Archive for the ‘Citizenship’ Category

The Cost/Benefit of Faith and Risk

June 7, 2017

My family chooses to participate in Samaritan Ministries, a medical cost-sharing network.  We have been a part of it for almost four years now.  In that time we’ve had one claim, when our oldest son passed out and broke his front tooth on pool decking.  We paid close to $4000 for the associated care for that injury, and when we submitted our claim to Samaritan, we were reimbursed in full for our expenses (minus a $300 deductible) by the members of the program.  Otherwise, we faithfully send off our share to the designated person/family/need each month, along with a card and prayer.  It has been a great experience for us, but whenever you do something out of the norm, I think there’s a persistent level of uncertainty.  Are we making the right decision?  What if we’ve made a monumental mistake that will cost our family dearly?

All of which is a form of fear and anxiety.  It isn’t that anything is wrong right now, but something might go wrong, something that we won’t be able to handle, something that our choice of Samaritan as opposed to a conventional health insurance provider will prove to be disastrous in.  It’s always a possibility.  It’s a possibility even with a conventional health insurance provider.  But at least in going that route, you have the comfort of knowing that most other people have made the same choice as you, and falling into the logical fallacy of bandwagon thinking – assuming that something must be right/best just because a lot of other people do it as well.

Thus I was interested in this article commenting on Christian health care sharing ministries in general, with a lot of attention focused specifically on Samaritan Ministries. It is a critical article. Clearly the author is uncertain about the merit of such systems, despite the fact that most members of these systems report great satisfaction with them.  To support the critical perspective, the author focuses on a family who is not satisfied, and evaluates their treatment under Samaritan.

Ultimately what the article does is remind everyone to read the fine print and to make sure that they are getting coverage that matches their needs as well as their beliefs.   We were motivated primarily by a desire to not support abortion and abortion-inducing prescriptions through active participation in a traditional health insurance plan compliant with the mandates of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).  Doing so may put us at risk for certain things not being covered that would under a traditional health insurance plan.  However, based on our beliefs, our behaviors, and our general level of healthiness as a family, we believe that the risk is one we can shoulder.

It’s also an article that encourages constant evaluation and reconsideration of policies, particularly policies that attempt to embody Biblical beliefs and teachings.  Ultimately this is going to be subject to interpretation and not everyone may agree on the best way to interpret and apply Biblical mandates or principles in an organization.  Which means there should be a healthy and continuous dialogue.  I hope Samaritan will take that to heart.  All their members have a lot riding on it.

Meanwhile, in Michigan…

June 6, 2017

Just the latest instance in a rising tide of discriminatory moves aimed at silencing, shaming, and economically targeting people who have the nerve to actually act on their beliefs.  Or more specifically, people who act on beliefs that are contrary to the petulant demands of a tiny minority steamrolling cultural changes.  Or more specifically, Christians.  This time, a farmer is being banned from participating in a farmer’s market.

But, hey.  Tolerance is awesome, isn’t it?  Freedom of speech?  Freedom of religion?  Yeah.  If you have kids or grandkids, I hope you’re having conversations with them about how they choose their careers because if they intend to live as Biblical Christians, their range of options is going to grow narrower in the coming years.  I mean, a lot narrower.   I mean, incredibly narrower.  This is for real.  It’s happening now.  It will only become more and more institutionalized in a self-perpetuating cycle of compliance.  Ignoring this reality is going to be very, very costly for a lot of families and individuals.

Then again, that’s the point.  To make Biblical belief and practice unattractive and cost prohibitive.

Askewed Perspective

June 2, 2017

The news this week is hopelessly cluttered with rival articles about our withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement and the role of the Russians in the 2016 election.  Frankly, I’m tired of hearing about both of them.  I’d just like to point out two things.

Firstly, withdrawal of participation from the Paris Climate Agreement – participation that was never ratified by Congress as is required to make such participation legal, according to our Constitution – does not necessarily mean a rejection of reducing greenhouse gasses and other environmentally harmful emissions.  The assumption is that if we are not part of the Climate Agreement then we are not going to do anything to try and be more environmentally conscious.  That’s a rather major assumption.  The issue should not be so much whether we are or are not part of an international, non-binding commitment to being wiser about our environmental impact, but rather what are our actual intentions as a nation, as communities, and as individuals in this regard?  As usual, the hyper-focus of attention on the actions of a political leader (whether you like him or not) is an easy substitute for the question of how am I going to live my life and make choices that I believe are healthy for me and the world around me?

That’s a harder question, which is perhaps why so many people prefer to focus on somebody else.

Secondly, I find the outrage over Russian tampering hilarious.  First of all, what does tampering mean?  So far, what I understand it to mean is that the Russians might have helped hack and disclose unflattering information about one or more of the candidates for President.  Once again, this diverts the question from the information itself to how it was disclosed.  Does the potential for tampering matter?  Of course, but I find it ironic considering that we have made little effort to hide our tampering in the world around us (or at least some of our tampering).

The United States hasn’t simply made information available to foreign populations.  We’ve run guns to support rebels against leaders we didn’t like.  Or to support leaders we liked against rebels we didn’t.  We’ve actively assisted in trying to topple or sustain foreign governments.  We have attempted to assassinate political leaders we viewed as dangerous.  We actively engage in espionage around the world against both allies and enemies, perceived or otherwise.  Yet we express righteous indignation and outrage when someone potentially has attempted to influence the political landscape here at home?

The narrative we are taught is that we do these things on the behalf of good, or democracy, or freedom, but when others do it they are doing it for opposite reasons and motivations.  In other words, we are justified in doing these things, and not only justified, it is practically our moral obligation to do them.  But anyone who might try something against us is definitionally wrong.

Do the Russians think they were morally obligated to intervene in our elections?  Perhaps some of them do.  Might we consider such attitudes dangerous or erroneous?  Very likely.  Which ought to lead us to be suspect of our own motives at times.

Some will undoubtedly call me jaded, but frankly, I presume that every government that can is engaged in espionage and manipulation of other countries for its own interests on a regular basis.  Russia is not unique in this, and neither is the United States.  I presume that this has been going on basically since the beginning of human civilization.  We act to preserve our own best interests.  Cain understood this in Genesis 4 when God sentenced him to be a wanderer.  Cain knew that others would act to protect themselves from a perceived threat and so God blessed Cain with some sort of mark that would prevent others from trying to kill him.  Without a community of his own to offer protection, Cain would be vulnerable.

The instinct to protect and preserve by a variety of means both obvious and subtle is part of our sinful, fallen nature.  We should be on guard against how others might seek to subvert or dominate us for their own ends, but we should hardly be surprised at it.  Particularly when we take great pride in our own similar efforts with other peoples and communities.  We will struggle against – and participate in – these kinds of behaviors to various degrees until sin has finally been removed as an issue in our lives, something the Bible teaches me won’t happen until the Son of God returns.  That doesn’t mean I sit passively by until then.  But it also means that I should be critical and evaluative of my own motivations as well as the motivations of others.

Which in turn means that I should spend less time screaming at those who disagree with me on these or other issues.  I will stand up for what I believe, but I pray for the strength and wisdom and integrity not to stoop to the level of those who mistakenly think that their cause justifies their abuse, mistreatment and maligning of anyone who disagrees with them.

Tax Dollars at Work

March 21, 2017

I’m a proponent of small government and allowing people to govern themselves as much as possible at the local level.  I’m continually amazed at what our Federal government does.  I’m not saying whether this is good or bad – I’m sure that there are defensible reasons for it as well as arguments against it.  But it is surprising.

Legalizing Courtesy

February 28, 2017

Wouldn’t it be nice if we as a people could agree tacitly on common courtesy rather than requiring the government to make courtesy a matter of law?

That’s basically what’s at issue regarding the use of cell phones during flights.  If people could simply understand that it’s rude to hold a conversation with someone who isn’t even there, while surrounded by a bunch of other people, things would be so much more, well, courteous.  Is it illegal to use cell phones in movies?  I don’t think so, yet we all recognize that it’s not appropriate (or at least most of us do).  Simple logistics would seem to dictate this.  If I’m trying to hold a conversation with someone on the phone while the person on either side of me is doing the same, it’s going to be hard to hear my own conversation.  I’ll have to raise my voice.  Which of course will cause the people around me to raise theirs.  It won’t be long before everyone is yelling and still can’t hear their conversation.  Shouldn’t that be obvious?

What an opportunity we have on plane flights to actually get to know someone new without any sense of obligation.  To simply strike up a conversation and learn about them and share about yourself and see the world through another pair of eyes for a short period of time.  If it goes well you can always talk with each other on the phone in the future.  If there isn’t much chemistry, well, you never have to talk with them again.

But can we just agree that it’s impolite – and ultimately very difficult – to have hundreds of conversations going on with people who aren’t even physically present, fully ignoring the hundreds of people who are physically present and sitting incredibly close to you?  Do we really need the government to make yet another law ?

 

 

City Liberals

February 21, 2017

My high school best buddy shared this article on Facebook recently.  When we were growing up, he was very conservative.  However these days, while he is probably fiscally still a conservative his other views have grown a lot more liberal than mine.  I’ll talk about the article in a moment, but I’ll give a couple of my own thoughts first to explain our divergence.  What are some other factors – other than where you live – that might contribute to a shift in ideological perspectives over time, particularly from conservative to liberal?

Church or no church?  Granted, there are plenty of very liberal Christian denominations and congregations out there.  But it would be interesting to see a study of how many people who begin at least nominally religious (parents only make them go to church occasionally as a child or more particularly as an adolescent) vs. those who are deeply embedded in church every week (even a congregation with a dysfunctional youth group, as mine had, at least to a certain extent).  Being part of regular Christian worship (and eventually believing it) certainly can and should make us more open to our neighbors, but also should instill some basic concerns about our human capacity to deal with the issues they (and we) face.  My high school buddy rarely went to church from junior high school on.  He claimed he believed in God, but I’m not sure if he would make that same statement today or not.

Who you marry.  My buddy married a very liberal woman.  Her views on almost every issue would, I imagine, be seen as very liberal and progressive.  Now, I don’t really know her at all.  I haven’t spent much time around her in the last 25 years or so.  I would imagine some of that perspective may have been softened by my buddy’s conservatism.  But when they were dating, she was a fire-brand atheist liberal with a very strong personality.  Regardless of the issue under consideration, marrying someone with an opposite perspective from you on it is likely to draw you at least somewhat towards their point of view.

Now, about the article.  I think it’s an interesting article in several regards, despite being one of those fluffy, popcorn-level articles with very little meat to it.  But the observations it makes are worth looking at.  I disagree once again with the automatic division of every issue into liberal or conservative viewpoints.  None of these issues are in and of themselves a liberal or conservative issue.  They are human issues,  citizenship issues, and ought to be addressed as such.   Until we realize that our political system capitalizes not on solving problems but on aligning people into supportive camps, we’re going to keep banging our collective heads against the wall.  Or more accurately others are going to keep banging our heads into the wall so they can blame it on the other party and galvanize us to keep voting a certain way which keeps a particular group of people in power.

The important thing to realize is a multitude of perspectives.  City folk see certain things a certain way because of exposure to things like crime and public transportation.  People who live in rural areas see certain things a certain other way.  The problem is the polarization of our society, so that each side thinks that it’s view is the only correct one.  As I’ve argued before, if we focused less on working towards problem-solving rather than working to keep a certain political party in or out of power, this would be  a lot healthier.

I don’t think liberals are stupid.  Many of them have a particular ideological bent that I don’t personally agree with even though I may appreciate their stance or approach to particular things.  Likewise, I don’t think conservatives are stupid.  I may err more towards their side of the fence than not, but they have an ideological perspective that has valid points as well.

 

Colliding Worlds

January 30, 2017

Last night we sat around our dinner table as we do most every Sunday night, the surface littered with snacks and appetizers and the air filled with conversation.  This particular night was pretty small – only two people joined our weekly Happy Hour.  But these two people were very busy.

One is a politically conservative man with a degree in business administration.  The other is a politically progressive young woman with a degree in the sciences.  They were energetically engaged in an argument over the issue of banning immigrants from our country.  Not surprisingly, the argument echoed much of the rhetoric we read in the headlines and on social media.  Protection and caution vs. mercy and love, as though these two things are mutually exclusive somehow.  While passionate, I appreciated the way these two debated – out of mutual respect rather than mutual derision.

And as with the clash of emotions elsewhere, nothing was accomplished.  Neither one had convinced the other, both remained steadfast in their position.  Although parting amicably is in and of itself an admirable things these days, it isn’t helpful beyond that.  Afterwards my wife and I sat and talked about the evening, trying to determine how we might have guided things towards a more helpful direction.  Not in terms of topic, but in terms of process.

Despite the clear warnings of our Founding Fathers, we’re saddled with a two-party system that is intent on gaining and maintaining power.  Both John Adams and George Washington had pointed warnings against such a system.  As we see, such a system ultimately bogs down into competition.  Neither side is really all that committed to solving the problems facing our nation.  Each is too focused on how to regain control and hold on to it, hoping to prevent minor policy changes or enact minor policy changes without addressing the big issues because doing so might backfire and cause them to lose power.  Add to this  a system where our elected representatives in the Senate and House of Representatives have no term limits, and you end up with a system where members primarily focus on getting elected and re-elected.

So despite a plethora of needs in our country, these things aren’t ultimately going to get dealt with because both parties are more interested in staying in control or gaining control.  That’s what matters!  Promises are made about how to fix things but of course, as we know, those promises are rarely kept, and poorly implemented even when they are.

Last night’s discussion aired out a lot of ideas on both sides of a complicated issue.  But what it didn’t accomplish was a solution.  How do we balance security with mercy?  If we can rule out both poles of the issue as untenable, how do we find a middle ground?  How do we find an actual solution that addresses both sets of concerns and goals?  If we don’t learn how to do that again, there’s no hope of accomplishing much of anything.

We can quickly outline our basic starting points – national security and the moral obligation to help those in need – and then move on to how do we find a solution that addresses both starting points.  Imperfectly, obviously.  Both sides will have to give a bit, and the solution will undoubtedly be ultimately unsatisfying to both sides, while still accomplishing some of what both sides feel is very important.  I don’t know many people who advocate for national security because they hate refugees or Muslims and have no desire to help people in need.  I know very few people who advocate for more open borders and more generous refugee programs because they hope that they and the people they love will be hurt and harmed by any of these people.  The two sides are not mutually exclusive, in other words, and the issue is mainly one of prioritization.

Perhaps this is what we can try to foster in our Happy Hour discussions.  Practical ways of moving forward so that these practical suggestions could be what people begin communicating instead of simply regurgitating polemical rhetoric ultimately aimed not at solving problems but controlling elections.  I’d much rather see that sort of thing on my Facebook feed, and it’s something far more valuable to our society as a whole.

 

 

 

 

Respectful Disagreement

January 25, 2017

I’ve followed with curiosity the flurry of Executive Orders from President Trump in the early days of his presidency.  By and large, he is making good on some of his major campaign themes and promises.  I assume these promises are part of why people elected him president in the first place (and yes, despite Trump getting fewer votes than Hillary, he still counts as the elected president, just like four other presidents before him).

I’ve refrained from commenting on all of this until now, based on a post from a colleague with a Lutheran spin on all of this.  Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services (LIRS) issued a statement condemning Trump’s Executive Order to begin construction of a physical barrier along the US border with Mexico.  LIRS has worked for nearly a century to assist those in need in the midst of physical relocation.  While I applaud the scope of work that LIRS engages in, I vehemently disagree with their press release objection.

Building a physical barrier does not mean that there will be no way into the United States.  There are still plenty of legal entry points.  What it means is that entry will be controlled (at least in theory).  Refugees are different than illegal immigrants and drug smugglers, and I would expect that there are protocols for processing refugees at our borders, rather than simply inviting them to walk in wherever and whenever they like.  I am highly sympathetic to the notion that if we do not control our borders, what is the point of having them?  If we don’t have the right to determine who does and does not enter our country, are we really a country?

Yes, as a Christian I welcome my “new neighbors” and “embrace” them.  But I do so as they follow the laws of this country, and that begins with entering the country in a legal fashion.  The physical barrier is not an issue (or at least shouldn’t be) for refugees and immigrants.  It is intended to address illegal immigration and criminal activity (drug smuggling, human trafficking, etc.).  Yes, I am exhorted to love and care for my neighbors and I will gladly do so.  But there is nothing inherently unChristian about having rules and regulations that are actually followed regarding how someone becomes my neighbor.

If you’re concerned about appropriate help and assistance for immigrants and refugees (as I am), border control should not be your main concern.  Your main concern should be the policies that will be followed at the legal points of entry.  Talk with the people who live along the Mexican border and you’ll find that many of them are very disturbed and alarmed that the laws of our country that help protect them and their families and their businesses have been ignored, putting them directly in danger.  How are we loving and embracing these people as our neighbors?

I am saddened by LIRS’ statement.  I am glad that they are working to help people in need, but their press release is needlessly divisive and ultimately pointless.  Border control is not the issue – immigration reform and clearer refugee policies are the issue.

Realism as Policy

January 24, 2017

America has a long history of swinging back and forth between protectionist and more involved stances in the global community.  I imagine it would take a fair amount of work to come up with a comprehensive list of all the money that the United States currently (or in the last eight years) gives to various governments, groups and agencies in the international community.  As an average citizen, the net upshot of such massive government spending on overseas initiatives gives the impression that if we don’t do it, nobody will.

The reality is that there are other people out there, other nations even, who are willing and able to step up to the plate if they wish to see something happen internationally.  We don’t have to do it all on our own.  As proof of this, in light of Trump’s order to cut off Federal funding to any group that provides abortions or information on abortions the Dutch are stepping up to create an alternative fund for such operations.

Trump did not innovate this stop to funding for such organizations – it’s a conservative policy that routinely gets reinstated during conservative administrations and rescinded during liberal ones.  Considering the source of division that abortion is here in our own country, it strikes me as even more offensive that we are sponsoring it abroad through tax dollars.

I think that a critical examination of how our tax dollars are given away to other governments and international agencies and organizations is well-warranted.  Doubtless there are some programs that are necessary or even good to fund, but I also trust that there are plenty of others that really need to be scrapped as we seek to deal with issues here at home.  I’m not a hard-line isolationist, but if we’re truly facing the massive issues we are told we are in terms of infrastructure and health care, then we need to deal with these first before we spend our tax dollars elsewhere.

Christian Persecution

January 13, 2017

While the American press – allegedly representing a population that is overwhelmingly Christian in one degree or another – fails to talk about this, the reality is that persecution of Christians around the world is on the rise.

Two separate reports from two different groups highlight the growing acceptability of Christian persecution.  The first report is from a UK-based group – Open Doors UK – that reports that the rate of Christian persecution has risen around the world for the last four years.  I don’t know how they determine this, though from the use of numbers throughout the summary article, perhaps it’s based on the number of deaths reported world-wide as faith related.

The second report is from a US-based group – International Christian Concern – and it puts the United States on its list of countries where Christians are persecuted.  Obviously this group could be considered somewhat biased since they’re based in the US, and they clearly articulate that persecution in the US is not like persecution in other countries.  But they also want to draw attention to disturbing trends of persecution in the US.

A parishioner gave me a copy of this essay this morning.  It’s important in highlighting a very current example of persecution.  I looked up the video of Kim Burrell’s sermon on homosexuality.  The quality is so poor I can’t understand the majority of it, though enough is clear that she’s preaching very strongly against homosexuality.  The irony is that in trying to discredit Ms. Burrell for her point of view, her co-stars and ‘friends’ claim that prejudice against someone who disagrees with homosexuality is allowable and honorable under the guise of “there’s no room for any kind of prejudice in 2017”.

That is persecution.  Ms. Burrell is being persecuted for her Biblical stance on homosexuality.  Publicly shamed, financially damaged.  I’m fairly certain that if a gay person was rejected from appearing on a promotional tour, uninvited from a guest spot on a television show, and had their radio show cancelled for saying things that are pro-homosexuality, it would be decried as gross prejudice and malice and anti-freedom.  It might be argued that homosexuals have dealt with such issues for a long time.  But that does not allow them to utilize the same techniques against those who disagree with them and claim they are doing so in the name of freedom and anti-prejudice.  If it was prejudiced when it was done to them, it is prejudiced when they do it to others.  We don’t get to redefine the terms.

Please pray for people everywhere who are persecuted, regardless of their faith or the reason for the persecution.  Suffering is evil.   And I pray for Christians who are persecuted.  For those who are more than socially embarrassed or chastised, but who are imprisoned and executed and abused in numerous ways that are – as yet – still somewhat unthinkable here in America.  But beware.  Trends move in directions.  And if the trends in the US are for Christians to be increasingly marginalized, it’s a fantastically short leap from public shaming to death camps, and that reality is demonstrated around the world not just in history but in real numbers and lives today.