President Obama has already faced and dealt with more than any American leader since Roosevelt, and he has borne these burdens while being relentlessly attacked and vilified by his political opponents. I don't know how he can stand the strain.
As the President and members of Congress debate our response to the use of chemical weapons in the civil war in Syria, I think now is a good time to heed the wise counsel of the First Presidency on the occasion of President Obama's re-election. We should pray for the President and members of Congress to have the inspiration to do the right thing. We should pray for him personally, that he will have the strength to bear the unbearable burdens that have been placed on his shoulders. And we should pray that our fellow Americans will have compassion for this good man, and regardless of personal opinions, that the nation can support him in these trials once the President and Congress have decided on a course of action.
We read daily in the news of our leaders and the struggles they face and sometimes forget they are human beings just like us, with fears and hopes and physical and psychological limits of how much they can bear. Let us have compassion for our President and pray for him.
What to do? Here are some thoughts on educating our fellow citizens on the health care issue.
There are three basic models for delivering health care that are economically viable. (Note this only addresses economics, not ethics, as you will see.)
Model 1: Everyone is responsible for their own health care costs. Under this model, which America followed before World War II, market forces would indeed hold down the cost of health care. If everyone had to pay for visits to the doctor or hospital or their own medicine, or for their own insurance, market forces would certainly reduce costs. (What would happen to quality is another story.)
Although this sounds attractive at first blush, especially to free market purists, it must be emphasized this only works economically if you accept the bad with the good. You would have to eliminate employer-provided health insurance, since it clearly destroys the market linkage. Those who consume something must pay for it themselves for markets to work. Somebody shows up at the emergency room that can’t pay? The hospital must refuse them service. An accident occurs and someone is bleeding to death? If you can’t pay, goodbye. Talk of “charity care” in this model is ludicrous. The vast majority of what we call “charity care” is paid for by a de-facto tax on paying customers. If you doubt this is a tax, try opting out of the “charity” portion of your next hospital or doctor bill. Any deviation from harsh market realities causes this model to break down, because if people can receive free care, what’s the incentive to take personal responsibility?
The current system in America, which operates under the illusion that we use this model but which is so contaminated that market forces are almost non-existent, proves the folly of thinking a free market system can work that leaves any room for compassion. Our bastardized system has more waste and costs more than any other industrialized country, and we rank comparatively low for what we pay for. A market-based system must be heartless or it will not work economically.
Model 2: Single payer. In America, this idea is commonly proposed as “Medicare for all”. In this model, some sort of tax (most commonly a payroll type tax) is created, and this tax is used to pay for universal health care. Traditional Medicare is one way this could work. Another (the German model) would use the tax to pay for vouchers, which individual families could use to purchase basic health insurance. (Note the German model actually has more of a true market structure than ours, since insurance companies must compete for customers, and customers, not employers, hold the purse strings.)
Costs are controlled in this model mainly by budget: The society in question decides how much they will spend on health care, and providers must figure out a way to make the money stretch. It largely eliminates the incentive for overtreatment that exists in a fee-for-services system, but it can result in some rationing of care.
Model 3: Keep private insurance and private providers, but require everyone to have insurance. As a necessary addition, since everyone is required to have insurance, those who can’t afford it will need some sort of subsidy to join the insurance pool. Model 3 recognizes that you can’t wait until you are sick or old to have health insurance. By definition, for Model 3 to work, everyone who will sometime in their life need health care must pay into the pool.
The problem with Model 3 is in the details. The concept is simple, but the details can become complex. Who is responsible, the individual or the employer? What happens when you change jobs or are uninsured? What about people with pre-existing conditions? The Affordable Care Act follows Model 3, and dealing with those details is why it’s so complex.
That’s it. Any economically viable system for delivering health care must follow one of these three models. So, when you encounter someone who starts spouting off against Obamacare, challenge them: Which of the three models would you choose?
The complexities required by Model 3 pretty much guarantees there will be some bumps along the road in the implementation of the Affordable Care Act that will need to be tweaked. But, my fellow LDS Dems, we must not let the critics off the hook, whether those critics are Sen. Mike Lee, Congressman Bishop, or our friends and neighbors. If you don't like Obamacare, you'd better be ready to suggest an alternative.
I wanted to share a few thoughts on this subject.
First, let us be clear that there has been only one perfect, sinless, mistake-free being in the human race: the carpenter from Nazareth. Those who we sustain as leaders of the Church are human. Furthermore, although I believe we are led by revelation, I don’t believe those we sustain as prophets, seers and revelators are puppets on a string where every thought and action is dictated by the Holy Ghost.
I’m reminded of an anecdote from one of my favorite Mormons, Professor Henry Eyring. Someone asked him once whether having such close contact with the Brethren (he was Spencer W. Kimball’s brother in law and worked in the General Sunday School presidency) sometimes tried his faith when he saw their mistakes. Brother Eyring did not deny that the Brethren were imperfect. He simply said that if the Lord could make use of others, despite their faults, maybe He could find something useful for Brother Eyring to do. I think that humble, forgiving way of looking at others is the right approach. Henry Eyring also had a very strong opinion (which he shared with the Brethren at every opportunity) that Church authorities should teach the Saints the unvarnished truth about Church history, including the warts. We can see the wisdom of Brother Eyring’s counsel in these recent events. I don’t believe official Church teaching materials deceived the Saints, but it’s easy to understand why these materials would be written to portray Church history in a positive light – and why some Latter-day Saints might experience a crisis of faith when presented with information that seemed to be in conflict with the “official” version.
Professor Richard Bushman, a nationally respected historian and practicing Latter-day Saint, published his landmark Joseph Smith history Rough Stone Rolling in 2005. Many of the issues Brother Mattson struggled with are documented in this book. Joseph Smith did not just teach polygamy, he had many women sealed to him. It also appears the Book of Abraham and the Book of Mormon were largely translated the same way the Book of Moses was received: through direct revelation, rather than the decoding of ancient writings. Specifically, scholars have found no evidence of Joseph’s Book of Abraham in the papyri text it was purported to have come from, and some accounts from witnesses to the process have Joseph dictating the text of the Book of Mormon looking through the seerstone, while the plates remained covered with a cloth.
More recently, statements from Church leaders leave the impression that there was not any doctrinal justification for denying the priesthood to men of African descent. Claims that the Lamanites are the “primary” ancestors of the American Indians have been modified in the most recent Book of Mormon edition to stating they are “among” their ancestors – after modern DNA testing did not show strong evidence of a relationship with modern persons of Jewish descent.
What are we to make of all this? Here are my personal feelings on the matter. As with Christians around the world, I often turn to the wisdom of C.S. Lewis for comfort. Lewis states that all believers go through the process of finding a testimony; the point at which we decide that the evidence is overwhelming that Christianity is true (in my case, the version taught by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints). As time goes by, things happen in our lives to create doubt. Maybe we find ourselves in a position where it would be convenient if Christian principles were not true. It is often just changes in mood or a reaction to life’s difficulties. And sometimes, we are exposed to information that appears at first glance to conflict with our knowledge. It is at this point, Lewis says, that our faith needs to come into play. He uses the analogy of his paranoia about anesthesia. His logic tells him that things will be fine during surgery, but he had a phobia that the doctors will start cutting into him before the anesthesia takes effect. He then has to exercise faith, based on logic, to suppress his emotions. Such is the case for most that drift away from their faith. The overwhelming evidence is still in favor of their original conclusion, but the shock of some emotional experience (such as finding for the first time that Brother Joseph had other wives sealed to him) causes doubt.
That is where I stand. Occasionally we hear Latter-day Saints in testimony meeting state, “I know without a doubt that the Church is true”. Here is my testimony: Despite occasional doubts, I know the Church is true. On balance, when considering all the evidence (including the testimony of the witnesses) and my own experience with the book, I am convinced the most plausible explanation for the existence of the Book of Mormon is the account given by Joseph Smith – however implausible that account may seem to unbelievers. When I consider my understanding of Church history and the doctrines, when I read the testimonies of Church leaders and members past and present, and most of all, when I consider the sacred personal spiritual experiences I have been blessed to have, I am left with the conclusion that the evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of the Restored Gospel being exactly what it claims to be. That doesn’t mean there aren’t a few pebbles on the left hand side of the balance scale, but they are overwhelmed by the heavy gold nuggets on the right hand side.
I will close with one of those personal experiences. While I was on my mission in Sweden, my mother forwarded a cassette tape of some General Conference addresses from 1976. One was a sermon on temple work from Boyd K. Packer. The sermon was inspiring, but it was his testimony at the end that I remember. (The written record of this testimony is somewhat different than the spoken version in conference.) I received a powerful witness that this man had seen beyond the veil, and that he really did know that of which he spoke. It was an experience that has stayed with me all these years.
I have to admit that President Packer has said some things in recent conferences that make me a little uncomfortable. But the attacks on him by people I consider friends also make me uncomfortable. I think we have to be charitable to others and consider their life and actions as a whole when making judgment, and I can never forget the impact this man has had on my life and on the lives of others, despite some personal biases rooted in an earlier time.
Life is hard and occasionally confusing, but I am grateful that I have the anchor of the Restored Gospel to stand on as our family negotiates the currents of life.
When I got married at the tender age of 22, I was politically informed, wanting to get more involved, and attracted to the good I saw in both major parties. Although I wanted something that fit with every single one of my Mormon values, I understood that both parties also had their drawbacks, and that the accomplishment of political good requires the building of diverse coalitions. My top priority: public policies that would help young people settle down and establish families. When I moved from Utah to Florida and the DMV asked for my party registration, I told them "Republican."
Being a Latter-day Saint in mid-00s, I watched the career of Governor Mitt Romney with great interest. And I was absolutely fascinated with MassCare. Using the power of the free market to help everyone get insurance while also guaranteeing a basic level of access to medical care, supported by Mitt Romney and Ted Kennedy? This will help families, not just those starting out, but all families. Go Governor Romney!
As the 2008 primaries got underway (in 2007...) I looked for someone on the Democrat side who looked like they would approach health care with the same pragmatism and grip on reality. I eventually settled on that new senator from Illinois with the funny name, and I sent off for the bumper stickers seen above: one on the right, and one on the left. (Much to the amused bewilderment of my neighbors and ward members for some time to come.)
Fast forward: Gov. Romney lost his primary. But that guy from Illinois won the general election, and then he did an interesting thing: he took the basic structure of Gov. Romney's plan (originally developed by the far-right Heritage Foundation) and turned it into a system for the whole nation. I was overjoyed: my wife and I would always, always be able to purchase health insurance, the options would be clearly laid out, and all plans would include basic care: all crucial things for families.
And like any policy proposal, the opposing side (in this case, the congressional Republicans) had issues with the law, but instead of working to make it better, they fought it, and continue to fight it. Despite all the campaign talk about strengthening and defending families, Republicans in Congress and in Washington are trying to break one of the biggest things that will help mothers and fathers raise their kids, work, and provide.
And then this week. Oh, boy. Top Republicans have unveiled their plans . . . not for campaigning against the law, or making it better, but doing what they can to make it fail. Reuters reports:
"With the Obama administration poised for a huge public education campaign on healthcare reform, Republicans and their allies are mobilizing a counter-offensive including town hall meetings, protests and media promotions to dissuade uninsured Americans from obtaining health coverage."
"Dissuade uninsured Americans from obtaining health coverage." Wow. I have issues with how health insurance is generally run, and the new law doesn't fix everything I see wrong, but to actively tell people not to buy the insurance that will help them stay healthy or recover when they're sick or injured . . . As a historian, it's easy for me to get cynical as so much of what happens is a repeat of things that have happened in the past, but this, this is a new one.
Men and women in their 20s hear a lot about how they need to settle down, marry, and have kids, and generally speaking, this is what many of them want to do. The main reason many of my fellow youngsters don't: jobs are tough to come by right now, by which I mean real jobs with benefits, ones where a parent can earn enough to support a family. This is a crisis for small-c conservatism, where family formation and the continuance of society into the next generation is (I'm pretty sure) priority number 1. So what's FreedomWorks, that bastion of right-wing activity doing?
"The group is designing a symbolic 'Obamacare card' that college students can burn during campus protests."
I ended my membership in the Republican Party a few years ago, and even though I'm chairing an organization called LDS Democrats of America, I still want our representatives and thinkers in both parties spending their time working on supporting families and individuals and making our communities stronger. I had some hope, with the Senate taking a commonsense approach to immigration a few weeks ago, that we were getting there. Looks like we've still got a ways to go.
"Daddy, what are they doing to that guy's heart?"
In our booth at the local Wendy's, there for our monthly lunch date, my preschooling daughter pointed at a spot in the book in front of us. A cartoon Mexica priest held a fresh heart over a war captive, chest open and still dripping blood.
This situation was one of my own making. Trips to Wendy's went well with stops at the city library, and between classmates' birthday parties and my own laziness, we made it to the library about once a month. This particular Saturday, library came before lunch, and I had decided to grab an extra nonfiction book for us to peruse together. Unbeknownst to the kid, for several months I've been adding a book or two a trip, intended to give her an initial grounding in world history (an idea picked up from a homeschooling curriculum I once read). The kiddy atlas of ancient civilizations seemed like a good supplement. And my child, in time, reached the page on Mesoamerica, with its depiction of human sacrifice. As a historian of the early Latin America, my answer for her included the fact that people in other parts of the world at the time, including Europe, did just as savage things for equally serious, self-righteous reasons--a point Montaigne made some 433 years ago in his "On Cannibals."
Educating young'uns--ever an endeavor.
Mormons are big on education. Scripture tells us to "seek . . . out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith." This learning includes "things both in heaven and in the earth, and under the earth; things which have been, things which are, things which must shortly come to pass; things which are at home, [and] things which are abroad." We're charged to seek after "anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy." Even when it comes to listening for answers to prayers, we're taught to "study it out" in our minds before asking God what's right.
We Mormons have also been talking about education a lot this last week, discussing the best approach to education in our local schools as Utah debates whether to move ahead with Common Core and a legislator (backed by a polished campaign) proposed doing away with all state school attendance requirements for children and teens. Then, Sunday morning, the New York Times published a front page article about Latter-day Saints who undergo faith crises when they find information online that contradicts the history they got in Sunday school. It's led to eloquent responses from McKay Coppins and Joanna Brooks.
McKay tells his story about finding information online at 13 that troubled him, and his parents' willingness to talk with him and hear him out.
Joanna notes, rightly, that all of the NYT's published anecdotes come from men, and that many of the women who struggle, struggle with squaring Church customs and practices with a belief in a God who is merciful and just, and seek for answers to their questions.
Both Joanna and McKay have a different approach towards their personal faith than they did as children. So do I, and so do, I suspect, most of us.
Which, by way of this Slate essay, brings me back to public education.
Educating children, ultimately, is about getting them ready to leave the nest, and having faith that what we provide them will be of some help later on. Facts are useful. Learning how to sift through information, weigh different facts, find answers, ask questions, find deeper answers, and then communicate those findings--that's even more useful. My mom taught English and Mathematics in elementary and secondary schools early in her career. Growing frustrated with the never-ending barrage of silver bullets designed to make the next generation absolutely brilliant (or perfect employees, depending), she found in grad school a question that captivated her for the rest of her life: how, exactly, do children learn math? And how do we build into this to introduce mathematical concepts in a way that helps them get it? Being one of my mom's guinea pigs when I was young gave me a decent foundation in math for a person inclined towards the humanities. Watching her complete her doctorate during my early school years has provided innumerable lessons as I squeeze dissertation writing around making sure the kid is fed, clothed, read to, and put to bed at a reasonable hour.
If faith is "the evidence of things hoped for, the substance of things not seen," then I have a deep abiding faith that some educational techniques work better than others. Florida's "school grades" system has deep, troubling issues, and I've found that whenever there's a prescription for school reform, a salesperson is never far behind. But as my kid officially enters the state school system next month via Florida's voluntary pre-kindergarten program, I'll be doing what I can to support a school system that provides a common core to all, that respects teachers as highly-trained professionals, and helps parents understand and fulfill their responsibilities. And whatever happens, I'll keep lightly guiding my dear daughter towards lessons on flexible thinking and comparative ritual violence.
My main purpose is to see what we might learn from the life of this Latter-day apostle and how we might apply these lessons to our own lives.
I must start with my personal opinion that he was a great man. Any Latter-day Saint who has read the account of his remarkable humanitarian mission to Europe after World War II, or who can trace their daily study of the Book of Mormon to President Benson’s emphasis on this book of scripture, or whose lives were changed by his landmark sermon on pride, will agree with me on this.
A healthy respect for great men and women recognizes that none of us are perfect. The story of Peter is inextricably bound up with the heartbreaking account in the scriptures of his denials of the Savior the night before his crucifixion – but this account strengthens our love for Peter rather than diminishes it.
Such is the case with Ezra Taft Benson during the decade of the sixties. The historical record is quite clear on the facts. An understandable fear of Communism during the early days of the Cold War resulted in Elder Benson becoming over-zealous in publicizing his personal political opinions. This over-zealousness resulted in strained relations with several of the senior members in the Quorum of the Twelve and First Presidency, hurt feelings among many Latter-day Saints who did not agree with his opinions, and lost opportunities to counsel the Saints on important gospel subjects rather than politics. The historical record contains many instances of frustration of senior Church leaders during this period with Elder Benson, and his refusal to moderate his public remarks about politics. The First Presidency statement in January 1963 is but one of many examples. In this statement, they repudiated those who would claim the Church was aligned with the John Birch Society or “any extreme ideologies”, and while affirming their opposition to communism, stated “they who pretend to fight it by casting aspersions on our elected officers or other fellow citizens do the anti-communist cause a great disservice.”
Elder Benson’s refusal to follow counsel from his senior brethren has left an unfortunate and unforeseen legacy. It is well known that others in Church leadership disagreed with Elder Benson’s political views; Hugh B. Brown, Harold B. Lee and N. Eldon Tanner being among the most frequently mentioned. But since the other Brethren followed the counsel not to preach politics from the pulpit and Elder Benson did not, just reading General Conference talks from this period could give the mistaken impression that Elder Benson’s political ideology did, in fact, reflect Church doctrinal beliefs. Probably the most unfortunate consequence of this, as described in the above noted blog, was after the death of President David O. McKay. Some misguided political disciples of Elder Benson distributed petitions encouraging Latter-day Saints to vote no on the elevation of “socialist” Joseph Fielding Smith as Prophet and holding out for the advancement of Elder Benson over his more senior brethren.
One interesting question is this: Elder Benson as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve chafed at the restrictions against publicly preaching his political views. But after he became President of the Church, the preaching of politics was replaced by the important gospel doctrines that have become his legacy. Why? As we all hopefully do, President Benson matured and gained wisdom over the years. More importantly, if one believes in the principle of revelation to modern prophets, as I do, one is left with the unavoidable conclusion that his Priesthood Leader at the time instructed him to speak of other subjects. Earlier I mentioned President Benson’s landmark sermon on pride. I am confident that if given the opportunity, Ezra Taft Benson the Prophet would have counseled Elder Benson the Apostle twenty years earlier:
“Pride is a damning sin in the true sense of that word. It limits or stops progression. The proud are not easily taught. They won’t change their minds to accept truths, because to do so implies they have been wrong…We can choose to humble ourselves by receiving counsel and chastisement.”
So to the question: What can we learn from this? Even great men like Ezra Taft Benson can be temporarily decoyed into putting the things of this world above the basic principles of the Gospel. When that happens, our ability to have influence as disciples of Christ is diminished. All we who are passionate about politics, whether conservative or liberal, need to keep this important lesson in mind. If devotion to political ideology begins to rise above our devotion to the teachings of Christ and the Restored Gospel, we need to recognize and put aside our pride, as President Benson would have counseled us, and hit the reset button on our lives.
It’s a shame that many of President Benson’s modern political disciples have learned the wrong lesson from his life. To them, I would simply say: You are dishonoring a great man and a prophet of God when you attempt to intermingle his political views with his wise and timeless counsel on the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Everybody in America is angry these days. We’re mad the “gummit” is collecting all that metadata on our phone calls and emails. We’re mad at the IRS for giving some political groups extra scrutiny. We’re mad at Attorney General John Swallow and the weekly revelations about his past associations with persons of ill repute.
Not that we don’t have problems, but it seems as if anger is the new national sport. I wonder sometimes if we even care what we’re angry about. Put a little different twist on the above stories, and we might all be angry in the opposite direction. If we’d had another terrorist attack instead of Edward Snowden, we’d all be screaming about why wasn’t the government doing a better job collecting intelligence to prevent attacks (which is exactly what happened in 2001 and why the Patriot Act authorized the gathering of said metadata). Put a different spin on the IRS story, and we could all be yelling about wealthy political donors directing their minions in Washington to allow them to buy politicians with taxpayer-subsidized money.
I think many of us are confusing anger with patriotism; that somehow we’ve done our civic duty if we simply hate the government vehemently enough. I’m reminded of a quote from former Speaker Sam Rayburn: “A jackass can kick a barn down, but it takes a carpenter to build one.” One obvious factor leading to this environment is the strategy of one of America’s major political parties to be anti-government. Anger for these guys means success at the ballot box. A clever political strategy, but one that doesn’t fix anything.
Two facts are important here. One is that we live in a complex, interconnected world, where technology allows non-state actors to do significant damage to our homeland, and where commerce is increasingly global. Comfortable, idealistic, simplistic solutions won’t work. The second is that at the very moment our duties as American citizens became more complex, we’re increasingly canceling our newspaper subscriptions, neglecting proper civic education for ourselves and our children, refusing to listen to facts that conflict with our pre-conceived notions, and spending way too much time following Honey Boo-Boo and the Kardashians.
One would think Utahns would be examples for the nation in bucking this trend. After all, the leaders of the state’s predominant religion constantly admonish us to carefully and prayerfully study the issues and candidates and be involved in civic affairs. The facts, however, are discouraging. In about two decades, we’ve gone from being among the highest to one of the lowest in voter participation. And during that same period, many of us who do vote don’t put nearly enough effort into this important task.
An example here is illustrative. Last year I did a Facebook post about Weber County Attorney Dee Smith and his qualifications to become Utah’s Attorney General. An old acquaintance replied that he was angry at Obama. What that had to do with who should be Utah’s chief law enforcement officer or the price of rice in China, he didn’t say. Many are angry that the revelations about John Swallow didn’t come out before the election, but I believe Gov. Herbert’s frank assessment that he would have been elected anyway. In Utah, Republicans are simply assumed to be people of high moral character. No need to waste time actually checking into their character or qualifications. If Republican Party delegates say a professional political fund raiser and back-room dealer is more qualified than one of Utah’s most respected criminal prosecutors, why should a humble average citizen like me second-guess them?
What’s discouraging about sitting here writing this is the fact that those who need the message aren’t getting it. You are a newspaper reader. I’m preaching to the choir.
We often hear the phrase “we need to run government like a business”. Good idea! Those involved in problem-solving activities in private industry know the last thing in the world you want is anger. Looking for someone to blame is anathema. In industry, we look at problems as an opportunity to improve the system, and those efforts must be based on facts and data rather than ideology. Differing opinions and real teamwork is valued.
What to do? Next time someone starts spouting off, challenge them. Make them look at all sides of the argument. Ask what they would do, and be ready to point out the contradictions. You may lose some friends, but who knows? Actual thinking may break out.
Our little family (myself, my wife Teri and our 7 year old grandson Silas) read a little in the special illustrated "Book of Mormon for Latter-day Saint Families" every night. We're deep into the Book of Mosiah, and were reading about that difficult time in the land of Nephi between when King Noah suffered his well-earned turn at the stake and their delivery with the assistance of Ammon and his brethren.
After several battles with the Lamanites, there were many widows and fatherless children in the land. And here we have the verse that tells how King Limhi dealt with the problem. This is found in Mosiah 21:17. "Now there was a great number of women, more than there was of men; therefore, king Limhi commanded that every man should impart to the support of the widows and their children, that they might not perish with hunger; and this they did because of the greatness of their number that had been slain."
The real meaning of this hit me for the first time last week. At the risk of being presumptuous, here's the same scripture, with a few clarifying modern terms, that summarizes what I got out of it:
"Now there was a great number of women, more than there was of men; therefore, king Limhi (the government) commanded (passed a law) that every man should impart (pay taxes) to the support of the widows and their children, that they might not perish with hunger; and this they did because of the greatness of their number that had been slain."
Darn socialist Book of Mormon kings.
I'm not ready to write this post.
I decided about a week ago that my next post would be about mental health because it needs to be talked about, because of all of the pledges to fix our nation's mental health system after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary, because of its connection to Medicaid expansion, to the development of new healthcare plans over the next year.
As a historian, I felt drawn to the rise and decline of mental health institutions. As a Latter-day Saint, I wanted to talk about the image of Prozac-popping housewives, the rigors of missionary work, and the fallacy of the "read your scriptures & pray" approach to curing depression, anxiety, or PTSD.
I'm afraid that I'm not ready.
I have been thinking about mental health: the vast policy issues, the growing theological understanding, how its impacted my life and the lives of friends and family, the struggles and daily grind of those to whom I try to minister* in my volunteer church service.
On the way back from my one-night-a-week of ministry visits this week, I was behind a car with 3-4 bumper stickers. Due to the glare of my headlights, it took me a little while before I was sure I had deciphered the sticker in the middle.
"Boldly Going Nowhere."
It's possible the driver meant this sticker to speak of a special level of cynical nihilism, but thinking of mental health and ministering to others, I saw a commitment to stay in a screwed-up world and keep loving, because, after all, the commitment to love and work acts of love is what makes the difference. And then lyrics flashed in from my childhood:
If you don't walk as most people do / Some people walk away from you / But I won't! I won't! / If you don't talk as most people do / Some people talk and laugh at you / But I won't! I won't! / I'll walk with you / I'll talk with you / That's how I'll show my love for you.
I remember feeling rather uncomfortable as child of 9 or 10 at church singing Carol Lynn Pearson's "I'll Walk with You." I recognize now, as I suspect that I did then, that I struggled with the song's radical message and its implications for what I could be doing better, that I could do a better job of understanding, of loving, of talking, and walking.
The other night I re-watched Gentleman's Agreement, the Academy-award winning drama from 1947 in which Gregory Peck plays a Protestant reporter who spends 6 months pretending to be Jewish so he can better understand, and write about, anti-semitism. A major theme of the film is the stifling, festering power of silence among "nice people, good people" in continuing misunderstanding, discrimination, and bigotry.
The public policy issues mentioned above--Medicaid expansion, access to care, support for veterans, help for families--are all very real, but I know, at least for me, there's some education I have to undergo before I can understand what it is that we should do. Positive change depends on good information, just as charity (pure love) requires comprehension.
So instead of closing out with a political call to action, here's my pledge: I'm not going anywhere. Although there are always new discoveries about how the brain works and there are ongoing debate over the medicalization of all mental health treatment and the best way to reduce stigma for people who would benefit from help, whether that's a little counseling or a lifelong pattern of care, I'm going to find time to educate myself, at least some more, about mental health. I'm including some links here to introductory resources. If you have suggestions for further reading, please include them in the comments.
Mental Health - Centers for Disease Control
Topics - National Institute of Mental Health
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services
Families - NYU Child Study Center
Health Reform - Kaiser Family Foundation
Health Policy - Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
(George Albert Smith, 8th president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, battled depression and anxiety for much of his life.)