Hope and a Future

I haven’t blogged in a long time, but had been planning to start again soon.  This is not how I planned to start, but sometimes my plans don’t align with God’s plans.  I’ve found that it all goes better for me when I yield to his plans, rather than pressing on with my own, so humor me (and God) with a brief departure from my normal content, as I share a relatively obvious insight that had never caught my eye before:

Many Christians are familiar with, and can even quote verse 11 of Chapter 29 from the book Jeremiah.  The verse is a source of encouragement to all of God’s followers:  ” ‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’ ”  Very uplifting words, that have been printed on coffee cups and desk placards, and quoted to countless others who are frustrated in their situation. How could you not be encouraged when the Creator of the universe tells you he has a plan to proper you?

I’m frustrated by our recent past in the Western Church, and one of those frustrations stems from the fact that we’ve often allowed our biblical teaching to become more a presentation of ethical principles than the telling of the Divine Story.  While this is subject for more than one future discussion, I raise it this morning because the popularity of this verse is a prime example of the problem:  We know maxims, comforting phrases, but we don’t know the whole story.

Jeremiah 29 isn’t a book of happy thoughts set in a prosperous time–to the contrary, the prophet Jeremiah is writing a letter to the king, the leaders, and the upper class of the nation of Judah, who had been captured by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, and who were now living in Babylon under his rule (for more on the joys of being a captive of Nebuchadnezzar, read the book of Daniel, particularly chapter 3.  See also 2 Kings 21:18, where the prophet Isaiah foretells these captives who are “lucky” enough to be chosen to be servants in Nebuchadnezzar’s household, will do so after they are castrated).

So, Jeremiah pens this letter to people who aren’t in a prosperous situation at all.  What is his message?  That they will soon be rescued?  Nope.   In fact, he quickly tells them to ignore the lies of the prophets who are telling them that they will be rescued quickly.  Instead, Jeremiah tells them to get comfy, because they’re going to be there for a while-70 years, to be exact.  And he doesn’t tell them to begin a guerilla campaign, or even to be derisive or uncooperative; instead, the Lord tells the exiles to “seek the prosperity of the city to which I have carried you.”

Jeremiah is not writing to a group of people in happy conditions–in fact, they’re in unimaginably horrid conditions.  And he’s telling them to get comfortable, because it’s going to be a long haul.  Immediately prior to the oft-quoted verse 11, we find the Lord telling the captives, “When seventy years are completed for Babylon*, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place (Jerusalem).”

The good news?  God did exactly what he promised–he brought the Jews out of captivity, exactly 70 years later. When you read the whole story, you see that God is not a random, capricious judge who vacillates and contradicts himself, but a consistent, reliable, loving God who acts in our best interests, even when what we need is an extended time-out.  God does have plans for you–plans to prosper you and not to harm you; great things for you now and in the future.

The bad news?  If you want to cherry-pick Scripture to find phrases to support your own personal wants, needs, or beliefs, you can.  But, when you lift them out of context, you may miss some important details.  Jeremiah 29:11 can be a great encouragement to all who are struggling through trials in their lives, but they need to know the whole story–the trial may not be quick, easy, or painless.

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*I highlight this because I find the phrase “seventy years are completed for Babylon” to be interesting–sometimes the duration of our trials and struggles aren’t because we need that much time to learn something, but because God needs that time to do a work through or in someone else.  While the Jews in Babylonian captivity had the opportunity to learn and grow through the trials of captivity, at least from this verse it appears that God had an equally important objective of using the Babylonians to accomplish his purposes in the course of History.  What better place to preserve the remnant of your treasured people than in the house of the king of the most powerful nation of the world?

Reflections on “How to Raise a Pagan Kid in a Christian Home”

I just read “How to Raise a Pagan Kid in a Christian Home”, and thought I’d share it, as well as add some thoughts of my own.  The article brings up some good points, and some that I’m guilty of in my own parenting.

I spent too much of my life telling my kids that my job was to ensure they “grew up to be productive members of our society.”  I was wrong, and my only defense is ignorance.  For most of my kids’ formative years, that was my understanding of life.  As the author linked above states, “The only problem with this goal is that it runs in stark contrast to what the Bible teaches.”  I didn’t realize that until about nine years ago.  See, God’s goal is not to teach morality or ethics, so that we can be strong, upright citizens.  I didn’t know that; in fact, I spent most of my life thinking that was the goal, and our reward for attaining the goal was a ticket to heaven.

The author quotes Veggie Tales creator Phil Vischer, who said:

“We’re drinking a cocktail that’s a mix of the Protestant work ethic, the American dream, and the gospel. And we’ve intertwined them so completely that we can’t tell them apart anymore. Our gospel has become a gospel of following your dreams and being good so God will make all your dreams come true.”

That first sentence describes me, and everything I taught my kids (except I was pretty light on the third part–mine would probably read more accurately if you substituted “Sunday school stories and Veggie Tales” for “gospel”).  But I’m afraid that the author of the blog goes too light on what he proposes as the antidote.  He says:

“or do you teach your kids that they will never be good without Christ’s offer of grace? There is a huge difference. One leads to moralism; the other leads to brokenness. One leads to self-righteousness; the other leads to a life that realizes that Christ is everything and that nothing else matters.”

While I don’t disagree with his point, I think that his description of “Christ’s offer of grace” still points to a message of “personal salvation,” one that tells you that if you accept Christ as your personal savior, your sins are forgiven, and you get to go to heaven.

Jesus didn’t die so we could get a ticket to heaven.  Jesus didn’t preach personal salvation.  He preached the Kingdom of Heaven.  That’s not a ticket for your afterlife, that’s a new life, starting right now.

I believe that so much of the hopelessness we see in our world, particularly in kids raised in the church, is that we are told, “pray a prayer, get ‘saved,’ then after you die, God will make everything better.”  That’s not what the BIBLE says!  If you read the whole book, it’s not just a collection of morality tales, but a comprehensive story, a metanarrative of how the Creator God has planned since the beginning to make things right in his Creation, and how each one of us, under his Lordship, can participate in that story.

I made a mess of things when I tried to do it on my own, and when I tried to use God, the church, and Veggie Tales to make my kids “productive members of society.”  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got amazing, God-loving children, who have grown up to become productive members of society, and of whom I’m very proud.  However, I way too late in life discovered that “the Protestant work ethic and the American dream” weren’t enough.

What makes my life exhilarating, and fully worth living is the fact that God wants me to be a part of his Kingdom, that he made a way for me to not only be a member, but to be an active participant in the Greatest Story, the one where he brings his fallen Creation back to relationship with him.  That purpose was what I was looking for all my life, and only recently discovered.  My hope is that my kids have that same purpose, and that other parents out there can raise their kids with The Story, rather than just the “ethics and reward” lessons I taught.

Want to be inspired?

Too many people today are frustrated by the injustice and evil in our world, and all too often are resigned to defeat, because the opposition seems to big, too powerful, too pervasive to fight.  Attempts to resist seem futile at best, and more often than not, appear to only offer personal pain and persecution.  So we do nothing, except maybe complain.  All the while, we are aching on the inside, because somebody ought to do something!  Maybe that ache is more because our own lives seem pointless in the face of the real things that matter–the bigger battle of good vs. evil, justice vs. brutality–yet we can’t seem to muster the courage to follow our passion into our purpose.

I was blessed in my years living in Alaska to have a friend, and a mentor, who was also a storyteller.  He often shared with me the stories he was working on, while we met each week to share coffee and life together, helping one another (ok, mostly him helping me) navigate our own stories.  Over the past year, Rick shared with me the most amazing story that he was living, while preparing to write his latest book.  Late night satellite phone conversations to interview guerrilla leaders hiding in the jungles on the other side of the world, researching exotic languages and the history of a country where people lived the most austere lives, fighting against nature and an oppressive government to liberate a nation–the things that young (and old) boys’ fantasies are made of!  Rick was preparing to tell the story of a man who did what he was made to do, and in the process has provided relief to over 1 million people engaged in a brutal struggle against evil in a place most of us can’t even find on a map.

I just finished the product.  In “Rangers in the Gap: Act with Courage. Never Surrender”, Rick tells the story of Dave Eubanks, a child of missionaries who becomes a successful US Army Special Forces officer, but finds his real purpose in life as the founder of the Free Burma Rangers.  Dave, and his teams are leading what might possibly the most radical, unconventional guerrilla campaign in history.  Against impossible odds, what began as one man has become 260 teams, defending the displaced ethnic people groups being ravaged in Myanmar (Burma), while simultaneously fighting a war against evil itself, using the only weapon that will defeat it.

I’d encourage you to download the Kindle book linked above to get the full story.  If you can’t, at least check out the Free Burma Rangers web page.   The story is inspiring.  Hopefully it’s inspiring enough to challenge each one of us to step into the role we were each given, to make a real difference in the world around us.

Un-knot your undies, at least on my behalf

The internet and my Facebook page are exploding with posts, memes, and articles apoplectic over the “cuts in military retirement and disability pay” in the appropriations bill on its way to the President for signature.

As a disabled veteran whose military pension is his primary source of income, I am fully qualified to tell all of the pundits to “just chill.”

First, NO ONE’S BENEFITS ARE BEING CUT.  That’s right, no one will be earning a single dollar less than what they are entitled to.  Not people already retired, not those who are on active duty and might someday retire (which, by the way, is only a small portion of those who actually serve in the military.

What the bill does is set a limit on the COST OF LIVING ADJUSTMENT effective in JANUARY 2016 (that’s two years from now).  Cost of living adjustments were never part of the entitlement, folks, just like they’re not guaranteed for the vast majority of defined-benefit pension plans, public or private, in the US (Great Britain, by law, guarantees inflation adjustments to pensions–but that’s socialism, so we don’t want to do that).  In most years, the DoD budget includes increases to pension benefits to adjust for inflation, and I’m glad they do, but retirees have never been “guaranteed” a COLA, and right now, it’s important for our nation to cut deficit spending.

What Congress just approved, was a bill that set the 2016 COLA  to 1% less than the inflation rate, and then only for retirees between the ages of 40 and 62 (like me).  The thought here is that many, but certainly not all, of these retirees go on to start second careers, so they are not solely surviving on their retirement checks.  I’m 48, so this change will affect me for 12 years, beginning two years from now (assuming Congress takes no further action in the next 14 years, which is not a valid assumption, as sooner or later, the political and economic winds will change, and Congress will adjust the appropriation to address this, if history is any indicator).  Let’s make this a little more concrete:  For simple calculation purposes, let’s say I receive a pension equal to $40k/year, and that inflation averages 3% per year.  ASSUMING (which isn’t valid, but we’ll do it, to make the point) that Congress were planning an annual COLA equal to inflation, my pension would increase 3% per year, but this bill changes that increase to only 2% per year.  Beginning in 2016, and through 2027 (when I will turn 62–man, I’m getting old), my real income would decrease slightly, although my nominal pension will continue go up.  How much?  In that 12 year period, I’ll receive a TOTAL of $10, 729 than if my COLA had matched inflation.  However, since there is no guarantee of inflation-proofing with military retirement, or most other defined-benefit pensions, for that matter, I’m NOT losing money, I’m just not receiving as much inflation protection as I would like.  The bill also provides for a one-time catchup when I turn 62, so that from that age on, when I’m less likely to be working, and more likely to truly need that pension to provide for myself, it will then maintain real spending power for the rest of my life.  I haven’t really taken the time to do the math, and I haven’t found the actual bill to read the details of the catchup provision, but I’m comfortable that my analysis is close enough for purposes of discussion, as well as for my long-term financial planning.

Most of our country has been up in arms about the runaway federal budget deficits.  We don’t typically want to pay more taxes, and most insist that the government should live within its means, which means cutting spending.  This budget deal cuts spending.  The problem seems to be that we are all for cutting government spending, unless it’s on something WE think is important!  Here’s the rub:  for every government dollar being spent, SOMEBODY thinks that expenditure is important.  In 2010, a bipartisan commission took a hard look at fiscal reform to address deficit spending and develop proposals to put the federal budget on track for long-term prosperity and economic health.  They did good work, and on page 45 of their final report they recommended the very actions established in this bill for reforming federal workforce retirement programs.

We’ve been demanding reform.  Now we’re getting it.  The pain is widespread; veterans should not be exempt.  I’ll leave you with some thoughts from the Preamble of the report cited above.  This is the collective work of some very smart people from across our political spectrum who devoted themselves to difficult, careful study of the problem, and what it’s going to take to solve it:

 The problem is real.  The solution will be painful.  There is no easy way out.  Everything must be on the table.  And Washington must lead….  we share a common belief that America’s long-term fiscal gap is unsustainable and, if left unchecked, will see our children and grandchildren living in a poorer, weaker nation…. None of us likes every element of our plan, and each of us had to tolerate provisions we previously or presently oppose in order to reach a principled compromise.  We were willing to put our differences aside to forge a plan because our nation will certainly be lost without one…. In the weeks and months to come, countless advocacy groups and special interests will try mightily through expensive, dramatic, and heart-wrenching media assaults to exempt themselves from shared sacrifice and common purpose.  The national interest, not special interests, must prevail. We urge leaders and citizens with principled concerns about any of our recommendations to follow what we call the Becerra Rule:  Don’t shoot down an idea without offering a better idea in its place.

Many of you probably have already forgotten about this commission or its report.  It didn’t catch on.  Seems everybody had some favorite program that was targeted in their recommendations, just as the authors predicted.  So we just abandoned it, and kept right on spending.  It’s too bad.  This was probably one of the best efforts put forward by our national leadership in quite some time.

It seems to me that what we really have is a terminal case of selfishness.  We demand sacrifice from all others, so that we can preserve what we have.  In the end, no one is really willing to sacrifice themselves, so we continue full speed ahead on the course we’re on.   I’m not playing that game.  If by reducing the amount of annual increase I will see in my pension, we can start reining in the spending that has resulted in a national debt which former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen cited as the most significant threat to our national security (see cited report, page 20), then I’m willing to make a bit of sacrifice for the benefit of our nation.  Please don’t be offended on my behalf.

A pause, and an aside

Life’s been busy, and I’ve been slacking, so I haven’t finished the series on health care reform yet.  I’ve written more than you’ve read, and I’m about to dive back in, but I needed a break.

I’m taking off an a bit of a tangent today.  I’m studying poverty right now; it’s an area of extreme interest, which lead me to a new job, which makes it all the more important for me to study poverty.  Anyway, I read a quote in a book I’m studying, that made me think…  And I think it’s really relevant for all of us.  It’s the intro quote to a chapter on mentoring people who are seeking to escape from generational poverty.

The wise … mentor knows that being aware of what is not known is important in order to begin to learn.*

One can read this sentence in two ways, and I haven’t read the chapter yet to know how the author intended to use it.  The first, and what I believe the more likely way for most people to interpret this sentence, is that the one being mentored must be aware of what he or she does not know.  While this is true, I believe it is just, if not more important, for the mentor to be aware of his or her own unknowns.  Like it or not, most of us operate with a huge blind spot, in that we don’t know, and in most cases don’t even consider the existence of, what we don’t know.  Poor Donald Rumsfeld was lampooned for discussing this concept, when he talked about “unknown unknowns” when in reality, he was thinking so far beyond his audience that they couldn’t comprehend a very intelligent point.  Most of us operate in the majority of our lives and decisionmaking processes from the incredibly blind point of view that we know all of the salient facts.  Fortunately, most of those decisions don’t have significant consequences.  That doesn’t make us smarter, so much as it makes us lucky.

Back to the point on poverty:  Most of us have never experienced true poverty first-hand, and quite a bit of our nation hasn’t experienced it second-hand.  Therefore, our opinions are formed predominantly from third-hand information.  When trying to address concerns of poverty, our first inclination is to tell folks to “get a job,” or “get a better job, that earns more money.”  If our experience in life doesn’t include any real contact with poverty, this makes perfect sense.  However, it ignores the fact that people who are in generational poverty are truly members of a different culture than the vast majority of the rest of us (I’m not ignoring that they’re immersed in a broader American culture that we all share, but using the term culture to refer to the fact that they are a people group who tends to be clustered together geographically, with a common set of experiences, values, language, and dress that makes them uniquely identifiable).  A reasonable person would not expect a member of another culture (for example, someone born and raised in a farming village in China) to respond to a situation the same way someone from the US would.  We recognize that they have a different frame of reference.  I believe we need to approach the generational impoverished in the same way-=-we need to start out with a desire to become aware of what we don’t know (those cultural norms of the generational impoverished that differ from our middle class norms) if we hope to help them change their condition.  Otherwise, even the best-intentioned efforts to help will be misunderstood, and at the least will only be marginally ineffective; in many cases they can exacerbate the problem.

“Seek first to understand…”

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*Payne, Ruby K. PhD, Philip E. Devol, Terie Dreussi Smith. “Bridges out of Poverty: Strategies for Professionals and Communities.” Highlands, TX: aha! Process, Inc., 2009, p. 79.

Health Care Reform Bibliography

I promise to publish part 2 of the substance of this multi-part thread soon, but I wanted to get this out there, as a general link to some good sources for more information on health care and the Affordable Care Act.  I’m sure there are many more sources, but these are some I’ve found to be quite helpful.  I’m including a short description to help you understand the source, so that you can consider  the source’s bias as you’re reading.  I encourage everyone to always read skeptically, and always to consider the source, so you can determine their bias and weigh their message accordingly.

So, in no particular order (man, it’s great to be out of Grad School!  No rules!):

The Affordable Care Act of 2010.  The whole thing (actually, this is a compilation of the ACE and the Patient Protection Act.)..  All 900+ pages (don’t let it intimidate you, there’s lots of white space) in searchable PDF format.  I have not read it all; I am somewhat skeptical of pundits who claim they have.  I’ve had many years of practice at reading government regulations and laws, so I’m somewhat immune to the boredom they bring, and I couldn’t do it, and quite honestly didn’t find it fruitful to try.  For those who are not in the business of health care who claim to have read the whole thing, I would love to test their comprehension of what they read.  I found it much more productive to drill down into topics I was wanting more info on, either through the table of contents, or through PDF search functionality.  Some search hints:

  • If you look for “Death Panels” you’ll come up empty.  What Sarah Palin refers to by that catchy moniker is titled the “Independent Payment Advisory Board.”  Search the PDF by that term instead.
  • Brown Shirts:  Not there.  There is a section on page 543 (Sec 203) titled “Commissioned Corps and Ready Reserve Corps” that modifies existing law authorizing the existing US Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, which has been around in current form since shortly after the Civil War.  (If you think this is Obama’s secret army, akin to Hitler’s Brown Shirts, I wouldn’t worry too much.  Their “commanding officer” is the US Surgeon General; and the few interactions I’ve had with these folks have clearly demonstrated that Bill Murray’s platoon in Stripes had more military discipline.  These guys may be good doctors, nurses, and health care professionals, but I’m more intimidated by Girl Scouts selling cookies at my door than I am by the threat of any of these folks.).  More recently, people are linking Obama’s Brown Shirts to FEMA, but that’s outside the scope of the ACA or this post.

The Kaiser Family Foundation: This is a great site with a ton of information, and their data is good enough that their pricing indexes are used in some places as an industry standard (this is from my personal experience in labor contract negotiations, where we needed a health insurance price index to include in contracts.  I can’t comment as to how widely spread this usage is).  They bill themselves as trying to be a trusted source of information in a space where most sources have a vested interest.  They’re set up to try to minimize outside influence.  I’m not going to claim they’re unbiased, but they seem to do a very good job of providing the facts, and presenting the data so one can analyze it for oneself.  They certainly are thorough in their coverage and analysis; you could get lost for days on this site, and learn more than you ever wanted to know.  They also keep it very fresh, with current insight and analysis.  This page details their CEO’s perspective on KFF’s approach to the ACA–if you want to dig a little deeper.

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services website.  This link actually takes  you to their National Health Expenditure Data page, but this is a good site to get federal government “official” data on health care information.  Yes, they’re the federal government.  I’m not asking you to blindly trust the government, but I don’t recommend blindly dismissing them either.  They’re a good source of data.  If you’re convinced that their data is corrupt and deliberately skewed to deceive, I’m not sure what to tell you, other than you should be as skeptical of every other source.

Health and Human Services Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality Another federal government website, but a source for data on health care in the US.  Some pretty detailed data here, and it’s not the easiest site to navigate, but if you want to find a particular nugget, it’s probably here somewhere.

Health Affairs (online journal):  Quote from their “About” page:

Health Affairs is the leading journal of health policy thought and research. The peer-reviewed journal was founded in 1981 under the aegis of Project HOPE, a nonprofit international health education organization. Health Affairs explores health policy issues of current concern in  domestic and international spheres. Its mission is to serve as a high-level, nonpartisan forum to promote analysis and discussion on improving health and health care, and to address such issues as cost, quality, and access.

Good info from a peer-reviewed journal; problem is that only the content from more than three years ago is free.   Unfortunately, most of the pertinent info on health care reform and the ACA has been published in the past 3 years, and I didn’t want to pony up $144 to read it.  However, you can get the key talking points of those more recent articles from the abstracts.

“The Clock is Ticking. More Americans Losing Health Coverage”  Families USA: Washington DC, July 2009.    I pulled some statistics from this report, that gives data on the status of private health insurance access prior to adoption of the ACA.  This site is definitely supportive of the ACA.

I’ll probably embed more specific article links within the text of the posts, but this ought to get you started in your research.  I’m not claiming all of these are perfect, and that you should trust them blindly, but instead that they are good starting points to inform yourself, rather than just believing sound bites, emails, and blog posts (even mine!).

Seek first to understand…

With fear and trembling…

I’ve been preparing to write this post for months, and putting it off for the last several weeks.  Truthfully, I don’t want to write it, because I’m actually expecting a lot more backlash and disapproval than I expected (but surprisingly, didn’t get) from my most-read post:  “The Post That May Just Offend Everybody.”  But I’ve been alluding to writing about this for some time, and have done a lot of research in preparation, in hopes that I can present a clear, detailed perspective that just might clarify one of the biggest issues facing our nation right now.  That, and I think this is one of those ones that God told me to write (OK, truthfully I know God leads me to write all of these, but this one seems to be one he won’t let up on).  So, with that ominous introduction, I will attempt to share my understanding and position on the Affordable Care Act (ACA). (1)

Bear with me on this one, I beg.  I know it’s all over the news, but I’m hoping I can provide some reasonable perspective.  I won’t claim to be totally objective, or unbiased, because I’m not.  I’m getting kind of passionate about the topic of health care reform.  What I hope to do, though, is to be clear what my biases are (as I understand them), as well as trying to address other perspectives as objectively as possible.  I’ll lay out my biases and motivations shortly, but my objective in tackling this controversial subject is to try to advance a reasonable dialog that might just provide an impetus to achieving real, productive improvement to our nation’s health care system.

I’m going to have to break this up over several posts, because it’s a complex subject, and trying to cover it in People magazine-style, let alone TV news sound bites, or Tweet-format, is not only impossible, but also a recipe for inaccuracy (see, for example, “you can keep your plan”).  Part of my reluctance to start has been simply that I wasn’t looking forward to all the disagreement, but I would hope that we can have a more reasoned discussion here, among friends, than is taking place in the media, or the halls of Congress.  The rest of delaying has been in trying to figure out how to organize this thing.  I’m probably going to tax WordPress.com’s publishing capabilities (I’m certainly going to exceed my abilities to use the site to organize a complex document), but I want to ensure that I provide good jumping off points for further research, or to at least demonstrate the due diligence I’ve performed in my research.  To that end, I’ll be posting a “bibliography” of sorts.  I’ll try to link to specific sources for statistics or quotes I reference.  I’m also going to provide my definition the problem as I understand it.  I will describe several possible approaches to solving the problem, and how those approaches are incorporated within the ACA.  Either embedded in that discussion, or separately (depending how all this comes together for organization purposes and readability) I’ll identify what I see as the strengths and the shortcomings of ACA.  Finally, I hope to talk about what I believe is the best path forward.  Somewhere in all that, I’m going to try to tackle a lot of the misperceptions that are out there today.

I mentioned earlier that I’m biased, and indeed passionate about the topic of  health care reform.  I guess the passion comes from the fact that I used to be pretty strongly biased against anything that smacked of government assistance.  I wrote papers in my undergrad days decrying the need to provide health care, unemployment, welfare, or any other type of handout.  I’m guessing my old Econ professor has probably departed this earth by now, but if he hasn’t, and were to read this today, he’d probably be dead from shock before he finished.  At one point, while acknowledging that the welfare system had become a multi-generational issue, I went so far as to advocate for systematically and forcefully removing all children from these dysfunctional welfare homes in order to break the generational cycle (one of the reasons I don’t get too excited about what any public figure over the age of 40 wrote, studied, or read while in college!).  As the saying goes, though, there’s nothing worse than a reformed smoker, or in this case, reformed ultra-conservative.  I believe that in the richest country in the world, that spends more per capita on health care than any other nation in the world, that people should not be impoverished because of catastrophic health issues, nor should they be forced to go forego necessary treatment because they can’t afford it.

So what happened to bring about this radical change in my thinking?  Several things.  First, somewhere along the way, I figured out that I had been the beneficiary of blind luck (ok, I don’t believe in luck, but providence gave me something that I never once sought or planned for).  I have had (virtually) free health care for all of my adult life, courtesy of the US government.  Even when I retired from the military, my annual expenditures for health care for my entire family, including annual premiums, co-pays, etc, was less than the monthly premium most people paid for private sector health insurance, not even considering deductibles, co-pays, and other out-of-pocket expenditures.  I wasn’t some genius who planned out how to achieve this level of health care security; I just joined the Army to jump out of airplanes.  Free health care came with the package–not that it meant anything to me when I signed the contract.

But my free government health care alone wasn’t enough to reform me; for many years my mantra was that I earned it through my service.  What really started me doubting my convictions that anybody could pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, was when I started discovering friends who had worked way harder than I had, and were much stronger than me, whose bootstraps had broken.  I have a friend who owned a construction company, who literally built million dollar homes.  His work was amazing, and his business skills were quite good, but he lived in a rented duplex, and couldn’t afford health insurance for his family.  He wrenched his shoulder one day helping me get my snowmachine unstuck, and still has problems many years later, because he never went to the doctor to get the damage repaired.  He couldn’t afford it.  He eventually had to shutter his business, and go to work at a large company that offered benefits, just to take care of his family’s health needs.  I have another friend who is an amazing mechanic, and worked for many years on military vehicles as a civilian contractor.  Bouts with cancer and other medical issues, even with employer-provided medical insurance, bankrupted him, and continues to wreak havoc with his finances.  I just recently discovered that since he was medically retired, he no longer has the insurance he needs to pay for his liver transplant, and has been removed from the list.  Neither one of these guys were welfare bums; heck, they work harder than I do!  They are both smart, talented, and hardworking; they just ended up on a different life path than me; not through destructive choices, but because they decided to open their own business, in one case, or contracted some nasty disease in the other.

The final straw was when I started studying Christianity–that belief system that I have devoted my life to trying to live by.  The Bible says that man is created in the image of God; that all human life has intrinsic value.  Jesus didn’t give us the option to pick and choose who we would love or show Christian charity to; in fact in response to a religious legalist, who was looking for justification that he was loving his neighbor, and thereby obeying God and earning eternal life, Jesus told a health care parable.  Around the same time I was confronted with my own hypocrisy, the health care reform debate was going on in earnest, and I’d started blogging.  I wanted to engage in the discussion, but I wanted to do so from an informed position, so I started researching the issue, and writing about it.  (If you click on the “Health Care” category in the right column, you’ll get a list of posts I wrote starting back in 2009 on this topic, before ACA became law).  The more research I did, the more I discovered that our health care system in our country isn’t getting the job done, and lives are lost, and ruined, because of it.

Jesus said that I’m supposed to care for “the least of these,” and through his life and teaching demonstrated that I don’t get to pick and choose who is worthy of my love and my care.  I don’t get to decide who doesn’t deserve adequate health care because they don’t meet my expectations of supporting themselves, or because they had too many babies, or whatever other reason I find for them to be unworthy.  The Bible is VERY clear that judging others is outside my scope.  I’m just supposed to love them.  That doesn’t mean think fuzzy puppy thoughts about them, that means meet their needs.  Jesus was in the healing business.  Unfortunately, too many folks in the US think us Pentecostals are crackpots, so although the same healing power that Jesus used is available to his followers today (see John 14:11-14, despite the desperately twisted hermeneutics John MacArthur and his friends try to employ to deny it), until such time as more Christians of this country are all filled with the Holy Spirit, we’re going to have to go to plan B or plan C.

More on those in the next installment.

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1.  The Affordable Care Act is the name for the 2010 legislation commonly (and derisively) referred to as “ObamaCare”.  I’m going to refrain from using that term, and instead stick to “ACA,” to try to take some of the venom out of the discussion.