The Health Care Bill

A few things:

First it’s not a perfect bill.  Everyone knows that.  But politics is the art of the possible, and for the first time government is trying to do what one task it should do:  coordinate.  It’s more like a bill a liberal Republican in the 1970’s would have passed than a Democrat, who throughout the century have worked for a federal plan.

Second, this bill will help more poor people, and more African-Americans in concrete ways.  The long term effects will be enormous, and will go a long way to mitigate health care challenges between the races.

Third, this bill will put more pressure on insurance companies, big pharma, hospitals and doctors to work together.

Fourth, by 2016, it will reduce the likelihood of families being bankrupted by poor health.

Last, this bill demonstrates Obama’s strong, sensible leadership.  If he had pushed harder, he would have not gotten any further.  He allowed the bill to come from the legislature, not from on high.   He’s done what no president has done before.   It is clearly political leadership – not prophetic leadership.  It is practical leadership, not idealistic leadership.

The difference, perhaps, between Obama and the previous president is that Obama was conservative enough to let institutions do their work.  He was a strong enough leader to make them do it.

It’s a conservative bill.  It’s not a perfect bill.  But it will help millions of people and reduce long term costs.

Christmas, etc

I’d like to wish you a Merry Christmas. And a Happy Christmas. I’d also like to wish you a Happy Hannukah and Happy Kwanzaa. And also a Merry Chanukah and a Merry Kwanzaa.

If you are an atheist, then just happy and merry to you.

Happy boxing day, December 26th, which is a day we celebrate our urge to kill our family members the day after, by not killing them, but by just boxing them around a bit. That’s the day we float like a butterfly, but sting like a bee, as a prophet once said.

Have you bought all your gifts? I haven’t bought any gifts yet. I’ll probably wait until after the New Year. It allows me to miss the rush and get to some post- New Year’s sales. I’m waiting for the 90% discount sales at Hermes.

I’d like to support the economy more, but for now, I’m just avoiding the madness. Not because I don’t like madness, and there’s nothing wrong with a little madness, if only because it helps you appreciate sanity. I just don’t want to be stuck in traffic.

Perhaps it is enough to sing some hymns and have a good dinner. Perhaps you will open that Chateauneuf du pape you’ve been saving from last year, when you splurged after a wine tasting one evening. Or you decided to get your ingredients from Whole Foods, including some wild mushrooms and artisenal cheese. Instead of spending a few hundred dollars on that diamond necklace, or getting some extravagant electronic device, you bought truffle oil for your mashed potatoes.

Wise choices. Truffle oil is far more important than a 75 inch plasma screen.

For the great theologian Schleiermacher, the feeling of the love of Christ was best represented by a family singing hymns around a piano after a delicious meal. He did not say it was found by a new camcorder.

Although the Flip is pretty cool.

The story of Christmas actually begins with the story of his return, with His words of peace and reconciliation. It begins with Easter. The body of believers began to understand that Christ’s love overcame the power of the gods who maliciously manipulated the lives around them. When they saw how being loved changed lives into lives that were full of potential, maganimity and creativity, they listened to the stories that were being told about Jesus’ early life, including his birth.

Tonight we celebrate the story of his birth.

And no, there is little historical evidence when or where. But we can recognize a few things within the events, the snippets of the lives told from the religious imagination of the people.

The first is that God is in surprises. The shepherds, Mary, and pretty much everyone, were a bit surprised. God as a baby makes God vulnerable and dependent, which is much different than the God who throws his weight around, making lives miserable. Granted, not all surprises are good, which is why we spend a lot of time avoiding them.

The second is that our life in the spirit is one of engagement. The child is dependent upon his family and the generosity of strangers. We are likewise truly dependent upon each other. And we’ll probably learn more about this as the year continues.

And last, Jesus loves a party. If there is a victory, if love does work, if there is justice at the end of time, if there is reason to hope, then we can afford to be magnanimous toward our enemies, patient in our work, and optimistic in our orientation. It may not get better for us, right here, in our individual lives, but the work we do together does make things better for others, even in the midst of individual sorrow and pain.

Therefore, we have plenty to celebrate about.

This is why the church placed Jesus’ birth square in the middle of Yuletide. Because the pagans had a good idea in holding parties, Christians agreed that the birth of Christ is a pretty good reason to party in itself.

So we’ll see you tonight at some time.

Money, trust

From last year’s enewsletter around this time


The automakers are looking for a bailout.

More than half a million people have gone on unemployment.

Endowments – liquidated.

Office parties: canceled.

It’s so sad.

So now what do we do? Can’t afford clothes from Barney’s. Can’t jet off to Paris on that little extra bonus we had. And it would have been nice to see a couple of the office workers dance on the new guy’s desk after a few highballs.

Instead, we might just go home turn on the TV and watch Survivor reruns or that old Caddyshack DVD.

The instinct for people when they are afraid about the future is to hoard. To get overly frugal. To protect the little we have. it’s understandable. Sometimes we just have to curl back into the fetal position and wait for the sun to rise again.

But in the parable of the talents, remember what happened to the servant who decided to put one talent in the ground rather than invest.

He was cast out!

Metaphorically. And then he probably got even more depressed.

Although perhaps investing wouldn’t be the wisest idea right now.

But it’s noted, in a commercial society, that when there is a loss of trust, the proper role of the government is to do the opposite. To encourage people to trust more. By infusing trust into the economy, and people, banks and businesses will respond by trusting more.

Yes, if you haven’t guessed, I am a Keynesian at heart.

Money symbolizes trust. It is an implicit agreement, the foundation of a commercial society. And right now, we’re living in a time when trust has been broken at a level that is hard for even sophisticated bankers to understand.

For good reason: the trust was so subtle, the web of commerce so interlinked and nearly invisible, people didn’t see how crucial trust was for a working economy. What was visible? Getting rich.

Let me say that being rich is not the problem. Wealth is, by and large, a good thing. The scripture indicates that we want wealth, honorably created, through industry rather than through corruption. We prefer economies that are like fishing: through hard work and tenacity; rather than gold-digging – a matter of luck.

But we’ve been living through a time where there was enough dishonesty, ignorance and envy that people made decisions that would later affect our economy. And the system of incentives as such that most people were cheerfully self-deluded by the economy’s seeming resilience.

They were making decisions because everyone else was doing the same thing.

Yet, while there will be misery, fear and frustration as there are more layoffs and less money to go around, we have not yet lost the real source of wealth: our communities.

Yesterday, the Yankees paid more than $160 million for a pitcher. I’ve never heard of him, but I’m guessing he knows how to throw a fastball. Gold plated fastballs, with diamond studded seams.

Of course, by purchasing such players, priests like myself only go to Yankee games when someone else is paying. For everything, including the cotton candy and a bottle of Heineken.

I can barely afford to buy tap water at the new stadium.

We could alternately also decide to form a softball team at St. Barts. The cost? $1000 to join a league. And we get to play. That’s cheap.

Who will be happier? In one, we get to watch. In the other, we get to play. And invite our friends to watch for free. We can bring our own keg to the park if we want. One’s expensive. the other is fun.

The other evening we threw a party where people donated gifts. Many of them were gifts of love. Gary Rogers donated car detailing. I donated salsa lessons and an Indian meal for 4. Sandra offered a fancy 3* dinner for six. Meg offered her amazing brownies and cookies. And people paid money for them. They exchanged goods. Because we’ve got wealth here.

Bill McKibben writes that the real economy that sustains us happens when we are engaged in the workings of our communities. It’s what we have to look forward to.

What is the cost? There is one major cost. And we barely see it.

It’s convenience. It’s work to cook, to teach, and to clean. It’s work to share and be available to each other. It’s work to be a part of a community. It’s inconvenient.

Perhaps, as the economy deteriorates, we’ll realize that the conveniences we have are killing our humanity.

I don’t want the economy to crash. I hope it doesn’t get any worse.

But if it means we have to begin looking to one another for encouragement, help and love, then what we have lost will be much smaller than what we have gained.

Here at St. Barts, we will continue to throw parties.

Pastors Spell Things Out for Nelson

As Nebraska faith leaders, we call for systemic change that is guided by the following principles based on our religious values. We support universal access to good-quality health care that: (1) Provides comprehensive and affordable coverage for all. (2) Eliminates health care disparities. (3) Includes effective cost containment. (4) Simplifies administration. (5) Eliminates pre-existing condition exclusions from coverage.

We turn to U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson, knowing he stands with us as a person of faith. As governor, he left a lasting and important legacy of strong public insurance programs such as Kids Connection and CHIP, which provides insurance to thousands of Nebraskans who would otherwise join the uninsured.

Now we turn to him again to leave another legacy: health care for all Nebraskans. If we can fix the broken health care system, we can ensure that Nelson’s legacy in Nebraska is continued with his vote this year to pass health reform.

The Letter.

George Clifford agrees.

Pro-life people should support the bill because greater health care will mean more women freely choosing to have children with or without an abortion amendment.

Better than Nothing

Senate Democrats on Monday evening dropped a plan to expand Medicare, winning the support of moderates and the reluctant acquiescence of liberals, in another major step toward building enough support to pass a health-care overhaul.

It’s better than nothing.

Nate: Yes, it is.

Rev. Currie disagrees

Quote of the day: Socially transformative legislation doesn’t happen at once. It evolves. Obama takes the long view.

Revealed: why Lieberman opposed expanding medicare – Liberals supported it.

On the Recent Episcopal Elections

Most of you know that I’m a reexaminer when it comes to the current theological debates. Although I believe that marriage is the best option for peace between the sexes, and that traditional church teaching is designed to protect women and children, I’m also flexible on how the church manages what is properly normative. I’m agnostic about what God says complementarity and marriage.

That said, I believe, unlike reasserters, that the economic and technological changes brought by capitalism have delinked sex, property and death in a way where church teaching has revealed competing traditions. I believe that sex is a tertiary issue, not a primary one.

But progressives, like reasserters, have a blind spot. They look at statements of belief rather than effective evangelism, as tool for judging effectiveness. This is a mistake. It’s interesting that we knew what candidates for the episcopacy believe. But I wonder how relevant belief is to institution building.

Progressives and reappraisers have been especially weak in the area of institution building and leadership. The theology that got us to the current place – one that put pastoral care at the heart of ecclesiology – destroys priests and diminishes communities. It created a culture of priests as being called to be nice people who couldn’t hold people accountable.

Conservatives, however, really believe the stuff they preach. So they demand effective leadership. They find ways to share the message with others with creativity and panache. Remarkably, they are willing to change the medium so that the message can be spoken. I still find liberals who are more committed to traditional liturgy, often at the expense of creating a thriving congregation. As someone who’s tried to have more exuberant, praise filled music in the church, I get resistance: “We aren’t those kind of Christians.” And thus, the church continues to die.

On one hand I’m glad that The Episcopal Church is continuing to identify itself on the side of hospitality and trust. It’s great the moderate bishops who have been elected believe what they do – I believe the same things. But I worry that these same leaders will not have the tenacity, the severity, the power to stand up to the forces of the culture and speak the Gospel. I wonder if they will be hindered by the oppressiveness of an institution that would rather try to please everyone, and unwittingly kills itself in the process.

Admittedly, I was disappointed that Fr. Mitchell was not elected in the Diocese of Upper South Carolina. He was a conservative I respect. He builds communities. And that is what the Episcopal Church should be doing. That said, God Bless both dioceses.