I was taught in seminary to do ministry with sacred texts in one hand and the newspaper in the other. Our theological and ethical musings are of no consequence if they cannot be applied to what is happening outside the walls of our congregations, if they do not speak to people’s lives.
As the Affordable Care Act comes into effect this month, I’d been wanting to do an in depth exploration of how our Unitarian Universalist values support the struggle for universal health care.
And then I had a baby.
And so it was in between diaper changes, that I heard NPR coverage of the botched rollout of the ACA, of website crashes and governors of some of the poorest states refusing to expand Medicaid as originally called for.
In between feedings, I caught glimpses of newspaper editorials decrying coverage gaps and lower-than-anticipated-enrollment.
As the health care debate raged on, I set up payment plans for our own hospital bills and accepted the care of family and friends who brought food and loving hands to help. I argued with my insurance company about covering portions of my prenatal care, and I applied to enroll my daughter in Connecticut’s HUSKY (Medicaid) program.
And as the pundits went at it, one of my best friends continued her battle with cancer, and another was in a horrific accident that left him in a coma with a devastating brain injury.
Over the past few months, I have seen more early morning light than ever before. As I sit up in the pre-dawn hours feeding my newborn babe, heartsick for my friends, I wrap myself in a prayer shawl, sky blue.
As my heart holds the exquisite joy of new life and the devastation of illness and loss, I sink into the softness of the shawl and the love of friends and the love of God, and I pray for healing, for wholeness, for peace.
I pray that my spouse and I might find the strength and the will to care well for the tiny person entrusted simply by her birth into our care. And, knowing full well that we cannot protect her from harm or shelter her from hurt all the days of her life, I pray that we might have the courage to be a part of creating the kind of world we would like for her to live in. I share all of this, because I have found that the topic of health care quickly becomes deeply personal. It is crucial that we move beyond facts and figures and media sound bytes, that we reflect on how we are cared for, how we care for others and what kind of society we want to create together.
When it comes to equitable health care, I start with our connectedness, our interdependence.
King wrote these words we read this morning from his cell in a Birmingham jail, calling on white clergy to join the struggle for civil rights : “We are,” he said, “caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.” This is a spiritual understanding of human relations that compels us to care for each other – all of us, even those we might not first see as our neighbors.
Unitarian Universalist minister Rev. Mark Morrison-Reed writes: “The central task of the religious community is to unveil the bonds that bind each to all. There is a connectedness, a relationship discovered amid the particulars of our own lives and the lives of others. Once felt, it inspires us to act for justice.” Understanding ourselves as connected, each to all, we know that stranger and friend alike are our neighbors, and that love and compassion are the foundation of the vision we share with King – and with so many others – a vision of a society in which all are provided for and cared for equally.
People of faith do not need to know once-and-for-all how to fix the brokenness of our health care system. We do need to continually lift up the vision of a society grounded in love of neighbor, rooted in compassion for all, and transformed by care.
We do need to hold together the joy of new life and the devastation of illness and loss, and to celebrate the wondrous love that binds us together. We do need to pray for healing, for wholeness, for peace.
I pray that as a nation, we might have the will to care for each other well.
And I pray that each of us might have the courage to be a part of building the society we dream of.
The ACA gives us a tiny nudge us toward that goal. We have a long way yet to go.