Wednesday, March 30, 2016

End of Life Choices

Last October, after my state passed a law allowing physician assisted suicide, I posted a blog about the issue.  I struggled and continue to struggle with the question.  Here's a paragraph from that post.

I saw images on 9/11 that made me think differently.

We also saw people jump from the towers to their deaths, knowing that they were committing suicide.  At the same time, death was imminent as the flames came towards them.  The choice was clearly between dying a painful death of burning or a quick one from the impact of a fall from the towers.  I don't know what I would have done if faced with that choice but I do know how I feel about burning and it is not a way that I would choose to die.  So, I asked myself, was the decision to jump an immoral one?  Did I have the right to condemn those who would choose one way to die over another, knowing that death was clearly coming?
 My thinking was prodded forward by the situation of Brittany Maynard, who suffered with a terrible form of brain cancer and chose to move to Oregon so that she could take her own life rather than go through the process of the cancer.  I watched a friend die of that same cancer so I knew a bit of what she was facing...

The other side of my equation is that my spouse is a hospice chaplain.  During Cheryl's years of work in that challenging setting, I have learned that those final days can truly be holy time and that in spite of (perhaps sometimes because of) the pain, relationships are healed, grace is poured out, and that life is enriched in ways that could not be imagined under normal circumstances.  In his book, The Four Things that Matter Most, Ira Byock tells story after story of families who look back at the last days with a loved one as some of the most positive time they shared together.   I also know that sometimes even the most dire prognosis can be wrong and that individuals who really should die, simply don't.  Cheryl has had more than one client who was supposed to have a prognosis of 6 months or less but instead lived for years.

All of that is to say that I fear by making it easy to avoid the difficult times, we will also see many families missing out on the wonderful times that are enabled by the nearness of death.  I also fear insurance companies pushing "a good death" because it costs much less than the protracted experience of dying well.

I really do understand the reason why some folk may want to end their own lives as a way of avoiding terrible suffering and I do think the law is probably a good thing.  Still, I hope that we find a way to open other options that truly can be filled with grace.

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Free College?

Why do we have public education?  Seriously.  Why?  And why provide it essentially from age 5-18?  Again, it is a serious question.  Obviously, it is not free.  We provide teachers who incur salaries and benefits in buildings that are particularly expensive.  Then there are books and supplies.  All of which cost serious money (even if less than one might reasonably expect)... money that comes from the general public in the form of taxes.  We don't tax only those who are parents... why?  Why should I pay taxes to send someone else's children to school?  I'm finished raising children.  I paid for mine (and my own extended education).

I pay taxes to support education because I want to live in a society wherein the citizens are educated at least enough to be contributing members of society.  We provide education for our children because we require at least a minimally educated population or things get very ugly very fast.  So why through age 18?  I would argue that education has historically been provided in the amount required for an individual to be a productive member of society.  For a long time - during the agricultural age, 8th grade was enough.  That meant an individual could read and do enough math to be sure they weren't getting cheated when they sold a cow at market and that they could make reasonably informed decisions at the ballot box after making judgments regarding the claims of politicians.  We provided that for every child in every family and the broader society absorbed the costs.  An individual family that wanted to send their child further could do so on their own dime but the minimum was provided "free."  A child with an 8th grade education could become a fully functional and contributing member of society.  He or she could have a family, a home, and make a contribution.

When the industrial age took hold and life became more and more technical, 8th grade was no longer enough.  More complicated math was often required.  The world was becoming smaller so citizens needed to be able to reason a bit more to understand international issues.  One needed to read better to be able to understand manuals for complicated machinery.  As a society we added 4 years to what was provided "free."  It was clear that 8 grades was not enough but 12 seemed to meet the requirements.  A high school diploma was enough.  Again, a family that wanted to send their children to college or technical school could do so, but society both required and funded through high school.  An individual with a high school diploma could make a good living, raise a family, be a part of society...

A high school diploma is no longer enough.  The vast majority of jobs available to an individual with only a high school diploma could just as easily be done by a machine and it takes more training than just high school to run those machines.  We also live in a world that is becoming more and more complicated and ignorant populations do not make wise decisions.  Either college or technical education after high school is required for an individual to become a fully functional member of society.  If we as a nation do not provide those educational requirements, we run the risk of having a larger and larger underclass without any ability or hope of ever becoming a fully functioning member of the society.  That is a recipe for disaster.

So... Bernie Sander's call for "free" public education is not a pie in the sky dream.  It is a requirement for a healthy society.  "But it is so expensive.  Where will we get the money to pay for it?"  We get the money to pay for the things we think are important.  When the government decided we needed to go to war in Iraq & Afghanistan, almost nobody asked how we would pay for it.  When my county decided they needed a new county jail, questions of money came up but almost nobody seriously said, "let's leave the criminals on the streets."  So where do we get the money?  Raise taxes?  Perhaps.  Cut the military?  Perhaps.  Make it happen one way or another?  Absolutely.

Now how about the folk who incurred huge debts at exorbitant interest rates in order to become fully functioning members of society - taking on costs that the broader society took on in the past?  I would argue that at the very least, the government should take over the private loans and convert all student loans to 0% interest.  They aren't charging that much more than that to big banks that borrow money from the government... why not free a generation of young adults from that burden, allowing them to truly become fully functioning?

Thursday, March 03, 2016

Church Values

Two pieces came together this week to have me thinking about church values.  First, I listened to an interview with the pastor of a megachurch in the south who talked about the core values of his congregation.  While the wording might get under my skin a bit, I found myself more or less agreeing with the values he stated.  The part that hooked me was the clarity with which they were spoken.  The church has five very clear, short (the longest is 5 words) statements that give shape to their ministry.  The second piece is a blog post written by my daughter, "What are you doing?"  In it she raises the question of whether or not one's actions are furthering their primary path or taking them down rabbit holes. 

So I was thinking about the churches I've been a part of... I've been blessed to have been part of great churches doing significant ministry in their various settings.  While the values of those congregations have often been implied by their actions, none of them have been nearly so clear as to have 5 short clear statements which could be recited by anyone in the congregation or used as yardsticks to evaluate the direction of their ministries.  Of course, articulating values doesn't mean a specific church really holds them.  Nor does a list necessarily include all or even the most deeply held values of any given church.  For example, few churches would say they value the status quo above all else but many clearly do.  And while many churches might put evangelism as a core value - perhaps even their top one - few really live as if that is the case.  Still, at least trying to articulate them can only be a good thing.

So what are the values of Cambridge Drive Community Church where I currently serve? To what degree are they reflected in the shape of our ministries and our life together?  Are our resources allocated to support the things we value most or are institutional needs draining them more than the values would indicate?  We haven't clarified those issues as well as we could and should.  For example, I would say that one of our core values is that our buildings and land should serve the community.   In a typical month we have between 500 and 1000 individual people who use our property who are not directly affiliated with the church via concerts, recitals, 12 step programs, educational programs, and just enjoying the grounds.  Many of them are on the property multiple times in a month, some more often than even our most committed members.  While we charge for many of the uses, none are market rate and for many the church is essentially subsidizing the use.   We often wrestle with those costs and struggle with the difficulties of other folk using our "stuff."  If we had more clarity around those uses as a core value, the questions may be easier to address...

All of that gives me and us something to work on...