Friday, July 20, 2007

Nine of the Fifteen Things I Think I Think

1) Why so many things? Well, we're going on vacation, so there probably won't be any new posts for at least a week, so I thought I'd give a few more things to tide you over. You know I'm all about the people.

2) And where are we going on our vacation? Um.... well, we're not all that sure. I assumed Aimee was going to call her Aunt about their place in the Galena (IL) Territory. We love their cottage and the area, and most of all, the price (FREE!) is affordable for us, especially since right now we're looking to install some carpet in the basement and buy some furniture. Free is about all we can handle. But I guess I wasn't definitive enough about when I had vacation, or something, so no phone call was made, meaning we have no plans... and little money. So where are we going? I have no idea. I'll give you a full report when we get back from... wherever.

3) Harry Potter mania? Nope, not at our house. Max wasn't even an afterthought when the first book came out, and he's really been too young to get caught up in all things HP. I'd assume at some time he'll give the series a read (they're up his alley... and we don't buy the tag by some evangelical Christians that the books make kids want to be witches. I mean, do you see any kids wanting to be hobbits or kings and queens of Narnia?) but as for our house... we could care less. I'm sure though that once my brother takes the Bar Exam next week, he'll be on Harry's trail to find out whether he lives or dies (well, that an 72 holes of golf a day). Anyhow, you won't get the HP ending here.... we'll have no idea.

4) The news that for the past couple of years a ref for the NBA has been fixing games is about the absolute worst news a NBA fan could receive right now. Of course there are only about 15 of us left anyway, but the idea that somehow games have been fixed just creates a hole in the pit of my stomach.

Which brings me to this.... gambling is stupid. I mean I've been fairly consistent on this issue since this blog began a year and half ago. I'm opposed to all forms of gambling: lottery tickets, bingo, casinos, poker, gambling machines, horses, dogs... whatever. For all the good people try to create through people's fascination with trying to come up with the big financial score (the "put it all on 13" approach to financial management) in the end it always ends up messing over everyone in involved. A paltry 4% return to the local government, a few bucks available for new beautification projects, and some jobs are more than offset by the costs of law enforcement (because where lots of money is changing hands, there will always be crooks), gambling addiction, rampant corruption, and cost of feeding into the public belief that you can get something for nothing. Since saving rates are now negative, average credit card debt is now at an all time high (an average of over $7,000 per household), and bankruptcies are climbing to depression-era levels (as the ARM refinancing miracle now must pay the piper) how much destruction does the whole "get it now/something for nothing" ethos have to wreak before municipalities do their homework, and realize that a business where the house wins 87%, is bad business?

This scandal too just reinforces the idea that sports are really all about money, which for those of us who really think they are about something else (fitness, teamwork, pushing oneself to be the best they can be, discipline, skill, gifts from God on loan to humanity, etc...), it further clouds the issue for parents as to why to get their kids involve in sports in the first place, and why we should even bother celebrating athletic prowess. Since the sums of money the players and owners are making, or losing, are paltry compared to the billions waged by countless bettors looking to make a score, one wonders if the perversion of pure sport and competition isn't really just a ruse. Anyhow, given the dollars involved, this story can only be the tip of the ice berg. Football, hockey and baseball fans (or in the case of hockey, fan, as in singular, not plural... it's just Eric Stalkamp and no one else)... you are next.

That's why, for the good of the local economy and the moral fiber of the community, when it comes to a casino coming to Lima, I say, "What happens in Vegas, should stay in Vegas." If you live in the city, give your city councilperson a call, and tell him or her that this intergovernmental agreement with the Eastern Shawnee does not make good business sense for this community. I mean, the councilmen in the two poorest wards in the city are opposed to bringing this kind of gaming to the area, and even if they can occasionally be flamboyant characters, shouldn't that be a good indicator of who will get pounded financially, spiritually, and socially with a casino? It'll be the folks who can ill-afford it the most.

First it threatens to take my town, now it threatens to destroy my favorite sport. I've had it with gambling.

End of rant.

5) We had a tragic turn of events here in Shawnee last week as two boys died in car accident at about 4am last Sunday. The boys, both sophomores at Shawnee High School, were out in the middle of the night with another buddy of theirs (who, thankfully, walked away from the accident with a few bumps and scratches), way after curfew. None of the boys in the car were old enough for a license, and it was reported that the driver was legally intoxicated at the time of the accident.

After 14 years in youth ministry, I can safely say that teens do a lot of irresponsible things. I mean, as a teen, I did a lot of irresponsible things. In a culture where males don't kill a buffalo or a lion to prove their manhood, and the passage of girls into womanhood isn't really celebrated until publicly until a wedding is thrown, it's kind become a strange right of passage to take risks in order to show how non-conformist/rebellious/grown-up you are during adolescence. Sometimes young people escape this somewhat unscathed, and other times they do not. Curiosity about on alcohol or drug use can become addictions (as seen here in this graphic public service ad paid for by the State of Montana admonishing kids not to do meth).

Dangerous physical acts can lead to crippling injury or even death. It's unbelievably tragic cause when something like what happened to these boys goes down, most of us realize that maybe not this exact scenario, but a number of other escapades we were involved in as kids, could have had the same ending. We all have memories that cause us to whisper "there but by the grace of God go I".

I know that's the case for me. I mean, I never snuck out with my parents car in the middle of the night, or done any kind of drug (a good talking to by an uncle of mine saved me from that road) but I have driven down Market Street at over 100 mph and gotten stupid in dozens of others ways that somehow, by the grace of God, I survived.

And just as easily, could also have not.

So, if a teen happens to read this, I want you to know that we get it. We understand. You want to test the limits. You want to experience liberation and freedom. You want to taste the forbidden fruit, whatever that might be, cause it looks like the ripest, tastiest, fruit on the tree. Believe it or not, the vast majority of us have been there. It's a story that, for humanity, is as old as our time here on earth. I guess you should know, though, that when we look back on it, we really don't treasure those moments as much as we wish we hadn't taken those dumb risks. I mean, don't be afraid of life... live it to the fullest. But there are so many other things that are so much more rewarding, exciting, and fulfilling that you can experience in life than breaking a few rules now.

Someday, you could tour Europe, or ride a motorcycle out west, or snorkel with your kids at a barrier reef in the Caribbean, or fly fish, or go to a fashion show in Paris, or skydive, or (a personal favorite) go barreling down a mountain on nothing but a couple pieces of fiberglass on thick powdery snow on a clear mountain day. Or you could build your own house, or sail on the ocean, or fly a plane, or fall head over heals in love.

Or you could bring hope to impoverished peoples in Haiti, or Liberia, or Bangledesh by drilling a well or building a school or just by holding orphaned toddlers who just want to play. Or you could sing praises to God with thousands of other people, as you get goosebumps on the back of your neck.

Just give it time.... I'm telling you, there are so many other things so much richer and exciting than the silly risks you take as a teen.

And as for the Dick and Blosser families, you are in my, and our church's prayers. And there's no judgment here... just a man whispering "there but by the grace of God, go I". RIP, boys.

6) "Sicko" has finally come to Lima, and I'm hoping to catch a show before we head out of town. Despite all the grandstanding, I've been a Michael Moore fan since the "Roger and Me" days. I guess being a somewhat radical guy, who too watched his own midwestern hometown struggle in the eighties as heavy industry went into decline, that I could easily root for a guy trying to chase down the chairman of an automobile company that was largely mismanaged. I also thought Moore was onto something when he talked in "Bowling for Columbine" about how fear is used in this country to turn us against one another, and believe his work in "The Big One", where he takes on Phil Knight, the CEO of Nike, pretty much ended up changing the way that company did business (for the better). I never saw Fahrenheit 9/11 (for whatever reason), but I've a sense Moore is again really onto something by taking on the health insurance industry.

I know our insurance is awful. The church pays almost $19,000 a year for health insurance for my family that inadequately covers anything. The third-party payer system we have now is atrocious. Patients hate it because you always walk away with a huge bill when you get sick, no matter how much you pay each month in premiums. Doctors hate it because they never know if the insurance company will pay for the procedure or medicine they are proscribing. And it creates ludicrous situations like this one:

It's unfortunately that folks have to be publicly humiliated to get Congress to move on taking what we have now, and kicking it out the door, but really, the money being thrown around Washington is just so ridiculous, that movement won't happen any other way. This system of private third-party payer insurance needs to go... and yes, I'd take socialized medicine.

And before you get on me about"well, aren't you afraid the government will screw up the health care system?", let me tell you, I'd gladly give up my private health insurance in exchange for government control. Let me tell you a story....

7) When Max was three, he broke his arm. He was playing with a friend, and he fell down and broke his arm. It was bending strange ways in places that shouldn't bend, so Aimee rushed him to the hospital. The break was clean. Both bones, just above the growth plate in his left arm. The doc, an orthopedic surgeon, told us he needed to take Max into surgery to successfully set the bone. We didn't ask any questions. We just admitted him to the hospital, and told the doc to do what he needed to do to make Max's arm right.

Well, I'm happy to say that Max's arm has healed good and strong. And while other friends of ours facing similar breaks were given advice by their doc that surgery wouldn't be necessary to set their kid's arms, they've encountered multiple successive breaks in the same place, while Max keeps chugging along.

However, our insurance provider at the time, Anthem, who simply managed our "self-managed" care in the North Indiana Annual Conference, refused to cover the surgery, or anything connected to the surgery, including the doc's bills and the charges from the hospital. Meanwhile, why we fought with our provider, the hospital, Goshen Hospital if you are curious, refused to wait while we appealed our case, and turned our bills over to a collection agency. In order to avoid that which can happen to you and your credit if default on a debt, and not really being able to afford a lawyer, we signed up for a credit card, and charged the $16,000 bill, which made our already tenuous consumer debt situation, much, much worse. Ultimately, the insurance company denied us, and we ended up taking years to get out from underneath that debt.

I guess it could be argued that Max received the care he needed, the time, energy, and then the money (plus interest) we ended up paying was enough to convince me that this system is broken. That the best orthopedic surgeon in our community (Dr. Kournikavic) could be told that his diagnosis was wrong by some administrator, and now five years later, Max's arm is fine, is proof enough to me that it's time for things to change.

Well, that and the fight I had to have with our insurance provider in Illinois to convince them that there really was an OB/GYN in Bloomington-Normal Indiana (a metro are of 140,000 people, home of State Farm Insurance and two universities among other things) that could do the job of taking care of Aimee and delivering Max... as opposed to them demanding that we drive to Peoria, which was an hour away. But that's another story....

It's time for something else.

8) Xavier finished "Safety City" this week, which is a local educational program that years ago use to teach kids when it was safe to cross the street, and to not take candy from strangers.

But, oh how the times change.

This week, Xavier and his five year old classmates were taught self-defense moves by the Officer Dave and his staff. This new program, called R.A.D. Kids, is based on the premise that predators a) make sure that abducted kids don't ever come home and b) that the more commotion a child makes during an abduction will deter a predator, who really is looking for something easy and no jail time. So, for an entire week, Xavier learned how to peck at someones eyes, kick them in the shins, and hitting them in unmentionable areas as a means of just stunning an adult long enough so that he could run away (stun, and run).

Which got me thinking... as a Christian, how does this fit in with the idea of "turning the other cheek"?

Well, I had kind of a new revelation, for me, about this. When Jesus makes this pronouncement, he's talking specifically about the relationship between a roman soldier and a Jew. And while lots of commentators have had lot of takes on what he meant when he called us to carry the load a second mile and to turn the other cheek, there appears, at least, to be an implication that Jesus disdains violence as a means of overthrowing authority. That the grip of power can be more effectively loosened in other ways, while violence itself as a means to an end politically, socially, and spiritually destroys the soul.

But Jesus isn't talking about illegitimate forms of power in this scenario... only a legitimate form (i.e. The Roman Empire). While Christ himself does submit himself to bankrupt religious authorities by taking the cross and the grave, I'm not seeing anywhere in this text that a human should debase themselves by assuming less than human status by allowing someone to beat them for absolutely no good reason. While the Apostles, for example, follow Jesus' lead by taking great abuse for the purpose of spreading a message of love, it's only as a means of exposing the ludicrousness of religious and political authority used as a means of repressing Christ's message, which isn't that of a violent demagogue.

Christ called us to treat others as if they were valued members of the community, of our family, even if they had traditionally been our enemy. He never called us to be whipping boys or girls for perverted, sick lunatics who simply want to hurt people for their own pleasure. We are called to lay down our lives for our friends, but we are not called to non-violence as a unilateral course of action. We should preserve life, especially our own, even if it takes the use of force. This is different than using defenselessness to further the Kingdom.. in that case, we make a choice to say that death has no power over us, and what we believe, and thus choose to live that choice out. That doesn't mandate us biblically to allow ourselves to be beaten like punching bags just for someone else's sick pleasure.

Thus, my son is not less Christian if he pokes out the eye of someone trying to take him to do him harm, or even take his life. Rather, he is treating his own life with dignity, given as a gift by God for him to use for his glory. I'm sure my pacifist or Mennonite friends would debate this, and maybe it does open a Pandora's box to other kinds of violence.... but I still think I'm right. Use of force as a means of preserving one's health and life can't be considered a sin. I just think it takes the "turn other cheek" teaching much too far.

Yeah... I know. But I can't help it. That's the stuff I think about.

9) 15 things? I must have been nuts. So how about this... I'll give you six more tomorrow before we leave. We'll see you then.


Aaron said...

The NBA is fixed??!!!!

How, exactly, does the mafia get the players to trot up and down the floor looking completely unconcerned with the outcome of the first 40 games of the year?

Trust me, Bryan. It isn't fixed. It's about as broken as a league can be.

And, yet, I say, Go Pacers!

Anonymous said...

Bryan -- I'm not sure how your story about Max's arm would be any different if you replaced "government" for "Anthem". Don't kid yourself that a monopoly would care more about you than the market. Think about all the compassion you get from the IRS if you owe more than you have... The system is screwed up but the federal gov't is not the answer.

The Thief said...

The NBA? Fixed? Say it ain't so. Next thing you'll be saying is that the Harlem Globetrotters vs Washington Generals game I went to was fixed.