• Worship in the Park

Pastoral ponderings . . .

On behalf of the Jensen family, I want to thank you for your prayers and lovingkindness and support for their family as they have been preparing these last couple weeks for their youngest son’s surgery.  Thomas is starting his Junior year at Skyline High School, and we are all so grateful for God’s blessing of such talented professionals at Primary Children’s Hospital here in Salt Lake, that made Thomas’ surgery a success.

Scripture often uses the metaphor of a banquet to describe the abundance of God’s generosity to all humankind.  The ethical and moral good of God’s intention is always that those first on the guest list must be those who are so easily forgotten, neglected, or ignored. Rather than the banquet being a “Who’s Who” of the rich and famous, Christ teaches that the banquet of God’s abundance is for those who cannot afford any entrance fee: the ones without status, prestige, or privilege; our fellow human beings who are being left out, and left to fend for themselves.                                                     

The earliest Christian communities in Rome began to distinguish themselves from other religious and social groups of the time by becoming known as the ones who fed the poor, and tended the sick. There were no hospitals.  The poor, “the crippled, the lame, and the blind” as Luke says, were those who simply died in the streets of Rome. So following the ethics of Christ, the early Christians set up community centers, the fore-runners of hospitals today, that focused on the needs of the sick and the most vulnerable: the ones the Empire found expendable.   

It’s a privilege for me to visit Primary Care Hospital, and witness their service to children and their families. Their motto is “the Child, first and always.” Everywhere in the parking garage, there are signs posted that say “Watch for children.” There are clearly marked walking paths through the garage with reminders in big letters to “Look both ways” (O’s are eyeballs!), and little painted footprints that guide children and families to the front entrance. Even before children enter the building, there are small colorful banners with butterflies, flowers, and birds along the walkway, all at a child’s eye-level. The entryway of the hospital is just huge.  Two- story floor-to-ceiling windows everywhere.  Bright colors and paintings of flowers and birds on the walls. It’s large, open, welcoming, and so child-friendly.  There’s a small play area in one corner, and a small cafeteria on the other. Signs tell visitors to please register at the front desk.  There are uniformed security officers at the desk.  Every visitor is asked for a photo ID, and the nature of their visit. Everyone is issued a disposable name tag with their picture on it, and a magnetized plastic Visitor badge that clips to the shirt.  It’s like a hotel key card.  You need it in order to activate the locked entrance doors to the patient wings.  I was so impressed and thankful to see this level of safety for vulnerable children at a public institution!  “The Child.  First and always.”   

As children and families come to the Patient Registration area, they are greeted by the soft music of a guitarist, standing off in a corner. The main corridor linking the North and South wings of the hospital are lined with the framed drawings of children, done in crayons and markers, as if to say “this hospital belongs to us;  this is our place.”   

Thomas is a tall, strong, good-looking young man of 17. A lot of this welcoming hospitality for little kids isn’t something he relates to, of course.  But the nature of his medical care and procedure falls under the category of Pediatric medicine. And the best of the best doctors and medical team for Thomas’ unique needs are at Primary Children’s. And so of course, his loving parents Chris and Jenny brought him there, to that banquet of medical care, that banquet of healing art and science provided by a century of medical discovery, practice, and research; all gifts of God’s abundant generosity. All generated from discoveries within this natural world God’s wisdom has created; wisdom that inspires and empowers human beings to explore, and then use what we discover for the alleviation of human suffering.

From its humble beginnings in the streets of Rome, the Christian Church continued for centuries to provide places of dignity, healing, and hope for the sick and the dying throughout the world.    Catholic religious orders of women and men dedicated their lives to the healing arts. As the Church expanded and grew in wealth, it sponsored the founding of medical facilities and centers of scientific research around the world. One of the most famous of these is the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN.   

The abundance of healing arts and sciences bestowed upon the human race by God’s grace and goodness continues to grow today in astounding ways. But access to this banquet of healing and wellness, especially in our country, has been increasingly limited to the privileged. The vision of ObamaCare in the Affordable Care Act -- to provide access to healthcare for every person regardless of means in our country, continues to be seen by some as a banquet too expensive to provide to everyone.  If you aren’t on the guest list, if you aren’t on the “A List” . . . . tough luck.

 Medicaid Expansion has been embraced by many states in our country and stalled or stymied by too many others (in my opinion) including Utah. Tabor folks are all too familiar with how the ballot initiative for Medicaid Expansion, called Proposition 3, went down after the last statewide election. The Proposition was endorsed by an overwhelming majority of citizens only to be amended and re-written by our state legislature who judged it “too expensive.”  They say not everyone, especially the working poor living one paycheck from the street, should be invited to the banquet of public healthcare in Utah.  And so, “Too expensive,” say the working poor at the welcoming doors of Primary Children’s.  “Too expensive” the working poor say to the banquet of healthcare at University Hospital, or St. Mark’s Hospital, or Sunnyside Pediatrics, or the Madsen Clinic, or the psychiatrist, or the dentist on the corner. What do we think our Lord would say to that?                                                                                                                            

I was one of three clergy recognized by Crossroads Urban Center at their annual Poverty Summit for being a “Hellraiser of the Year.” My friends and I attempted to block access to the doors of the House floor last February, protesting the vote by the state legislature to limit or stymie Medicaid expansion for all.  Actually Billy Palmer from our community radio station KRCL should have been recognized too.  He raised his voice, and unfurled a banner inside the House chambers that said Stop Hurting the Poor.  The Utah Highway Patrol quickly showed him the door.  All we did was keep the lobbyists from getting in.  Which I guess was something.

I told the folks at the Poverty Summit that I had been filled with moral outrage and  I felt compelled to do something. I said that before I did anything, I talked to our church council leadership. I let them know what I was thinking of doing; the possibility that I could be arrested; and asked if they felt it would be best to simply go as a private citizen, or if they felt I should go and represent of our congregation. I am so proud, that all of them said “Go -- speak for us, and for the ethics of Christ.”I am so proud to be your pastor.  I feel very blessed to have a place to belong here (me and my moral outrage!).

I just want to say something about that word, “Hell-raiser.” It sounds cool, right?  But what image does it conjure in your mind? “Trouble maker, rabble rouser, publicity hound?”                                                                                                                          

Many of the good people of conscience who are morally opposed to the building of a massive Inland Port on the shore of the Great Salt Lake have been demonstrating loudly at Inland Port meetings last summer. Their pain, moral outrage, and feeling of powerlessness in the face of reckless economic development, and their very loud attempts to stop the planning  at all cost, have caused the Governor to label them as “terrorists.” Shouting, chanting, singing, and trying to peacefully disrupt a morally bankrupt system must rank right up there in the category of "most UN-Mormon behavior.” Isn’t the virtue that good Mormons should speak softly and politely at all times? Except of course at BYU football games!!  And not make waves? (Again, outside of football games). For that reason, I imagine that for good Mormons, “Hell-raisers” aren’t people to be taken seriously.  In fact they probably diagnosed with the need for a whole lot of correction and re-direction!  Come to think of it, this probably explains why I’m no longer getting an invitation to the annual Mormon Tabernacle Christmas concert and banquet! “Hell-raiser of the Year?”  “No thanks, not that guy. Who knows what he’ll say?”

But I don’t think of myself as a Hell-raiser. There’s too much hell on earth already, isn’t there? I think what I feel is what the prophets called “a hunger and thirst for justice.”  I’m not trying to be a Hell-raiser, but a follower of Christ  who said “when you have a banquet (of any kind!) don’t invite your friends or your relatives or rich neighbors who just take these gifts for granted in their lives, and so often do what they can to keep what they have for themselves.” Instead, says our Lord,“invite the poor, seek out the most vulnerable, find those least able to repay and bring them to the abundant table of blessings provided by God for all people.”                                                                                                                            

Friends, the puzzling thing to me is that the White House said No to the Utah legislature. And the very thing we were protesting – the limitation of access to healthcare and the disenfranchisement of the people’s voice in Utah – was nullified, and full Medicaid Expansion in Utah as directed by the ACA sits on the governor’s desk today, waiting for his action.

Friends, I along with Crossroads Urban Center, believe it’s time the Governor acts.  Don’t you? It’s time the Governor does what Utah law now requires:  expand Medicaid for all in Utah; open the banquet of God’s mercy, kindness, compassion, and healing to all God’s children, especially to the working poor. Please join me in calling the Governor’s office and urging him to do the right thing.  Make a place at the banquet, for all.                – Pastor David