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A River Runs Through It: A Lament for Huntington, West Virginia, the Heart of Trump’s America, Part One

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The Ohio River is one of America’s majestic rivers and for nearly two centuries has been one of the nation’s vital waterways. Over those years cities developed along it, cities that were at one time the center of much American industry and transportation. However, over the years many of those cities have lost their manufacturing centers and cities like Pittsburgh, Louisville, and Cincinnati, fell, but have begun to rise again. 

Yesterday we traveled to one of the cities That hasn’t rose again, Huntington, West Virginia, to spend a week with a dear friend. However, unlike those other cities, Huntington has not only not recovered, but continues to slide into the abyss. For years I held onto hope that Huntington and the Tri-State area of West Virginia, Kentucky, and Ohio would come back, but today I realized that it won’t come back for the foreseeable future. No amount of fanatical belief in a political Messiah who promises to Make America Great Again is going to change that, the facts don’t support it and neither do the social, political, and economic culture that has developed over the past fifty years. 

For those that don’t know, Huntington, Cabell County, and adjoining Wayne County are my ancestral home in the United States. My family on both sides were early settlers in the area. In fact I was the first person in my immediate family born somewhere else, thanks to my parents I was a Navy brat and was born in California and raised on the West Coast. My family for the most part has either died off or moved away. I have a few cousins still in the area but haven’t seen any of them in years. 

In spite of that I have always considered Huntington a home away from home. We used to visit my grandparents and other relatives, all of who are now long gone. Some of my earliest and happiest memories were in Huntington. After I finished seminary and my Clinical Pastoral Education residency in 1995 I got my first post-residency hospital job there while serving in the National Guard and Army Reserve. Even then it was a place that I felt safe and wanted to live. Though I went back on active duty in the Navy in 1999 still considered it a place that I might actually want to retire. It is a beautiful area. 

Twenty something years later I no longer feel that way. We arrived in town early in the afternoon and after we unpacked the car I had to pick up a few things at a local grocery store. I know Huntington like the back of my hand, every area, every street, and while the street names and the geography of the city have not changed, the city has fundamentally changed and though I had seen it coming I never wanted to believe it. 

Huntington used to be the largest and wealthiest city in the state, but back in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, things began to change. The heavy industry began moving out, especially in the 1980s when those industries imploded. Likewise in the 1960s the city council and business people decided that they didn’t want Interstate 64 to go through the city because they were afraid that it would negatively effect the downtown businesses. The interstate went around town and the businesses including the state’s largest mall moved to Barboursville in Cabell County. Downtown died and despite efforts to revive it, it has not recovered. 

Bad economic decision after decision, including the rejection of a Toyota engine plant with thousands of really good paying jobs not far from town in the late 1990s have doomed the city. In the 1960s and 1970s the population was close to 90,000, now it is under 50,000. Many people moved into the surrounding areas, but those too are beginning to suffer from many of the issues effecting Huntington which remains the heart of the Tri-State metropolitan area. 

The city infrastructure is crumbling, the ancient storm drain system is failing leading to flooding in areas previously immune from it, and causing flood insurance premiums to skyrocket. Its schools are underfunded, the educational outcomes are poor, its economy is failing, and society beginning to collapse, the opiod crisis is just a symptom of a larger decay. 

The city is still home to Marshall University but without it things would be much worse, as the University partners with business and the major medical centers. In fact if it wasn’t for the University, the medical school, and the hospitals there would be nothing here. Most of the industry including steel and chemical plants which used to supply auto manufacturers, make railroad cars, and other manufacturing goods are gone, and most of the derive industry jobs outside of medical care pay little more than subsistence wages and offer few or no benefits. The coal industry has downsized because the coal here is harder to get and thus more expensive than going elsewhere. Despite promises of bringing coal jobs back that is not going to happen. What is left of the coal industry in West Virginia, much of it owned by the state’s only billionaire and governor, Jim Justice,who by the way was a Republican and became a Democrat to run for governor in 2015, who just switched back to being a Trump Republican, is going high tech and not replacing miners. This is not because of environmental regulations but simply because the coal industry has already raped the state of the easily accessible coal, at a tremendous human and environmental cost. 


The city has some beautiful residential areas near Ritter Park which is a wonderful park that stretches for miles along Four Pole Creek. The homes through that area and in the hills that rise sharply above it are where the well off people live, the doctors, lawyers, real estate agents, corporate executives, and tenured university professors. But just a few blocks away people live in squalor. Boarded up homes and businesses, vacant lots, and barely habitable homes predominant what were once affluent middle class neighborhoods that I remember all too well. 

The once thriving downtown area is a shell of its former self. There have been a number of attempts to revive it, the latest being the very nice Pullman Square, but many businesses can’t make it there because people don’t have the money to spend. Even a Five Guys burger joint went out of business there, and I have never seen one of those places go belly up. 


The city is the poster city and epicenter for the opiod epidemic in this country. You cannot drive or walk down the streets without seeing someone with the wild-eyed or blank stare of an addict. Homeless people, often drug addicts, walk down the streets with their belongings, and sometimes their children in tow. It is quite sad to see. 

West Virginia is one of the poorest states in the country it is the seventh most poverty stricken state in the country. Most education ratings place the state in the bottom ten percent of the United States with one of the lowest success rates measured in educational attainment and earnings. It ranks 50th in life expectancy, it is second in obesity, and has the highest rate of opiod addiction and death in the country. I could go on but the drumbeat of negative statistics and outcomes gets too depressing after a while to go on about them. 

Until the past two decades the state was a reliable “blue state.” That didn’t mean the state was liberal in any sense, it was actually a lot like much of the American South which was reliably Democratic until Democrats began to support the civil rights movement, and other more progressive causes in the 1960s and afterwards. It stayed longer in the “Blue” column because most of its Democratic leaders such as Robert Byrd and Jay Rockefeller did not defect to the GOP like many leaders in the South who followed Storm Thurman and the Dixiecrats to the GOP. In fact many of the Democratic state office holders were solidly on the side of business and would be considered conservatives in any other state. But it was only after Barack Obama was elected to the Presidency that the state shifted to be almost solidly Republican, with all statewide offices with the exception of now endangered Democrat moderate Senator Joe Manchin being controlled by the GOP. 

In 2016 the state voted for Donald Trump with over 68% of the vote. Interestingly enough, West Virginia is one of the states that has benefited the most from the Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Health Care Act, and since that legislation was enacted more people have access to healthcare, which if you look at the state’s health rankings is badly needed yet opposed by many Trump supporters. Last week a cheering crowd greeted the President at a campaign rally in downtown Huntington cheering “lock her up!” while jeering former FBI Director and now Special Prosecutor Robert Muller over the Russia investigation. In desparation many people here have pinned their hopes on a false savior, one who promises to Make America Great Again, but cannot deliver for their city. 

Socially it West Virginia is a fascinating state. There are strip clubs and pornography super centers littering the interstate highways and around the outskirts of town, yet the state is full of churches and socially one of the most conservative states when it comes to people’s religious views, especially when it comes to abortion or LGBTQ issues. Of course this is not unusual as the Bible Belt is also the the porn belt. But I digress, I got more into statistics than I intended but they provide a mosaic of what is going on in the state. 

Today I came home in a sense to a place that is no longer home. Since we have been military nomads for some 36 years, West Virginia is still my home of record for the military. When I went back on active duty in the Navy in 1999 it was our intention to return. I can’t do that now. Today, for the first time in my life I did not feel safe on the streets of Huntington. The poverty is the least of my concerns, and it’s certainly not a racial issue because Cabell County is 91% white. I’ve been poor and lived in crime ridden ghettos that were heavily black and Hispanic, but I hate to say I felt safer in those places than I did today. 


Please don’t take this essay wrong. It is not a polemic by any means, it is a way to process my grief for a city and state that is not going to be great again anytime soon. People can shout Make America Great Again all they want, but fervor and fanaticism do not change facts. I do wish that it was different, but people here are doing what they have been doing since the Robber Barons, Coal Kings, and Lumber Lords raped the state of its natural resources, destroyed the encronment, and for all practical purposes enslaved the people in “company towns.” 

Huntington’s crisis didn’t happen overnight, it is the product of decades of poor leadership by politicians of both parties, business leaders, and yes, even citizens and now many are putting their trust in a false savior who despite his words and their fervor will not change the course of their city or state. 

I think that today after I do my run and walk through Ritter Park, that I will be out taking pictures, not just of the nice areas like I usually do here, the riverfront and Ritter Park, but the blighted areas. I will post them as a photo essay as part two of this either tomorrow or Thursday. 

Until then,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under culture, economics and financial policy, healthcare, laws and legislation, Political Commentary

Thumbs Down: McCain, Collins, and Murkowski send ACA Repeal to the Dust Bin 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

It was an eventful week. In addition to the President’s tweet about baring transgender persons from the military, an action which blindsided the Pentagon leadership and caused a lot of consternation in the military and the GOP, a hyper-political address to the Boy Scouts, another North Korean ballistic missile test, a Congressional vote in favor of more sanctions against Russia, and the end of the attempt by Trump and the GOP leadership the scuttle the Affordable Care Act, more popularity known as Obamacare. 


The end of the GOP Congress’s attempt to repeal the Affordable Health Care came to an appropriate end last night at the hands of Senators John McCain, Susan Collins, and Lisa Murkowski who joined with ever Democrat in the Senate to place the repeal attempts in the dustbin of fail legislation. 

After seven years of ranting and raving, failed votes and shear legislative incompetence the efforts of Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, and President Trump demonstrated that hubris, coupled with incompetence is no way to go through life. Ignoring polls which said less than 20% of Americans were in favor of their various legislative proposals; against the advice every major medical association, the insurance industry, the AARP, and even veterans organizations the GOP leadership goaded by President Trump who blatantly ignored his own campaign promises to make healthcare more affordable and available, pressed ahead. 

A good number of GOP Senators voiced concern, but only McCain, Murkowski, and Collins held the line. A number of Senators voted for the doomed act hoping that if it passed the House would do nothing with it, reject it, or send it back. 

McCain stole the show by coming back from Arizona after surgery which revealed that he is suffering from a deadly form of brain cancer, the same type that ended the life of Teddy Kennedy, to cast the final and deciding vote Thursday night. His action, which followed an ovation to welcome him back was dramatic. As the last Senator to vote he walked up to the clerk of the Senate under the glowering face and folded arms of majority leader McConnell, voted no and for dramatic effect turned his thumb down. It was possibly the crowning moment of McCain’s Senate career. I think that he must have relished it. He came back and voted to allow the GOP repeal efforts to come to the floor, and then voted against every one of them. He could have ended things by voting not to allow the vote to go forward, but it seemed that he savored the opportunity to torpedo Trump who had on numerous occasions during the campaign disparaged McCain’s military service, including his years in a North Vietnamese prison camp at a time the President was using ever deferment and excuse that he could to avoid serving in the military. 

In light of his cancer diagnosis this may be one of his last acts in the Senate, I hope not because I think we still need him, but I am a realist and know how devastating this cancer can be. 

But McCain’s dramatic comeback would have been impossible had not Senators Collins and Murkowski held the line, braving physical and political threats from various Republicans and Trump supporters and not wavering in the face of tremendous opposition. 

So the ill-advised, moronic, and badly botched GOP effort to destroy the ACA failed. President Trump appears not to be deterred and will probably do whatever he can to destroy the ACA even as the GOP Senate leadership begins to work with Democrats on a more bipartisan attempt to improve the ACA. 

It was a humiliating end to seven years of bluster to repeal the ACA without any serious effort to come up with something better, especially since the ACA had its origins in the Heritage Foundation and its trial run in Romneycare. It was a Republican proposal put into place by Demcrats alone because Mitch McConnell and othe GOP leaders decided on the day that President Obama was inaugurated to do all they could to make his presidency a failure and him a one-term president. 

Now, no-matter what President Trump says or does, the GOP needs to decided to work with Democrats. This is not about the President’s ego and need to win at all costs. It is about so much more. Healthcare is one of the largest sectors of the economy, public health is a strategic concern that impacts national security. The health and well-being of people impacts every part of our economy and the future of our country. It cannot be left to ideologues bent on destroying our health care system for next quarter’s profits and tax write offs. 

So anyway, until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Not to Be Alone: Why Gay Marriage Matters

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

I have been thinking about the profound legal and moral implications of the Supreme Court ruling on marriage equity, the Obergfell v. Hodges case. One of those impacts in in a very simple and human concern, the ability of people to be with their loved ones during medical crisis or when they are dying. I saw the profound implications of not having this right when I was a young chaplain doing my hospital residency at Parkland Hospital in Dallas, Texas 1993 and 1994. This is the story of those two encounters and how they changed me.

Peace

Padre Steve+

marriage equality

For me it is still hard to comprehend, a young chaplain; two relatively young men dying of AIDS, two partners, two families and two radically different experiences of humanity, faith, religion and authentic loving relationships.

I was still a relatively inexperienced minister and chaplain back when I was doing my Pastoral Care residency at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas Texas back in 1993 and 1994. Yes I had graduated from seminary. Yes I had a bit of chaplain experience as an Army National Guard chaplain and as a counselor at a major evangelical Christian ministry, and yes I had experience in dealing with AIDS as a Medical Service Corps officer in the Army.

Despite that, I was so ill prepared to deal with the massively different treatment of people dying from AIDS from their families. Families that in some cases shared the same Christian faith as me. I think that is one of the things that young ministers struggle with when they enter the nether world between life and death, mortality and immortality, faith and unbelief in the real world. When I was in seminary the senior pastor of the mega-church that I attended told a story about being approached by a family member of someone who was very sick and in hospital. The person wanted him to visit them while they were a patient. He had been their pastor for years. When they ask him if he would come, he refused. He recounted that the “parishioner asked just how sick he would have to be to get a hospital visit?” The pastor told us his response. He laughed and said “you don’t want to be that sick.” The congregation laughed and I was devastated.

The pastor was a leader in the New Apostolic Reformation, a friend of John Wimber, Rick Joyner and others who helped to pave the way to the heartless, unfeeling, political “Christianity” and “Dominion theology” that is in vogue with the Tea Party and Religious Right today. When I questioned him about his comments later he told me that thought that pastoral care of those in his congregation, especially in regard to hospital visits was “below his office as an apostle, that others had that responsibility.” The thing that disturbed me the most was that he had ordained me as an Evangelical minister in that church to be a chaplain barely two years before this. I had respected him and now I felt a tremendous sense of emptiness when I left his office.

So when I began my pastoral care residency at Parkland I found that I had a lot to learn about the real world of religious faith, religious hypocrisy and religious hatred and intolerance.

Early in my residency I dealt with a number of AIDS cases. I wrote about one of those cases last night, although that was not really early in my residency, it was closer to the end of it. There were two cases besides that one that made such deep impressions on me that I can never forget them. Both involved young, white, homosexual men dying of the complications from full blown AIDS. Both came from very “Evangelical Christian” families (both were Southern Baptist) and both were being grieved by what we called then, their “significant others” as well as their biological families. But that was where the similarities ended.

The first case was in the second month of my residency, when I was the chaplain for the Medical ICU, before the Pastoral Care Director wisely moved me to the Trauma and Surgery department. A patient came to us, a man, about my age, a successful architect with many friends who was experiencing pneumonia brought about by his immunodeficiency brought about by HIV.

When he arrived he was still able to communicate and he had many of his friends as well as his significant other visiting him. They loved him and he loved them. There was a sense of community and if I dare say real family as they visited. In those first few days I got to know him and these people, most of who were homosexual but not all. There were a number of women there, who I am sure had the patient, who was a remarkably handsome man, been a heterosexual, would have loved to have been his wife.

My encounter with him, before his condition worsened to the point that he had to go on a ventilator and was sedated was transforming. He grew up in the church, knew that he was homosexual, attempted to live with it and finally came out as gay, and was disowned by his family. Despite this he became a highly successful architect, had many friends, was active in charitable works, and still maintained his faith in Jesus. I came to appreciate him, the man who for was for all purposes his spouse and his friends.

However, when his condition deteriorated his estranged family, the people who had disowned him, rushed to his “rescue.” In good Christian form they brought their pastor who though their son was unconscious proceeded to preach at him regarding his need to “repent” and “to come back to Jesus.” The family also took advantage of the law. They were his biological family and next of kin. They banned the man’s partner and friends from his room as he lay dying.

The family’s pastor preached at the dying man and glared at the people closest to him while he was present.  I was appalled by his, and their behavior. While they isolated their son from those closest to him and allowed their pastor to condemn him as he died, I remained with his partner and friends. I prayed with them, I cried with them, I embraced them. When the family left I went with them to be with this young man’s mortal body. We prayed and after the nurses prepared his body and the doctors completed their final notes, I walked with them as we took his body on that long trip from the ninth floor to basement, where the morgue awaited. I still cry when I think of this encounter, of how supposedly Christian people would not only keep their son, who they had rejected and condemned from those who loved him the most as he lay dying.

A couple of months later I was in my element as the Trauma and Surgery Department Chaplain, but I still had on call duty where I was responsible for crisis situations anywhere in the house. One of those wild nights I got a call from the nursing staff of Nine South, the Medical Step Down unit where the lady that I wrote about last night had passed away, but that was still in the future.

This time there was another young white man, another partner, another family. This young man was not in the ICU fighting for his life, he was passing away in the quiet solitude of his room with his mother and father, his partner and his friends at his side. Like the other young man he was a man of faith. He loved Jesus, he loved his family and he loved his partner.

He was from the area west of Dallas, the area between Fort Worth and Abilene. His mom and dad were ranchers, dad was wearing his cowboy hat, a plaid shirt, classic western Levi’s jeans and cowboy boots. His mom was wearing a simple dress. Both were thing, tanned and their faces lined by the sun and weather and from being out on the range with their cattle. The young man who was with them, the dying man’s partner was casually dressed but though he was from the same area was not a rancher.

I spent time with all of them. The contrast between the “Christian” parents and pastor of the first young man could have not been more profound. Like the architect’s parents, they were Christians. In fact they were Southern Baptists who attended a small country church in the town that they lived. By any sense of the word they could be described as “Fundamentalist” Christians, but unlike so many fundamentalists they focused on loving God and loving people, even people that so many Christians reject out of hand.

I arrived as the patient was breathing his last. I remained with him, his parents, partner and friends as he passed away, and when his parents asked I offered a prayer commending his soul to God. As I did this his partner was in a state of near collapse, exclaiming “I have no one now, I am alone!” His grief was overwhelming, he had no legal status, in the eyes of the law he meant nothing, though the man that he loved had just died. My heart was rent, and I held on to him.

As I did, the patient’s father came alongside of us. The father said to the young man “You are not alone, you are our son now, we love you.” When this dear man said this we all were in tears, as I am right now. I stayed with all of these dear people as the nursing staff prepared the young man’s body to go to the morgue. At some point the parents escorted their son’s now widowed partner out of the hospital. Mom and dad walked on either side of him as they left the ward. If there was anyone couple on this either who were true Christians, it was this dear couple. As we parted I could not hold back the tears, and the father of the deceased gave me a hug and thanked me for being with them and honoring his son.

I remained with the nursing staff and the internal medicine resident as they complete their duties and took the young man’s body to the morgue. After that I went back to the emergency room where some of the nursing staff, including a RN who at one time had been an Assemblies of God pastor, but was now an avowed atheist who loved to torment chaplains, except me, comforted me in my grief. It is funny that an atheist would be comforting the chaplain after such an event, but then if I do believe in God, why can’t I believe that anyone cannot share in the grief of others and of comfort and care.

It was a story that I could only share with my pastoral care residency supervisor, in our residency group and with my wife Judy, as I knew if I shared my experience at church that at best I would only be humored, and most probably be ostracized. In fact I had to keep that story pretty much under wraps until 2010 when was told to leave the church which had ordained me a priest, for among other things speaking out for the rights of Gays, Lesbians and the LGBTQ community. By then I had met and served with far too many Gays who were far better Christians than most of the Christians who condemned them not to do so.

But, in a way it was a step to freedom because I realized that what I had been taught for so long was so horribly at odds with the message of Jesus.

Two deaths, two men, two partners, two families, two experiences of God’s grace, two experiences of a common humanity and the experience of one very flawed, but no longer confused chaplain…

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Some Thoughts on Poverty and Suffering on a Friday Night

This is one of those emotional and drifting posts I do apologize that it is not one of my more witty, pithy or more well researched posts, but it is what it is.

I have become much more cognizant of the plight of the poor and suffering in the course of my adult life. Over the past few weeks and months, probably due to the nastiness of the election campaign and some of the things said about the poor and the less fortunate  have caused me to notice the poor around me as well as others that suffer in mind, body or spirit.  I have met some of the poor and even the homeless in my area. The ones that I have met all work, but don’t have enough income to pay for a place to live and live in their cars. I remember working in the projects of San Antonio and with the homeless in the Dallas Fort Worth area in the late 1980s. I remember the crush of humanity in the emergency room waiting area at Parkland Memorial Hospital while doing my residency there. I am drawn to the plight of the people who I met that were victimized by war, violence and oppression in the Middle East and the Balkans. The sight of refugees in camps in the middle of the desert wanted by no nation still gets to me. The sight of children that have been wounded by terrorists, insurgents and supposedly friendly fire made a deep impression on me.

Some comes from my own experience of poverty and often not knowing where the next rent payment, tank of gas or meal would come from after I left the Army in 1988. I understand what it is to be uninsured, to work hard, have a better education, training and experience than people that I worked for and to be treated as if my work and value as a person was of no significance as opposed to their personal or corporate bottom line. I have experienced the humiliation of having to ask for help between jobs, and believe me until you have not employment and have to work 2-3 jobs to have a place to live while going to school to hopefully achieve your dreams all the while dealing with the illness of a family member as you pursue your calling and vocation you may never understand.

When we were in the second year of seminary we were losing our home, our cars and being bombarded by calls from often hateful and uncaring bill collectors. At that time I felt that I had sacrificed everything and come up short, a failure facing the end of my dream I called a prayer line. The house we lived in was in a dangerous neighborhood, old and dilapidated only a couple of gas space heaters worked during on of the coldest winters the Dallas area had seen in decades. With the temperature of -8 degrees outside and with ice forming on the inside of the house windows and the landlord refusing to make repairs to the heating we huddled in our bedroom with our two dachshunds. I just wanted to have someone care, maybe offer a word of encouragement.  Instead I was told by the lady on the other end of the line that “I must not be in God’s will because if if I was he would be blessing me.” I was also asked if I wanted to donate to that ministry.

Somehow I don’t think that is the answer that Jesus would have given.

Eventually I did get through seminary and did pay off every bill instead of declaring bankruptcy. When I got my first hospital chaplain job after my residency it was a a full time contractor that made less than staff chaplains at the hospital and had no medical coverage. It is really hard to believe now that I was caring for people in that hospital’s ER and had no medical coverage myself. Of course when I was mobilized as an Army Reservist to go to support the Bosnia operation my contract was ended.

I guess when I hear politicians, pundits and politically minded preachers more guided by the principles of Ayn Rand than the Bible, or the Christian tradition it bothers me. When I see the Social Justice tradition of the Church, that referred to by Pope John Paul II as the “preferential option for the poor” mocked openly by leading political and religious figures I get upset. When I hear someone at a Presidential Primary debate yell “let them die” in regard to someone with a serious illness and no insurance or ability to pay I get concerned. We I see poverty and suffering in my own community, few social services and limited employment or educational opportunities it troubles me. I do what I can but it really isn’t enough.

I try now to listen to suffering people knowing that I cannot fix much of anything.  I guess that one of the biggest issues that I see is that when people are down and out that a lot of people treat them very disrespectfully and never take time to either get to know them or understand their situation. Instead it seems that as a society we tend to want to lecture people about all the ways that they have failed, how they have screwed up their lives and how they are lucky that we either give to some charity to help them or to blame them for being a burden on society.

Like I said, this is all emotion and meandering thoughts brought on my some recent experiences with people that have triggered painful memories of what it was to be in similar situations and memories of other peoples suffering in this country and overseas.

So since I am so emotional right now I will simply close with a prayer to close the night.

“Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake.  Amen.” From the Book of Common Prayer

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Deep Thoughts and Musings on a Lazy Fall Saturday

I have been down with an ear and sinus infection most of the week which has added to my insomnia and made me pretty useless.  It is no fun to get up in the morning with vertigo.  When this happens I wonder where Verti went. Over the past few days with the vertigo, occasional fever, sinus headaches and some coughing and sneezing I have officially welcomed in the 2011-2012 cold and flu season.

The past few days have given me time to do a lot of thinking, some praying and a bunch of writing.  At least my PTSD-Mad Cow brain is functioning relatively well.  But not getting out much and only going to work to go to the doctor is a bit of a downer.  But it is now time to stop whining to you about this and simply be thankful for the blessings that I have.

I could have a job that had paid time off for sickness or that provided no medical coverage.  I could be wondering where the next meal or paycheck was coming from or where I will sleep.  One thing that I am thankful for is that we paid off a painful reminder of when where the next meal, tank of gas, medical care or pace to live was our reality.  I left the active duty Army in September 1988 to attend seminary and that as about the time of the big Texas oil bust and real estate collapse.  I was an Army Captain and couldn’t get a job because I was overqualified for most jobs or competing against people who could be paid less than me for others.  It was brutal.

Judy was sick and could not work and eventually despite eventually getting a job with a social service agency, things fell apart. We lost our home and even our cars.  It was the worst time of our lives.  We never declared bankruptcy and paid off everything that we owed and this week I paid off the balance of the home that we lost in 1989 to the Veterans Administration.  When the market crashed and the foreclosure came owed almost 40% of the selling price when the house sold at auction.

I am so grateful for what we have now and so being sick and laid up for a few days is really nothing to complain about.  There are far too many people in our country that even a couple of years ago had what they thought were stable well paying jobs with benefits that don’t have them now.  Many are veterans and their families.  It is most likely that things will get worse before they get better for most people as the effects of the sovereign debt and banking crisis in Europe hits our banks.

For me what people are going through is not abstract because we have been there. I really wonder when I see people in political and economic power doing nothing with one Presidential candidate blaming the unemployed if they didn’t have a job and were not rich.  I wonder what has happened to our country.  I wonder why so many churches side with the rich and powerful and seem to despise the poor.

It seems heartless to say the things that this Presidential candidate said with unemployment remaining over 9% for over a year and companies deciding when they do have a job opening to give preference to those that currently have jobs.  Even well qualified unemployed people are not even considered for job openings because they don’t have a job.  And this is happening when the supposed “job creators” on Wall Street who the taxpayers bailed out in 2008 and 2009 are giving themselves bonuses.  It just immoral and when I see many of my fellow Christians making the support of polices which are condemned by Jesus an article of faith in both theology and politics.

I have also had time to think about what is going on in the Middle East especially the Iraq withdraw and ongoing war in Afghanistan.  I am really concerned with Afghanistan because of the veiled threats that Pakistan is making about cutting our supply lines.  They have done this for short time periods before and there have been numerous attacks on supply convoys in that country by Pakistani Taliban.  To make matters even more uncertain Afghan President Hamid Karzai has said that if there were a conflict between the United States and Pakistan that Afghanistan would help them.

Sometimes I hate being a military historian because I understand what happens to armies with tenuous supply lines that are under the control of unreliable allies.  Stalingrad comes to mind. Likewise the lesser known but very significant The Second Jassy-Kishinev Offensive between August 20 and August 29 1944 in which the Romanian allies of the Germans switched sides during the battle.  This allowed the Red Army to destroy the German 6th Army and maul the 8th Army. The offensive probably shortened the war by six months.  At Stalingrad the Germans and their allies suffered 841,000 casualties and at Jassy-Kishinev they lost 100,000 killed and 115,000 captured.  Currently there are about 90,000 American and another 40,000 NATO or coalition troops in Afghanistan deployed in penny packets throughout the country fighting an insurgency.  They are very vulnerable to any supply disruption especially during the winter months and if there was a conflict that shut down the supply lines we would have to rely on the good graces of the Russians to resupply or withdraw our troops. When I think about this I think about my friends and comrades serving in Afghanistan and I pray to God that this does not happen.

When I think that the burden of these wars has fallen on under half a percent of the American population and that politicians and their allies in the business sector are looking at ways to make substantial cutbacks in medical care and other benefits to those that have been sacrificing in ways that no one else has been doing the past ten years.  Talks of cutting VA care for veterans is obscene when because of their preexisting conditions they wouldn’t be able to afford medical insurance even if they could get it.  And the word that these politicians and their allies use is that these are “entitlements.”  That is a really nasty word and it is used pejoratively because everybody knows that “entitlement programs” are bad and those that receive “entitlements” haven’t earned them and are leaching off of society.  In fact a letter from the “Super Committee” in charge of finding ways to slash the budget has proposed cuts to veterans benefits including pension, disability compensation and education payments.

This is why I would rather be at work, I think too much.

But I am still grateful for all that I have and honored to serve with the fine men and women of the US Military in this time of war.  I do pray that things get better in our nation, which those suffering from the terrible economy will have their needs for employment and other physical needs met. I pray that somehow the deep division that has rent our people asunder will be healed and that our political and economic leaders will do what is right for the country and our people rather than the quarterly bottom line of select corporations.  And I pray for the safety and success of my friends and comrades in both Iraq and Afghanistan and that our political and business leaders will not sacrifice us and then abandon us after beating us to dust the past 10 years.

But at least the World Series is on and nothing bad accrues from Baseball.  For that I am very grateful as Sharon Olds said “Baseball is reassuring.  It makes me feel as if the world is not going to blow up.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Busy Night on Duty…Updates resume Tomorrow…wait it’s tomorrow already?

Well it has been a busy day and busy night, not even a leisurely lunch break where I could at least post a Tides update.  I’m now behind two of those, the Tides lost the last game of their series against the Mud Hens 5-1 on Sunday in Toledo, made the tip back and lost to the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs 6-4 on a game blown by recently brought up from AA pitchers.  I have a couple of other things that I want to write but have not had time.

Tonight is very busy.  We had a 27 year old man named Kenneth pass away after a courageous battle with cancer in which he and his family were beautiful examples of grace, touch all around them despite the nature of his illness and progression of the disease.  From there I went to care for the family of a 2 year old who drowned and was resuscitated but the outlook for this young child is bleak.   Finally I spent a long time with a dear lady who after a long struggle against heart and renal failure has decided not to undergo any heroic measures and may die in the next couple of days.  I have known this women most of my tour here and I was able to make time just to sit with here and let her tell her story of faith and life, thoughts on heaven.  She is a beautiful woman that has been a blessing to me even when I was going through the depths of my crisis in faith in 2008 and 2009.

Lord knows what the rest of the night might bring but I hope to get a little shuteye soon.

Blessings

Padre Steve+

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