The blog of a lutheran pastor, writer, and political animal.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

My presidential endorsement with reference to 3 fictional characters (Part 1 of 3)

Walter White for Hillary
         I’m endorsing Hillary Clinton because of Walter White.
         Yes, Walter White, the Chemistry Teacher who gets cancer, can’t pay his medical bills, and breaks bad by selling meth, becomes the drug king “Heisenberg” and ruins the lives of almost everyone he loves in the process.

My Own Experience
         I have a pre-existing condition, Pulmonary Atresia with VSD (a heart condition). This means, before the Affordable Care Act was law insurance companies would do everything that could to not pay for my medical expenses. For example, while I was on internship I had a check-up and found out my insurance company at the time refused to pay for anything that involved my heart, and cast the widest net possible in defining what involved my heart. I actually had to enlist Governor Martin O’Malley and the Attorney General to help me fight for basic healthcare!
         So, in my experience, without the Affordable Care Act, a basic check-up that is required for someone with my condition costs over $10,000 and I have to pull every trick I know how to do, and figure out some I don’t, just to make sure the free market doesn’t swallow me whole. After the passage of the ACA it costs $2-4,000.
         When (not if) my valve will need replacement under the ACA it will be very difficult to pay off my medical expenses, but with hard work and perseverance I’ll get it done. If my valve needs replacement, and the ACA is not in place, I won’t be able to pay my medical bills.

This shapes the lives of over fifty million Americans
         This is not a position unique to me. 57,200,000 Americans have a pre-existing condition. Before the ACA insurance companies could in a variety of ways, choose not to cover us or punish us for our pre-existing conditions. To be clear, many pre-existing conditions are not as extreme as mine, for example acne, asthma, diabetes, and high cholesterol. At the same time, imagine an insurance company using your pimples as an excuse to not pay for treating any part of your body that has skin on it!
         So, for me, and many like me, where the two candidates fall on the ACA is incredibly important.

Donald Trump’s Position
         Donald Trump’s position on the ACA is all over the map. In fact, he’s redone his official position page since this morning. He’s claimed that he loves a socialist system like Scotland, that he’ll protect people with Pre-existing conditions, that he’ll repeal the ACA and not replace it with anything.
         Then there is the current position on his website (again, different than the one I read this morning). Look carefully at his official position (if you can, the page keeps changing). He’ll repeal the ACA on day one. Then he says he’ll replace the ACA, but makes no mention of Pre-existing conditions. He continually focuses on the free market and unleashing the power of business to provide goods and services. In my experience, businesses are happy to use their power to deny goods and services when it comes to paying for healthcare of people with pre-existing conditions.

Hillary Clinton’s Position
         Unlike Donald Trump’s position on the ACA, Hillary is clear, she’ll keeps laws in place to protect people with pre-existing conditions. Additionally, she’s been consistently fighting to provide healthcare for all since the Children’s Health Insurance Program back in the ‘90’s.

The Choice
         I know some people I’ve talked to think it is really bad to be a “one issue voter.” In fact, they seem to think my opinion on who should be president doesn’t count because I have real skin in the game, that one particular policy will shape my life in a big way, so I can’t be objective. I’d love to be objective! I’d love to make this decision looking down on it all, like Gloucester on the cliff in King Lear, or to treat elections like some game or game show, like it is Dancing with the Stars or a way to express my particular cultural and social location.
         But I don’t have that privilege.
         If Hillary is elected I spend 10% or less of my income on check-ups, and when my valve goes I struggle financially for a year, but stay afloat.
         If Trump is elected I spend 25% of my income on check-ups and call in favors, and when my heart valve goes I die, go bankrupt, or break bad.
         So, for the sake of all of us with pre-existing conditions, please give Hillary Clinton a second look.

Next up, Pedro.

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Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Coming Soon: My presidential endorsement with reference to 3 fictional characters

Walter White from "Breaking Bad"

Pedro from "Napoleon Dynamite"

Eric Cartman from "Southpark"

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Sunday, September 25, 2016

Sermon: What if Roles Were Reversed?

What if Roles Were Reversed?
          Have you ever seen those body switch, or mind switch, or role reversal, movies?
“Big” with Tom Hanks, or “Trading Places” with Eddie Murphy, or any of the 3 “Freaky Friday” movies, or “The Hot Chick”, or “Change Up”, or “13 going on 30”, or “18 again”. Characters switch places, and learn a valuable lesson by walking in someone else’s shoes.
          That’s what Jesus is up to in this story he tells to these well-heeled religious folk.
“Imagine if,” Jesus suggests, “a rich man traded places with a poor man. The poor man receives royal clothing and good food and comfort, the rich man sores and scraps and agony.
Previously they were separated by a gate, now by a great chasm.
Previously the rich man was merciless, now he is denied mercy.”
What if the opposite was true? / What if roles were reversed? These are deep questions.
In Philosophy, this situation is called “the Veil of Ignorance.” If you are making rules for a society you must do so with the assumption that you don’t know what kind of person you’ll end up as in society, and therefore you will write rules that are fair and good. You are less likely to write laws targeting any one group, if you yourself might become part of that group.

          What if the roles were reversed? Think of what this simple question does? Imagine it!
Imagine with me, what Monday’s presidential debate would look like if Hillary Clinton’s mind went into Donald Trump’s body and vice versa. I’d imagine this situation would reveal some hypocrisy, with Democratic Party Pundits extoling Trump in disguise, and Republican Party Pundits acclaiming Clinton without knowing it.
          Or imagine if a white Vietnam Vet and Colin Kaepernick, now known for protesting the mistreatment of African Americans in this country by kneeling during the national anthem, imagine them changing places for a week. Wouldn’t that be a fascinating conversation to hear on the other end of that experiment, the two of them talking through their experiences as one another?
          Or imagine the 11 million people in the state of Georgia trading places with the 11 million Syrians who have fled their homes in the face of Civil War. How would this shape America’s treatment of refugees? How would Syrians view Americans after that experience?
          How would the many divisions we find in this world change if, even for a blink of an eye, roles were reversed all over the globe, people put in positions they’d never expected?
          What if the roles were reversed?

          What if the roles were reversed?
          How would those at ease in Zion feel, if they were thrown from themselves and inhabited the lives of their neighbors threatened by Assyrian armies? Would they continue to luxuriate while their brothers trembled, after they themselves trembled for a time? Or would they feel compassion?
          I’ve mentioned this word before—com-passion—suffering along with, someone else. Would they be moved to grief at the sight of their sisters exposed to the sword?
          Would Amos and his deep, prophetic, anger at them, be blunted and turned away—would they at ease in Zion be spared God’s wrath, if they had the basic human decency to care?!?

          What if the roles were reversed?
          Would Timothy’s rich congregants, tempted as they are, find contentment, trusting they have enough when they get what they need, without pushing the envelope and pursuing what they want—if they traded places with the poor among them?
          If they experienced a life where food and clothing was all you get, would they… be humble, turn away from the idolatry of wealth, do good, be generous, and share, as Timothy is advised to command of them? Could they too experience life that truly is life!?!

          What if the roles were reversed?
          That’s what the rich man is asking too, right?
What if my experience of this role reversal with Lazarus could be passed on?
What if my five brothers could be warned?
If Lazarus warns them, couldn’t they maybe be saved?
Could they maybe see their own Lazaruses? See the folk resting hopelessly at their own gates?
Can’t compassion be passed on to them and this evil be avoided?
Can’t contentment visit their house?
          And Abraham responds, “Nope.”
“Nope. The extended story of God acting to save His people from slavery in Egypt should have been a clear signal to them that God cares about those down on their luck.
          “But!” the man continues.
          Abraham cuts him off, “For that matter, have you even read the Prophets? I mean, if you read the book of Amos and like it, you don’t understand it
—if it doesn’t make you run in repentance with your tail between your legs, nothing will!”
          “But that’s God speaking to us in a book, no one takes that seriously!” the rich man protests, “Send someone from the dead! How could people not be moved by a man come back from the dead?”
          Abraham replies, “If Moses and the Prophets don’t do it, even a man risen from the dead won’t move people.”
          But, thank God, Jesus doesn’t come only to warn us—he comes to free us.
          He, in fact, switches places with us,
reverses roles with us.
He takes on our sins…
our sins, once many, are no more.
We’re freed of that debt
—but not for license or luxury or privilege—
We’re freed for community, for the sheer joy of discovering what God is up to,
where God is found.
He takes our sins, but gives us his eyes
The whole world looks different! Our eyes have been replaced… “we can see clearly now!”
It is as if, in Jesus reversing roles with us, we have in fact switched place with our neighbors, and now know a little more fully the face of God.
Yes, with these new eyes, the eyes of faith…
Christ has given us new eyes to experience holiness all around.
Our whole life is one extended dive into the waters of baptism;
it is an ongoing transformation of our lives and our relationship to all people…
all of creation, even!
          If we are freed by Christ, we are freed to seek him out in our neighbors.
Once we looked and saw no one but Lazarus, now we see our Lord.
I ask you, “What if the roles were reversed?” because they are! A+A


Sunday, September 18, 2016

Sermon: Grace doesn’t make Cents

Hey, Jesus, you’re squandering God’s grace.
You’re throwing it around like New Money at Sacks 5th Avenue.
                If you’re truly on God’s payroll, you’d hold back, and not associate with people like that
—sinners, tax collectors, all those people not welcome at God’s table.
—You’re squandering God’s goodwill,
you’re being a bad steward of God’s kindness,
God’s grace.
                Then, as we know, Jesus responds to such accusations with stories about lost things, lost animals, and lost people. He tells the religious authorities
—God is like a woman scouring her house for a single cent.
—God is like a shepherd leaving all his sheep alone in the woods in order to find a single lost one.
—God is like a father embarrassing himself for his sinner son’s sake…
—You all, however, are like a jealous brother who embraces his father’s embarrassment, and holds a grudge against this lost son who was found.

                Jesus leaves them, but maybe the Disciples aren’t fully convinced—we rarely are right?
Maybe they are murmuring about cost-benefit analysis,
or wondering where their next meal will come from,
or wondering what they’re neighbors will say when they notice them dining with undesirables.
                I’d imagine Jesus stops suddenly along the road, maybe Thomas is looking down at his I-Phone and doesn’t notice until he runs into Andrew, not such a good thing—he’s got a temper on him…
                Jesus turns to them and says, “I see that you don’t get it. You want grace to make sense, to add up…
But grace doesn’t make cents,
or dollars,
or any sort of back and forth I owe you and you owe me, quid pro quo, way of being.
But, because you all are stubborn, let’s think this through their way,
let’s run the numbers and play out the alternative scenario,
auditing God’s books,
and thinking through what the Pharisees and Scribes accused me of doing with God’s grace.
Let’s assume God is a God of limited resources, like Smaug, the dragon in The Hobbit, who hordes his Gold and kills any poor beggar or fool who tries to so much as touch it.

                God has put his great big pile of money into a trust, and asked me to manage it.
                And I did… but soon enough the Pharisees and Scribes saw what I was doing, you’ve seen it first hand, right? 
Forgiving like a fool,
searching in places good folk ought not be,
associating with the destitute and disposable…
                And this God of limited resources, greedy as all get out, called me into his office and raked me over the coals just like the Pharisees say he would.
This God of limits asked, “Are the charges against you true? Are you not charging interest on my grace and looking out for my bottom line? Show me your books at once!”
                So, I left his office,
ran to my desk (getting there before the goons who would put all my work stuff into a box and boot me out the door could make it there).
I furiously called and emailed all my customers…
after all, look at my baby soft hands, I’ve not worked a day in my life.”
                At this James guhuffed, seeing Jesus’ calloused carpenter hands.
                “I called everyone, the unclean man with a demon I exorcised, the whole pile of people I healed at the house of Peter’s mother-in-law, the lepers, that paralyzed fella, the centurion and his slave, the widow and her son…
you get the idea—all these people I’ve been helping in the name of God.
I said to one, “What do you owe God? 100 jugs of oil, pay 50.”
To another, “100 bushels of wheat, make it 80.”
                And you’ve seen it guys, the way people praise God in response to mercy, in response to forgiveness, healing…
                The whole village partied in response to the unexpected generosity from this Scrooge version of God.
He heard the hip-hip-hoorays hollered the whole way home,
So he found me and gave me my job back
—after all, people he’d never expected to pay him back, or even associate with him, were singing his praises to the highest heaven.

                So, if the Pharisees are right--God’s bag, his greatest joy and way of relating to the world, is filling his sack with loot,
and yet my gracious representation of him has got him more loot than all the tight fistedness of the Pharisees,
if that’s the case, then you as my disciples ought to do the same.
                Yes, even in the face of resistance and book keeping and holding grudges, go and represent God as gracious.
                They’ll tell you it is dishonest to go to the least, lost, and disinherited with God’s goods,
that you can’t squeeze a drop of praise of God from them no matter how hard you try…
well, they’re thinking is too heavenly minded, be wise, shrewd, dishonest in the eyes of the Religious-folk, so that you might go to those who will actually notice the services God has provided.
In business this is called a Blue Water strategy
—while everyone else is fighting over a small group of people, making the water red with the blood of competition, you go where no other company is, and you fish that market alone
—you are rewarded, while everyone else is bloodied

                You get it, right?
If our way of honoring God and spreading God’s Grace around, is still the most profitable way of doing this God thing
—even within a system that assumes God is a tight-fisted titan, hoarding his Grace and counting every penny of it…
how much more faithful is our open handed, merciful generosity in light of God’s true nature?
—in light of the God who searches out the lost?
squanders His very self for the sake of those he seeks!
How much more faithful this so called dishonesty that doesn’t make sense. A+A


Sunday, September 11, 2016

Sermon: Lost and Found

         The other week I was trying to videotape the sermon for our Youtube channel
—but it was one of those days
—every time I got into the sermon someone would pop into the church before I could finish, the water meter guy, two people looking for the church next door, another person looking for Mr. Subs…
         And by the 4th take, I’m just trying to get through it once, and again, the door opens—and there was Isabella Hernandez, the Pastor of New Covenant, one of the Churches that shares our building.
         She was here trying to find one of her parishioner’s work ID cards. We swept the sanctuary, and eventually dug through our Lost and Found box…
         Have you seen the kind of things in a lost and found box?
         Broken bits of jewelry, used gum returned to its wrapper, gloves with out mates—it makes the island of the misfit toys look like a vacation destination.
         And today, I want us to consider being Lost and being Found.

         Have you ever been lost?
         Have you lost your way, following after this or that, stunned by the sights and sounds, and soon enough far from your perfect pasture, you look up and ask,
“how’d I get here?”
You look up and see there is no one to guide you, and no one to notice you’re gone…
         Perhaps you’re lost among so many, 1 among 100 sheep.
Who will find you, there, lost in the crowd, crowded out, no one to pay attention to you, to care for you, to notice you…
I’d imagine this is a fear of some of our young folk going back to school
—what if something goes wrong, but no one has time to help me make it right?
I forget a locker combination, or don’t know where my class is, or have no idea what a quadratic equation is—it’ll be all over… I’ll be lost.

         Have you ever been lost?
         Have you been abandoned, discarded and forgotten—pushed to the side corner of a drawer and never found again.
Picked up and considered, and then put back down again, they were done with you.
         Over time the dust builds up and you start to believe maybe, maybe you deserve to be left behind.
         Forgotten, it happens to whole generations, and groups of people—and it’s happening to you
—sometimes when you emerge in their sight they won’t make eye contact, you are an eye sore, they pretend you aren’t even there, its like you are invisible.

         Have you ever been lost?
         Lost, maybe even because you don’t want to be found. Everyone else is moving at a pace you just can’t appreciate. You look and see those around you and say “I’m not like you” or even “I’m better than you” and so you isolate yourself, maybe you become alienated and bitter
You pull away from everyone and see it as a virtue.

Have you ever been lost?
         Because, I want to tell you about a God who goes after the lost… who, when Pharisees and scribes and all those who would tell you to get lost, say so
—he comes and eats with you… he finds you.

         Have you seen those moments, when somebody is isolated, choosing to keep everyone at arms length because they know no one will measure up… and maybe think that of themselves as well,
Have you seen when that hurt they have is healed, when someone or something is able to reach across those barriers,
and soothe and transform that hurt into a whole heart,
when those barriers are disguarded and old hurt feelings are put away and new relationship can grow!
—So too God!
God, in many ways moves like that in our lives, taking those hard places in our hearts and softening them and bringing us back into relationship with all of God’s beloved creation.

         Have you seen a woman slipping a nylon stocking onto a vacuum cleaner hose and upending the whole house, to suck up her lost ring without sending it into the bowls of the vacuum?
She does this even as her husband pulls apart pipe after pipe on the off chance that the ring went down the drain.
         Or, as we remember happened those 15 years ago
—remember those fire fighters, digging down through the rubble to find people even as the soles of their boots burnt,
and after the first couple days,
after hope of life grew unlikely,
they kept at it,
digging to pull bodies from the rubble and return some sort of dignity to those buried so badly, and also to retrieve some sort of order out of that chaos.
—So too God!
God, searches for us,
digging down for us even as his hands grow bloody and weary,
even as she overturns all of creation for our sake.

         Have you seen people waiting at the airport—leaning, in rapt expectation, against the glass, and leaning so close to the entrances as to get a stern warning from the TSA
—waiting to glimpse their loved one.
         Or have you seen a family seeking out a lost pet, stopping their mini-van by every pedestrian to ask if they’ve seen Fido, “Lost Dog” signs stapled to every telephone pole, every neighbor interviewed with the intensity of an over zealous border patrol agent.
         Have you seen how “Empty Nest” mothers get when their kid comes home
—swooning and talking about everything being whole again
—showing her kid back to their childhood bedroom—a virtual shrine.
—So too God!
         God presses his nose against the airport glass so that he might glimpse us,
sends an angelic dragnet out, passing out “Lost Sinner,” signs to anyone who will take a copy, and loves all the lost with the deep madness of a mother.

         God is searching.
God is risking rebuke by all those who seem to be found.
God is going after the alienated, abandoned, and adrift.
God is finding the lost.

God is digging through that lost and found box, passed the odd glove and goopy gum wrapper
and pulling out an identification card that says Child of God!


Sunday, September 04, 2016

Paul's Memo to Philemon

From: Paul, a prisoner...locked away in Ephesus for preaching Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,
To: Philemon our dear friend and Fellow-worker
To: Apphia our Sister
To: Archippus our Fellow-soldier,
And, by the way I’ve taken the liberty to CC this letter on to the church in your house… all those who see you as an upstanding and respected member of your community

Grace to you all and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
When I remember you all in my prayers, I always thank God for the love that you, Philemon, have for all the saints… every last Christian… new convert or Apostle… and your faith toward the Lord Jesus.
         I pray this: that this partnership, our fellowship in the faith, may have its powerful effect because you perceive all the good that we may do for Christ… even things that may seem strange and even unfavorable to you. Believe me, when I say your love has brought deep joy and comfort to me. My brother, you have refreshed the hearts of the saints… yes, sending Onesimus to relieve our burdens here in prison was a deeply kind, brotherly, thing you did for us prisoners for the gospel.
Because of all this, I could be bold, using the authority I have in Christ to command you to do your duty… but I would rather appeal to you on the basis of love.
Yes, I, Paul, an old man, imprisoned for the sake of Jesus Christ… I appear to you about my son, this child I fathered here in Prison, a convert, a new member of our family… I’m talking about Onesimus, “Mr. Useful.” There was a time when he was useless to you, but now he lives up to his name and is useful, both to you and to me.
I’m sending him back to you, but it is like sending my own heart. I’d like to keep him here with me… it’s a hard thing to let go of him… as I’m sure you’ll agree… You see, I’d like him to be here, continuing to serve me while I’m imprisoned for the Gospel, and beyond. But I don’t want to do anything unexpected without your consent, that way when you do what is right, you’ll do it voluntarily, instead of being forced to do the right thing.
Look at things this way, perhaps you’ve been separated from him for this time in order that you could receive him back forever… no longer as a slave working off his debt and waiting every moment for the full repayment so he can leave you, but as more than a slave, as a beloved brother…
         I love him deeply! How much more might you love him as a brother, both a brother in the flesh and in the Lord!
So, if you see me as a partner in your work for the Gospel—and everything you’ve done so far indicates you do—welcome him back as you would welcome me.
For that matter, if he’s wronged you, and if he owes you anything… which he does… charge it to my account.
I’m serious, take this letter as a promissory note, signed and everything! I will pay you anything he owes (and far be it from me to remind you that you owe me your very self… just like Onesimus currently owes you his self in service… I’d never mention that debt you owe me).
My brother, I want to get some use from you in the Lord, that would truly refresh my heart in Christ.
As I write this I am confident that you’ll do what I say, heck, you’ll do even more than I say—Onesimus will have that good of a homecoming.
Speaking of which… get a guest room ready for me, as well. I’m hoping that through your ongoing prayers for me, I’ll shortly be free, and will arrive at your place, wouldn’t that be great? Everyone will see how you welcome me and compare it to how you welcomed Onesimus!
The Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit,

PS My fellow prisoner Epaphras, as well as my fellow workers Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, all know the contents of this letter… also, they say hi.