Russell and Duenes

Archive for July 2009

Christian Schools could be more christian

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After eight years of teaching in a private Christian school, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about Christian education. From my limited vantage point, much Christian education looks virtually identical to non-Christian education, with the exception of chapels and Bible classes. Much of this is as it should be, for two-plus-two, the Periodic Table of the Elements, and Jefferson’s authorship of the Declaration of Independence will be the same no matter what kind of school one is talking about. That said, my main thought regarding Christians schools is that they simply are not “Christian” enough. I got to thinking about this again last night as I was reading through Mortimer Adler’s Paideia Proposal: An Educational Manifesto. You may know Adler from How to Read a Book fame. Having digested that seminal book, I was looking forward to Adler’s (and his colleagues in The Paideia Group) notions about education. Though Adler is no advocate for Christian, or even private, education, I found one of his formulations to be consistent with my own reflections on Christian education. He says, “Basic schooling must…be general and liberal…nonspecialized and non-vocational.” In other words, education should not primarily be instrumental to something else such as getting a job or owning a home. To Adler’s mind, a liberal education equips one to pursue a job or a home, of course, but it also equips a person to learn for the sake of becoming all he or she can be as a human being. From a Christian standpoint, this would mean that an education is meant to train people to love the Lord God with all of their heart, soul, strength, and mind, and to love their neighbor as themselves. Such a calling does not make education instrumental or utilitarian, as a means to another end. Rather, Christian education is inextricably bound up with loving and worshipping God, and with knowing and living truth for the enjoyment and glory of God. Being educated and knowing truth has a value all its own, apart from any utilitarian value to society. When education is put into the service of knowing and loving Christ, then life will be lived out of that knowledge.

Yet it is all too apparent that schooling in America, both primary and higher, has become something more akin to a jobs training program. Sure, we try to give our students a broad-based education, but students themselves are constantly wondering “why we have to learn this; we’re not going to use it later in life.” The jig is up with our students. They know they are there mainly  because school is the hoop they have to jump through in order to “have a decent life” one day. Frankly, it’s not much different for many of my students at the Christian school. So my argument has been that we at the Christian school need to start telling parents who come to us: “We exist to help your students know and love Christ, know and love the wisdom he embodies and offers, and live in a manner worthy of Him. We are not really interested in whether your child goes to a U.C. or Ivy League school, nor are we particularly interested in whether he or she can one day “get a good job” and own a house in the suburbs. If they do these things, great. But our task is to honor God and his mission in this world, and to help your students love Him and equip them to be on mission for Him. Our job is to help form your children into conformity with Christ.” There’s no telling how many students the Christian school might lose if this became our objective. And I would say, “Let’s trust God and lose them.” For our goal cannot be simply to bring in as many kids as possible so they can “hear the gospel.” We are not called to that. We are called to fulfill the Great Commission, making disciples of Jesus by teaching students to obey, or as Dallas Willard would say, “Guide the development of students into the ways of Jesus.”

If we sought to do this, there are a few practical ideas that come to my mind. I’ll give two of them in particular. First, I would say that Christian schools should be making a second language compulsory from elementary school through 12th grade. Most don’t see the value in this because “it’s not a U.C. requirement,” or “it won’t help in getting a job later” (though this second point is highly debatable). The value in it is at least twofold: One, using one’s mind to acquire a second language is a useful discipline, and the training and using of one’s mind is utterly crucial for discipleship to Christ; and learning another language can help one love and appreciate the larger world that God created and loves. Two, those who still need to be reached with the gospel speak other languages besides English. So in a Pacific Rim city like mine, I would urge that we make either Spanish, Mandarin or Arabic compulsory for no less than 10 years. There is absolutely no downside to this.

Second, I would offer Koine Greek and Hebrew to students. I would probably make it an elective, but I would offer it. One might say, “They can study these in college when they already know they will need them.” True enough, but children learn languages much better than adults do, and further, why should we deprive children of the original Scriptural languages until they are eighteen years old? Orthodox Muslims are not waiting for their sons to turn eighteen before they send them to Madrassas to learn the Koran in Arabic. Koine Greek is not for every student, but surely it should be for some. God gave us the Scriptures in particular languages, and we have the resources to teach those languages. We should be teaching them.

I could give many more specifics, but you get the gist. If Christian schools are worried that they simply won’t exist should the above ideas become reality, then I would say that we have to trust Christ with that. Our mission is not to try and outpace other schools in how many AP classes we can offer. If we say we must offer them to compete for students, then I say we are not trusting God. The role of the Christian school is the same as anything else that is truly Christian: Be faithful to God and His mission in this world, and leave the results to Him.

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Written by Michael Duenes

July 31, 2009 at 8:07 pm

Posted in Duenes, Education

I’m a very spiritual person

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Religions all have their own “lingo.”  Protestants want to “fellowship” instead of “hang out.”  Catholics assemble in “mass” instead of “going to church.”  Mormons use “bicycles” instead of “cars.”  So, it is clear that in every religion, the terminology changes.  However, “religious” language is not bound to the believing set any more.  Enter stage left-the “spiritual person.”  I was talking to someone the other day who told me plainly that they were a “very spiritual person.”  Being that this is a phrase (cliché) I hear often without any explanation, I asked for a definition.  The response was like Sarah Palin trying to explain String Theory: “it means that there is something out there that moves and brings us to a place of strength and peace… I believe this is the calming sense I receive.”  What in the name of Nicolas Cage’s hairline are you talking about?  When I hear that someone is a “spiritual person” it tends to mean that they abide by the following guidelines.  First, they try to be nice to people based on some form of reciprocity.  Second, and most universal, is that they are seeking their place in the world and looking beyond themselves to find it.  Last, and most interesting, is the sense of physicality and “spirituality” oneness.  Or, as Clinical Psychologist Vijai P. Sharma puts it, a “Relationship between mind and matter:  Spiritual people know they are more than their physical bodies, and their awareness and knowledge are far greater than the sum total of information provided by their five senses.  Intuition is at its highest in them.”  In other words they can be solely autonomous based entirely on their own intuition.

This, of course, conjures up a whole host of problems; namely that every “spiritual person” will act differently as each acts according to their own wants and feelings.  This is why it is very difficult for a “spiritual person” to describe to someone else what it really means to be “them.”  It is because they haven’t decided yet and probably never will.  They want life to be good for them (and in turn hopefully ok for others too).  But they don’t really know what this means.  Many who can articulate what their intuition “tells” them are also on drugs (that was thrown in for my own amusement).  I predict that defining oneself as a “spiritual” person will only continue to amass a greater following.  It is utterly tempting to define one’s own spiritual existence based on what one wants.  Individual autonomy has begun to ebb away at the social foundations of our global consciousness.  There is becoming a deep desire to exclude all that is societally concrete and replace it with momentary intuition.  Even our most trusted societal institutions have come to rest on their own intuition: The policemen who uses the “spirit” of the law versus the letter of the law, the Judge who legislates from the bench instead of following Constitutional precedent, the average American worker who stays home from their job because they “feel” they need a break, or the “loafy,” get-rich-quick “minister” who wants you to send him money because HIS spirit moved him to demand that YOU do so.   Not being able to articulate what motivates you to “do” will become indulgent quickly and will continue the cycle of self adulation that comes with being a “spiritual person.” 

-R

Written by Michael Duenes

July 27, 2009 at 8:36 pm

Posted in Reflections, Russell

Hands that heal

with 4 comments

In my previous post, I said that, historically, Christians have given great resources to the establishment and furthering of medical clinics, hospitals, and regular physician practices. Christian doctors have done (and still do) a lot of pro bono work. But with more health care, especially for the needy, being shouldered by government, Christians have gotten away from these ministries. It is time for our churches to recover this area of ministry, even in the United States; to encourage it, preach on it, raise funds for it, and bless people through it. Such a call for charity is not regarded as a serious policy option, and indeed, it would not be a “policy” per se. But let us do a little thought experiment to see just how “ridiculous” or “miniscule” Christian medical charity might be.

Let’s take a rather average sized Christian congregation; say, 150 adults. Then let’s give them each a very modest income of $20,000 a year, and have them tithe 5% of their incomes. So this congregation would take in $1,000 a year in tithe money from each adult, giving the congregation a total of $150,000. This church now allocates 5% of this income to “medical ministry.” This would total $7,500 each year. This is not a huge sum of money, but multiply it by 100,000 times (this being my lowball estimate of the number of Protestant congregations in this country), and you’ve got $750,000,000. And this doesn’t include the so-called “mega-churches,” for whom 5% of their budget would be several million dollars by itself. This would make a serious dent in health care ministries. Also consider that my little thought experiment here is likely to undershoot significantly the amount of total evangelical assets in this country. According to www.generousgiving.org, “between $1.54 trillion and $6.72 trillion in assets are in the hands of American evangelicals, not including the value of their primary homes.”

Would this cover all of those who are truly needy and who truly have thorny, prolonged, “hard case” health issues? I don’t know. I doubt it. But it would go a long way toward solving the problem, and it would allow God’s people to show the love of Christ in a tangible, concrete way. Would not this kind of mercy adorn the gospel and exalt Christ in our culture? I think this is worth taking very seriously, but my experience is that intentional and concerted Christian effort in offering medical care to those in need in Western countries is not on the map. This is probably because the private insurance or government subsidized care takes care of the lion’s share of people. Yet if health care is nationalized, would this kind of medical ministry even be possible, yea, legal, in this country?

What do you think?

Written by Michael Duenes

July 27, 2009 at 3:56 pm

Posted in Duenes, Economics, Ethics

The way forward on health care

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No one doubts that it is easier to look at public policy proposals and shoot holes in them than to propose alternative solutions. Attempts at health care reform have followed a rather predictable pattern: Various reincarnations of a government sponsored health care policy are proposed by Democrats which are then vilified and defeated by Republicans who sound the alarm about “socialized medicine,” but don’t make any headway with proposals of their own. Well-known evangelical, Chuck Colson, correctly notes that we need rigorous thinking and debate on health care, but frustratingly, offers no real way forward. The best he can do is offer general principles, concluding that there’s “no pat answer, but the stakes couldn’t be higher. That’s why there has to be a public debate in which Christians participate and influence consensus. As we do, consider three guiding principles: human dignity, care for the poor, and prudence.” These are great principles, but how does one develop health care policy around them? President Obama has a strong case when he says that this “debate” has been going on for far too long, that standing pat is not acceptable, and thus, we’ve got to “do something now.”

What are some practical alternatives over which we can have robust dialogue and debate? For starters, doctors must be free to practice medicine according to the dictates of their consciences. That is, there should never be a government policy that forces doctors to perform abortions, conduct medical experiments, engage in euthanasia, or perform surgeries in violation of their personal ethics. Doctors may lose business if they reject such procedures, but they should be free to do so. They should not be put in a position where they are coerced into unethical procedures on pain of losing their license to practice medicine.

A second thing we need to do is break the link between employment and health insurance. This link was only established as a temporary measure in order for businesses to get around wage freezes, and now it needs to be discarded. Employers can still provide credits or other means of funding health care for their employees, but health care policies need to be portable so that people are not bound to certain jobs “because I can’t do without the medical benefits.” We already have portable insurance in other areas, so we know that it’s possible. The drawback is that those who have generous employer-based health care packages are not wont to give them up. Certainly a portable health insurance system puts more responsibility on the individual, but that is part of what it means to live in a free society.

We also need a policy that will allow for people with “pre-existing conditions” to get insurance. This might mean higher premiums for those who will incur larger health expenses, but in a more free-market system, there will no doubt be those who are willing to insure people with higher health risks. Perhaps a way of defraying some of the costs would come through following the car insurance model. In other words, we require people to get health care, but we let them choose the kind they will get. This will mean that many low-risk people paying their premiums will help to offset the expenses that higher risk people will bring.

We need to have a policy where the prices of medical expenses are known and can be assessed by the public. In other words, we need to know what it will cost us to get an MRI. As my good friend and Hillsdale College student, Zach Howard, pointed out, “When was the last time you asked your doctor how much it would cost to get a CAT scan? You don’t ask because your insurance will pay. But what is even more surprising, the doctor himself couldn’t tell you. Thus, the system is without the information that price provides. You do not really know how much the service is that you’re receiving, and neither do most of the people who are providing you that service.” Changing this might be quite an involved process, but most transactions on the free market are regulated by prices. This should be no different.

Government can certainly subsidize medical treatment for the “hard cases,” at least in the short run. I’m not sure what exactly this would look like, so I need to think about it more. However, this point brings up the issue of private funding. Historically, Christians gave great resources to the establishment and furthering of medical clinics, hospitals, and regular physician practices, particularly in countries where they went as missionaries. It is time for our churches to recover this area of ministry, even in the West; to encourage it, preach on it, raise funds for it, and bless people through it. A free medical-care system would allow for vigorous engagement in this arena, and would allow us once again to give that “human touch” in our love for people in need.

We need to re-think the regulations that currently govern the medical and health arenas, and we need to re-examine the basic relationship between doctor and patient. Whatever our “system” is, we the public need to know that our doctors are working for us, just like lawyers do, and not some third party. As someone put it in an article recently, we need to stop sitting in “waiting rooms” and need to start sitting in “reception areas.”

These are a few of my very non-original thoughts. I’m sure I’ll have more thoughts on this as I continue to engage in thinking about it. This “engagement” is the hard work we all need to do so that we might better “do justice and love mercy” and honor God as we agitate for health care reform.

-D

Written by Michael Duenes

July 23, 2009 at 7:15 pm

Posted in Duenes, Economics, Ethics

How much does the U.S. health care system affect foreign systems?

with 3 comments

Many people laud the government sponsored health care systems in countries like Canada, Britain, France, Sweden, et al. But here’s a question: What will these  foreign nationalized health care systems look like once the U.S. system is nationalized as well? Does a freer U.S. system allow these other countries to obtain health resources, machinery, and drugs at a lower cost than they’d be able to get them without our system. I can’t believe that Canada’s system, for example, will be nearly as effective at actually healing people and getting them low cost drugs without our more free market health industry down here. Just another aspect of the health care “debate” that isn’t really being debated in the public square.

-D

Written by Michael Duenes

July 20, 2009 at 10:45 pm

Posted in Duenes, Economics