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Friday, June 26, 2015

Health Care in the USA

OK, it's time to talk about health care. The Supreme Court of the US ruled that "Obamacare" is AOK...again.
But let's stop calling it Obamacare and understand what it's really called: The AFFORDABLE Care Act. Yes, AFFORDABLE is the key word. The fight in the US seems to be over who should pay for health care and the Supreme Court ruled that it's AOK for the government to subsidize those for whom AFFORDABLE is out of reach within their income bracket. The government also imposes a tax fine for those who do not have health insurance so fair is fair in my opinion.

Health care has been the single most stressful "getting out act together" in the US thing we've had to deal with. Because traditional health care has been provided through people's employer, we were facing a very difficult situation as we returned to the US unemployed. We could've stayed with the Covenant Church in America's coverage through COBRA at a whopping $1200.00 per MONTH! Now, doesn't that seem counterintuitive...how an UNemployed person could afford $1200.00 per month for health care? Seems obvious to me that without other choices the UNemployed person would soon be UNinsured, which leads to a host of other expenses that eventually the public ends up paying for. Fortunately for us, the Affordable Health Care Act kicked in and through Covered California we were able to qualify for and afford decent health insurance. We are paying about $400.00 a month for both of us, which, while not perfect, does make it AFFORDABLE.

So here's what I don't fully understand...why are people who can usually AFFORD whatever health coverage they want, so opposed to others having access to AFFORDABLE health care? And in order for health care to be AFFORDABLE for all, who should pay the difference so that it is AFFORDABLE? 

And the other curious question I have for the haters out there is simply this: What advice would you have given Doug and me about health care when we first moved back to the US? What were our options given our circumstances? Get a job is the obvious answer, but even then, what about the in between time that would've ensued even if we had come back and pursued jobs with earnest?

Another one of the blessings of the AFFORDABLE health care act is that we can drop it now when we move to England and go on the National Health Service there. Had the AFFORDABLE health care act not created a provision that pre-existing conditions are not a valid reason for denial of insurance, we would've had to maintain our US health insurance even while being covered in another country, (as we did in Sweden for fear of getting cancer or another serious disease while out of the system and thus never being able to get care for such in the US). Talk about a colossal waste of money that it is.

So I'm quite interested in a CIVIL discussion with our very personal issues at the center of it. If you are opposed to the current situation, please give me sane and possible alternatives to AFFORDABLE health care which in my heart of hearts, I do believe is a right for all people. If people cannot AFFORD insurance, they won't get the right care, and that inevitably sets up a caste system for who has access to health care and who does not. And if you fall into the very fortunate category of being able to AFFORD health insurance, even if it's a bill you hate paying, why are you so opposed to helping others get the same?

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Own Your Own Racism

It's pretty hard to utter the words, "I am racist." And it's especially hard to utter these words when you genuinely believe that racism is evil. No one wants to be accused of being racist either. And yet, the divide between how far white people in the US think we've come on race relations and how far we have NOT come from the perspective of black people in the US shows how brutally apparent our differences are regarding the roots and outcomes of racism.

It's very easy to be appalled by Dylan Roof's blatant hatred of black people. To see his desire to assert white supremacy is quite disturbing to most. And yet...for most whites, the ugly truth is simply this: White supremacy abounds in every aspect of our society. What makes it hard to recognize and fight against, is that is causes the system to work towards white America's advantage. And it's hard to give up advantages, seen or unseen. And an unwillingness to give up unfair advantages based strictly on race is an area of our lives where we exhibit racism.

Another thing that needs to be stated is that being against racism is not about being nice to people of color. It's about recognizing the systems and structures that create unfair advantages for one people over another. So one of the best ways to begin understand systemic racism is to expose yourself to information that explains what it's all about. But be warned...it's terribly uncomfortable to do this, which is why many well-meaning white people just won't do it. We end up feeling bad and it's just so much easier to ignore the realities. But in so doing, we foment racist systems in our societies and thus, exhibit an area in our lives where we are racist.

So what an we do? First of all, humbly admit that embedded within most if not all of us, is a racial bias that has been carefully honed through subtle and not so subtle means. Be willing to begin to listen for clues, attitudes and insights within yourself. Becoming aware of and acknowledging your feelings that indicate a racial bias is an important step towards owning your own harmful attitudes and thus being able to change. So be honest with yourself when you see a black man walking down the street...do you feel differently about that than you would if the man was white? Ask yourself why. Watch the news with an eye on biased reporting and be willing to call it out. Stop all forms of joking that hints at racial stereotypes and slurs. Find the courage to publicly object to these things. Stop deflecting your own guilt and simply try to enter the world of someone who is deeply marginalized in society.

Secondly, expose yourself to learning opportunities that will help you discern racist systems and structures and challenge your assumptions. Watch this video as an intro. One of the most powerful moments of learning occurred while we were visiting Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia several years ago. The first took place in the local courthouse. The clerk was looking for jurors and so he began the process of sorting. He asked everyone to stand since one of our assumptions is that all people start from the same place. He then went on to list all of the ways that you became ineligible to serve on the jury in the 18th century. If you are not white, sit down. If you are a woman, sit down. If you don't own land, sit down. It definitely shed light on the reality that the writers of the constitution means white, male, land owners when they wrote that "all men are created equal with certain inalienable rights." The second experience revealed my own short sighted thinking. We were on a plantation talking with a young African American who was portraying a slave. As we talked about life on the plantation, I very naively asked, "Do you know if the slave owner on this plantation was known as 'kind or good' slave owner?" He patiently smiled at me and quietly responded, "Well, no matter how good he was, he still believed in owning slaves." Doesn't that get at the heart of what many of us feel...well, I'm nice to blacks. I didn't own slaves. I'm not the one perpetuating racist attitudes. And yet...as a white woman, I believed that some slave owners were good and nice people, which they may have been, but they were still very racist because they felt it appropriate to own slaves. We do the same when we buy into a system that gives preference to whites over blacks.

Finally, intentionally develop relationships with people who are different than you are, especially those of a different race, and talk about biases, assumptions, questions. One of the most life-changing and powerful experiences I've ever had was reading a book entitled Divided Sisters with an African American sister. (Buy it here) We spoke honestly about the issues outlined in this incredible book. It was so hard for me to listen to my dear friend's stories of how when she entered a popular Swedish store in Chicago, the clerk followed her around, watching her every move. I came to understand that every minute of every day she is acutely aware of her race while I hardly ever think about being white as a factor in the way in which people perceive me. Other black friends have shared with me that they've been told to change their hair, consider dressing "less ethnically", even changing their name! in order to gain a greater advantage while applying for jobs or seeking to make inroads in certain situations. The translation of those comments is this: The white way of doing things is the only acceptable way of doing things." Imagine my horror upon hearing this. And by all means, resist the temptation to say that they were oversensitive or misread the comments. That belittles their experience and indicates that the racial bias is "not that bad" even though we know all that it is.
Friends and readers of this blog: I am by no means perfect in my understanding of race and if I am going to be brutally honest with myself, I know there are racist attitudes that still take root in my psyche. But I am committed to continuing to cultivate an awareness of the systems and structures that create racial bias and to learning to speak out against them. I am trying to listen more carefully to my own biases and seek to challenge the roots of where these instincts come from. I hope more and more people will be willing to do the same.
And one last thing...do not get tired of talking about racism. Fatigue over an issue that is pervasive for others, but not for yourself, is, well, racist.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Struggling

Over the past couple of days I've felt a bit down. Perhaps a bit homesick for Sweden as the big midsummer holiday unfolded yesterday. I enjoyed seeing many photos of people celebrating and we did get to Facetime with our normal crowd and join in some of the singing! Perhaps it was the ridiculous conversation I had with an older gentleman in the pool yesterday. He was talking about traveling in Europe and complaining about how bad the food was in Italy! WHAT? He must've hoped there were Olive Gardens all over Italy. "Worst pizza ever. Can't get ice. No salad dressing." Right guy...it's a different country. Why travel if you want things to be the same as in the US?
But no, beyond these feelings lies a deeper wound in my soul and I've had a hard time putting my finger on it. It has to do with the myopic attitude regarding race and guns in the US. My native country is clueless when it comes to these matters and it hurts me so deeply that I've had a hard time coming up with words to give expression to my feelings.
It's pretty grim when comedians John Stewart (watch link here) and Larry Wilmore (read his thougts here) get it more right than any other broadcast. I was alerted to what Fox News was saying via Facebook links. Their claim was that the Charleston massacre was an attack on Christians rather than being racially motivated. Incredulous. For readers who listen to Fox News for News...STOP DOING IT. They are clueless and actually hurting the attempts at moving forward because they refuse to report reality. True, most media outlets spin, but Fox reaches a new low with this incident. And perhaps you can't stand President Obama but he's getting it right at this time. He said in a recent statement, "I refuse to act as if this is the new normal, or to pretend that it's simply sufficient to grieve, and that any mention of us doing something to stop it is somehow politicizing the problem." Another article that I read that really helped me to even begin to write this blog is written by a young woman named Austin Channing. (Read it here.) The title of her piece is "The Only Logical Conclusion." Her thoughts helped me to begin to articulate all that I was feeling and caused an ache in my soul for African Americans that I was finally able to write a little.
So I am left with the following feelings and I'm having a hard time processing everything. On race: I am a white female pastor and I feel the need to simply say this: This incident was motivated by a deep desire on the part of a young white man to assert his assumed white supremacy by being welcomed into a historical black church and then opening fire upon them. He has admitted that he wanted to start another civil war. He did not attack a white church because he's fed up with Christians. He attacked a historically significant black church in order to make a statement about black people in America and that statement is not a good one. He might very well have mental problems but he's a racist plain and simple. We have a huge problem with race in the US. If a black man had opened fire on a white church we would not be talking about mental illness. We'd be calling him a thug and a terrorist and use the incident to justify our white supremacy. We have to face our own racism. As whites we benefit hugely from a racist society. We need to have the courage to stand up and say no, I will no longer cash in on my privilege and instead I will face my racist attitudes and work towards changing them in my heart and in my society. I will write more on this in the coming days.
On guns: I have heard after school shootings and now church shootings that the solution is to arm teachers and pastors. As a former teacher and current pastor I want to go on record saying that I will never ever allow guns in my classroom or my church if it's up to me. I do not believe that further arming society will lead to greater peace. Violence begets violence. It does not shut it down. Until we decide that we have a huge problem with violence and that that problem is rooted in America's love affair with weapons, we will continue to live in the dark when it comes to shootings here. I have never, ever in my life felt more nervous about getting shot than I do right now living in Desert Hot Springs, CA. (Remember, I lived in Medellin, Colombia from 1986-1988, the time frame it was called by Time Magazine, " The Murder Capital of the World" and never felt the fear I do now.) The cavalier attitude about possessing guns and seeing them as means of protection makes me nervous. We live in a trigger happy society and I do feel that I could get caught in a crossfire one day.
Until we face the reality that racism is alive and well in the US and that a large part of the nation sees the way to peace is through violent gun use, we will continue to see unjust and tragic outcomes across this nation.
These are unedited, initial feelings. I hope to go deeper in the days to come. But as white Christian, I cannot sit idly by and watch as my black brothers and sisters continue to be slaughtered in the name of any thing other than pure unbridled racism.

Friday, June 19, 2015

A Strange Day

Yesterday started with the discovery of a water leak in one of the pipes in the kitchen ceiling. I had heard a very weird hissing sound the night before but could not figure out where it was coming from. By morning, it was clear that it was water hissing out of a pinhole leak in one of the pipes. The walls and ceiling were now full of water. Yikes. To add insult to injury, we couldn't find the water main which was not good! Fortunately the water department has an emergency line so they were able to help us get the water turned off. The plumber who had done the work in the house came at 11.00 that morning and by noon the whole thing was fixed. Except of course, the cosmetic repairs. The cross that did emerge was quite fascinating! I would've been much more freaked out about this had I not lived through the reno. I now know that anything can be repaired and made to look brand new! Still, we are so thankful that we were home. Visions of this happening while we were in Minnesota or worse yet, after we'd moved to London caused me to shudder. The damage is minimal and will be easily repaired. The only scary thing is that there is no way to know why something like this happened since the pipes are copper and fairly new. One thing that I did think about however is that California is in the midst of the huge drought and water just poured into our ceiling all night. Can't wait to see our water bill for this month. Ugh.

In more serious news, the mountains that surround us, Big Bear, caught fire. It's a serious fire that is hard to contain. This morning's news is reporting that 10,000 acres have been affected. The drought has not helped these conditions. While we are surrounded by these mountains, we are in no danger from the fire. But the smoke from the mountains created an eerie, interesting afternoon sky for us. We decided to go take a look up on the ridge so Tanner jumped in the cart with us and off we went. We saw one of the coyotes that hang around the golf course, but Tanner didn't react, thank God.It was quite the wild sight up on the ridge and about as windy as I've ever experienced it. The the smoke covering the sun in such a way that caused it to glow bright red. You can see it in the photo if you look at an upward, left angle from the tall palm tree.

Over the mountains where the fire was the colors were something else while on the other side of the valley, the sky was mostly clear.
We couldn't even smell smoke last night but this morning when we got up, we noticed it right away. In fact, it's so smokey in the valley now that it actually hurts my eyes to go outside. Doug was going to play golf, but it was cancelled. And now the sky is fully covered in smoke and haze. Our thoughts and prayers are with those who are in harms way and of course, always, with the fire fighters who do such a great job fighting these intense forest fires. 

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Around the House

We've already hit the proverbial dog days of summer with temperatures soaring above 110°F (43°C). Even though it is a dry heat, it's hot. You really cannot be in the direct sunlight unless you are in water. Even the shade in the afternoon is hot and running errands is an exhausting venture. Luckily for me, I can just take a siesta (afternoon nap) when the energy runs out!
Early mornings are awesome. The air is cooler and the birds are out. We have a seed bird feeder and a hummingbird feeder in our backyard so it's pretty fun to watch the birds skittering about. The view of Jacinto in the morning is something special as well.
The desert heat in the summer is definitely something you need to be prepared for. We carry water with us in the car, golf cart, walking, the pool. Wherever we go, we make sure to have water because dehydration can happen very quickly. I'm faithfully using 40 sunscreen with zinc oxide on my face, for my friends who are concerned about my "tanorexic" tendencies. And, if you leave candles outside, this is what happens to them! We have these gorgeous lanterns that look great at night with a lit candle inside of them, but I learned that I have to bring the candles in and then take them out when I want to burn them. Who knew?!
We bought a little kiddie pool for Tanner. He's unsure of it. Had to coax him with treats to even step into it yesterday! Perhaps over time he'll adjust and step into it to cool off. For now, it's his giant drinking bowl out back.
It's funny...I thought I would miss the long daylight of the summer days in Sweden and while there are parts of that very special light that are irreplaceable, I do find that now that we have sunshine and heat day after day, I don't miss it as much. There really is something to mentally needing that much daylight after suffering through a dark winter. Since we arrived at the end of January, I can count on one hand the days that have not been sunny! And because the heat is so intense, the cool of nightfall is welcome. That, plus the added feature of the star-lit sky of the desert lessens my longing for the all night light of the Swedish summer. We miss our boat but again, not in the same way we thought we would. Since we don't live somewhere where we could use it regularly, the specialness of the Finnmaster remains in the Swedish archipelago. Oh, for sure, on these hot, hot days, the chill of the Baltic sounds pretty good to us and Tanner! But we've kind of traded our boat for a golf cart and that helps to lessen the longing for the fantastic times we shared on the boat. Of course, what we really miss are times shared with friends on the boat and in the archipelago. That longing does not go away.
We have two beautiful palm trees in our front yard and this is the time of year when they need to be trimmed. How do you trim a palm tree you ask? We saw the neighbor's gardener yesterday and asked him if he did it. He said he did and gave us a very good price. So yesterday afternoon, in the scorching heat, we looked out our window and saw him climbing our palms! This is dangerous and hot work! But he did it with ease. Can you imagine hanging on a palm tree by chain links, and then wielding a machete to chop the palm fronds all the while sweating like crazy because it's 110° outside? We tipped him well. The trees look great with their haircuts!
Doug has kept himself busy with an epic do-it-yourself project. He saw this unit online and decided to tackle it himself. I'm really proud of him as it turned out great! He purchased all of the pipes, had to have them cut to specific measures, painted them, had the wood cut, bore the holes himself, and painted them! So it will be great for us to fill in the shelves. This will definitely help us in our quest to get unpacked.
So, life moves along. In addition to continuing to get the house settled, we're trying to figure out how to get Tanner moved to the UK. It's complicated flying a pet into Heathrow from Los Angeles. Who knew? One way or another, we'll get there.
In the meantime, we're all just trying to beat the heat!

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

London Calling

Get it...London Calling...from the iconic red phone booths!
When we left Stockholm at the end of January, we were a bit uncertain of what the road ahead might look like. But we were confident that God would lead even if we couldn't see what path would unfold. Now the next stop on our journey has been revealed and we will be moving to London, England in August to serve as the interim pastors for the American International Church in London. We could not be more thrilled with this opportunity and thank God for his goodness to us.
This is a church with whom we share a history.
Our first trip to London, 1999
We've attended two pastors conferences hosted by this community. I have spoken at a women's retreat there and preached on a Sunday morning. Additionally, I was privileged to attend the ordination of their associate pastor and participate in that service last spring. We've known the pastor who is leaving well. In fact, he and his son visited Stockholm twice and I stayed in their home when I was there for the women's conference. Turns out, I was staying in the home that we will now inhabit.
The call is for 6-12 months, seeking to journey with the church as they search for a new senior pastor. It's perfect for us as it allows us to return to ministry, get back to Europe, serve another International church under a very different model than Immanuel, and get a feel for interim ministry. It is such a bonus that we already know several members of the community and have a great familiarity with the church. 
The church is right in the heart of London. It's a very urban, busy area and it will be quite exciting to see what's it's like to minister in a big, bustling city. And it will be fun to live in a foreign city where English is spoken!
So we'll be trading our shorts and sandals for rain gear and wellies! And yes, Tanner is going to make the journey. He does not know this yet. I'm wondering how he'll react when he sees that crate come out of storage!
London has long been a favorite city of ours. We've enjoyed the sights and sounds of this vast city. To be given an opportunity to live and work there, to partner with a vibrant church community as they continue to seek to fulfill their mission, to be invited in to lead and nurture a community as they seek their next steps is a humbling gift for which we are very thankful.
Keep us and the church in your prayers as together we seek God's will for His church in London.

Monday, June 8, 2015

TRAVEL: It's Good for You!

We arrived back in Desert Hot Springs last Monday evening after a long, uneventful, peaceful drive from Trementon, Utah. I must say that interstate 15 wins the prize for me for being the most beautiful interstate in the US. From the grand view of the Tetons, and the rolling green hills of Idaho, through the ridges and canyons of Utah and Arizona, I was amazed by how lovely highway driving could be.
I didn't take any photos on the way home as our focus was on getting home as quickly as possible. We were thankful for the safety of our drive and the ease with which we traveled. Tanner proved himself to be good company and seemed to enjoy tagging along.

I kept some statistics of our trip so here's a little numerical summary.
We drove a total of 4897 miles. Gas prices varied quite a bit from state to state, but even so, the price of gas is silly cheap in the US. Here's a rough outline:
$3.09 Mesquite, Nevada
$2.97 Park City, Utah
$2.45 Caspar, Wyoming
$2.53 Wall, South Dakota
$2.49 Brandon, South Dakota
$2.45 Burnsville, MN
$2.49 Fargo, ND
$2.55 Mile City, MT
$2.49 Wapiti, WY
$3.09 Trementon, UT
$3.17 St. George, UT
$3.48 Yucca Valley, CA

California remains an expensive place to live with the highest priced gas on the entire trip.
We visited 10 different states: California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, South Dakota, Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana, and Idaho. 
On the way home I kept track of the temperature. (all temps in F) When we left MN it was 67°. When we reached Fargo, North Dakota it had dropped to 41°. It climbed back up to 54° by the time we got to New Salem, North Dakota and remained there in Wibaux, Montana. We hit 62° in Mile City, Montana, and were happy to see 74°in Wapiti, Montana. It seemed to stay in the low 70's throughout our day in Yellowstone and reached 82° in Trementon, UT. As we drove southward home the mercury started to rise, indicating the arid climate of the deserts hitting 94° in St. George, UT. It got over 100° as we traversed the Mojave Desert. It was in the 90's as we pulled into our house around 9.00 p.m. on Monday night. Hard to imagine a 50° shift in temperature in only 3 days!

Our National Parks pass served us well. Each place was unique and beautiful in its own right. We were in a few big cities but lots of small towns which reminded us that the US is diverse and vast. Many foreigners who visit the US, naturally want to see New York, Chicago, Los Angeles. And these cities are also part of what makes the US the US, but...it's really the small towns and the wide open spaces that lend an extra view into the life of an American. We found that people were mostly very nice, just seeking to make an honest living, understanding life from their little corner of the world. It's what makes the US hard to understand at times but beautiful all of the time. 

We were reminded that the US offers amazing opportunities for trips and adventures. After living in Europe for 17 years, and traveling to some of the most amazing places in the world, it's easy to forget that in your own backyard are wonders like Mt. Rushmore, the Badlands, Yellowstone National Park, The Grand Tetons, canyons and ridges and mountain ranges and lakes and streams that abound. The wildlife in the National Parks is so awesome. We saw prairie dogs, deer, and bison along with numerous types of birds. It was refreshing to be surrounded by these wonderful and wild open spaces. 

For me, this road trip re-confirmed what I have known now for years. TRAVEL is good for one's soul. Whether it be a drive across country or a trip across the pond, it's just good and healthy to get out and see another way of life. To experience another's place is to build understanding in your own perspective. To travel to another place is to put a human face on places. Could I live in Wibaux, MT? Probably not. It seems quite unlikely that we will be making a move to Utah or Idaho anytime soon and I don't think I'm the one to try to drive up the population of humans in Wyoming. But I am thankful that I've met folks for whom there is no other place they'd rather be. I'm thankful for the diversity of my homeland even though at times, it makes the US a very complex and complicated place.