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For almost a year now, I have had an (almost) daily practice of ending my day with a prayer of thanksgiving. There’s nothing new here. Christians (and people of other religions) have a long history of offering prayers of thanks, often as part of a review of the day just ending. What is different about my practice is that I post my prayers on Facebook wall with a privacy setting that allows anyone to see them.

It started out as an exercise as I prepared a workshop on Facebook and Spiritual Practice that I led last October for Christian Educators (largely UCC, Episcopal, and Presbyterian). I wondered how my prayer life would change as a result of this practice. I wondered how my relationship with God would shift as a result of this practice. I realized that I would be putting these prayers out there in public and I didn’t know how that would impact this prayer practice.

My early prayers are quite specific. They are laundry lists of thanksgivings. “Thank you God for this particular thing, for that particular experience, for this particular relationship.”  I assumed that no one would be interested in these prayers because they were about my day, my experiences, my relationships. I was wrong.

There are two primary ways to interact with posts on Facebook:  clicking the “like” button and leaving a comment. I was surprised as my prayers collected “likes” and comments. When I missed a night (which happens), I would wake to messages asking me why I didn’t post a prayer. People commented that they were using the prayers as part of their morning spiritual practices. I was stunned. And I am thankful.

I have noticed that the writing of my prayers has shifted. While I still reflect on specific experiences and gifts and relationships, I find I am writing in more general terms (at least most of the time). I find that I am now writing for myself and God (it’s a prayer, after all, so it’s about me offering my thanks to God), and that I’m hoping that my reasons for giving thanks are connecting with reasons others have for giving thanks.

I have also noticed that knowing that there are people (and maybe it’s just a handful, but there are people) out there looking forward to reading my prayers, I feel a little more accountable for offering the prayer. I continue to hold steady with the practice in part because I know it isn’t just for me.

An impact of this prayer practice has been, I think, a little more compassion in my heart and a little more satisfaction in my day. I also feel a little more aware (most days) of the presence of God.

I bring this up for two reason. One reason is simply to share a prayer practice that I am finding helpful in my journey. The other is because of a theme I find myself turning to repeatedly. Not just when I sit to write my evening prayer of thanksgiving, but all through the day, I find myself giving thanks for the amazing commitment and leadership of so many people at Niles Discovery Church.

Especially impressive to me has been the work of our Construction Team, so let me sing their praise for a moment. Over the past couple months, they have and to deal with a General Contractor quitting and a break-in on two of the three containers at the construction site. Most construction projects facing a General Contractor quitting would simply shut down. Our project has continued. Our Construction Team has managed to keep work going, getting the new roofs completed, windows installed (see page 2), a fire hydrant installed, and the list goes on. They have dealt with insurance companies and container companies and the police. They have actually done some of the work for the project itself (ask Marilyn Singer about her intimate knowledge of black paint).

Thank you God for all the leaders and committed members of Niles Discovery Church!  Thank you especially for the Construction Team!  Amen!

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Last night was trash night, the night I put three barrels out on the curb — one with recyclables, one with compostables, and one with rubbish (trash).  As I dragged the can to the curb, I felt some smugness about how empty my rubbish can was.  You see, in Fremont, California, we can put just about anything that’s recyclable in the recycle can.  And if it’s not recyclable but it will rot, we can put it in the “yard waste” can (that means paper towels that don’t have chemicals on them and used kleenex, along with table scraps, etc.).  I really try to follow the four Rs — there are four now:  Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot — so there isn’t too much in my rubbish can.

Nonetheless, I still put an awful lot on the curb each week.  I am a part of our economic system, a system based on consumption.  And our economic system is a major cause of the levels of CO2 in the atmosphere, which in turn is a major cause of global warming and climate change (other causes include the human-made additions of other gases in the atmosphere).

If you’ve got 20 minutes, watch this video:  “The Story of Stuff.”  If you don’t, come back and watch it when you do.

This video points out the connections between our consumption-based economy and environmental damage.  What it doesn’t say overtly is that all the gathering of resources and processing of resources takes energy.  And we get that energy by burning fossil fuels — which releases CO2 into the atmosphere (and other greenhouse gases).  Thus every time I consume a bottle of soda or a new computer (things I’ve done this month), I’m contributing to both our consumption-based economy and the warming of the globe.

Something needs to change!

Back when the reality of the great recession began, I had high hopes.  I had come to realize that there is a basic connection between our consumption-based economic system and global climate change.  I had hopes that the great recession, caused in large part by the financial system that feed the consumption-based economy, would be seized as an opportunity to build a new economy, not just restart the old economy.  It didn’t happen.

Today, the good people at 350.org (http://350.org) shared a video at vimeo.com (I don’t think I’ll be able to imbed it here, but the url is http://vimeo.com/12772935).  The 16 minutes animated video was created collaboratively, a wonderful choice since the video calls for a new, global, grassroots collaboration to address global warming — since it’s becoming pretty clear that the governments of the major polluters of the world aren’t going to do it without vast political pressure from the people.

“A war on global warming needs to be a war on consumerism,” the movie says.  I agree.  We need a new economic system.

Also today, a Facebook friend shared this 11 minute video on the economic crisis, called “Crises of Capitalism.”

It raises the question, “Is it time to look beyond capitalism towards a new social order that would allow us to live within a system that could be responsible, just, and humane?”  We need a change in our economic system, not just because the current one isn’t responsible, just, or humane.  We need a change in our economic system to one not built on consumption so we slow down (and hopefully eventually reverse) our warming of our planet.

            It’s clear we have a problem, and I think the problem mostly a health insurance problem.  45 million Americans have no health insurance.  Our current system wastes $450 billion each year on redundant administrative costs.[i]  The current system excludes people with pre-existing medical conditions and limited economic resources.  The current health insurance system is broken.

            A college friend, Lois Quam, used to work in the health insurance industry.  She was an executive at UnitedHealth, leaving the industry two years ago; she’s no longer required to spouting the company line, but she is an expert in the field and knows how the current (broken) system works.

            In a recent interview,[ii] she noted that as recently as a few decades ago, tying health insurance to employment made some sense.  People worked with one employer for their careers.  That’s not true anymore.  Now people change employers often and have several different careers in a lifetime.  The current health insurance system is broken.

            As health insurance premiums skyrocket, employers offer less and less coverage.  Too often, employees end up under insured and the unemployed end up uninsured.  The current health insurance system is broken.

            Yet, isn’t access to basic health care a fundamental human right that should be available to everyone regardless of their economic resources?  Shouldn’t everyone have access to health care regardless of their ability to pay?  Our current broken system has created an underclass, relegating the poor and underemployed to a second-class status that receives second-class care.

            “When wealthy and middle-class people have to rely on the same health system as the poor, as they do throughout Europe,” writes Gary Dorrien, “they use their political power to make sure[iii] it’s a decent system.”

            The best way to make the wealthy and the poor part of the same health care system is to give everyone the same health insurance.  In other words, the best way to insure equality in health care is with a single-payer health insurance system.

            But a nation-wide single-payer program is not going to be part of what comes out of the current efforts to reform our health insurance system.  The insurance companies are too powerful and politically aggressive to allow themselves to lose their market share and their profit margins.

            The best we can hope for this year is a public Medicare-like option that competes with private plans.  According to Dorrien, “this reform would save only 15 percent of the $350 billion insurance overhead costs that converting to single-payer would achieve.”[iv]  But already the insurance industry has geared up to prevent a public option because they don’t want to compete with one.

            Even Lois Quam, the former insurance executive, recognized the need for a public option:  “I was with a woman in Becker County last week who talked about how important MinnesotaCare has been to her family.  And I hear from people, age 61, 62, 63, who really wish they were 65 and they could get into Medicare.  The very reason Medicare was created in the ’60s, of course, was that the private health insurance market wasn’t offering affordable coverage to seniors.  So I think a public plan makes a lot of sense, and I would like to see that as a part of eventual health-care reform.”[v]

            “There is not a religiously mandated or God-ordained system of health care or insurance,” writes Jim Wallis.  “Luke might have been a physician, but he never commented on whether computerizing medical records should be a national priority.  You won’t find in the Bible policy conclusions about health-care savings accounts, personal versus employer-provided insurance, single payer public systems, or private insurance plans.”[vi]

            However, Wallis[vii] points out, as we debate a reform to our health insurance and health care system, we need to keep three things in mind: 

            (1) We must speak the truth.  “What we need is an honest and fair debate with good information, not sabotage of reform by half-truths and misinformation.”

            (2) We must make sure everyone has access to health insurance.  “Seeing your child sick is a horrible feeling; seeing your child sick and not having the resources to do something about it is a societal sin.”

            And (3) we must control costs, making health insurance and health care affordable.  “An estimated 60 percent of bankruptcies this year will be due to medical bills.  Of those declaring bankruptcy as a result of medical bills, 75 percent have health insurance.  The extreme cost of medical care stems from varied sources.  Some comes from malpractice lawsuits, some from insurance companies with high overhead and entire divisions of employees hired to find ways to deny benefits.  Some people who thought they were insured have found out that their benefits were terminated retroactively because the insurer decided there was a pre-existing condition.  In the end, some are paying too much for care and others are making too much in the current system.”

            People of faith must engage the debate – civilly, respectfully, thoughtfully.  We must engage the system and speak up for our values – the values of humanity, of life, and of justice.  Please join me.

Copyright © 2009 by Jeffrey S. Spencer


[i] Gary Dorrien, “Health care fix,” The Christian Century, July 14, 2009, page 12.

[ii] Casey Selix, Former UnitedHealth exec Lois Quam supports public option (dated August 13, 2009) http://www.minnpost.com/stories/2009/08/13/10847/former_unitedhealth_exec_lois_quam_supports_public_option (15 August 2009).

[iii] Dorrien, op cit.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Selix, op cit.

[vi] Jim Wallis, Hearts & Minds: Three Moral Issues of Health Care, http://www.sojo.net/index.cfm?action=magazine.article&issue=soj0909&article=three-moral-issues-of-health-care (15 August 2009).

[vii] Ibid.

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