Category Archives: Justice

Rumination on Good Governance

For years my idea has been that for good governance: authority, responsibility, and accountability are inseparable. Lately, I have come to realize that at least in a democracy, authority needs to be acceptable to the people, that part of responsibility is sensitivity to the powerless, and indispensable for accountability is transparency. So now I’d say: authority acceptable to those it affects, responsibility with sensitivity to all, and the transparency needed for accountability are the necessary ingredients for effective government. I’m sure this is nothing new, but I just hadn’t consciously put it into words before.

Advertisements

Health Care in Tennessee

My somewhat sketchy notes on Tennessee Congressman Jim Cooper’s question and answer session on Health Care. Cooper has impressive educational credentials that include Oxford and Harvard and he currently teaches part time at Vanderbilt. His Cell number: 615 714 1719.

Fifteen years ago, thanks to getting a yearly colonoscopy, he was successfully treated for colon cancer.  Not everyone can afford to have yearly wellness checkups.  Yet, the first of our constitutional rights is the right to life for all, not just the wealthy.
He says that in the U.S., Medical care is a business primarily for profit. We have more care, but not better care. Our healthcare ranks 37th in the world. As many as 30% of treatments prescribed are unnecessary. There’s a 15% chance of coming out of the hospital worse than you went in. We’ve lost 8 hospitals in TN, more than any state except Texas.
Blue Cross/Blue Shield controls 60 -70% of the health insurance market. This gives them the power to make a 69% rate increase unchallenged. They get a one billion dollar bail out automatically every year. Medical insurance has to be attached to local provider networks of hospitals and doctors, so we are limited to insurers within our states of residence.
In the past Republicans and Democrats would work together for the good of the people. No longer. Cooper is a Blue Dog Democrat…willing to work across party lines.
In Tennessee, the legislature only needs a simple majority to override the Governor. The infamous Jeremy Durham got a law passed that says the Governor can’t start legislation on medical care. Governor Haslam’s attempts to expand Medicaid have not been forceful or focused enough to overcome the legislature’s resistance. In the South there’s a strong prejudice that if you are poor, it’s your fault.
An excellent book on Health Care in the U.S. ,that he uses in his classes at Vanderbilt, is “Catastrophic Care: Why Everything We Think We know about Healthcare is Wrong” by David Goldbill. (I ordered a used paperback on Amazon for $8.07 including mailing.)
Jim Cooper has a website where you can sign up for email newsletters: http://www.cooper.house.gov with updated information about issues that impact Middle Tennesseans.
Most effective means of contacting legislators is old fashioned snail mail letters with a logical presentation of your opinion (not based on misinformation from face book). He says that Tennessee’s Republicans in the U.S. Congress, Alexander and Corker, are reasonable moderates, which makes it definitely worth writing them sensible non-acrimonious letters.
But he says to make your opinions known to all of your elected officials whether by email, phone calls, faxes, post cards, or a snail mail letter. Check the website http://www.tn.gov for information on how to contact our state legislators and for information on bills currently in committee or coming up for votes.  For U.S. Congressional information check usa.gov/elected-officials .

Giving the Devil His Due: Senator Alexander’s Response to My Letter on Same Sex Marriage

A Mother’s Plea to Not Reinforce Prejudice and Precipitate Violence

My Letter to our National and State Congressmen and to the Editor of the Tennessean and our Senator Lamar Alexander’s letter in response.

1. Freedom for and from religion are the same thing. We need to protect that freedom.

2. Homosexuality is not a choice. My great-great aunt became a pediatrician and established a clinic for the poor in the early 1900’s. She lived with the same woman all her life. My brother has been in a twenty-five year monogamous relationship with another man. My son and his partner of seventeen years teach children born HIV positive in South East Asia. Legal recognition of same gender commitment relationships is crucial on many levels, from health insurance to the same degree of acceptance and safety from persecution that heterosexuals have. A return to legal reinforcement of prejudice could very well precipitate violence.
3. I want all people to experience the unconditional love of God expressed in Jesus, so He can become their Lord. History shows that making people pretend Christians by law, violence, judgment, or discrimination does not accomplish that. If we could make and enforce secular laws against making pleasure a God, many heterosexual people would be in legal trouble. The purpose of marriage is a committed relationship, not just pleasure. Let’s support that.
4. Married to the same man for fifty-eight years, I have come to believe marriage is designed not to just populate the world, but to challenge and enable us to really know and love another imperfect (not abusive) person. Let’s not limit anyone by law to deceit in order to experience that.

Alexander’s Response possibly indicates he may have actually read my letter.

Dear Eileen,
Thank you for getting in touch with me and letting me know what’s on your mind regarding the Supreme Court’s decision on same-sex marriage.

I believe that the states, not the courts, should be responsible for deciding how to define marriage. However, the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruing is now the law of the land. Congress will have to carefully consider the effect of this ruling on religious liberty and religious institutions.

I’m grateful you took the time to let me know what is on your mind regarding same-sex marriage and I’ll be sure to keep your comments in mind as this issue is discussed and debated in Washington and in Tennessee.,

Sincerely,

Lamar Alexander

Maybe he read my letter and this response is his and not an aide’s. It’s the only response I’ve gotten from Senators or Representatives at state or federal level that even slightly sounded like someone actually was responding to what I said. It encourages me to continue writing on other issues also.

I have been calling, emailing, and writing letters and post cards. The responses to my emails didn’t make sense. The calls were answered
by interns politely and were hopefully at least counted. Letters get slower responses because of security checks, but they may be what actually gets read. I plan on keeping on doing all of the above.

The Poor Are Not Voiceless, just Prefered Unheard

by CRAIG GREENFIELD

Being a “voice for the voiceless” is one of those things that we’ve solidly embraced as Christians. But the phrase no longer sits so well with me.

Sometimes, being a “voice for the voiceless” is another excuse to place ourselves at the centre of the story. It can become a subtle way of being a white savior, pushing ourselves to the forefront and taking the place of honour (Lk 14:8).

And when we do that, we marginalize poor people all over again. By attempting to be their voice, when they already have a voice.

When we speak for people who may prefer to speak for themselves, we reinforce their “voicelessness”.

We confuse not being heard, with having nothing to say.

Did you ever notice how often Jesus encouraged someone to use their voice? He asked beggars and lepers what they wanted him to do, when it must have seemed obvious that the guy was covered in sores or blind and needed healing.

So, I’d like to suggest 3 alternatives that may be more appropriate than being a “voice for the voiceless”:

1. Listen and learn first

Sometimes, I’m so pissed off by a situation of injustice that I’ve just read about on the Book of Face, that I’m tempted to leap to being a “voice for the voiceless” before I’ve even listened properly to those who are being oppressed. With social media, this temptation is racheted right up.

The trick isn’t to NEVER speak or post, but to remember the significance of listening properly to the stories of others first so that you can deepen your understanding of the issue. As Sarah Bessey says, “The problem isn’t their “voicelessness,” it is that we are not listening.”

Jesus himself, who knew everything, asked people questions and listened carefully to the answers, instead of lecturing the poor or talking about them ignorantly. He spent 30 years living among the people, before he ever opened his mouth publically.

2. Amplify their voice

After listening to people in unjust situations, what if instead of speaking for them, we looked for ways to amplify THEIR voices?

One of the practices I personally have tried to use, is bringing a”co-speaker” with me, usually a young Cambodian, when I am invited as a keynote speaker at events and conferences. I usually find, they will be the star of the show and their testimony is deeply impactful.

What if we used our influence to help lift up others and spread the stories of those who are oppressed or overlooked, allowing them to take centre stage, while we serve and encourage?

3. Speak of both the tragedy and the resilience

The way we “speak up and defend the rights of the needy” (Prov 31:9) says a lot about our understanding of justice and transformation.

When we speak only of the tragedy, and nothing of the resilience of the people involved, we paint them as helpless victims. Calling them voiceless when they are not voiceless reinforces the narrative that they are pathetic and can do nothing.

On the flipside, when we speak only of their resilience and nothing of the tragedy, we ignore the reality of their suffering.

We need to learn to do both – speak of the tragedy AND the resilience – as in this post. Arundhati Roy reminds us to “never simplify what is complicated or complicate what is simple.”

Christian Paradoxes

For all of you who aren’t sure, it is possible to be gay and Christian. It’s also possible to believe in God and science. It is possible to be pro-choice and anti-abortion.
It is equally possible to be a feminist and love and respect men. It’s possible to have privilege and be discriminated against, to be poor and have a rich life, to not have a job and still have money.
It is possible to believe in sensible gun control legislation and still believe in one’s right to defend one’s self, family, and property, it’s possible to be anti-war and pro-military.
It is possible to love thy neighbor and despise his actions. It is possible to advocate Black Lives Matter and still be pro police. It is possible to not have an education and be brilliant. It is possible to be Muslim and also suffer at the hands of terrorists. It is possible to be a non-American fighting for the American dream.
It is possible to be different and the same.
We are all walking contradictions of what “normal” looks like.
Let humanity and love win.

This is a quote for which I am trying to find the original author. Will post their name when I find it.

One Hell of a Conundrum

There are problems and perks that come with age. One of the problems I am struggling with is that I now am able to see both sides of extremely controversial issues. I can recognize that theories and laws are necessary, but once we plug human beings into them, they just can’t be seen as black and white issues, if we are to be both just and merciful. This is a major conundrum on a societal level, because there are so many differences from person to person, that it is not a level playing field. And a mature person with mature faith may still make tragic mistakes, but will be able to grow from accepting the consequences. While a teenager or even an adult without the faith that brings grace in suffering, may be destroyed by the consequences. However, without laws or consequences for irresponsible behavior, we end up with license and multiply the problem astronomically. It’s one hell of a conundrum.

What Does the Lord Require?

. Christians are in a challenging, but potentially grace filled time, no matter how we voted. Let’s look at Jesus , so that we, like the apostles, can respond as whole heartedly to his call to let go of everything and “Come, follow me.” Jesus grew up and did most of his ministry in the Region of Galilee, a crossroads area which Isaiah called the Region of the Nations and Matthew called the region of the Gentiles. In spite of this mixed culture where he grew up, Jesus was a cradle, synagogue going Jew. He totally believed his call was only to God’s chosen, the Jews, whose leadership had become more legalistic and proud, than loving. Yet, from almost the beginning of his public ministry, Jesus heals not only people of foreign religions, but the hated Roman oppressors. Why? It seems to have been just because he is kind. 1st question: ARE WE JESUS KIND? the kind that includes having mercy on those different from us in religion, race, or even, God forbid, politics? Eventually, Jesus, with tears of heartbreak and perhaps feelings of failure, realizes that his own people, the chosen, can not open their hearts and minds to a Messiah whose salvation was not about earthly power, because they do not believe in life after death. 2nd question: DO WE BELIEVE IN LIFE AFTER DEATH? Enough to respond differently to suffering than those that don’t? Any time a group of us older gals have been swapping horror stories about knees, hips, eyes, ears and bladders gone bad, someone always says, “Well, it’s better than the alternative.” REALLY? It better not be. I’ve put all my chips on Jesus! 3rd question: WHAT DOES THE LORD REQUIRE OF US? Micah tells us “to do JUSTICE, to love MERCY, and to walk HUMBLY with your God. JUSTICE, MERCY, HUMILITY… that’s not an easy or common combination. Some of us are stronger on fighting for justice for any group of the powerless, while others of us are merciful one on one to everyone. Often we have trouble relating, because we all lack the third requirement, humility. Humility comes from picking up our own personal cross. That is the cross where we die to our self-righteousness: I am right or I am kind/ our false sense of superiority: I am smarter than those I disagree with or I am kinder than those I disagree with/and our delusion of infallibility: what I believe is the whole truth and nothing but the truth. But these mind sets are what turn believing we are the people of God into the blinding sin of pride. The power of our cross is that it frees us from these blind spots of pride so we can become peacemakers. 4th question: SO, HOW CAN WE DO ALL THAT THE LORD REQUIRES OF US? How can we sacrifice ourselves fighting for justice for the poor or the persecuted without leaving a trail of wounded people we consider obtuse in our wake? Or How can we be kind and open to others, when we are being ridiculed? First, We all admit that we cannot do it on our own. Let yourself feel the frustration of that. We Americans are “just do it” people. But to become peacemakers, we need grace. And grace comes from walking hand in hand with God humbly accepting our dependence. Do you remember walking holding your parent’s hand when you were tiny, of holding your own young child or grandchild’s hand, of walking hand in hand with your boy or girl friend? Do you remember the sheer sweetness of that, the comfort, the safety, the bond, the closeness you felt, and how you could hear them when they leaned over to whisper, “I love you.” That is what it’s like to become close enough to God to have that same safety from losing our way by walking hand in hand. To walk closely to God takes using every means that will help us live in awareness of God’s loving presence, so we can hear God’s voice over our own.

Renew America by Refocusing Political Parties on People, not Power

One: We start at the grass roots level: our local party.
Two: We go to meetings and listen.
Three: We ask questions in a non-threatening way.
Four: We listen to the answers and rephrase them in a non-judgmental way so others know we heard.
Five: We suggest and offer hands on and financial help with party outreach efforts that help the poor, who are able and willing to work.                                                                                                              Possibilities:
First we need more creative ways to reach people: Flyers in doors of public housing, Trailer Parks, TV and Radio Public Service announcements, Face Book. Flyers in fast food restaurants, Laundromats, Hospitals , Clinics, Churches, and even in Utility Bills.
Call or visit Employment Agencies and learn about available jobs and requirements
Advertise available government training programs and offer transportation for those without cars.
Advertise available jobs and offer transportation for applicants and help with carpools to jobs.
Create programs for learning how to save money on essentials and start them at Senior Centers, Public Housing, and Churches.
Find the disillusioned and offer transportation to party meetings and activities. Have practical door prizes or “Thank you for coming” giveaways like shampoo, soap, etc. at meetings. Get to know the people and their problems. Involve them in brainstorming solutions. Get them involved in working on solutions. Utilize Senior Citizens and disabled Veterans.
Find more ways for the Parties, Senior Centers, Churches, rather than the government, to get to know and help people one on one or in groups.
Reach out to Immigrant groups, Seniors, Disabled Veterans, those in Public Housing, those on the verge of becoming homeless.
Learn through all this what part the government can best play in helping people help themselves and work on getting those in motion.

Different Gifts Make for Different Politics

One of the problems with education, besides economic ghettos, is not recognizing differences in personalities. Any one with several children knows they were different at birth. Most teachers of primary grades catch on eventually that no one system of teaching basics will work for all  children.
Personality differences include learning style differences, value differences,  actually even what we see, so also how we react to it. It’s complex. I only wish I had known more about these differences when I taught first and second grade. (See blog post: Important Things I Learned from First Graders When I Was Forty.)
Most intuitive thinkers question the status quo, see connections between differing things, explore new possibilities, are idealistic, and though some travel or do something else for a while, most will go to college. They also tend to end up living in the large cities. Concrete thinkers are more hands on, learn from their parents and practical experience, accept what is and tend to prefer small communities. We actually need to challenge all types fairly early to value skills opposite to their natural way of being in the world. The intuitive idealists often don’t recognize the practical costs of their dreams enough to develop either their own practical problem solving skills or preferably learn to appreciate and work with those whose minds work differently. And of course, vice versa. We need to affirm and enable problem solvers, but also early on involve them in problem solving ways to work toward ideals. Change is not always better, but many things can be changed for the better slowly while taking into account the immediate practical side effects for all. As long as many are looking only at the ideal possibilities and the others not only feel more secure with the familiar, but see only the problems involved in any great change, we will continue to be pretty much totally divided. Another difference is some of the population tends to live in the past, some in the present moment without much awareness of long term consequences, and others focus on the long view of the future.  Do you see why we have such different views?

The biggest problem is the solution isn’t either/or. It requires valuing each others’ gifts and working together. Unfortunately, that takes letting go of some of our most cherished prejudices and admitting that no one has answers that will work for all, unless we work together.

Fellow Democrats, Please Lend Me Your Ears.

Fellow democrats, we are sounding like our opponents did before the election. Now, maybe we will understand what feeling unheard and powerless does to people’s sense of decency. Please, let’s don’t go there. It will not help anything. The time to protest is when actual laws that we cannot in good conscience support are proposed. And then protest only in the non-violent tradition of Martin Luther King .
Admit it, we ourselves have been disgusted by attacks on President’s wives in the past. Don’t do it. Complain to face book or at least hide vicious vulgarity on your pages. It simply lowers us to the level of everything that we have been against. Wake up Democrats. Fear creates monsters. We know that. Stop now or we will wake up one morning and have to face that we have become the enemy.