Monday, June 23, 2014

Health Care Inequity

Some of you may remember the story of when I spent two years in Philadelphia and worked in a job I loved but which had no benefits.  No sick leave, no vacation, no health care.  I was also profoundly depressed during that time. So I  informed everyone around me that if I was sick or injured, they were not to take me to the hospital  I preferred to die rather than to rack up medical bills that I could never pay. Fortunately, I had no such illness or injury.
Now I have a job with health insurance.  One condition of that insurance is that we must get annual physicals.  This year, it also required that we get glucose and cholesterol tests. I’ve been keeping the statements about what it would have cost me as an uninsured person versus what I’ve had to pay.  I can’t make a table on Blogspot, but I hope you can see the numbers.

Date                                      Amt Billed             Amt I Owe          Service
April 25                                 $126.00                $0                           glucose/cholesterol tests
June 3                                   $315.00                 $0                           shingles vaccination
June 3                                   $206.00                 $0                           annual physical exam
June 3                                   $6.00                     $0                           some sort of diagnostic lab

This is not fair!  Because I have the good fortune now to be in a job with health insurance, I received $653 in medical services over a five week period, for which I haven’t paid one penny.  But if I were unemployed or working in a job without health insurance, I would owe $653 to my doctor.  Need I tell you how much $653 means to an uninsured person in a low paying job??
And it’s going to get worse.  My mammogram showed “something suspicious” earlier this month, so I had a 2nd mammogram and an ultrasound.  I’ll let you know how those numbers appear.
It makes my head spin that the “Christianists” on the right wing of the political spectrum oppose the expansion of health care. Those people supposedly follow Jesus Christ, who healed the sick. But they have no compassion toward those whom Jesus healed.  And, frankly, it disappoints me that President Obama and the Democrats caved on the Affordable Care Act.  It is patently unjust that those who are least able to afford health care get charged more than I do.  And, finally, I reserve my utter contempt for the Republican oligarchy in the Missouri Legislature, who refused to extend Medicare to the least and most desperate of our citizens … while most of them claim their “Christian” credentials.  Shame on them. A pox upon them.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

My Introduction to the United Thank Offering

This will appear in my parish newsletter on June 1st, but I decided to share it here.
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My Introduction to the United Thank Offering
In late 1998, I packed up my worldly goods from my Atlanta home and drove a moving truck to Philadelphia.  Not because I had a great job opportunity, but because I had friends who had given me a safety net.  Financial ignorance had wrecked my world.  I was broke, and I would have been homeless if not for those friends who found me a place to live “free” in exchange for labor.
During that time, the Episcopal Church found me, as one of my friends was a parish priest there.  I – who hadn’t darkened the doors of a church in two decades – began attending church regularly. Before long, someone gave me one of the little coin boxes from the United Thank Offering [UTO].
I took it to my tiny room, and an odd thing started happening.  While deeply grieving my great fall, I started noticing little blessings in my life.  And I began to drop coins into that box every evening when I had coins, along with some little prayer for a blessing that the day had brought.  
I didn’t realize it at the time, but that little coin box was a powerful force in teaching me the habit of gratitude.  I had been spared the horror of homelessness.  The little UTO box became the way I could give thanks with a penny or dime or nickel or (occasionally) a quarter.  And every one of those coins was bathed in a prayer of thanksgiving.  I wasn’t homeless.  I wasn’t living in my car.  I had found a faith community to support me.  I had found a place that would accept me and my two cats.  I was safe, and I was warm in that cold winter.  I saw many other people in Philadelphia sleeping on subway grates; at least I had a warm room in a house. 
Over the next few months, the Grace Stewardship Team is going to write about UTO and its “Little Blue Boxes,” into which we are invited to drop coins and say prayers of thanksgiving. We will distribute those boxes in June and explain more about what the UTO supports.
The UTO is neither a fundraiser nor a stewardship campaign, and none of the coins received will remain at Grace.  The UTO and its “Blue Boxes” invite us to give thanks to God every day for the blessings we receive.  At its base, it is an invitation to a spiritual discipline of gratitude.  

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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Those Darn Protestants ... a.k.a. Rushing the Liturgical Season Along

When people ask me if I'm Catholic or Protestant around here, I can't answer. As an Episcopalian, I think I am much more Catholic than Protestant. 

Case in point: Here we are in Tuesday in Holy Week.  I went to get the sacrament of St. Arbuck's today, and this is what I saw on the gigantic billboard of a local Southern Baptist Church: 


I kid you not.  We haven't even reached Good Friday, but those dang Baptists are Jumping the Shark over all of Holy Week, straight to the resurrection.  

I am gobsmacked. 

Fundamentalists generally slobber and waller all over the cross.  But not this one.  They're just jumping straight to Easter ... 5 days early.  What the heck's up with that?  

Frankly, I think it's a cheap Christianity that fails to spend time in this Holy Week,  spending time with Jesus through Good Friday ... and then imagining what his followers must have felt through Friday and Saturday. I think we must let our imaginations dwell deeply with it all before we come to Sunday.  That's what I'm doing this Holy Week.  Walking with Jesus.  

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Sunday, April 13, 2014

Another Palm Sunday

I’ve been in The Episcopal Church since it found and rescued me in 1996.  And I have never been comfortable with this Sunday. Some call it Palm Sunday.  Some call it Passion Sunday.  For me, it is always a Sunday of deep grief and mixed emotions. 

I love our liturgy and our lectionary!  I really do.  But this day – called “Palm Sunday” or “Passion Sunday” depending on where you are – just tears me up. We start with the marvelous procession with palms and hosannas out on the street.  Then in the long reading of the Gospel, we crucify him again. 

I always have liturgical whiplash at the end of this Sunday’s service.  Today was no different. 

I’m reminded of these lines from Richard Wilbur’s poem
It takes a sky-blue juggler with five red balls
To shake our gravity up.
And surely this young man from Galilee has shaken up our gravity.  He has turned the Torah upside down.  He has brought the outsiders inside.   He has brought promise of a whole new reign of justice and caritas

And this week we’ll go liturgically through his death. Again. Yet again. Just like we do every Holy Week.   Year after year after year. 

Today, as all our parishioners gathered on the sidewalk outside our little parish, with palm fronds in hand … and then processed into the church singing “All glory, laud, and honor,” it was difficult for me to join in the joyful chorus.  Because I knew where the Gospel reading was going to take us.  Where it takes us every year. It was going to take us to a man abandoned by his closest friends.  To a man crying, “My God, why have you forsaken me?”  To a man dying a horrible death. 

We go through this cycle every year.  Advent.  Christmas. Epiphany.  Lent.  Holy Week.  And it’s always the same.  We wind up killing this sky-blue juggler who shakes up our gravity.  The weight of it today was almost more than I could bear …  as the liturgy moved from “All glory, laud and honor” to “O sacred head, sore wounded, defiled and put to scorn.” 

And so I wept through too much of today’s service. 

When will quit killing the sky-blue juggler who shakes up our gravity? 

Lord, have mercy. 

Monday, October 21, 2013

Why Should We Send Alternates to General Convention?

According to the Canons of the Episcopal Church, each diocese elects 4 clergy Deputies and 4 lay Deputies to serve at General Convention [GC], and up to four Alternate Deputies in each order.  In most dioceses, the diocese pays for the eight clergy and lay Deputies to attend GC.  Most (but not all) dioceses also pay for the 1st Alternate Deputy in each order to attend Convention. 
Attendance at General Convention is very expensive.  It typically lasts about 10 days or so.  There are significant transportation costs.  Hotels typically charge over $100 per night.  And meal/per-diem costs rack up over the days of GC -- $61 per day in Salt Lake City/2015 according to the current GSA rates.  That means each Alternate Deputy will “cost” the diocese about $160 per day to attend GC, plus transportation. 
I have heard one dominant reason for sending the 1st Alternate Deputy in each order: That they might step in to take the place of a Deputy who cannot serve in one session, or in case a Deputy becomes ill or injured.  …  And, yes, most Deputations also step aside so that their Alternates can have some time on the floor of GC. …  Mostly, the arguments I’ve heard for sending Alternates to GC is so they can step in if need be.
But funds are tight, and some dioceses are questioning the need to spend that much money to send their 1st lay and clergy Alternate Deputies to General Convention.
At least one Bishop has phrased it this way: “When I sit in the House of Bishops, there is no one to stand in as my substitute.  If I cannot spend a moment or an hour or a day, there is no one to stand in for me. Why should we pay to bring to Alternate Deputies to spend some 10 days at GC just in case they are needed?”  I can understand that reasoning, in this time of tight budgets.  That bishop was arguing from a National League baseball perspective:  S/he has no “designated hitter” to run to the HoB floor in his/her place.   
Since I began closely following GC in 2003, my only rationale for sending/supporting our clergy and lay Alternates had been my understanding of something like that “designated hitter ruler.”  I thought we needed a substitute, in case one of the Deputies was indisposed for an hour or a day or more.
Today, I realized there’s another reason – which probably doesn’t occur to many bishops.  It’s leadership development ... or call it "continuity planning." 
When a bishop is elected, s/he has all sorts of training and mentoring.  By the time a new Bishop gets to General Convention, s/he probably has established a network of colleagues.  But it is not so with GC Deputies.  The only way to learn how to serve as a Deputy is to serve as a Deputy.  Bringing eight Deputies, plus two Alternates, gives us two more people who can observe the workings of GC and participate in the governance of our church.  It’s training.  It’s leadership development.  It’s continuity planning. It is not merely having a “designated hitter” in the dugout in case someone wants a little break.  Bishops get years and years to serve in the House of Bishops.  But in the House of Deputies, we have to develop our own leadership.  And bringing Alternate Deputies, I come to see, is one of the significant ways we can do that. 
That’s my insight du jour.  Bishops get careful mentoring and many GCs in which to develop their skills, relationships, and understanding.  Bringing Alternate Deputies to GC is a way to help develop skills, leadership, and relationships among the rest of the clergy and laity.  It’s a way to empower the rest of us to see the bigger picture. 
Next time I hear of a Bishop arguing against bringing the 1st Alternates to General Convention, I’m going to push back for new reasons.  And I’m going to push back hard

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Sunday, October 06, 2013

Stewardship Statement Today

I’m a member of my parish’s Stewardship Team.  We are no longer just about the “annual pledge drive.”  We have a year-round mission of helping to educate, inform, and inspire the parish to contemplate and live out stewardship in all its manifestations.  We lead book and movie discussions.  We host special events.  We try to keep “stewardship” in the forefront of our parish awareness throughout the year.

But this is October – the month when most Episcopal parishes do their “pledge drive.”

In the past 3 or 4 years, we did a combined “pledge drive,” asking people to pledge their money, time, and talents.  This year, we decided to let October be about financial support of the parish.  (We’ll tackle time and talent in early 2014.)  After much discussion, we decided to talk about money this month.   You know how Christians – and Episcopalians – don’t want to talk about money.  It’s considered gauche.  Most of us were raised with the mantra that – in polite society – we do not discuss politics, sex, religion, or money.  But Jesus and the Gospel writers talked more about money than about almost any other topic. Our Stewardship Committee decided we’d dare to touch that “fourth rail”; we decided to talk quite explicitly about money this month.

Each October Sunday during the “announcements” period at the 8:00 and 10:30 services, one of us Stewardship Team members will stand up and talk about Church and money.  We are to share something from our personal experience.  Today was the first of those Sundays, and I was first up at the 10:30 service.   I went to the lectern with four small note cards with “bullet points” on them.  In case any of you want to know, I’m going to try here to write what I tried to say today from that lectern.

Hello, I’m Lisa Fox, and I’m a member of our Stewardship Team. 

As I was preparing to talk with you today, it struck me that this is a significant anniversary for me. Fifteen years ago this weekend, on Friday night, I drove my moving van to Jefferson City.  I spent Saturday unpacking as much as I could. Then Sunday, I walked into this church for the first time.  From that first Sunday, you made me feel at home. I wrote my first offering check that day. And I have never quit giving my money to this parish since then. 

There’s an old saw that “polite” people don’t talk about sex, politics, religion, or money.  But our Stewardship Team has made a very conscious decision to talk about money this year.  And so I shall.

A few moments ago, we heard the children’s choir introit.  They sang almost everything we need to hear as they sang, “I am the Church. You are the Church.  We are the Church together.” 

But I want to share a few thoughts with you anyway.

I want to tell you why I tithe to Grace.  By the way, I am a little nervous saying that I tithe.  I don’t want it to sound like I’m bragging.  But we hear others talk about their spiritual disciplines. For example, some people mention that they pray the Daily Office.  Why shouldn’t I also say that tithing is part of my spiritual discipline?

Here are three reasons why I tithe.

First, I tithe in gratitude for what God has done and is still doing in my life.  Our priest reminds us that the definition of “Eucharist” is “thanksgiving.” I tithe because God has blessed and redeemed me more than I ever deserved.

Second, I tithe in gratitude for what this parish is doing and has done for me, and in gratitude for what it’s doing for other parishioners. I expect most of you, too, have been blessed by the ministry of our members.

Third, I tithe in gratitude for and solidarity with Grace’s mission outreach to the wider community and for what that lets us share with the Diocese and the wider Episcopal Church. 

Last year, I was pleased that I finally pledged 10% of my income to this parish.  But then something happened.  As several of you know, my paid-off car was totaled while I safely at home in June. I had to buy a new-to-me car.  I had counted the cost and thought I knew what I could afford.  But the payments came up a bit higher than I expected.  When the first payment came due – God help me, I confess – I immediately thought, “I cannot afford this.  I have to make room in my budget.  I guess I’ll have to reduce my pledge to the Church.”

And then a big head-slap came out to me – maybe from the Holy Spirit, or maybe from within my own spirit. 

I was reminded of what I have so often heard: “A budget is a moral document.”  I believe that.  I have a budget.  And I thought of all the items I have in that budget, including my Internet connection, my cell phone charges, my eating-out budget, and my larger-than-it-should-be Starbucks budget.  What in the world made me think that I should look first to reduce my pledge to Grace Church and the mission of the Church?? 

Fortunately, that big ol’ head-slap quickly brought me to my senses.  I had made a promise to God and to this parish.  How dare I first think about reducing my parish pledge?  Why in the world would that strike me as the first possible cut? I realized I could cut back on other things to take up the slack. 

Everything I have – including this new-to-me 2007 car – is a gift from God.  And God has asked me to give the “first fruits” back to the church.  God “whopped me up-side o’ my head” about my priorities.  This parish is one of the things I treasure most in my life.  My treasure should be where my heart is.  And TEC and this parish matter more to me than my new-to-me car. 

I hope you will join me this month in discernment about what God has given you and what you value about this parish.  And please join me in discernment about what we should give back to God in gratitude for the gifts we have been given.

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Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Affordable Health Care Act … And Other Matters

Plenty of other people are qualified to talk about the legislation and economics and public policy implications of what even President Obama now calls “Obamacare.”  I’m not going to talk about it on such lofty terms.  I’m just going to tell my story.

Back in the 1980s-90s, I had a great salary in a marvelous job with generous, employer-sponsored health insurance.   
But I quit my job in 1996 due to “irreconcilable differences” with management.  I had a pretty good living as a trainer/consultant in my field.  What I did not have was health insurance, after the 12 months of COBRA coverage expired. 
At that point, I was in my early 40s.  But I knew that accidents could occur.  Health issues could emerge.  And I was in a state of depression, for various reasons.
I had a fear that I might have an accident or medical trauma.  I told all my friends that they were not to call 9-1-1 nor to take me to an emergency room if I were ill or injured.  I carried a card in my wallet that said the same. They were to let me die.  That was my preference.  If I was bleeding to death or having a heart attack, they were to let me die.
Why?  Partly, because I didn’t much care then whether I lived or died … and slightly preferred to die.  But I had also decided that I would not incur the debts that would come if I were given emergency treatment and the huge medical bills that would entail.  Without insurance, I knew, I could not afford to pay the hospital bills … and I didn’t want to owe my soul to a Philadelphia hospital.  My preference was to die without medical care rather than be hounded by hospital bills for years.
Today, I have health insurance again through my employer. But I will never forget how I felt in those years when I lacked any insurance and decided death would be preferable to huge medical bills.
I am furious as I watch Congress play with the Affordable Health Care Act.  Do they not realize that lives are at stake?  What makes me most angry:  The legislators who most loudly claim to be “Christian” or “evangelical” seem most opposed to the Affordable Health Care Act.  What must they do to (a) take their voting positions and (b) tear whole sections out of the Bible? 
Jesus healed the sick.  He didn’t require an insurance card.  He didn’t ask if they were worthy.  He didn’t ask if their dad was a meth-dealer or if their mother was a whore.  He didn’t ask if they had a GED.  He didn’t parse the worthy from the “unworthy.”  He healed them all. ALL!!
Legislators in Missouri and in the U.S. Congress:  Many of you claim to be Christians. So let’s see some Christ-like behavior from you! And many of you claim this is a Christian nation.  So let’s see some Christian legislation.  Feed the hungry.  Heal the sick.  Give the laborer a living wage.  You beat your chests, saying you are Good Christians.  Let’s see you act as Jesus Christ acted.   

Monday, August 05, 2013

"No One Needed Me There"

This evening I had occasion to talk with a former Grace parishioner who moved away for a new job.  She talked about her search for a new "church home" in her new city.  She went to a large parish that looked like a good match, and she went there for several weeks.  But she didn't stay.  She went to a smaller, struggling parish.  I had thought the first parish might be a good "fit" for her, so I asked, "Why didn't you stay?"  She responded, "I felt no one needed me there."  

I know the Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church is doing big-sky stuff for our church writ large.  But I find myself haunted by this friend's observation. 

When visitors come to our parishes, what are we doing to welcome them?  My parish has been working on this. 

But what about those visitors who come for several Sundays, so that it looks like they might stay around?  Are we giving them something to do?  Or do we convey a message that we're doing quite fine and "we don't need them here"?  

My friend's observation hit me between the eyes.  I think we generally do a good job of welcoming folks in my parish.  But in this age, where going to church is not socially expected, maybe we should think that newcomers want to be given a chore and put to work?  I know that's how it worked for me when I moved into this small town.  After a few weeks of inviting me to join them for after-church breakfast, they nudged me into "tasks" around the parish, and I loved working with and (thus) getting to know more people, while serving Christ. 

Are we being too gentle with our visitors, who might want to be put to work?  Maybe it's a "Mary and Martha" thing.  But I know it was the "being needed" and "being put to work" that solidified my place in my parish before I had been here very long. 

I wonder . . . 

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Ministry of Denim Meets Ministry of Pearls

I wrote here about why I choose to wear jeans or shorts to church, instead of “dress-up” clothes. Today was a new riff on that old theme.
Today was a remarkably cool day for August.  So I wore jeans and my bright red Episcopal Campus Ministry t-shirt.
And I was to serve as usher.
Now, the way “being usher” works in my parish is this:  Ushers have a role in greeting, liturgy, and safety.  We greet folks in the narthex and distribute the service leaflet.  Two ushers carry the oblations [bread and wine] forward, receive and pass the offering plates during the offertory.  During communion, two ushers guide folks forward to the altar rail.  Here, we recently designed the church space so that the nursery is visible across the narthex from the back of the nave.  When I’m usher, I stand at the back of the nave through the whole service, so I have a view of the front door, narthex, and nursery.  (You can read more about why here.)
Ushering is a two-person responsibility, since it requires two folks to bring the oblations, pass the offering plates, and direct folks forward during communion.  Sometimes a married/partnered person is assigned to be usher, in which case s/he has a ready-made partner.  If you’re a single person (as I am), you pick someone to work with you as usher. 
So there I was today, in my jeans and t-shirt, and needing someone else to help me.  I nabbed my friend Jeanie Bryant when I saw her arrive, partly because she truly does it “decently and in order,” with a beautiful sense of reverence.  But I also chose her because her dress is the direct antithesis of mine: She’s always dressed beautifully: dress, heels, hose, pearls or other accessories. 
After the service, some friends commented on what an “odd couple” she and I made – she in her lovely dress and pearls and me in my jeans and t-shirt.  My response: “If we want to claim to welcome everyone, we need to make that visible.” 

This summer, we’ve had an unusual number of visitors in our parish.  I hope folks today saw that they truly can “come as you are.”  

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

A Retrieval … and Maybe a Miracle

I’ve been posting most of my post-car-wreck accidents on Facebook.  I have made them “public,” so that everyone can see them, even folks who are not on FB. Let me know if you need a link. 

Today, I got the info from the insurance adjuster.  He pronounced the car a "total loss."  Since he was finished with my car, I planned to go out to the Broadway Wrecker lot after work to see if I could get the rest of my stuff out of the wrecked trunk of my Taurus.  I did, and it was successful. 

At first, I drove into their property and drove around the lot, looking for the Taurus.  I didn't see it there.  But, OMG! what horrific crashed vehicles I did see.  It breaks the heart.  I couldn't help but wonder, looking at some of them, if anyone had gotten out alive.  Talk about a reality check and a recalibration of my perspective!

An employee flagged me down, and directed me to their huge indoor garage/storage space.  The Taurus was in there.  In fact, the guy who immediately took me in hand was Fred. I didn't recognize him at first, but he remembered me, because he was one of the two wrecker drivers Sunday night.  He knew the Taurus and I went together.  

But that's not the miracle.  

He said the other folks – the ones who killed my car – had their vehicle towed out earlier today.  It's not quite totaled, but darn near it, according to Fred.  Turns out, the car didn't belong to the driver-dude, but to his girlfriend.  Fred thinks it's likely that she does have insurance.  That would be a good thing. 

But that's not the miracle. 

My back seats fold down, so I knew (or hoped) I could access the trunk that way.  As I crawled into the backseat to retrieve the trunk contents, I saw Fred get a screwdriver and start to remove the license plates.  [He gave them to me, BTW.  I didn't realize I "owned" the license plates.]  Then I noticed he was at the back of the car, trying to get the trunk to open from the rear to give me easier access. And that's all I thought he was doing. 

And here comes my personal little miracle. 

When Fred couldn't open the trunk, I was vaguely aware, he started prying at some of the trunk edges.  So when I crawled out of the back seat after emptying the trunk, with my knees and arms abraded by safety glass, there he stood, looking down at the thing he had placed on the floor.  Shaking his head, he said, "I can't believe this thing survived! It looks almost untouched." 

Have you guessed it yet?  

It was the bicycle carrier!  You may have seen the accident photos, and how it looked like the carrier was bent beyond recognition. But sitting there on the garage floor, it looked completely intact and seemed to be square. One just does not weep in the presence of a friendly curmudgeon or plant a big ol' hug on him, but I did my best to express my gratitude to Fred. As I told Fred, I had not even planned to look at it -- much less to touch it.  [I ddn't tell him how deeply I grieved its loss.]  What I saw Sunday night told me it was a goner.  I guess Fred thought otherwise.  I don't know why he decided to see whether it was salvageable, but I sure am glad he did.  

This is how the bicycle carrier looked Sunday night. I assumed it was a goner -- wrecked beyond all hope.
Some of you may be aware that this bicycle carrier (and the bicycle which was safely in the house) were gifts from my dear friend, Marc Smith, who is now a priest in St. Louis. If so, you may know how much the bicycle carrier and bicycle matter to me, because of their connections with my friend Marc.  Of course, I'll need to take the carrier to my cycle guy to help me assess it, but I'm quite hopeful at the moment.  It's weird that the potential recovery of the rack moves me with joy even more than the loss of the car moves me with loss. I've blathered on a long time here, but I hope maybe you will understand. 

This is a potent reminder to me that, in the midst of this shock and disruption of my wrecked car, I continue to experience many blessings. 

When this is all settled and I have a weekend day to cook, I'm going to make a bit ol' batch of cookies for Fred and the guys at Broadway Wrecker.  They were marvelous here Sunday at the scene of the accident.  Since I can't give Fred a big ol' hug, I guess cookies will be the next best thing I can appropriately do.  Don't ya think?