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Archive for March, 2010

In the midst of increased troop levels in Afghanistan, a freeze on domestic spending but not on military spending, a delay in closing down Guantanamo, and at times over-compromising on what seems like everything, I have at times been disappointed by the Obama administration. However, last nigh with the passing of health care reform, I remember why I voted for Obama and worked on his campaign. It was hope for a change in a system that has come to be more and more favorable to the rich and powerful and more hostile to the sick and poor. This was the reason Obama was elected and why his message was so powerful, because it was a true change in the society. After last night’s decision, I realize that the Saturday day canvassing and weeknight phone banking for the Obama campaign I did back in the winter of 2008 in South Carolina was well worth it. It was not done for a certain man, it was done for a cause, an idea. In fact, I think this why most people were working on the campaign-not for Obama, but for the cause of peace and justice- and a general concern for their fellow man.

Will this bill positively affect me? Well, seeing that I live in Costa Rica right now, not right away. Perhaps, it won’t change much in my own life. However, it certainly could. If I were to lose my job, and find myself unable to purchase insurance, if I were to develop a life threatening disease and find myself being dropped by my provider. If I wanted to start up my own business venture and wanted to have the opportunity to purchase reasonable health care. However, the bottom line is that this isn’t about me. It’s about the uninsured, the sick, and the unfortunate who have been abused by the current system. It is for the 60 year old women I used to live with down here, which in many ways was living in Costa Rica simply because she could not obtain insurance in the U.S. because of her pre-existing condition. She might actually feel free and secure to move back to her own country. For the young person right out of the university, who every day lives a gamble because they can’t afford or receive health insurance and one diagnosis could mean a lifetime of debt. For the cancer patient who was dropped by their insurer. I could go on and on.

Is this bill perfect? Absolutely not. However, it is a step forward, and I do believe it is a BIG step forward. Though there is a lot of anger, anxiety, and paranoia right now, history will show this to be a very important step forward along the same lines as the Civil Rights Movement, establishment of public education, Medicare, Social Security, and environmental protection. I am glad that there is a President like Obama in the White House who is willing to stand up for the common person. Though initially he might face a backlash in the polls, in the end this will be certainly vindicated by history. Most other industrialized nations have already far surpassed the U.S. in providing for the common good. This bill simply helps us get a little closer to the strides that other nations have already made.

I am sure in the next couple of years there will be many issues where I will have disappointment or even sadness regarding certain policies by Obama. However, today I realize the reason I supported the Obama administration as they help bring forward this very important and vital reform to the nation. I believe if he continues this vital path of actual fighting for real change, he could be one of our great and most honored Presidents in history. Let’s hope that he continues on the very reformative and progressive path.

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Abortion is one of the most contentious and divisive issues in our nation together. There is no other issue that causes more passion and division. However, it seems we often been focusing on the wrong issue-pro-choice or pro-life. At the end of the day the legality of abortion will not be the biggest factor in the abortion rate (as can be witnessed here in Latin America where abortion is “illegal’ but rampant-higher than in Europe where it is legal). What will be much bigger factors are poverty and the access to healthcare. Perhaps, this is the reason why in other industrialized nations with universal healthcare the abortion rate is much lower. For example a recent article from the Washington Post states,

“The U.N. data measure the number of abortions for women ages 15 to 44. They show that Canada, for example, has 15.2 abortions per 1,000 women; Denmark, 14.3; Germany, 7.8; Japan, 12.3; Britain, 17.0; and the United States, 20.8. When it comes to abortion rates in the developed world, we’re No. 1.”

The article goes on to state,

“In Britain, only 8 percent of the population is Catholic (compared with 25 percent in the United States). Abortion there is legal. Abortion is free. And yet British women have fewer abortions than Americans do. I asked Cardinal Hume why that is.
The cardinal said that there were several reasons but that one important explanation was Britain’s universal health-care system. “If that frightened, unemployed 19-year-old knows that she and her child will have access to medical care whenever it’s needed,” Hume explained, “she’s more likely to carry the baby to term. Isn’t it obvious?”

Poverty and access to medical care trump the legality of abortion as the main issue in the abortion rate. I know some people will find this a struggle-especially after some on the right have tried to paint universal healthcare and a high abortion rate with the same broad stroke. However, if you really want to bring the abortion rate down you should support this new legislation and any other bill that supports more access to medical care. Though lowering the abortion rate is only one of many moral and ethical reasons to support healthcare reform, it is one that needs to be stated because of the misinformation and scare tactics beings used. Here in Costa Rica, abortion is illegal. Though there are still many abortions done illegally, I cannot imagine what the rate would be if there wasn’t universal healthcare. If we don’t pass healthcare reform, inevitably less people will be able to afford healthcare, this will keep the abortion rate high, not to mention hurt the financial and actual health of the American people and claim more and more lives due to a greedy and broken system.

If you would like to read the article from the Washington Post, it can be found at:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/03/12/AR2010031202287_pf.html

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When the congressman from my home state shouted out “You Lie” to Obama, he wasn’t doing so to defend veterans, help out the needy in the community, or protect the religious or political liberties of his constituents. No, he was yelling out in his childish rant to protest the mere thought that a certain group of people might have a chance to buy health insurance. The group he was so furious about was undocumented workers, who ironically help support the economy of our whole nation.

Many Americans like to stand proudly and say that the racism and discrimination that use to plague society has passed. However, this issue that has recently been brought to light makes me greatly doubt the tolerance and compassion of the society. In the new health care bill to be passed, there is language which simply bans undocumented workers from obtaining health insurance (I am sure Joe Wilson is relieved). Though this is certainly done to appeal to the conservative side of the nation, it seems to me to be a very dark and sinister threat against our supposed values and ethics.

In my U.S. History class, we are currently studying in the struggle of the Irish Immigrants in the 19th century. We are learning about the discrimination, hatred, and malice they faced by the rest of the American society. Another good example were the Jim Crow laws in the South, which simply barred blacks from certain places and activities. However, it seems you don’t have to go back to history to find this intolerance, it is among us now. Are we really fighting so that living, breathing human beings (and that is what they are, children of God, like you and me no matter what their legal status) cannot obtain health insurance for their families, including their young children? Is that we have come to as a society? I can see the Father looking down in sorrow as we speak of ourselves as a Christian society and the importance of holding up “family” values and then totally disregard the needy and sick among us. In the end, history will judge us by our actions. Do we want to be represented in the same category as the Jim Crow Laws or do we be known as a people that put aside our selfish agendas and intolerance to help meet the needs of those around us. Maybe as it says in the book of James, we need to start practicing true religion and stop a pseudo spirituality which allows us to hold on to our selfish thinking and ignore the needs of those around us and God’s children of every different background. In the end, that kind of religion is dead and is worthless towards the hope of a restored and redeemed world.

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Liberty University recently released a campaign to “adopt a liberal” in order to pray for them. While they may have had a good intention through the way of viewing the world, it came across to the rest of the society as very paternalistic and judgmental. The question is: what did Jesus mean when he said for us to pray for our enemies? Even more importantly, how do we practice this in our lives? One practice that I think can be very helpful is this:

Write down a list of people who are your enemies or opponents. These can be grand scale “enemies” or “perceived enemies” such as religious extremists, socialists, capitalists, conservatives, liberals, Arabs, Americans, etc. However, it often is much more personal-separated relatives, friends who have betrayed you, your co-worker who seems to want to make your life miserable. This list can also include individuals who are not always your enemies, but who you are currently in conflict with or are your enemy in a certain sphere of your life.

Go into a quiet place in your mind and simply bring up their faces into your memory and ask God for blessing. Sometimes, it is even better to not ask for specifics, since this becomes very tricky and complicated. Imagine God’s Spirit overwhelming them and filling them with life. I guarantee you as you do this you will become more filled with love, grace, and compassion. Perhaps, just let your mind drift to every individual you may have had a grudge against and pray for blessing and peace on them. This is taught explicitly in the Christian faith; however, this can also be practiced in whatever faith you are a part of.

In the end, praying for your enemies has a lot more to do about our personal transformation than it does about the other person. It allows us to become more like our heavenly Father. It allows us to be free of hatred, revenge, and bitterness. Do we still fight for justice and against what is oppressive? Absolutely. However, we soon find ourselves addressing an issue while at the same time filled a great love for humanity and even compassion for our enemies. We end up living not out of reaction, but out of purpose. In the end, we may be the “children of our father in heaven”.

I like how Paul Boese put it,
“Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future.

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The U.S. has stood by Israel side for a long time, which in many ways has been a very positive thing. However, our unconditional support of Israel and its policies has also led to more conflict and dampened the peace process. It has also dragged us into the middle of much more worldwide conflict.

While Vice President Joe Biden was on his way to talk to the President Benjamin Netanyahu , Israel passed an agreement to build more Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem, a land that has been settled by Palestinians for a long time, essentially throwing a wrench in the peace process which was starting to get underway. There are always two sides to every conflict and both sides need to come and do their part to make peace. While there is no denying the horrendous actions of many of the Palestinians, Israeli actions like these do not help at all.

Fortunately, the Obama administration has stood up to Israel and warned them that this policy is hazardous for the region. Of course we know that what goes on in Israel is just the epicenter of a greater conflict between the west and the Islamic World, a conflict that the U.S. has been right in the middle of, in large part because of the support for Israel.

Should the U.S. drop their support to Israel? I don’t think so. After all, Israel is one of the few stable, secular democracies in the region.However, I do believe that we have to be a friend and ally that makes sure to confront Israel when they create policies which not only endanger the peace in Israel, but the stability of the world community. We need to be a nation that also seeks justice for the Palestinian people who have been often mistreated and discriminated by the Israeli government. What we don’t need is extreme Zionism and end times conspiracy theorists to stand in the way of a path to peace. After all, we are all God’s children, and we are all deeply affected by the actions and missteps of other nations in this world that is becoming more and more interdependent. As a Christian community in the U.S., we have often been seen as a group that supports Israel to an extreme, to the harm of the Palestinian people. This is not what God intended. He never called us to be the unconditional “supporters” of the Israeli government, what he did call us to be is peacemakers and to stand on the side of the poor and mistreated.

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I still remember it clearly. It was about a year ago, and I experienced my first real, intense case of road rage. We were in a small town called Ciudad Colon which is about 15 minutes from my house. A large bus had blocked our car and the car in front of us from getting on to the road. The man in front of us wanted the bus to move, so he started yelling and screaming at the bus driver. The bus driver still did not move, so the driver decided to pull out his little handgun from his car and shove it in the bus driver’s face, while the bus was full of people. As he returned to his car with his gun, I tried looking down and pretending like I never saw anything.

The man who pulled out the gun appeared like an “upstanding” individual. He drove a nice car, was well dressed, and most likely was not a criminal. However, he lost his temper, and he had a gun close by so he decided he was going to use it. We like to reduce the gun debate between the “good guys” and the “bad guys”. The gun control advocates want to allow more gun access so the “good guys” can have more guns to defend themselves. The gun control advocates want to control guns to keep them away from criminals. However, I haven’t heard much talk about people losing their tempers and “good people” doing very horrible things in a moment of passion or anger.

Believe it or not, the state of Virginia recently passed a bill that lets people carry concealed weapons in restaurants and bars. Yes..that’s right….bars. I’m sure everyone will feel very safe the next time a bar fight breaks out. It seems like something so crazy that my 14-year-old students could point the illogical nature of a bill like this. However, it seems that many government leaders seem so entrenched in their ideas of “gun rights’ that they fail to look out for the common good or even use common sense. Ironically, Virginia is the state where only 3 years ago the horrible massacre happened on the campus of Virginia Tech, by a mentally ill student who was able to purchase numerous guns without question.

I’m not saying that we should have a complete ban on guns. However, what I am saying is that the extreme gun rights faction of the country is trying to uphold an ideology at the expense of the common good. This is important because of new cases coming to the Supreme Court such as one which is going to try and make it illegal for individual cities to have weapons bans. Most of the industrialized world had realized the great importance of gun control and restriction, how many more school massacres or road rage cases are we going to need before we start listening to common sense?

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Our minds never seem to stop moving. Perhaps, in the times of the hunters and gatherers much more was done from simple instinct. But in 21st century western society, our minds seem to be in constant chaos and in constant traffic. Perhaps, I am speaking from personal experience on this. But, I can’t help believing that this is much of a social phenomenon and much more than my own personal experience.

In Matthew, Jesus told us to go and pray in secret, in our closet. While physical location is vital to finding quiet, the question that seems to have become even more of a problem today is where do we go in our minds to find peace and meet with God? If you are anything like me, I start saying a prayer and before I know it my mind is some place else. Perhaps I have more attention deficit than others, but it seems that my mind is always turning. One practice that I have found helpful is visualization. Let me give you an example:

I picture myself in a quiet, peaceful place alone with God. For me, my mind always goes to a little lagoon with a little cave, a jungle, and peaceful waters, and a little mist on the water. From here, I try to listen and experience the presence of God. I do not hear God speak audibly, but I feel impressions of his Spirit. Sometimes I just visualize myself enwrapped in the arms of the Father. I not only think it; I try to see it, feel it, hear it, and experience it.

This might sound strange or weird to some people, but it is something that has been shown to be very effective. Only when we learn to drown out the societies unrelenting noise, its anxieties and worries, and our fears can we actually begin to experience the presence of God. I guarantee your life will be more transformed by those 10 minutes engaged in real communion with God, than hours of mental exercise trying to pray and only to find your mind wandering. I remember the old song we use to sing in youth group:

In the Secret, In the Quiet Place, In the Stillness You are There…….

Maybe we need to go to the place in our minds to really know and experience the light of the world and the savior of our souls, and in the stillness be transformed by the Prince of Peace.

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