christianity calls forth justice.

Leadership in Washington is being too religious in the health care debate. There are too many lines in the sand, too much "we're in and you're out', too much corporate prejudice. What they need is a commitment to being Christian. It is time call out the leadership to lend integrity to their Christian beliefs. I say this believing that most of our Washington leadership are active in some Christian church. I may be wrong, but I am trying to be generous and assuming the best! Is this a stretch?

Jesus addresses the issues of religiosity and Christianity in his criticism of the Scribes and Pharisees in Mark 7. The religious are hypocrites. Now, their holy veneer is shredded by the presence of the Christ. Mark quotes Jesus as saying words from Isaiah: "You honor me with your lips, but your heart is far from me". The S and P knew the rules and were good at saying who was in and who was out. But Jesus was about a new point of view and had come to change the game. Religion out, Jesus in. Washington leadership is like the Scribes and Pharisees.

Bonhoeffer addressed the same issue. The German Church was that of the Scribes and Pharisees. The German Church had become "religious" and not Christian. The Confessing Church, however, was the Christian expression of faithfulness. Bonhoeffer wrote: "There is salvation only in the Confessing Church". Bonhoeffer noticed the difference and called out the German faithful to be faithful. He also spoke of a "religionless Christianity", a phrase that meant, "Be Christian"!

What does it mean to be Christian? The Letter of James shows us the way. First of all, "Be quick to listen, slow to anger, slow to speak". What a lesson for those attending the Town Hall meetings! Be respectful of each other. Be civil. Be Christian! Then, show concern for the orphans and widows because they are the most vulnerable. Indeed, Jesus spent most of his life taking on the holy powerful and showing compassion for the most vulnerable. The Kingdom of God was announced through the loving actions of the Christ. Jim Wallis says that "Authentic faith is revealed in action". Jesus was the personification of authentic faith in action. James says, "Be doers of the Word".

Considering health care, into the breech we go! For me, the health care issue needs a competitive public option. Better yet, universal, single payer care! We also need to bargain for lower drug costs. I hope this apparent deal with the pharmaceutical companies is a mirage. It is important to lessen malpractice insurance costs. Community health clinics can be established to work with patients on preventive care. And to get this all done, having the Senate commit to "reconciliation" (what a misnomer! It is time for power politics!) and 51 votes. Go for it. Obama needs to call in the blue dogs and all leadership folks on the Hill and state clearly his intention for the public option because it is the moral thing to do, with all people being served and costs being lowered. It may well be necessary to raise taxes. So be it. We need to remember that in the European countries and Canada, taxes are higher to pay for health care. Health care is not free over there, but it is for all, and ALL is the goal. The government needs to be the Grand Bargainer for lower costs because the private companies are too obsessed with profit taking to adequately serve the common good. Nobody is talking about shutting private companies down, but only to make competition fair and affordable for ALL.

It is time for Obama to lead like a Christian. I sense he is being too "religious" in his leadership. He has drawn too many lines in the sand to be effective. It is time for him to do the Jesus thing of confronting the corporate powerful, calling them hypocrites, and calling them out to be bold for justice! It is time to care for the most vulnerable. The fat cats are so obese with power and wealth they revel in self protection, blindly believing they are serving all people when in truth they only fatten themselves.

Stop being religious, Mr. President! Be Christian!


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Inglorious Nation

The movie "Inglorious Bastards" won at the weekend box office, taking in over $30 million. The bloody plot is all about killing nazis in creative, telegenic ways. Quentin Tarantino, the director, seems to be in old form stirring up this gory spectacle. Brad Pitt earned a healthy sum as star, and his character lived up to Brad's recent declaration that he doesn't believe in God. Not believing in God/Jesus frees us to simply believe in the righteousness of ourselves, our actions, our motives. Certainly this is a picture of our original sin.

Violence is America's apple pie, with ice cream. The American people have over 200 million guns in their homes. Over 30,000 people die of gun shots each year, more than nearly all other nations combined, perhaps all. We have our military presence in over 130 countries, as well as fighting two wars of choice in Iraq and Afghanistan/Pakistan. We can count on some crazy shooting up a workplace, a home, or a school a few times each year. Put it on your calendar. MSNBC has a ratings bonanza with its "Lock-Up" weekenders. People are showing up at President Obama's town halls with sidearms and assault rifles. Fox news speaks of "amped up" Americans who are "taking the extra step and getting the gun out". Then there are the holocaust murderer and the killer of "Tiller the Baby Killer". Problem solving run amok! I must admit to celebrating when I heard the host of "Hardball", Chris Matthews, as he interviewed the gun-totting sign holder, ask him, (paraphrase), "Don't you know the history of our nation and people bringing a god-d----gun into the presence of the President of the United States?"

The June 29 issue of The New Yorker carried an article by Lauren Collins called "Over There-Blam". She wrote of the marriage of military, music, and violence. Specifically, she cited a recent book "Sound Targets: American soldiers and Music in the Iraq War", "...which examines the role of music in military recruiting, combat, interrogations, and morale...." One soldier, Colby Buzzell, an M240 Bravo machine gunner says, "I'd listen to Slayer to get all into it". Another, from the Fourth Infantry Division, says "LilJon's 'I don't Give a F---' was an anthem-soldiers called it their 'getting cranked' song, and they would chant its refrain until they were ready to leave the base". Eminen provided another crank song, "Die, motherf----, die".

And now there is violence over health care! Health care! What ought to be the domain of compassionate, gentle civility, has become a battleground for venting frustrations over you name it! Hatred! Fear! If ever there was a time for the Church to step up its witness, it is now.

The Psalm for this Sunday is Psalm 15:

O Lord, who may abide in your tent?
Who may dwell on your holy hill?
Those who walk blamelessley, and do what is right.
and speak the truth from their heart;
who do not slander with their tongue,
and do no evil to their friends,
nor take up reproach against their neighbors;....
We are given the Sermon on the Mount, and the grace to love the enemy. Our liturgies sing of the mercy of God and each of us being expressions of God's mercy. A truly great song, "The Canticle of the Turning" by Rory Cooney, based on the "Magnificat", shouts: "My heart shall sing of the day you bring. Let the fires of your justice burn. Wipe away all tears, for the dawn draws near, and the world is about to turn." To the ramparts! Sing a different song! Fight with weapons of the Spirit!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Something's Happening Here!

The song begins: "Something's happening here....Stop, what's that sound, everybody look what's going down". Echoes of the 60's: civil rights, Vietnam, women's liberation, sexual freedom, and.... Recently, Frank Rich, columnist for the New York Times, commented that he is seeing parallels between now and the early 1960s. People rising up to support or protest social change, and the increasingly violent temper of the nation.

Looking and listening to the raucus screaming at town hall meetings, many people not even wanting dialog, but only to shut down the conversation. People bringing automatic rifles and small arms to Obama events. Shouts of Nazi, Hitler, and the infamous T-4 euthanasia program of the SS, the increasing number of hate groups as reported by the Southern Poverty Law Center ("Hate Groups Reach Record 926"), and the general breakdown of civility in our national character, bi-partisanship existing in name only, and some crazy wearing a T-shirt using a Thomas Jefferson quote about the need to "water the tree of liberty with the blood of patriots and tyrants", makes "Something's happening here" a reason to pay attention, real quick! I must confess to waking up most days and wondering if President Obama is still alive. The crazies are hunting.

The reasons are many: Obama and family are Black, unemployment and underemployment, huge national debt, two wars of choice, lack of consumer confidence, no health insurance or inadequate insurance, and energy needs. There is national "dis-ease". Does this sound like the Colorado Confession?

I am reminded of the creation in Genesis. Creation happened to quell the chaos in the universe. Creation brought order and purpose into being. Likewise, Good Friday led to Easter, the cross to glory. It seems evil needs to be lanced, and there is no easy way through. It is like a national C.P.E. session (Clinical Pastoral Education), when healing happens through the unearthing of the pain. Or, the age of the prophets is stirring the cauldron of justice. It is interesting that the OT prophets had their day amidst the need for national cleansing. The status quo needed to be rattled because there was "something rotten in [America]". Remember "Sounds of Silence": "The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls and tenement halls, within the sounds of silence". Today, the words of the prophets are being written in hospital emergency wards, insurance company meeting rooms, idle hands in foreclosed homes, and citadels of power where politics and ideology trump compassion and justice.

The stirrings are necessary for us to engage the issues of the future. The stirrings are the rising aches of souls and the confessions of truth layed bare. For there to be light we need to live the naked darkness. It is time to listen well, to feel the hell, and ring the bell of justice.


Monday, August 10, 2009

Assault Upon Christ!

In true Barthian fashion, I am preparing a sermon with the Bible in one hand and the internet (newspaper) in the other. Bonhoeffer echoes Barth in saying: "I cannot experience the reality of the world without the reality of God; nor the reality of God without the reality of the world". So, here goes my feeble attempts to reflect these sages.

The other night, Jonathan Alter, senior writer for NEWSWEEK, crystallized the moral issue behind the health care debate. To paraphrase his insight: "This is a civil rights issue. To deny adequate, affordable health care to those who are ill or unemployed is discriminatory". Let me hear an "amen"! Isn't there something in the Constitution about equal protection under the law?

Yet, for many, including the "birthers", "deathers", and "screamers", the issue is not discrimination, but protecting what is mine. They say, equal access has little to do with health care. Fear has become the armor for my self protection. My survival is paramont to equality, and trumps justice for all. The "birthers" use the argument of illigitamacy in its rant against President Obama. We cannot support this plan because it is being pushed by a person who is not rightly our president. What they won't say is because he is an African American. Racism is alive and well in the hearts of many. But they won't admit it.

The "deathers" (to use the name coined by Rachel Maddow), and the simple minded Sarah Palin, shout the canard that the evil, faceless, cold government is openning the door to euthanasia through this health care plan. To show how far out this group is from reality, they are comparing Obama to Hitler's program of euthanasia for "those less than life", intimating that the government will begin establishing portable Hadamars to cleanse our nation of the unfit. Fear and desparation live!

The "screamers" are those who care not for debate but for stifling conversation. Finding common ground is not sought, only domination and maintaining the status quo. I've got mine, and if you get yours I will be denied. It is all about me. Indeed, we have become a nation of narcissists.

Fueling this fight are fear, denial, ignorance, and profit: fear that I will lose my health care, denial to others as a necessity for my well being, ignorance of the facts (remember Daniel Patrick Moynahan's pithy words: "Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts"), and profit to maintain a system of bankruping the nation and the survival of a company.

In the end, what is called for is a commitment to justice. As a nation with significant Christian roots, it would be well to listen to Holy Scripture as we debate health care. The lectionary lesson for 30 August, lifts up James 1:17-27. "...let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God's righteousness....Religion that is pure and undefiled before this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained from the world". Orphans and widows are consistently mentioned in scripture because they were considered the most vulnerable.

To care for means to insist upon justice for all. Health care for all. Let us listen and speak. Let us be civil in our discourse. How about Christians reflecting Christ instead of evil?

Frank Schaefer, a one time "far right crazy", now repentant, has written a book entitled CRAZY FOR GOD, in which he reveals how those professing to follow Christ are actually prostituting the Word of God for their own survival's sake. In commenting on this sad state of affairs, he quotes Bart Simpson: "The election broke their brains". I would also say, "broke their souls". Yes, we all sin. And we are all called to repentance. The ways of Christ are being assaulted. Justice is being assaulted. "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness." "Let justice roll...."


Thursday, August 6, 2009

Health Insurance: Get It Done Right

Health insurance for ALL is worth going to the wall. Just read Jonathan Alter's satire on keeping health care as it is in the Huffington Post and you will understand the gaping holes in our present system. Give me Canada, France, UK, and toss in the Scandinavian countries as well. Our present system hinders and prevents full coverage for all people, and its cost is driving us further into debt, as well as ringing alarm bells about the future viability of Medicare and Medicaid. So what ought we do? I would propose the following:

1. Insist on a public option. This will stimulate competition with the private insurance companies which will in turn lower costs. The public option is similar to Medicare and Medicaid, and is no more "socialistic" than them. Indeed, the cry of socialism is a canard to scare folks into keeping the present system.
2. Learn to control costs by learning from the Mayo Clinic, Minnesota public health strategies, the Cleveland Clinic, and the state of Utah. Each tends to focus on preventive care.
3. Explore the value of community clinics which bring health care to the people and are better equipped to offer early preventative and cheaper care. The Twin Cities and San Francisco offer such care with a significant cost savings
4. Emphasize fee for health rather than fee for procedure. Keeping people healthy is cheaper than curing their ills. Besides, it is more fun being healthy!
5. Insist on employer-employee health coverage which will include the public option, again lessening costs. Insist that all people must have health insurance.
6. Insist that pre-conditions will not prevent one from getting health insurance coverage.
7. Insist that contracting an illness will not force you off of your health insurance.
8. Significantly lower the cost of malpractice insurance. Paying for MI significantly increases the costs doctors charge to patients.
9. Consider putting doctors on salary as I believe is done at the Cleveland Clinic.
10. Insist on no cuts in Medicare and Medicaid. Costs for these services can be significantly lessened by instituting the above suggestions.
11. Insist that it is time to insure ALL people. It is not moral to leave 47 million people out of the health care system.
12. Consider a tax increase to help pay for the services. We need to evaluate our financial priorities. We cannot have everything we want. We need to focus on what we need. Health care is not free, and it is central to our quality of life.

Bi-partisanship may well be impossible in getting quality health care reform. So be it! It is time to get it done right. In the end, the single payer systems are superior to our system, and the closer we move towards this type of care the better. It is important that we contact our Senators and Representatives during this time to voice our preferences. Indeed, President Obama needs to hear our voices, because his cooperative, bi-partisan leadership style may prevent necessary change. He needs to put his moral muscle behind true reform. The greatest sadness would be a watered down reform. Furthermore, it is important for us to go public whenever possible to counter the forces against reform. We need to attend public meetings, write letters to the editor, call talk radio, and ....

72% of the American people want health care reform. The forces of fear, disinformation campaigns, and the greed of many corporations will fight against change. Now is the time to stand up. I recall a wonderful hymn: "O Christ, the Healer, We Have Come". We are Christ's healers in this time and place.