Christians MUST NOT Participate in Demonizing Obama

As I read Thomas Friedman’s column today, chills ran up and down my spine. The Obama hating in our country is beginning to go off into a dangerous zone. Friedman writes,

“I was in Israel interviewing Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin just before he was assassinated in 1995. We had a beer in his office. He needed one. I remember the ugly mood in Israel then — a mood in which extreme right-wing settlers and politicians were doing all they could to delegitimize Rabin, who was committed to trading land for peace as part of the Oslo accords. They questioned his authority. They accused him of treason. They created pictures depicting him as a Nazi SS officer, and they shouted death threats at rallies. His political opponents winked at it all.

And in so doing they created a poisonous political environment that was interpreted by one right-wing Jewish nationalist as a license to kill Rabin — he must have heard, “God will be on your side” — and so he did.

Others have already remarked on this analogy, but I want to add my voice because the parallels to Israel then and America today turn my stomach: I have no problem with any of the substantive criticism of President Obama from the right or left. But something very dangerous is happening. Criticism from the far right has begun tipping over into delegitimation and creating the same kind of climate here that existed in Israel on the eve of the Rabin assassination.

What kind of madness is it that someone would create a poll on Facebook asking respondents, “Should Obama be killed?” The choices were: “No, Maybe, Yes, and Yes if he cuts my health care.” The Secret Service is now investigating. I hope they put the jerk in jail and throw away the key because this is exactly what was being done to Rabin…

…And Mr. Obama is now having his legitimacy attacked by a concerted campaign from the right fringe. They are using everything from smears that he is a closet “socialist” to calling him a “liar” in the middle of a joint session of Congress to fabricating doubts about his birth in America and whether he is even a citizen. And these attacks are not just coming from the fringe. Now they come from Lou Dobbs on CNN and from members of the House of Representatives.

Again, hack away at the man’s policies and even his character all you want. I know politics is a tough business. But if we destroy the legitimacy of another president to lead or to pull the country together for what most Americans want most right now — nation-building at home — we are in serious trouble.”

As I talk with conservative Evangelical Christians in my church and in my community, more often than not they quote Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, and Rush Limbaugh when issuing their criticisms of Barak Obama. They are in a heated fever of hatred toward our president, fueled by the vitriolic rhetoric of these pundits in the Right Wing media.

As a devoted follower of Jesus, I have to wonder how we have allowed ourselves to be co-opted by the media’s far-right fringe. I wonder where in Jesus’ teaching we are supposed to hate those we disagree with.

As an American, I wonder what is going to happen to our great nation if we do not hold fast to our respectful dialogue in the public square. If we go about seeking to delegitimize the president, how can we possibly deal with the important issues of our day?

What we need is civility – the kind of civility that witnesses to the love of Christ for those we oppose in very real ways. Os Guinness has written a book on it, The Case for Civility: And Why America's Future Depends On It.

In a recent interview, Guinness talks about how William Wilberforce demonstrated civility.
“There are scores of lessons we can learn from Wilberforce, but take just one: his civility. As a follower of the way of Jesus, he loved his enemies and always refused to demonize them. At one time he was the most vilified man in the world, but while he never minced words in speaking about the evils of slavery, he was always gracious, generous, modest, funny, witty, and genuinely loving toward his enemies. When one of his worst enemies died, he at once saw to it anonymously that his widow was cared for adequately. Compare this with the religious right's demonizing of its foes. The latter is not so much uncivil as unChristian.”

We must not participate in the unChristian demonizing of President Obama. If this goes on, how will we not be culpable if some nut-case takes our words and puts them into action and attempts to hurt him?


The Browns No Longer Deserve My Allegiance

It happened a few years ago. Though I have been in denial for some time. I am no longer a Cleveland Browns fan. There I said it.

My heart was ripped out when Art Modell took the team to Baltimore in 1996. It was stomped upon when that Baltimore team, a mere four seasons later, won the Super Bowl.

It has bled a slow death ever since, as the Browns have consistently put an inferior football team on the field year-after-year.

Rob Oller of the Columbus Dispatch wrote that his son, after the abysmal Browns game and the Bengals' win over the Steelers this past weekend, decided to become a Bengals fan.
"...A 12-year-old boy weighed his options -- continue to call Cleveland his favorite team or switch to Cincinnati -- and chose the Bengals. With his father's blessing. The Browns-fan-since-birth had seen enough -- who hasn't? -- and reached the wise conclusion that when a team doesn't even attempt to accommodate its fans, that team no longer deserves the loyalty it has enjoyed for generations. So he officially died as a Browns fan on Sunday evening, when Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer threw a winning touchdown to defeat the Steelers.

Is that selling out your team? Hardly. Not when you mean less to the Browns than the ground they spit on. Is that hopping off the Cleveland bandwagon? Not when the band on that wagon won't play a single pleasing note.

Many longtime Browns fans consider such talk blasphemous, but their numbers are dwindling as a new generation of followers emerge who know chronic ineptitude when they see it. The old fan base takes distorted pride in hanging tough with a team that tests its patience while mocking its allegiance. I know this because my blood once ran as orange as theirs. I lived through the Mike Phipps years, the 1980s calamities and the early expansion seasons. I understand the culture. Sticking with the Browns through thick and thin is considered a badge of honor. It means you are a real fan.

To which I now say: Baloney. Show me where it says in the Good Fan Rulebook that true fans should stick with a loser who refuses to improve.

Quite the contrary. The stand-up thing is to stop enabling the behavior. The Browns, from owner Randy Lerner to the ball boys, need to know that actions have consequences; fail to put a competent product on the field and risk losing young fans to other teams.

Maybe old fans, too. If you're not wavering in your unconditional commitment to the Browns, then you are the sucker. That's no overreaction..."


Sure, these Browns have the same colors and name as the Browns I've followed all my life, but it has never felt like the Browns I grew up enjoying. The new regime has been inept and has not connected with me as a fan. There has not been one player that I can be proud of as a fan. I would never buy a Browns jersey with a player name on it - because the players have been awful and won't likely last on the team anyway.

After Hurricane Katrina hit, I watched as the New Orleans Saints trade for a quarterback I really liked and drafted an extremely talented and flashy running back. So I became a Saints fan.

But not until today have I made it official. I am not any longer a Browns fan.

Go Saints!


Shortcuts for Reading the Bible as Story

Hangin’ With Scot McKnight in Akron

Scot McKnight spoke to some pastors and ministry leaders in Akron today, and we benefited from his wisdom on reading the Bible. His contention is that the only way to properly read the Bible is to see it as a story. It has a plotline, looking something like this:

  1. We were created as the Eikons (image) of God (Genesis 1-2)
  2. We became cracked Eikons (Genesis 3)
  3. The cracked Eikons make a mess of things (Genesis 4-11)
  4. God creates a covenanted community, the people of God (Genesis 12)
  5. Jesus Christ is the perfect Eikon of God (New Testament)
  6. The new community of God is being conformed into the Eikon of God (the church)
  7. The consummation – when the community is perfected in the eternal dance in relationship with each other and the Trinitarian God

What gets in the way of our rightly reading the Bible is that we stop thinking of it as the story of God. this takes too much time, effort, discerning, so we’ve developed shortcuts to get us to our goal sooner.

Here are the shortcuts that Scot shared with us today. It got us all thinking about how we personally approach the Bible, and also about how we train our congregations in approaching the Bible. These shortcuts are found in Scot’s book The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible, chapter 3, pp. 44-54.

SHORTCUT 1: Morsels of Law
The Bible is merely a collection of laws – what God wants us to do or not to do. God is seen as primarily a law-giver, and our relationship with God revolves around our obedience to these laws.

Christians using this shortcut read every passage looking for the commands of God. They become only concerned with being right and ultimately become judgmental of others. The Bible certainly has laws and commands, but these are nestled into the story of God’s redemption, and to divorce it from that does grave harm to the Bible.

SHORTCUT 2: Morsels of Blessings and Promises
Scot talked about Bible-verse calendars that offer a single verse (or just a portion of a verse) for each day of the year. The purpose of such calendars is to provide a little bit of blessing or feel-good promise for your daily Christian walk. He wrote the publisher of one of these calendars, offering that he could come up with 365 days of threats of God’s wrath (they weren’t too keen on the idea).

When we read the Bible as disconnected morsels of truth or blessing or promise, we become disconnected with reality. Life is not made up of single verses that make us feel upbeat. And the Bible certainly is not all upbeat. It is a very real book, with very real hardship and sin and the ugliness of life.

SHORTCUT 3: Inkblots
The Rorschach tests that psychologists give are meant to understand what you project onto the picture (if you see a pelvic bone in this picture, that means they had better send you to the Freudian therapist!)

Many people project onto the Bible what they want to see. Democrats see a liberal Jesus. Republicans see a conservative Jesus. Instead of honestly trying to become more like Jesus, most Christians actually try to make Jesus more like themselves.

“Instead of being swept into the Bible’s story, Rorschach thinkers sweep the Bible up into their own story. Instead of being an opportunity for redemption, the Bible becomes an opportunity for narcissism."

SHORTCUT 4: The Puzzlers
Many of us have been taught to see the Bible as a puzzle, and once you’ve solved the puzzle, you no longer have to deal with the individual pieces. Once you’ve created a systematic theology that connects all the pieces together, you’re work is done.

The first problem with puzzling is that we assume that we already know what the grand system, the picture on the puzzle’s box, really is. The second problem is that once we’ve determined what that grand system is, we end up ignoring the pieces of the puzzle that don’t fit. So, passages that do not fit our categories of theology get swept under the rug as if they don’t exist – after all, they’re not part of the picture that we’ve dreamt up that makes the pieces of this puzzle link together.

However, this is not the Bible that we have – the Bible is not a systematic theology book, it is a story. And that suggests that the best way to systematize the Bible is to keep it the way it is: Keep it as a story.

SHORTCUT 5: Maestros
Scot told stories of eating wonderful dinners in Italy, where “maestros” of culinary skill make the finest risotto. He loves risotto, so he goes back to his home in Illinois and attempts to replicate what the maestro made.

When we approach the Bible, many of us attempt to find a maestro – a master teacher through whom we can make sense of the rest of the Bible. It makes sense, for instance, to make Jesus our maestro. However, there is a lot more Bible than the red letters.

Others make Paul their maestro, but in doing so, Jesus becomes overwhelmed by Paul’s way of thinking. For many evangelicals, Romans is the lens through which all the rest of the Bible is read.

But the beauty of the Bible is that we get to hear many voices, singing their own particular part of the song. We need to hear the whole choir in order to rightly read the Bible, not just a soloist.


Our Ineffective and Bloated Health Care System

We have incredible waste in our health care system. Up to one third of the two trillion dollars that we spend on it is wasted on overpriced drugs and devices that replace older drugs and devices that work fine and on overused and ineffective procedures that do not actually increase the health quality of American lives.

Elliott Fisher and Jack Wennberg of The Dartmouth Atlas of Health Care have studied the data for three decades, proving how much waste there is in the system. They’ve mapped out health care across the country, discovering that in high treatment states, like New York, California, Florida, and New Jersey, Medicare spends 20% more per patient than the average. And in low treatment states, like Iowa, Utah, or North Dakota, Medicare spends 25% less than average.

As Maggie Mahar reports, what the Dartmouth studies reveal is “that in Manhattan and Miami, chronically ill Medicare patients receive far more aggressive care than very similar patients in places like Salt Lake City, Utah, and Rochester, Minn. Their research reveals that Medicare beneficiaries in high-cost states are likely to spend twice as many days in the hospital as patients in low-cost states and are far more likely to die in an intensive care unit. The odds are higher that patients in high-spending regions will see 10 or more specialists during their final six months of life. These facts alone aren't terribly surprising. But here's the stunner: Chronically ill patients who receive the most intensive, aggressive, and expensive treatments fare no better than those who receive more conservative care. In fact, their outcomes are often worse.”

In the 1990s, the insurance industry tried to stop paying for exorbitant procedures. HMOs based these decisions not on medical efficiencies and quality of procedure but merely based on cost. There was a major backlash against this, so by the turn of the century, HMOs stopped managing care and instead agreed to pay for anything that Medicare approves. The higher costs for paying for all these procedures was just passed onto employers in the form of higher premiums. That’s why health care is the mess it is today. The cost for health care as a percentage of our nation's Gross Domestic Product is unsustainably increasing each year. It has not always been this way; there was a time when we were more in line with the rest of the world.

Why does the United States spend so much on its health care? Elliot Fisher and Jack Wennberg of Dartmouth have shown that we have overbuilt our health care industrial complex to the point that it needs to be used – there’s too much profit to be lost if we don’t. We have what Harvard’s Donald Berwick calls “supply-driven care.”


Is Health Care a Commodity?

As the left and right blast each other concerning health care, a major question remains unanswered.

Clarke E. Cochran, Ph.D., Professor of Political Science at the Department of Health Organization Management at Texas Tech University, will deliver an address entitled "Seeking Justice: The Imperiled Promise of Healthcare Reform" at The Center for Public Justice's 15th annual Kuyper Lecture on October 22 in Washington, D.C.

10 years ago, before all the heated town hall meetings and all the left- and right-wing media pundits started spouting off on this, he addressed health care reform at a presentation given at Calvin College.

In this address, Cochran raised this critical question: Should we view Health Care as a commodity?
"Different spheres of society appropriately employ different bases of distribution. College professors aim to assign grades on the basis of merit or achievement. The same principle is used for prizes in an athletic competition. Parents distribute slices of cake at a child's birthday party according to strict equality, lest fights break out. Numerical equality governs votes in a democratic society. Cameras, blue jeans, automobiles, pencils, and diamond rings are distributed according to the logic of the market.

Need is the proper principle for distributing health care because health is necessary for a community's proper functioning. Good health facilitates social interaction and economic enterprise. Medical care is one of the principal means to preserve and restore physical, mental, and emotional functioning. Therefore, all societies (except the United States) that value health and that have the financial and technical means to develop modern systems of medical care recognize that health care for all citizens is a matter of public justice.

The prime competitor of need as a distributive principle is the market. Commitment to laissez-faire capitalism promotes a vision of the market as the single metaphor for life. Yet the market, however appropriate for the distribution of commodities, depends on an individualistic perspective foreign to commitment to the common good. It treats health care as a commodity like cameras, cars, pencils, and blue jeans. Those without financial resources receive inferior care or no care at all. The American tendency to make health care a market commodity produces very high quality technical care, but at the highest cost and worst access in the modern world."

The flip-side of the argument is this: A market-driven system properly places responsibility on the shoulders of the consumer, rather than on an impersonal bureaucratic entity. Markets produce the best product at the best cost because producers must respond to the demands of consumers. Our health care system must honor the image of God in each human being, meaning that we must care for the needs of each human being while we also honor the dignity of each human being by not robbing them of personal responsibility. Cochran talks about this as well (we’ll look at this in a few days).

So, before we can get into the nitty-gritty of policy, a foundational question needs to be addressed: Should we view Health Care as a commodity?

AHHHHHH!!! Obama is going to speak at my kids’ school!!!!

Run for your lives! Yank your kids out of that school! He is going to indoctrinate them in some sort of communist, black, minority-lovin’, care-for-the-poor, socialist brain washing!

His speech was released to the public yesterday. Look at the abysmal things he is going to say to our kids! OH! OUR KIDS!!! They’ll never recover from these clear attempts to brainwash them to support Obama’s socialist agenda!!

Now I've given a lot of speeches about education. And I've talked a lot about responsibility.

I've talked about your teachers' responsibility for inspiring you, and pushing you to learn.

I've talked about your parents' responsibility for making sure you stay on track, and get your homework done, and don't spend every waking hour in front of the TV or with that Xbox.

I've talked a lot about your government's responsibility for setting high standards, supporting teachers and principals, and turning around schools that aren't working where students aren't getting the opportunities they deserve.

But at the end of the day, we can have the most dedicated teachers, the most supportive parents, and the best schools in the world and none of it will matter unless all of you fulfill your responsibilities. Unless you show up to those schools; pay attention to those teachers; listen to your parents, grandparents and other adults; and put in the hard work it takes to succeed.

AAAAHHHH!!! Run for the hills!!
Ummm… wait. That actually is pretty helpful.

Every single one of you has something you're good at. Every single one of you has something to offer. And you have a responsibility to yourself to discover what that is. That's the opportunity an education can provide.

Hey. That sounds like individual responsibility. That sounds like what I tell my kids.

And this isn't just important for your own life and your own future. What you make of your education will decide nothing less than the future of this country. What you're learning in school today will determine whether we as a nation can meet our greatest challenges in the future.

You'll need the knowledge and problem-solving skills you learn in science and math to cure diseases like cancer and AIDS, and to develop new energy technologies and protect our environment. You'll need the insights and critical thinking skills you gain in history and social studies to fight poverty and homelessness, crime and discrimination, and make our nation more fair and more free. You'll need the creativity and ingenuity you develop in all your classes to build new companies that will create new jobs and boost our economy.

We need every single one of you to develop your talents, skills and intellect so you can help solve our most difficult problems.

Now, THAT is frightening…
Ummm… Well, I guess it really isn't frightening at all.
In fact, it’s exactly what I, as a Christian missionary to students on college campuses, tell students every week. Exactly.

I get it. I know what that's like. My father left my family when I was two years old, and I was raised by a single mother who struggled at times to pay the bills and wasn't always able to give us things the other kids had. There were times when I missed having a father in my life. There were times when I was lonely and felt like I didn't fit in.

So I wasn't always as focused as I should have been. I did some things I'm not proud of, and got in more trouble than I should have. And my life could have easily taken a turn for the worse.

But I was fortunate. I got a lot of second chances and had the opportunity to go to college, and law school, and follow my dreams.

Hmmm… Here we have the nation’s first African-American president telling students about how difficult it was to make it in his circumstances. This is a unique opportunity to address a major problem in our nation: Black kids are at a much higher risk of not getting an education than white kids. The “Obama Effect” is already being seen in test scores. “The inspiring role model that Mr. Obama projected helped blacks overcome anxieties about racial stereotypes.”

But at the end of the day, the circumstances of your life — what you look like, where you come from, how much money you have, what you've got going on at home — that's no excuse for neglecting your homework or having a bad attitude. That's no excuse for talking back to your teacher, or cutting class, or dropping out of school. That's no excuse for not trying.

Where you are right now doesn't have to determine where you'll end up. No one's written your destiny for you. Here in America, you write your own destiny. You make your own future.

Again, that doesn’t sound too socialist. That sounds down-right American! Wave the Red-White-and-Blue!!


Health Care Reform: Subsidiarity and Sphere Sovereignty

Christians have long taught that social issues are to be handled by the social institutions that are closest to the issue at hand. It’s what the Roman Catholics call “Subsidiarity.”

Also, for about a century (if not more), Protestant Christians have developed the principle of “Sphere Sovereignty,” which states that no single human institution should have absolute authority in society. Each institution is responsible directly to God for its particular area of sovereignty – families, educational institutions, businesses, trade unions, science, art, etc. No human institution owes its existence to the State, but rather to God. Government is not the superior institution, but simply has its own sphere of sovereignty. The key is this: The spheres of society are not subsidiaries of the state. Thus, in Christian social teaching, placing limitations on the power of government is a simple acknowledgement that only God has the right to absolute sovereign rule.

So, as I apply these Christian social teachings to the current health care issue, I wonder something: How is it that families and doctors are not given more responsibility for the decisions made concerning health care?

The most glaring reason that I see is this: The mode of payment has evolved into a third-party system, where employers pay heath insurance companies in order to cover the cost of health care.

The employer only has a stake here if health benefits for employees will also benefit the business (which more and more is not the case, so businesses are increasingly moving out of the sphere of being responsible for health).

The insurance companies’ most pressing issue is profits, not the health of those in their system, so they should not have responsibility for the sphere of health.

So, in our current system, families and doctors are not making decisions on what needs to be done, and at what cost.

My question for debate is this: How does replacing the third party of insurance companies with the third party of the federal government solve this problem? While Health Insurance Companies are definitely huge bureaucratic behemoths, replacing them with the huge bureaucratic behemoth of the Federal Government does not solve the issue that a third party that is very separated from the institutions needing to make the decisions will be making the decisions.


Health Care Justice

In February 2006, I suffered an aortic aneurysm that nearly claimed my life. After emergency surgery to replace the bursting ascending aorta, I suffered Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome that forced the doctors to place me in a medicated coma for four weeks. After seven weeks in the hospital, and a month of recovery, another aneurysm was discovered that needed a second open-heart surgery. Later that same year, I had my chest opened up again by the world’s foremost surgeon of aortic reconstruction and valve replacements at the Cleveland Clinic. To say that I am extremely thankful for the quality of health care in the United States of America would be an understatement.

The United States is the best in the world in what is called “rescue care.” Not only are there top-tier hospitals like the Cleveland Clinic, Mayo Clinic, and Johns Hopkins, but my local hospital (Canton’s Mercy Medical Center) was able to save my life when I suffered the trauma of my original aortic aneurysm. If you need advanced medical treatment – like cardiac surgery, or chemotherapy, or an organ transplant – America is the place to be.

But here’s the problem: Most health care is not “rescue care.” Most health care is helping people deal with illness on a day-to-day basis – dealing with diabetes or arthritis or a nagging pain in the abdomen, preventing small things from turning into big things, catching problems before they become major issues. This is where we keep people healthy. This is how we keep health care costs down. This is done by primary care doctors, not specialists.

And this is where America is bad. Really bad.

The New York Times reported that “[Nine] years ago, the World Health Organization made the first major effort to rank the health systems of 191 nations. France and Italy took the top two spots; the United States was a dismal 37th. More recently, the highly regarded Commonwealth Fund has pioneered in comparing the United States with other advanced nations through surveys of patients and doctors and analysis of other data. Its latest report ranked the United States last or next-to-last compared with five other nations — Australia, Canada, Germany, New Zealand and the United Kingdom — on most measures of performance, including quality of care and access to it. Other comparative studies also put the United States in a relatively bad light.”

Last year, Reuters reported that “France, Japan and Australia rated best and the United States worst in new rankings focusing on preventable deaths due to treatable conditions in 19 leading industrialized nations… If the U.S. health care system performed as well as those of those top three countries, there would be 101,000 fewer deaths in the United States per year, according to researchers writing in the journal Health Affairs.”

The response of Christians in the United States to this must be, “This is not God's will!” In a representative government, we should expect (and, with civility, demand) that our society reflect our Christian values – among these being liberty and justice for all, especially for those who are the “least of these.”

The poor do not have access to quality health care because health insurance has primarily been offered through employment. And if you are not employed, you simply can’t afford health insurance. This is why millions are attempting to live without it. And this is why America is lagging behind the world in quality of health care.

It is an injustice of biblical proportions that a wealthy nation like the United States is unable to offer its citizens quality health care. While the rich have access to primary care, the poor are relegated to the emergency rooms when their symptoms get so bad they can’t stand it anymore.