Tag Archives: Life

Voting for Grace

This election season is about to come to a close.

In this last week, there has been an uptick in the intensity and urgency coming from both sides as Tuesday’s election approaches.

I have noticed, as I have been listening to and reading some of the chatter about the election, that “values voting” has risen quietly to the surface. These “values” are, at least according to the recent ad released by Mike Huckabee, as “Marriage. Life. Freedom.” (Consequently, the Mike Huckabee ad was an ad that came out during the summer, funded by the group Catholics Called to Witness.)

When these values are listed, we are immediately supposed to know that the most important and dangerous issues facing us as a nation are gay couples who wish to be recognized by the state, abortion (which has been legal for forty years) and religious liberty. Religious liberty being that value that is already written in the constitution.

I have become increasingly frustrated with these “values,” and the claim that many Christians make that these are the only values that matter. Especially since, as a lifelong Christian, and a “values voter” myself, I cannot recognize any of these values as actually having any urgency.

Instead, when I go to the polls, the “value” that I will use to make my decision is that of grace.

Grace, of course, is a biblical value. Paul, in particular, is quite pushy in the grace department, which makes him rather soft on crime/sin. “You are not under the law, but under grace.” (Romans 6:14) Being bound by grace means that we (Christians) are bound to Jesus Christ, who gave us the “free gift of eternal life.” (Romans 6:23) This also frees us from the rather dire consequences of our actions, namely death for sin.

Voting for grace means ignoring the call for individual responsibility, because grace undermines individual responsibility entirely. In the system of individual responsibility, each of us is on the hook for all of the decisions we make, including the bad ones. Under grace, there are still consequences for our actions, but those consequences are softened. When we sin, we often have to deal with the immediate consequences of our actions, but we are offered opportunity for grace and forgiveness.

Our country is on an “individual responsibility” kick. There is a belief permeating our politics that whatever someone’s station in life, they earned it absolutely and without question. This seems true for the very poor as well as the very wealthy. This position is naive at best. Most of us who are wealthy are not wealthy just because we worked hard. Lots of people work hard who are not wealthy. The wealthy are wealthy because, somewhere along the line, someone helped them. It doesn’t mean that they haven’t made good decisions or choices. Many have. But wealthy people are not islands. And lots of people make wise choices.

Likewise, those of us who are poor are not poor just because we are lazy and dependant on the government. Lots of people are lazy and don’t end up completely destitute. More likely, those of us who are poor are poor because we are trapped in a system. The system is particularly hard on those who are physically and mentally disabled. Other people who are poor have simply encountered bad luck. To be sure, some poor people have made bad choices. But lots of people make bad choices.

Voting on grace means that I believe that our fortunes are shared – both good and bad. When my neighbor has to sleep outside because he does not have a home to go to, that is on me. (About 3.5 million of our neighbors every year experience homelessness.) When my neighbor gets sick, it is my responsibility to make sure that she is cared for. (About 46 million of our neighbors are still without health insurance.)

Many pundits have claimed that this election is more about the economy than it is about values. They say this as if the economy is without values. This election, I intend to vote for grace. This means voting for an economy that will care for the poor, the sick, and the displaced. This means ignoring the false ideals of individual responsibility and realizing that I am my brother’s keeper. Jesus Christ gave freely his own life so that I might live. The very least I can do is give a few tax dollars so that the poor might eat.

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Filed under Health Care, Life, Politics, The Poor

Melting Away

After several returns of summer-type weather, we finally seem to be immersed in autumn. The leaves are wildly different colors, and are falling off the trees, causing Maggie to yelp “Uh-Oh, the leaves fell down!” half a dozen times every time we step outside.

Because it has cooled off some, we’ve started once again taking nice long walks in the afternoon. We walk in the cool air and watch as the Halloween decorations in our neighborhood go up, becoming more and more elaborate. (We have two carved jack-0-lanterns sitting outside, but other than that, we’ve relied on our neighbors to provide the ambiance.)

When we go for these walks, Maggie has started asking to walk for the first leg of the journey instead of being pushed in a stroller, and so yesterday when we left the house for a walk, Maggie walked next to David. I walked behind them pushing Beckett in his stroller.

As we walked, I had the opportunity to really look at Maggie for what felt like the first time in months. Of course, I look at her every day. I spend all of her waking hours in the same room with her. And yet, I realized yesterday that I had not really seen her for what seems like a long time.

She was wearing an outfit that she had picked out herself: red, polka-dotted pants; purple fleece jacket; bright blue sun hat. She chattered away to David as we walked, asking questions about the leaves and trees and pumpkins and Halloween.

And maybe it was the distance. Maybe it was the fact that I was just watching her instead of interacting with her. Maybe it was the few moments that I could spend around her, but not working to meet her immediate needs, but she suddenly seemed so grown up. I could not see the baby she was even just a year ago.

On the one hand, this is hardly surprising. Anyone who has spent any time around children knows that they tend to grow and change over night.

On the other hand, this is MY kid. She’s my firstborn, and I thought I would notice.

Instead, her babyhood has simply melted away. She has become a kid – one who talks and can walk to the library and back, instead of riding in a stroller. She is steady on her feet. She crawls only in solidarity with her brother. She can peel her own banana in the morning. She even sits and “reads” to herself when I need to work and write.

It’s not heartbreaking, or even bitter sweet. I love her independence. After all, this is what we all want for our children. We want them to grow into amazing, interesting, inquisitive people who can peel their own bananas.

But I really thought I would have noticed when it happened.

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Filed under Babies, Choas, Life, Parenting, Toddlers, Writing

Sell All You Have, and Take Responsibility for Your Own Damned Life

The other day I read this article over at the NY Times.

In it, Op-Ed columnist Nicholas Kristof, along with his college roommate, Scott, tells the story of how Scott was diagnosed with prostate cancer. To give a quick and unfair summary (you should go read the piece yourself, if you haven’t), Scott quit his job, and to save money, he quit health insurance. He did not get annual physicals. He ignored early signs of a potentially serious problem. He finally got treatment when he spiked a fever and his health was obviously deteriorating. Scott had Stave IV prostate cancer, a diagnosis that likely could have been avoided if he had sought regular preventative care. (Prostate cancer, if caught early, is often something that men live with. It can be slowed and contained in many cases.)

So today, Scott is still uninsured, but is being treated for his cancer. His medical bills are in excess of half a million dollars right now, and he has qualified for charity care. The hospital is covering his expenses. Some doctors are intentionally not billing him. He is being taken care of.

Now, let’s be clear here. Scott made a stupid and irresponsible series of decisions. He could have afforded health insurance, but chose not to get it, due to the cost. Ditto for regular physicals. Ditto for getting early symptoms checked out. At ever step of the way, he made the decision that most benefited his short-term financial desires, without taking into consideration the very real financial (as well as physical) risks. He knows he made the wrong choices. He admits it. And he very well may pay with his life.

In the piece, Kristof asks whether we want to live in a country where a person’s mistake or irresponsible behavior lands him with a death sentence. He writes, “We all make mistakes, and a humane government tries to compensate for our misjudgments. That’s why highways have guardrails, why drivers must wear seat belts, why police officers pull over speeders, why we have fire codes. In other modern countries, Scott would have been insured, and his cancer would have been much more likely to be detected in time for effective treatment.”

The response to this article has been, not surprisingly, mixed. Some (lefties like me) say that this is the reason that we need affordable health care to be available to all people in the United States.

(Side note, Scott could have afforded insurance, and chose not to buy it. There are many Americans who are not so fortunate as to be able to afford insurance.)

Others (who are more right-leaning) claim that Scott is essentially getting what he deserves. He was irresponsible. He screwed up. Why should anyone else take responsibility for his irresponsibility? Particularly, why should government take responsibility for a person’s irresponsibility?

You reap what you sow, in other words.

Now, here’s the thing. Some of the people responding with the hard-line responsibility jargon are also those who are deeply committed Christians. I do not mean this in an ironic sense. They are compassionate in their private lives. They love God. They care for their neighbors. The believe and depend on the grace of Jesus Christ.

And they are undeserving of that grace.

But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” Romans 3:21-24

Most Christians believe, in one way or another, that they are ultimately dependent upon the grace of God. It is a grace that is given freely. We acknowledge that we are sinners, and that we are ultimately undeserving of the grace that is given.

Why, then, do we insist on personal responsibility when we are all recipients of grace of which we are fundamentally undeserving?

When I was in high school, the phrase WWJD became popular. “What would Jesus do?” became the popular question to ask. The answer was often some variation of “be nicer.” It was important to show compassion and love.

Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”” Matthew 19:21

Jesus sets up a prerequisite for those who would follow him. FIRST, you care for the poor. You sell ALL YOU HAVE and you give the money to the poor. You do not, presumably, ask why the poor are poor, or accuse them of laziness. You give them your money. THEN you follow Jesus.

I will say this. I have fallen short of this prerequisite. I have a lot of stuff. I make sure that I am taken care of before I give a buck to the homeless guy in the Kroger parking lot. Then, if I do give a buck, I usually assume that he is undeserving of that dollar, because he’ll probably spend it on booze.

I fall short all the time. I make mistakes. I am a sinner. And I am thankful for the grace of God. I know that forgiveness is a possibility for me, though I have done nothing in my own life that actually merits that forgiveness.

Why are we content to live in a country in which grace cannot be extended to those who live in it? The Lord’s prayer asks, “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”

We all have debts; whether they are spiritual, financial, or personal, they are there. And many of us count on pure grace for forgiveness. Because we know that we cannot possibly earn that grace. We are too far in debt.

The difference seems to be, in the case of much of the Christian Right, that grace and salvation can be extended to those in the great hereafter, but so long as we have flesh on our bones and blood in our veins, each of us is on his or her own.

When it comes to health insurance, or food stamps, or housing, or childcare, the Christian (and Corporate Capitalist) Right seems to forget the grace that is freely given and insist that everyone must take responsibility. No really. Live with the consequences of your choices, even if those consequences are death. The ideology that Mitt Romney is putting forth in his presidential campaign is the super individual. We are all responsible only for our own, individual actions and decisions. If someone makes a poor choice, so be it. Let him rot.

You know, treasure in heaven.

And if you don’t have health insurance, I guess you’ll cash in on that treasure a lot sooner than those of us who have made all of the right decisions.

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Filed under Health Care, Life, News, Politics, The Poor

Three-Minute Fiction

Okay. Here’s the deal. I do not write fiction. I have tried to write fiction, and I am a terrible, nigh unto dismal, fiction writer. But this blog is about building some chops, and so I’m going to throw this assignment out there.

NPR has an ongoing series called Three-Minute Fiction. A few times a year, they have a special celebrity judge who gives a theme, or a phrase, or some kind of rule. You can read about it here. Go on. I’ll wait.

So, stealing this assignment from NPA, I am putting this assignment out there. Write a three-minute piece of fiction (about 600 words or so) that features a US president: real or imagined, past or present. If you want to submit it to NPR, go to the website referenced above. The deadline is Sunday, September 23 at 11:59PM.

(I am going to attempt this, but I will place a disclaimer excusing anyone from actually reading it. I will also probably drink some whiskey first.) (See above, with regards to my fiction writing.)

For those new to Small Assignments, if you choose to accept the challenge, just post your link in the comments here, so we can all read each other’s work.

 

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Filed under Drinking Whiskey, Humor, Life, Politics, Small Assignments, Writing

On Inspiration

This is a post in response to Small Assignment 4. Also check out responses from Anecdotaltales and Prajjwal. Thanks for writing and sharing!

A few years ago, I had a supervisor who drove me crazy. The reason for the crazy-making is that I was supposed to get a written review every quarter, but quarter after quarter, I did not get a written review. Then, all of a sudden, I would receive four quarterly reviews on the same day. This was… unhelpful. The excuse that my supervisor gave for the late reviews was that he needed to “be inspired” to write. Let’s be clear. He had to be “inspired” to simply do his job.

Now, years later, I am a writer. I get assignments and deadlines, and I must meet those deadlines or not get paid. When I get to work (often still wearing my pajamas), my first step is staring at a blank screen, or maybe write a little chicken scratch on a notebook or on the back side of an envelope. But at the end of the day, the deadline does not move, and the deadline does not wait for inspiration.

The experience of writing professionally and on deadline has crystallized one thing for me: writing is NOT about inspiration. Writing is about, well, writing. The moments when I feel inspired are wonderful moments, but if I’m honest, I must admit that those moments are rather few and far between. I am always more capable of finding an excuse to not write than I am of finding “inspiration.” In fact, not feeling inspired becomes a wonderfully convenient excuse to avoid writing. It’s right up there with “I have two babies” and “I don’t get any sleep.”

Last week, some old friends came to visit us for a few days, and then we drove out to middle Tennessee a rented a cabin for the weekend. While there, all gathered under one roof, we decided to work on a little group art project, which took the form of a book for each of the three families. Most people drew a little picture or a sketch. The kids who could be trusted to not eat the pens made drawings of their own. Now, I am not an artist. The best I can do on most days is draw a cartoon cow, although I do think I happen to draw a mean cartoon cow. So it was suggested that I write a little something.

Now, we were in a beautiful cabin out in the woods. We were half a mile from a beautiful lake, surrounded by friends and children and a hundred different reasons to feel inspired. But I did not feel inspired. I felt pressured and on the spot and a little weird. I was busy trying to keep my kids from destroying the other kids’ toys, and I really just wanted to pour another glass of wine. But one afternoon, I sat down and wrote a little something to put in the memory book. It was not the best something I’ve ever read; in fact, it was a poem. I am really not a very good poet. But it fit on the small sheet of paper, and it was written.

I believe in inspiration. I do believe that there are times when the Muse whispers in my ear and the words fit together like pieces of a puzzle. But most of the time, writing is just about getting the words down. So let me go and pour myself a glass of wine, (or coffee, as it is not yet noon), and let’s get to work.

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Filed under Babies, Choas, Life, Parenting, Small Assignments, Toddlers, Uncategorized, Writing

Small Assignment 4: Inspiration

Sitting down to write and staring at a blank screen (or notebook, or whiteboard, or whatever) can be one of the single most paralyzing experiences I have on any given day. In fact, the time when I am most likely to walk away in defeat is in those moments when I am simply terrified that I will not have anything worth writing.

This is when many writers (and creative people, generally) begin to look for inspiration. We wait for the muse to show up and hit us over the head (hopefully with some kind of a Nerf implement).

Once upon a time, when writing was a hobby for me, and not much else, it was easy to walk away due to lack of inspiration. But now, writing is not only a hobby. It is my livelihood. It has become a way of life. Inspiration really can’t keep up with that. So now, I am going to write about inspiration.

The small assignment this week is to write about inspiration. Think about where you find inspiration (if you do, in fact, find inspiration.) Write about a time when you felt particularly inspired. Write an inspirational haiku. Write a short story about a musician seeking inspiration from the Niagara Falls. Whatever. Your inspiration is inspiration. Go! Good scribbling!

As usual, if you choose to write something based on the prompt, write it and post the link in a comment here. Also, please “share” the small assignments with anyone who might be interested in writing them!

 

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Filed under Life, Small Assignments, Writing

And.. I’m back!

Right. So, I went out of town there for a while.

I took the kids and spent the week with my parents, where there is a pool a block away and where someone else always did the cooking. From there we went and spent a few days with my grandmother, who turned 94 in May. It was wonderful to spend the time with family and to watch the kids discover the joys of swimming. It was a week of sun and light and laughter. But it was not particularly conducive to writing anything worthy of publication (on the blog or otherwise.)

So now we’re back in Memphis, and the kids are going through typical grandparent withdraw, what with the drag of just hanging out with me now. We’re all getting back into the swing of things, just in time for another little trip out of town next weekend. And then another trip out of town a couple of weeks after that. I know. My life is so hard. First world problems.

I am hoping, though, that in the next few days I will manage to get something worth reading written down and posted here. For now, though, let me encourage you all to keep on writing. Put pen to paper. That’s what counts!

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Filed under Life, Parenting, Small Assignments, Uncategorized, Writing