Reluctantly Asking the Health-Care Questions

Here’s a question: what does Beauty have to do with the health-care debate?

I’m not much of a political animal.  Whether that’s a badge of honor or shame depends on who you talk to, but it’s getting harder to avoid getting drawn into the “debates” (read mud-slinging) about health-care, economics, race, and other areas of social concern and justice.  My reticence about entering these discussions is two-fold: 1) Too often, such “discussion” descends into language and tone that is neither informative or anything close to beautiful.   Anger–make that fury–seems to be the prevailing stance, with people talking over each other in embarrassingly rancorous behavior.  2) I just don’t know enough to contribute to the discussion meaningfully, though why that stops me is unclear…ignorance doesn’t seem to stop anyone else.  And in saying that, I recoil–here I am throwing my own mud less than a half-dozen sentences in.   “Ignorance” is a tacky, mocking word in the above sentence, and I used to make me feel better about my own position.  I may not know much, but at least I’m willing to admit it.

That’s called being proud of your humility.

See, I hate these discussions.

But someone very close to me is now being impacted by this whole health-care thing, and as they say, all politics is personal.  (Does anybody say that, or did I make that up?)  So I find that I’m going to have to marshal my personal resources to do some learning.  The questions about health-care are daunting: is access to medical care a basic human right?  Who is a society responsible for, and how far does that responsibility reach?  What is the moral imperative of a statistic like “24.9% of the people of Texas are uninsured?”  What role does individual responsibility play in the long-term outcomes of life?  (This is the “it’s your own fault” argument, implying that when someone lands in the ditch by their own machinations [taking who knows how many other people right into the ditch with them], their own machinations have to get them out, thereby allowing me to keep my machinations for myself.)  What is “stupid” poverty, especially in America?  (It’s easier to identify in developing nations.  [Or is that statement an indication of some kind of hidden upper-class bias?  Aaackk!  There’s no escaping it…])  What are the national values that are reflected in the answers to the above?  (See Newsweek’s article–No Country for Sick Men–about how the decisions nations make on who gets health insurance coverage reveal their national value and character.)  How best are Christ’s values lived out in the midst of these questions?   And questions like “Who would Jesus Insure?” [and here, and here, and here, and here] seem near silly, especially if you believe that the Kingdom of God is somehow diminished by the uneasy mix of faith and politics we’ve seen so often in recent years, on both right and left.

But here’s the thing, in my view: life–the human experience–is one.  What I mean is that our values, what we cherish, what we believe (or don’t believe), what we hold to be good, true, and beautiful–all this, as they say, will out.   The philosophical debates, the ideas that stand behind these dramatically practical issues (real people with real names with real families that watch them suffer die over these things) will inform every category of our lives.  Even if we are divided (“Life is NOT one”, someone retorts.  “Don’t you realize we live in a time of deeply fractured experience?  Don’t you realize we live on the other side of the fall?  Life is NOT one…we are broken.”), that very dividedness will permeate each category of life.   Religion (or call it “faith” if you don’t like the word “religion”), politics, entertainment, relationships, morality, sexuality–all of it flows from what’s inside our totality, our combined heart, mind, soul, and strength.

This whole thing is challenging me to rethink some very basic values.  And though I called it near silly above, I can’t think of a better person to ask about all of this that the Christ.  So I’ll be working on that in the next few days, because I’ve got some decisions to make about the best ways to help those I love–some of whom I know, some of whom I don’t.

So now, I’m out of room in this post, so the first question I asked–what does Beauty have to say about all this–will have to wait.  But I ask in the spirit of knowing that Truth, Goodness, and Beauty have always stood together.  And no doubt Truth and Goodness are at the heart of the debate, so Beauty has to be lurking, wanting to have its say, bringing its own insight.   And I don’t hear anyone else talking about it in those terms, so…

another day

9 Replies to “Reluctantly Asking the Health-Care Questions”

  1. The pitfall of Abram’s convenient lie in Genesis 12:10-12 is easy to repeat with the coming of political promises for a “better, more reliable, more democratic, or more … whatever” way to achieve the issue of the day — no matter what that issue happens to be. It is easier to succumb to to the smooth rhetoric of a savvy politician than to face the reality that the Christian life is not always easy, especially, in today’s America. And political activism on any side of any issue must, for the believer at least, be prefaced by seeking the will of God through scripture and prayer.

  2. I vote and pray and that is about the limit of my political involvement. I don’t find myself knowing enough as you said, but then if there is a hot button I feel as though my flesh nature takes over and all the love and humility is out the door.
    I was reading a book by Mother Teresa today, In Her Own Words, getting ready for a retreat this weekend. Here is a quote that although I believe it speaks to those outside our borders, it also applies to people within our borders.
    “Today countries are concentrating too much on efforts and means to defend their borders. Yet these countries know so little about the poverty and suffering that make the human beings who live inside such borders feel so lonely!
    If instead they would worry about giving these defenseless beings some food, some shelter, some healthcare, some clothes, it is undeniable that the world would be a more peaceful and happy place to live.”

    1. Jeff,

      I relate to your reluctance to dive into the fray surrounding current hot button political topics. I heard that a couple of weeks ago one angry guy bit off another man’s finger at a healthcare town hall event. Even exchanges with no physical violence turn into nasty vitriolic confrontations between opponents or equally ugly bitch-fests between people with similar opinions. Who wants to be a part of that? You’re right, there is no beauty there.

      I think many Christians have the same struggles when dealing with the intersection of their faith and politics. Some Christians look at the way Jesus refused to be made a political leader, despite the urgings of his followers and say that Christians should not be involved in politics. Throughout history, whenever Christian institutions have gained too much political power, the results have often been oppression and bloodshed, (ie., the inquisition, the burning of Protestants at the stake, etc.).

      There are other Christians who see Jesus as a very political figure. The religious leaders of Israel were the local government and Jesus very openly confronted them. The Romans definitely saw his teachings as a threat to their political system, or they wouldn’t have crucified him. If all Christians avoided involvement in politics, then slavery may never have been abolished in this country and the Civil Rights movement might never have come to be.

      While looking to Jesus for an example in how to participate in our political system can point us in the right direction, it is also problematic. Jesus did not live in a representative democracy, nor did anyone in the Bible. Because we live in this type of government, each American has a certain amount of political power. If we refuse to use this power by abstaining from participating in the politics of our country because we are afraid of confrontation or because other Christians have made mistakes in this area in the past, are we any different than the servant who hid his talent out of fear rather than using it? I respect your willingness to wrestle with this issue, as well as your humble approach.

  3. I was afraid to click on the comments section…you are right…there is so much anger attached to all of this and I was afraid that there would be angry responses but I was pleasantly surprised. Thank you,Tammy, for those words from Mother Teresa. We have to think outside of ourselves and our own little family and talk about what everyone needs. That can be difficult and the choices can be frightening but we are called to something bigger than ourselves.

  4. Thanks, Tammy, for the word from Mother Teresa. And good points, Julie, about Jesus not living in a democracy, yet his words apply to all of us in all governmental forms. Yes, I am frankly nervous about high intensity confrontation, which is what I see all around me. But I have to realize that some of the anger and bitterness is understandable: people facing unexpected joblessness, catastrophic disease, and the attack on dignity these things bring tend to get people pretty amped up emotionally. With good reason. And finally, Ron, thanks for telling us to pray like crazy. (That’s how I read it.) Seems like good advice. Thanks.

  5. I’m with you Jeff. You’d think as a nurse that i’d be more informed about this whole national health insurance debate. But i’ve pretty much avoided it. The glimpses i’ve seen of it have been very emotionally charged and filled with a lot of anger or fear. Maybe if i were more competent with critical thinking and could analyze the arguments logically and accurately, i’d be able to discern who is really answering questions and who is just trying to throw out misdirection and faulty assumptions. Since my attention and energies are directed elsewhere at the moment, all i can do is pray for God to direct the leaders of this nation–those who have the power to make decisions regarding this issue–would have His heart in the matter. It is ironic though to think how people respond in challenging ways when at least on the face of it, the government is acting to try to help people. Sometimes i feel so clueless about life in this world.

  6. Jeff,

    Kudo’s for broaching the subject. Yes it is difficult. What helps me is to see things through a wide angle lense.

    The Foucaultian (or Foucaultdian depending on how one pronounces) Spatialization of the sick, the inconvenient, the indigent (well more inconvenience) or the mad dates back to the 1700’s.

    While the acute difficulty of untangling ourselves (as humans) from monstrous moments that have slipped through the grasp of even the righteous, seems frustrating at the conceptual level.

    There’s nothing to stop folks from being as aggressive about taking care of each other as they are themselves. While much indeed needs to be worked out (en-fleshed). Some movements do give hope. Livestrong for example, and the few communities, churched or otherwise that continue to gather around and sustain and support the sick in many diverse and varied ways, regardless of the Politik.

    If indeed the government is “by the people and for the people”, what does it say about “the people” if the world they enflesh is only suitable to “me the individual” especial if that individual happens to be wealthy (relative to the un-fairly incomed masses) and able and un-Foucaultian spatialized.. or perhaps better said, marginalized.


  7. Oh I forgot, what does it say about “We the People” if the only time folks are being cared for, is when one is personally subsidized for giving such care (with the caveat that many who are clearly – pay a far larger cost in giving the care than they are indeed subsidized for)

  8. Walking around in the house of constructs surrounding the debate has been fun. I find that as I walk around tapping my foot on the foundation, of it all I try to find just what is the foundation of the question at hand. Just what is everyone *actually* speaking about?

    It seems to me that the foundation may be this:
    Most health care, especially western health care costs, surrounds the fact that these human bodies just don’t last very long. Don’t work perfectly and medicating them and sustaining them past every individual’s shelf life is very very very expensize.

    Sometimes the body you get doesn’t work well to begin with.

    Keeping these tiny skiffs, these tiny rafts afloat upon the ocean of space and time long after they’ve started to leak is very very expensive and ultimately.


    There’s nothing to be done, and it ends badly in the physical sense for each and everyone of us.

    So it may be that the foundation of the argument is the white elephant no one speaks of in any context pretty much.

    What we are speaking of isn’t *Health-care*

    It’s rather *death-care*

    And that is why for me this is such an impossible debate.

    It’s akin to trying to decide who should take the life-boats.

    Modern Medical American Care is indeed a lifeboat of wonder for so many. It’s powerful and can sustain a sinking body for years once it’s started to become frail and take on water and in many cases it offers one the ability to perfom past what anyone could possibly imagine (Lance Armstrong anyone?)

    It’s no wonder everyone want’s it. To surf across as many waves of space and time as is possible. To stay on stage as long as possible and while doing so, doing so without pain or suffering.

    So I think once the discourse is oriented to a constructed architecture of that which is *most* true for the human condition, for the American Tradition… i think a beautiful ship may be built. It won’t save anyone. But it indeed may make life beautiful for a few more moments. Especially if

    since we’ve all hit the iceberg from the moment we’ve been born…. there will be those few inspiring souls that step back from that which super-affluence and station in life have bought them, and say here: “take my lifeboat”.

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