And Coming...

"She-Bear in the Beautiful Garden" is an allegory for children of all ages, written and illustrated by Ellen Gillette. Order from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or at

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Coming to Terms with Obamacare

I don't like being told what to do. I suppose it's human nature, or perhaps a Western thing. Wherever it came from, it gets reined in appropriately when it comes to God (mostly), traffic laws (mostly), and the Protestant Work Ethic (which, from my observation is not so much Protestant as it is Decent Folk - I mean, the Catholics I know work every bit as hard).

As I have gotten older, I have realized this basic fact: people do what they want to do. They may argue with this if you butt in and say it to their faces, but if they're honest and thoughtful enough, they will eventually have to agree. The first time I had such a thought was many years ago, as a young wife. I was putting away groceries and was angry at my husband. (The reason isn't important, and not just because I don't remember; chances are very good that he had done nothing wrong, just annoying.) Perhaps as a Freudian move, I threw a package of hot dogs across the room in exasperation. Why am I here?! I thought.

And just as quickly, I realized The Truth: I'm here because I want to be here.

Keep that in mind, the next time someone complains about a situation or person. Why stay, then? Because the reasons for staying outweigh the trouble, guilt, cost, etc. of changing jobs, roommates, spouses, residences, etc.

Americans - and I am painting with a very wide brush, I realize - choose the things which control us. We vote for the people who make our laws. We set our alarm clocks to go off at ungodly hours of our own free wills, because we want to keep our jobs or get to the mall for an early bird sale. We follow traffic laws because we don't want to get tickets. We study because we want to get good grades, pass the class, graduate the program. We put ourselves through extreme discomfort in order to finish a race or lose weight or get in shape.

But the title says "Coming to Terms with Obamacare" and so far, I haven't mentioned insurance. I don't like having to get insurance just because the government says I have to. So, as I sat down to log onto the healthcare marketplace, what were my options? I could not get it, and pay a penalty. Or I could get it.  I decided to get it.

So what were my options? I couldn't get it through my husband's work because he said it was too expensive. I looked at the marketplace options, which cost even MORE. Then I remembered that friends had belonged to a Christian organization that operated LIKE insurance - monthly fees, coverage, but had a different philosophy. Would that work?

I looked into it. The idea is like this: you pay a monthly fee that goes directly to someone else's medical bill, so you're helping someone. And not just any person: someone who is a Christian, so...the theory goes...someone who has a healthy, moral lifestyle. When I looked at the application, however, I balked. I was supposed to promise, close my eyes and hope to die, that I live according to the New Testament.

Talk about a broad brush.

Throw seven Christians together (please - not literally) and you'll get seven interpretations of what a "New Testament" lifestyle looks like. For some, it means no drinking. For others, drinking in moderation. For others, getting plastered as long as you're doing it at home where no one will see you. And let's not even talk about sex...there are probably a few people who think anything but the missionary position is a sin, even if you're married, monogamous, and straight.

I didn't like the idea of the government telling me to get insurance, and now I didn't like the idea of an insurance company (yes, it qualified for Obamacare) telling me what constituted a New Testament lifestyle. Because frankly, I don't even live MY idea of what that means. Not every minute of the day and night. And that's what I would be saying, if I clicked the appropriate box. (There wasn't a "some of
the time" option anywhere I saw. I looked, much the same way I've always looked for loopholes in what my parents told me to do, school rules, employee requirements, etc.)

So I was back to more traditional insurance coverage (as in "more expensive") and my nephew Jason helped me out. He found a plan that is astronomical to someone who doesn't spend much on health care annually (currently, me), but makes me legal. Since I only work part-time, I am now, pretty much, working to pay for my insurance, which galls the shit out of me (not a New Testament-approved word, there, which renders me non-New Testament-compliant at the moment and thus, from an honesty standpoint, ineligible for the Christian pseudo-insurance that costs less).

But as I have pondered, and read liberal Facebook posts, it strikes me that Obamacare and the Christian organization are doing basically the same thing: paying the bills of other people who need help. It's just that with the latter, you're paying for the needs of "nice" people, "good" people, "Christian" people. And with Obamacare, you're just helping the poor.

Sort of like what Jesus did. Ouch.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Venting a Bit about a Bible Study

Several weeks ago I went to a Bible study. There was a kids' group at the same church was going on which ended before the Bible study, so I had to leave early. And it's probably a good thing I did, because I might have been compelled to interrupt, or pose a question that would have stepped on - from what I could tell - the toes of just about everyone who had been vocal.

The minister decided to tackle homosexuality. Looking at the materials that were handed out for reference I wasn't sure which direction he was headed. I wanted to keep an open mind, hoping that I would hear a refreshingly compassionate message.

Not so much.

I became increasingly uncomfortable, thinking of friends who are gay or have family members who are gay, who would be so hurt by what was being said. The thought that I couldn't, in good conscience, invite them to attend that particular church with me made me feel sad.

Understand, the verses being quoted were accurate. It was just that only certain verses were quoted. Which is, of course, the way any message goes. You can't quote the entire Bible or you'd be there all day and night. And I think that only when the entirety of scripture is considered, do some things start to make sense. It's just quicker, and easier, and more painless (for those speaking, usually) to use an abbreviated approach.

Later,  I emailed the minister and let him  know my thoughts. He responded quickly, and said that by the end of the Bible study (remember, I had left a little early), they had gotten around to the "all sin is sin" which was supposed to take the edge off the judgement and condemnation that had come up previously. And it's true. All sin IS sin. But I would bet money, if I were a betting woman, that the majority of the folks sitting in that church that night had one list of their own fairly mild and even reasonable sins, and the far worst sins that everyone else commits.

The Greek word we translate as sin is a word picture. "Hamartia" is actually one of several words translated "sin" but it is the main one. It means missing the mark. The bull's eye of a target represents the holiness and perfection of God. We constantly miss the mark - no matter how close we come, we are never spot on. We might be way out on the edge of the target. We may be a centimeter from the black bull's eye. Or if you're like me, the arrow is off in the woods somewhere and it takes the better part of the day to even find it.

The point is, we are all sinners. Humans are born into sin. My husband used to get a rise out of my mom when he would look at his newborn son and say, "Repent!" He was joking, but not theologically. We are born in the likeness of our father Adam, with a sinful nature. When we are born AGAIN, accepting the forgiveness and sanctification of Jesus Christ, we become saints. We have all the power of the Holy Spirit within us to avoid sin, something we didn't possess prior to that. Before sanctification and spiritual regeneration, we can try really, really hard to do better and often are able to accomplish wonders through sheer will power, but we still have, at our core, a sinful heart. After....the power is there to say no to sin. And yet we do not. We may continue to entertain "little" sins, or may struggle with "big" sins, but continue and struggle we do.

The problem with a lot of Christians, as I observe and read, is that we are fine with this state of affairs so long as we focus, at church, in the news, on Facebook, on all the sins with which we don't have a particular struggle.

If I'm skinny (I am not) then I point my bony finger at the sin of obesity. If I'm a teetotaller (I am not) then all alcohol consumption is reprehensible. If I'm straight (which I am) then lsurely I must attack those who are not.

This may come as a surprise to some of you, but a Christian can lie, be unfaithful to his or her spouse, cuss someone out, steal things from his place of employment, discipline a child in anger, ignore someone in need, be a glutton, be proud of not being a glutton, worry - all sins. There were probably some on the list that struck closer to home for you than others.

But back to that Bible study.

I love sex. I'm so thankful God created the sexual relationship for men and women. I happen to be attracted to men, and both enjoy and appreciate the wisdom and wonders of monogamy, so that worked out very nicely for me. But I know others who knew, from a very early age, that they were attracted to the same sex. I know men (and women) who have monogamous, committed, long-term relationships that make many of the heterosexual, Church-sanctioned unions I've observed look bland and loveless....which they are. Which honor God more? Committed, loving same-sex unions that are villified by many in the church, or white-knuckled, angry, abusive marriages between men and women but do nothing to honor the perfect picture of Christ and the Church...which biblically, marriage is to be.

Granted, I used to be very black and white, very cut and dried, very...self-righteous. I knew the Truth. But when Saint John has the gumption to say that if everything Jesus did or said was written down, the whole world couldn't contain the books...John 21:25...then it makes sense to me that Jesus may have had some things to say about things we don't understand completely.

I don't understand the whole gay thing. At first glance, it's pretty clear that male parts fit nicely into female parts. Male parts don't fit as well into male parts. Female parts are missing some key ingredients. Adjustments are made that apparently make it all work, and that's, frankly, neither something I'm interested in nor something that is any of my business. And too, if it's just a matter of parts, what is all the hoopla about anyway?

Because it's not about parts at all. It's about PEOPLE. People who have feelings, and emotions, and dreams, and valid expectations for how they are treated by people who claim to follow Jesus Christ.

I recently had a gay man tell me they don't understand the whole gay thing either - they just knew, and chose to be true to who they were.

I think that many Christians, especially heterosexual Christians, haven't taken the time to get to know any homosexual folks, and so they are lacking an important frame of reference. You can't argue with experience. You can believe speaking in tongues is of the devil, for example, but if you get to know someone who actually DOES speak in tongues, and you discover that you trust their character completely, then've got something askew in your thinking. Same here. If you meet gay couples, see their genuine devotion to each other, see their kindness - it's not so easy to hold a sign somewhere with barbaric words like "God Hates Gays."

He doesn't. If he does...if he hates those who miss the mark, who are guilty of breaking his holy Law...if God is not really love, as it says in 1 John 4, then we are ALL in trouble. What the gays are up to in the media and politics should be the least of our worries.

I think what bothered me the most about the Bible study I attended was the use of Sodom and Gomorrah, but only Genesis 19. Hello? Sodom comes up again in Ezekiel:

"'Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy." (Ezekiel 16:49)

I  heard muttered comments in addition to what was being presented in the materials. I heard some extremely arrogant overtones. I saw plenty of folks who were overfed. The church does help the poor and needy, but they were behaving that night, anyway, as being unconcerned over the 8,000,000 gay people in the United States.

Truth is truth is truth. But where we go astray, in my opinion, is believing that the slim leather volume with Holy Bible imprinted on it is the whole of God's wisdom.

Years ago, a man spoke about a dream or a vision he'd had in which he was taken to heaven, taken to a huge tall room that was filled, top to bottom, with books. All the wisdom of the universe was contained there. The angel, or whoever his guide was, went over to a shelf and pulled out a small book. It was the Bible. Precious, yes. Truth, yes. But how arrogant and ridiculous for us to suppose that ALL of God's wonders and wisdom could possibly be condensed into its pages??

Frankly, I have enough trouble just trying to live according to the Bible we do have- I'm pretty glad we don't have a whole Encyclopedia to follow. But I think we need to exercise a bit of humility too.

It reminds me of the Jodie Foster movie, Contact. Her character says this to a group of children:
 I'll tell you one thing about the universe, though. The universe is a pretty big place. It's bigger than anything anyone has ever dreamed of before. So if it's just us... seems like an awful waste of space. Right?

I can't possibly understand the universe...universeS, plural. It is impossible for me to know if life exists
in other forms elsewhere, or in the same form elsewhere. I know less than less about ANYTHING. I believe the Bible is true. I believe that love is true. I believe that Jesus died to open the way back to God for a sinner named Ellen Gillette, and every other person on the planet. I believe that what I don't know is a lot, but that I am called to love and kindness, to love my brothers and sisters - which NEVER, in the Bible, has something tacked on like "unlike they're gay...or another race....or poor...or stupid...or ugly...or unloveable...or of another political persuasion...or believe differently.

Since we know so little, isn't it possible that the Church should err on the side of love and compassion and let God sort out the particulars in his own way and time, rather than attack the particulars and leave people bleeding and dying by the roadside of our self-righteousness?