Sunday, August 30, 2009

Reflecting on the week

It seems to me that the life of Ted Kennedy is as good an argument as any for the possibility of transformation--especially the kind that is painful and messy and takes a lifetime. (Is there any other kind?)

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

I'm pedaling as fast as I can!

On my way home from the gym this morning, I passed a man riding a bike on the side of the road. He was pedaling fast and hard and it looked like he should have just been flying down the road but the bike was actually moving very slowly. I know it has something to do with gears and all that but my only thought was, "Yep, been there, done that!"

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Health Care Debate--part 2

Okay, boys and girls, today we're going to just try to get things straightened out so that we can have the conversation about health care (see the last post). Since this is my blog, I'm going to start with a few of my assumptions:

1. The debate isn't so much about health care as it is about health insurance. Those things are linked but they're not the same thing, so we need to be clear.

2. "Socialized medicine" means that the government is the owner and manager of health care delivery. The government owns the hospitals and employs the doctors. (An example would be the VA hospital system.) That model isn't on the table for the general population.

3. "Single payer health care" means that the government purchases health care from the private sector and then provides it to citizens. (An example would be Medicare.) That's not on the table either.

4. What is on the table is a hybrid system by which the government would regulate the private sector more than they have previously been regulated and in which the government would become one purchaser of health care among many.

5. Most Americans have no idea what they are talking about, including me. The health care system is so complex, so interrelated with other parts of the economy, so vulnerable to unintended consequences, so dang complicated . . . it's hard to know what is possible, what is smart, what is workable.

6. Too many Americans are just plain ignorant. I just read that almost half of Americans don't realize that the government runs Medicare. That scares me.

7. The biggest problem may be that most Americans don't trust their representatives to try hard to find workable solutions. We don't trust Congress to do the best they can to understand and then address the health care problems we face. We don't trust that they will think for themselves, stand up to special interests, do the right thing. We don't trust that they will abandon the sound bites for real, complex, collaborative problem-solving.

8. I don't know what the solution is. I believe that making health insurance portable would be a huge step in the right direction. I believe that finding ways to make health insurance affordable to those who are unemployed or underemployed or self-employed is a good idea. I think we can have a uniquely American system of health care that works without resorting to universal health care. I think I'd support that.

9. I also think that many Americans are unrealistic about what health care costs. A woman complained to me that she is paying $164/month for health insurance for her family, with a baby on the way. She felt that was completely unfair. I think she may be just a wee bit unrealistic about what it's going to cost her insurance company for her to have that baby.

10. I want to believe that we can solve all this with honor and grace. I want to believe that we can come together as Americans--in our characteristically messy and boisterous way--and come up with a solution that will work for most of us. I want to believe that the lying and labeling will stop. I want to believe that we can come together and seek the common good. I may be an idiot.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Health Care Debate--part 1

We're all grown-ups here, right? So how about a little conversation about the health care debate? No town hall meetings, no yelling, no lying, and no guns. Sound good?

First of all, let's be honest: our stories inform our opinions. So what if instead of spouting off all our opinions, we told our stories instead? At least at first . . . since the whole health care thing is so huge and so complex that none of us really understands it, we might as well start with "Once upon a time . . . "

So here are a few of my stories: One, I am really, really lucky to have health insurance at all. Our insurance company tried to drop me when I developed a seizure disorder back in 1995 and for years we ended up paying more for health insurance than we paid for our mortgage. Now that we are able to get group coverage even though we are technically self-employed, it's a little less expensive and a little less scary but it also limits our options. For example, if we were to leave Baptist life, would I still be able to get coverage? No idea.

Here's another story: I was a chaplain in a geriatric care facility for three years. It was my first job out of seminary, the first "church" I ever served. Mrs. K was in her nineties and lay in a bed curled into a fetal position all three years I worked there. I never saw her open her eyes, never heard her make a noise, never had any indication that she had any cognitive functioning at all. One day, I saw her being wheeled out of the home on a gurney, toward a waiting ambulance. Since her face was uncovered, I assumed she hadn't died and asked a nurse what was happening. With undisguised disgust, she told me that Mrs. K's son had authorized a hysterectomy for her, treating recently diagnosed uterine cancer. According to her, he said he "wanted to keep her alive at all costs." He did.

Later, I worked in a large teaching hospital. When someone I knew came to that hospital to have a baby by Caesarean section, I assumed I could visit the next day. When I showed up in the maternity floor the next morning, I discovered that she had already been discharged, along with the baby. I asked a nurse, "How could she already be gone?" The nurse asked, "Did she have insurance?" "No," I answered. "I think she was on Medicaid." "That's why, then. They don't keep them more than 24 hours."

One more: when C started having chest pains a few years ago, he made an appointment immediately with his doctor. She looked at his family history and sent him to a cardiologist. The cardiologist decided to do a stress test "just to be sure." When he flunked the stress test, a cardiogram was scheduled. When the cardiogram showed two 95% blockages and one 100% (the artery had created its own bypass), two specialists immediately did a heart cath, unquestionably saving his life. If we had not had health insurance . . . I don't even want to think about it.

So those are my stories. I have more and so do you. Let's be honest: our stories form and inform our opinions. If we had different stories, we would have different opinions. This is why we need to hear from everyone--our wisdom lies collectively in the sum total of our stories, not in the rightness of our opinions. At least that's my opinion.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Anniversary musings

For our anniversary date tonight, we went to see "Julie and Julia"--and loved it. It's only partly about the cooking and the blog and Paris; it's really a movie about passion and healthy marriages.

In particular, it's about intense, passionate women who are loved well by gentle men--which, of course, is the story of my adult life. C and I have often said that a big part of the success of our marriage is that we decided a long time ago to be happy. Another important part is this: we have done our best to make it easy for the other to pursue passions and enthusiasms, whether for the noble goal of advancing the Kingdom of God or just to have fun.

The movie also stirred up some early marriage memories for me. When I went home at Christmas during my third year at Baylor and told my mom I was getting married, she "let" me make dinner every night for two weeks. I had always helped in the kitchen and knew the basics as well as a few specialities (biscuits or pizza out of a box anyone?) but this was my first experience with being in charge of a meal, day in and day out. Honestly, I liked it and it didn't dissuade me from getting married so young.

The first few months we were married, I actually took pictures of the dinners I made, almost every night. I have a whole album interspersed with photos of meatloaf and roast chicken and fried chicken and boiled chicken and sloppy joes. I'm still not sure exactly why I did that. Heaven knows we didn't have the money to waste on film and photo developing. But it's funny (and a little sweet) now.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Happy anniversary to us

On Friday night, C took me on a date to see The Wonder Bread Years, a hilarious two-hour comedy show about the years we grew up in. As the comedian riffed on everything from lunch boxes and Big Chief tablets to Pop Rocks and TV test patterns and Toughskin jeans, we laughed our way through our own childhoods til our cheeks hurt. Thanks, sweetie, for a fun night out!

Suffer the little children

Starting today, I'll be participating in the Week of Prayer for Children and Youth and I'd like to invite you to join in. You can go here for a prayer guide and here for more information. Even if you're not from Houston, you can dedicate this week to praying for the children of your community.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Meet Chloe

You may remember that Jasmine was lost when a realtor let her out one weekend while we were in Austin. It was harder on all of us than we would have thought. A couple of weeks ago, Boo decided she was ready to have another cat and so we went to the Town Lake Animal Shelter (after several PetsMarts) and came home with Chloe. Chloe had obviously read the book "How to Get Adopted by Teenaged Girls" since she immediately hopped on Boo's lap and turned her head around in a coy little move (I promise, she was smiling). As we were leaving her cage to look at kittens, she put both paws around Boo's ankle and licked her feet. She obviously knew what she was doing because we ended up taking her home. She's about 12 months old and still has a lot of kitten in her but is much calmer (most of the time) and knows her way around a litter box. She really is a sweetheart and we love her. Welcome to the family, Chloe!

Friday, August 7, 2009

What laypeople don't understand

It's not the negative complainer or even the angry bully that sucks the life out of your minister. It's the twenty people that stand by passively and just let the complaining and bullying happen.

It doesn't help, after a difficult meeting, for you to come by your pastor's office to commiserate if you kept your mouth shut during the meeting.

Monday, August 3, 2009


The funeral went two-and-a-half hours, then to the cemetery and back. The family is still eating at the church, almost 6 hours later. It was a long day for C and everyone else, but it was all good. This was a good kid, a young man who had a chance. His parents did what all of us who love young adults do: they prayed that he would survive his foolishness and outgrow it--like all the rest of us did. But he didn't. So sad.