Bishops, Health Care, and a Missionary

OrthoAnalyika Shownotes: 16 August 2009

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1 Corinthians 4: 9-16 ; St. Matthew 17: 14 – 23

For I think that God has displayed us, the apostles, last, as men condemned to death; for we have been made a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men. We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are distinguished, but we are dishonored! To the present hour we both hunger and thirst, and we are poorly clothed, and beaten, and homeless. And we labor, working with our own hands. Being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we endure; being defamed, we entreat. We have been made as the filth of the world, the offscouring of all things until now. I do not write these things to shame you, but as my beloved children I warn you. For though you might have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel. Therefore I urge you, imitate me.

Context of Epistle: The Christians of Corinth were too comfortable; St. Paul knew that in order for them to improve it was his job as their archpastor – as their apostle and bishop – to push them out of their comfort zone. The logic of his letter was designed to do this; but it wasn’t enough for him to know what they needed: he had to get them to listen to him, to respect him, and to trust him. Today’s reading is part of his effort to do this. Today I want to share this effort with you.

Complete Dedication.
In the course of my career working for the army, I traveled a great deal and I met a lot of impressive people. The ones that impressed me the most were the civil servants and special operators who lived and worked in dangerous places for extended periods of time, with nothing to sustain them but their wits and their duty. They went through incredible hardships: hunger, thirst, physical pain, persecution and disrespect from the people they were trying to help. They were the strongest men I know, but they put up with so much from people weaker than themselves – that is to say that they humbled themselves – out of devotion. It was dangerous and thankless work (most of what they did they cannot share – nor would they if they could). But they did it willingly again and again and again. It wasn’t just their job, it wasn’t just their career or their profession: it was their calling. I cannot tell you how honored I have been to work with such men and to have counted them as colleagues (if only through their good humor).

Maybe you have met such people. We are blessed to count a few as members of this parish. [segue]

Please believe me when I tell you, that sense of awe and respect and assurance I get from being around these special men; I get the same and more when I meet those who have offered the same sort of dedication for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ. I speak here of missionaries who give up comfort to help people they have never met; of monks and nuns who love our Lord and His People that they have completely submitted themselves to Him; and of those, like St. Paul, who have followed this same calling of complete submission through the utterly humiliating and exhausting service to Christ’s Church as bishops.

Sense of Wonder
I am not exaggerating when I tell you that it has always been this way for me. From the time I was first a catechumen, I have had the opportunity to meet a great many bishops; and I have done this with an even greater sense of wonder and appreciation than when I have met the most
grizzled and battle-hardened commanding general or green beret. This is not just because I have a sense of the great spiritual and earthly battles they have fought, nor is it only because of their dedication to everything Holy and that I hold dear: it is also the sense of history that inspires awe in me. When I see our bishop (or any bishop), I do not just see him, I see the whole chain of bishops stretching back to those apostles whom our Incarnate Lord first selected. He – and they – are a tangible reminder of our roots in history and in Christ. The Holy Spirit has called and empowered these men to lead and serve through difficult times; and they have endured our mockery, the persecution of the world, and nameless trials. But they continue to lead and serve us and this world for one reason and one reason only (and it isn’t so they can wear a cool hat).

Saint Paul was sending a difficult message to the Christians of Corinth. But like every good leader, he did not do it from his chair: he led from the front. His battle cry was not; “go forth and conquer”, but “follow me to victory!” This is the way he did and this is the way our bishops do it because this is the Way Christ does it. It is the way every good leader does it.

They have called for a charge: Will you follow?

Mail Time:

Plug for interviews..

Where was the festival you announced last week? Assumption GREEK [also a St. Mary’s ANTIOCHIAN] Mia Culpa. Not the only mistake/misspeak that I have made. Another was attributing the essay at the beginning of the Abridged Typikon to St. Tikhon; it was actually Patriarch Sergius.

Are you serious about using outhouses to be more green? Do you really do this stuff?
I don’t: but I am trapped within the consumerist paradigm, trying to change my life without changing my worldview will not be useful. That’s why we need folks like Pawlo who live in different paradigms (so important that if he didn’t exist, we would need to create him). This is why we study the lives of the saints and why we read good fiction. It allows us to challenge out assumptions.

Segue into imagination: trying to interact with the infinite – it is something requires us to continually grow towards that endless perfection. So many mysteries where this infinite perfection interacts with our finite (and fallen) lives. But not meant to stay a mystery. Continual revelation. Not all of it is intentionally intellectual (observe new data, test hypotheses, etc.); much speaks straight to our hearts (like our prayers, our Liturgy, our love, and our interaction with self-sacrifice/humility).

When is your festival? What is it?
September 13
th. It’s a big deal. Please come if you can.

You are obviously a conservative, as an Orthodox Christian, what do you think the proper role of the government is? You don’t want them doing anything but affecting incentives for banks and insurance companies; but what about issues like prostitution and drug use?
I’m a political scientist, so I like to break things into categories. There are a couple of things that a Christian might do. One is to come at the various secular ideologies (e.g. conservatism, liberalism, socialism, populism, libertarianism) and pick the one that matches your Christian views best. An even worse way – which I think is at least as common – is to take the secular ideology you already identify with and interpret and apply Orthodox Christianity through that lens. I don’t really like either of these choices (so I don’t match up real well with any of the ideologies), which is why I spend most of my efforts at improving our world at the “grass roots” level: I love the people around me. As I suggested a couple of weeks ago, if you spend more time and energy getting into national politics than the local problems of your friends and parishioners, then you are probably misallocating your time and energy. Our prayers have taught me that the Orthodox Christian really wants the gov’t to provide a safe place SO THAT WE CAN PRAY AND LIVE GODLY LIVES. Our roles as citizens mean that we have double duty in this, so we do have to study and influence political decisions, but ideally we would be able to elect people who would handle the day to day of this. I know it’s messy though.

Let me come at the question a different way (with another category): two types of Christian attitudes toward the government. In charity, you have to assume that both want to follow Christ’s command that we feed the hungry, cloth the naked, care for the poor, etc. Despite the ridiculous rhetoric from irresponsible voices on both sides of this conversation – this is not what separates the two groups. What separates them is their attitude towards using the secular government in following Christ’s command. The distinction can look quite stark, but the truth is that almost everyone is in the middle: they know that using the gov’t is dangerous, but are willing to do it when it is necessary. So the difference comes in where we draw that line. Obvious ones: Murder. Theft. Less obvious ones that we have moved away from here: Blue laws? Marriage (to include adultery, sodomy, Divorce)? Divisive ones now: health care. immigration. living wage. An interesting thing (but only for an outsider) is how “liberal Christians” don’t want the gov’t to be involved in the first group (moral laws), but do want the gov’t to be involved in the second one (social Gospel). IMO, both are dangerous to have a secular gov’t involved in. (and one also happens to be expensive!). In this world, I don’t see the need for dogmatic answers on political questions: this means that Orthodox Christians can disagree. For all of us as Christian sovereigns, it is a pastoral question: what is the most efficient and effective way to spread the Gospel and the Life of Christ both now and into the future? Unfortunately, this means getting into the nitty-gritty of policy detail: which is why I made my point about the need to elect representatives that we can trust (and of having other representatives sharing information/lobbying to make sure our representatives understand what we want and why).

If time, follow-up on health care. From the CATO Institute:

“For the record, according to the latest figures from the Census Bureau, 45.6 million Americans currently lack health insurance. This is actually down slightly from the 47 million that were uninsured in 2006. However, those numbers don’t tell the whole story.

For example, roughly one quarter of those counted as uninsured – 12 million people – are eligible for Medicaid and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (S-CHIP), but haven’t enrolled. This includes 64 percent of all uninsured children, and 29 percent of parents with children. Since these people would be enrolled in those programs automatically if they went to the hospital for care, calling them uninsured is really a smokescreen.

Another 10 million uninsured “Americans” are, at least technically, not Americans. Approximately 5.6 million are illegal immigrants, and another 4.4 million are legal immigrants but not citizens.

Nor are the uninsured necessarily poor. A new study by June O’Neill, former director of the Congressional Budget Office, found that 43 percent of the uninsured have incomes higher than 250 percent of the poverty level ($55,125 for a family of four). And slightly more than a third have incomes in excess of $66,000. A second study, by Mark Pauly of the University of Pennsylvania and Kate Bundorf of Stanford, concluded that nearly three-quarters of the uninsured could afford coverage but chose not to purchase it.

And most of the uninsured are young and in good health. According to the CBO, roughly 60 percent are under the age of 35, and fully 86 percent report that they are in good or excellent health.

Finally, when we hear about 45 million Americans without health insurance, it conjures up the notion that all of those are born without health insurance, die without health insurance, and are never insured in between. The reality is that most people without health insurance are uninsured for a relatively short period of time.

Only about 30 percent of the uninsured remain so for more than a year, approximately 16 percent for two years, and less than 2.5 percent for three years or longer. About half are uninsured for six months or less. Notably, because health insurance is too often tied to employment, the working poor who cycle in and out of the job market also cycle in and out of health insurance.”