Celebrities go to great lengths to obtain the children of their dreams. Singer Céline Dion recently announced that she’s pregnant with her second child through in vitro fertilization. Madonna and Angelina Jolie can’t seem to visit Africa or Asia without leaving with a kid. Then there was Michael Jackson, whose children’s mysterious origins continue to be the topic of endless speculation.
Whether their intentions are noble or egotistical, the rich and famous like to cross the lines of race, gender, and biology to get the children they want. But what if they could actually design and create a baby exactly the way they wanted? It’s a scary thought, but one that may soon become a reality.
Five reasons why the church should support health-care reform. An urban pastor’s view.
I approach the discussion about health-care reform from the perspective of an urban minister. I’ve worked with urban core neighbors, neighborhoods, congregations, and community groups for more than 20 years. I’ve watched people struggle to access basic health services in the shadow of world-class hospitals. I know hardworking people caught in the “catch-22” level of income: They make too much to access Medicaid but too little to afford health insurance premiums. They work for companies that either don’t offer health insurance or offer it partially at a level these employees can’t afford.
Workers are forced to use a patchwork of health fairs, free clinics, and doctors who will see them occasionally without cost (God bless these). They put off illness or pain until it becomes chronic or unbearable and then make a dash to an emergency room. The health costs they incur are a greater portion of their household income than most Americans. The cost to their dignity is inestimable. But the cost to America’s integrity is even higher.
At the same time, I know that health-care costs are spiraling upward for higher-wage neighbors. The monthly cost for my family’s health insurance is higher than our mortgage payment. Our benefits are stripped down and our co-pays and deductibles are higher than ever.
I know people whose prescriptions are no longer covered, whose important procedures are denied, and whose insurance has been dropped. Many people have filed bankruptcy due in large part to unpayable medical bills.
In short, while the health-care system has not been working for the working poor for a long time, it is not working for more and more middle-income neighbors. None of this begins to factor in the significant levels of abuse of the system by those who game it — professional health-care providers, the insurance industry, and consumers of health-care services. The current system is not sustainable, it is not reasonable, it is not just. It does not reflect what we know is best about or for America.
So, I am completely on board with the call for quality, accessible, affordable health care for all citizens. I’m advocating for this from the perspective of an urban Christian minister on the one hand, and as an American citizen on the other.
As a Christian minister, I am convinced that quality, accessible, affordable health care for all is a moral imperative. As an American citizen, I am personally convinced it is a right that’s implied in the very intent of our Constitution and historic social contract. But it is as a Christian minister that I offer the following considerations on health-care reform to the church I love:
1. The Samaritan principle sets the tone for the Christian church regarding care for the poor, uninsured, and desperate in our land. Simply put, in the care a Samaritan extends to a wounded, helpless victim, Jesus declares what it means to be an authentic neighbor. If we have the resources to help and heal, we should. Not because we’ll get reimbursed. Not because there’s profit involved. Not because we’ll get recognized or rewarded. But because it reflects the caring, healing intention of God for God’s people in relationship to one another and in witness to the world.
We cannot pass by because we presume somebody else will take care of uninsured people. We cannot ignore what’s happening because it’s just bigger than us or beyond us. Jesus calls us to see, respond, help, comfort, and restore — as if those left out and wounded were our very own.
2. Jesus’ ministry of healing was conducted in the face of structures and regulations designed to control, limit, and exclude. I’ve been reading the Gospels again during this time of national concern about health care. Health and healing was front and center for Jesus. Undoubtedly, Jesus’ healings were a sign that he was the anticipated Messiah and that a new era was beginning. However, Jesus’ healings also confronted, exposed, and undermined age-old systems that, in the name of health care, prevented healing from occurring.
Jesus cut through the red tape, system-serving regulations, and control-oriented rituals to actually offer what God desired for people — healing, restoration, and a future of dignity and hope. Instead of defending the current status quo practices that place ordinary folks in similar binds, the people who follow and claim to reflect Jesus should consider how he judged and exposed the ineffectiveness and meanness of structures that served themselves at others’ expense.
3. The context of community, inclusion, and sharing resources to assist the neediest — central in the early church witness — is a pattern and principle to renew. Beginning with Acts 2, we see the earliest believers holding things in common, pooling resources, and selling off assets in order to meet the needs of the weakest among them. It was not about me and mine, but we and ours. In the perspective of that early faith community, my personal self-interest includes your well-being. They realized that we are deeply interconnected with one another.
The apostle Paul affirmed this principle with his counsel to the church in Corinth that we are members of one another, that no part can say to another, “I don’t need you.” To what extent are there such awarenesses or practices in the church today? And to what extent is our sense of community — over against asserting individual privilege and private rights — bearing witness to the larger community and nation of what is good, possible, and godly?
4. Christian leaders should be leading the health-care dialogue by seeking the truth and speaking the truth. To this point, it doesn’t seem to me that there has been a debate or dialogue about health-care reform. Much of the so-called debate to this point has focused on myths, distortions, and outright lies about proposed health reform legislation. The news media focus has been on misinformed people shouting down congressional leaders, calling them Nazis, and burning them in effigy.
I’m convinced Christians should not only not be a part of those scenarios, but that we should make a contribution to the dialogue that is fact-based, truth-seeking, civil, and that moves all to find the common ground necessary to ensure that quality, accessible, affordable health care is available to all American citizens.
If the news media or partisan groups play to distortions and extremes, then people of Christian faith have a significant role to get the facts, convey them in understandable ways, and create conversations that deal in what’s real. We are the people whose scriptures declare, “you will know the Truth and the Truth will set you free” (John 8:32). We are the people who are reminded that “God has given us, not a spirit of fear, but of power, of love, and of self-discipline” (2 Tim. 1:7).
5. Let us embody and advocate for the principles, practices, and norms of the beloved community toward which Jesus pointed. Christians have no stake in propping up old-order systems, or aligning ourselves with self-serving institutions, or playing to sub-Christian social stratifications. At personal, community, and systemic levels, Christians are challenged to practice now the norms and promises of the future described in the Scriptures.
I love the way Bible scholar Walter Brueggemann puts it: “God’s future is enacted as present neighborliness.”
Is not quality, accessible, affordable health care for all one such act of “present neighborliness” that is a signal of the direction God intends the future to move? I think so. And I invite Christians and people of other faiths to join me and others in this kairos moment — this period of unique opportunity to witness something magnanimous and restorative in our generation.
This article appears courtesy of a partnership with Sojourners.
Every now and then a week comes along in pop culture that leaves us feeling entertained, inspired, and hopeful. And then there are those weeks that leave us completely befuddled, scratching our heads in confusion while mumbling, “What is this world coming to?” Last week was one of those weeks. Here is a sample of some of the pop culture questions that left us stumped.
If you’re still having doubts about whether you should see last weekend’s top movie, the science-fiction thriller District 9, I’m here to tell you that it’s a must-see film — that is, if you have the stomach for a little gore and a lot of soul searching.
In a summer filled with transforming robots, heroic Joes, and kid wizards, District 9 stands out as something far more remarkable than your typical alien movie. Unlike Independence Day and Invasion, this movie is not about aliens exterminating humans and taking over the world. Instead, the aliens are a minority group and humans are the villains.
The movie takes place a few decades after aliens have come to Earth. Your first clue that this one’s going to be different is that their massive spaceship descends upon Johannesburg, South Africa — not one of the usual American cities that seem to have a monopoly on extraterrestrial visitors. This gives the film a layer of realism that’s missing from most recent sci-fi releases.
The alien ship eerily hovers over Johannesburg, undisturbed for three months, until a team of human scientists open it up. What they find is a multitude of aliens who are disoriented, malnourished, and stranded. In response, the humans feed the creatures, who are referred to as “prawns” (a derogatory term comparing them to bottom-feeders), and settle them as refugees in a camp called District 9. Over the years, tensions rise between the prawns and humans, and District 9 is transformed into a slum with over 2 million alien inhabitants.
Eventually, humans can no longer tolerate the prawns, and Multi-National United (MNU), a company interested in mastering the aliens’ technology with no regard for the aliens’ welfare, is contracted to evict the aliens to another location miles away from humankind. MNU field operative Wikus van der Merwe, who is sympathetic and naïve about many things, including his own prejudice and racism, is chosen to lead this daunting task of serving the prawns with their eviction notices.
Confused and frightened, the prawns become hostile and some are killed. In the process, Merwe contracts a strange virus that mutates his DNA with those of the prawns, and he experiences grotesque physical changes. Soon he is hunted by MNU and abandoned by his friends and family. His only hope lies within the barbed fences of District 9.
Partly shot as a documentary and a CNN-type report, the film handles its themes with maturity, especially in the realistic portrayal of how the aliens are discriminated against. Many of the human characters in the film are ruthless and corrupt with no respect for life, whether it is human or alien. What makes this so disturbing is that this is not an unfair portrayal of humankind. People do this every day to other people.
Another strong element of the movie is the depth of the alien characters. The prawns are not one-dimensional, man-killing creatures. Instead, they have personalities, desires, and emotions, which make them just as “human” as humans, if not more so. They may not be as cuddly as E.T. or ALF, but they aren’t obnoxious ploys for comic relief like Jar Jar Binks.
By having a cast of relatively unknown actors, the film places the aliens and the humans on a more even playing field. Audiences don’t have a studly Will Smith or a stunning Megan Fox to root for, which means it’s anyone’s game. Actor Sharlto Copley, who plays Wikus, does a superb job of juggling the emotions and turmoil of his character.
Like any good story, District 9 has plenty of contrasts to engage audiences. Wikus starts out as an enemy of the prawns, but then he starts to become one of them against his free will. As a result, humans become his enemies. This role reversal challenges the protagonist and the audience to see things from another perspective. Overall, the plot is solid and original and breaks new ground in the sci-fi genre.
Neill Blomkamp, the film’s South African writer/director, and producer Peter Jackson, the New Zealand native who directed the blockbuster Lord of the Rings trilogy, transplant the U.F.O. genre both geographically and intellectually, turning their film into a narrative that’s at once more plausible and relevant to real-life concerns.
Nothing is said specifically about the film’s setting or South Africa’s obvious history with apartheid, but Blomkamp no doubt places his story there to subtly represent the reality of prejudice and injustice that plagues all humanity. The locale also provides plenty of open space for the humans to create District 9 and the other more isolated internment camp.
And don’t think that just because this movie tackles weighty social issues means that it’s also boring or slow. It’s not. There is plenty of action — chase scenes, “ticking bombs,” and explosions. The film earns its R rating for bloody violence and intense language. Characters get annihilated and guts splatter through the air onto the camera lens (no joke). But none of it seems overly excessive. The action, along with the special effects (which are employed sparingly), are effective without overshadowing the characters or story. District 9 is a blockbuster with a brain. If you go, prepare to be challenged as well as entertained.
Forty years ago this week, more than 400,000 concertgoers gathered on the muddy grounds of a 600-acre dairy farm in upstate New York to celebrate what was billed as “three days of peace and music.” The Woodstock Music & Art Fair transformed the way we think about popular music and youth culture. In fact, it became an emblem of the counterculture movement of the 1960s.
The past week has been filled with observances of the music festival’s anniversary, an “acid trip” down memory lane for many baby boomers. And next week the celebration continues with the release of Ang Lee’s Taking Woodstock, a cinematic tribute to that legendary gathering.
In a turbulent era that found the nation reeling from its involvement in the Vietnam War — a period that was just a year removed from the shocking assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy — Woodstock represented the power of unbridled hope, freedom, and youthful exuberance. Of course, it also represented that great American trinity of “sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll” — with newly embraced freedom also came the collateral damage of hedonistic living.
Out of all the acts that performed during Woodstock — artists like Janis Joplin, The Who, Santana, and Joan Baez — arguably none has become more identified with the event than Jimi Hendrix, whose two-hour set actually took place on August 18, after the music festival was officially over. Rain and technical snafus had pushed his performance to early that Monday morning. With only an estimated 80,000 people remaining to witness it, Hendrix delivered one of his most stirring performances.
If anyone could make his guitar weep, it was Jimi Hendrix. He made it sing — in ecstasy and sadness. He made sounds that had never been heard before. It’s no wonder that, in 2003, Rolling Stone ranked him as number one on its list of “The 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.”
Hendrix, who was a lefty, taught himself to play a Fender Stratocaster upside down, so that his right-handed guitar could be played left-handed. He experimented tirelessly with amplified feedback and unorthodox chord structures, while incorporating blues, jazz, funk, and his own electrified brand of psychedelic rock into a sound that has influenced virtually every rock guitarist since (not to mention urban funk and pop artists such as George Clinton and Prince).
Hendrix achieved worldwide fame following his performance at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967. Two years later, he headlined Woodstock, where he played his enduring version of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Through his blistering, sonic barrage, you could actually hear “the bombs bursting in air” and see “the rockets red glare.” And, with it being the era of Vietnam, he even threw in a few notes of “Taps” to keep things interesting.
Sadly, Hendrix died a little over a year later, in 1970, at age 28 from an apparent overdose of sleeping pills and alcohol. He was famously ensnared by the destructive lure of alcohol and drugs, and is counted among a number of tragic and untimely deaths from that late-’60s/early-’70s era. But his impact on music is undeniable.
What’s more, Hendrix’s very presence at Woodstock (along with other artists of color like Baez, Richie Havens, Carlos Santana, and Sly & the Family Stone) put forth a visible declaration of the way that art and pop culture could transcend and overcome even our most entrenched social divisions. Martin Johnson’s retrospective at TheRoot.com offers a great summation of Hendrix’s appearance at Woodstock and the importance of his legacy.
Of the songs he left behind, one of my favorites is “Night Bird Flying” from The Cry of Love (1971). This was the first recording released after his death. The first song on the album is called “Freedom.” It’s a word that can describe different types of liberation. Being set free from vice may not have been the primary meaning, but it’s a desire that he probably felt.
The struggle to be free may be what gives rise to songs like “Night Bird Flying.” It’s an amazing confluence of expression and sound.
She’s just a night bird flyin’ through the night
She’s just a night bird making a midnight, midnight flight
Sail on, sail on
For me, in the early ’70s, “Night Bird Flying” became an expression of the spiritual peace that eluded me, despite my efforts to find satisfaction in other things. It gave voice to a feeling of estrangement. I remember being a restless teenager, returning home from a Hawaiian vacation with my family. During the trip, I had a falling out with my younger brother. It grieved me. On the flight back, I sullenly sat apart from the rest of my family members. Few things are as troubling as the feeling that you are at odds with someone, especially a member of your own family.
Alone in my grief, I thought of Hendrix’s song. How I yearned for a better day. Would it ever come?
I remember the telling photograph that was taken on one of the Hawaiian Islands. My whole family was arrayed in Hawaiian shirts while I leaned away from them in my T-shirt that, on the back, displayed images of cannabis and a water pipe. The shirt’s lettering boldly proclaimed: “Smoke It!” In contrast to the scowl on my face, my siblings smiled in a way that showed they still had an innocence that would be lost when they eventually followed me into using drugs.
Though getting high brought me temporary relief, I was a troubled soul. It was no less so as I sat on the plane and felt the loneliness of separation. Listening in my mind to the Hendrix song made me want to soar like some mythical night bird. In the midst of trouble, the psalmist David longed for wings that he might take flight and find relief in some place of refuge. “Oh, that I had wings like a dove!” he wrote. “I would fly away and be at rest; yes, I would wander far away; I would lodge in the wilderness; I would hurry to find a shelter from the raging wind and tempest” (Psalm 55:6-8, ESV).
I wonder if Hendrix felt a longing like this. He may not have known what it was, but it could have been what made his guitar an expression of his desire. The sorrow of not finding the true freedom that he sought seemed to seep into his music.
In a Christianity Today article entitled “Learning to Cry for the Culture,” singer and writer John Fischer observes that evangelical philosopher Francis Schaeffer’s most crucial legacy was tears. He writes, “Schaeffer never meant for Christians to take a combative stance in society without first experiencing empathy for the human predicament that brought us to this place.” Rather, he advocated understanding and empathizing with non-Christians instead of taking issue with them. He believed that “instead of shaking our heads at a depressing, dark, abstract work of art, the true Christian reaction should be to weep over the lost person who created it.” Fischer concludes his article by saying, “The same things that made Francis Schaeffer cry in his day should make us cry in ours.”
In A Sacred Sorrow, Michael Card reminds us that the Bible is full of lament — people of faith, including Jesus, giving voice to the sorrow and anguish that fills their hearts. It’s a means of staying connected to God when the world is not as it should be. It’s the mourning that Jesus commends.
I have a lot to learn about this, but I desire to be more compassionate. Jesus was moved with compassion when He saw the throng of people that had gathered in a remote area to hear Him. They were “like sheep without a shepherd.” In fact, they probably looked a lot like the multitude of hippies gathered at Woodstock. Jesus welcomes them all, and feeds them both physically and spiritually (Mark 6:30-44).
As contemporary followers of Jesus, we also have an opportunity to show compassion to those who are searching, those who are lost.
I feel sad knowing that Hendrix felt conflicted at times as we all do. I don’t imagine that he found the freedom that he yearned for. I wouldn’t pretend to know. But I do know that the longing in his music was so deep that I can hear his discontent over his present circumstances, his reaching out for something more. Thus I lament for Hendrix:
You were among the greatest of your generation.
You achieved heights that few know.
Through your guitar,
you sang and wept,
laughed and mourned,
danced and lamented.
You kissed the sky, but your wings were broken.
You could not reach what you longed for.
As we remember Woodstock this month, I’m also remembering the multitude of young people who gathered at that muddy farm. Many of them, now 40 years older, are probably still yearning for something more. We can celebrate the excitement and history of that phenomenal event that forever changed popular culture. But I also want to say a prayer for those restless souls who are still searching, who are still longing for true peace and love.