Friday, July 31, 2009

How Old?

A friend asked me how old I was. Age is such a strange thought to this fan of time (and time travel). I don't like talking about it: ashamed to be so old, timid for being so young. Strangers sound surprised to find out how old I am - or that I'm older than the rest of my brothers and sisters. Yet when someone asks, I can't think of a good reason to avoid answering, so I brave their shock and say that I am twenty-four.

Two dozen years old and my life is mostly the same as when I was sixteen. though I am not the same. When years don't go as expected, measuring progress is hard. Some friends matching my years have several children. Many are married. A few have stacks of degrees, houses, favorite places to travel. There's all this comparison.

In my wiser moments, I see through the silliness. My change has been in my forge, not in escaping it. Transition has happened. In the old days girls my age were growing up by saying good-bye to parents, brothers, sisters. God has given me a different challenge: to say good-bye to friends, learning better than ever to build up the family in which I was raised - am still being raised. I don't regret my choices, believing I have walked by faith.

"Maybe by the time I'm your age, I'll be grown up." So I used to think, a starry-eyed child imagining life with a locker and football games and a car of your own. High school was not nearly as packaged and complete as I thought. So college must be the time, those golden-days of figuring life out, knowing always the right step to take and words to say. I skipped college, but from what I observed, just after high school is the time to nostalgically cling to a life more laid-out than any of the wild options parading now: ah! the good old days when I was on top of the world as a high school senior. Well then, college must just be an excuse to stay young; surely after college age, by the age of 22 or so, everyone must be moving along their life-course, certain of their calling, seizing their days. No, not true either. I'm not blaming those I observed, being equally lost and struggling to have contentment and faith in the midst of abandoned expectations.

I'm learning not to do life as Lisa being a twenty-four-year-old, but as Lisa, who is twenty-four. There is no role for me to play, no definition that excludes me from being grown up when I do one thing, or initiates me into the club if I do another. Life is not without its direction. Maybe this was the message all along, that our plan of progression through aging is built on the wrong priorities. I serve a rather radical and creative God, author of stories. There is a clear purpose to Lisa as she is today. Lisa laughs, loves, and serves. I get to learn, and lean into challenges. Friends mean so much to me, and I try to pour myself into them. I believe God is able to speak and wants to speak, so I listen for Him, taking His dares though they hurt and are hard.

Even if I had the life my "older" friends have, I don't think I'd have everything figured out like I wish I would. Some situations would leave me wishing I had more experience and education. Time yields adventure to hearts open to grow, and I don't ever want to be satisfied with who I am, this mortal creature. So there is balance, between accepting that who I am today is reality, so I don't have to "act my age;" and pressing on for the goal of being like my good Lord Jesus.

"Remember your Creator in the days when you are young."

To God be all glory.

Thursday, July 30, 2009


Hope has been on my mind lately.

How soft and beautiful the petal of a dried rose. It's wrinkled, the edges shriveled. But the scent and shape and texture are all still there, clinging to former beauty. The crisp orange-golden rose presents itself to me from its tall crystal vase on the table at my side.

In different seasons, over different years, God has taught me some of the major themes of life: grace, love, faith. Now it's hope. God is daring me to hope, to risk the happiness of hoping. I have a phrase: Don't wallow in the waiting; hearken to the hoping! But I've never been very good at applying this.


Somehow peace and faith and hope all go together. Hope can't come without trusting. But I can rest in this hoping because I trust. There's peace at laying my hopes at the feet of my God whom I trust, knowing that whatever He does will be good, and I will rejoice. Laying down hopes isn't giving them up; like all things we give to God, we have them through Him. It's the Jim Elliot principle: He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.

As long as I've had my car, it has rattled. This is a feature of Saturns. Mine is particularly evident in the sunroof, which used to actually open. It is just possible that all the times I rammed my wrist into it to stop the rattle caused it to stop functioning. Anyway, for some reason the other day I decided that the rattling sunroof is my reminder to hope. There is something hopeful about looking up, no matter what I see.

So tonight I looked up "hope" in the Bible, and found a verse that reads like a curse: "Whose hope shall be cut off, and whose trust shall be a spider's web." (Job 8:14) And for the first time I was struck by just how horrible a threat this is, to have your hope fail - the thing in which you hope to prove itself unworthy. It made me want to cry. Because even though I was just talking about the peace of hope when I trust in God, the patient hoping that still dares to be eager is hard - and there is this fear in me that the hope will be cut off. Anyway, I'm so dependent on hope that the thought of it being "cut off."

Job 27:8, "For what is the hope of the hypocrite, though he hath gained, when God taketh away his soul?"

Psalms 16:8-9, "I have set the LORD always before me: because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoiceth: my flesh also shall rest in hope."

Proverbs 13:12, "Hope deferred maketh the heart sick: but when the desire cometh, it is a tree of life."

Jeremiah 18:12, "And they said, There is no hope: but we will walk after our own devices, and we will every one do the imagination of his evil heart."

Romans 4:18, "Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be."

Romans 5:5, "And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us."

Romans 15:13, "Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost."

Hebrews 6:11, "And we desire that every one of you do shew the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end:"

1 John 3:1-3, "Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not. Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure."

To God be all glory.

Newton’s Revised History of Ancient Kingdoms: A Complete Chronology by Sir Isaac Newton, edited by Larry and Marion Pierce

Like reading sheaves of notes compiled as he worked, Newton's Revised History of Ancient Kingdoms demonstrates three things: his access to and comprehension of other histories; the thorough way in which he set about discovering, proving, and problem solving; and the scientific genius by which the chonologer keeps all in his head.

Drawing from such sources as Plato, Herodotus, and Josephus, Newton submits all histories and archaeology and even legends to the timeline of the world as found in the Bible. He spends much effort explaining which legendary figures are pseudonyms for the same great kings. A king was called one name at home, another in each conquered country, a few titles of royalty and accomplishment, and then a few by which he was worshiped at his death. Though in the text Newton is not consistent in referring always to a single name for a person to which he compares other names, there is an extensive Alias Appendix and Exhaustive Index to help follow the associations. Upholding the authority and accuracy of the Scripture, Newton criticizes the priests and ancient historians of each country for inflating the age of their civilization, usually done by inserting names of kings in lists with no mention of any accomplishments, or by making the reigns of kings unbelievably long: into the hundreds of years. However, Newton also refutes those Jewish historians who doubt all histories not recorded in the Old Testament, reducing and confusing the kings of Persia from the intertestamental times, though in truth the Bible does not mention them because they no longer dealt with the Jews.

For each point Newton made, and especially on those arguments where the consensus of history or usually-reliable chronologers is against him, he goes into overwhelming detail to establish his position. As I read, I would wonder why we were touring a small isle in the Mediterranean, debating the heritage of a prince – and suddenly, aha! Newton would say, “therefore,” and prove that the four generations of history we had endured proved that someone was the same age as someone else, and that his great grandson therefore could not have been as ancient as some believe. Many events are connected by degrees of association to the Trojan War, to the reign of King Solomon, or to Nebuchadnezzar’s destruction of Jerusalem. From thence an ancient history spiders off into tales of a king whose fifty daughters married his brother’s fifty sons, then at their father’s command all murdered their husbands so as to defend against their uncle’s betrayal; to the way Philistia was overrun by exiles from Egypt, making the Philistines more powerful and land-desperate when they fought the Judges, Saul, and David. Apparently all the ancients ran around conquering each other, erecting pillars, kidnapping princesses, and stealing them back. A great king of one country would be worshiped by his colonies in other countries until no one remembered he was a king and everyone thought he’d always been a god.

Newton was rather fascinated with the study of astronomy, astrology, and geometry as he supposed it spread from Egypt to Babylon and thence to the rest of the world. He believed only one ethnicity originated human sacrifice, only one astrology, only one worship of the dead, and only one the building of temples. These idolatrous innovations were, he taught, spread to other peoples only through a chain of interactions with the first peoples who practiced them. He also makes the case that the original constellations were representations of those in the Argonaut Expedition or their fellows.

Being both a chronology and a sort of history, this book has amazing scope, covering about 2000 years of the Mediterranean World, describing kings and conquests, marriage and treachery. Chapters include Early Greek History, The Empire of Egypt, The Assyrian Empire, Empires of the Babylonians and the Medes, and The Persian Empire. Agreeing with Ussher on most dates, but venturing further into secular history seeking a general order and average sense of time, Newton lays out a sense of grand background. His book is written for those already acquainted with the peoples and countries he described, and so I found myself floundering in the long sections of the book about Egypt, Greece, and Assyria but more comfortable in the reaches of Babylon and Persia. One of the best illustrated sections of the book is the chapter on King Solomon’s temple, whose measurements Newton draws from a combination of Kings and Ezekiel (about which interpretation I remain skeptical). A companion book with a good timeline and charts would be recommended. You might use Ussher’s Annals of the World. I myself did not know that modern man was aware of such details of history as Newton records, though I believe the study of history has been mightily neglected in the past two centuries. This well-formatted, easy-to-use reference does well to excite curiosity and may be helpful in reviving consideration of those motives and affections that change the world.

Newton's Revised History of Ancient Kingdoms
To God be all glory.

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Shadow Within by Karen Hancock

Sometimes the Christian life is overwhelming. There are battles on so many fronts, and no guarantees that things are going to turn out the way you desire. God is there and God is good, but it is so easy to forget. Whenever we forget, our focus is off and then we can never be sure whether we got ourselves into a mess or if God was going to bring us here even if we had done everything right. The temptation to accept being overwhelmed is itself a temptation. We can’t escape temptation, because there’s part of us that wars against the Spirit, that longs to sin: to be angry or stubbornly independent, to seek revenge or to be afraid, to doubt God’s goodness and look at how bad everything seems to be.

For Abramm Kalladorne, heir to the throne of Kiriath, things are pretty bad. In The Shadow Within, the Shadow forces are throwing everything they’ve got at him, using little threats that would only cost hundreds of lives to distract him from the bigger picture that could cover thousands of Kiriathan souls in Shadow and allow the Shadow to continue its advance across the world unchecked. Not only does Abramm have more than enough to handle trying to win the confidence of his people in order to keep the crown and defend his people against amassing enemies; his most dangerous enemy is himself. Each time he gives in to doubt or selfishness or pride, he is weakened in his spiritual war against the Shadowspawn and the human devotees of the Shadow.

But Abramm is not without help. Though she resents it, his sister Cassandra makes a terrible journey to warn him about the monster she discovers. His faithful friend Trap both serves and defends Abramm. Several fellow Terstans join Abramm in the spiritual side of his fight, including the strong-willed and discerning second princess of Chesedh, Lady Madeleine. To his surprise Abramm also encounters favor from several of his noblemen, who become his political allies. But ultimately Abramm must learn that though God has blessed him with friends and military prowess, he desperately needs God: not only for the first step, but for every stroke afterward. God is sufficient even if He’s all Abramm has. So Abramm must be willing to surrender everything else God has given if he is going to experience the fullness of God’s power and plan for him.

Things in The Shadow Within are not always what Abramm Kalladorne, King of Kiriath, expects. They are both easier and more strenuous, less lonely and more personal, richer and more costly. So it is with we who are sold out to the Lord of the Universe, Lord of Light, whose purposes go far beyond our lives, however significant or supplementary.

To God be all glory.

The Collective

A friend was telling me about a book the other day. She said that in the first page not only had the author stated his thesis; he had also persuaded her of its truth. The following hundred fifty pages were spent reiterating the point and adding evidence with which to convict the audience of the need for the final third of his book, advice for applying the concept. My friend has always been more interested in writing that was more practical than philosophical, and essentially agreed with the premise of this book before she began to read it. So she sloughed through the repetitive, unnecessary chapters getting quite bored and wondering if the book was worth her time.

And today, while I pondered her conversational book review, I realized something. When I read, I cannot wait to share what I have learned with someone else. I want to discuss the statements, to criticize them or exult in them, to take every piece of information from the book and draw conclusions from it. I am rather bored by a book that is a list of how-to steps, because inevitably my situation is omitted, and I chafe under the restrictions of specifics. As a little girl playing with legos, I always altered the instructions that came with the little car kits. During a lecture, I much prefer taking my own notes to filling in blanks. When I read, I am not merely receiving what the author intended; I am springboarding from there to further conclusions, adding the information to everything else I know and experience, in order to richly apply the new ideas.

Not only am I blending each new piece of media with the others of my experience; I am contributing to the community knowledge and awareness. Were I to read the book my friend was describing, I would not only be gaining information useful for my life, but also things that I could transfer to my friends, some of whom might benefit from all those tedious persuasion points. I could write about the subject here (except I already have, when I read reviews of the same book by other bloggers – sharing their knowledge with their community). Think about reviews and quotes, the work of one man in reading an entire volume in order to bring you a concise summary and sample.

Have you an idea of the impact on your world when you read a book or watch a movie or listen to a song – or even have an experience? We are, when living in community, all something like the feared and almost unstoppable Borg of Star Trek invention. Our understanding is assimilated into a collective. Except in our case, instead of our brains being hacked and joined to an impersonal super-computer, we are a collective by reason of our relationships: our compassion for others, and wisdom in choosing when to share and what. Communication is key.

Imagine a person who was reading, thinking, watching, and living – but who never communicated any of what he learned. Though his experiences would shape him and his decisions and so impact the people around him, how much more could they all benefit if he was using his time not selfishly, but for what it could offer neighbors, family, and friends? What I do not have time to read, watch, or do might be in the realm of the experiences of my acquaintance, who could give me the relevant parts or the most interesting parts.

Worse than someone who will not communicate is a passive member of the community. All he does is absorb media, blinking at a screen, fiddling with a video game, settling for mediocrity in all of his pursuits, never aspiring to innovation or improvement. Such a person is not contributing to the community, is wasting his potential, while benefiting like a parasite from the efforts of others. Even if he is a hermit, excluding himself from the community, by residing in the vicinity of communities (even in a macro situation like the large geography of a state or country) he will be the recipient of at least a few good things brought about by the selfless enterprise of others. A country is strong when the people are united. It will be profitable, creative, defensive, and resilient.

So, too, is a church that is united. God did not place His children as individual hermits to meditate on Him and reach full potential of godliness, testimony, or understanding. He placed us as a people, in an organism called the church, made up of many members that the world may see our love in community, proclaiming not that God is near them, nor that God is in them, but that God is truly among them. It is almost redundant to say that church is community. But it is counterintuitive to today’s citizen. He is taught to think of church as an institution, a collection of programs and “services,” which the religious attend and in which they ritually participate.

The Bible teaches that the people redeemed by Christ’s grace are to walk in the Spirit, to live by faith, praying without ceasing. We are saved individually, each bearing God’s image, each a man for whom Jesus gave His Life. But that salvation and faith and Spirit pours into the collective when the “members” gather. Then that which a person has read, learned, or experienced should be brought forward and discussed: questioned, projected, contrasted, added to the knowledge and circumstances of others, and then applied. What esteem we should have for those with whom we fellowship, embracing their words whether encouraging or correcting, for we are all benefiting from the voice of God on many ears!

To God be all glory.

Reimagining Church by Frank Viola

If you happened to come at the Church dilemma from the same direction as Pagan Christianity, meaning, you started to suspect there was something wrong with the way we “do” church, this book is the next step. In Reimagining Church, Frank Viola describes his conclusions about God’s intention for Church meetings, using the tool of contrast with our normal church experience. Not hierarchy, but consensus. Not stage-centered, but participatory. Not merely intellectual, but spiritual. Not program-driven, but organic. Not Pentecostal or cessationist, but charismatic.

Three points stood out to me in Frank Viola’s book.

1) He believes that the Trinity should be the model for our church: unity in diversity, and applies that belief to his theology and ecclesiology. How should our leadership be? How does the Trinity do it? How should our fellowship be? How is it between the Trinity? I don’t see that this method is taught by the Bible, but it
may not be false.

2) Theology should be contextual and Christ-centered. He advocates for a chronological order for the books of the New Testament, the order in which they were written set alongside the timeline and history found in Acts. Also he believes the
meetings should be Christ-centered in that the product of every gathering is a
better love for, trust in, or knowledge of Christ.

3) We need fellowship with other Christians. There is no excuse for excluding any of the redeemed from our fellowship unless they are unrepentant about habitual sin or demonstrably only professing “Christianity” without any familiarity with what that means. (We don’t have to fellowship with cultists or heretics, even if they say they’re
Christians.) The Bible emphasizes the group-ness of the Church over the
individuality of the Christian. Community is essential for biblical interpretation, for evangelism, and for our personal spiritual growth.

To God be all glory.

Pagan Christianity? by Frank Viola and George Barna

Several years ago I emailed my pastor. We’d taken Communion at church that week, and I was curious how we ever got started doing the ceremony as we did. I’ve come to discover that there are two major ways of taking Communion in churches today: The first follows the procedures of the Catholic Mass, where a minister presides over the table and the rest of the congregation comes forward for the bread and cup to be administered. Second is the version with which I am more familiar, where a minister recites a few sentences removed from 1 Corinthians 11, prays for the bread – which is actually pre-broken crackers in a plate, and then the deacons (whose original biblical job was, after all, distributing food) carry the plates to the congregation, passing them up and down the pews until everyone has some, then marching in unison to the front where they all surrender their trays, sit down, and let the minister serve them bread. Then he sits down and one of the deacons serves him. Then the minister stands back up and leads the congregation in “partaking.” We do the whole thing over again for the cup, served in trays of thimble-cups. And all I wanted to know is whence this elaborate ceremony came.

But my pastor either didn’t understand the depth of my question or didn’t know and gave me the best he had. No one knows, I concluded. If they don’t teach such things at seminary, where else could you learn about church traditions?

Pagan Christianity? addresses many points of my inquiry. First of all, it does tell me how we got the ceremony we know as Communion or the Lord’s Supper. Specifically the passing of trays was an invention of the church in Geneva where Calvin and his gang emphasized orderliness. Additionally, this short book describes the origins of several other things I mentioned: pastors and ministers, Communion no longer having to do with community, the Lord’s Supper no longer being a supper, churches meeting once a week in buildings, tables or altars at the front of the building, congregations as distinct from the clergy, pew arrangement facing a stage, deacons being reduced to ushers, seminaries, and even the practice of removing “verses” (an added, man-made invention) from context. Most of these are derived either from pagan temple ritual, Roman government structure and formality, or the style of Greek philosophers. On the whole this book is an astounded critique of how the Church of God has not transformed the world, but rather allowed itself to be conformed. We who are to be the image-bearers of God are looking remarkably like His enemy. This apostasy has dramatically affected the mission of the Church. We stand today divided, running after every new program or philosophy the experts throw at us, losing attendance by the thousands, and exhibiting a very weak testimony of the power, holiness, and love of our God. Pagan Christianity? is a wakeup call to the Church to abandon their manmade traditions with which we have replaced the commandment of God.

To God be all glory.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


I love chocolate. I need it. Even if I don’t need to eat it, I need to be able to plan to eat it, to dream of tasting it. And I need it as back-up in case my little heart needs some consolation.

There is something amazingly sentimental about finishing off a carton of chocolate ice cream, or a giant candy bar. I’m almost sad scooping out the last remaining bites. Worse than sad is that feeling of desperation that follows when I empty the freezer of chocolate ice cream. To have a spare half gallon is security for whatever disaster may come. The insecurity is overwhelming when there is no ice cream in the house. I will usually restock during my very next trip out of the house.

And in life I like to be that way. I hold out for the back-up, able to stay calm without guarantees as long as I know there is something.

A small whisper says this may not be the best thing about myself. Even louder is the suggestion that denying myself in the example might teach myself for life.

To God be all glory.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

17 Toothbrushes

A comb and two toothbrushes on a bathroom windowsill

There are 17 toothbrushes in the cupboard over my sink. I am not talking about packaged, waiting-to-be-used articles, but open, ready-in-cup toothbrushes. In my house live 7 people. One brother comes around frequently and spends the night, so he would be excused for having a toothbrush present. My parents, however, keep their dental items in the master bath, so they don't even contribute to the 17 count. One of my sisters keeps her toothbrush in her room in case of inaccessibility. Does she have any in the bathroom cabinet? "Maybe one... an electric one from four years ago" that she never uses... I have two in there, one for regular use and a backup for travel. So that takes care of three, leaving 14 toothbrushes belonging to 3 people. Is it odd that I'm concerned?

To God be all glory.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Health Insurance, Competition, and Socialization

I am no fan of government involvement in commerce, even when the industry is health care. As with most government programs, the three arguments are simple: First, it is quite illogical to think that we can funnel money through a string of middlemen, each of which receives their cut, and come out ahead. Second, the more the government controls the money, the more they control everything else. We see this in the recent bailouts of banks, where CEO’s were deprived of their prearranged bonuses by force, and also in the car manufacturing fiasco where the government first handed the money and second forced a government-arranged bankruptcy. The fear is that when the government is funding health care, the government will tell doctors and patients their options. Finally, every other experiment the government has made in taking over an industry, however charitable, has been a money-draining disaster with worse results. For example, consider social security or the public education system.

Obviously there are other concerns with a socialized, or even a partially socialized health care system. If things go as they have in Europe and Canada, lines will be long, doctors scarce, and treatments almost rationed (or chosen for their cost efficiency rather than effectiveness). Private health insurance companies (which insure no such thing) may be put out of business. Perhaps they ought to be put out of business, but the government is hardly an improvement. We might worry about fraud, or about people taking advantage of services that cost them nothing.

The Problem with Health Insurance

There are two reasons why the people want the government involved in health care: Many individuals are not insured and cannot afford the high costs of treatment or even of preventative checks. As an act of charitable compassion, some people argue, the government should take responsibility for these “underprivileged.” Others, many of whom work in the industry, agree that the present health insurance system is not as good as it ought to be, and think that the government should fix it. Not surprisingly, these two groups of constituents are looking for very different things from their government. But they each voted for the same man as president because he at least sounded concerned about the issue.

Status Quo

I realize the relatively-free-market health insurance system is not meeting needs, though I believe a free market solution would be better. Let me describe the problem. An insurance company takes money monthly to insure you and your family. They put that money into a pot, part of which goes to pay their employees. The rest is a bet they make that you will not need the full amount of your premium. Sometimes they lose the bet, but as long as they don’t lose too often, they can apply the extra money they charged you to the bills for other people. To keep their costs down, insurance companies tend to be selective and difficult about accepting claims. They use different ploys, like keeping the most expensive treatments out of formularies; claiming that the treatments are experimental or cosmetic; restricting the doctors you see to those in a pre-approved network; or by prohibitive referral processes. Insurance companies sign contracts with in-network doctors agreeing to pay a certain amount for specific services – usually an amount less than that which the doctor would usually bill. This though it actually costs a doctor more to bill an insurance company, due to the amount and hassle of paperwork required. On top of this, the insurance company usually requires you to pay a copay or percentage of your bill. Or another old-fashioned, lower-priced option is to have a deductible. In this system, the patient pays for routine care and emergency expenses up to a certain amount (which they may or may not exceed in a year, and would probably do better not to exceed), at which point the insurance kicks in with a discount or normal coverage. More on this later.

To compensate for the arbitrary reductions that insurance companies make to the amount of a doctor’s fee, doctors are almost forced to raise their prices to fool insurance companies into paying them what they need to make a living. Competitively low prices have been eliminated by an across-the-board amount insurance will pay. What is to be gained by a doctor charging the insurance less than they have agreed to pay?

The Corporation Aspect

Insurance companies, except for Medicaid and Medicare, have been private enterprises, required to compete for customers. To gain a competitive edge, there are several options. The most obvious is advertising. Name recognition is important. Companies can advertise having a large pool of doctors in their networks, easy paperwork, comprehensive coverage, low premiums, small deductibles or copays, perks like inexpensive prescription drugs, or customized get-only-what-you-need plans. The problem is, insurance companies as a rule have become accustomed to advertising to corporations or businesses, not to individuals.

Enter Government Interference

I have not studied how the benefits became a normal offering from a corporation to its slaves, but I suspect taxes (translate: government interference and manipulation) have something to do with it. This is what I know. Businesses are taxed on the amount of money they pay their employees. Employees are taxed on their income. Some things on which people spend their money are tax-exempt (food and medical expenses in most cases). Perhaps businesses sought to increase the incentive to work for them by offering the untaxed add-on’s?

(excerpt from an article at “In 1910, Montgomery Ward entered into one of the earliest group insurance contracts. Prior to World War II, few Americans had health insurance, and most policies covered only hospital room, board, and ancillary services. During World War II, the number of persons with employment-based health insurance coverage started to increase for several reasons. When wages were frozen by the National War Labor Board and a shortage of workers occurred, employers sought ways to get around the wage controls in order to attract scarce workers, and offering health insurance was one option. Health insurance was an attractive means to recruit and retain workers during a labor shortage for two reasons: Unions supported employment-based health insurance, and workers' health benefits were not subject to income tax or Social Security payroll taxes, as were cash wages.

“Under the current tax code, health insurance premiums paid by employers are deductible for employers as a business expense, and are excluded, without limit, from workers' taxable income.”)

Why is this adverse? As long as the employees of the company are not complaining – or in worse cases, not threatening strike or resignation – the corporations are under no pressure to do what is best for the patients. They will buy insurance plans that cost them the least money. Even if two plans cost the same low price, how is a corporation to know which health insurance provider will offer better service?

Starbucks and Competition

Let’s compare this to something simple and familiar: Starbucks. On every corner, there is a Starbucks. One might be on your way out of your neighborhood when you’re headed to work. Your grocery store might have one in the corner. Or there may be that chic spot where you always have coffee with your girlfriends. Which Starbucks do you patronize? There might be a friendly Starbucks, a convenient Starbucks, the one with the drive-thru or the excellent customer service. You might prefer a clean Starbucks or a less busy coffee location. A few Starbucks offer different selections for their bakery, or later hours. If you ever have a bad experience at one franchise, you can switch loyalties and frequent the Starbucks across the street.

Now what if the company you work for, as part of your compensation package, had agreed to fund your Starbucks addiction? Yet for their convenience they bought a package with a single Starbucks site for all of their employees. To use your benefits, which your company already paid for, you must go to the Starbucks they chose. The person who selected the corporate Starbucks didn’t even like coffee, has no idea where you live or whether you like bakery items or drive-thrus. But now you’re stuck. To take advantage, you have to drive clear out of your way, get out of your car and walk in, only to find they don’t have the muffins you like and the barrista is grumpy every day. If you get ambitious, you may complain to your human resources department in hopes that they would change coffee shops for you. But then someone else is unhappy, because they don’t like the busy, cramped feeling of a drive-thru when they’re reading their novel in the corner, hugging a cardboard-ringed cup of coffee.

What’s more, as this trend catches on, more and more businesses start choosing a Starbucks for their employee benefits. Starbucks realizes that they can earn as much by pleasing one corporation as they could by catering to a thousand individual customers. Once the contract is landed, there’s almost no possibility the business would pull out. Service wanes, options are reduced, prices inflated, and soon no one who is not part of a corporate plan can afford to buy Starbucks. Opting for your old favorite Starbucks near your house with the drive-thru and muffins costs you an arm and a leg – and they don’t even have muffins anymore, because that isn’t part of the plan the corporation who chose them wanted. Your neighbor has to give up his Starbucks addiction because he is self-employed and can’t afford it.

And the economics get worse, because your wife and kids used to love Starbucks. The corporate plan includes them (and the trend has made it impossible to afford mocha frappachinos anywhere else), only at that one Starbucks. To reduce corporate costs, though, they start to restrict the family plan. Wives and kids under 18 can be included for now for a monthly fee. After 18, if they enroll in college, the company will still fund their Starbucks life – who knows why the company cares. Then all of a sudden, at 25, no matter what your family values or circumstances, your kids are no longer covered. “So get over it,” my reader says, “It’s only coffee.”

Dire Consequences

But I’m not talking about coffee. I’m talking about health care, without which you will live with chronic pain or illness. When you break a bone and can’t afford the X-rays and doctor’s visits, you forever cripple yourself, limiting your employment possibilities. Or you may die, after exposing your community to sickness. And remember, the reason an average uninsured person cannot afford basic health care is because the prices are inflated due to insurance policies and corporate-appealing non-competition.

Every Man for Himself

In the Starbucks illustration, I even skipped a step, eliminated the middle man. That middle man not only harms you, the patient, but also the doctor. And the less lucrative it becomes to be a doctor, the less people want to be doctors. When there are not enough doctors for immediate care, you wait. The service gets worse, more and more limited because all these unnecessary people are skimming off their share, and there isn’t enough money to pay for what is needed at the inflated prices. But everyone is out for themselves, including the patient. They’re going to get the most they can out of their coverage, too, taking advantage of any free or fully covered procedure, necessary or not. These procedures have their place, and their price, but are not for everyone. Someone is paying for them, even if it is not the patient, and no one is benefiting.

How the Government Makes Things Worse

An astute observer may already have realized that if the government takes over the Starbucks plan system, the problem is only going to get worse. There will be even less competition; more cost-cutting standardization of inventory; and less incentive for providers leading to less providers and longer waiting and higher costs. This is not even to mention the regulation that will accompany the government plan, or the government-funded coverage for those who could not afford health insurance under the old system.

Creation Rather than Creativity

Nevertheless, the Obama administration presses on towards a government option for health insurance. A nation already so much in debt that it cannot hope to get out of it, threatened with economic collapse, high unemployment, and runaway inflation is going to invent more money (and possibly also increase your taxes) with which to provide health care to its poor. The US may be able to create dollars ex nihilo, but it cannot create doctors, and we are going to run low.

Government Advantage

What’s more, this government plan will have the unmatchable advantage of an endless supply of money for which they will have to give little account, as opposed to the private competitors who have to make do with what they can collect by way of premiums. Analysts fear that private insurance companies will be shouldered out of business by the government “option.” Corporations will not choose to carry the expense of health insurance when their employees could get coverage from the government.


Others who risk prophesying anticipate a responsible government (don’t know where they got that idea), which will limit the amount of imaginary money they’re spending, and be forced to ration care. Even aside from the money, as I said, fewer providers in business may demand rationing, too. The most fearful consequences of this potentiality are the way decisions will be made. Would a rationing system choose a younger person for care over an elderly person? If your condition is the most expensive to treat, would you be left untreated? Or perhaps your chances of survival are small, so there will be no attempt made to save your life. An extreme government might choose by party loyalty or by race. When choices like that have to be made, motives become suspect.

Forecasting Good Things

Now for the bright side. Barring a law prohibiting paying for your own care or health insurance, the private half of the system might be improved by this sudden competition. If under a national health care system you cannot get treatment or if you doubt the quality of the treatment, you may take your savings and pay dearly for health care yourself. It will be interesting to see if all doctors will be required to accept the government health plan, or if they will have the option of demanding private pay.

Free Markets Fight Back

When corporations start dropping benefits from their compensation packages, employees worried about the level of health care they might receive under a government-run plan will have the competitive option of buying health care for themselves and their families outside of the corporate insurance model. I believe the best option for reforming the health care industry is to make just this shift, to competing for the business of the individual rather than the company. Already I see insurance companies marketing to that class of consumers. Such policies would be most efficient as catastrophic coverage, for medical expenses exceeding tens of thousands of dollars. Patients would pay out of pocket for routine medical visits and simple treatments like antibiotics, but in case of surgery, hospital stays, or a disease like cancer, those high costs would be covered.

The Answer for the Poor

In either case the solution requires that you have enough money of your own to pay for health care. Most people do not. So in the end we may survive this government takeover only by prevention and caring for each other in community. Eat healthy. Wash your hands. Get enough sleep. Join a community of people who are going to watch your back – maybe even an insurance community where you all save your money together, agreeing to help each other if any of you incurs a major medical expense.

To God be all glory.