Sunday, July 26, 2015

Interfaith Days: Tisha B'av

Today is Tisha B'Av ("the ninth of Av"). This fast day in Judaism commemorates the destruction of the first and second temples in Jerusalem (586 BCE and 70 CE). The day also commemorates other tragedies that have happened to the Jewish people, like the expulsions of Jews from England in the 13th century and from Spain in the 15th century.

As the Judaism 101 site indicates, "The restrictions on Tisha B'Av are similar to those on Yom Kippur: to refrain from eating and drinking (even water); washing, bathing, shaving or wearing cosmetics; wearing leather shoes; engaging in sexual relations; and studying Torah. Work in the ordinary sense of the word [rather than the Shabbat sense] is also restricted. People who are ill need not fast on this day. Many of the traditional mourning practices are observed: people refrain from smiles, laughter and idle conversation, and sit on low stools. In synagogue, the book of Lamentations is read and mourning prayers are recited. The ark (cabinet where the Torah is kept) is draped in black."

Friday, July 24, 2015

Interfaith Days: Pioneer Day
July 24 is a holiday in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commemorating the entry of the first group of Mormon pioneers and their leader, Brigham Young, into the Salt Lake Valley on July 24, 1847. Pioneer Day is an official holiday in Utah and is celebrated with parades, fireworks, potlucks, and other activities not only by Utah Latter-day Saints but also church members in other areas. This site provides links to different aspects of Mormon and Utah history surrounding this yearly event, and this site gives some of the history.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Interfaith Days: Birthday of Haile Selassie I

Rastafari is an Abrahamic religion that developed in 1930s Jamaica. The name comes from "Ras", the Ethiopian word for chief or prince, and Tafari (the revered one) which was the first name (before his coronation) of Emperor Haile Selassie, who ruled Ethiopia in 1930 through 1974. Rastafari worship Haile Selassi as the incarnation of God the Father (Jah, a shortened form of the biblical name of God) and is Christ in his second coming. Today is a Rastafari holiday because it is the emperor's birthday in 1892. This BBC site provides information about this faith, as does this site.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Many Rooms: A Garage Near the Turnpike

A series begun 6/17/15: "During our lives, we visit certain rooms and places only once, or for a short time, and we don’t return except in memory…."

Back in August 1987, my wife Beth and I were driving from her parents’ home in the Chicago area back to central Virginia. We were soon to move from Virginia to Arizona; the moving truck was scheduled in a few days.

We got up early on a Sunday morning at our motel in northwestern Pennsylvania and made our way down the PA Turnpike, when our car began to smoke. Fortunately (since in my opinion the turnpike has poor shoulders) this happened as we approached a toll area. Pulling over to the side just beyond the toll gate, we got some help from the toll folks. They arranged a tow truck to take our car to a shop along some nearby state highway---a shop that would be open again the following morning---and the truck then took us to a motel just off a turnpike exit.

Everyone was helpful. But …. by 7 AM on a Sunday morning, we were stuck at a motel, eight hours from our destination, in an area without an abundance of businesses. We considered what we would do with the rest of a very long day.

We made the most of it, walking down to the nearby Wendy’s and a drug store. Those were the days before cell phones were common, and we made long distance calls through an operator. But we did call a few people. That afternoon, we watched a Peter Cook-Dudley Moore movie, The Hound of the Baskervilles, which we thought was terrible.

The next day, someone came and got us, and we sat at the garage for several hours while the repair fellows worked on our car. I forget what was wrong with the car but it was a long process. We sat in the seen-better-days waiting room of the garage. We agreed this would have been really miserable if we weren't together. The men were friendly and helpful, and when they finished, it was 5 PM on Monday, 34 hours since we arrived at the motel. Crazy to get home, and worried about the upcoming move, we got into the car and made our way all the way back to central Virginia by the early morning hours.

Most of us have stories of being stranded somewhere. Our worse experience was when Beth was in Manhattan on 9/11/01, an experience far worse than the garden-variety stuck-in-an-airport anecdote. She and her colleague finally could rent a car on the following Saturday and drove home; no airplanes were yet leaving New York five days later.

Being stuck in the Pittsburgh outskirts for a day and a half doesn’t compare to that awful week. We've had a few more typical, long delays in airports, notably in 2004 when the computers of American Airlines went on the blink and our flight from Albuquerque to Cleveland took a LONG time.

But ever since those two days in Pittsburgh (a city that I do like), I take at least a few books along when we travel. So in case of a long delay, I could do the reading and writing required for the work I do, and also I can have more leisurely reading. During that sojourn in a car repair shop, I had along Don Harrison Doyle’s history of early Jacksonville, IL, which I needed to study thoroughly for a writing project of my own. Motivation driven by unhappiness, I took plenty of notes! I was so grateful I had that and other books. I forget what Beth had along, but she, too, takes books along on trips for the same reason. We probably also purchased magazines at that drug store. Now, e-books makes for much lighter luggage!

Driving the turnpike in the early 10s, when our daughter was in college near Pittsburgh, I think I spotted the same motel in the distance at an exit. I didn't care enough to leave the highway to investigate. We’d have no idea where that car garage was, but I wonder if it still operates, and how many motorists have passed through its waiting room, where I learned how to stay content in situations out of my control.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Tikkun Articles about Climate Change

Visiting friends over this past weekend, I stopped by a favorite bookstore between visits and purchased the Spring 2015 issue of Tikkun magazine. I need to subscribe to this magazine because I enjoy the articles and the overall perspective of "healing/repairing the world" (tikkun olam). A particular piece that I have thought about in different contexts appeared in Tikkun

This Spring 15 issue contains a series of pieces on the theme, "The Place of Hope in an Age of Climate Disaster." I appreciated the complementary and interfaith perspectives on what is, to me, a very depressing problem. The ordinary person doesn't know what to do, and the lachrymose tone of many writings on the subject (who are, after all, environmental activists who see what is happening) can be distressing. Too, we are all beneficiaries of a economic system that contains injustices, and environmental destruction is one.

It would be amazing if we had more political leaders who inspired people to action on this issue. To use Ronald Reagan as an example of a very inspiring leader: had he been an environmentalist, how many Americans would have been inspired to step up!

The nature of science, too, can be a source for impatience. Scientists observe present phenomena and make predictions based on models suggested by the evidence, and the observations may change based on additional evidence, as was the case last week when predicted solar activity suggested a near-future cooling of the earth. These aspects of science--ongoing study, and the refinement of predictions--contributes to two popular responses to the science: scoff at it, or just wait and see what happens.

But for now, on this subject of climate change, I recommend to anyone interested in this subject to pick up a copy of this issue of Tikkun and read the articles, which are:

Michael Lerner, "It's time to get serious about saving the planet from destruction" (pp. 18-19, 60-61).

Whitney A. Bauman, "Facing the death of nature, environmental memorials to coiner despair" (pp. 20-21, 61).

Charles Derber, "Hope requires fighting the hope industry" (pp. 22-23, 61-62).

Julia Watts Belser, "Disaster and disability: social inequality and the uneven effects of climate change" (pp. 24-25, 62-63).

Vandana Shiva, "Limiting corporate power and cultivating interdependence: a strategic plan for the environment" (pp. 26-27, 63).

Ana Levy-Lyons, "The banality of environmental destruction" (pp. 28-29, 63-64).

Janet Biehl, "Reducing auto dependency and sprawl: an ecological imperative" (pp. 30, 64-65).

Arthur Waskow, "Prayer as if the earth really matters" (pp. 31-33, 65-66).

David R. Loy, "A bodhisattva's approach to climate activism" (pp. 34, 66-67).

Rianne C. Ten Veen, "Looking to the Qur'an in an age of climate disaster" (pp. 36-37).

Parth Parihar, "Dharma and Ahimsa, a Hindu take on environmental stewardship" (pp. 38-39).

Matthew Fox, "Love is stronger than stewardship: a cosmic Christ path to planetary survival" (pp. 40-41, 67-68).

Anna Peterson, "Climate change and the right to hope" (pp. 42, 68-69).

Peterson writes, "Most people in the United States genuinely care about the environment, and yet collectively we are still filling landfills with plastic, guzzling gas, supporting factory farms, investing in unsustainable companies, and electing officials beholden to energy lobbies." In other words, we have values but our practices are different, in part because we lack a genuine hope, she writes. Amen! But using TIllich's theology, she discusses genuine (as opposed to utopian) hope to build confidence in the possibility of incremental improvements.

Her article is a good complement to Levy-Lyons' article that draws upon Hannah Arendt's famous phrase "the banality of evil" in order to discuss the fact that ecologically damaging practices are normal for our culture, and that is how we are accustomed to living.

Derber puts blame on both liberals and conservatives. Republican leaders are one source of the denial message, and unfortunately 40% of Americans buy into this message. (In fairness, I do have a conservative friend who criticizes the science based on his own study of the topic.) But liberals have another kind of false hope: that the problem can be solved within our current political and economic system.

The pieces together develop ideas that could help change attitudes but also suggest different economic practices---the later of which are scary for those of us (like me) who though concerned live comfortably each day.

All the articles have some spiritual component, even if more general, but the pieces by Waskow, Loy, Ten Veen, Parihar, and Fox clearly bring in religious traditions on this subject.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Interfaith Days: Eid al-Fitr
Eid Mubarak! This is Eid al-Fitr, the Feast of Breaking the Fast, which marks the end of Ramadan and is the only day during which Muslims aren't permitted to fast. Of course, Ramadan is the month of strict fasting for Muslims in addition to peace-making, benevolent giving, as part of the emphasis on spiritual remual. Eid al-Fitr occurs on the first day of Shawwal, which is the month that follows Ramadan.

As this site indicates, "Before the day of Eid, during the last few days of Ramadan, each Muslim family gives a determined amount as a donation to the poor. This donation is of actual food -- rice, barley, dates, rice, etc. -- to ensure that the needy can have a holiday meal and participate in the celebration. This donation is known as sadaqah al-fitr (charity of fast-breaking).

"On the day of Eid, Muslims gather early in the morning in outdoor locations or mosques to perform the Eid prayer. This consists of a sermon followed by a short congregational prayer.

"After the Eid prayer, Muslims usually scatter to visit various family and friends, give gifts (especially to children), and make phone calls to distant relatives to give well-wishes for the holiday. These activities traditionally continue for three days. In most Muslim countries, the entire 3-day period is an official government/school holiday."

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Many Rooms: Discovering Beloved Music

During our lives, we visit certain rooms and places only once, or for a short time, and we don’t return except in memory….

When Beth and I were students in Virginia in the 1980s, I felt nostalgic for a used LP store, Wuxtry's, back in Carbondale, IL. It had been a favorite stop for records, and now that we lived in another state, I hoped to find a similar shop.

I found one there in Charlottesville, along Business U.S. 250 just east of The Block near UVa. The place had the feel of a former office space rather than the vaguely hippy ambience of so many vinyl shops. Looking through the selection, I saw a copy of the British version of “Jesus Christ Superstar,” the cover much brighter than the dark brown U.S. version that so many of us purchased in the early 1970s. It intrigued me but I didn't purchase it.

Instead, I examined an old copy of Ralph Vaughan Williams' "A Pastoral Symphony." The album was a "special commemorative coronation release" from 1952 or 1953. I already loved an album called "The Pastoral Music of Ralph Vaughan Williams," also conducted by Sir Adrian Boult (as was this one). This old LP---over thirty years old when I bought it, and containing no other music but this four-movement symphony on two sides---seemed worth trying.

Oh my goodness. The work became not only one of my two favorite symphonies (a tie with RVW's fifth), but it has remained, for nearly thirty years, among the music I feel most deeply in my heart. I associated the music with the timber and fields of my native Fayette County, Illinois (although of course RVW was English and the symphony is a kind of war requiem, inspired by French landscapes where he served during World War I). We all have private and personal associations with beloved music. The symphony, and the feelings of home and the memories evoked by it, combine to form a beautiful place in my heart.

What a nice result, from shopping by a used record store only once! The place wasn’t open too long after that.

The liner notes by Hubert Foss read: "The modal, peaceful mood of the music is set in the opening bars of the first movement, with two continuous melodic phrases: one based on a rising fifth and heard low down on 'cellos, basses, and harp, the other in the treble register, with a falling fifth and some full-tone arabesques played on a solo violin. The cor anglais soon introduces another melismatic idea....The following movement moves along at no greater speed, like a small West Country river; the material is again fragmentary---a phrase on the solo horn, and then another on a low flute and solo viola in unison. Later in the movement comes a long call (pianissimo) on a single trumpet...The third movement may be called a quasi-scherzo; for all its marking of moderato pestante, the music shows more signs of activity, as of things living and growing in the countryside. The opening phrase is little more than a figure, which develops a tune on the brass, and after a gentle climax gives way to a birdlike arabesque on a solo flute, answered by a solo violin.  A piu mosso section has a more blustering feeling, with a broad, robust tune announced on trumpets and tenor trombones.....The finale opens with a long beetles and wordless recitative for a solo soprano over a soft drum-roll. Soon the music settles down to a warm melody of irregular phrase-rhythm but somewhat more familiar idiom.  It is first played by the choir of woodwind, and develops into other phrases, some quite insistent though soft, and one (on the flute) long and expressive. The work ends with a shortened version of the soprano, this time accompanied only by a single octave A high on muted violins."

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Tippett's "Midsummer Marriage" in Midsummer

During the 1980s, my wife Beth and I played classical music on cassettes during our long-distance drives. One such cassette contained Edgar's "Serenade for Strings," Vaughan Williams' Tallis Fantasia, and Michael Tippett's "Fantasia Concertante On A Theme Of Corelli." So I was familiar with one, enjoyable piece by Tippett when I read an article about his music in Gramophone magazine (1), not only his instrumental and choral music (A Child of Our Time a notable example of the latter) but also his visionary operas (King Priam, The Ice Break, and others) for which he wrote his own librettos.

A contemporary of Britten, Tippett (1905-1998) seemed a fascinating person: a pacifist who was for a while incarcerated, a homosexual who struggled with his sexuality, a composer who experimented with a variety of styles, and a writer and advocate for musical education. That article in Gramophone referred to his interesting musical evolution and the possibility of calling him a great composer. The Wikipedia article traces his life and discusses the critical estimation of his music since his death.

Posting about interfaith holidays this year, I noticed the importance of the summer solstice for several religions. That prompted me to listen again to my CDs of Tippett's 1955 opera The Midsummer Marriage, the Colin Davis-conducted set from Covent Garden, originally released in 1970.

It's an enjoyable opera, based in part on anima and animus archetypes of Carl Jung, partly on pastoral themes inspired by the solstice, partly T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land (itself inspired by fertility myths) and partly upon Mozart's Magic Flute. With these complex relationships, I found the opera intriguing, and also enjoyable to hear. The characters Jack and Bella (I almost wrote "Jack and Diane," LOL) are the opera's Papageno and Papagena, while Jenifer and Mark are this opera's Pamina and Tamino. King Fisher, and the clairvoyant Sosostris derive from Eliot's poem. The story progresses across three acts as complex way as you'd expect from an opera with very spiritual themes, concluding with a dawn wedding amid Midsummer's secrets.

1. Michael Oliver, "Tippett at 80: Images of Reconciliation," Gramophone, vol. 62, no. 741 (February, 1985), 965-966.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Interfaith Days: Laylat al-Qadr

Laylat al-Qadr, known in English as the Night of Power or Night of Destiny, commemorates the night in 610 CE when the first verses of the Qur'an were revealed to the Prophet Muhammad.  Many Muslims celebrate the night on this, the 27th day of Ramadan, though others observe the 19th or 23rd day of Ramadan. The angel Gabriel spoke to Muhammad, commanding him to recite those first verses, and this became the beginning of the prophet's mission. Muslims believe that God's mercy and blessings are abundant on this night, and that one's fat for the upcoming year is decided, and so many Muslims read the Qur'an and practice Ehyaa, or night prayers to God for forgiveness and mercy. See also this sitethis site, and this site.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Interfaith Days: Martyrdom of the Bab

Today is the observance of the day Siyyid ‘Alí-Muhammad,  the Báb ("the Gate"), was executed by Persian powers in 1850. An account of his execution at a Bahai site is found here. The Báb had proclaimed himself the inspired interpreter of the Qur'an within the Shaykhi school of Twelver Shi'ism, and later as the promised one. Although he had many followers he was condemned by Persian religious leaders. In the Baha'i faith, he is considered the return of Elijah, John the Baptist, and the promised one of Zoroastrianism. The founder of the Baha'i faith, Bahá’u’lláh, was a follower of the Báb. This is one of Baha'i's nine holy days. See also

(From the 2015 Interfaith Calendar of the Diversity Awareness Partnership of St. Louis---see for more information---and various online sources.)

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Great Idea, Buddha Dream

When we were visiting Basel, Switzerland last month, we stopped in a bookstore, where I noticed a large book, Buddha: 108 Begegnungen, by Elke Hessel PhD, Stephan von der Schulenburg PhD, and Matthias Wagner K PhD, published by Wienand Verlag this year. The book traces the history of the image of the Buddha, using art in the collection of the Museum Angewandte Kunst in Frankfurt am Main.

Though it cost about 100 euros, I wanted the book very much. But we were on foot, looking for the Basel Cathedral and we hadn't quite found it yet. A 500-page, quarto-size book in tow didn't seem wise for walking. Plus, I didn't want to make my luggage all the more heavy. So I decided to order the text  once I returned home. It will be available via American booksellers in a couple months.

The other night, I dreamed that I was reaching for that book under my book in order to use it for morning devotions. The cover image of the Buddha, however, asked me (in the dream) where were my books on cathedrals? I reached under the bed for those, too, but the room was filled with too many colors and I felt confused…

Then I woke up for the morning, with neither the Buddha book nor any on cathedrals, nor psychedelic lights swirling around. But as much as we love visiting churches during our travels, I thought that the dream Buddha had a good idea! So later, I found two books, Bernhard Schutz's Great Cathedrals and Anne Prache's Cathedrals of Europe, both of which feature histories of selected churches and their distinctive plans and characteristics.

They're not exactly books of daily devotions, beneath the mattress with my Upper Room and Christ in the Home booklets. But, after all, a purpose of architectural features like tympana, pediment statuary, and windows was to inspire and educate worshipers with the religious imagery. Always trying new ways to vary my sometimes-slacker approach to daily devotions, I've enjoyed leafing through these texts.

That was more interesting kind of dream than being overrun by cats, or showing up for class in my PJs, etc.…

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Two Church Articles for a Patriotic Weekend

Frederic Edwin Church, "Our Banner in the Sky," 1861
A Facebook friend shared this essay from the Patheos site, "God and Country: Idolatry in the Hymnal" by Jonathan Aigner. The author comments about the "nationalistic fervor" reflected in some of our beloved hymns like "America the Beautiful" and "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." He knows some pastors who had successfully limited this fervor to "a few songs," but he argues that "is still too much. It is worth making some people mad….We can appreciate the good things about our country, but we don’t worship it. When we enter our sacred space, we do so as citizens of a different kingdom that bow at a different throne."

On another Facebook stream was a different perspective, found on the UMC Holiness site, "On not guilting 'Mericans for loving 'Merica" by Chad Holtz.  Holtz writes that, when he tried to take a strong stand concerning worship and July 4th, he ended up being a stumbling block to others and taking a stance from a privileged position. He realized, "None of the people I worshiped with on Sunday were actually worshiping America. Rather, they were simply grateful for it. None of them were actually worshiping the flag. Rather, they were showing respect for it." So for him, "Pride in America … has opened many avenues for me to talk with everyone else in the world who hasn’t read Yoder or Hauerwas (turns out that’s most of the world), making me 'one of them so that I might win some.' "

I thought that these two articles were well worth reading and praying about; together they give a good summary of the tricky issue of patriotism in worship. I wonder if a pastor's approach to this issue is as much a matter of temperament and leadership style, as well as a congregation's "personality" and health, as it is a theological challenge.

"Just Landed in Hanoi"

It has been a nice week, but it's been lonely because my wife Beth, who is the Webster University president, has been on a business trip to Southeast Asia, visiting the Bangkok campus and meeting with education officials in Vietnam. She doesn't mind these long flights and overseas trips; they would wear me down.

This July 4th weekend will feature the farewell concerts of the Grateful Dead, in Chicago. Jerry Garcia's last concert was in Chicago, prior to his 1995 death, and thus the "core four" surviving members will play the band's last three shows there. Drummer Bill Kreutzmann was just nineteen when the band began, fifty years ago.

When I was a younger teenager, I loved browsing the LPs at the old Sav-Mart store in Collinsville, IL, during Saturday shopping trips with my parents. I remember looking at the Dead's 1971 "skull and roses" album and wondering if I should buy it. I didn't, but in hindsight I would've greatly enjoyed their music, which I never really listened to until I got satellite radio in my car and found the Grateful Dead station, to which I turn fairly often.

Beth texted me early this past week that she had "just landed in Hanoi." That place name created some cognitive dissonance for me, an old fearfulness. I was too young for the draft but did grow up during that era, when the war and its daily casualties were daily features on the evening news.

Of course, bands like the Dead thrived during the peace-and-love movement associated with the war. Who would have thought about the band's remarkable longevity?
The war has been over for many years. Beth (and some people we know) tell me that the country is a beautiful and interesting place. One of these days I'll try to accompany her on such an Asian journey, and think about history's strange paths.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Finding Barth's Grave

My wife Beth, who is president of Webster University, had a business trip last month to Webster's Vienna and Geneva campuses. Usually teaching when she goes overseas, I was free in June to come along on her trip, which was a wonderful experience. I had been to Vienna but not yet to Switzerland. After we finished her business in Geneva and did some sight-seeing, including a visit to John Calvin's church, we took the train up to Basel and spent a few days in that delightful city.

My home office, with the black
Dogmatics on a middle shelf. 
I became interested in Karl Barth's theology while a Greenville College freshman, inspired by William Hordern's book Laymen's Guide to Protestant Theology that my professor had assigned. My dad paid for, and our pastor ordered for me, the whole set of the Church Dogmatics before I set off for Yale Divinity School. I liked to read the heavy volumes as I hoped to learn as much theology as I could. Eventually, my doctoral dissertation at University of Virginia was entitled "The Social Ontology of Karl Barth," which I wrote while we lived in Flagstaff, AZ. Among the Dogmatics volumes, I focused upon Barth's christological anthropology in III/2. A copy of the huge, white German volume helped me deepen the journey through the smaller, black English text. (I remembered the anecdote of a YDS professor, Robert Clyde Johnson, who at the time was recovering from a heart attack and said he'd been advised not to pick up a volume of the Dogmatics with one hand, so he wouldn't strain his heart…)

My teaching and writing careers took other directions than the Barthian theologian I considered becoming. While in Flagstaff, I accepted a part-time teaching position in world religions, a subject that has been an integral part of my career. But at the same time, Barth's famous saying about reading the Bible with an eye on contemporary issues (a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other) became a guiding principle in all my curriculum writing. I still like to take down those black volumes, follow Barth's arguments, and think about the content of those small-print sections. I hope someday to write another book that delves into the Dogmatics.

Visiting Barth's hometown of Basel had never been on my bucket list, but this trip provided a nice opportunity, especially since Basel turned out to be such a great place. But where was Barth buried? How does one find his grave? Luckily, I found this website which provided excellent directions for finding the family grave. I also checked Eberhard Busch's biography, a book I've had since div school days.

Just as that website indicates, the way there is the # 31 bus from Schifflände station in the city center. (Beth had found us a wonderful hotel, the Schweizerhof, opposite the train and bus connections.) The 31 bus takes you to the gate of the cemetery, the Friedhof am Hörnli. Beth and I walked and walked back to Section 8; the day was in the 80s, but at least some areas were shady. The interesting grave stones around the Friedhof, so different from American styles of stones, kept us fascinated as we progressed to the grave.

Barth is buried with his wife Nelly, some of their children, and Barth's assistant and confidante Charlotte von Kirschbaum. I tried not to be too emotional, but I felt deeply the honor of visiting the resting place of a such an influential thinker---and who, in my own life, inspired so much of my religious and vocational life.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

"Harper's" Article on the ACA

While no expert at all, I've been interested in the development of the Affordable Care Act, since began to move through Congress in 2009. I devoted a few posts on this site to the topic, and we've discussed it in my college classes on contemporary moral issues. I believe that health care is a fundamental right, and that the Bible is concerned with physical as well as spiritual well-being. But is this act the way to go? How do we help provide proper and affordable health care in our contemporary time, when steep medical costs can make care out of reach for many? Does the act hurt small businesses, while attempting to provide justice for others?

A recent piece in Forbes discusses ways that the ACA can be improved: "The Supreme Court’s June 25 decision in King v. Burwell preserves federal health care subsidies under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) for Americans who reside in states that have opted not to create their own health insurance exchanges. In so doing, it removes an immediate uncertainty for those who would have been left without coverage if the federal exchanges had been declared unconstitutional. But it leaves untouched a more basic problem. The ACA’s reliance on mandatory participation in exchanges as the only way to obtain a health insurance subsidy is fundamentally flawed…"

That author suggests solutions: "The most important is to replace the ACA’s income-conditioned premium subsidies with a 'fixed dollar' refundable tax credit. This would be available to all Americans, with no income-based limitation. With the credit available to all, there would be no need for the unnecessary individual and employer mandates." Individuals could shop for coverage, and employers could enjoy more flexibility, including small businesses.

The current issue of Harper's Magazine (July 2015) includes an article by Trudy Lieberman, "Wrong prescription? The failed promise of the Affordable Care Act" (pages 29-38). I plan to read the article more closely this coming week. Lieberman regrets that the act is still poorly understood by Americans, has been ineffectively criticized by conservatives via misinformation, and has been barely criticized by liberals (p. 29). She makes numerous interesting points worth thinking about; she laments that the ACA has not at all fixed "our high-priced, unequal, and insanely inefficient system" but rather has "reinforced and accelerated many of the system's most toxic features" (p. 38). If the Supreme court rules favorably on the law (which it has, since the article's publication), it will be necessary to fix problems not only in the law but problems in our health care system prior to the law's passage.

Interfaith Days: Asalha Puja

Today is Asalha Puja, a Theravada Buddhist festival, also called Dharma Day. It celebrates the Buddha's first sermon in which he set forth his basic teachings, the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. The sermon, given to five of his disciples, is thus the basis of all of the Buddha's teaching. This site provides some aspects of the holiday. As this site indicates, "Across Thailand and other communities of Theravada Buddhists, Asalha Puja is an occasion for donations, making offerings to temples and witnessing sermons. The day following Asalha Puja begins, in many Theravada communities, the three-month “rains retreat.” While the rainy season renews life in the natural world, monasteries host monks and nuns indoors—so that the new life may not be disturbed. In centuries past, wandering monks halted their travels during the rainy season."

(From the 2015 Interfaith Calendar of the Diversity Awareness Partnership of St. Louis---see for more information---and various online sources.)

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Physician-Assisted Suicide

Logging on to my yahoo mail this morning, I noticed a news story about a woman who has filed a lawsuit to allow physicians to prescribe for her (without legal repercussions for them) life-ending medication. She has Stage IV cancer, has only months to live, and any manner of her death looks bleak.

I had just purchased the new issue of The Economist (July 27-July 3, 2015), with the cover story, "The right to die. Why assisted suicide should be legal." The summary article (p. 9) and the story (pp. 16-20) looks that the difficult issue from a helpfully international perspective. A few European counties, five American states, and Colombia allow for some kind of physician-assisted dying (p. 9). Oregon's law and also Colombia's took effect in 1997, with Belgium and the Netherlands following, while Switzerland has permitted the practice for quite a while, with clinics assisting patients to die, including one that accepts patients from other countries (p. 17). Meanwhile, there are legal cases and bills in Britain, Germany, South Africa, Canada, and several American states (p. 16). So the "time has come" for the idea of assisted suicides as attitudes change and legal and legislative efforts make progress.

Yet the Hippocratic Oath, which disallows administration of poison, is a strong aspect of the medical tradition (p. 20), as is the notion that ending your own life is a kind of sin. There is also the factor of possible improvement, like the article's story of a paralyzed Canadian man whose health improved. but that man has also pushed for a bill in Parliament to allow doctors to help patients die (pp. 18-19). It is a significant issue, which  my students in "Contemporary Moral Problems" have discussed; if there is " 'unbearable suffering with no prospect of improvement '" (p. 19), should that patient have such an option. According to this Economist article, attitudes are becoming more open to allow horribly ill people to have that choice available. Personally I am still against it, but I feel compassion for the California woman in the above news story. What do you think?

Here is the article: