Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Where Have All the Progressives Gone?

U.S. Catholic bishops are defending their direct involvement in congressional deliberations over health-care reform, saying that church leaders have a duty to raise moral concerns on any issue, including abortion rights and health care for the poor. Do you agree? What role should religious leaders have -- or not have -- in government policymaking?

Despite the fact that I generally disagree with the sentiments of these Catholic bishops, I have to support the fact that they are living out their faith in very tangible ways. Catholics and Conservative Evangelicals have found their voices in the public forum and no one questions whether their faith guides their politics and policies. When it comes to those of us who are faithful and progressive, we struggle to find a way live out and proclaim our faith in the public square. So, with that being said, I think these Catholic bishops are on to something.

When I first entered into seminary, I found it very uncomfortable to introduce myself to strangers. Revealing the fact that I was a young seminarian almost always lead the person I was talking with to assume that I was a conservative fundamental Christian who was ready to start my judgment talk as soon as I was given the opportunity. I would try and find opportunities to illustrate my progressive and open-minded mentality in various and interesting ways, but now I know I was fighting against something bigger than me, I was fighting against the voice of religion that the secular world has come to know and fear.

It’s time for the progressive and faithful to take a stand and reclaim our position in the public square. We need more people to illustrate that faith can lead one to be open-minded and loving. Religion cannot and should not be the deciding factor of public policy, that is the beauty of this country, but, for those of us who are involved with religious groups - we work for them or we ascribe to them - we can allow those basic tenets to guide our lives and the ways we interact with the world.

But we have to be careful as well. As religious leaders, one must understand that our voices are influential to those who are watching. Therefore, reminding members of our faith of the breadth of opinions on issues is important. Unless the issue at hand is one of extreme prophetical nature, we must allow for differing voices to proclaim as well, as long as they proclaim the love of God.

The questions we are dealing with now are surrounding health care and issues of life and death. Maybe we should not be criticizing the Catholic bishops, but rather asking where all the progressive voices are in this deliberation?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

When Discrimination Trumps Mental Health

The Fort Hood shootings have raised questions again about how the military should handle the personal religious beliefs of its soldiers, whether they are evangelical Christians, Muslims, Wiccans, and so on. What is the proper role of religion -- and personal religious belief -- in the U.S. armed forces? Should a particular religious affiliation disqualify someone from active military service? How far should the military go to accommodate personal religious beliefs and practices?

As a Christian woman, I am appalled at the way our country and the media in general is focusing on the religious affiliation of the Ft. Hood assassin. This question, although possibly filled with good intentions, is playing into the incredibly hateful and downright sinful nature of religious discrimination. If one claims to be a person of faith, one cannot point the finger at the religion of many for the mistake of one, that in the Christian world negates the love and compassion of Jesus.

This should not be the question that we are asking ourselves immediately following the massacre at Fort Hood because this shows the world how predictable we as a country can be. We should be focusing on the fact that this man was mentally ill and was not screened properly enough to deter him from being deployed, let alone a licensed psychiatric doctor.

There are more than 3500 Muslims who are serving our country in the armed forces. These people are truly necessary and deserve so much more respect than we have shown them and are continuing to show them following the shooting at Fort Hood.

Major Nidal Malik Hasan has yet to give a clear answer on what his motive was, but his religious affiliation has stolen the show. The U.S. military must come out with a strong stance that says they are not blaming the Islamic faith for this tragedy, which they have not done yet.

Why on earth should numerous Islamic groups across the country feel compelled to distance themselves from this individual? Had he been a Christian, the question of his faith would not even be mentioned, let alone displayed as a headline.

At this rate, this country will soon be screening out committed individuals for the armed services to the point where we only have white, Christian, heterosexual men protecting this diverse land, and frankly, that doesn’t make me feel safe. Instead of wasting our time, energy, and money on talking about limiting the religious diversity in our armed forces, we should look really long and hard at how well our mental health screening process is working. Maj. Hasan was sick, but he was also counseling sick people. Who knows how much damage he could have done beyond the physical destruction he caused this past week.

The shooting at Ft. Hood was obviously a tragedy, one that should not have happened. But instead of pointing the fingers at the scapegoat “other,” it’s time to take a hard look at the religious discrimination that we as a country are allowing to run rampant. Discrimination and hate. Decidedly un-Christian and un-American.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Our Disarmed Forces - Violence at Ft. Hood

A shot rings out. Bullets begin flying. Instinctively, every person in the room hits the floor. They've been here before. They've faced adversaries wielding weapons of every kind. They've seem their comrades fall. The only thing different this time, is that they're at home. They're in a place of comfort. The fear and trauma they've worked so hard to repress and work through has become a reality. There really is no place of refuge in this world, for these people, these soldiers.

The Ft. Hood shootings are a shock to the world that cannot be shocked anymore. We gasped when we heard about Columbine, we sighed when we heard about Virginia Tech, and now we are awe-struck. The very people who risk their lives to protect our country abroad have demonstrated that their lives are at risk even at home. Not just those who died or were injured, but the shooter as well.

The murmurs about the religion of the shooter have begun, but the silence surrounding his mental health will surely become deafening in the weeks to come. How was he allowed to slip throught the cracks? How could a person giving out psychiatric care, a person who received negative evaluations, be allowed to continue practicing, and even further, be allowed to deploy to Afghanistan. Where is the compassion for our soldiers? What are we doing to these brave men and women?

If Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan is in fact Muslim, I urge you to not let that piece of information cloud the real tragedy that we as a country are facing with this slaughter of innocents. His religious affiliation should in no way determine your response to this situation. He was a human being, one who has fallen through the cracks like every other mass murderer. And he has taken his untreated mental illness out on those who would give their lives to protect him.

Our brothers and sisters of the Islamic faith do not deserve any more unjust hatred. I beg, plead, and pray that this situation does not add fuel to that fire.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A Tale of Two Deaths

Proposed health-care reform legislation includes a provision that allows Medicare to pay for "end-of-life" counseling for seniors and their families who request it. The provision -- which Sarah Palin erroneously described as "death panels" for seniors -- nearly derailed President Obama's health-care initiative. Some Republicans still argue that the provision would ration health care for the elderly.

Does end-of-life care prolong life or does it prolong suffering? Should it be a part of health-care reform?

Two women with the exact same diagnosis are brought to the hospital to seek treatment. Both seek the best possible outcome for their illnesses: comfort from the pain. Both women are in their 80s, and both have lead wonderfully full and rich lives. The people around these women understand that this illness will most likely claim their lives.

One woman is counseled by doctor upon doctor about the medical options before her, yet no one seems to be talking about what they all know is coming, the big elephant in the room, death. So, she takes their lead and undergoes painful tests and surgeries that cost thousands and thousands of dollars, only to die a few months later, in a hospital bed, bruised and battered, without ever fully acknowledging her death.

The other woman comes to the hospital and is met with a team of care specialists who discuss the situation in a holistic way, showing her the realities of her illness and the opportunities for growth in these final days. The woman is able to return home and be surrounded by her comforts and her family. She dies having come to terms with her death, comfortably and safely.

Unfortunately, only one of the previous scenarios is the norm in this country, the first one. And even more unfortunate, our Medicare system only pays for the first one unless there is proof that the person is dying, and that proof involves those uncomfortable conversations that most people avoid, those conversations that should be guided by a trained professional in the field of counseling.

We as a society are so terrified of death and dying that we avoid any and all conversations that bring our mortality into the forefront. Case in point, most seniors or terminally ill patients have not explicitly decided their end of life wishes so the responsibility falls on those who love them the most, those who feel they must do everything they can to keep their loved ones alive.

It is common knowledge that the majority of medical costs in a person’s life are accrued during the final months of their life which shows that people are entering into this precious moment without any guidance or support. If we as a country are willing to provide counseling for those who are mentally ill, why are we denying those who are terminally ill from the necessary benefits of counseling?

During an internship at a congregation, I had the opportunity to make the rounds in the hospital as a pastoral chaplain, and the common concern I heard from the people who were ill was “I don’t know what’s happening to me.” This concern is one that involves the spiritual, emotional, and physical well-being of the patient. We must begin to treat people who are nearing their final moments with the dignity they deserve. End of life counseling is a right every person should have so that they can choose how they would like their final days. At this point, we are denying them that choice, and that’s downright terminal.

Copyright 2009 Windy-Wisdom