Friday, September 04, 2009

Health Care Reform - Now

Pentecost +14 - Year B

Health Care Reform - Now

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a letter to the editor regarding Health Care Reform. Subsequent to that the local interfaith AMOS group asked me to make a presentation at a Rally. In light of the healing stories and the built-in issues regarding healing in Mark 7 - who is eligible for healing and responses to healing - I offer a longer than usual posting, the text of my presentation.

Religion and Health Care Reform
Health Care Rally - Cameron Park, La Crosse, Wisconsin
September 3, 2009

I was born in a hospital named St. Mary's. My wife was trained as a nurse at Baptist Hospital. Our daughter will be doing medical research at St. Jude’s. Around the country there are scores of hospitals that include the name Methodist, Presbyterian and Jewish. In other countries there are hospitals including the designation Islam or Buddhist. This community is blessed with two hospitals: Gundersen Lutheran and Franciscan Skemp (did you catch the religious connections?).

The religious community has been deeply involved with Health Care. Much energy, time, and resources have been invested by religious organizations and religious people to see that their faith meant something more than just words. Even people who claim they are not religious, but spiritual, have a grounding in one or another version of the Golden Rule: Do for others as you would have others do for you.

Twelve years ago, here in La Crosse, I was diagnosed and treated for prostate cancer. That is no longer a health issue in my life. I am thankful for the care I received and a part of expressing my thankfulness is support of others who do not have the resources I was fortunate to have had at that point in my life. Whether through a quick miracle called spontaneous healing or a slow miracle of treatment for a chronic disease, thankfulness arises. Thankfulness is a deeply religious response to life and is prelude to the moral act of compassion.

I expect you have a thankfulness for some aspect of the healing arts.

What I wonder about is the lack of “religious” people to extend their thankfulness. We seem to take our healing as our due and forget to pass on to others a gift we treasure.

Imagine the power that would be set loose should religious people find their voice and let loose their thankfulness.

Our politicians would be overwhelmed with evidence for Health Care Reform far beyond the fear-based behavior of pundits and un-thinking repetition of same by yellers and screamers and disrupters of opportunities to talk together about this important matter.

Our media would find the discontinuity between spending so much of our gross national product on disease-care and having the unhealthiest citizens of any industrialized nation. Even the CIA recognizes we have more infants per hundred die than in Cuba. We get so exercised about the morality of abortion and are so blasé about the morality of infant mortality. These kinds of comparisons and interpretations are far more important than the "he said – he said" reporting we generally get.

Our economists would understand the multiplier-effects of good health and explicitly factor health into their interpretations of some magic invisible hand of the market that seems to be giving all too many people an invisible finger.

Our conversation in the community would shift from dollars to people, from “What is this going to cost me?” to “What is this going to do for me and for someone else?”. Basically we would be reclaiming the religious value of compassion over competition; of community over isolation.

This sort of deep thankfulness is persistent. Should we, for whatever reason, not fully arrive at universal Health-Care-for-All, religions connected with their roots will keep at this task. Just like software goes through version after version, we will continue to work together until Health-Care-for-All is a reality.

Our spiritual formation informs us that Health Care Reform is a perspective through which the interconnectedness of life becomes clear. As we work to bring needed Health Care Reform to America, we will find that care for health will also mean care for plants and animals and air and water – for when they are healthy we are healthy. Health care will also lead us into new reforms in our relationships with one another. For our bodies cannot be healthy without healthy communities free from international conflict, domestic abuse, terrorism, and fears of differences, whether of skin or dialect or sexual orientation. Welcome to a new way of living together based on the morality of promoting health, not just focusing on disease or difference. This is important because health-care systems are not just policy choices but expressions of national and religious character and values.

To engage the morality of Health-Care-for-All is not easy. We need the wisdom of all of us together, not just a bright idea of one or the other of us. I am thankful for each of you who have put your shoulder to the boulder of an inadequate-health-care-system-for-all and done what you can. I am encouraged to keep doing one-more-thing as I see all the one-more-things you are doing.

I conclude by wondering how we got into the situation where religion has become so focused on miracle and lost its connection with everyday living. Somehow prayer in a crisis has become our standard, not doing the little known ways of staying healthy and whole. We have forgotten that the very symbol of medicine, the rod of Asclepius, the snake entwined staff, connected healing with ancient Gods. Asclepius was a Greek god of medicine and healing. He represented the healing aspect of the medical arts; even his daughter's names remind us of this - translated, they were called “Health”, “Medicine”, “Healing”, “Healthy Glow”, and “Universal Remedy”.

The work of Health Care Reform we are addressing today has roots as old as humanity and we are privileged to be able to move it a next step in our time.

The Hippocratic Oath physicians take is a deeply moral and religious way of encountering life. It begins with remembering Apollo and Asclepius and we are called to remember our own religious icons and values and traditions. A modern translation of the Oath from the Declaration of Geneva avows: “The health of my patient will be my first consideration”. In our case, those of us gathered here might understand that the larger patient of the day is America.

The health of our nation as well as its citizens is at stake and needs to be a first consideration for how we will spend our energy, time, and resources this next month. The time is now for us to reconnect our morality, our religious traditions, and our spirituality with health care reform – Physicians appropriately claim, “The health of my patient will be my first consideration”; You and I, American citizens, properly claim, “The health of my nation will be my first consideration.” As religious and spiritual people, we claim again for our environment, our communities, our families, and our selves, “Health, in all its aspects, will be my first consideration.”

Simply put, without a larger national health our individual health is put in jeopardy. The time is now. The person to act is you - and me. The movement for Health Care Reform, for single-payer, universal coverage, is ours. A source of reform comes from our religious and moral intention of thankfulness, compassion, and caring for others as we would be cared for. Our process is that of AMOS, Advocating - Mobilizing - Organizing in Solidarity for health and wholeness. Out of your thankfulness contact and contact again your political representatives, write and write again letters to the editor, talk and talk again with your neighbors and friends, act and act again and again in large and small ways to have us work together in reconstructing a healthy society physically, mentally, emotionally, and relationally.

In the name of an expansive and expanding Love of Life, the time for Health Care Reform is now!

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