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A sermon preached at Niles Discovery Church, Fremont, California,
on Sunday, September 30, 2018, at the Installation of
the Rev. Timothy Weible as Chaplain at Bridge Hospice,
by the Rev. Jeffrey Spencer.
Scripture:  Luke 10:25-37
Copyright © 2018 by Jeffrey S. Spencer

            I invite you to think for a moment of a time when you were involved in some act of service where you felt especially connected to God.

My suspicion is that your memory includes some element of connecting with other people, typically a person in need, sometimes with others offering service.  There is something about the experience of connecting with another person in the context of service that moves us beyond ourselves and into what a friend of mine call “The Big Love,” her preferred name for God.  When we are connecting with our neighbor, we are connecting with God.  When we love our neighbor, not just with mind and heart, but with hands and feet and voice, we are loving God.

This is the challenge Jesus makes to the lawyer who seemed to be looking for a loophole.  “Yeah, I’m supposed to love my neighbor, but who exactly is my neighbor?” he asks Jesus.  Jesus answers with the story we call “The Parable of the Good Samaritan.”  And in the telling, Jesus reminds us that loving our neighbor may require that we cross socially-dictated boundaries.

This is an over-simplification, but basically, Jews at the time of Jesus generally viewed Samaritans with a special contempt.  While the Romans were viewed with contempt because they were the occupying, oppressive force, Samaritans were viewed with contempt because they claimed to worship Yahweh, the Jewish God, but not at the Temple in Jerusalem, and not guided by the same group of prophets.  They were seen not just as Gentile, but as perverters of the faith.

“The Good Samaritan” by Vincent Van Gogh

In the story Jesus tells, Jewish leaders ignore their fellow Jew, robbed and beaten at the side of the road.  They may have had good reasons (at least in their own minds) for not helping.  There was a guy, robbed, beaten, stripped naked, left half-dead at the side of the road.  This was obviously a dangerous area.  It might be dangerous to pause long enough to help this person.  “I can’t take the risk to help this poor, unfortunate soul,” I can imagine them thinking.  I can imagine that internal dialog because I have had similar conversations with myself.

So the religious leaders – let those of us who are clergy beware – pass our crime victim in the gutter.  And a perverter of the faith comes to the Jew’s aid.  The moral of the story, Jesus says, it that even Samaritans, outsiders, people you look on with contempt, are your neighbors.

For millennia, from before the advent of agriculture, human cultures have taught that same is safe and different is dangerous.  Brian McLaren says, “That belief probably served our ancestors well at certain points in our history.  Their survival often depended on maintaining trust in ‘our’ tribe and fear of other tribes.  That’s why they used paint, feathers, clothing, language, and even religion as markers, so everyone would know who was same and safe and us and who was different and dangerous and them.

“Driven by that belief, our ancestors spread out around the world, each tribe staking out its own territory, each guarding its borders from invasion by others, each trying to expand its territory whenever possible, each driving others farther and farther away.  No wonder our history is written in blood:  wars, conquests, invasions, occupations, revolutions, and counter-revolutions.  The winners take all, and the losers, if they aren’t killed and enslaved, escape to begin again somewhere else.

“Eventually, because the earth is a sphere, our dispersing tribes had to come full circle and encounter one another again.  That is our challenge today. We must find a way to live together on a crowded planet.  We have to graduate from thinking in terms of ‘our kind versus their kind’ to thinking in terms of ‘humankind.’  We must turn from the ways of our ancestors and stop trying to kill off, subjugate, or fend off everyone we judge different and dangerous.  We must find a new approach, make a new road, pioneer a new way of living as neighbors in one community, as brothers and sisters in one family of creation.”[1]

McLaren goes on to say, “That doesn’t mean all our tribes need to wear the same paint and feathers, speak the same language, cook with the same spices, and celebrate the same religious holidays.  But it means all our human tribes – nations, religions, cultures, parties – need to convert from what we might call dirty energy to clean energy to fuel our tribal life.  True, the dirty energy of fear, prejudice, supremacy, inferiority, resentment, isolation, hostility is cheap, abundant, and familiar.  That’s why our societies running it, even though it’s destroying us.  More than ever before in our history, we need a new kind of personal and social fuel.  Not fear, but love.  Not prejudice, but openness.  Not supremacy, but service.  Not inferiority, but equality.  Not resentment, but reconciliation.  Not isolation, but connection.  Not the spirit of hostility, but the holy Spirit of hospitality.”[2]

What that looks like isn’t always clear.  If you think back to that experience of service that connected you to God, the one you thought about at the beginning of this sermon, I’m guessing it was pretty clear to you (or it became clear to you) what loving your neighbor as yourself looked like.  But it’s not always clear.

Is giving money to that person in the median holding a sign asking for money the loving thing to do?  Is ignoring the person, hidden between the bike rack and the bushes, lighting up a crack pipe the loving thing to do?  Is calling the police on that person who has broken the law but doesn’t have the resources to deal with the criminal justice system the loving thing to do?  And what if that person is a person of color?

Listen to the parable again, rewritten as a poem by United Church of Christ pastor and poet Maren Tirabassi.[3]

So the American is beaten up
in the parking lot, mugged,
at the Mall of New Hampshire,
and a Christian comes by
and doesn’t stop for a moment
because it is Black Friday
and there is shopping.

Then a politician comes by.
It is primary season
and both the Democrats
and Republicans
are thick on the ground
in Manchester, Concord, Portsmouth,
but the politician doesn’t stop
because his handlers
tell him it’s not a photo-op.

And finally a Syrian comes by
one of those who is –
as the poem tells it heartbreak –
on our streets
because home is like the
mouth of a shark.

And the Syrian is Muslim
and the Syrian is kind.
And the American
does not want him
for a neighbor.
But God put him there
in the answer
to questions about love.

We’re here today to install the Rev. Timothy Weible as a chaplain for Bridge Hospice.  The biggest mistake people make with hospice is not calling them in early enough.  Because hospice is a wholistic care program, it offers not just pain management, but care for the whole person – and the person’s family.  That’s why hospice agencies have chaplains – in addition to nurses, home health aides, and social workers.  When people delay bringing in hospice, they don’t get the full benefit of care, though the family can continue to take advantage of various services, especially bereavement support.  People who work in hospice are a special breed.

While people can flunk out of hospice – “I’m sorry patient, but your condition keeps improving so you’re no longer eligible for these services” – most patients’ health continues to deteriorate, and they eventually die.  Hospice can help make that process as comfortable as possible, not just for the patient, but for the whole family.  And a big part of the reason that process can be made comfortable is the people (yes, the medications help, too).

In some communities that are largely homogeneous, hospice staffs can reflect that.  Here in the Bay Area, a place where those dispersed tribes come full circle and meet again, hospice agencies need people who are truly open hearted, meeting people – patients and family – where they are, being open to different cultures and values, being open to different experiences, norms, and expectations.

I think about dogmatic Christians (or, I suppose dogmatic people of any religious tradition) as chaplains, and I feel a chill.  I am truly pleased that the United Church of Christ is offering another clergy person to serve as a chaplain here in the Bay Area.  Because we come from a tradition that is not dogmatic and, in fact, acknowledges that there are many paths into the Mystery we call God that seem to work for other people, UCC clergy make, in my humble opinion, great chaplains.  But what I’m really saying is that people like Tim, people who can see the person at the side of the road as neighbor, are the people we need doing his sort of work.

All of us who claim to follow Jesus are called to see the outsider as our neighbor.  All of us are called to look at our neighbor through the eyes of compassion as we journey down the road.  As Thomas Merton said, “Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy.”  Or as this meme encourages, don’t just believe there is good in the world, be the good in the world.



[1] Brian McLaren, We Make the Road by Walking [Kindle version], Chapter 43. Retrieved from

[2] Ibid.

[3] Maren Tirabassi, “Parable of the Good Syrian,” Facebook, (posted 27 November 2015; accessed 4 June 2016).


If you follow this blog, you know that I hoped Secretary Clinton would be elected President. More than that, I really didn’t want Mr. Trump to be elected President. That hope and wish were not fulfilled. Instead, a man who I have seen as misogynist, racist, and dangerous (his denial of climate change, his openness to using nuclear weapons) has won enough states that, assuming the electoral college votes as they are pledged, he will be the next President of the United States.

I’ve been told that in 1960, after John F. Kennedy narrowly defeated Richard Nixon, staunch Hollywood conservative John Wayne declared, “I didn’t vote for him, but he’s my president and I hope he does a good job.”

I’m having a hard time following John Wayne’s lead. Yes, I hope Mr. Trump does a good job, but based on his campaign and the signals coming from his transition team, I don’t think he will. I’ve read his plan for this first 100 days in office. If he follows through on his plan, he will wreak havoc on the economy, the environment, the Supreme Court’s protection of freedom, our public schools, the incomplete health insurance net that’s being stitched together through Obama Care, families that include at least one undocumented worker, and the national debt.

While the plan does not say anything overt about removing right of religious, ethnic, or sexual minorities, the rhetoric surrounding the Trump campaign and the people he has named to his transition team is frightening. Since election day, many people – especially women, minorities, immigrants, and members of the lgbt community – have felt vulnerable. Not surprising, since the Southern Poverty Law Center has noted as significant spike in acts of “hateful harassment and intimidation” since the election. And now, with the naming of white nationalist Steve Bannon to be “Chief Strategist to the President,” the pit in my stomach that had been slowly dissolving has re-solidified. White male privilege is, I fear, solidifying in our culture, right along side the pit in my stomach.

Bishop Dwayne Royster’s words in this blog post posted late on election day resonate with me – particularly when he rights about his anger that people who say they follow Christ voted for a person whose words during this campaign paint him as sexist, racist, xenophobic, misogynistic, homophobic, and not someone to be trusted with nuclear weapons. And I like that he calls us to be “Prophets that will speak truth to power unequivocally and will speak truth to the people as well.”

Senator Bernie Sanders (the presidential candidate I supported in the primaries) issued this statement the day after the election. In four sentences he says where I want to be politically.

Donald Trump tapped into the anger of a declining middle class that is sick and tired of establishment economics, establishment politics and the establishment media.  People are tired of working longer hours for lower wages, of seeing decent paying jobs go to China and other low-wage countries, of billionaires not paying any federal income taxes and of not being able to afford a college education for their kids – all while the very rich become much richer.

To the degree that Mr. Trump is serious about pursuing policies that improve the lives of working families in this country, I and other progressives are prepared to work with him. To the degree that he pursues racist, sexist, xenophobic and anti-environment policies, we will vigorously oppose him.

And while I want to be ready to work with Mr. Trump where I can (and vigorously against him where his proposals and policies are harmful), I am worried about how we respond to people who are vulnerable now, as attacks continue. I turn to my Twitter feed as I write this, knowing that there are other people who have posted things that have inspired me or at least given me hope, but what I’m reading about are instances of people of color being threatened by whites, of people of Muslim faith afraid to express it. Trump has turned a populist anger into hatred for “the other” by turning economic resentment into racial, religious, and gender resentment.

As a pastor, I wonder what my congregation can do. My greatest personal fear about the Trump presidency is that the little progress we’ve made as a nation to combat climate change will be reversed and the struggle to address this (the most important moral issue of our day) may be too late. Others have different primary fears as they try to imagine the coming Trump presidency – and with good reason; check out “Day 1 in Trump’s America.” The Rev. Michael Denton, Conference Minister of the Pacific Northwest Conference of the United Church of Christ, identified how the Trump presidency will make the lives of so many less safe and more traumatic – and some ideas for churches on his Facebook page:

For millions of people in our country and beyond, this world is suddenly and significantly less safe. Hate crimes had already increased in recent months and will even more, now. Many hard fought for laws that had protected the rights and lives of the queer community are in danger of being rolled back. Survivors of sexual assault will have to look into the eyes of someone who bragged about assaulting others every time they turn on the news. Those with disabilities will have to look into the eyes of someone who has mocked them. Migrants and refugees who found a home here are wondering if they’ll have to be migrants and refugees, again. People of color who already knew the life threatening daily reality of systemic racism are faced with one more blatant systemic expression of it. Those whose religious expression does not fall into a relatively narrow expression of Christianity can expect to be treated as suspect. Someone who has talked about his intention to use military force preemptively and often now has the ability to do so.

The idea of providing sanctuary is not a new one. It is the idea of opening up our churches and making them a safe space for people who are feeling threatened by the world. Over the coming hours, days, weeks, months and years more and more people are going to be asking for us to provide some sort of sanctuary; everything from providing a space for prayer and a listening ear to a place where they can find physical safety from a world that endangers them. We need to start that conversation of how to do that within and between our churches, now.

When it was becoming clear that Mr. Trump was going to win the electoral college, I honestly wondered if it was time to consider emigrating. I have a friend in New Zealand who said she will take me in while I look for a job if it’s ever needed. But then I read a tweet (I don’t remember who posted it) that called those of us who have privilege and care about justice not to abandon those who do not have privilege. Privilege comes in many forms in the USA. I have gender (I’m a cisgender male), race (I’m European-America of British descent), and economic (within the USA I’m probably upper-middle class) privilege, privileged enough to be able to seriously consider emigration. But I will stay and look for ways to justly use my privilege to protect those who are vulnerable and to dismantle the system that makes this privilege possible.

Those of us with privilege must not abandon those who do not have privilege. Those of us who follow Christ must serve, lift up, empower, and follow the vulnerable who are all the more vulnerable now.


Elections are about answering questions — not just about who will be elected, but about what we as a society value. We are just a little over two weeks away from an election in my country, the United States of America, and the presidential contest is getting all the attention and press. Interesting since who gets elected to that office will still leave  some important questions unanswered. The President’s powers are limited, so who holds that office will not determine the answers to questions like:

  • Will low-income Americans earn a higher minimum wage?
  • How will the public pensions issue be resolved without leaving current and future retirees financially insecure?
  • How will funding be allocated to public universities or for child-care assistance or for mental health care?
  • Will poor people have access to health insurance?

It’s the so-called “down ticket” elections that will answer these questions and others like them. And I’m not just talking about who we elect as U.S. Senators and Representatives. As an editorial in The Christian Century put it (11 November 2015), “The real action is at the state and local levels. This is where minimum wage ordinances are being debated and passed, where public unions and social welfare advocates are squaring off against budget hawks, where federal money often arrives in the form of flexible block grants that might or might not be put to effective use.”

The editorial goes on, “Local levels of government are also where an individual’s voice and vote count the most. And the smaller the jurisdiction, the more likely a political conversation will involve citizens who know each other — people whose real relationships can help get them past slogans and entrenched positions.”

So, pay attention to those “down ticket” elections. Please.

“When you register for a driver’s license in the United States you are asked if you’d like to be an organ donor.  It’s an ‘opt-in’ question, and only about 40 percent of people choose that option. In Spain, Portugal, and Austria, you’re considered an organ donor unless you opt out. In those countries about 99 percent of the people are registered as organ donors, and there are a higher number of transplants as a result.”

Quoted from Christian Century, 31 August 2016 edition, page 9. They cite ProPublica, July 27 as their source.

Until we can get the ‘opt-in’ changed to an ‘opt-out’ policy in these United States, please make sure you’re an organ donor.

A sermon preached at Niles Discovery Church, Fremont, California,
on Sunday, July 17, 2016, by the Rev. Jeffrey Spencer.
Scriptures: Philemon 1:8-19 and Hebrews 13:1-8
Copyright © 2016 by Jeffrey S. Spencer

It’s been a difficult couple weeks for my soul. I expect the same is true for many of you. In addition to the triumphs and tragedies of our personal lives, there has been so much violence in the news:

  • a particularly brutal attack in Bangladesh;
  • car bombs in Baghdad;
  • 2 police shootings that were caught on tape (and at least 29 others that did not make the national news[1]);
  • 5 police officers killed in Dallas (and at least five others who were killed by guns or cars that did not make the national news[2]);
  • this morning there are stories of police officers shot and killed in Baton Rogue;
  • a truck driving through a crowd celebrating in Nice, France.

In an act of self-care, I decided not to watch the videos of the police shootings in Baton Rogue and Falcon Heights. And, in my efforts to protect my soul from this heart-rending news, I may have missed other attacks and violence that took place in the first two weeks of this month.

13697064_1140713779283174_8897850904786793655_nYesterday, I posted this picture on the church’s Facebook page. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran pastor and theologian, was a staunch anti-Nazi dissident who was arrested and eventually connected with an attempt to assassinate Hitler. He was 39 when he was executed by the Nazis.

“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”

I agree with Bonhoeffer. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act. But what to say and how to act – that’s not always clear. Here’s what I wrote with the picture:

It’s not always easy to figure out how to speak out against evil. How do we speak out against the evil of the murders in Nice, France, on Thursday and not participate in evil ourselves?
The traps are too easy. As a nation, we could speak out with our own violence through our military. As a church, we could easily lump together all people from one ethnicity or religion and blame them all for the actions of a few or of one. We could write a post on Facebook, but does that really speak God’s truth to evil?
While there are no simple answers, the call is clear. We cannot remain silent when we are aware of evil.

This call, to speak and to act, is part of our call as followers of Jesus. We are called to join the Spirit Conspiracy to bring blessings to others. “Conspire” literally means “to breathe with,” which I find interesting, since the Greek word for spirit, pneuma, is also the Greek word for breath. Another way to think about this call is that we are called to get our breathing in sync with the Breath of Life.

And there are plenty of areas of our lives, plenty of circles of influence where, if we get our breathing in sync with the Breath of Life, we will bring blessings to others. Consider these circles of influence.

There’s your family. No one is in a better position than you to bring blessing to your family – your spouse, your kids, your siblings, your parents – than you. There are others who are in an equal position to you, but there’s on one in a better position than you. “When Jesus wanted to confront religious hypocrisy in his day, he pointed out the way hypocrites served their religion at the expense of their families.”[3] Paul wrote about family relationships in ways that probably brought more blessing than the social norms, as sexist as those writings seems to us today. My point is that it’s not just the Spirit calling us to conspire to bring blessing to our families; there are biblical calls, too.

Then there are our economic choices that are a circle of influence. We can conspire with the Spirit to bring blessing through our economic choices. If you’re an employer, you can offer a wage that brings a blessing. If you’re a consumer, you can make purchase choices in ways that bring blessings – are the people all along the supply chain paid justly? Is the environment protected or damaged by this product and its manufacture?

Likewise, our neighborhoods can be blessed by our conspiring with the Spirit. As we address the sins of racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia, transphobia, and so forth, we bring a blessing to our neighborhoods. As we extend hospitality, we bring a blessing to our neighborhoods.

“The Spirit is looking for conspirators who are interested in plotting goodness in their communities. ‘What would our community look like if God’s dreams for it were coming true?’ we [can] ask. The answer gives us a vision to work toward.”[4]

Likewise, we can conspire with the Spirit to bring a blessing to vulnerable people, the people who are typically forgotten or ignored. The biblical mandate is to care for widows and orphans, for immigrants, prisoners, the sick, and the poor. We can easily add to that list: the homeless, the under-educated, the unemployed, the underpaid, refugees, and more.

And if conspiring with the Spirit to bring blessing to these circles of influence isn’t challenging enough for you, I’ve got another: your critiques, opponents, and enemies. Imagine what the election season would be like if the candidates and their supporters conspired with the Spirit to bring a blessing to their opponents. That’s probably a pipedream, but we – you and I – could start. And not just when it comes to politics. We can conspire with the Spirit to bring a blessing to people who annoy us (and the people we annoy). We can conspire with the Spirit to bring a blessing to people who don’t understand us and who we don’t understand, to people who try our patience and whose patience we try.

“Rather than write them off as unimportant and unwanted, we need to rediscover them as some of the most important people we know. If we ignore them, our growth in the Spirit will be stunted. If we let the Spirit guide us in what we say to their faces and behind their backs, we will become more Christ-like.”[5]

White House photographer Pete Souza has taken something close to two million photographs of President Obama, since Obama took office. Each year he posts 75 to 100 that he thinks are the best of the year. Several people have sifted through the photos claiming that these 16 are Souza’s favorites. He denies the claim. Still, from those annual postings, people have gathered what they think are a good sampling of them.

pete-souza-white-house-obama-favorites-4One such collection[6] includes photos that are humorous, photos that are cute, and photos that are poignant. One photo from early in Obama’s presidency shows him fist-bumping one of the White House custodians. They are in a hallway, moving from one meeting to another. Aids accompany the President. And the President pauses to acknowledge a staff worker who cleans floors and toilets and empties the trash.

What we say or fail to say can make a difference in someone else’s life. We can use our words as part of our conspiracy with the Spirit to being blessings, or we can wound. In the letter of James, the author says that if your life were a ship, your words would be its rudder. A fist-bump here, and “thank you” there can make a difference in steering us in the Spirit’s direction. As McLaren puts it, “If you’re a part of the Spirit’s conspiracy, you can be God’s secret agent of blessing to anyone in any of these circles.”[7]

There’s one circle of influence that I haven’t mentioned: work. I did this because in the book we’re using for this yearlong sermon series, Brian McLaren uses the letter to Philemon as an example here. McLaren points out that Paul used the opportunity of Onesimus running away to him to urge slave owners to treat their slaves better. My problem is that Paul appealed to his love for Onesimus rather than to Onesimus’ own personhood. My problem is that Paul sent Onesimus back to Philemon.

Yes, Paul moves the needle. Yes, Paul suggests that owners should treat their slaves with respect and kindness. Yes, Paul urges slaves to work with pride and dignity. But he fails to condemn slavery.

There’s probably a lesson here for our contemporary workplaces. We should treat each other with respect and kindness. We should treat each other fairly, and bosses should pay their employees a just wage. But the issue at hand for Onesimus was whether Paul was going to send him back to slavery or order Philemon to end Onesimus’ slavery. And Paul failed to get his breathing fully in sync with the Breath of Life.

McLaren begins the chapter that is the fodder for next week’s sermon by saying, “Sooner or later, everyone should be arrested and imprisoned for a good cause. Or if not arrested and imprisoned, put in a position of suffering and sacrifice. Or if not that, at least be criticized or inconvenienced a little. Because if we’re co-conspirators with the Spirit of God to bring blessing to our world, sooner or later it’s going to cost us something and get us in trouble.”[8]

Sometimes this mission is pretty easy to fulfill. Sometimes a fist-bump in the hallway will make the difference. Sometimes it’s hard and it will get us in trouble. Sometimes we’re faced with great evil, and the way to speak out, the way to act is not clear, and so we will struggle to conspire with the Spirit. Sometimes, like Paul, we will act and not go as far as we should. Sometimes, like Bonhoeffer, we will be asked to pay a great price.

Still, the mission is before us: “to be a secret agent of God’s commonwealth, conspiring with others [and the Holy Spirit] behind the scenes to plot goodness and foment kindness wherever you may be.”[9]

As we move into our time of quiet reflection, I invite you to reflect on:

  • Anything from the sermon or scripture that caught your attention.
  • A time when you felt the Spirit guided you to go above and beyond your normal way of responding to a situation.
  • A time when the words you chose steered you either toward or away from the Spirit’s guidance.
  • Or imagine a walk through your typical day, from waking to going to bed – and imagine yourself as a portal of blessing in each circle of influence you move in and out of in that day.

[1] “Fatal Force,” The Washington Post, (updated regularly, The Washington Post tracks police shootings in the United States; accessed 16 July 2016, when the last update was for a police shooting on 13 July 2016).

[2] “Honoring Officers Killed in 2016,” Officer Down Memorial Page, (updated regularly; accessed 16 July 2016, when the last officer death noted was on 12 July 2016).

[3] Brian McLaren, We Make the Road by Walking [Kindle version], Chapter 47. Retrieved from

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] “The White House’s Pete Souza Has Shot Nearly 2M Photos of Obama, Here are 55 of His Favorites,” Twisted Sifter, (posted 7 July 2016; accessed 16 July 2016).

[7] Brian McLaren, We Make the Road by Walking [Kindle version], Chapter 47. Retrieved from

[8] Brian McLaren, We Make the Road by Walking [Kindle version], Chapter 48. Retrieved from

[9] Brian McLaren, We Make the Road by Walking [Kindle version], Chapter 47. Retrieved from

A wonderful person and member of my church, Delya Stoltz is a paramedic who works in a community ambulance service responding to 911 phone calls.  On December 6, following days of demonstrations against police violence in Berkeley and Oakland (major cities north of Fremont), she decided to put fingers to keyboard and composed and posted the following musings on Facebook.

I asked her for permission to post these thoughts here so that a wider audience could consider her opinions and her experience.  I don’t necessarily agree everything here, but I have read about neither similar thoughts nor similar experiences online elsewhere, so I want to share them to be included in other things you read about this moment in our history.

– Jeff Spencer

MY THOUGHTS ON LAW ENFORCEMENT STRIFE (shaped by my employment as a 911 medic):

Delya Stoltz at work.

Delya Stoltz at work.

This short essay is some stuff that has been rattling in my head during every charged post that I didn’t reply to recently (for fear of saying things in a manner that would engender more conflict). I’m really lucky that my Friends’ List runs from extremes at both ends of the political spectrum. It’s usually my Conservative friends that ‘challenge’ me the most. (Or would that be ‘harass’?  ) And while I do tend to be at the Liberal end of most political divides, a good portion of my online social contacts are quite a bit ‘left’ of where even I land. Overall, these wonderful and spirited people (from all sides) that often disagree with me can make my computer log-ins ‘interesting’ and sometimes improve my understanding of the world.

In my right-ward leaning chums, I have noticed the tendency to underestimate the continued difficulty of being dark-complected, poor, or just ‘different’ in America. Simply because we are legally equal, doesn’t mean that everyday citizens get a fair shake in the practice of reality. And there are some groups that still do not enjoy equal legal privileges. As a white hetero-normative appearing person who speaks in a manner local to the area in which I live, I will not even try to understand the daily trials that many others encounter during activities that are experienced as routine to me.

One thing that I’ve noticed among some of the left-ward leaning is that police officers are increasingly a ‘them’ group that are, at times, unfairly generalized. I’m not an apologist for overly aggressive police officers, and I’m not saying that there aren’t departments with a toxic culture. We all know that there are bad officers, and we also know that there are good officers who make mistakes. I do admit that the results of irresponsible policing exact much higher tolls than poor job performance in other fields. Most professions do not hold the actual power to end a life based on the perception of a situation, or a workplace mistake.

With all of that said, there is a good chance that I am still wandering around and posting on your FB feed because of responsible and ethical police work. It’s not necessarily one particular incident that I am thinking of, but over nine years of rendering 911 services to compromised people in unsafe environments. The number of methamphetamine addled encounters are far too many to count, as are the gang members, angry relatives, aggressive psychiatric patients, and crime suspects. It’s not that I’ve ever been at gun point and had an officer bravely jump in and save the day, as in a movie. What it is like is my unit being ‘cleared’ into a situation after it’s been stabilized by law. I’ve had to retreat from a 911 call (that was not dispatched with police based on its initial characterization by the reporting party) and wait until it was safe to reenter. And I’ve also been escorted into unsafe environments by law enforcement. As an example, I can tell you from experience that going late at night to a shooting inside a large rodeo event with a single rural Sheriff is an intimidating experience. Imagine being screamed at with pejorative terms as you are pulling a bloody person from a pick-up truck bed, because your care was not delivered quickly enough to suit the tastes of the angry and drunk family members. For every one police officer who drew when he or she shouldn’t have, there are so many more like that sheriff, who deescalated the upset family and helped lift the bloody person through the intoxicated crowd and into my ambulance.

I hope that everybody remembers that there is no true ‘THEM.’ Everybody is somebody else’s son or daughter. Whether your uniform is blue and sports a badge, whether you are some form of more tan than pale, or whether you carry an accent in the place that you live or travel to; you deserve to be judged on the merits of your own deeds.

I would also ask you to consider that when you or your friends make really valid concerns clear in protest settings, that infrastructure be protected. And infrastructure includes streets and freeways. Impeding their usage is a dangerous thing to do. Roads are the passageways that deliver ambulances and fire trucks as well as cop cars and ordinary people. Regardless of how you feel about police cruisers and the officers that they contain, they can assist in the delivery of those of us who can help an asthmatic child, put out a fire, or help at a vehicle accident. My friends who work in dispatch had to reroute ambulances performing transfers on the night that the Interstate 580 was shut down for a while. There is a children’s hospital and a trauma center in Oakland. I don’t know that anybody was kept from either facility, but such an occurrence could be a consequence of protests that close important roadways. Dispatchers are a notoriously quick thinking group, so I am sure that all went well. It just had the potential to not go well.

It’s just that I have a family of first responders that I hate to hear derided. They are male and female, they are of all different orientations and colors. The vast majority of them want to protect you, and would do so at the potential cost of their own lives.

Copyright (c) 2014 by Delya Stoltz; used by permission.

I don’t know if anyone particularly cares, but I’ll share this anyway.  This is how I’m voting on the California propositions.

Prop 1:  Water bond

This is a hard one for me.  We have a really difficult water situation here in California, made all the worse by the ongoing drought.  This seems like an awful lot of money to spend on a project that may not solve the water problems.

Apparently, I’m not alone.  The League of Women Voters of California didn’t take a position.  The Sierra Club of California didn’t take a position.  The California Council of Churches says “Yes,” as does the California League of Conservation Voters.  Though I can’t find it on their website, I’m told that Food and Water Watch say “No.”  I’m voting a very soft “No.”
Prop 2:  Rainy Day Fund

This is an easy “No” for me.  While I think it’s important to save for a rainy day, on most Sunny years the savings will be accomplished by failing to restore (or further cutting) programs supporting the most vulnerable in our society.  Budgeting by proposition is just bad policy.
Prop 45:  Healthcare Insurance

I’m voting “Yes,” though I don’t like legislating by proposition (we pay our legislature to do that).  This is really a case of “follow the money” for me.  If the big insurance companies are against it that means they think it will cost them money — and that’s a reason to be for it.  All this does it treat health insurance the way auto and homeowners/renter insurance is treated, giving the Commissioner of Insurance the same authority to approve rate increases for health insurance that the Commissioner has for auto/homeowner/renter insurance.
Prop 46:  Drug and Alcohol Testing of Doctors; Medical Negligence Lawsuits

I’m voting a strong “No” on this.  I don’t like the presumption of guilt that drug testing implies, nor do I like the waste of money it typically brings with it.  The “facts” claimed by the proposition’s sponsors (e.g., the numbers of preventable medical errors causing death per year) are suspect, as is the assumed link between substance use and medical errors.

I also don’t like the creation of a state-controled database of all pharmaceuticals any individual receives, period, full stop.  The fact that this database would be open to any medical practitioner, not just the medical practitioner serving you, makes is worse!

Yes, we should review caps on pain and suffering awards, but the legislature should do that, not one proposition that is either voted up or down.
Prop 47:  Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act

This gets a very strong “Yes” from me for one simple reason:  the best way to spend a dollar to prevent crime is to spend it on education.  Let’s face it:  our criminal justice system needs a major overhaul.  It is far too focused on punishment and far too lax on reforming criminals.  People spend far too long behind bars for nonviolent crimes and come out hardened, not reformed.  The California Council of Churches put it this way:  “This is perhaps the single biggest opportunity to end the ‘cradle to prison pipeline’ and the horrific increase in our prison population.”

This proposition ensures that prison spending is focused on violent and serious offenses and will maximize alternatives for non-serious, nonviolent offenses.  The savings generated will be invested in prevention and support of programs in K-12 schools, victim services, and mental health and drug treatment (and yes, that’s budgeting by proposition, but it’s essentially redirecting criminal justice money to programs that actually prevent crime).
Prop 48:  Indian Gaming Compacts

This gets a “No” vote from me.  My/our opposition is probably meaningless since the Bureau of Indian Affairs has already approved the project this proposition covers, I hope my “No” vote will make it clear that I oppose this plan.

This proposition is about allowing certain Native America (First Nations/Indigenous/Indian) tribes to run a casino not on tribal land.  It also exempts the casino from California Environmental Quality Act regulations.  While I support the rights of First Nations people to determine their own lives, I do not support them from being exempt from regulations that protect all of us (i.e., the environmental regulations they would be exempted from here).

I wrote this at 3:00 AM this morning on Facebook.  I thought I’d post it here, too.

I really thought I had let this go, but it’s 3:00 AM and I can’t get to sleep. I keep seeing her.
I was walking up 16th to rehearsal tonight and walked past a woman lying on the sidewalk, a man sitting next to her, leaning against a parking meter. I walked a little further and decided I had to check.
I walked back. “Is she okay?”
He mumbled something I couldn’t quite understand, put his hand on her thigh, gave her a little shake, and said something about her being okay. He asked me for a dollar.
“I’m not here about money. I want to make sure she’s okay.” I stare at her chest trying to see if it’s moving. If she’s breathing, it’s really shallow.
He suggests that for $40 I can have sex with her.
Damn! He’s pimping her and she’s passed out. I walk away. But I don’t get far before I pull the phone out of my pocket and call 911. I explain the situation. The operator says they’re dispatching paramedics. And it’s another three to five minutes before they show up.
I’m still a quarter of a block up the street, waiting to make sure they find her. They do and I continue walking to rehearsal. The situation’s taken care of.
Except, tonight — this morning, really — I can’t get to sleep because I keep seeing her, and I keep thinking about all the people who walked by, and I keep thinking that I should have touched her to really check if she was breathing and had a pulse

Dressed like a prostitute, passed out (or worse) on the sidewalk in a busy city, I keep thinking, “She was someone’s daughter.”

Just take eight minutes and watch the video.  You’ll understand the problem and you’ll understand why Medicare for everybody is a simple and good solution.

I saw some good news today.  Apparently some hospitals are going to wave (or at least limit) the medical bills for some of the victims of the shootings in Aurora, Colorado.  I’m grateful that, at least for some of the people injured in the shooting, they will not have to worry about being saddled with huge medical bills one they are released.

When I saw the news, two thoughts went through my mind.  First, I wondered how these hospitals were going to absorb these costs and who would ultimately pay for the medical costs (that are very real).  As I contemplated my own question, I realized that “we” will.  Between tax support and increased costs for others in the hospital (paid directly or through insurance premiums), the costs will be covered and the public will be the ones doing the covering.

That led me to my second thought:  Shouldn’t it be that way for everyone?  Shouldn’t all of us be able to go to the hospital for any medical need and not worry about the costs.  Shouldn’t the public just take care of these costs — costs for any treatments that are medically necessary?  Why not just have one medical insurance system that we all pay in to according to our ability to pay into it (a percentage of our income) and all use when we need it?

Of course, what I’m talking about is a single payer medical insurance program, the easiest version of which would be expanding Medicare to everyone.  Yes, it would mean a tax increase, but it would also mean a decrease in medical insurance premiums.  I don’t know how it would pencil out.  I get paid will enough that I might end up paying more in the medicare tax than my current medical premiums.  And if that’s the case, I’m okay with it, because it would mean that all of my neighbors and I myself would be able to go to the hospital without worrying about the medical bills when I get discharged.

No medical bills for some?  That’s nice.  How about no medical bills for all?


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