Backinthe Day: My Dad’s Explanation for Excluding Women’s Health Care from Corporate Insurance Plans

Back in the 1970s, feminists like I was then got upset that corporate insurers excluded women’s health care coverage from their packages. As Eleanor Holmes Norton pointed out in Congressional hearings yesterday, they defined pregnancy and its related care as “voluntary” measures. Same with contraceptives. And voluntary measures are always excluded.

But having a family, nurturing that family, protecting that family is the strongest inner energy most of us ever feel. It isn’t male or female. It doesn’t limit itself by race, gender, sexual orientation, economic status, national origin, language spoken at home… none of those.

It is, therefore, what insurance economists consider a Long term Treatable Chronic Condition.

And there is nothing insurers want to avoid more than they want to avoid Long term Treatable Chronic Conditions.

So according to my Dad, all those decades ago — socially liberal, economically cautious, UU Republican economist — the real reason the Catholic bishops don’t want to pay for contraceptives is that to do so would put a serious hole in the bucket they use to pay expenses and have enough left over to maintain their corporate power and project their corporate force.

And so long as the left plays into their long term chronic vision by calling this a Women’s Health Issue instead of a Corporate Power Grab, they really don’t care how upset we get,we’re letting them off the hook.

Is the left really too stupid to see who’s hiding behind the curtain working the puppets? I’m not talking about the Pope, I’m talking about the corporate insurance industry, for whom the Catholic Church, in good Christian fashion, is taking the fall.


Applying the Lens of Congregational History to the UUA-UCC Meeting

One way UUA President Reverend Peter Morales explained his recent meeting with his UCC counterpart was by rightly noting their continuing presence with UUs in various social justice campaigns. The UCC caught a lot of UU attention with a television outreach campaign that welcomed same sex couples, and got censored in several major markets. They’ve also taken the most fundamental theological tenet of the Reformation “God is still speaking” and made it look, to our ignorant eyes, like some special form of religious progressivism. As a lover of the Reformation, and living in a same-sex couple, these are certainly good things.

But here at the local level, in 2012, we’d be sadly remiss in believing that the UCC is unique among Protestant faiths in either of these positions. I bowed for ashes last night at the local Episcopal Cathedral, where the homilist was a victor in the long, slow legal campaign for the right right to marry the man he loves. Just as we do at the UU congregation, they include on their order of service — even on Ash Wednesday — a reminder of what they’ve committed to provide for our local food shelf. When I went down to chaplain after a shooting at our Occupy Vermont-Burlington camp last autumn, my call came from a Lutheran Youth and Young Adult Minister serving a coalition of liberal Protestant congregations: Lutheran, Methodist and Presbyterian. As both our state mental hospital and prisons reach out for spiritual support in new locations, we get updates and plan responses in large part around our local interfaith clergy table.

Which brings us back to the question, in these hard but hopeful times: If God is still speaking, is the voice coming into each humble local heart and ear, to be shared by reaching out and reaching up — or is it being parsed out in scant, broad instructions, vouched safe to special leaders for us to carefully handle with the guidance of these leaders’ most trusted emissaries?

Local history teaches that there’s a bumper sticker truth for our religion as well as our society:

If the People Lead, The Leaders Will Follow.

And maybe that’s why the Association’s top levels don’t invest in lots of academically solid congregational histories: the evidence suggests liberal religions doesn’t really need with a Moses or a College of Cardinals. God is still speaking, and the Universalists were right: God speaks to everyone, with clarity, energy and an emphasis on local practical service to neighbors.


Universalizing Ash Wednesday

We’re packing my three six foot tall bookcases to make way for the accessible first floor bathroom that March will bring. Two kinds of open boxes sit ready: one for the storage room, and one for Crow, our mostly-used downtown bookstore. Lynne’s a jump start character, so weeks ago she bought boxes and pulled everything off the shelves willy nilly.  At first it enraged me but soon proved to have been the gift of ripping off the band-aid.

As I packed and resorted, calm settled in.  As I handled each one, I asked the fundamental question we Christians face on Palm Sunday: Does this really have superior worth (royalty) or did I fall for false gold, borrowed feathers? Was it true light, or the flash of my own face reflected in a mirror?

Worshipers on Palm Sunday bring home their palms for bookmarks, an art project, to decorate a beloved picture. Clergy secret a few to burn for next year’s Ash Wednesday. Wherever we put them, all year they remind us of the human desire to bask in borrowed glory, to rise at the touch of a magic hand.

 That’s what some of these books represent to me: fleeting prayers for the strength or skill to help myself, an afternoon of putting off work by pretending to enrich my mind. Some of them were good choices, made me what I am, but no longer participate in my life. I keep them as reminders of triumphs at earlier milestones, obscuring the fact that my journey is stuck against newer obstacles.

These are the palms we burn on Ash Wednesday: whatever we collect in pursuit of the universal desire to fool ourselves with borrowed glory, unexpected saviors, easy access miracles to keep on ourselves.  And the obverse, the relics of solid successes that time has washed away.

Lenten Poem


My room is cluttered, unrefined;
files, unfiled, are piled askew.
It’s impossible to find
the hidden keyboard that you knew
was somewhere underneath.
Not too soon, Ash Wednesday!
I’m energized to chuck the stuff, bequeath
it to life’s junk yard. The day
is longer, light displays my flaws!
Up! Up! You loathsome slob
uphold the cause!
God calls: rise to the job!
But age has crept away with all the joys that please
There’s little left for Lent except the memories.

Poems from the Eighth Decade
Copyright © Harold Macdonald 2004
used with permission

After Categorical Victory

We watch a lot of c-Span at our house. Huntington’s Disease means Lynne’s body doesn’t move as fast or as often as her mind, and we were both poli sci majors, so all weekend long, we pretty much flip between BookTV and American History tv (until, of course, Downton Abbey).

So what a treat to wake up this morning and see a panel of GLBC(cross-dressing) active and former military service members discussing life since the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. As befits BookTV these are now journalists, of OutServe Magazine and Josh Seefried, active Air Force, has published a book. How did coming out work for them, and what were they hearing?

It was all good, and as always, that includes the questions. What caught my attention was the clear language of a veteran named Cathy (?), who had graduated with the first class of women at West Point and served the Army 5 1/2 years, surviving one witch hunt and leaving before she faced another. And this wonderful woman used language that showed me how to deal with a quandery I’m facing in anti-racism: How do you talk about the structural inequalities that remain in place after there has been a major shift forward in categorical justice?

She used a key phrase: “benefits justice.” In other words, yes, we can now bring our dates/partners/spouses to social events, but if we die they can’t collect our pensions.

With this phrase, she has solved a dilemma I’ve been pondering in anti-racism: yes, we have our first African American president of the United States, but African Americans who made the middle class during the last two decades of bubble and boom face disproportionate impacts in two specific mechanisms: they are more likely than Caucasian Americans to be steered into devastating rather than partial personal bankruptcies, and they are more likely to lose their homes to foreclosure.

Since it’s Superbowl Sunday, I’ve been using football metaphors all week to recover spiritual clarity as I  watch political developments day after day. Yesterday, I advocated using our wonderful and prophetic GA Resolutions from the first half century of our Association to define the end zones. Now, thanks to this heroic veteran on BookTV, I have language for marking first downs.

Yet another reason to thank a vet. Her service did not end when she resigned. No vet ever really resigns: despite a few bad apples, and many more with tragic and unjust scars, the retain the military training, community and integrity. We are lucky so many of them share this throughout our society.

After the Fracas

This fight between Planned Parenthood and Susan G. Kommen Foundation has given me a huge spiritual insight into why we don’t have Single Payer Universal Access health care in this country. It isn’t the Congress, not even the Tea Party part of it.

And it isn’t Obama’s gutless performance when he first entered the White House.

No, it’s the irreligious commitment to obtaining self-care through self-righteousness that puts the left and right on equal and blasphemous footing.

What can I say? Fate gave us a huge chance to move the ball toward the end zone by pointing out that Planned Parenthood is a frail and inadequate safety net on which so many are forced to rely, regardless of faith or politics. For one brief, shining moment, when you combine Mitt Romney’s malapropism and SGKF’s fumble, we had a receiver wide open on the ten yard line and… We weren’t ready for the 21st century.

No, we all scurried back to our fifty-yard-line positions, which is to say, the twentieth century oppositionalism, and waited for the ref to launch us back into the same old scuffle.

Pathetic. The Unitarian Universalist Association has been calling for SIngle Payer Universal Access health care for decades. And when we had a chance to reach the ten yard line, we were so surprised that we let the moment pass.

It’s football, people, football. And when the other side fumbles, you don’t carry the ball back midfield in stunned wonder, you lift your eyes to that end zone and aim for the receiver wearing your uniform. And then you throw FAST, before their defenders regroup.

A Third Way in the Partisan Fray: Focused Meditation

Years ago I picked up a little Christian meditation guidebook with a focusing message for a few minutes of sitting for every day of a monthly cycle. Much of it involved imagining a “Christ Center” that lived inside your forehead, that you would simultaneously lift with a straight back and look at with straight-forward eyes. Each page had opposite a beautiful landscape photo, to replace the environment in which you were sitting with something more conducive.

That model of spiritual practice has given me a completely different path through the current electoral season. My Facebook friends, my partner, and yes, even my own lesser self on many occasions, have  jumped enthusiastically into the partisan fray. Name-calling about name-calling. Fundraising to combat big money. The cacophony appeals to all our basest instincts. We are bullies. We are brutish. Most of all, we’re acting stupid in order to impress stupid people.

This Christian meditation technique works perfectly with the analytic models I learned from my economist father and foreign policy grandfathers, and then took into my own brief stint in military and political analysis. Generals know there is shooting, they know how to answer it — but in the three-level world of tactics, strategy and goals, they stay focused on larger goals won by wider strategy. Tactics are for field commanders.

The only way to recover this nation’s political soul is for religious leaders to act less like field commanders and more like generals. The right has generals sending out well-planned ranks, and the left gets spooked by the shooting every time.

This focused meditation skill seems to be my method of responding to hours and hours of nightly news. No matter what the battle report says that day, I ask myself one of these two questions:

“How can this be used to advance single payer universal access health care?”


“How can this be used to restore the notion that sustained middle class family life is a universal human right?”

In this fight, I have no enemies, I have no allies. There are only people who get us closer to these goals, and events that result each night in a status evaluation. Each morning brings a new obligation to use this information to meet my goals. Lots of folks feel this as cruelty or disloyalty, because their goal is “a community of like-minded people supporting each other.” That’s fine for one or two hours a week to revive our spirits, but it’s not patriotism — love of the WHOLE country — and it’s certainly no way to use an election cycle to move the electorate toward fuller implementation of what the United Nations once defined as our human rights.