Sunday, November 7, 2010

Business or Government: Who should run healthcare?

This is the big question that divides us when we talk politics these days, especially where I live, in Athens County, where unemployment is high and many people are uninsured. Do I really trust the government, I am asked. I respond, do you trust big business? The current system of health care is market based, which means profit is the goal, the prime motivator. Profit for the company, be it a pharmaceutical manufacturer, a health insurance provider, or a physician group, requires cutting excess, making choices that maximize profit, and beating the competition. I would argue that these modes of operation all have their down side, and are extremely susceptible to corrupting influences that place profit above outcome of the recipients of health care. When human nature is added to this mix, which I believe is flawed intrinsically; we have a recipe for unethical behavior. How about government? This too is made up of flawed human beings who are susceptible to the corrupting influences of lobbyists and personal drive for power, position and wealth. But, with our system of government, we at least have some public accountability for elected officials, which is minimal or absent in the business world. You can be assured that one’s opponent in a political campaign will highlight every flaw and mistake, real and concocted, that the incumbent perpetrated. And I have a say in the makeup of the government by my vote. Our government is made up of people who we, the people, have hired to do a job. If we don’t like the job they have done, then we can vote differently next time around. Government has unfortunately come to be seen as an opponent in the health care debate, rather than our instrument, an extension of our will to accomplish what we want to do as a community, a society. This no doubt is partly due to the idea that once our elected favorites make it to office, they fail to follow through on what they told us they would do. I suspect that this is due to the fact that things that were black and white during the campaign become a shade of gray obscured by a fog once they get to work. This grayness is partly influenced by the desire to maintain ones position for more than one term in office, and that, in the background, from the day of election, a re-election campaign is in the making. This leaves one especially susceptible to influence from lobbyists who promise support in future campaigns, as well as assured employment after leaving public office. And of course, the lobbyists with the most influence are those with the most money, i.e. big business! So, we could say more; we could discuss the Canadian, the British and the Cuban systems, pluses and minuses. We could point out the flaws in our system; the 40,000 million without insurance and the long waits for those without insurance and without money. We already have rationing of health care based on socioeconomic status. Those with money get what they want in a timely manner. We already have death panels in place run by the private sector insurance industry who denies care based on preexisting conditions and other fine print in their policies. Actually, most seniors are relatively satisfied with Medicare, a government run health care system. My office staff says that Medicare is the easiest insurer to work with, rarely denying claims or treatment, requiring very little of their time administratively. The guidelines are clear and easy to manage. And their administration costs are much less than the private insurance companies that pay large salaries to their CEOs and dividends to stock holders. Not a perfect system, but not bad! So, who do I trust? Neither government nor big business, but at least with government we have more accountability and more influence. So I support a government run health care system not based on profit as its measure of success, but one that follows the model of public service that we see in our police and fire fighters, and our public education system. Physicians would be public servants. Local governments would employ first tier physicians for their local hospitals. The states would manage major centers and the educational system. The federal government would administer the insurance and research system. Would it be perfect? No, but I see this as the lesser of two evils. Would this be accepted in the U.S.? Probably not. Big health care business is already too well established. But how about this for a compromise, a two tier system: expand Medicare to cover everyone for basic care (which would require a difficult debate to decide what basic care is), and offer private insurance for the extras; for the expensive treatment and procedures that are not likely to be successful, but yet in great demand? Taxes would need to go up, but health insurance premiums for basic care would disappear. We can afford this if we have the public will! Look what we spend on political campaigns, Starbucks and bombs! Thoughts from Athens, Dave Drozek

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Fallacy of Freedom?

As I have been reading Exclusion and Embrace by Miraslav Volf, I was struck by an idea this morning. As frequently happens, my mind heads off on a tangent while my eyes continue down the page, and I find that the last several paragraphs have not registered because my thoughts were elsewhere. So as I set down the book, yet unclear where Volf is going with the idea, I need to write down my own thoughts before I can move on. Freedom, and it’s brothers, independence and autonomy, are dominant concepts, especially in the United States, where they are held as core values endowed by our Creator. Conservative Christians certainly preach these values and rely on them as a motivator to promote their political affiliation with the Right. But what really does this “freedom” produce? I am surrounded by “free, independent and autonomous” people who are unhappy, and live a life of bondage to unfulfilled desires and fears. They are free to choose from a multitude of variations of things and actions, all guaranteed and encouraged by our government and society of materialism and consumerism, the envy of the world. Yet so many of us find ourselves frustrated by the little obstacles that get in our way, the little inconveniences that require us to alter our plans. We find ourselves, in actuality, captive to our desires, declaring war on those who we perceive as obstacles to our selfishness. Our life of “freedom” is in actuality an ongoing war against that and those which hinder the exercise of our will. In the “land of the free” we affectionately embrace this war as “competition” and encourage, promote and even worship it! Those who overcome the odds and pull themselves up by their bootstraps, (usually at the expense of someone else who is less fortunate) are our heroes! We envy and deify the rich and powerful, who have mastered the art of understanding market forces, achieved the limelight, or even win elections by “a landslide” (which I pondered in the last election: is 55% a “landslide” when it means that 45% were against you?). Why, if we are so “free” are so many of us so unhappy? Didn’t Jesus say “the truth will set you free”? How free are we really? Or is it as Brian McLaren points out in Everything Must Change, that we are so afraid of losing what we confuse as freedom; our affluence and material wealth, that we are in a constant war against whatever we perceive is a threat to our “freedom”, requiring a vast expenditure of time and resources to maintain our security at personal, political and international levels? Is there a different kind of “freedom”, and a different “truth” that we need to seek? Is Jesus really promoting our Western lifestyle, or is he suggesting something different? Or maybe, is Jesus teaching us that we can find “freedom” within if we will follow his message, one that promotes subservience to others, sacrifice, forgiveness of our enemies, looking out more for the needs and concerns of others (around the world) than ourselves, “love” (as defined in 1 Corinthians 13, not by the contemporary media) toward those who oppose us? How boring! How un-American! But how fulfilling? What if we had no fear of losing anything of real value? What if we had peace with everyone around us? What if we had everything we really needed? What if there was no one we saw as a competitor? What if we had a community of people who encouraged us, who respected us for our uniqueness, and embraced us as we are? What if our community supplied whatever real need we lacked? I am not talking about communism or socialism, but about The Kingdom of Jesus! Can we work toward this here and now? Can we form little enclaves of people who practice the teachings of Jesus (and maybe call them the Church?) that invite people who suffer oppression, both outwardly and inwardly, to experience something different, something contrary to the present system of “freedom”? What better tool of recruitment for Jesus’ Kingdom could we have than to reveal a bit of the future Kingdom (heaven on earth?) to people who have failed to find inner freedom and peace? What is true “freedom”? Pondering in Athens, Dave Drozek

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

God is Jesus?

I had to get a copy of Brian McLaren’s "A New Kind of Christianity" to see what the flap was all about. On the one hand, I have found the book addressing many of the discomforts and uneasiness I have with the theology of my past, while on the other hand, turning me on my head leaving me reeling, trying to consider what he is saying from another paradigm! Last night the question came up, “What if instead of saying Jesus is God, we said God is Jesus!” Does this make a difference? Thank about it!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Other Stories! What is the commom denominator?

This week we had an interesting “sermon”. Instead of the usual, we watched a video from Willow Creek produced about 10 years ago. Pastor Bill Hybels presented a series of questions to a panel of representatives from some of the world’s most influential religions: Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism and Christianity. The questions were designed to highlight differences between Christianity and the other faiths represented. I noticed a common denominator that ran through all the stories of those represented; be good to your fellow man! This indeed highlighted a basic problem of humanity; unkindness to one another, in all its various forms. The flip side of this is really selfishness and pride, thinking of oneself more highly than others. I saw some truth in each of these world views, and an honest attempt to deal with that truth. For several years I have been contemplating the “essentials of the faith.” What is the minimum one needs to know and do to be acceptable to God? Coming from a fundamentalist Baptist background, we had quite a list of doctrines and practices that were essential to agree with if one wanted to “belong” to the congregation or denomination. For me, and possibly for many others, that list became a distraction from the core or basic beliefs of Christianity. The list had value, but was assembled by men in a systematic way, with the intent to help us be acceptable to God, just like the Pharisees did in Jesus’ day. The list was to guard our purity, and that it did for me, at least outwardly, during my formative years. For this I am grateful! It was my “school master”. As a missionary in Honduras, I hosted several visitors over the years, with whom I engaged in discussions of faith and practice. I often asked our guests to list the essentials of their faith, comparing theirs with mine in a sometimes spirited discussion. I found that over the years, my list of essentials became shorter and shorter, as I interacted with people from various backgrounds who demonstrated a vibrant faith, but lacked some of the points that I had on my list! How could this be? Maybe my essentials were not quite so essential after all! That has led me on a quest to find that common denominator, the basis of our faith, the bare essentials that are necessary to make one acceptable to God. Being a Christian, much of my search has included the Bible, and a sorting through many of its various interpretations. What intrigues me most at the moment, is the faith of the “outsiders” to the mainline lineage of Abraham. We can begin with Abraham, the Father of many who have faith throughout the world. Abraham had a revelation from God, and responded appropriately with obedience. We have a great bit of detail about Abraham and his descendents. But there are others, on whom the story of the Bible does not focus, yet intersect with the story of Abraham and his descendents. What is the rest of their story? What about Melchizedek? What an intriguing individual! A priest king, out of nowhere! What drew him to God, and elevated him to a position of religious leadership? What was his source of revelation? He had Creation, but did God speak directly to him? He certainly was acceptable to God! What did he teach his followers? What did he believe and do? His faith was outside of the Judeo-Christian norm and lineage. Then we have the magi of the Christmas story. Another group of very interesting men whose faith was so strong they undertook a sacrificial journey to present costly gifts to a king whom the rest of the world missed, even those with the sacred scriptures in their possession! What was the source of their faith? They certainly were acceptable to God, or I must assume so from their place in this amazing story of God becoming man! Then, we also have Cornelius, the pagan, Roman military leader, in the book of Acts who prayed and gave alms to the poor. Cornelius understood that there was a God worthy of his recognition. He also somehow knew that he had a responsibility to the poor. He clearly was noticed by God! What he was doing was acceptable to God! Is this a hint at the common denominator, a recognition of a Creator God who we are responsible to, which results in beneficial actions toward the creatures that bear the image of that God? Some might argue that Cornelius wasn’t quite yet acceptable, that he yet needed to accept the message of Jesus, which was presented to him in a pretty dramatic fashion. But I wonder, was he acceptable before he knew the name of Jesus? He knew the Creator Jesus, just didn’t know his proper name and some details. So, I continue to wonder what the common denominator is! What are the basics one must know / do to be acceptable to God? I have a few ideas. Thoughts from Athens, Dave Drozek Jan 24, 2010

Sunday, January 17, 2010

"Journey to the Center" considered As I read this article, which my former mission supervisor shared with me, I saw great potential for discussion, and wanted to pass it on! It brings to mind many questions, some which have been raised before in our discussions. Please read the article, and add your thoughts to the blog ! Questions that come to mind: 1) Does Jesus show up in pagan worship? Can someone be worshipping Allah, for example, and encounter Christ? 2) Is there something deceptive about being covertly Christian, or is this simply contextualization? 3) Is there essential vocabulary to Christianity that can’t be avoided, such as “Jesus”, “sin”, “the cross”? 4) How might certain Christian concepts be contextualized, such as “sin”, “redemption”, “incarnation”? 5) What is the next step? Now there is a following, should there be a church? Should there be an invitation to commitment, to baptism, to membership? What should this church look like?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Evangelism Revisited

As I continue along my “conversion” journey I once again am visiting the idea of evangelism. I refer to this as my “conversion” since this is indeed a restructuring of my world view. This is what God is calling us to when we are told to repent, to be converted; to change our way of thinking, to realign our thoughts with God’s thoughts.

I must first pause and acknowledge some of those who are so vital and influential in this process: my students. I meet for breakfast with several groups of students who graciously discuss the various topics that I am wrestling with as I progress in my pilgrimage. They may think they are learning from me, and maybe they are, but I am benefiting from them far beyond that which I give! Their intelligent, insightful, thoughtful and critical ideas have brought to light many flaws in my thinking and given direction to new avenues to investigate and consider.

Most recently, as we have looked at the conversion experience of Paul, as discussed in Foolishness to the Greeks by Newbigin, my paradigm of evangelism took a comforting turn. I have long been dissatisfied with the canned approaches of evangelism that I have been taught and used, such as The Four Spiritual Laws, The Romans Road, and Evangelism Explosion, to name a few. I believe we are to be about the business of making disciples and spreading the Kingdom of God, but something seemed amiss. Bringing someone to a point where they said a prayer, asking Jesus to be their “personal” savior seemed to be missing something. It seemed to ignore or minimize the Kingdom message of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount and elsewhere in the Gospels. Of this I have written elsewhere, and won’t here review in detail. (see A Different Paradigm attached)

But, from looking at Paul’s conversion, a couple of important things surface. First, we need to communicate Jesus words in the heart language of future disciples. Unfortunately, we who have been Christians for any length of time have adopted our own vocabulary and lingo with words like saved, blessing, fellowship, sin, repent, etc. which we throw around, expecting others to understand. Some even go so far as to quote antiquated translations of the Bible that have little resemblance to the way anyone speaks today. Yet we expect people to “catch our drift” and join the effort.

Secondly, we need to broaden the scope, or change the focus of our call to conversion. The canned presentations mentioned above focus on personal sin. Jesus message certainly includes confrontation of personal sin, but goes far beyond this, dealing with community / global issues as well. As I read the Sermon on the Mount, I see some serious discrepancies between what Jesus is teaching and what many “Christian” individuals and organizations are promoting, supporting in the political process or modeling in practice.

So, what should evangelism look like? Here is what my current thinking is.

As followers of Jesus are about the business of living out the Kingdom, living lives that are so in contrast to the world about us, living in Christian community, caring for the needs of those around us, and also living lives of integrity, we will attract attention from people who are curious or sympathize with some of our efforts and causes. (Could this interest be the image of God within them that seeks fulfillment, or maybe the call of the Spirit of God, depending on your theological bent?) When we see interest in those who are not followers of Christ, let’s invite them to cooperate with us in the work of the Kingdom. As they become curious about Christ, let’s direct them to the Sermon on the Mount in some contemporary version, like The Message (attached above). A discussion could then ensue including questions like, “Is this the Jesus that you thought you knew about? Does Jesus’ teaching challenge / fit your world view? Is this a Jesus that you want to learn more about?”

I would not “push” the issue of “sin”. I would rather wait for a discussion on discrepancies between what we see in society around us, and how we personally participate in the world view that is in conflict with Jesus’ teaching. This sense of discrepancy leads to a definition of sin: things that don’t measure up to God’s standard. This then should naturally flow into a discussion of conforming ones thinking or world view to that of Jesus (conversion or repentance, without the strange vocabulary). This would include a discussion of personal choices that are in conflict with Jesus’ program for humanity (sin).

What about the cross? That comes later as one explores Jesus’ life and teaching. This, after all is the sequence Jesus followed as he presented himself to his disciples. He invited them to follow his Kingdom teaching before they even knew he was the Messiah, and certainly before the cross!

So, at the risk of replacing one canned presentation with another, this is how I currently would invite someone to consider becoming a follower of Jesus. This first of all requires a commitment on my part to be exploring and living out the life of Christ in community as an example. Secondly it requires a de-emphasis on a point in time decision or prayer, at least early on in the process. At some point there hopefully will develop a desire to make a commitment as one explores the Christian story, but let’s not rush this or see this as the goal, or as an endpoint! Discipleship doesn’t have an endpoint. Thirdly, and possibly the most difficult and uncomfortable element for U.S. Christians, this requires a commitment of time in a relationship.

I welcome your thoughts and criticisms as I continue to explore and refine my world view, hoping that it continually becomes more like that of Christ!

Dave Drozek

December 2009

What is Truth?

As I begin reading the New Testament and the People of God, by N. T. Wright, I need to process the information that I am presented with. This is my attempt to summarize what I think I am reading. I don’t know if I fully agree with this as of yet, but it is intriguing, none the less.

Biblical interpretation can take several directions. Ways to classify the Bible include as 1) literature, 2) history, or 3) theology. Each has its strengths and its weaknesses. There are nuances to these approaches that differ depending on the age (pre enlightenment, modern, post modern) in which the interpretation was performed. (This is a very simplistic approach to many pages in the book!)

N. T. Wright supports an approach that draws from the strengths of each of these, which has been entitled “critical realism”. This method recognizes that the interpreter always has presuppositions which influence his approach to scripture. A wise interpreter will recognize this, allowing himself to reevaluate his presuppositions in light of his interpretation, which will likely change his presuppositions, which again will change his interpretation, and so on in a never ending spiral. Interpretation then is a dynamic process, influenced by ongoing encounters with the text and by the environment (education, culture, associates, etc.) of the interpreter.

But how does the interpreter determine truth?

The process described is actually similar to the scientific method, but without the “objectivity” we usually think of. There are a series of narratives, or stories that we live by, that describe our world view and influence our actions. We are presented with a world view by our upbringing, which we (re)evaluate throughout our life. We may recognize that our story has some weak points that don’t quite explain our experiences or “facts” as we see them. We may ignore these discrepancies and cling to our story, we may modify our story, or we may possibly look for a new story to adopt or adapt.

This is a dynamic ongoing life process. As we live, we form a series of hypotheses on how things should work based on our story. When we see that a hypothesis works, it strengthens our loyalty to our story. When it doesn’t work, and we are honest about it, we reevaluate. We are in effect putting together the jigsaw puzzle of life, seeing how the pieces best fit together to create the final picture. When they don’t quite fit well, we have to keep looking for a better fit.

More technically, we see the process as an interaction and tension between data and simplicity. Our hypothesis needs to consider all the data that pertains, including or rejecting the data as relevant, and then developing the simplest story that fits the data. As more data becomes available to us, we need to evaluate its applicability, and modify our story accordingly.

In the end, or at least for the time being, we each declare loyalty to the story that in our experience and with our presuppositions, works best for us. Our faith then, is really fairly pragmatic, but hopefully moving us toward the ultimate truth that exists in the Creator.

This is not to say that all roads lead to God, and that all stories are equally valid. If there is absolute truth, only the stories that are in alignment with truth are valid. But the only way for us to determine which stories fit the data, is to try them on for size, or as N. T. Wright says, “the proof is in the pudding”.