Monday, June 29, 2015

Health Care Issues, WHAT A PAIN!

“Obama Care”: a bad thing for some, a good thing for others, and obviously divisive for all.  Why is our nation’s approach to health care so controversial?

I’m no doctor, nor am I a nurse or medical practitioner of any kind.  However, I do make scheduled visits to my family doctor for regular check-ups.  And yes, I’ve actually undergone surgery and have spent a night or two at the hospital.  Thus, like you, I am a user and an observer of this complicated health care system we have created here in the United States.  And I don’t like what I see or have experienced.

Despite Obama Care’s best efforts, I still think that our health care system is broken and needs fixing.  Does that mean Obama Care should be trashed?  Not necessarily.  But it does mean more changes are needed; there is more fixing to be done, much more.  Yet, given our political climate, we all know that that’s not going to happen anytime soon.

I find it interesting that those who have been vehemently against Obama Care are all for ripping it apart and tearing it down, but have no alternative, offering nothing in return.  Even so, before Obama Care, most Americans agreed and were unified about one thing with respect to our health care system—it is broken and needs fixing!  Obama Care is intended to be a step in that direction, to fix the system.  And yet, those who reject Obama Care, to date, offer no good workable alternative?

Our national health care system continues to be imbalanced and unfair.  It is opaque and confusing as to real cost distribution and profit gain, and continues to be grossly expensive.  It is daunting to personally negotiate one’s way through the system when personal health conditions require entry into its procedures and processes.  One is faced with multiple consent forms and waiver forms, and agree-to-pay forms (just in case your nice insurance company declines to do so); there are waiting periods, specialists and referrals, insurance approvals, costly medicinal subscriptions, and so-on and so-forth.

Here’s the thing: Obama Care addresses only one aspect of our health care system.  It addresses the question of health care coverage: who can and should have health care insurance.  What it fails to address is the deeper medical matrix of the overall health care industry.  Follow the money.  Where is the money going?  Who is profiting the most, how, and why?  Doctors claim that they are not seeing mega profits in their offices.  Nurses and other supporting medical staff, technicians etc. claim that they’re certainly not getting rich off their paychecks.  Hospitals complain that they are on a shoe-string budget, partly because they are often required to service uninsured people who regularly use their emergency rooms for common medical care.

So, what I’d like to know is, given the billions of dollars that Americans spend on health care each year, where exactly is the money going?  Why is it so expensive?  Just who exactly IS getting rich from our health care system, and therefore loving the system just the way it is?

In terms of cost, have you noticed how the actual breakdown of a given medical procedure in a hospital, for example, is well hidden and embedded in multilayers of red tape, paper work, and administrative legalize?  It’s next to impossible to find out exactly what and how much one is precisely paying for—other than a general statement that says: “Your insurance company pays this much and declines to pay that much and you are to pay the remainder.  Here, sign on the bottom line.”  End of story.

The medical business is one of the few businesses where one is unable to become a wise and informed shopper before buying into its products and services.  Medical procedural costs vary greatly from hospital to hospital.  Specialists, labs, medical technicians and the use of their equipment can be hundreds, if not thousands of dollars apart—for the very same medical procedure or service.  Likewise, insurance companies can greatly vary as to their acceptance and approval of equivalent procedures.  Some patients get lucky and pay less for more while others have the bad luck of having to pay life-and-limb, so to speak, for so very little in return.

And is our health care system a for-profit or non-profit system?  For example, hospitals have been required to supply emergency care to people regardless of insurance coverage (look up the “Emergency Treatment and Labor Act of 1986).  That means that someone else must pay the bill.  This is one of the motivations for Obama Care requiring more people to be covered with health insurance.  By the way, should the medical industry only be motivated by profitable gain—at the expense of sick, injured, and/or dying people?  What then constitutes a truly just, fair, and equitable health care system for a people, a community, or a nation?

And finally (and this is a whole new topic in itself), we don’t seem to know when to appropriately “pull the plug.”  We are spending more money at the beginning and ending stages of life than ever before—preemie babies that only a few years ago had no chance of surviving, and the very elderly who but a few years ago would have said, “This is good-bye; I’m ready to see my Maker.”   Our medical technology continues to blur the thin line between life and death.  We think we can command life more easily now.  New mothers demand: “My preemie shall live: whatever the cost, however chronically ill, ill-formed, or physically and/or mentally challenged he/she may be in life!”  Or, refusing to let go: “You’re not going to pull the plug on my granny!  She still has a few good more years ahead of her, even if she will be bed-ridden during that time!”  When do we say, “Enough is enough; it’s time to say good-bye,” placing our faith and hope in God and the promise of Eternal Life?

Well, Obama Care is not going away.  So, let’s stop fighting it and continue to address the health care issues that prompted the implementation of Obama Care in the first place.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Wanted: Men of Integrity for Fathers!

Is there a blight of good fathers these days?  Certainly good fathers are in demand, very much needed and wanted.

But what makes a “good” father?

Let’s say that a good father is a good man.  But, what then, is a good man?

To begin with—and this should come as a surprise to our American psyche—a good man is a man NOT of his own making.  That is, a good man is NOT a self-made man.  How’s that?

A good man is a man who has followed the pathway of other good men.  He has learned and has been taught; he has had a good role model and has been given guidance from other good men who have gone before him.  Hence, he is not “self-made.”  He is teachable and is willing to be a greater man’s disciple.

In that sense, neither is a good man a LONER.  He is neither a Lone Ranger nor a Superman nor a Batman.  Yes, a good man is independent, but he is also dependent and inter-dependent.  He is independent as a responsible and respectable mature adult should be.  Yet he is dependent—upon God—consciously and actively submissive and obedient to God’s ways.  The Spirit of God rules a good man’s heart.  Likewise, a good man accepts the strengths and abilities of other men; he readily acknowledges that other men can do certain things better than he can himself.  Thus, he humbly accepts their assistance.  For, he knows that he cannot be master of everything.  He is therefore an inter-dependent man, one who graciously acknowledges the need of other men’s help.

Furthermore, it’s easy to be bad.  But it takes courage to be good.  A good man is truly courageous.  A good man has the courage to DO the right thing even when it hurts, courage to say what is true when others will detest you for it.  It takes courage to BE true, honest, fair, just, and respectful of others, even if persecuted or attacked for so doing.

Thus, a good man is a man of integrity.  He is a man of his word.  He says what he means and means what he says.  A good man does not lie, cheat, or steal.  He does not covet another man’s possessions.  And he refrains from manipulating others.  A good man does what is right because it is right and not because or only when it is convenient or is to his advantage or personal gain.

Hence a good man makes a good father, respecting men, women, AND children.  And he passes on his good wisdom down to his children by word and deed, action and behavior modeling his good lessons of life, which he himself has learned from practicing goodness himself.  For, a good man has learned to “Be the change you want to see in others.”

Integrity comes from the heart and will.  It is a walk, a way of living, a way of being; it is a total approach to life.  To live with integrity is to DO what is right and good and honest and true and just and fair in all things.  To live with integrity is to BE honest and true and trustworthy and faithful and dependable.  To live with integrity is to live as Jesus lived, to become more and more like Jesus in righteousness, goodness, and love, compassion, mercy, and justice.

In that light, I wonder, do you consider yourself a good man?  How many good men, good fathers do you know?  And tell me, why do they seem so scarce these days?

Monday, June 15, 2015

Nothing New Under the Sun, or Why Religion/Faith Counts

We live in Modern times (but what new generation doesn’t?).  So we think we are more sophisticated, more knowledgeable, and more equipped, and better able.

Yet, little has changed over the centuries.  Say what!?

The truth is—as in the Ancient World so in the Modern World—human trafficking, torture, oppression, and other cruelties and injustices, as in the rich growing richer at the expense of the poor, weak, and needy; as in “might makes right” and so-on and so-forth.  “There is nothing new under the sun,” said the Wise One of Ecclesiastes, and he is so right.  Humans continue to battle the same social evils that any and all civilizations have ever had, since the birth of civilization.

So, for example, when it comes to war and taxes and international commerce, what has changed?  Nation continues to rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.  Around the world tax policies continue to favor the wealthy while weighing down moderate income people. Similarly the wealthy powerful continue to dominate and control scarce precious resources—land, water, food, minerals, and precious gems.

We say that all humans are equal—equal in significance and value.  But the reality is that only a small percentage of humanity actually enjoys the highest privileges and benefits that civilization offers.  We actually function as if most humans are useable, expendable and replaceable—commodities in the world of national and international commerce.

Yes, we are more technologically savvy.  We have industrial power (as far as that goes, the Romans did pretty well in their time).  Yet, humanity itself has not changed.  Human industry has progressed.  Yet, human civilization continues to know no sustained peace and justice.  Human technology has developed.  Human nature has not.  Human capacity for power has increased.  Yet, we humans continue to inflict injustices, oppressive acts, warring factions, hateful sectarianism, social imbalances, and a sundry of other social ills upon each other.  So, where is the so-called improvement of Modern Times?

As a human race, collectively speaking, are we actually better off in Modern Times?  Are we more secure, safer?  Are we more protected from the elements—less vulnerable from Mother Nature’s “mood swings” as it were—earthquakes, famine, drought, hurricanes, tornadoes, and other blights and plagues?  Do we have more peace, less wars?  Do we have fewer broken families and damaged children?  Is there less hatred, more mutual respect?  Are we more united or more divided in this world?  Thus, comparing Modern Times to Ancient Times, can we really say that we are better off than our ancestors were, when it comes to human social, relational, community, dynamics?

Religion/Faith teaches us that there can be no final actual peace, justice, and righteousness on earth without God’s intervention.  It teaches us that the core of human nature itself is in need of renewal.  As Jesus put it, “Good fruit can not come out of a bad tree.”   What humanity needs is spiritual transformation and enlightenment—not just in a small handful of special saints, but in humanity as a whole.  Otherwise, we are killing ourselves and the planet along with us.  There is no getting around this fact.  Staying in denial about this truth simply perpetuates the problem and makes the point more poignant.

Of course it is true that religion and faith itself can be part of the problem.  But that’s because religious faith can easily be twisted and manipulated, used and abused like any other human social/political institution.  There is a difference between shallow, naïve, foolish, unrealistic, and superstitious faith or even good faith misapplied that results in oppressive, mean-spirited, and cruel acts against others compared to truly enlightened faith that leads to spiritual awakening, resulting in wisdom, love, and peaceful constructive behavior and attitudes towards others.

“Watch out for false prophets.  They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.  By their fruit you will recognize them.  Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?  Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.  A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.  Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.” – Jesus (Matthew 7:15-20)

Monday, June 8, 2015

The Downside of Instant Gratification

How many years does it take to become a certified medical doctor or a state licensed attorney or a master in the martial arts or a leader in any profession or field of expertise?  Years!  It’s so obvious it barely needs mentioning; or does it?

Any great achievement or longed-for success with its accompanied reward(s) requires time, dedication, commitment, and hard work, with long hours of study, training, and practice.  Few worthwhile accomplishments or rewards are ever obtained overnight.  And if they are, they are seldom beneficial to the recipient in the long run.

Yet we are a society of instant gratification and immediate satisfaction: Buy now, pay later.  Play the stock market so as to get immediate payback with your investment.  Lose weight now, just take a pill.  Take short-cuts, avoid the wait; get short-term results now, instant satisfaction!

It is bad enough for individuals to only focus on short-term goals and immediate payback.  It is very bad however, when such attitudes and priorities affect a whole nation’s institutions and industries, such as our banking system or educational institutions and government programs.

For example, consider that most universities now offer fast-track MBA’s and other fast-track degree-completion programs.  Fast-Track!  It’s as if the time element in the educational/learning process is a minor factor that can be easily side-stepped or dismissed from the educational equation for mastering an academic subject.  Yet, how can a student really “master” the subject of “Business Administration” in a one year fast-track MBA master’s program, taking classes only one night a week or on designated weekends, while continuing to carry on other responsibilities as usual—family life, normal work hours, and other obligations and interests?  It’s unreal, i.e., unrealistic, to say the least.  Yet this is how such programs are often promoted.  I’d say that many universities (especially for-profit universities) are no longer in the business of education, knowledge and learning; they are degree factories, selling degrees for profit.  Might as well go buy a degree on-online and sidestep the educational/learning process altogether!  (I have heard that there is indeed a lucrative online black-market for such degrees.)

Nevertheless, the good things in life, including quality, seldom come instantly.  This is in stark contrast to our desire for instant gratification and immediate satisfaction.  Many people fail to obtain more out of life precisely for that reason: They want something, may even start-off with much fanfare and excitement in obtaining it, but when they find out that it takes dedicated effort, hard work, plus much time and patience to get it, they give-up and move on, telling themselves that it’s just not worth the effort or the wait—and it never is, for those who want immediate gratification.

This is why, as a nation, our infrastructure is wasting away and why we are so eager to “frack” for oil without first carefully analyzing its impact on our water systems and other negative effects it might have on our ecology.  This is why only now, after many years of drought, the State of California has only recently imposed strict limitations on public water usage—in a State where much of its Southern half has a semi-arid desert type climate.  This is why we allowed Wall Street’s banking and investment institutions to grow too big to fail and were then faced with an economic disaster in 2007/8. And this is why we are allowing the rich to continue to get richer at the expense of a shrinking middle-class, not to mention the devastating effects our banking, insurance, and other economic/monetary policies already have on the poor—whom we always blame for their poverty—as if our social/economic system has nothing to do with the condition of poverty in our nation.

We want what we want now!  And we care little about the belated consequences and long-term effects of our self-indulgent “satisfy me now!” lifestyle.

Monday, June 1, 2015

No Stellar Christian Families Exist: Think of the Duggar Family

There is a misconception about Christian families, a false premise, if you will, and that is that the parents and children of a good Christian family do little wrong—that is, have no terribly shameful really bad things to be ashamed of in their lives.

This is why when you display a “good” Christian family on TV such as the Duggar Family (TLC’s show entitled “19 Kids and Counting”), and suddenly discover a scandal in their midst—like a 2006 Police Report revealing that Josh Duggar is alleged to have sexually abused several young girls when he was a teen—there is outrage, accusations of hypocrisy, and denunciation of Christianity itself, or worse.

If what we mean by a “good” Christian family is a family that has no serious faults, no evidence of psycho-social dysfunctionality within or among its members, and no skeletons in its closet, there is no such thing as a good Christian family on the face of this planet earth and never will be.

If, however, we mean to say, by referring to a “good” Christian family, that a family is open and honest about its faults, failures, hang-ups and short-comings—sins, if you will—and seeks to confront member dysfunctions and the error of their ways—be they public or private, psychological or otherwise—in order to work towards healing and wholeness in appropriate and healthy ways, then that is indeed a “good” Christian family.

In other words a truly good Christian family is not one that focuses on appearances but one that faces its fallen and broken reality in a wholesome, honest, and redeeming way.  The painful reality for us humans is that all families deal with dysfunctions and imbalances and/or warped characters of some type—even Christian families or especially Christian families (since Christians should be the first to admit and confess sin and wrongdoing in its midst).

The Christian message has always been that we are not saved because we are good (otherwise we wouldn’t need to be “saved”!).  Rather, we are saved because we are NOT good.  We start on the long journey toward “goodness” by first getting saved—confessing, facing and admitting to our all too human neediness and brokenness, and seeking appropriate social, professional, legal, and spiritual help and guidance toward wholeness—so as to work toward living a healthy non-dysfunctional life.  So, for example, within any “good” Christian family you may find addicts of different kinds: sex addicts, drug addicts, food addicts, etc.  It should come as no surprise that a Christian family has such brokenness and need for healing in its midst.  It is the very reason why a Savior is needed.  “I have come to save the lost,” Jesus says, “It is not the healthy that need a physician but the sick.”  One way to put it is that Jesus is the Higher Power that helps the broken and addicted back on the road to release and recovery.

Somehow, we, both secular society and Christian churches, have turned this principle on its head and have made it seem as if only truly good people can and do become Christians because somehow they are the only ones that have earned the right to receive God’s grace and blessings.   Wrong!!

The Duggar family appeared to be a prime example of a family having earned the right to be called a Christian family and receive God’s blessings and become the poster-child for good Christian family dynamics.  Again, wrong!!

It is only now; now that the dirt is out in the open that the real power of their faith and the real presence of Christ’s Grace in their life can be witnessed.  There is brokenness.  Wrongs have been committed.  Harm has been done.  There is guilt.  So NOW is when a real Savior is needed, even as they face the harsh and hard realities of the social, political, economical, and legal consequences of the wrong that has been done by various Duggar family members.  Now is when they should get to experience the real reason for their need to have faith in Christ as their Lord and Savior.