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.


Lent as Parent: Watching Over the State of our Union with God.

Did you watch President Obama’s address to Congress this week? In listening to the president address Congress and the nation, I heard a challenge that stood out from the rest of his speech. It struck me as a notion that, if implemented on a broad scale, would have more impact on our nation and our world than any other idea or program that President Obama put forth in his speech. The essence of the idea was simply for parents to parent. President Obama expressed it this way:

In the end, there is no program or policy that can substitute for a mother or father who will attend those parent/teacher conferences, or help with homework after dinner, or turn off the TV, put away the video games, and read to their child. I speak to you not just as a President, but as a father when I say that responsibility for our children’s education must begin at home.

The idea that education begins at home is beyond dispute. What often gets lost in our world to day is that the responsibility for education begins at home as well. The President’s five suggestions to parents were remarkably simple. Parents should attend parent/teacher conferences, help with homework, turn off the TV, put away video games and read to their children. How radical is that?

There I was watching a political speech thinking I was going to hear about ideas and initiatives for how our government was going to move our country forward, but right in the middle of the speech I was taken to a different place. Instead of thinking about current issues and evaluating proposals for dealing with them, I was thinking about being a parent and my effectiveness at nurturing and encouraging my children. The responsibility shifted from Washington to Etheld Reda Drive, from the government to the Sunday-Winters family, from someone else to me.

Like a paragraph in a speech that shifts our focus from one perspective to another, the Christian Calendar moves us to look again at ourselves and our relationship with God. The season of Lent would parent us if we would allow it to do so. It tells us with urgency and resolve what we should be doing in some measure all along. It invites us and urges us to examine our spiritual condition.

As parents, when go to open house at our child’s schools, we a get a picture of what is happening that notes from the teacher and updates told by our children cannot give us. When we sit down for a conference with our child’s teachers, we are face to face with the one doing the teaching. Lent says to us that we need to be present for a different kind of parent teacher conference, one that involves ourselves and the triune God. Gathered in the loving presence of our heavenly Parent, our teacher, the Holy Spirit, describes the ways in which we have learned to live out the sacrifice of our savior, Jesus Christ. Such a conference also reveals for us the ways where we still need to learn and grow and the ways we neglect the lessons of our saviors sacrifice.

Lent tells us that there is homework to be done. The TV needs to be turned off and the video games put away. In short, whatever so fills up our days that we have no time left to be in the loving, teaching, listening presence of God needs to be turned off and put away. Turned off and put away so that we can hear ancient stories of Gods amazing love read to us again by the Holy Spirit who abides with us always.

The Christian Calendar is a gift given to us from the saints who have preceded us in the faith. They are our mothers and fathers in the faith and the calendar is in a sense their way of being spiritual parents to us. The calendar that has taken shape through all these years of church history, tells us it is time to sit down, be still and listen.

As believers in Christ and followers of Jesus, we are always inclined to help one another. Being available to each other is one the important ways that we live out the call of God in our lives. However, in this reflective season of Lent there is a question that each of us has to answer for our own selves. We listen to each other share the wisdom of our shared journey. We worship, study and learn together. But after we have been to church, when Sunday School class is over and our fellowship has finished up for the night, the question remains, how do things stand with you and God?

That is the question that no one else can answer for us. That is the question that the season of Lent asks us. How are things with you and God? Not, how are things with God and the world? Not, how are things with God and your country? Not even, how are things with God and your church? How are things with God and you?

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.