Trickle-Down Health Care?

The actress Angelina Jolie recently revealed she’d had a double mastectomy after genetic testing revealed the BRCA1 gene linked to breast cancer. Now that the long series of procedures is done, Jolie is speaking out in order to demystify the issues around breast cancer testing and preventive treatments.

Jolie writes, “[My children and I] often speak of ‘Mommy’s mommy,’ and I find myself trying to explain the illness that took her away from us. They have asked if the same could happen to me…. [Since the procedure], my chances of developing breast cancer have dropped from 87 percent to under 5 percent. I can tell my children that they don’t need to fear they will lose me to breast cancer.”

The overwhelming reaction from the public has been positive and supportive, even warm. “Your mother would be proud of you,” one commenter wrote. Breast cancer survivors and others have applauded Jolie’s candor, her courage in tackling the issue head-on, and her thoughtfulness in discerning the best way forward for herself, in consultation with her doctor.

Jolie’s story has highlighted just how vulnerable we are to illness—all of us. Wealth and status do not protect us from the limitations of our human bodies, and health can be a fickle friend to us all.

What we’re not talking about enough is this: the genetic testing and treatment Jolie undertook are only available to a relatively small number of people with the means to afford it...

Read the rest at the Political Theology blog.

Friday Link Love

It feels strange to post LL on this, the darkest day of the year for Christians. Buta) maybe it's helpful to get a picture of this wild, crazy, illogical, beautiful world that God so loved, b) not all of you are Christian, and c) many of you are pastors and might need a little light. And in that vein, how about a screen cleaning?


Trickle-Down Consumption: How Rising Inequality Can Leave Everyone Worse Off -- Washington Post

As the wealthy have gotten wealthier, the economists find, that’s created an economic arms race in which the middle class has been spending beyond their means in order to keep up. The authors call this “trickle-down consumption.” The result? Americans are saving less, bankruptcies are becoming more common, and politicians are pushing for policies to make it easier to take on debt.

And a related issue:

Why the Rich Don't Give to Charity -- The Atlantic

The people who can least afford to give are the ones who donate the greatest percentage of their income. In 2011, the wealthiest Americans—those with earnings in the top 20 percent—contributed on average 1.3 percent of their income to charity. By comparison, Americans at the base of the income pyramid—those in the bottom 20 percent—donated 3.2 percent of their income. The relative generosity of lower-income Americans is accentuated by the fact that, unlike middle-class and wealthy donors, most of them cannot take advantage of the charitable tax deduction, because they do not itemize deductions on their income-tax returns.

In a series of controlled experiments, lower-income people and people who identified themselves as being on a relatively low social rung were consistently more generous with limited goods than upper-class participants were. Notably, though, when both groups were exposed to a sympathy-eliciting video on child poverty, the compassion of the wealthier group began to rise, and the groups’ willingness to help others became almost identical.

One hears from fiscal conservatives that if we get rid of "big government" safety nets, that individuals, charities and churches will pick up the slack. I don't see how, but I'd like to engage with a fiscal conservative on this topic, especially the results of the study.


100 Rules of Dinner -- Dinner, A Love Story

DALS is a recent discovery. A fun list for people who want to take cooking beyond the paint-by-numbers approach:

11. No need to sift. Whisking is just as effective.

12. Herbs in the salad.

13. Horseradish in the mashed potatoes.

14. Cinnamon in the chili.


37. When someone says they drink “one to two” glasses of wine a night, you can pretty much assume it’s two.


The Case for Getting Married Young -- The Atlantic

H/t to Katherine Willis Pershey for this article. I agree that it shouldn't be proscriptive, but is a good counterpoint to a lot of current conventional wisdom about waiting to marry until you're "established":

Interestingly, in a 2009 report, sociologist Mark Regnerus found that much of the pressure to delay marriage comes from parents who encourage their children to finish their education before marrying. One student told him that her parents "want my full attention on grades and school." But such advice reflects an outdated reality, one in which a college degree was almost a guarantee of a good job that would be held for a lifetime. This is no longer the case. Furthermore, with so many students graduating from college with knee-buckling debt, they have worse than nothing to bring into a marriage. Indeed, prolonged singledom has become a rolling stone, gathering up debt and offspring that, we can be imagine, will manifest themselves in years to come in more broken, or never-realized, marriages.

Looking back over a marriage of nearly three decades, I am thankful that I married before going down that road. Now as a college-educated, doctorate-holding woman, I can attest that marrying young (at age 19) was most beneficial: to me, to my husband, and to the longevity of our marriage. Our achievements have come, I am convinced, not despite our young marriage, but because of it.

Our marriage was, to use Knot Yet's terminology, a "cornerstone" not a "capstone." ...

It was not the days of ease that made our marriage stronger and happier: it was working through the difficult parts. We learned to luxuriate in the quotidian, to take wonder in the mundane, skills that have become even more valuable in our prosperous years. We invested the vigor of our youth not in things to bring into the marriage, but in each other and our marriage.

As one sociologist put it:

Marriage actually works best as a formative institution, not an institution you enter once you think you're fully formed. We learn marriage, just as we learn language, and to the teachable, some lessons just come easier earlier in life.

Robert and I married young (22), and next year will be our 20th anniversary. Blessed be.


and more from The Atlantic:

Ogooglebar... and 14 Other Swedish Words We Should Incorporate Into English Immediately -- The Atlantic

I agree with my friend Jay: "attitydinkontinens" needs to take hold, now.


From Puppy with Love -- The Bygone Bureau

How daily photos of a couple's dog helped them get through a long-distance relationship. I'm starting work on a second book, thinking about technology and digital culture from a spiritual perspective, so this is of interest:

Did the pictures somehow substitute for or distract from our relationship? And the answer is yes. And I think that’s why we’re still together when so many people think long-distance relationships are impossible. Instead of focusing on us – which in the context of distance so often means strain, effort, and unhappiness – we dote on our dog and his boundless photogenicity.

I’m not suggesting that pictures can make a relationship work. And I’m not exactly sure why dog pictures are more effective for me than Skype or the telephone or texts.

...At the same time, though, this dog — something very much a product of our ability to raise it but at the same time independent, separate, us mediated into dog-life — has made a huge difference.

Loving the contrast between labyrinth and cone of shame here:




The It-Doesn't-Matter Suit, by Sylvia Plath -- Brain Pickings

Did you know Sylvia Plath wrote a children's book and it's charming and poignant?




The Two Epiphanies That Made Me a Better Negotiator -- 99U

Let's call this the latest installment in our ponderings about the Lean In movement:

When people are about to enter a negotiation, they see it as either a threat or a challengeStudies show that people who see negotiation as a threat experience greater stress and make less advantageous deals. They behave more passively, and are less likely to use tough tactics aimed at gaining leverage, compared to the hard-ballers who feel negotiation to be more of a challenge than a threat.

This makes so much sense to me. My husband absolutely sees negotiating as a challenge. He looks forward to a good haggle. I do not. Reading about these studies, I realized that I have always seen negotiations as threatening, and just wanted them over with as quickly as possible, no matter what it cost me. Why prolong a stressful, threatening situation when you can throw in the towel and move on?

But why do I see negotiations as threats, and not challenges? To answer that, I needed…

Epiphany #2: There is more than one way to look at any goal.



God is With Me -- Practicing Families

This is a wonderful site, full of good practical ideas for incorporating faith and Christian practice into everyday life as a family.

When my kids were small, aged 6 and 3, getting out of the house in the morning was the worst part of the day....

I decided to write a litany for our mornings, and say it with them every school day morning for the year. These were the words that I hoped would help them in the most difficult parts of their day.

Parent: When I’m scared, Kids: God is with me. Parent: When I’m happy, Kids: God is with me. Parent: When I’m having a hard day, Kids: God is with me. Parent: When I’m having a super day, Kids: God is with me. Parent: All day long, every day, Kids: God is with me. All: Thank you God for being with me.

You could get playful with this: When my mommy forgets to pack a dessert in my lunch... When I forget to ask 'mother may I' at recess...

On the darkest day of the Christian year... God is with me. And you.


My Kid Won't Swim the Olympics

Caroline competes each summer with our pool's swim team, and last week their coaches had given them an assignment to watch some of the Olympic time trials held in Omaha. It was fun to watch elite athletes swimming at the top of their game and to listen to Caroline's observations about the different strokes.

I took particular note of Davis Tarwater, who was once described as one of the best swimmers never to make an Olympic squad. The announcers last week noted that he has a 30 hour a week job designing banking software for third-world countries. I wondered how having a job like that impacted his ability to train at the highest level. As it happened, he failed to make the team in all three events he attempted, only getting a slot in 200 m freestyle after Michael Phelps opted not to swim that event in London.

Don't get me wrong--Tarwater is an elite athlete, holding a national record. And it sounds like he feels a sense of mission around his "day job"--I don't think he's doing it for the money. But it was a reminder for me of the roles that circumstance and privilege play in achievement.

The other day our swim coaches posted the ladder with the kids' times thus far. In the 9-10 age group, Caroline is currently 6th in freestyle and backstroke and 4th in breaststroke and butterfly. Caroline is a good swimmer technically, and she loves the sport. She's had some fun victories and finishes this season, but she is not in the top tier of her teammates. Then again, she's competing against kids who play various sports year-round, including kids who swim competitively for a program that is supposed to be amazing but costs almost $2,000 a year.

The pressure to achieve, to give one's kids the best of everything, is huge around here. As a mother, I am in it, even as I disdain it. I felt a little torn when I read the ladder this weekend. If we had the time, energy and money to invest in her swimming, maybe she would move up from the middle of the pack. But we just don't have the extra bandwidth to make that happen. I already push my job to the limits of its flexibility; I wrote last week's sermon on deck at the pool, for heaven's sake. One of those elite swim programs meets at 4:30 in the morning. Yes, you read that right.

Caroline doesn't seem all that interested in upping the intensity of her swimming, so I'm certainly not going to push it. This post isn't really about swimming. Rather I'm struggling with how we talk to our kids about privilege. How do we understand our own privilege? How do we frame competitive events like a swim team in a way that encourages kids to do their best, while acknowledging that some kids have an advantage by virtue of circumstance?

And can we explain all of this to our kids in a way that doesn't foster bitterness, but rather a hunger for justice? I don't want my kids to resent the only child with the mom who can devote time and energy to driving them to extra practices. But I do want them to wonder about kids who don't even have the advantages we do. Our upper middle class swim problems are small potatoes; read this article that profiles six people who live at the different levels of income disparity in the U.S. and extrapolate it out. You think competitive swim team is expensive? Have you checked out four year colleges lately? What does all of this look like for the Pallwitz kids (page 3 in the article), whose parents are barely making ends meet? What will achievement look like for them?

When the playing field is uneven at many levels, what does it mean to "do well"?

Today's Episode of Not Getting It

I guess I shouldn't expect anything much from Parade Magazine. Yet I keep coming back, because I like reading about celebrities I've never heard of, and I've been pleasantly surprised by a few feisty articles, debunking conventional wisdom and afflicting the comfortable (really). But this one is just a load of tone-deaf idiocy: Mitch Albom: The Joys of Summer

I feel sorry for today’s kids. Summer comes, they’re finally free from school—and bang! Band camp. Science seminars. Internships.

Instead of downtime, it’s get-up-and-go time. Chorus travel, archaeological digs, dance tours. My nephew from Michigan flew to Georgetown University for a summer medical program, replete with cadavers. He was 16.

(Am I the only one thinking that the doctor camp sounds awesome?)

When I think of my childhood summers, I remember lying in the grass, hands behind my head, feeling the blades dig into my fingers. I studied the clouds. I joked with my friends. None of us wore watches.

And none of you had a mother who worked outside the home.



And I am shocked, shocked to learn from Wikipedia that Mitch the Parenting Expert does not have children of his own.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: “If we don’t enroll our kids in an activity, all they’ll do is text. Or watch TV (and text) or talk on the phone (and text).”

No you don't. I'm thinking, if we don't enroll our kids in an activity, I'll be put in jail for leaving an 8 year old at home by herself to study clouds while I go DO MY FREAKIN' JOB.


Mitch, Mitch, Mitch.

These are serious times we live in. And you have completely missed the point.

I wonder if the people who've been out of work for 18 months or more are thinking, "Well, we're one illness away from losing our home, but it's worth it because my kid can lie on the grass without wearing a watch while her friends are at archaeology camp."

What an opportunity you had, Mitch, to talk about the economic realities of two-career families, or maybe even single-parent families, remember those? Or to wonder whether three months of summer vacation even makes sense anymore when parents work and other countries are cleaning our clock in math and science. Perhaps an oblique mention of the fact that the gap between rich and poor keeps widening to dangerous levels, especially in communities of color, even as those of us lucky enough to have jobs continue working our tails off.

Aw, who am I kidding?! Who wants to read depressing, eggheaded stuff like that? Much better to offer up a big stinking pile of parental guilt-mongering and get-off-my-lawn buffoonery.

That sells.

Actually it doesn't sell. But it does come free in the Sunday newspaper.

More on the Working/Stay-at-Home Mom Thing

This is a follow-up to my post from last week about the importance of women being in the workforce in order to effect change, and the equally compelling vision of a less-career focused, more family- and community-oriented role for both women and men. There were some good comments there too---check them out. Disclaimer: I realize that for many people, there is no choice but to work. That can't be forgotten in this. If you even have a choice to work or not work, that is in many ways a privileged position. Anyway.

This stuff is so complicated. I think what's hard about this is that there are general ideals and there are specific cases.

Here's some general stuff, clothed in specifics: I work in a male-dominated field. I gain a whole lot of strength from my female colleagues. And without a critical mass of us, it's going to continue to be a male-dominated field. The stereotype of the man in his late 30s with the wife and adorable children will continue to be the platonic ideal of the desirable pastor, without sheer numbers of people demonstrating a different way. We need women and their prodigious gifts for ministry. We need the ones who agitate and advocate. And we need the ones who catch flies with honey.

Linda Hirshman got totally raked over the coals for her Get to Work stuff, and I don't remotely agree with everything she said. But she deserves at least some credit for suggesting that our decision to work or not work has a collective dimension to it. Yes, it's a private decision, but it has public and societal consequences, assuming you believe, as I do, that corporate boardrooms and halls of Congress should look something like the society at large. And assuming you believe, as I do, that a woman who sets aside career for several years is going to have a much longer slog to get to those boardrooms and halls.

I don't like slippery slopes and this comes dangerously close, but what the heck: Imagine---what if every woman opted out? Would the world be a better place? Would the workplace be more family friendly? Would the laws of the land reflect the perspectives of women? (And yes, I know men can opt out too, and there are a lot more men staying at home with kids than ever before, but the fact is it's still mostly the women taking time off for childrearing.)

There is a collective dimension to this. Honestly? Part of what keeps me in ministry is a sense of responsibility towards other women in ministry, both now and in the future. Several years ago I became the unofficial expert on maternity leave policies for the PC(USA). Word got out somehow that I had collected stats and example policies from around the denomination. Women I didn't even know started e-mailing me for information, asking me how they might advocate for themselves, and so forth. And many of those contacts have continued as we all struggle to do that dance of ministry and motherhood in all its joys and frustrations. It's one of those peripheral things I love about being a pastor---the crazy camaraderie.

So that's the general.

But the specific is vitally important to acknowledge too: It is a personal decision. And every situation is different. Some people feel called to paid work outside the home; some feel called to full-time child-rearing/volunteerism/community building. And circumstance is everything. Is there a good support system? What are the spouse's gifts and work situation? I said that I stay in ministry partly out of a sense of responsibility, but I'm also fortunate that we have a situation that works such that my kids don't suffer for it. In fact I think their life is often enriched by my vocation. (Not always, I must admit.) I really, really love being a pastor and feel like I was put on this earth to preach. But sure, there is a tipping point beyond which even I would leave ministry.

I've been corresponding with a friend who's taking time off from teaching to be with her kids ages 8 and under. She was kind enough to share her thought process on all that, and I'd be hard-pressed to find a flaw in her logic to stay home. Makes perfect sense. Likewise I have several talented friends, seminary colleagues, who are taking time off from paid parish ministry while their kids are young (and maybe beyond that, I'm not sure). Again, it seems to make sense given the circumstances.

But now, I think, we circle back to the general. Most women who leave the workforce for several years are not going to jump back in at the same pay scale and position as their colleagues who never left. I used to say "You can have it all, just not all at the same time." I now say, "You can't have it all, but you can have different things at different times." Not exactly a rallying cry for female empowerment, eh? But accurate in my experience. Our lives are not infinite and every yes is also a no. The decision not to work for several years has economic consequences, and not just during those years. Perhaps there are some fields where you jump back in easily. But in many fields, the decision not to work has consequences that ripple out for untold years into the future. (Boy, I hope that's not news to anyone.)

But again, to what extent does that matter? For many people, the positives of being home with children far outweigh the downsides. You can't put a price on the added flexibility for volunteerism, exercise, hobbies, etc.

And the truth is, I identify with both "sides" of this, because I work part-time. I might write some about that but I'm curious what you think.