Tuesday, April 12, 2016

My People Are Hurting. Thanks For Finally Noticing.

Yesterday, a study published in the Journal of American Medicine outlined the geographic variability in life expectancy throughout the United States, and its findings set the news alight with just how disparate one's life expectancy can be simply by dint of where they are born.  In the area of Pecos, Texas, average life expectancy is only 75.6 years, yet just several hundred miles north in the Glenwood Springs area of Colorado, average life expectancy is 83.4 years--almost eight years longer.  Two full presidential terms longer.  Two Olympiads longer.

That level of disproportional death in a country still (however feebly) claiming to be the best country in the world is quite simply obscene.  If we are to call ourselves a people dedicated to inalienable rights, the first of which is life, we have failed, and are failing, our neighbors terribly on spec.

Within Washington state, similar evidence of disparate lifespans also exists.  Up north towards Canada, in the larger Bellingham area, the average life expectancy is 82.2 years.  Here in the Longview area, the average life expectancy is a full three years less, at 79.2 years, the lowest in the entire state.

Heck, Cowlitz County--of which Longview is the largest town--only just now broke a five-year streak of being the unhealthiest county in the entire state by a variety of metrics (smoking, STIs, mental health, etc), which was cause enough for a near-celebratory news article in our local paper.

Anecdotally, I can attest that the health dangers the people here face are very real.  Though I minister to a relatively small congregation, at least once a year I have gotten a call that a relative or close friend of a congregant has committed suicide.  It isn't even tax day yet and I have already gotten two of those phone calls in 2016.

I have congregants who must agonizingly watch their adult children deteriorate in a sea of mental illness, active addiction, and instability.

I have congregants who have picked themselves up by their proverbial bootstraps, leaving behind lives of addiction and housing insecurity to become amazing members of society, but who see the trappings of the life they left behind all the time around town.

I have congregants and people who forego necessary medical treatment because even with the Affordable Care Act in place, they cannot get access to the care they need.

Which means there are people who are suffering from health conditions they should by no means be suffering from at their ages.

There are people who scare my congregants by showing up on weekends or at events like weddings or funerals actively high, aggressive, and volatile.

And there are people who are dying here much sooner than they ought to be.

I love Longview.  But it is a hurting town with many hurting people.  And when I saw the outcry that the JAMA article produced, my immediate, uncensored thought was, "The rest of you are just now noticing this?!"

I'm not a public health expert, but I'm married to one and I'm the brother of another, and I feel strong enough in my limited intellect to say this: we have failed our people with how much we have valued decreasing our own taxes at the expense of championing the health of our neighbor.

That means me as well.  My wife works in Oregon and must pay the relatively high income tax Oregon imposes, even though we live in Washington and thus have no say in electing the people who spend her tax dollars.  I resent it immensely.

But I would resent it less if it were Washington using our money to make the lives of the people I minister to day in and day out better and healthier.

Yet even then, people still don't like doing that, do they?  We want our government as small as possible, and sometimes, when it's regarding, say, our bedrooms or our expressions, that's a good thing.

But when we decide we'd rather have our money than healthier neighbors, think about what that fundamentally says about us.  It says that we would rather have pieces of paper in which we put our trust as legal tender rather than have more life around us.

How un-Scriptural and un-Christian can we possibly get, when we say we'd rather have our money than a society that enables, encourages, and empowers life?

This is hardly an ode to government.  If anything, it is an ode to governance, of being able to order a civilization such that people are put first, not the money and wealth that they produce.

Because when we do that, people become the means to an end, not the end themselves.  People become commodities, including spiritual commodities.  We weigh our ministry based on the number of people we baptize, or get to recite the Sinner's Prayer, rather than on how many peoples' lives we have made better, and by how much.

And we're losing that numbers game.  We really are.  We don't have the resources in the church, nor do we have them in the community, which means that by the time people sometimes get to me, what help I can offer them is hardly better than a band-aid when what they need is a tourniquet.

I'm a physician of the soul, not of the body.  And while quality spiritual care is surely a component to a holistic healthiness of any person, it is by no means the only component.  My ministrations, valuable though they are, are limited in their effectiveness--it doesn't do you much good to have me counsel you if you're already dead.

Yet I, and my colleagues, and the other makers of good and of change in this community have the mandate of reconstructing the colossus, but we have been given only scotch tape and balsa sticks with which to do the job.

For those of you who are in the trenches yourselves, having to save lives without the resources to do so, you have my eternal gratitude, admiration, and appreciation.

For the rest of y'all--please, see the suffering of your neighbor, your fellow citizen, your fellow human.  And see in their suffering the suffering of Christ, the suffering of God, the suffering of the Spirit who is supposed to be our mediator and our advocate.

And then go, and be that advocate for them.  Because your advocacy is surely, truly, genuinely needed now.

Longview, Washington
April 12, 2016

No comments:

Post a Comment