Meet me at Appomattox

Odd ideas arise at the strangest times.  Early Monday morning (I mean late Sunday night) just such an odd idea came to me. I was driving through Appomattox, Virginia, and the thought occurred to me that everyone living in America today needs to come to Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia.

The village of Appomattox Courthouse sits just outside of the current town of Appomattox, under the watchful care of the National Park Service.  There, on Palm Sunday of 1865, Robert E. Lee met Ulysses S. Grant in the home of Wilmer McLean to negotiate the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia.  For all practical purposes, the War Between the States ended with Lee’s surrender, though it would be another two months before all Confederate forces surrendered.

If General Lee had the resources to continue fighting with a reasonable prospect of success, he would have done so. However, with his army exhausted, his supplies depleted, continued fighting was pointless. One of the first things that General Grant did as the surrender talks began was to send food to the Confederate soldiers who had not eaten in some time.  He also made provision for any Confederate claiming a horse or mule to be given the animal. Lee had pointed out that the animals would be needed to plow the fields to which his troops would be returning.

General Lee had refused to consider a suggestion from one of his subordinates to break up the Army of Northern Virginia into small groups, and to continue the war in a guerilla fashion. Lee had reached the conclusion that the best thing for his men was to return to their lives as American citizens. So the bloodiest conflict in United States History was ended.

The nation we live in today is marked by many divergent opinions, on a wide range of issues, some of them important and some of them less so.  I found myself feeling a sense of gratitude as I drove by the exit for Appomattox Courthouse that in the midst of all those deeply held diverse opinions, we have not yet become as divided as we were in 1861.  I also marveled at what we have accomplished since Lee and Grant met together on that morning long ago.  Out of that severest of divisions, a nation emerged capable of meeting any challenge and achieving any goal.

Enemies stopped being enemies. Brothers became brothers again. The common good returned as an idea worth considering. After four years of bloody conflict, resulting in the deaths of over 620,000 Americans, Americans decided to stop shooting at one another. Instead, they set about to work together to bind up wounds and heal the land; and in doing so, quietly became a country that is the envy of the world.


Bono Speaks

Bono sings some great songs, but does he ask the right questions?

The Nobel Peace Prize is the rest of the world saying, “Don’t blow it.”

But that’s not just directed at Mr. Obama. It’s directed at all of us. What the president promised was a “global plan,” not an American plan. The same is true on all the other issues that the Nobel committee cited, from nuclear disarmament to climate change — none of these things will yield to unilateral approaches. They’ll take international cooperation and American leadership.

Does the rest of the world have a right to expect leadership from the United States?

Why Say No to Universal Health Care? Part 3

The reasons just keep piling up. I can hardly keep track.

1. Because Cigna needs the 13.6% premium increase it will take to keep my policy in place in 2010 more than the uninsured people in our country.
2. Increased premiums and higher co-payments for the same level of coverage are preferable to being a part of system that provides equal access to all of our citizens.
3. I have no desire to live in the two additional houses that I could afford to pay for if for some reason I did not have to pay health insurance premiums.
4. The health insurance bureaucracy employees a good number of people. Think of all the claim deniers and coverage terminators that would be out of work if real reform were enacted. Better that they should have jobs than for us to pay lower premiums.
5. Likewise, doctors have to employ people to argue with the claim deniers in an effort to get them to pay for services that the policy is supposed to cover. These people earn their money. I would not want to reform the system in such a way that the important work they do was no longer needed.
6. In a similar vein, think of all the lobbyists that get paid with dollars generated by the payment of health insurance premiums to make sure that no laws get passed that would interrupt the continuous flow of those premium dollars. These folks have grown accustomed to a certain lifestyle. I would not want my desire for more reasonable premiums to negatively impact their chosen way of making a living.
7. Without sky high premiums, how could health insurance companies afford to make lucrative contributions to the campaign funds of members of congress? I am sure that there are no strings attached to such contributions. The health insurance companies probably realize that with the high cost of television advertising, those guys need all the money they can get when it is reelection time.
8. When I consider the number of career paths that are funded with the proceeds of health insurance premiums, I am proud to be making such a contribution to our robust economy. It would be heartless and unpatriotic to even consider reforming such a system. Frankly, I wonder if a 13.6% increase is enough to keep it going.
9. Emergency rooms have adapted to serving as a point of primary care for people without health insurance. Imagine how bored the people who staff emergency rooms would be if we had a health care system that provided primary care in less costly more efficient way to all of our citizens.
10. Finally, people who want reform often mention the poor, the working poor or the uninsured as their motivation for supporting health care reform. What about all the social service agencies that work to provide services to these people? What about the ministries, the community clinics and that sort of thing? What about the United Way? The point is there are already all sorts of resources out there for people who don’t have insurance. Most of the people who provide those resources find a great deal of satisfaction in helping people who are less fortunate. What would all those human service workers do if all of sudden their clients had access to health care? Think of the many rewarding experiences that might be denied this caring group of professionals if health care reform actually came to pass.

You may already be opposed to universal health care. If that is the case, then hopefully these points will only strengthen your resolve to resist changing the effective, efficient health care system that most all of us enjoy. However, if you are not convinced that universal health care is a bad idea, then move to Canada, Great Britain or Sweden. There you can have your universal health care and for some reason you will be statistically more likely to live longer. Go figure.

Health Care Reform? How about Manners Reform?

Being old and not from South Carolina until just a few a days ago I knew of neither Joe Wilson nor Kayne West. There names have now been linked together by their mutual lack of good manners. Wilson, a congressman and West, a musician have both behaved so poorly in recent days that rudeness has made the headlines. Wilson interrupted the president’s speech to call him a liar. West interrupted an award presentation to point that someone other than the recipient was more worthy of the award.

Miss Helen, my eighth grade American history teacher would have described such behavior as “rude, crude, impudent and socially unacceptable.” I know this to be to true because on more than one occasion I heard her describe far less ill mannered behavior with just those words. Yes, on one occasion it was my behavior that she was describing, but only once.

As pressing as the need for health care reform is in our country, the need for manners reform seems to be ever greater. Obviously, Kayne and Joe either did not have a teacher like Miss Helen or they failed to heed her words. Our country and our world would be better served if they had learned such lessons. We face serious problems. We are still at war in two countries. The economy is still struggling. Not only are an increasing number of Americans living below the poverty level but there is also an increasing number living without health insurance. Such issues will not be resolved with interruptions and insults. No, what we need are some well-mannered leaders willing to engage in polite and respectful dialogue.

Will the Syrophoenician Woman be Covered?

She is a desperate woman. Her daughter is gripped by the power of a demon greater than all of the available remedies. She has exhausted them all. To be certain, she has tried everything that she knows to do. Neither the advice of friends nor the wisdom of those who often times know what to do in cases of sickness and injury provides any relief. She is a desperate woman.

So desperate that she forgets her place. Without regard for race, creed or ethnicity, she moves out to find help for her daughter. She is blind to any customs, mores or values that would deny relief to her tormented child. What is or is not socially acceptable means nothing to her so long as her little girl is hurting. What has always been, and even what she has always held to be true, is secondary now to finding someone who can ease her child’s pain.

She is hearing stories of a man who does such things. He is a Jew from down south. Why he finds himself in her town she knows not nor cares. The reports of His deeds seem incredible, too much to believe. Something in the stories ring true. Her hope is gaining momentum. Her desperation has a direction, but it is no longer simply desperation that drives her. No, her desperation has turned to determination as she becomes convinced that this itinerant miracle worker is the answer that she is longing for.

She falls down at His feet when she finds him and begs him to heal her daughter. Now her daughter will be made well, so confident is she in this man’s power and compassion.

But it is not happening. He is refusing. Rather adamantly he tells her that his power is not for people like her. His mission is elsewhere. He is in her town to rest, not to heal the sick. He will not do for her before he has done for those that he was sent to do for. The children must eat before the dogs are fed.

She has no time to be insulted. What she does have is a certainty that it is within this man to heal her daughter. Yet, it is more than that. She sees in him what others do not see. Not his most adamant opponents, nor his closest followers, have yet seen what she sees with absolute clarity. One wonders if even he sees what she sees, that he is for everyone.

With such certainty, she moves through clouds of desperation gripped by a mother’s determination, refusing to be denied His healing power. With great clarity and not a little cleverness, she reminds Him that even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the table. What can he say? She has spoken a timeless truth. If there is a dog in the house, there will be no food left on the floor.

For seeing what she sees, and saying what she says, her daughter is made whole again. The demon leaves her daughter.

Does this encounter mark a change in mission for Jesus, a broadening of the focus of His life and ministry? Does it in any way affirm His assertion that “. . . God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish?”

What is it about this mother that moves Jesus to move beyond His initial reluctance to healing her daughter? Was it her determination or her desperation? The story as it is told in Mark’s gospel would seem to indicate that it is the wisdom of her reply that won Jesus over. “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.”

Whatever the limitations or restrictions that Jesus understands to apply to the range and scope of his ministry get obliterated in this encounter. Compassion trumps gender, religion and ethnicity. With Jesus, compassion always overrides whatever would withhold treatment, deny care or hoard mercy. She is persistent and he is compassionate. As followers of Christ, we are called to both that kind of compassion and that sort of persistence.

East Tennessee and the Health Care Debate.

As a region, East Tennessee has a definite leaning toward less government involvement in the lives of citizens. I always find this sentiment rather humorous given the regions indebtedness to the Tennessee Valley Authority, Oak Ridge and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Most East Tennesseans can say they dislike the government being overly involved in the lives of people with a straight face. I wonder if they realize that East Tennessee would be just another isolated patch of Appalachia had the government not invested in the region.

Interestingly, two writers with East Tennessee connections recently shared their perspective on the Health Care conversation. Yesterday, Wendall Potter told of his experience working in public relations for an insurance company. Today, David Hunter wrote a helpful piece on the need for precision in language. Both articles add a little East Tennessee flavor to the national debate.

Why Say No to Universal Health Care? part 2

I know that there are many factors that impact the life expectancy of people living in a particular country. One those factors is health care. It is not the only factor, but it is certainly an important one. I find it intriguing that Sweden, Canada and Great Britain deliver good enough health care to their citizens to make the life expectancy in each of those countries greater than it is in the United States. In 2004, life expectancy for men in the United States was 75.2 years for men and 80.4 years for women. In the same year, life expectancy in Great Britain was 76.6 years for men and 81 years for women. In 2005, life expectancy in Canada was 78 years for men and 82.7 for women. In 2006, life expectancy in Sweden for men was 78 years and 83 years for women.

These three countries all have some form of so called “socialized” medicine. From everything that I hear and read about socialized medicine in the mainstream media it surprises me that any country with such a system, much less three of them, can provide good enough health care to its citizens for them to enjoy a life expectancy greater than the citizens of the United States. Health Care is not the sole determining factor when it comes to life expectancy, but I would expect it to be significantly lower in countries that have a socialistic system of health care. Yet, here are three countries that do socialized medicine well enough to be not significantly less than or close to but greater than that of the United States in life expectancy. That just does not seem possible. I would think that with our health care system we should be living ten or fifteen years longer than people in any other countries.

Questions just seem to lead to more questions. How is possible that three countries with socialized medicine have life expectancies longer than ours? What gives? If social medicine is so bad, why are people who have it living longer than us?

Why Say No to Universal Health Care?

I ask the question why say no to universal health care because I have noticed a number of my younger facebook friends saying no the idea in the poll on facebook.

I am curious because my mother is on Medicare. Medicare is basically universal health care for retirement age Americans. In the last six months, she has had a malignant tumor along with a third of her liver removed by a top-notch surgeon and his team at Vanderbilt Medical Center which was followed by a two week hospital stay. Since then, she has been in the University of Tennessee Medical Center twice where she was cared for by some the nicest doctors and nurses anyone could ever hope to find. She might have had better doctors if she had gone to Hopkins, M.D. Anderson or the Mayo Clinic, but I am satisfied that she was seen by some the best, if not the best that East and Middle Tennessee have to offer. I can’t even start to guess what all of this health care cost, but it was covered by Medicare.

Today she called me four times. Once to make sure I brushed my teeth. Once to ask me what I had for lunch. Once to ask me where my sister was. Once to ask me where her grandsons were. O.K. she did not really ask me if I brushed my teeth, but you get the point, she is very much her old self. She still needs to get her strength back and work on her mobility issues, but she has made amazing progress from where she was right after the surgery. God and Medicare made it happen.

So, if it is good enough for retirement age people, who tend to go to the doctor more and take more medication, why would it not work for younger, healthier people?

Crying Over Spilled Soda

From time to time, people will say to me that I drink too much Diet coke. These well meaning folks are concerned about the detrimental effects that my excessive Diet Coke consumption might have on my health. I generally try to act like I appreciate their concerns, even if I cannot bring myself to believe that Diet Coke is a bad thing.

Well, I am a believer now. There is no teacher quite as effective as experience. When is Diet Coke a bad thing and how did life teach me this lesson? Tuesday of this past week, Election Day, I am sitting at the computer reading, thinking, talking on the phone and drinking a Diet Coke. Placing my Diet Coke in the center of my workspace, right in front of my keyboard, I turn to get something off my desk. Normally, I do not set my Diet coke in the center of my workspace, directly in front of my keyboard. So when I turn back from my desk to my computer, I do not expect for there to be a Diet Coke can in the space where I am putting my notepad. It is too late. The damage is done. The notepad bumps into the Diet Coke. The diet coke wobbles helplessly before falling headlong onto my keyboard. The keyboard quickly drinks down this wet and tasty, though accidental, refreshment.

When is Diet Coke a bad thing? Diet Coke is a bad thing when it spills onto and into your computer keyboard. Listening to folks talk in the days leading up to the election and knowing how some people feel about politics and government, I imagine that there are those who feel like a Diet Coke has just been spilled on their keyboard. Whether it is concerns about his experience, his religion, or his policy ideas, they see the results of the Tuesday election as a messed up keyboard. It is not like spilling something on the floor. No — when you spill something on the floor, cleaning up is not so hard. Floors are made to be cleaned, but keyboards, not so much. Spill something on a keyboard and you are faced not just with cleaning up a mess, but also with whether or not the keyboard will work once you have cleaned up the mess.

Strangely enough, there are other people who are having a different experience. They do not feel like a mess has been made. No, their experience is more akin to tasting a cold, tingly Diet Coke for the very first time. These people turned Chicago’s Grant Park, site of rioting during the 1968 Democratic Convention, into a sea of joyous celebration. These people marveled as the Commonwealth of Virginia, the state that provided the Confederate States with their capitol and their greatest general, favored the Democratic candidate for the first time since Lyndon Johnson. They filled the streets of our nation’s capitol and the sanctuary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s Ebenezer Baptist Church to share with others the wonder of it all.

Oddly enough, both of these reactions to the election of Barak Obama as the 44th President of the United States of America are in response to the same event. All across the country in workplaces and neighborhoods, some people see a mess, while others see history being made. The election for some is a tragic mistake; for others it is a transformative moment.

Reactions aside, President Obama needs our prayers as he seeks to lead our country through some very difficult days. His wife and daughters need our prayers as they adjust to life in the White House.

Surprisingly my keyboard is not in need of prayer. After spilling my Diet coke into it, I flipped it over to let it drain. Then I went to the work room to grab some paper towels. I took a paper towel and slipped the edge of it into the spaces between the keys while holding the keyboard upside down. After repeating this process several times, I put the keyboard in the upright position and gave it a test drive. Amazingly, there were no signs of damage. I thought it was a mess. Worse, I thought it was ruined. But it worked like it was new. Go figure.