Empowerment Justice

If You Don’t Roar, What’s the Point?

Before I start, I want to offer an apology to all non-Harley motorcycle riders who may be offended by this message.    God loves you. And I try.


Many years ago, before I bought my first bike, my husband Toby took me to a biker rally in Connecticut (an oxymoron if there ever was one). Like most rallies, the bikes were parked in rows with admirers walking up and down, comparing motorcycles and sharing stories.

Of all the gathered horsepower, for me, one bike stood out. It was hard to miss: red flames on a jet-black gas tank, fringed ape-hanger handlebars that you had to reach high above your head to hold, pipes that looked like two huge corn silos laid sideways, and a sticker on the back bumper that read: “Vietnam: We were winning when I left.”

Standing by the bike was the owner (again, who was hard to miss). Straight out of Road Warrior, he donned dirt encrusted black leather chaps, a leather vest (worn shirtless – and shouldn’t have been), and a giant tattoo on his left arm that was something akin to the naked woman silhouette on a tractor-trailer mud flap.

As we watched, he took the last inhale off his cigarette, ground it under his harness boot and swung his leg over the bike preparing to crank up and leave.

“This should be good,” I said to Toby, pointing at the pipes.

“Don’t count on it,” he replied, rolling his eyes.

The road warrior pulled the bike up off the kickstand, straightened the front wheel, pushed the kill switch to run, then turned to the gathered crowd with a Jack Nicholson type grin, and pressed the start button.

The sound that came out made me gasp. It was like a grasshopper in puberty – breathy, high pitched, even a bit annoying.

“What is that?” I exclaimed. “How could something that big and bad sound so wimpy?”

Toby laughed. “It’s a Honda. That’s how they sound.”

“But what about all the badass leather stuff?”

“Hype,” he said, shaking his head.

I stood there in shock for a few more moments until another sound exploded out over the grasshopper noise. It was a sound that combined the threatening rumble of an approaching thunderstorm with the subtle “potato-potato-potato” rhythm chugged out by the exhaust stacks of my Uncle’s 1960 John Deere. I turned, and there behind us, gleaming in the sun, was a giant Harley Davidson.

“Oh, I love that sound!” I blurted out.

“Yup, I figured you would,” Toby nodded. Then he added the words that have stuck with me until this day: “Hey if it don’t roar, what’s the point?”  (I’ve been a Harley rider ever since.)

If it don’t roar, what’s the point?

Amen to that. It’s true for motorcycles and it’s true for us. We can live life with a whimper or we can live it with a roar. We’re going to be riding down life’s road either way. Why choose anything but living life loud and proud.

This is especially good advice now given our headlines. So many people are offering a voice that sounds more like a grasshopper, than a roar — veiled concerns, passive good wishes, the ubiquitous “thoughts and prayers.” But if you don’t back these passive words up with action – with a roar – it’s only hype.

And a roar is exactly what it’s going to take. We are facing gun violence, racism, mass murders, sexual attacks, natural disasters, and rampant terrorism. We have to do something. As the book of James says, “What good is it if someone says he has faith but does not have works?” (James 2:14).

Don’t get me wrong, I believe in the power of prayer. But prayer alone is not enough. As God told the Apostle Paul, “Do not be afraid, but speak and do not be silent” (Acts 18:9). Maybe this means calling your government officials, or speaking out against gun violence, or offering a kind word to guests at a food bank or manning the phones at a battered women’s shelter.

Whatever it is, we must take a stand. We must speak out. We must not live our lives with a whimper. Because in the end, if we don’t roar, what’s the point?

Justice Uncategorized

“Ga-head, Tell Me I’m Unworthy”

This blog was also preached as a sermon at the historic Madison Avenue Baptist Church in New York City. View it on YouTube.

 

A long time ago, in a land far away . . . I was young. In that time of tender youth, third grade to be exact, I decided to flaunt my budding creative/performer genes and do a book report in front of my class. Feeling that everyone else’s report before me had been lame (at best), I decided to act mine out. And I chose a book – on Elvis.

So here I was standing outside my classroom door, waiting to make my grand entrance, and I glanced at the reflection of myself in the glass doors. The polyester pants, go-go boots, and plastic guitar weren’t that big a deal – but the sideburns, oh yes, the sideburns, they were a problem. I constructed them of cotton balls that I had dyed black with shoe polish and glued to the sides of my face. They may, perhaps, be over the top, I thought to myself.

Before I had time to reconsider, the door opened and our teacher’s voice bellowed out: “Our next book report is by a special guest all the way from Memphis, Tennessee. Boys and girls, please welcome Elvis!”

I took a deep breath and walked into the classroom, strumming the guitar, singing “Hound Dog,” and making a motion that looked like I was doing a hula hoop.

When I finished my grand entrance, I stopped and struck an Elvis-esque pose.  “Thank ya, thank ya vur much.” I was so proud. I thought I had just done the greatest thing ever. But then I came back to Earth and realized that there was utter silence from the class. Then hysterical laughter. And not laughter as in this is funny, but laughter as in she is so weird. And they kept laughing, even the teacher was laughing. My nemesis, Allen Roberts, yelled out, “You’re stupid!” and that’s when Elvis, tearing up, ran out of the room and left the building.

While I got a “B” on the book report (I think out of pity), that experience branded an ominous message into my little 8-year-old brain. Creativity, uniqueness – who I was at my core – was bad. It made me different – and being different meant people would reject you.

My story is rather privileged, as I could camouflage the creativity. But there were other kids in the class who were judged and couldn’t camouflage – like my friend Cassandra who was one of the few black students in the school. She was set apart as different and couldn’t morph or change, and had to deal with the rejection head on.

There are many versions of this story in life, where who we are at our core sets us apart as different. It could be our personality; it could be our inherent gifts; it could be our race, our gender, our language, our religion, our nationality, our sexual orientation. And the world judges different as bad and rejects it.

We’ve all experienced it in some form – some of us on a more privileged level and some of us not. But the result of being different – no matter how we experience it – generates the same obstacle. And that obstacle is shame.

Shame is corrosive, it eats away at us from the inside. It dictates our choices because we treat ourselves as we see ourselves.

If we don’t see ourselves as worthy, then we will drive ourselves into the ground in an attempt to become worthy. We will say yes to everything. We will fight to be the best at everything. We will destroy ourselves in order to be worthy.

Brothers and sisters – my message today is three words: We – are – worthy. Every single one of us is worthy. And here’s three reasons why:

1) Our worth is not based on the judgment of the world.

Just look at God’s words to Samuel: “Do not consider appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16.7).

2) Diversity is our strength.

Diversity is nature’s strength. We see it from Mount Everest to Death Valley, Pekinese to draft horses, black holes to exploding stars, the Navaho people to the Maasai tribesman in Tanzania. Nature’s ability to change, adapt, and evolve comes from its diversity.

So, too, diversity is our strength — our greatest gift. It’s what sets us apart in the sea of robotic corporate soldiers. It’s what makes each of us irreplaceable.

The tragedy is that in constantly shunning our diverse gifts, we grind down our uniqueness to a smooth, slab of conformity.. It’s like the old saying, “If you try and hammer a round peg into a square hole, you destroy the peg.”

3) Authenticity is our gift – our greatest gift.

The psalmists tell us that. “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14).

The jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker put it another way. “If you don’t live [the blues], it won’t come out your horn.”

God made us this way; gave all of us fearful and wonderful gifts. Who are we to tell God that we’re not worthy?

I am reminded of the powerful words of Kristin Beck, a retired Navy Seal hero – deployed 13 times over two decades, including stints in Bosnia, Iraq, and Afghanistan. She received the Bronze Star Medal for valor and the Purple Heart for wounds suffered in combat. She is also transgender.

And when our President announced this summer that the US military would bar transgender people from serving, her response: “Let’s meet face-to-face, then you tell me I’m not worthy.” (As a New Yorker, I imagine her saying it in a slightly different way: “Tell him to meet me face-to-face. Then, @!#&(%*# Ga-head, tell me I’m unworthy!”)

When we live into our truth, when we stand firm in the face of judgment, we are a witness and an invitation to others to do the same. Of course, we may never know it. But just because we don’t see a big scoreboard with the names of the people healed, helped by our actions – doesn’t mean they are not there. It’s like the old saying, “The farmer does not put a seed in the ground then scream over it. In faith, he leaves it alone.”

So we plant, we wait, and we live into our truth. We stand firm in the face of judgment, and we offer a witness and an invitation to others to do the same.

This week, when the world starts to tell us that we’re lesser, when we feel ourselves beginning to shrink, pull away, weaken . . .

Remember you are fearfully and wonderfully made;

Remember that diversity is our strength and authenticity is our gift;

Remember the image of US Navy Seal hero Kristin Beck, so that when the world comes at us with judgment and shame, we too can stand face-to-face with our critics, and say with power and authority, “Ga-head, tell me I’m unworthy.”

Justice

The Eclipse of All Things Good

This blog was featured by Huffington Post  and given as a sermon on August 20, 2017 at the historic Madison Avenue Baptist Church in New York City.

 

Unless you have been living under a gigantic boulder for the past month, you know that tomorrow there will be a total eclipse of the sun. And, it’s going to be quite a party . . .

The 7–Eleven is selling eclipse glasses. There are solar eclipse t-shirts and solar eclipse apps. My favorite are the numerous articles about how to throw an eclipse party, complete with eclipse arts and crafts and suggested food, like blackout cake, crescent cookies, or dishes with sun-dried ingredients. For us in 2017, the eclipse will be a huge party. For the ancients, however, it meant panic.

In the days before people understood the orbits of the sun and the moon, they had no idea what caused an eclipse. In fact, many cultures had myths about evil characters trying to devour the sun. The Vikings believed wolves ate it, the Chinese thought a dragon ate it, the Vietnamese a frog, and the Romans a demon. Whatever it was, the ancients believed an eclipse was a bad omen, a sign of destruction to come, an eclipse of all things good.

We also see it in the Bible. The prophet Joel, for example, warned that because the people were turning from God, a day of darkness and gloom would come, where “the sun and the moon are darkened, and the stars withdraw their shining” (Joel 2:10).

However, there’s a slight difference. In this passage, the prophet Joel is talking about an eclipse of the sun not by the moon, but by locusts; locusts that come in huge swarms blackening the skies, destroying and consuming everything in their path – all food sources, all nourishment, all things good (Joel 2:25).

Twenty-five hundred years later, we face yet another eclipse of all things good. Here in 2017 America, the light is being eclipsed by our own plague of locusts — the KKK, the neo-Nazis, and the white nationalists we saw in Charlottesville – locusts coming in swarms, blackening the skies, and destroying everything in their path, destroying all things good.

Charlottesville, Virginia is only one example. This plague has been going on for years and is now growing in strength. This weekend alone there were nine different alt-right rallies planned across the country in Atlanta, Austin, Boston, Los Angeles, Mountain View, CA, New York, Pittsburgh, Seattle, and Washington, DC.

And here’s the scariest part — these hate-based groups are being led by young people. The pastor, author, and theologian Brian McLaren was in Charlottesville and reported that the white nationalists were young, the majority in their twenties and thirties, carrying torches and chanting phrases, such as: “White lives matter!” and “Jews will not replace us!”

He went on to note how young, white poeple are being radicalized in America today to the point of using the ISIS tactic of killing people with vehicles — like the one that killed Heather Heyer in Charlottesville. He said, “Radicalization isn’t simply something that happens in the Middle East — it is happening today, in Ohio and Kentucky and Florida and Virigina.”

Have no doubt, we are facing an eclipse of epic proportions — one that will devour all the light and steal from us all things good, including our young people and our future.

So what do we do? We, again, take a lesson from our ancient ones. In the era when people thought a wolf was eating the sun, they also believed that the creature could be driven off by creating as much loud noise as possible: yelling, ringing bells, or banging pots and pans. The book of Joel starts out with similar language (2:1): “Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy mountain!”

The only way to fight the evil that is blotting out our light is to blow the trumpet and sound the alarm. To speak out and often.

Let me give you two examples. First, what happens when we don’t speak out. This week, our President, when criticizing the riots in Charlottesville offered a vague, watered-down response, saying the violence “came from many sides.” After a national backlash, he then condemned the white nationalist. Within days, he defended them again, saying “there were some very fine people in their midst.”

That failure to “sound the trumpet” prompted David Duke, former imperial wizard of the Klan, to tweet this: “Thank you President Trump for your honesty & courage to tell the truth about #Charlottesville & condemn the leftist terrorists in BLM/Antifa.”

Let’s be clear: the KKK tweeted a thank you note to the President of the United States.

This is the ultimate eclipse of all things good.

And its’ not just the President. It’s white Christians who have been woefully silent. This week, a headline in the Washington Post read: “After Charlottesville, will white pastors finally take racism seriously?” It quoted Dr. King’s letter from Birmingham jail, “[they] have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained-glass windows.” Whether pastor or parishioner, whether Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, Christan, Atheist, or just trying-to-figure-it-out, we cannot remain silent. Dr. King warned us, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

Let me now give you an opposite example; an example of someone who is speaking out. Rev. Rob W. Lee, IV is a decedent of General Robert E. Lee who led the Confederacy during the Civil War. Rev. Lee is a minister in North Carolina, an outspoken anti-racist, and a fighter of the white nationalists. In fact, he is fighting for the statue of his relative, General Robert E. Lee, to be taken down.

As a Southerner myself – a Southerner with numerous relatives who fought for the Confederacy – I was deeply moved by his words and actions. And despite death threats and threats to his church, Rev. Lee continues to speak out.

“God has commanded us to speak up to small and big acts of oppression. So that may mean condemning the racist joke or standing up for the woman who needs a raise because they make 70 cents on the dollar compared to men . . . or that black lives matter to God. When you ignore the fact that white matters more than black you are being silent to a population of God’s children . . . Until we get off our thrones and into the streets to proclaim and re-claim what racism has taken away, we’ve missed the point of Christ’s death and resurrection.”

We have to blow the trumpet in Zion. We must sound the alarm on God’s holy mountain. We have to – – if for no other reason than for our children. How can we face them if we don’t? How can we hand them a world eclipsed by hatred and evil? We can’t. We must fight and then tell them of our fight.

Tell your children of it, and let your children tell their children, and their children another generation (Joel 1:3).

And when we do, God offers us a promise:

I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,                                            your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions (Joel 2:17).

Brothers and sisters, we have to be the dreamers.

We have to be the ones to blow the trumpet and call out the evil.

We have to be the ones to sound the alarm against hatred, racism and judgment.

We have to be the ones to hold on to that dream where all God’s children are treated with respect and dignity and love.

This is a dream that was there before the eclipse of all things good.

And it will be there, shining out, when the shadow moves on.

For then, we will know

“I, the Lord, am your God and no other. And my people shall never again be put to shame” (Joel 2:27).

Empowerment Self care Uncategorized

Sharpening the Saw

APRIL 2017

I am writing you as Toby and I drive to our beautiful little cabin in the north woods of Wisconsin for a three-month sabbatical; a most gracious gift from my church to use for rest and renewal.

For the past several weeks, I have thought a lot about how to use this precious time. And what I kept circling back to was a book that I read many years ago entitled, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven Covey. (I consider myself a wanna-be effective person … but it’s the trying that counts, right?)

The seventh habit is the one I focused on. It is entitled: Sharpening the saw.

“Sharpen the Saw means preserving and enhancing the greatest asset you have–you. It means having a balanced program for self-renewal in the four areas of your life: physical, social/emotional, mental, and spiritual  . . .  As you renew yourself in each of the four areas, you create growth and change in your life . . . You increase your capacity to produce and handle the challenges around you. Without this renewal, the body becomes weak, the mind mechanical, the emotions raw, the spirit insensitive, and the person selfish . . . Living a life in balance means taking the necessary time to renew yourself.”

I’ve learned the hard way that self-renewal is something we must be proactive about; something we must build into everyday life. This summer I hope do just that through reading, writing, and a balance of quiet thought, meditative fishing and loud motorcycle pipes. But more importantly, I hope to recommit to making self-care a consistent practice, a daily/weekly/monthly habit that will offer continual renewal even after I return.

Abraham Lincoln once said, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”  While most of us are not planning on literally chopping down trees, we all have plans and hopes and dreams that require a sharp saw. And that’s exactly what I intend to create.

As part of that sharpening, I am going to take a break from blogging. It requires a lot of energy to create and publish a weekly message. In order to sharpen the saw for when I return, I need to pause. That said, I may sneak a few messages out there just to let you know I’m still here 🙂

Have a great summer and talk to you in August!

Hope Religion and Spirituality

Resurrection Biscuits

This message was preached as an Easter sermon

at the historic Madison Avenue Baptist Church

as well as featured by the religious broadcaster Day 1.

Happy Easter everyone! I have to tell you, celebrating Easter always makes me think of my grandmother, Ganny, as we called her. Now Ganny lived in a tiny little town in South Carolina; and when we’d go visit, the aroma of all kinds of good things cooking would float through her screen porch and out into the yard to greet us: creamed corn, collard greens and hopefully cornbread. I say hopefully, because the one thing Ganny could not cook was biscuits. Lord, have mercy. She was just not a big believer in things like baking soda or baking powder. On those ominous days when she would decide to bake biscuits, she would open the door of her wood stove and pull out what looked like a tray of toasty hot shot-puts. My uncle used to joke that if you dropped those biscuits on the floor, they would wake the dead. Thus their nickname: resurrection biscuits.

Now, I know I shouldn’t talk negatively about my grandmother’s cooking, but we Southerners have a little trick. Down South you can say anything you want about anybody you want, as long as you end the phrase with “bless their hearts.”

So…this being Easter Sunday, I think about Ganny, bless her heart, and those little sad resurrection biscuits. But, you know, I think her biscuits offer us an important Easter message. Without baking powder–without that key ingredient, those biscuits became heavy and flat. So, too, life without the resurrection, life without Christ, can be heavy and flat.

We tend to think of the Easter message as a message for the end of life. But, frankly, I think we need the Easter message right now, ’cause as many of us know, death can come long before the end of life.

How many people do we know who are walking this earth physically alive but dead of spirit? Maybe you are one of them. How easily life can beat us down. It’s like the story of the little boy with his head in his hands staring at his school book saying, “I wish my arithmetic was done and that I was married and dead.”

It’s easy to celebrate the resurrection of the body on this glorious Easter Sunday. But what about the resurrection of the spirit? What about tomorrow morning, when the alarm clock goes off at 6 a.m. and our spirits sink…where is the resurrection then?

Where is the resurrection when we work night and day in a thankless job and yet find ourselves deeper in debt?

Where is the resurrection when our child gets caught in an ugly cycle of drugs and alcohol and we watch them slip away?

Where is the resurrection when after working forty years we realize we’re about to lose our home?

Where is the resurrection when we wake up one morning and realize nothing matters to us anymore?

Where is the resurrection when at the end of life our family and friends are all gone and we are left alone to negotiate in a world that does not honor its old ones?

WHERE is the resurrection then?

It’s not just resurrection after death we’re talking about, it is resurrection during life. Like biscuits without baking powder, life without the resurrection can be heavy and flat. But, today, I say we bring that missing ingredient back.

Our Easter story from John is a familiar one. Mary goes to the tomb while it is still dark. She finds the stone rolled away and Jesus’ body gone. Weeping, she looks inside the tomb and sees two angels. “Woman, why are you weeping?” they ask. “They have taken away my Lord,” Mary said, “and I do not know where they have laid him.”

Just then, she turned around and Jesus was standing there. But she didn’t recognize him.

“Woman, why are you crying?”

“Sir,” Mary said, “if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”

“Mary,” Jesus said.

And the second he says her name, Mary realizes that this stranger standing before her was the risen Christ. “Rabbouni” she says to Jesus.

Mary recognized the living Christ. She recognized that life force in her midst. And it’s exactly the same for us. We have the risen Christ right in front of us. We have a life force in our midst. And that’s the missing ingredient we must reclaim.

In February 2005, I took a vacation to Death Valley. Okay, I know, I know, that is a really strange place to vacation. But something was happening in that desert during that time, something I felt I needed to see.

Earlier that year, Death Valley had received a few more inches of rain than normal and the otherwise bleak sand dunes and rocks of the desert were covered with tiny wildflowers. Desert gold, blazing star, poppies, verbenas, and evening primrose blanketed the desert landscape. For years, those little seeds had remained dormant, hidden under rocks and sand, in cracks and crevasses, waiting, hoping, for rain–that missing ingredient–to bring them back to life. And the rain came. And flowers bloomed in the desert. It was such a brilliant symbol of renewal–of life from no life. I just needed to see it.

Like those little dormant seeds, there is still life in us all. We just need to find that missing ingredient to bring it back. And that ingredient is Jesus.

The Saturday before my very first Easter sermon, I was walking around my neighborhood trying to walk off some nerves. Towards the end of my walk, I stopped by the local deli to get some coffee.

“Are you ready for the big service?” asked Hannah who owns the place. I nodded tentatively and said, “I guess. I’m pretty nervous though.” She looked at me with a surprised expression and said, “Oh, you’ll be fine. Just get out of the way and let Jesus do his work.”

I’ve never forgotten those words, for they are not only great advice for a sermon, they are great advice for life.

The best thing we can do in life is to get out of the way and let Jesus do his work. Oh, we can put up a whole lot of blocks to the spirit. Things like anger, negativity, fear, doubt, things that shut us down, weigh us down, things that keep that key ingredient of life and spirit from working in our hearts. It’s like the author Ann LaMott said, “God can’t clean the house of you with you in it.”

You know, life has many great truths. Like never slap a man chewing tobacco. Or one appropriate for early April, when you put “the” and the word “IRS” together, you get “theirs.”

Another great truth in life is this: Deep down, the human spirit yearns for joy, yearns to soar. Kind of like my nieces’ favorite movie Mary Poppins, a movie they made me watch over and over and over when they were little. Bless their hearts.

Even after watching it 700 times, I still love the scene where Uncle Albert starts laughing in that lifeless, sterile bank vault. As he laughed with joy, he began to float up to the ceiling. The laughter and life and passion he felt brought him a lightness that made him float. And everyone around him began to laugh and float up as well.

That scene taps a deep human truth: that we all have a spirit that yearns for joy and lightness–a spirit that yearns to soar.

And then life gets in the way–key ingredients go missing–and over time our spirits sink and become flat and heavy and bleak.

For everyone out there who feels that their dreams have been destroyed, their hopes dashed, their spirits crushed…here is the good news of Easter morning: The risen Christ can take our flat, heavy hearts and put back that key ingredient…

…so that our spirits are not stuck on the ground,

…so that our spirits are not dictated by human pain or loss or disappointment,

…so that our spirits are not mired in a tomb.

Easter brings each of us a second chance. A chance to see the life force in our midst. A chance to recognize the risen Christ right in front of us. A chance to start again.

Justice

THE TRUE UNIVERSAL HEALTH CARE

This blog was also preached as a sermon and featured by the Huffington Post.

The great Protestant theologian Karl Barth believed that we should read with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. So let’s try it.

Here’s a recent headline from the New York Times: “High Risk Strategy Proposed for Repeal of the Affordable Care Act.”

And now here’s something from the Bible: As Jesus and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” Jesus said to him, “Go, your faith has made you well.” (Mark 10:46-52)

If you take Barth’s advice and read this scripture in combination with the New York Times, you get this modern version:

As Jesus and his disciples were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Several of the disciples went over and said, “Be quiet and wait your turn. Can’t you see there’s a crowd waiting to see the Messiah?”

As Bartimaeus paused in silence, he felt a clipboard being thrust into his hands.

“Now,” said John, “fill out the following thirteen forms. We need name, address, social security number, next of kin, and whether you have an HMO, PPO, or POS. Please indicate whether you have additional vision and/or dental coverage. Check the box on page five if this is a work-related injury. Fill out the duplicate form if you have any secondary insurance, read and sign the privacy statement at the end, and then return it to me with your insurance card.”

Bartimaeus shook his head in shame, mumbling something under his breath.

“What did you say?” John demanded.

“I’m uninsured!”

A gasp came from the disciples. “Uninsured?” they said looking at each other with disgust. And the crowd began to back away from Bartimaeus.

“Do you have cash?” John demanded.

“No,” said Bartimaeus.

“Do you have a credit card?”

“No.”

“Do you even have a job?” John added in desperation.

“No.”

“Well, then,” John snapped, “you’ll simply have to find another Messiah.”

Bartimaeus cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Jesus heard the man and stopped what he was doing and said, “Who is that? Call him here.”

And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, you’ve been pre-qualified.”

Throwing off his cloak, Bartimaeus sprang up and came to Jesus. Then, Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?”

Bartimaeus said, “My teacher, let me see again.”

Jesus said to him, “Go. Your faith has made you well.” And as he left, Jesus turned to the disciples and said, “Under no circumstances is this man to be charged a co-pay.”

Two thousand years later, in this, our privileged nation, would Bartimaeus be able to get help? As a poor, blind beggar, I seriously doubt it. Especially given that 28 million people still do not have health care in this country, and 15–20 million will probably lose their coverage if the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is repealed.

No, I’m afraid Bartimaeus would be out of luck.

So, here we are in our privileged country, a place that owns 41.6% of all global wealth, where people are having to choose between food and medicine, and people are dying because they can’t afford treatments or surgery. The sad fact is that this is a country where people can get insurance for their pets more readily than human beings!

Houston, we have a problem.

The healthcare crisis in this country is not just some intellectual Rubik’s Cube for us to chew on. This is a political and ethical mandate.

Why political? Let’s remember the words of the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. –That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed . . .”

It’s a pretty simple argument. The right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness clearly envisions and encompasses health and safety. And, according to the Declaration, governments have been instituted to secure those rights. Therefore, health and safety are a political mandate.

It is also set forth in the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care . . .” (Article 25:1)

They are also an ethical mandate. Consider our religious teachings that command that we care for the poor, heal the sick, bear each other’s burden, and love our neighbor as our self. Perhaps the clearest of all the teachings is found in the Good Samaritan story in the Book of Luke. There, the Samaritan is the only one who will help a wounded man lying on the side of the road. He not only dresses the man’s wounds, but he pays for his health care. “He took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper and said, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return I will repay you.’” (Luke 10:35) If that story is not clear enough, at the end of the telling, Jesus says to his disciples, “Go and do likewise.”

Go and do likewise? One of the greatest ironies of our modern era is that so many of our political leaders claim to be Christians, yet they ignore, even deny, the basic tenants of the religion. In fact, a first-term Congressman from Kansas was recently quoted as saying that the poor “don’t want health care and aren’t going to take care of themselves.”

Go and do likewise.

And we can. The Canadians did it. The UK did it. The Scandinavians did it. And guess what? The federal government has done it, too. The healthcare plan for federal employees is one of the broadest, most comprehensive health insurance programs available. Why not roll that out so that everyone might also enjoy it? As the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts said, Americans should get “exactly what we [as Congress] have.”

The irony today is that Congress has been removed from the cushy federal plan and placed under the ACA. And if Congress repeals the ACA, they rejoin their fellow federal employees in their cushy federal plan. Makes you wonder about their personal motivations for repealing it.

It also makes you wonder if a group of monochromatic wealthy, privileged individuals who face no risk of losing their own personal coverage should be the ones deciding the fate of the rest of the country. I share the words of Carol Folt, Chancellor of the University of North Carolina and an internationally recognized researcher. “As a scientist, I’ve never seen an answer to a problem come from a group that all looked the same and thought the same.” Well amen to that.

Let me share a plan we should consider as a prototype. It covers everything: physical, mental, and spiritual healing. It is very affordable. In fact, it’s free. There’s not even a deductible or complicated forms.

It’s God’s healthcare plan. A plan you are given at birth and keep all your life, unless you yourself decide you don’t want it (and even then you’re still covered). There are no pre-existing conditions; it is come as you are no matter how wounded or broken. Most importantly, this plan is offered to everyone – from every walk of life. It’s the true universal healthcare plan we should be working towards.

So, I return where I started: Karl Barth was right. When we overlay a biblical, ethical perspective on modern-day problems, we begin to see each other as God sees us. Compassion and mercy become an integral part of the conversation. We remember our political and ethical mandates to care for each other and lift up the downtrodden.

The world is full of people like Bartimaeus, who through no fault of their own, are unable to access basic rights and services in this country. This is not an issue involving only statistics. This is an issue involving human beings. And the moment we remember that, is the moment when we begin to transcend the red tape, greed, political wrangling, and fear, and move slowly, but surely, to the true universal health care that all God’s children deserve.

 

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