1 Thess, Living in This World, Rheumatoid Arthritis

Struggling to be Kind

And you became
imitators of us and of the Lord, for in spite of persecution you
received the word with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For the word of the
Lord has sounded forth from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but
in every place your faith in God has become known, so that we have no
need to speak about it. For the people of
those regions report about us what kind of welcome we had among you,
and how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath that is coming.
(1 Thessalonians 1:6-10, NRSV)

I admire those people in Thessalonika. They found joy and practiced hospitality and did it all in the face of persecution. I am finding joy and kindness a challenge this morning as I contemplate questions about whether the work I feel called to do will continue to exist.

In a discussion of the economy on one of the morning shows, a woman said, "We don't know what jobs will matter in the future." She was talking about how the economy will develop, that we don't know what categories of work will matter to us. But it left me wondering, does an educated clergy matter *more* or *less* in times of economic hardship?

I worry about this selfishly. Now that I have a "pre-existing condition" my choices are maintaining my denominational insurance or? My husband has insurance only when he is actually working, so he would be without insurance, too, should I lose mine. He could probably get a year-round nuke job, but it wouldn't help me, since I have that pre-existing condition. I don't really understand these things, have heard scary words about spending down all your assets to get Medicaid. Since I have an illness that left untreated might well be crippling, I have to find a way to get that treatment. I really can't make sense of this at all. I did nothing to bring this illness on myself, and I am trapped by it. I am haunted by worst case scenarios.

I'm hearing alarmingly casual conversations about all ministry becoming bivocational, about the desirability of simply making a gift of our training while working at another job. With my wrists and fingers, I'll never make a barista. I never trained to do anything else. In a time of economic crisis, are pastors less important to people, really? Or is it that even though we might matter, there just aren't enough resources to go around?

This is not persecution, of course. It's a collision between my medical condition and the world economy, and it's only anyone's fault in the collective sense that the latter situation arose from all of us. I've deleted as many lines as I've written here, because I am angry, even bitter, about my circumstances, and I don't want to express those sour feelings here. I want to find a way through them and beyond them.

How did the Thessalonians do it? Was there not one among them feeling as I do, in desperate need of an encouraging word, saying to herself or himself, "Everyone else is taking this so calmly! What is the matter with me?"

What *is* the matter with me?

And how do I move through this, both the reality and the anxious concerns attached to it? Pastors, even the ones who may not have the same level of concern about their health plans, must be asking the same questions. How much is it reasonable to expect a church to do? Are we among the people who have to lose our health insurance to move the public to support a nationalized program? Is that our sacrifice?

I really hope not. I really hope not. I'm thinking of myself, of the fingers and toes I hope will not be deformed by my illness, of the treatment needed to prevent it. It's direct and explicit and personal. I guess that's selfish. I know it is. But it's where I am, on this particular morning.

17 thoughts on “Struggling to be Kind”

  1. I think you have every right to be concerned. As churches struggle, decline, and ministers move to being bivocational, it will absolutely be the women ministers who are pushed in that direction first. At least down here, anyway. The young men – gifted or not – will always be the first choice for big, full-time positions. And women – we always stand at the point of decision asking FIRST, “what is the best decision for my family?” not “what is the best decision for my career?” I don’t regret that question – indeed, I can’t imagine NOT asking it, but it puts us – unfortunately – on very precarious, dangerous ground.

  2. I think about this, too. It’s scary on the front-end: I feel called to do this, but am I about to train for an obsolete job?

  3. I heard an awful program on NPR on Tuesday about the high cost of prescription drugs. A woman with RA lost her job and her health insurance and was unable to get drugs. She wound up on disability. She said had she been able to get the drugs, then she might not have lost the use of her hands and she might not be disabled. I thought of you and said a prayer.
    I preached on Paradise on Sunday and said that in the early church we wouldn’t have worried because we would have taken care of each other. Those who have a lot would share their goods with those who didn’t have very much (at least according to Acts).
    We have go to restructure our health care system. Like you, I’m tied to the church for health insurance. Unlike you, I’m close enough to retirement (and Medicare) that if I lost my job, I’d still have coverage (we have two years if we are actively looking for a call, then an additional 18 months as unemployed). But, I’m reluctant to look for another job. I was thinking about a job with Habitat, but I can’t risk a year of noncoverage of my preexisting condition.
    It is amazing to be chained to a job.
    What is the future of clergy, especially in the mainline churches? It is unsettling to be in an era of transition. There is a paradox at least in my denomination. The denomination seems geared toward large churches, but most churches are small. I think larger churches will live (if not thrive) and small churches will continue. Some will thrive, some will simply live, some will die. So, for some pastors lucky enough to be in large churches, things should be fine. For the rest (majority) of us, things will be uncertain.

  4. This post made me have to go sit quietly in the prayer position for a few minutes and breathe.
    It enrages me that this is an issue for anyone in this country. What is wrong with us!? Why should you face this? Why should my parents have to choose which of their meds to take (and they HAVE Medicare and supplementary insurance!)
    Rage might not be the most pleasant emotion for me personally, but I do believe I’ll keep it for now, and look for some ways to channel it in effecting change through the upcoming election. We have 2 weeks 5 days. Let’s get ‘er done.

  5. Yep, right there with you, Songbird. I don’t know a single person who’s not right at the edge of Very Bad Financial Things, needing just one nudge to send ’em over it…myself included.
    Trying to keep a kairos frame of mind, myself. Blessings to you, girl.

  6. I am wholeheartedly there with you, even without a chronic disease (yet, anyway)–though with a number of risk factors for very serious diseases that make insurance companies think twice. I spend a lot of time these days FURIOUS that people could possibly think the situation we are in is okay. How, in the supposedly greatest nation in the world, can we think that some people are expendable when it comes to health care? How can we think that health care is only for those who can afford it? How how how how how…. GRRRR.
    Okay, I’m going to take my frustration away somewhere else and stop polluting your blog… 🙂

  7. As a lay person, I’d say the clergy matters more in bad economic times. Why? That’s when people facing trying times need faith to carry them through, or find themselves turning to God for the first time when they realize He is the only one really looking out for them. But also because churches often aid and assist people during hard times – from volunteering with soup kitchens and shelters to assisting desperate congregation members with their heating bills.
    And back to my *favorite* topic of health insurance…I know retirees who worked for major factories for decades – loyal to the core – some have lost the pensions they worked for, but most are seeing huge reductions their health insurance coverage. It’s still better coverage than most people have, but these are policies they’ve already paid for over many years of service, and now they have to pay more and more out of pocket. There is nothing fair when it comes to our current health care system.

  8. I’m sorry you are having to worry about this. I can relate a bit because we had to find our own insurance a year and a half ago when my COBRA coverage ended, and there was a reason some companies were reluctant to cover us. We ended up going with AARP (my husband was already over 50). They had a pre-existing condition clause but only for the first 12 months. I don’t know if that information will be helpful to you, because your photo doesn’t look as though you are anywhere near 50, but I mention it just in case.
    And I agree with the previous commenter that we need clergy more than ever in bad times.

  9. I find this infuriating. Excellent question, Mary Beth: What is wrong with us? I can provide an entirely partisan answer to that question… having to do with how we (as a nation) have been seduced into voting against our own interests again and again. We seem to have sacrificed our humanity in service of the almighty buck. May we find it again.
    Prayers for you, dear friend.

  10. Oh, Songbird, I think the only way through this is that trite ‘day by day’ bit. There have been days when we took meds every other day so as to make them last. Things are better now, but they may well get worse. So just do what you can today and curse bitterness – it will make you sicker. Love you,

  11. Oh, Songbird, I think the only way through this is that trite ‘day by day’ bit. There have been days when we took meds every other day so as to make them last. Things are better now, but they may well get worse. So just do what you can today and curse bitterness – it will make you sicker. Love you,

  12. Songbird, When I was 16, a drunk driver ran a red light and hit me in a crosswalk. At the age of 30 they replaced my knee. Two months after that surgery I was in the ER because I could not use my hands to crutch or to open a jar. I was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis, I’d never heard of it. But, I owned it.
    Meanwhile, I raised three kids, had two more knee replacements, various other arthritic-type surgeries and am now in seminary to seek a call to either chaplaincy or spiritual director. There were times that I felt that I was rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. But, as trite as it sounds I just took one step at a time.
    I feel your frustration and anger. It does seem unfair. I have been praying for you and your family as you struggle with a chronic illness. All will be well.

  13. Sigh.
    Apparently there is a huge percentage of people in their 20s uncovered by health insurance because they do not have fulltime corporate jobs. Our son doesn’t number among them because we have paid for a catastrophic policy for him. That means he has “health insurance” – no dental, no eye, no mental health, and a $500 deductible — for six months. The day our daughter graduates from college in May, she will be in the same boat.
    Meanwhile, McCain’s plan — whoop-de-do. Not of use to our son, who does not pay remotely close to $5,000 in taxes, so what’s the point of the credit? Not of use to us except to buy garbage insurance — the excellent plan we have through husband’s job costs us $4,000 out of pocket before co-pays and deductibles. If we paid for the whole thing on our own, it would be 4-5 times that. And although we do not yet face chronic illness, as we age we surely will, so the chances of buying it on our own diminishes as we do.

  14. It is all very scary. I often tell people that any of us is but one trauma away from “spin-down” and losing everything. All the MORE reason why someone has to come up with an alternative plan for health care. It’s ridiculous that one incident can ruin us financially, but that is the reality. And it’s a scary reality.
    Hugs to you friend.

  15. I remember my rich great uncle who got extremely ill as he was changing jobs, before COBRA. By the time he died, that family was not only no longer rich, but utterly destitute.
    I simply cannot see what is so socialist (as a pejorative) about making health care a right instead of a privilege. Our society would be more productive and creative. People would be more willing to take risks in employment. On and on. Blessings to you.

  16. Why is that our government is willing to “go socialist” to bail out our banks, yet won’t consider a universal health plan. The priorities of our country are so messed up. I’m angry too!
    BTW back when corporations had good health plans, I remember staying in positions where I was so unhappy because I was afraid of losing my health coverage. That should not have happened! It’s only because I had a partner who could put me on her policy that I was able to leave the corporate world to go to seminary.

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