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.