Thursday, April 06, 2017

The Problem with Health Insurance

Health insurance is complicated... who knew?

In the bass guitar world technology has been pushing the limits with lighter weight, smaller cabinets, massive power, and more low end extension.  My 6 pound head can run rings around the 65 pound heads of my youth and my 34 pound cab puts out more low end than the refrigerator sized (and weight) cabs of that same time period.  Still, common wisdom is that you cannot have cheap, light, loud, and low all in one package.  The laws of physics still apply along with basic economics.

In order to fix our medical care system, we must first acknowledge that the rules of math apply.  It is not possible to have everyone covered with good comprehensive coverage at lower prices that are affordable to everyone without government funding and government interference.  Lower priced plans with reduced coverage are only helpful until they are not.  Cutting payment to physicians or other providers can only go so far before the math no longer works.  A for profit entity has a bottom line commitment to the bottom line... and something eventually has to give in order for the company to make its profits.  All that adds up to one inescapable conclusion.: before the ACA, the system was broken.  Too many people were not insured.  Too many people went bankrupt because of medical bills.  Too many died because of lack of care.  Treatment plans were often chosen by bean counters rather than because of efficacy.  The training of physicians is expensive and favors some specialties over others regardless of actual social needs.  The nature of healthcare makes it impossible for it to respond to market pressures in the same way that other industries do.

The ACA attempted to fix some of the presenting problems without addressing underlying issues.  It succeeded in that small way and would have been more successful had the Republican Party not worked so hard to obstruct it.  (We hear how the CBO's numbers were so off... but that ignores the fact that their numbers were based on the plan actually being adopted while 29 states refused the Medicare expansion part of the program).  Because the ACA sought to work within the then, current system of for profit private insurance companies, etc., it could never deliver the product it promised of affordable, comprehensive coverage for all.

To get the product that a civilized country deserves requires a complete overhaul from top to bottom including training of physicians, funding of medical research, decisions regarding what care is provided (and not provided), how funding is allocated and what fee structures look like.  It will take years to accomplish... possibly decades... but if we do not begin the process, we will see our broken system continue to deteriorate and all but the very rich will suffer.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Sermons now on YouTube

The church I serve has begun to put videos of the sermon up on youtube each week.  The program has raised some interesting issues.  

First, there are the aesthetic questions.  We’re using an inexpensive camera (Zoom Q4n) and trying to be as unobtrusive as possible so there is one camera angle with a bit of fisheye to the image.  The camera allows an AB or XY microphone arrangement so we tried both to see what would give us better sound.   I also quickly learned that a dark jacket works better against the background of the sanctuary.  Watching myself also has me thinking about how I move when I'm preaching, what I do with my hands, etc. etc.

The more important questions have had to do with the shaping of the sermon itself.  I preach from the lectionary.  For those unfamiliar with a lectionary, it is a list of 4 scripture readings for each Sunday of the church year in a three year cycle.  The readings include an historic passage (usually from the Old Testament), a Psalm, a gospel passage, and a reading from the letters in the New Testament.  The passages are chosen to fit together (in the eyes of those who put the lectionary together) and are intended to go through all of the major themes of the Bible over the three year cycle.  More liturgical churches read all four lections each Sunday.  Because we’re in the free church tradition, we have no such expectation.  Indeed, using the lectionary at all is a choice I make.   From the 4 readings,  I choose two passages for each Sunday and preach on the second one.  It seems important to me that we, who call ourselves Biblical Christians, read at least two passages each Sunday.  (many more conservative churches don't really read any passages from the Bible, instead just proof-texting during the sermon to prove whatever preconceptions they already hold).  Again, being in the Free Church tradition, I am not compelled to use the lectionary and indeed, there are times when I stray from it.  Still, for me, it is a discipline that forces me to preach on passages that I might not choose otherwise and to wrestle with themes that are uncomfortable for me.  Of course, I do still pick from among the four readings. 

All of that said, I try to choose passages that I think relate to the context of Cambridge Drive Community Church.  And I try to construct a sermon that speaks to the issues with which we’re living at the moment.  A sermon out there in the ether is divorced from that context and may or may not speak in the same way to someone watching in a very different setting.  While Cambridge Drive is by no means homogeneous theologically or otherwise, I can reasonably expect that someone might watch one of these sermons who comes from a very different place culturally or theologically than those sitting in the sanctuary.  And the folk in the chairs in our sanctuary know me well enough to know how to take things, when I'm joking, what struggles the passage imposes on me... To what degree do I try to generalize my sermon for those outside?  Should I avoid context specific remarks, knowing that doing so might make the sermon less effective for those in the congregation while making it more effective for some hypothetical watcher from elsewhere?  Do I downplay the relationships I have with my congregation to make a sermon more general or do I just allow the outside to overhear what is going on here?

I spoke with a friend this morning about those questions and she asked whether my sermons have changed since we began videoing them.  I responded that I'm not sure... but I am certainly being more thoughtful about what I say and how I say it.

In any case... the sermons are now up there for any to see...  Here's the link to the channel 

And here's the sermon from February 5 for an easier look...

Let me know what you think...

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Tiny Desk

Many of you know that back in the late 90's I performed in a duo with my daughter under her name, Alexis d, mostly around the Hudson & Pioneer Valleys in upstate NY & Massachusetts.  It was one of the most musically satisfying times of my life.

Life goes on and things change but Alexis and I still perform occasionally and still write every now and then.  This year, we have submitted a song to the NPR Tiny Desk Contest

Check it out...

Here are the lyrics...

Don't know where I'm going
Not sure where I've been
It's the biggest hot mess
This thing I'm in
I call up experience
My blessings and my sins
But I still don't know,
The next step or when.

We can talk about the future,
We can wish about the past
But all I want
Is the gift I know'll last

I've traveled around the world
I've sure seen a lot
I've been granted riches
So others envy what i've got.
But all I know,
Is when I look at you,
That's got to be the best thing
I could ever choose.


Let's spend a little time
Just us two
That's the present,
I'll give to you.

I might be lost
I might get found,
I may be up
I've certainly been down,
Truth be told,
Only one way to be,
Only one place,
That's where you're with me.


Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Trump, Streep, and what happened

Most of us have heard at least exerpts from Meryl Streep's Golden Globe speech where she reamed the president elect for mocking a disabled reporter. 

Here's the referenced video from Trump...

So, here's the argument we're hearing from the right wing... "Trump makes these same movements when he is making fun of people who are not disable, like Ted Cruz.  Therefore, he is not mocking the disabled reporter."  They often go on to acknowledge that Trump is rude, but state emphatically he is not guilty of mocking a disability.

I find that one of the most ridiculous defenses I have ever heard.  Let me give a parallel example.  If I called someone a "retard" who did not have a mental deficiency and then turned around and called someone who was intellectually challenged a "retard" would that mean I wasn't making fun of their disability?  No.  Indeed it would be worse because in the first instance, where I used that slur against someone without a disability, I was holding up the disabled person's condition as a slur.  The intellectually challenged person becomes the living embodiment of the slur.  

That is precisely what Trump was doing when he used the same movements in mocking Cruz.  He was saying "Cruz is comparable to one of those people who are worthy of disdain and mockery."  That he used the same movements when mocking someone who actually has a disability does not make it less offensive.  Indeed, it is more offensive.

There are no excuses. That behavior clearly sets an example for others and normalizes behaviors that are despicable.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Failing presidents & hypocrisy

I've heard the word "hypocrite" a lot lately, referring to Democrats who complained about Republicans who pledged to obstruct Obama at every opportunity and yet seem determined to do exactly the same thing with Donald Trump.  It isn't the same and here is why.

1.  In spite of what we heard on Right Wing Talk Radio & TV, Obama is not and never was a communist out to destroy our country.  He is a centrist, committed to working across the isle, many of whose ideas actually reflected Republican ideas.  Take the ACA.  It was a program very similar in its most important details to a health care proposal put forward by the right wing Heritage Foundation.  It was centered around the private sector and enfranchised the insurance industry.  Had he truly been a leftist, Obama would have argued for Medicare for all as Bernie Sanders has done.

Trump, on the other hand, seems to be poised to blow up the entire government.  He has already skirted many of the common practices of the past such as releasing his tax returns so we can all see whether his interests conflict with those of the American people.  He has chosen to avoid intelligence briefings, either because he truly believes there is nothing he needs to learn or because he doesn't trust the intelligence agencies.  His cabinet appointees so far seem almost all to fall into one of two categories... either they have no experience and no knowledge of the area they will be heading or they are committed to destroying the role of the very agency they will head.

2. Obama clearly fell in line with the general trajectory of history.  Whether we like what he dd or not, he didn't do anything that made people go, "What?"

Even before he is inaugurated, Trump is already breaking with policies and ideas that are foundational to our security both nationally and internationally.  His thoughtless actions regarding our treaties have already begun to push Asian allies towards China and he has unnecessarily provoked China by skirting the one China doctrine.  His relationship to Russia is troubling at best.  His calls for the US military to commit war crimes and his commitment to sidestepping accepted rules that have to do with nepotism and conflicts of interest are equally troubling. 

On the national level, he is either allowing or directing the dismantling of many of the social safety nets upon which many people depend. 

3. Obama knew what government is and what its role is.  Trump doesn't seem to understand that government is not a business and the rules by which it operates are not the same.  If his business fails, it can declare bankruptcy and at least Donald walks away unscathed.  It has happened multiple times.  If government fails... that is something altogether different.

4. Obama knows that when the president speaks, things happen, so he is careful about what he says.  Trump has no such wisdom or he enjoys the chaos that happens when he says something unwise.  In either case... it is not good.

5. Obama has a heart to leave the world a better place.  You may not agree with his vision of that, but you cannot argue the point.  Nothing that Trump has ever done in his entire life would indicate that he has any concerns beyond himself.  There is nothing beyond his skin that he seems to truly care about beyond the way that it impacts him.

6.  The best you could say about the Republican obstructionists might be that some were acting consistently with their values - that they hate the federal government and literally want it to fail so by obstructing a president as thoughtful and charismatic as Obama who began his presidency with a real mandate, they were working to that end.  And now they find a kindred soul in Trump, who wants to see government curtailed not out of some political ideology but because it constrains his personal behavior.

Democratic obstructionists will be working to preserve the rights and safety nets, some of which have been in place for decades and upon which many people depend.  Without those safety nets, people will die.

So... are there areas where Dems should support Trump?  Say, like if he proposes working on infrastructure?  I have mixed feelings.  I should say that I believe he will only propose improving the infrastructure if he will personally benefit from it.  Still there clearly are areas where he may see his self-interests and those of the nations align... so yes, I would argue that we work on those issues with him.  But we must never allow those issues to cause us to lose sight of the other things he is doing or allowing to not be done.

If Trump and the Republicans in office work to tear apart Social Security, Medicare, and the ACA (all of which they propose to do), I will do what I can to obstruct them and call upon my representatives to do the same.  I want them to fail there.  If they want to tear up treaties and alliances with other nations and put the entire world at risk, I will work to obstruct them and call upon my representatives to do the same.  I want them to fail.  If they continue to enfranchise hate groups and normalize the kind of behavior I would punish my grandson for, I will do what I can to obstruct them and call upon my representatives to do the same.   I want them to fail.  If the Republicans continue their march to destroy our government by undermining trust in all facets of it, I will do what I can to obstruct them and call upon my representatives to do the same.  I want them to fail.  If the Trump administration actually becomes the kleptocracy I expect it will be, I will do what I can to obstruct them and call upon my representatives to do the same. I want them to fail.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016


I don't know whether Russia interfered with the election in any substantive way.  I don't know whether anyone in the Trump organization colluded (if Russia did).  I don't know why Russia might have preferred Trump to win (although I can infer).  I don't know what might have happened had Russia not interfered (if they did) or whether the outcome would have been different.

I do know that information was released that likely damaged Hillary Clinton's campaign both by the FBI and via other avenues.   I know that information was not released on the Trump campaign including from the CIA who believed that Russia was helping out the Trump campaign...

Sooooo... an investigation seems critical.  If a foreign government is interfering in our elections, we need to know and it needs to be addressed.  As one former CIA chief has said, this is "the political equivalent of 9/11."

To those Republicans who investigated Bengazi 7 times, each time hoping for a different result but each time claiming that the American people deserve to know and who are now saying that an investigation into possible interference by Russia into the presidential election is not necessary... once again, you are showing that you have no real interest in the truth or in justice, but only in power.  Your hypocrisy is astounding and blatantly obvious.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016


I've been reading Father Gregory Boyle's wonderful book Tattoos on the Heart.  It is a collection of inspiring and heart-breaking stories from his years of ministry with gang members in LA.  A story from chapter six (and Father Boyle's interpretation of it) particularly resonated with me today and related to things I've been thinking about.

In the aftermath of the election I've been thinking a lot about community and about the way we relate to other folk, near and far.  One morning as he arrived at his office for work, Junior called out from his second story apartment window, "Love you G dog!"

Father Boyle answered back, "Thank you Junior.  That was a very nice thing to say."

Boyle goes on, "He waves me on as if papally blessing me on my day. 'O come on now G, you know.  You're in my jurisdiction.'"

In the interpretation of the story, Boyle observes that the gang members have very limited jurisdictions, areas and communities they know and for which they care.  He doesn't outright say but implies that the barriers at the edge of those jurisdictions are as solid as they can be.  He goes on that our call as Christians is to widen our jurisdictions.

As I've been watching the aftermath of the election both in the larger world and in my heart this call speaks loudly.  We all have a variety of concentric jurisdictions, with each further one getting a little less commitment and caring.  The primary jurisdiction is always the one that gets our deepest commitment.  Sometimes the barriers are porous.  Sometimes they are as solid as they can be.  We all have a point at which the jurisdictions end. 

Personally, before the election I would have felt that my primary jurisdiction was pretty big... or at least my second one was.  Afterwards, I see it was not nearly as large as I thought, but that the barrier between it and the next level was extremely porous.  After the election, everything in my heart, which had been deeply hurt and disappointed, wanted to shore up that barrier and close up any openings shutting out those beyond my closest jurisdictions.

It is frightening to open those barriers and it is dangerous.  The more open you are, the more vulnerable you feel.  It could be argued that that fear is exactly what fueled the election... fear of the one outside of my jurisdiction taking something that is rightfully mine.  And so the walls go up both literal and figurative.  Our role is to risk... to tear down the walls and to see whoever is standing on the other side as "in my jurisdiction."

An observation... we would hope that our elected leaders are people who have wide jurisdictions that at the very least include everyone in the nation along with the ecosystem.  It is better yet when the barrier to their next level is porous and yearns for the very best not only for the US but the rest of the world.

Sometimes we have had leaders like that.  More often they fall short.  Unfortunately there is something about the role of elected leader that calls to the narcissist. The narcissist's jurisdiction is as narrow as it can possibly be... it ends at their own skin.  The only time they care about anyone or anything else is when it impacts them.  A talented narcissist can be charming and even effective... but it is all about ME... ALWAYS.