Monday, July 29, 2013

Is the High Church Less Pretentious? @rachelheldevans

On Saturday, Rachel Held Evans posted a great piece entitled, Why Millennials Are Leaving the Church. I agree with a lot of what she wrote (and her writing in general). The part I want to comment on is her explanation for why so many young people are leaving the low church (the more casual, traditional evangelical style) for the high church traditions (more focused on liturgy and tradition). In the middle of her post, she writes:
Many of us, myself included, are finding ourselves increasingly drawn to high church traditions  Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, the Episcopal Church, etc. precisely because the ancient forms of liturgy seem so unpretentious, so unconcerned with being “cool,” and we find that refreshingly authentic.
This is where I disagree. In fact, my experience is that the high church traditions have come across as far more pretentious than those of the low church. Perhaps it's some of the people I've encountered in those churches who look down on anything more casual and spontaneous.

Some argue that liturgy and tradition is quite meaningful, as it makes them feel connected to the many generations who have come before and the congregations worldwide who may be doing the same thing at the same time. This makes sense intellectually, but I have to say I've never had that experience, at least emotionally. (Roger Olson has a great post that includes some comparison and analysis of this.)

Perhaps it's because I'm pretty big into low church tradition in many ways, even theologically. While I haven't gotten to experience it, I love the idea of the completely non-planned and community-driven Friends (Quaker) services. And I can't say I personally have ever been moved by a liturgy. But I've definitely been moved by more casual experiences.

I think where there's a big disconnect for many people of all generations is the scripted nature of evangelicalism. While casual may appear to be spontaneous, many of us know the services Held Evans criticizes are highly scripted, often more so than their liturgical counterparts. And I've heard it said a few times that most churches actually are quite liturgical, if we look at having a routine set of behaviors and schedule for a service.

But some seem more performance-driven than others. Is the purpose of a script/routine/liturgy for practicality, everyone knowing what comes next, or because we all believe this is the right way to do it and will draw more people in, effectively creating an emotional experience (and these are not mutually exclusive options). In my experience, many evangelical churches have moved more and more to the latter, effectively disregarding the potential work of the Holy Spirit to move. And at the same time, I don't think the emotions created by an amazing performance are inauthentic or wrong (concerts and theatrical performances do this all the time, and we're fine with it).

I think too much of a focus on the performance in an area where performance isn't key (the Church) is the problem, though. There becomes this fear of failing to do things properly (another theme in many areas of Christendom). And soon we lose a direct experience of God for performance. I love Renovaré's retreat theme this year: "Changing Performance for God to Experiencing Life with God."

Too much performance in church, and the congregation becomes an audience. That's why I generally like low church traditions: I feel a greater sense of participation. Yet early in grad school, I remember one of my professors sharing her experience in the Episcopal Church. She described how even her small son (around 4 or 5) could participate because of the repetition of the liturgy. That gave me a whole new appreciation and understanding of liturgy and high church traditions.

In my current congregation, I see there being a very nice balance between the low and high church traditions. There's definitely elements of liturgy, but there's also a low church accessibility. People of all ages and backgrounds lead the congregation in some of the liturgical prayers and elements (I don't know how common this is elsewhere). But then there's times when the service feels like a pretty casual, contemporary service. I don't think anyone would ever freak out if something were missed or forgotten one week. I think the key is that there isn't a rigidity to a particular style. In many ways, I see our congregation engaging in this balance because it's worked practically for the congregation. Not because it's so inherently amazing.

Traditional liturgy has a lot of benefits. So does the casualness and apparent spontaneity of stereotypical evangelical churches. But both are just a style and can be used to be highly pretentious. Both can create accessibility, and both can shut people out.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

I Shouldn't Pay for Their Healthcare... But I Do

I doubt we'll see the end of debates about healthcare reform anytime soon. Interestingly, many of the things being tried now were tried a couple of decades ago, too, from my understanding. Yet having worked in a major medical center for the past five years, I can definitely understand that health care needs major reforming.

Last week, I saw a story in my Facebook feed (supposedly) from an ER physician who was treating some young kid with expensive tattoos and piercings, but with Medicaid (public insurance, for those who don't know). The argument was that if he had enough money for the tattoos, piercings, and cigarettes, we shouldn't have to pay for his health care.

There were so many problems and fallacies with this story and argument that I wanted to write a response. I haven't heard a plan I've loved so far, so this isn't a political statement, but rather an opportunity to flesh out some alternative perspectives.

First of all, I've learned in working with a variety of minors, many will actually give themselves or each other the tattoos or piercings. Others get fancy-looking ones free in trade for a variety of favors. So don't be so quick to assume the kid has money. And there's a lot I could say about the addictive nature of cigarettes that would make just about anyone prioritize buying them over health care.

Ultimately, though, the real question comes to whether we should have to pay for other people's health care. Actually, if you pay taxes and have private insurance, you already pay for other people's health care.

Few people know that most hospitals (at least those with an ER or the equivalent) fall under EMTALA, a law requiring the hospital to treat anyone who walks in if they meet admission criteria, regardless of their ability to pay. The admitting staff cannot ask about insurance or payment until they determine if they will admit the individual. The purpose is that anyone can get help in life-threatening situations, which I believe is good.

Now many hospitals treat huge numbers of people who have no insurance or whose insurance doesn't cover costs. The hospitals still have to operate. So who gets the bill? Those of us with private insurance. Our costs get higher, so our insurance premiums get higher. This is just one part of the skyrocketing cost of healthcare.

And it's not just life threatening situations. People use the ER or hospital for things many people would seek in a traditional outpatient appointment. In the psych hospital, for instance, we would regularly have people admitted because they ran out of medications. Why didn't they get them filled outpatient? Either they didn't have insurance, or more commonly, they couldn't get an appointment. So now an issue that could have a sub-$100 visit up to a few times a month turns into a $1000 a day treatment for 3-5 days. And private insurance holders subsidize this treatment.

This also gets us to the issue of not having enough providers if universal health care is passed. I used to be strongly persuaded by this argument. But then I started realizing what it meant: I have money, so I can have health care; someone else doesn't have money, so they can't have health care. Is that really fair? Or godly?

There's also some fallacies with it. Go back to our individual who couldn't get an outpatient appointment for med refills or therapy. Sure, there is a paucity of providers for public insurance (at least in California). But part of the problem is that the public insurance reimburses providers at such a low rate, they often cannot cover costs. If everyone had insurance that could reimburse at a decent rate, more providers would likely be able to be available. Oh, and don't forget that we still subsidize outpatient visits. Many providers have a certain number of low income or pro bono slots. How do they compensate for the financial loss there? By getting more money from those who can pay.

So don't think you'll start paying for someone else. You already do. And it's a completely ineffective use of that money. If we're going to pay for others' healthcare, let's do it in a way that works and really helps everyone.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Love, Not Justice, Fulfills the Law

There's a lot of commentary in the aftermath of the verdict in the tragic case of Trayvon Martin. Even I, who now generally avoids the news, couldn't avoid some of the commentary. Because I didn't follow it too closely, I am not at all qualified to determine whether Zimmerman is guilty or not. What I do find more interesting is the strong reactions people have, particularly using the word, justice.

I remembering reading one person (I don't know who) stating something like, "Justice hasn't happened because his death wasn't punished." I find it a sad state of affairs when we equate justice with punishment. This is something I discuss a lot in parent groups when the topic of discipline comes up.

What is the purpose of discipline or justice? Ultimately, it is to set things right. Especially from a disciplinary perspective, psychology has consistently found that reinforcing positive behavior is far more effective than punishing negative behavior, when possible. Research into our "justice" system has discovered the same thing. The consequences society gives to dissuade crime doesn't actually dissuade much crime.

Will continuing to dole out punishments really help people learn? Will that help our society become less racist? Will it help your child learn to value school? It can teach behavioral submission and conformity, but not necessarily the deeper values.

Rather, love and support do this. Acceptance of people where they're at rather than forcing them to be something they're not can actually help them move to a place of change. And remember that acceptance does not mean agreement or approval. There's a lot of good psychological research in this area (DBT is a good place to start on this).

Interestingly, the book of Romans seems to agree. Just look at the second half of Romans 13:10: "love is what fulfills the law." Punishment seems to meet human needs of vengeance. But does it actually do good?

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Return of the Blog

So it's been about 8 months since I last posted on here. Getting ready for a baby and the ensuing fun and challenges of  having a newborn have distracted me a bit from my blogging duties. And that's what they've felt like a lot: Duties. It's interesting to read how so many bloggers absolutely love writing. I don't. But I do like ideas, and I like discussing them. And frankly some of the best ways of really sharing and discussing ideas is through writing. So I've decided to come back and try again, whether or not anyone actually reads them. If nothing else, it will be a good opportunity to consolidate some of my musings. We'll see how it goes this time! :)


Got a question, struggle, or doubt you'd like to see addressed here? Contact me, and I'll try to discuss it (and may even help you get an answer).