August 18, 2009
I have become increasingly frustrated by the healthcare conversation in recent days. At our vestry meeting on Monday night Robert ball offered a meditation on the importance of listening as a crucial part of civil discourse. What is going on at the moment in our body politic shows very little listening and very little civility. I am haunted by Robert Caldwell’s concluding words form his book on Islam in Europe. (See entry for August 13.) He wrote: “When an insecure, malleable, relativistic culture meets a culture that is anchored, confident and strengthened by common doctrines, it is generally the former that changes to suit the latter.” I don’t’ think we have insecure leadership but there is an opposition to health care reform that dresses itself up as ‘anchored, confident and strengthened by common doctrines’, when the real agenda is not reform but defeating the President at any cost. I’m reminded of a similar sense with the defeat of President Clinton’s early initiatives, but in those days we did not have the specter of race playing a role or people showing up at town hall meetings carrying semi automatic weapons. Another difference is that health care reform matters to everyone in this country, like it or not, and the debate needs to be not about ‘whether’ but about ‘how’ to get it done.
We know that our current system and its ever increasing costs are not sustainable. We know that there are terrible aspects of our current system that make it very difficult for huge numbers of people to get insurance and therefore decent medical treatment, and we know that these are not just the indigent or poor, but people who are unemployed or who are refused coverage because of ‘pre-existing conditions’ and the like. Healthcare reform can probably be brought about in any number of ways and a vigorous debate about how that should happen, the proper role of government and the like are necessary and welcome. But we seem to be losing sight of the moral imperative that in this nation we need to take care of each other as a matter of pride in the kind of people we are. We need to take care of each other so that no one can be subject to discrimination because of this or that illness. (Jonathan Alter points out in Newsweek of Aug 24 & 31 that this is a civil rights issue.)
Somehow those vices that are destructive and invasive function like a cancer and should be called to account, especially when they are the voices of those elected to govern the country.
Christians have something to bring to the conversation without saying anything and that is our sure and certain knowledge that the worst thing in life is not death. Rather it is breaking faith with the One who made us. Remembering that God is trustworthy in all things can help us set aside any fear we may harbor about how reform will affect us personally and whether or not it will be negative or costly for us in some way. Instead we can look to the good of the whole and serve as leaven in the loaf, a non anxious presence in the midst of an anxious world, --even if we don’t’ have anything to offer the policy conversation or the mechanics of reform. We can model civility and listening. But more than that we can be what the doctors call ‘partners in our own healthcare’ and call to account elements that seem destructive when we have heard them in our offices or homes or coffee shops or wherevever. That is ministry.