Who Am I?

Four Hundred Texts on Theology (Third Century) 8

Posted: September 30th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Theology (Third Century) 8

16.  The arrogant intellect is justly made the object of wrath, that is to say, it is abandoned by God, as I have already described, and the demons are permitted to plague it during contemplation. This happens so that it may become aware of its own natural weakness and recognize the grace and divine power which shields it and which accomplishes every blessing; and so that it may also learn humility, utterly discarding its alien and unnatural pride. If this indeed happens, then the other form of wrath – the withdrawal of graces previously given – will not visit it, because it has already been humbled and is now conscious of Him who provides all blessings.

Humility is hard.

Honestly, I don’t know any other way to say it. For even when we begin to be truly humble, we tend to observe our own humility and that very observation, perversely, tends to inspire pride. We divide into categories and tend to place ourselves in the better category. I’ve observed that even when I hear Christians truthfully say that God loves Muslims or God loves homosexuals, the very way it is phrased others those groups. The sense becomes one of God even loves them though the more accurate expression of reality would be to say that God loves them and God even loves us.

Other categories are little better. When we say that we are the saved and they are the lost, that is a statement of pride. I’m reminded again of the aged Romanian monk I heard (on video) say simply, “All will be saved and I alone will be damned.” When uttered honestly and from deep awareness of our own love for God, that strikes me as the truth of humility.

It is so easy to judge others as worse than ourselves. But when we do, we lose our consciousness of God, who provides all blessings.

Jesus Creed 20 – Abiding in Jesus

Posted: September 29th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: The Jesus Creed | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Jesus Creed 20 – Abiding in Jesus

Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.
Love the Lord you God with all your heart,
with all your soul,
with all your mind, and with all your strength.
The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself.
There is no commandment greater than these.

This is a series of reflections on Scot McKnight’s book, The Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others. It’s a book I unequivocally recommend for anyone. Each chapter opens with recommended Gospel readings. The readings for this chapter are: Luke 10:38-42; John 15:1-17.

Scot begins with the idea that proper posture is important. There is no better place to abide in Jesus than at his feet.

God’s love for us in Christ is like a cellular connection: It is constantly available. He calls us to sit at his feet, attend to him, and absorb his life and love for us. How might we attend to Jesus so we have constant access to his love and life?

I do agree that we are called to union with Christ — that is our salvation. And I agree that such union is only possible when we assume a posture of humility. Moreover, Jesus is our only source of life and if we are not willing to receive our life from him, we have no life. However, the image of sitting at his feet is the image and posture of a student learning from the teacher. Jesus is the Teacher. That is certainly true. But as the gospel reading in John says, he is also the Vine. Posture is important, but as with all our metaphors, it falls short of capturing the fullness of the reality.

McKnight answers the question he asks above with the following three ways.

We can best attend to Jesus in at least three ways: listening to the Word, participating physically in worship and the sacraments, and engaging in Christian fellowship.

I don’t really disagree that those are three ways. Certainly the sacraments or mysteries sustain our union with Christ. But what about prayer? Fasting? Almsgiving? I don’t think abiding in Christ can be reduced to any three activities just as no one metaphor suffices.

Every time we fellowship with other disciples, we are in the presence of Jesus, and he is in our presence. What I mean here by ‘fellowship’ is any connection of Christians where, because they are together, they are in the presence of the Lord. Because the church is the body of Christ, each gathering of believers offers a whisper of his presence or the lingering aroma of his fragrance. This means that when we are in fellowship with others, we are actually attending to Jesus.

McKnight does bring Brother Lawrence into his discussion of abiding, so he recognizes the importance of continual prayer.  This was a hard chapter to summarize in any meaningful way. I suppose if he had really tried to delve deeply into the topic of abiding in Jesus, it wouldn’t have been a chapter. It would have been a whole book in its own right.

Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 7

Posted: September 28th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 7

14.  He who thinks that he has achieved perfection in virtue will never go on to seek the original source of blessing, for he has limited the scope of his aspiration to himself and so of his own accord has deprived himself of the condition of salvation, namely God. The person aware of his natural poverty where goodness is concerned never relaxes his impetus towards Him who can fully supply what he lacks.

When I read this text, I think of the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican. I would venture that when we look at another and judge ourselves more spiritually accomplished or virtuous, we think we have achieved some perfection in virtue. And even if it seems like something minor, it is spiritually devastating. It is only as we perceive our natural poverty as “the worst of sinners” that we can remain open to God and to salvation.

Jesus Creed 19 – Believing in Jesus

Posted: September 27th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: The Jesus Creed | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on Jesus Creed 19 – Believing in Jesus

Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.
Love the Lord you God with all your heart,
with all your soul,
with all your mind, and with all your strength.
The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself.
There is no commandment greater than these.

This is a series of reflections on Scot McKnight’s book, The Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others. It’s a book I unequivocally recommend for anyone. Each chapter opens with recommended Gospel readings. The readings for this chapter are: Mark 7:24-30; Matthew 15:21-28.

The opening theme of this chapter reaches out and grabs you.

The goal of a disciple of Jesus is relationship, not perfection.

Let that sink in for a while. I deeply sense this is not how most of my fellow believers would formulate this statement. I once heard someone in my church describe ‘being Christian’ as ‘trying to be perfect even though we know we will fail.’ I can only describe my reaction to that statement as one of horror. I tried to share my reaction with some who were close to me and whom I thought might understand, but nobody really understood the depth, breadth, and intensity of my reaction against that description of the essence of Christianity. I know that ‘horror‘ seems melodramatic, but it’s not too strong a word to describe my reaction. If that statement captures what it means to be Christian, then I want to be something else. The statement strikes me as a rejection of all I understand it to mean to be Christian. This focus on ‘perfection‘ is not a minor side issue for me.

I think Scot captures my perspective, in part, in this statement:

Faith is an ongoing relationship and therefore like a marathon. The Jesus Creed is not for someone who believed, in the past, but someone who believes. Christians are called believers not believeders.

If you don’t immediately grasp the truth and implications of that statement, I simply don’t know how to make them clearer. Our faith can be stated as simply as, ‘I believe in Jesus Christ’ or ‘Jesus is Lord,’ though those statements then need to be worked out.  McKnight uses an interesting example of Shammai and Hillel on this point. It’s worth reading.

Faith is a relationship with Jesus Christ.

In theory we all agree with that statement, but do we live that way? I’m not convinced. I like the following. (I think Scot is quoting someone else.)

We cannot have a relationship with our christology — we can have a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Our soteriology cannot save us from our sins — our Savior can.

Our ecclesiology does not make us one — the Lord of the Church does.

Our eschatology will not transform this flawed universe — Jesus the King of kings and Prince of Peace will do that.

And, no matter how much we love theology — it will never love us back.

Only God in Christ loves us, and that is why believing is a relationship.

Those are extremely good words. Of course, ‘relationship‘ is also something of a tricky concept. The English word can describe our most intimate bonds and our most shallow connections. I can say I have a ‘relationship‘ with my wife, but I can also say I have a ‘relationship‘ (a business relationship) with the man who delivers my newspaper. In the context of Christianity, we’re using the word more in its former connotation. A lot of our words, like fellowship or knowing, have the same problem. That’s one of the reasons I’ve come to believe that the English word communion is probably the better choice.

Salvation is union or communion with Christ and being Christian is the process of growing in communion. And that necessarily means also growing in communion with our fellow human beings. I think a quote by St. Silouan captures this dual reality very well indeed.

We only know God to the extent that we love our enemies.

Jesus Creed 18 – A Society with Perspective

Posted: September 24th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: The Jesus Creed | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Jesus Creed 18 – A Society with Perspective

Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.
Love the Lord you God with all your heart,
with all your soul,
with all your mind, and with all your strength.
The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself.
There is no commandment greater than these.

This is a series of reflections on Scot McKnight’s book, The Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others. It’s a book I unequivocally recommend for anyone. Each chapter opens with recommended Gospel readings. The readings for this chapter are: Mark 14:25; Matthew 25:31-46.

The bible gives us only an occasional glimpse of heaven.

That’s an important place to begin this chapter because it focuses on the perspective our eschatology gives us. However, Scot also connects the fact that our culture impacts our ‘idea’ of heaven at least as much as anything else. And that’s both accurate and a very important observation that is often missed.

I’m not going to delve into all the vagaries surrounding that point in this post. Scot touches on them, but does not dwell on them. His focus is on what Jesus teaches and what should be common to all of us.

Jesus teaches that heaven, or the eternal kingdom, begins with a judgement; that heaven is entered by the followers of Jesus; that heaven involves table fellowship between Abba and his people; and that heaven is magnificent in its glory, intensity, and splendor. In short, heaven begins with the judgement and then, once that is over, the whole place is decked out for eternal fellowship with God and others.

There really is a lot of exploration in this chapter, but I’ll skip to this.

The place to stand, the perspective it gives us, is this: The end is the beginning. That is, one’s view of the eternal (the end) gives one perspective in this life (our beginning each day). The most potent incentive to spiritual formation is to see the end of history, to ponder God’s eternity, and to realize that this end shapes our beginning each day. So, in the words of Thomas a Kempis, ‘Practice now what you’ll have to put into practice then.’

Scot then builds a case against reading scripture purely for information. And his case is a powerful one. It merges, for me, with Willard’s words about bible study in Spirit of the Disciplines. We should read, meditate upon, study, and otherwise use scripture not for information but for formation. It helps us little to learn about love. We need to love. That is a distinction always worth keeping in mind.

This concludes the part on the society the Jesus Creed forms. Mcknight moves next to living the Jesus Creed.

Four Hundred Texts on Theology (Third Century) 6

Posted: September 23rd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Theology (Third Century) 6

12.  Providence has implanted a divine standard or law in created beings, and in accordance with this law when we are ungrateful for spiritual blessings we are schooled in gratitude by adversity, and brought to recognize through this experience that all such blessings are produced through the workings of divine power. This is to prevent us from becoming irrepressibly conceited, and from thinking in our arrogance that we possess virtue and spiritual knowledge by nature and not by grace. If we did this we would be using what is good to produce what is evil: the very things which should establish knowledge of God unshaken within us will instead be making us ignorant of Him.

Such arrogance is an easy trap for any of us. We have all seen people fall into it and, I think, if we try to be honest with ourselves, I think most of us have at least begun to fall into it at one point or another. Paul writes about this, of course, as the sort of knowledge which puffs up. All our virtue and knowledge and true power lies in Christ and our communion with him.

Paul describes Adam as the man of dust. He also calls Christ the image of the invisible God. We are created according to the likeness of the one true image or eikon, but that is not our nature. Our nature outside Christ is dust. In the Incarnation and Resurrection, Christ has made himself the source of the nature of humanity. It’s a wondrous teaching, but sometimes it can be easy to forget that it all flows from him. Without him, we have no life.

Jesus Creed 17 – A Society of Joy

Posted: September 22nd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: The Jesus Creed | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.
Love the Lord you God with all your heart,
with all your soul,
with all your mind, and with all your strength.
The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself.
There is no commandment greater than these.

This is a series of reflections on Scot McKnight’s book, The Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others. It’s a book I unequivocally recommend for anyone. Each chapter opens with recommended Gospel readings. The reading for this chapter is: John 2:1-11.

This chapter opens with an exploration of the yearning that is a universal part of the human experience. While there are many good thoughts, quotes, and ideas in the opening, I’m going to skip straight to the following from the book.

Here’s the good news: Jesus claims that the yearned-for joy is already here, that he’s provided us with an abundant drink of it, and that his offer will satisfy our thirst forever and ever. To reveal that joy, Jesus performs miracles that draw down a little bit of heaven’s joy to earth, that suddenly make life in this world light up in glory, and that convert the humdrum routine of reality into the joy of life.

Sometimes it seems like we treat God’s joy, grace, and life as if it’s in short supply. We feel we have to be careful where we bestow it. We don’t want to ‘waste‘ it. And that’s so very foolish. If there’s anything that knows no limit, that overflows with abundance, in which we swim in riches unimagined, it’s the embarassing wealth of grace and life God pours out on us.

Obviously, from the gospel reading, Scot begins his exploration at the wedding at Cana. And he starts by pointing out one of those things that we don’t often consider. Why does John specifically mention that the vessels Jesus’ uses are for ceremonial washing? Here is where we’ve lost some of our points of reference to Jesus’ culture. These weren’t about hygiene. They contained sacred water. It is water used to purify people and things.

People and things are made pure to get them in the proper order before God, to render them fit to enter into God’s presence. Observant Jews wash their hands in this water so they can eat their food in a state of purity.

Think on that for a moment. We talk about those containers a lot but I can’t think of a time when I can say I truly paused to recognize their significance in the culture. I knew it, but never connected the dots. Scot draws a wonderful point from this.

Jesus transforms the water of purity into the wine of joy. … Purity comes, not from water, but from drinking in the wedding wine of Jesus. … Jesus not only transforms water into wine, he does so in abundance. … Abundant joy is a feature of the kingdom…

That’s a powerful thought. Scot closes the chapter with the following.

When Jesus transforms the waters of purification into the wine of celebration he is saying that the daily grind of yearning for joy through purity has come to an end. ‘You need search no longer,’ Jesus is saying, ‘the wedding wine is at the table, drink it, all of you. Drink of me, for I am the wedding wine of joy, for the forgiveness of sin. I am what you yearn for. I make all things pure.

Four Hundred Texts on Theology (Third Century) 5

Posted: September 21st, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Theology (Third Century) 5

9.  The wrath of God is the painful sensation we experience when we are being trained by Him. Through this painful  experience of unsought sufferings God often abases and humbles an intellect conceited about its knowledge and virtue; for such sufferings make it conscious of itself and its own weakness. When the intellect perceives its own weakness it rejects the vain pretensions of the heart.

The most important point I want to stress is that whatever we call the wrath of God is always an expression of his love. Our God is love and a love so sublime and unutterably wonderful that the divine Son — the Logos — the one through whom everything that is was made and in whom all is sustained, became fully and truly one of us. This is the God who is not willing that any should perish. This is the God who is life.

It’s true that the first two councils that we now recognize as ecumenical were primarily defending against attack on the full divinity of Jesus and the Holy Spirit. But that has been more the exception than the rule. From the late first century and second century docetists and gnostics to the heresies that were the subject of the other five ecumenical councils, it’s usually been the humanity of Jesus that has been attacked. I sense the same sort of spirit today in a lot of evangelicalism. It often seems that the Incarnation is reduced to little more than a form upon which the Father can vent his wrath. Everything centers on the Cross. The Incarnation is an almost pro forma precursor and the Resurrection is reduced to an afterthought.

The Cross is, of course, the instrument of our salvation, but it only has meaning in the full context of the wonder of the Incarnation and in the light of the Resurrection. But if Jesus was not fully human in every way, if he did not become fully and truly one of us in order to heal us, and if he did not defeat death — destroy Hades as it is poetically stated — in the Resurrection, then our nature is not healed or capable of being healed and we are not saved. That which is not assumed is not healed.

So every time we consider wrath, we have to consider it in that context. We have tendency to confuse giving someone what they desire (or getting what we desire) with love. But the two are not the same at all. As Dallas Willard puts it, if we love someone it means we actively will their good. And what they desire — what we desire — is often not that which is for our good. Often our will is in the grip of those things we suffer — our passions. A heroin addict is ruled by their addiction. They might desire heroin with all their being. But would any of us consider it loving to give them what they desire?

Of course, even if we truly and actively will the good of one we love, we often have a very hard time discerning what would truly be for their good. Even if our efforts are not thwarted or twisted by our own passions, we often make mistakes. We will good, but we end up causing at least some harm. “The best laid plans of mice and men gang aft agley.” I know I have often done ill where I meant nothing but good.

God does not suffer from either of those limitations. He unfailingly wills our good. And he always knows what is for our good. His is love and all his acts are love — even if they feel like wrath. Thus, as I discussed in my series on Hell, the wrath and fire experienced by some is not actually anything different than the warmth and comfort others experience. Rather, that particular wrath is the experience of the fire of the unveiled love of God by those who do not want it.

Similarly, as St. Maximos points out in this text, the wrath we sometimes experience now is also God’s love. We experience it as wrath because we are not getting what we want. But if we are not getting what we desire, we need to recognize that’s probably because what we desire is actually our destruction. Sometimes (actually pretty often, I think) God is like a loving parent who allows us to experience the pain of our own choices so that we have the opportunity to learn from our mistakes. Sometimes he does not mitigate the cross of undeserved suffering — but whatever it is, he has been there too and experienced it as well. Sometimes he does act to protect or heal. In neither case is it random or arbitrary.

The Christian recognizes that God is always acting from love and from his unwillingness that any of us should perish. We often cannot see the reasons. That’s especially true in the middle of suffering. Sometimes, perhaps years later, we can see the hand of God in hindsight. Sometimes we can’t. But if Jesus of Nazareth is who we believe him to be — the fully divine Son who becomes fully human in every way — then this is the God we worship.

Health Care in the US

Posted: September 20th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Celiac, Personal | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments »

As a rule, I don’t tend to post on political issues, mostly because I don’t tend to write about or otherwise wrestle with such matters at any significant level. I do stay generally informed, and I also find that much of what passes for political discourse in our country is pretty abysmal.

Health care, however, is one issue which does concern me a great deal, especially since at least two of my children have inherited celiac disease from me. Personally, my wife and I are somewhat insulated and secure from the worst of what has happened to health care in the US over the past decades. I’m a federal employee and as such we are covered under the FEHB. Twenty years ago, the FEHB offered pretty average employer insurance plan with low to average benefits and costs. Over the past couple of decades, I have watched our health care coverage become better and less expensive than that of almost everyone else I know.

And my health care plan has not significantly changed.

Let me say that again. Over the past twenty years, I’ve seen my health care plan go from, at best, a middle of the road plan, to one that seems to be better than that of most of the people I know without changing. I have watched the overall level of health care access and coverage dramatically decline for almost everyone else around me.

That’s not to say they aren’t constantly tweaking and adjusting my health care plan each year. Some years we pay a bit more in deductibles and other copayments. Some years we pay a bit less. Premium costs have pretty much risen every year, but at a less dramatic pace than that of many people I know. They did add a PPO network in the nineties, and reduced coverage for care received by non-participating medical practitioners and facilities. But the plan’s PPO network is so large, that’s been a non-issue. I don’t think there’s ever been a doctor or facility we wanted to use that was not a preferred provider on our plan.

As a result, my wife and I have been somewhat insulated from the abuses in health care coverage in this country and it’s less likely to ever be a critical issue for us personally. However, at least two of our children inherited celiac disease from me — that is they’ve been tested and positively diagnosed with active celiac disease. Thus, they already have one strike for a pre-existing condition and it’s a condition which can manifest in a huge variety of ways. They also have a family history for a variety of other conditions they could develop over the course of their lives. So from a personal perspective, the issue of health care does strike close to home.

However, that statement is true for every single one of us. The odds that we or someone we love will face some sort of serious, life-threatening, and individually unaffordable (unless you happen to be a Bill Gates or Warren Buffet) health crisis at some point in our lives approach certainty. And within the context of the privatized, for-profit system we allowed to balloon over the course of the past two decades, the odds were unacceptably high that during that almost inevitable health crisis, we would not have access to the level of care we might expect and our family would be crippled by debt for the care we did manage to receive. This is clearly the sort of problem that can only be mitigated by sharing the risk, responsibility, and cost as a society. It’s for reasons like this that we group together as a society and a country. There are many things we can do together that we simply can’t do alone.

Of course, it’s a scientifically demonstrated fact that the way our minds function leaves us remarkably poor at evaluating and acting on those sorts of risks. Even when we know the odds, we tend to have irrational optimism that we can beat the odds in some situations. (That’s one reason why, in every flood here, there are usually people who get in trouble and even die from driving around barriers and into flooded low water crossings.) Conversely, we tend to inflate threats that seem riskier, but which actually have a comparatively lower and often even minimal chance of impacting us. The biggest risk many of us personally encounter on any given day is the risk of simply driving to work, school, or the grocery store. But if you ask people to list or rank risky activities, that rarely makes the list at all.

In this instance, managing health care at the societal level in some way is the common sense thing to do from a self-oriented, pragmatic perspective. Ironically, it’s also the only thing you can do if you claim to love your neighbor. In this country, we have organized ourselves as a form of representative democracy. One of the things that means is that we all share in the responsibility of ruling our country. As Christians, that has particular implications. It means we face, though perhaps on a more distributed scale, exactly the same sort of dilemmas that Christian emperors and other rulers have faced throughout history. We are the powers and authorities who will be held accountable by Jesus for the way we have exercised that power. We cannot escape that responsibility and we cannot abdicate it. There are no easy answers to the proper use of that power. There never have been.

Unfortunately, there is no easy button.

So what are our options? I’ve studied what other countries do to some extent and it seems to me that most employ variations of one of three different general approaches. (Yes, I know there are a lot of ideas out there, but most countries seem to actually end up doing one of three things.) It also seems to me that part of our problem is that we are trying to use them all in a disorganized and hodge-podge manner rather than selecting one approach for everyone in our country. If we are going to truly share the risk, responsibility, and cost, it doesn’t seem effective to me to take that approach, especially if, as you’ll see, we segregate pools of those with higher risks and costs from those with lower risks and costs.

So what are these options?

  1. Government run health care. In this system, the government owns the hospitals. Most doctors and other health care practitioners work for the government in those institutions. And basically, health care is delivered directly by the government. England is one example of a system like this. There are many variations and permutations.
  2. Single payer health care. In this system, the doctors and other practitioners largely do not work for the government, nor does the government own or directly operate most of the hospitals and other facilities. Instead, the government is the single payer for health care services. They negotiate payments and they usually distribute the costs to some degree across the populations based on your ability to pay. Canada is one example of a system like this. Again, there are a lot of different ways to do it, but they do share the same common characteristics.
  3. Government regulated health care insurance exchange. Here, the government does not directly pay most health care costs. Instead, it establishes and regulates an insurance exchange and mandates the participation of all citizens in order to spread the risk across the population. Such a system typically must include subsidies for groups like the poor. Switzerland’s system is generally the model for a system like this.

Those are the basic, widely used options. And here’s where the arguments of those who seem to oppose almost anything that is proposed turn irrational. Why? Because we employ all of the above approaches in our country and have for a very long time. Yes, I know there has been widespread demagoguery over government taking over health care or socialized medicine, but though it has been noisy, it’s had no basis in reality. I don’t personally have any strong preference for one system over another. But my life has been such that I prefer to maintain some connection to the world as it actually is rather than my fantasy about it.

Let’s start at the top of my list. Because we are so large as a country, we actually have a government run health care system that rivals that of some smaller countries. It’s called the Veteran’s Administration. While the VA operates many programs on behalf of veterans, one of the largest is certainly the network of doctors, hospitals, and clinics it runs. We hear about it in the news when there is a problem with a VA hospital, but they mostly do pretty amazing work — especially when you consider that we usually choose to underfund them. If a government-run health care system is good enough for those who have served us in our military, tell me again why it wouldn’t be good enough for all of us? Be careful how you answer that question. Though I’m not eligible for care through the VA, I am a veteran.

Or let’s move to the next item on my list. Our government-operated single payer system is the largest single health care system in our country and is much larger, I believe, than Canada’s entire health care system. Our single payer system, of course, is called Medicare. In the debates over health care, both Republicans and Democrats publicly defended Medicare. I remember some of my older relatives, especially the ones with serious illnesses and inadequate coverage, anxiously waiting to reach the Medicare enrollment age. It has problems, of course, because of the way we’ve chosen to structure and fund it over the years, but as a system it works well enough that threats to take it away seems to raise the ire of those who have it.

Finally, even before the recent Act, we had government-regulated insurance exchange option available. It’s the one that has covered my family and me for most of my life, the Federal Employee Health Benefit (FEHB) program. OPM has regulated the program pretty well over the years and overall it’s worked pretty effectively.

The recently passed health care reform act requires that similar exchanges be established at the state level (or the state can opt into a national exchange), but the only population of those exchanges will be those who do not have health care coverage through their employer and who do not participate in any of the above health care systems. (And yes, I know I left Medicaid off my list, but it’s similar to Medicare in the way it functions.) That’s certainly an improvement over our current situation, but it means the pool will be a lot smaller which isn’t very good for sharing the cost and risk across the population.

Personally, I believe we need to move toward some single system. As I said, I don’t have any strong feelings about any particular system. Since I’ve participated in the FEHB for twenty-five years, I probably have a slight preference for expanding it to be the single exchange for all United States citizens. That’s not necessarily easy. In order to fund it and make it affordable, we would probably have to mandate that large businesses pay at least the same portion of the premium for their employees that the Federal Government does for its employees. And then we would need to develop appropriate subsidies for individuals and people in various categories such as the poor and the elderly. And it would obviously require a larger regulatory body than OPM currently has in place. But it could work if we had the will to make it work. Switzerland has proven that it’s possible.

In the interim, the health care act has some excellent features. The changes to prohibit denial of coverage of preexisting conditions and the end of the evil practice of rescission alone are very worthwhile. The extension of coverage under parental plans until the age of twenty-six means I will be able to keep my younger two children (both with celiac disease) on my insurance for as long as should be necessary. The insurance reform requiring that a minimum of 85% of premiums be used to cover medical loss is a great first step. I still remember when the typical medical loss by our mostly non-profit insurance companies was 95%, so I’m not impressed by the 85% number. Still, it’s better than the current 70%-80% medical loss. 85% is at least less egregious than the current situation. There are others, but those were the ones that I found particularly relevant.

Nevertheless, it’s a patchwork law that really doesn’t do enough. That doesn’t upset me terribly. That’s how things usually work with us. The health care reform act was a good start. Now we just have to keep making it better while trying not to take any steps backwards.

The Jesus Creed 16 – A Society of Restoration

Posted: September 17th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: The Jesus Creed | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on The Jesus Creed 16 – A Society of Restoration

Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.
Love the Lord you God with all your heart,
with all your soul,
with all your mind, and with all your strength.
The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself.
There is no commandment greater than these.

This is a series of reflections on Scot McKnight’s book, The Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others. It’s a book I unequivocally recommend for anyone. Each chapter opens with recommended Gospel readings. The readings for this chapter are: Matthew 23:8-12; Mark 5:24-34; Luke 5:12-16.

If justice is really about restoring people to God and others, then it follows we are a society of restoration. So this is an obvious next step.

However, the chapter begins with a discussion of miracles. Scot McKnight explores the way many Christians think that miracles are proofs of various sorts. And while they do, in fact, prove that Jesus is God, the Son of God, and basically is ‘right‘, that’s really more of a side-effect. I hadn’t thought of it exactly that way, but it’s a strong thought.

God isn’t in the show-off business or in the convincing business. Miracles, again speaking generally, are not done to prove the truth about God or about Jesus Christ. They may reveal plenty about Jesus (as our next chapter will show), but their intent is often otherwise.

I must emphasize this: Miracles do reveal things about God and His Son. That is beyond dispute; that they are always designed to prove something is disputable. I’m on the side of those who think Jesus did miracles, and on the side of those who think miracles tell us something about Jesus and about truth. But I am also on the side of those who think the miracles had intents other than proving something.

Let that sink in for a bit. I’ll go further. I believe God is still in the miracle business today. There is little else that accounts for some aspects of my experience and life. But it isn’t about ‘proving something’. At least I don’t see it that way. What is it most often about? Restoration. And that, as the title indicates, is McKnight’s point.

It is quite easy to see the normal intent of Jesus’ healing miracles. Any glance at the many records of Jesus’ miracles in the Gospels reveals what the miracles normally do: They restore people. Miracles are performed by Jesus out of love and are done to restore humans to God and to others. Miracles are what happens when the Jesus Creed becomes restorative.

Think about that. As we expect the Jesus Creed to restore, do we live in expectation of miracles? Not at our beck and call as some ‘Christian‘ sideshows would proclaim, but unexpectedly and when and where they are needed? It’s something to ponder.

Jesus heals to restore others into a society without the age-old classifications. He heals to knock down walls between people.

Scot then proceeds to examine two walls that are crushed by the restorative power of the Jesus Creed.

Wall #1: Women Join the Table.

He uses one specific illustration, but the evidence is legion. Jesus breaks down the societal classifications/walls that keep women from the table of God.

Wall #2: Lepers Come to the Table.

Lepers were the prototypical outcast. Unclean. Unable to participate in any of the functions of society. The functional equivalent of the Hindu Untouchables. Jesus restored them. Again and again. I’m not sure the implications can be overstated. McKnight describes Jesus as “a contagion of purity”. Meditate on that a bit. He wasn’t consumed with the fear that others would make him impure, but confident that by bringing them to his table, he could make them pure.

Which model are we called to follow?