Who Dies?

Vision Regeneration Summer Program 2010

There’s a story about a couple people I used to work with that feels like it needs to be told. Some of you know I used to work for a nonprofit to keep inner city kids out of street gangs. None of the programs to help kids broke even, and money was always in short supply.  Most who worked there had multiple jobs, and no one had health insurance.

We had a bus driver who didn’t show up for work one day because he had a stroke and died in his home.  It was on the last day of our summer program.  The kids were excited about the closing ceremony when some would perform and they all would get a few school supplies for the start of the school year.  Of course, the kids were aware of the last minute shuffling when the driver no showed, and they were naturally curious about what had happened.  Keith was a big personality and even if he was a little overgenerous with his advice, at least by high school standards, he genuinely cared about those kids and they knew it.  They were sad to learn what had happened.  Incidentally, another bus driver, Arthur, died that same year from untreated cancer.

The gal in charge of the summer program had dangerously high blood pressure.  More than once, especially (and not coincidentally) near the beginning of the summer, panicked co-workers rushed her to the hospital ER with intense chest pain, confusion and blurry vision. ER personnel told her she really needed to be on medication under a doctor’s supervision. She often asked for an advance on her pay.  Her car loan servicer remotely disabled her car ignition when a payment was late, so she needed the advance just to get to work.  I’m not judging her spending priorities or how she managed her money.  I’m just reporting observations on the reality of the situation. Minute clinics cost money. The occasional free clinic that pops up at a church in the hood is helpful for many maladies but not for treating chronic life threatening conditions.

It feels this story needs to be told because yesterday, Romney told the Columbus Dispatch’s editorial board:

We don’t have people that become ill, who die in their apartment because they don’t have insurance.  We don’t have a setting across this country where if you don’t have insurance, we just say to you, “Tough luck, you’re going to die when you have your heart attack.”

As a point of fact, people do die in their apartments because they don’t have insurance. Maybe we have the heart attack emergency covered, but what about managing the hypertension that led to the heart attack? Cancer is up there with heart disease as the two biggest killers in the US. Let us not forget diabetes. Emergency rooms provide acute care, not routine care for the chronic conditions that kill most people in America.

Romney concluded, “No, you go to the hospital, you get treated, you get care, and it’s paid for, either by charity, the government or by the hospital.”  No, in reality, you go to the hospital, they tell you you really need to see a doctor for ongoing treatment, and a collections company hounds you for the ER bill.

Join the conversation.  Do you have a story that needs to be told just to keep it real?

Copyright 2012 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved. Visit www.AcrossTraditions.com.

A Radical Leaving

Karen Rodman was charming, vivacious and enterprising. She instigated more good works than I could list. The entire arc of her professional and personal life was dedicated to making the world a better place in one way or another. She possessed a huge heart and a pioneering spirit. She lost her life too early to cancer last week, and her memorial service was Friday.

I’ve been lingering over something her priest said in his homily. It was an uncharacteristically evangelizing and passionate homily, by Episcopal standards. The priest sought to reach mourners right where they were in their faith journeys, and according to at least one friend, he reached his mark. He claimed that once one accepts oneself as a beloved child of God, and moreover, once that becomes the central pillar of one’s identity, the pressure to perform is off.

I couldn’t disagree more. Or at least, that does not track my journey in faith. My experience is informed more by the notion that to whom much is given, much is expected. When I contemplate the incredibly lucky hand I’ve been given—and let’s face it, anyone born in North America got a pretty lucky hand, globally speaking—I feel a great pressure to do good with it. If sufficiently focused on the abundance in my life, I cannot conceive how much must be expected. It is humbling beyond words.

A now retired priest in my parish was fond of saying, “Beware of arriving safely because you sailed too close to shore.” I know there is a time for rest, but there is also a time for stretching to the point of discomfort. Scripture abounds with examples of the faithful
who leave the place that’s comfortable and answer God’s call to venture into the unknown.

The Reform Jewish prayer book recalls what Abram had to leave behind in order follow God’s call. Abram left his homeland, his friends, all he had accumulated over a lifetime, and all that was familiar–for what? He didn’t have an answer, but he had trust and hope. “Radical Leaving” is what the prayer book calls Abram’s courageous step, and Rabbi Norman Hirsh’s poem “Becoming” describes how we encounter it.

Once or twice in a lifetime
A man or woman may choose
A radical leaving, having heard
Lech lecha — Go forth.

God disturbs us toward our destiny

By hard events
And by freedom’s now urgent voice
Which explode and confirm who we are.

We don’t like leaving,
But God loves becoming.

Karen embraced this radical leaving, undoubtedly more than once in her life, but certainly at her life’s end. When we said goodbye the last time, she expressed such exuberant and contagious hope—hope for a medical miracle, hope for an adventure beyond bodily death, hope for the world she was leaving behind and hope for friends and her daughter’s long life ahead. I pray for God’s blessing on her becoming.

Join the conversation. How have hard events or freedom’s urgent voice exploded and confirmed who you are? Do we ever encounter our destiny any other way?

Copyright 2012 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved. Visit www.AcrossTraditions.com.

The M-Word

Middle class.  Isn’t that what this year’s presidential election is all about?  Not so fast, says Jim Wallis.  He is the CEO of Sojourners, an organization promoting faith in action with a Christian take on social justice.  Here’s what he has to say about 2012 election politics:

Jesus didn’t say “What you have done for the middle class, you have done for me.”

As we enter into the final stretch of the upcoming elections, we need to talk about the “P” word – Poverty.  Both political conventions talked a lot about the middle class, but what you didn’t hear much about was the poor and marginalized.  “Opportunity” was another key word at both conventions this summer.  As Christians, we must be clear that creating new opportunities must include poor children and low-income families.

We are called to care for the least of these, but how does that translate in selecting our public servants?

Jim Wallis addresses this question in his Sojourners feature article, “How to Choose a President,” and a free “Why Voting Matters” downloadable voting guide.   Click here to learn about Sojourners and here for the current magazine issue.

Entitlement” seems to be emerging as another of those presidential election key words, as discussed in the last post’s comments.  Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and the Jewish tradition of tzedakah both suggest a human desire for self-sufficiency, not dependence.  Are there as many poor people abusing the social safety net as voters trying to justify eliminating it would like to believe?  The truth is, most citizens do feel entitled to safe roads, clean water, 911 emergency assistance, hazardous weather alerts, mail delivery and so on.  Let us not leave out education.  Even those educated exclusively in private institutions benefit from a well-educated populace.  And let’s be honest, most private educational institutions depend on government grants, tax exemptions or tuition aid—government benefits enjoyed for the most part by the rich.  Where is the line between entitlement and the marks of a just and civil society?

One dynamic emerging out of the current election politics is the humorous (and somewhat disingenuous) trend toward everyone considering themselves middle class.  What counts as middle class?  The answer is inflated by taxpayer self-interest.  Self-interest aside, however, could you agree to define the middle class as those with household income not in the bottom 25% or in the top 25% but in the middle 50%?  If so, then according to IRS 2009 tax returns, middle class families have income less than $66,000 per year.  More than that puts you in the top 25%.  More than $154,000 puts you in the top 5%.  Some notable 2012 election candidates are arguing that the middle class extends into this top 5% group.

Is it simply a matter of retaining popular tax deductions or escaping the “fair share” levied on the rich?  Or is there more to the desire to be “middle class” than that?  Do over-the-top lifestyles celebrated in the media skew our perceptions?  Is it a herd mentality that makes us comfortable in the middle instead of in the extremes?  Or does a simple lack of diversity awareness allow us to presume we’re in the majority even when we’re not?

Join the conversation.  What opportunities extended to the poor and marginalized would actually lift up and benefit the middle class?

Copyright 2012 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved. Visit www.AcrossTraditions.com.