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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Health Care Reform

Regardless of the current debates over health care laws, local medical communities could use significant self-examination about taking measured, practical steps to be more accessible to our under-privileged neighbors. Instead, poverty is often held at arm's length with little acknowledgement of our own role in perpetuating the barriers to health care.

In your own life, when is the last time you went to the doctor? Or what about the dentist? Did you procrastinate scheduling the appointment? Did you look forward to it, or were you apprehensive? How long did you wait once you got there? Were you feel ignored by the receptionist? Did you feel intimidated by the doctor?

Did you feel awkward or embarrassed while you were examined? Did you understand what the doctor said to you? Did you remember to take the meds you were prescribed? Or might you have missed one or two doses? Did you know how much 5 milliliters of syrup was? Did you remember to make the follow up appointment?

These are some of the challenges that I face with any doctor's appointment I make, regardless of my income level. So now let's remember that I rarely, if ever, have to worry about:
  • Taking time off work to get to a doctor's office hours, without getting fired or sacrificing precious income needed to survive
  • Finding and paying for childcare while at the appointment
  • Finding transportation to the doctor's office (if you're lucky there is public transport, but often that isn't not a viable option)
  • Paying for parking (our med center has little to no free parking) 
  • Spending time away from work to simply sit in a waiting room
  • Avoiding dirty looks from the receptionist and other patients because of the way I am dressed
  • Paying for the doctor's visit (you may or may not get health benefits from your job, be able to afford the monthly cost, or even afford the copay)
  • Finding transportation back home (because the person that brought you isn't necessarily available to wait around and bring you back)
  • Finding time/childcare to go to the pharmacy and wait for the prescription to be filled
  • Finding transportation to the pharmacy
  • Paying for medication (again, often without the benefit of insurance)
  • Finding transportation home
  • Reading and understanding the medical instructions 
  • Worrying about how to go through the whole ordeal again for the follow up appointment

Anyone can find themselves in a situation of poverty at a moment's notice: a death of a bread winner, loss of a job, an injury that prevents work, identity theft. Some of us have the privilege of a financially secure family to fall back on (even at the cost of some shame and embarrassment). But if not, you may find yourself the victim of a pervasive form of discrimination that assumes that if you are poor, you must be lazystupid, an addict, or in some other way wholly deserving of your lot.

God is consistent throughout the bible in His heart for the poor. From the slaves of Egypt, the nomads in the desert, Joseph the dreamerDavid the shepherd, and continuing with Jesus's priorities while on earth. Look at how Jesus spent his time with the poor and the rich. Which group did he chastise with stern warnings? With which group did Jesus eat with, socialize with, count as His friends? How does His model match the relationships you value in your life?

Further, it is important to remember that the privileged have the most to gain from a relationship with the poor. This is not a charitable endeavour, but one that is fundamental for own souls. We need to understand what it is to depend on God rather than money, to enjoy every day as it comes, and not to be preoccupied with the rat race that is 'planning for the future,' to gain pleasure from relationships rather than from stuff, to respect natural resources rather than domineering over them, to trust in the daily manna rather than storing up treasures. These are skills that I do not posses in any meaningful way.  Do you? In a world where some churches have million dollar mortgages, we have a lot to learn.


  1. You hit it out of the park again, Katelin!

  2. Katelin, still drinking this one in. I'm going to have to use parts of this in my sermon today. First, to illustrate the face of poverty. BUt second, and more important, to highlight how much we have to learn from the underprivelaged.

    I would love to  have you expand more on the last paragraph, except flip it. You write as and to the privileged. What kind of faith sustains the under-privileged? How do they depend on God more than I might? What are the practices of faith (prayer, finding God in the small stuff, church attendance practices), the importance of faith? How does all of that differ from someone like myself who doesn't have to worry about all your bullet point examples?

    I'm reminded how starkly Jesus words stand out against a text like this: "Blessed are the poor." Which makes me need to ask, "How?" How are the poor blessed, if they worry about all that? Am I not the one who is blessed, rather than they? I see your list as a curse! Was Jesus wrong? Or am I blind?

    Your last paragraph suggests the disconnect is not with Jesus, but with me. I'm fleshing that question out more in my ministry. I'm writing an article on leisure practices among the under-privileged. And a parallel piece has been this question, the spirituality of the disenfranchised.

    Why? For me, its not just because I want to be better able to minister to them, as good Christian charity suggests I should be. But more deeply, that I have something radical to be learned. And I can't get it without their perspective.

    Thanks for all you do!

  3. Marty, I'll take a stab at writing from the perspective as the under privileged. As someone who currently is poor, yet has some elements of privilege, I can say that people who are poor often do not have the privilege to access a computer, time and energy to compose a response, an environment to be eloquent,have countless distractions, and often will not see what relevance seminars, studies, and focus groups will have to tangibly improve our lives. If you look for the poor, and ask for our input online, we won't be there.

    We're too busy trying to stay alive under the crushing pressure of working with the deeply
    broken, falling-down, knockdown-drag-out world under sin's consequences. Yes, the list of challenges in this entry are salient. Yes, your guesses about the poors' practices of faith are on the right track. But you're not there yet. The differences between rich and poor are not
    differences in the *methods* we practice faith but in *degree* of visible brokenness in a sinful world.A difference of degree not kind.

    Think of the beauty and function God created in this world like a broken mirror. The first time it's broken, it's only slightly broken. And(for the time being) those jagged edges of broken reveals more light,more beautiful because the slight brokenness has the effect of creating visible seam in God's seamless,intricate design. It's a deterioration from God's original masterful design but that slight brokenness interrupts the pattern enough to make it visible to our eyes.The more broken you break that mirror, the tinier pieces into which you shatter that glass, the less and less it will be able to do. That's the entropy/deterioration that sin reeks upon his beautiful creation.

    In poverty that brokenness is visible. Like any artist, God uses our brokenness and mistakes, and can get beautiful out of it. But poverty,brokenness, deterioration IS NOT a blessing in and of itself. Poverty and brokenness reveals God because the good God does simply cannot be found in that limited broken material. Good couldn't come from us so it had to be God. To answer your question, we the poor *have* to depend on God because there is not enough time to think or resources to fall on except for one last dive towards home plate. After that there is no more.

    Again, there is a certain amount of privilege at work in my life, a number of good things working together to *even allow* me to speak, here in this rarefied air we call the internet. Those whose poverty is much deeper than mine, do not have that privilege. You may have to go to them.


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