how do we treat the sick?

There’s been quite the flurry of noise on the Internet about the American Health Care Act that was passed in the House of Representatives today. Something that caught my attention is an interview with Mo Brooks (R, Rep. AL), in which he said:

‘People who lead good lives, they’re healthy, they’ve done the things to keep their bodies healthy. And right now, those are the people — who’ve done things the right way — that are seeing their costs skyrocketing.’

Source: CNN Interview with Mo Brooks by Jake Tapper (around 3.20 of the clip)

His statements imply that people who lead healthy (‘good’) lifestyles don’t have pre-existing conditions, which also implies that people who do get sick or have pre-existing conditions somehow did something to deserve their poor health.

Brooks does immediately add, ‘Now, in fairness, many of the people who have pre-existing conditions have those conditions through no fault of their own.’

It’s the earlier statement that is getting the headlines and the attention, and for good reason. The problem here is in placing a moral value on a person’s lifestyle — whether they exercise regularly or diet or eat well — which is what the first statement does: people who lead ‘good lives’, who have done things ‘the right way.’ How, then, do you reconcile the second statement, that those with pre-existing conditions are not at fault for having them, with the first? You have already established the premise that ‘good people’ don’t have pre-existing conditions. So how can someone have a pre-existing condition and not have done something to deserve his or her condition?

This is not a new question. I am reminded of the disciples asking Jesus when they see a man blind from birth: ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ (John 9.2) We might not express it as outright as that, but we still sometimes have that sentiment that if something bad happens to someone, then they probably deserved it: this idea of, ‘Well, they had it coming.’

But we need to remember Jesus’s answer: ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned; but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.’ (John 9.3)

Granted, in the gospel, the work of God is Jesus restoring the man’s sight, which isn’t exactly something we can expect to happen today (it wasn’t common then, either). That doesn’t mean we can write off Jesus’s answer, though.

Neither this man nor his parents sinned; but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.

Often I see the focus of this passage placed in the following sentence or in the events after the miraculous healing, to the point that this sentence is overlooked. If this sentence is evoked, it’s usually done after some misfortune or tragedy, along with the platitude, ‘All things happen for a reason’ (with which I politely disagree, but that is another subject).

What are the works of God and how might they be displayed? What does that look like today? Right now, in the wake of the AHCA passing the House, this is what I hear from that passage:

The works of God are displayed in how we treat the sick, the poor, and the needy.

Our words, our thoughts, and our actions: what are they when we encounter someone who is ill? What are they when we encounter someone who is chronically ill or differently abled? Not just how we treat that person as an individual; but how do we treat them as a group when we shape our ideas about health care and when we vote? Are we treating the sick, the poor, and the needy in such a way that it displays the work of God?

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Women are speaking out using a different hashtag now, #notokay, but it’s #YesAllWomen all over again.

  • I have been catcalled, whistled, and honked at — not just by older men, but by boys as young as 10.
  • I’ve had a man repeatedly come into my workplace to flirt with me, who followed me with his car and talked to me on the street, and who got my e-mail address from my work’s website and e-mailed me. During none of this did I “encourage” him. (When I complained about this to a male friend, he actually said I should have been “nicer” to the man because “it takes a lot of courage” to express interest in a woman!!)
  • In high school, one of my male classmates said that his goal that year was to get me drunk. He was later suspended/expelled for grabbing a girl under her skirt.
  • I’ve been leered at in at least five languages.
  • I’ve been followed when walking in a public park. Now I walk with a walking stick, not just because I have rheumatoid arthritis.
  • I’ve been cornered in my residence hall’s laundry room by a man who “loves America and Americans” and wouldn’t let me leave until I told him which room I lived in. (I lied.)
  • I have stayed late in my shared office when a female colleague was having a student conference with a male student that had made inappropriate comments to her, “just in case.”
  • Years later, I still feel uncomfortable eating ice cream in a cone after a man made a lewd comment about what else I could do with my mouth.

And more. Almost every woman I know has these stories and worse. This is #notokay. #YesAllWomen have these experiences. To be told that “you must have done something to get their attention” or that you are “overreacting” dismisses the validity of these experiences. To have Trump’s comments be glossed over as “locker room talk” and that “every man talks like that” does not make that speech or that behavior acceptable. Instead, it reinforces the victim-blaming rape culture in our society and trivializes how this kind of speech and behavior strips women of their humanity.

I am reminded of this (paraphrased) quote from Margaret Atwood:
“Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.”

Why else was I taught to carry keys in my fist to use as a weapon? Why else was I taught to park my car under streetlights and to check beneath the car before getting too close? Why else was I taught to always be hyperaware of my surroundings, noting where the men were and reading their body language? I was TAUGHT these things. This is the information passed from woman to woman to keep ourselves safe.

When will enough be enough?

Watching the world

Don’t have much to say, so here are a few things I’ve seen or read in the news.

1. Christians protecting Muslims while they pray in Cairo. From @NevineZaki:

2. CNN: Why more Americans don’t travel abroad. Many of these observations are ones I’ve pointed out when discussing this topic with non-Americans. I am glad to be one of the 30%.

3. Zach Wahls, a 19-year-old University of Iowa student, addressing House Joint Resolution 6 in the Iowa House of Representatives. I know several if not most of the readers of my blog will disagree with him, but I found what he has to say very thought-provoking. I ask you to listen and consider what he has to say, too.

Imago Dei

I was going to post pictures from this morning’s Raisin Parade, but instead I am going to write about some things I read and thought about today. Just let me pull out my soap box. I’m short, you see, and I want all of you to hear me.

It’s interesting how reading about medieval understandings of the differences in physiology between men and women leads to reflections upon modern day evangelical Christian perceptions of men and women, and how, despite our ‘modern society’, it still echoes the past. Namely, the idea that women’s bodies are inherently sinful.

In the Middle Ages, the idea was that women were not made in the image of God, and were therefore lesser spiritually and physically than men (and, because this was the point of my reading, were more susceptible to demonic possession). The human soul, of course, was sexless and was made in the image of God (see Aquinas), but regarding human physical form, only man was imago Dei; woman, on the other hand, was made in the image of man (and, in the Aristotelian view, an imperfect or deformed image of man). Along a similar train of thought, William of Auvergne claimed that good spirits only ever took the form of men and that the most appropriate form for evil spirits was that of women. Women are associated with the demonic, evil.

The modern evangelical church might not go so far as to associate women with the demonic today (however, the modern evangelical church doesn’t really like to talk about demons at all), but there is still a troubling and unhealthy perception of women’s bodies as being inherently sinful. There exists a double-standard regarding clothing and modesty: men can go about shirtless and wear swimming trunks in the pool, but women are told to cover up ‘so as not to lead astray their brothers’ and can only wear one-pieces to the pool. Women’s bodies are objectified even in the midst of modesty; women are told to be ashamed of who and what they are, how they look, simply because their bodies happen to be female.

Equally troubling and unhealthy is the implication that men are morally weaker than women. That is one thing that has been reversed since the Middle Ages: back then, women were the more carnal and morally weak, today that is the men. Both extremes are unacceptable. Neither is wholly true.

It makes me angry that we cannot see each other as persons. Though each and every one of us is sinful by virtue of being sons and daughters of Adam and Eve, we are also worthy of respect and love because we, like them, are made in the image of God. And if we have been washed by the blood of Christ — if we claim to be His own — then we are new creations, no longer bound in slavery to sin. Christians should be among those with the healthiest ideas regarding the human body; it frustrates and deeply angers me that they are not.

I am a woman. I am intelligent and tend to succeed at whatever I put my mind to. I can’t be a mountain climber or Olympic athlete or a Navy Seal, but I also have rheumatoid arthritis. I am a Christian and I read my Bible; I know that I am not inherently evil simply because I am female. My sisters aren’t either. Neither are my brothers because they are male. ‘So God created humankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.’ (Gen. 1.27)

At last!

It is with great joy on this rainy Remembrance Sunday that I learn that Aung San Suu Kyi is free at last! (Don’t know who she is? Read her BBC Profile.)

No, we don’t know what will happen next, but after two decades of imprisonment, she is free. There is still hope in the world for human rights, however long and difficult the journey.

On Human Nature

Somewhere I once heard, or read, (and can’t find it now, alas) “What is man? How like an angel, and yet, how like a devil.” It is based on Psalm 8, but it’s the “devil” part I’m thinking of now, for this reason:

CNN: As many as 20 present at gang rape outside school dance

Seriously? That fifteen people would stand by and watch? What kind of monster would hear that this was happening, and instead of trying to stop it either themselves or by calling the police, goes to watch. For two and a half hours.

In one of the interviews I heard about it, the anchor and the legal expert were trying to determine to what extent the bystanders could be help culpable. The short answer is: they can’t. You are not legally bound to report a crime; you cannot be held legally responsible for watching a crime take place. But at one point the expert said something along the lines that a person could only be held responsible “if you do anything to allow the rapist to continue the crime you are liable” — which would mean, one would think, not doing anything to prevent the crime, e.g. calling the police.

Whatever happened to: “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins” (James 4:17)? I can only hope that there will be enough collective outrage from all who hear of this that something actually might be done to bring justice to those against whom justice must be served, and to protect others in the future.

Useful, indeed

UPDATE: Apparently Gerard has been given the opportunity to fight for his position in the comic. See it here. I’m glad, even if the comic still represents condescending attitudes toward humanities students. No, the possibility for social commentary has not escaped me. I am, perhaps, more upset at the overall treatment of Gerard. A casual look at the PHD forums and other blogs that mention Gerard from PHD will show that his treatment has touched a raw nerve for humanities students.


Gerard was introduced in August 2007. He’s only been in four comics of PHD (Piled Higher and Deeper), this latest one being the last, apparently. It took some digging to find them but reading over them I’m a bit upset with PHD. Most of the time I still get their jokes because of being a DATA alum and because I have several friends who are engineers and scientists. For a while their one bone to the humanities was in Tajel’s character, an anthropologist, who I also enjoyed because of my anthropology minor. When they added Gerard, a medievalist!, I was even happier. Then they didn’t do anything with him. If anything, the few comics he’s been in have shown that the writers of PHD don’t have much respect toward literature grad students.

Gerard’s comics: Humanities (8/31/2007); Humanities vs. Social Sciences (9/3/2007); Post Avant-Garde Limericks (1/18/2008); Budget Cuts (5/8/2009).

Granted, perhaps these are supposed to be funny. Every literature student I know has encountered “What are you going to do with that?” more than once. I’ve even been demanded “Why?“, also on more than one occasion. As a result, I wouldn’t be surprised if many of us have inferiority complexes of some degree. Obviously I have the tendency to get defensive. Surely Jorge Cham could have thought of something else that was, perhaps, actually funny for the people for whom he apparently had made the character.*

What am I going to do as a medievalist? I’m going to study and learn where we came from, to better understand where we are now, and where we are going. I’m going to learn how people are the same throughout history, and how we are different, how our worldviews change, and what changes them. I’m learning how to learn so that I can do this my entire life. I’m going to research and write so I can share what I learn. I’m going to write and teach so that I can help shape the generation that follows me to be sensitive to all people, tolerant of cultures, to think critically and approach the world with curiosity. Above, all, I’m going to enjoy myself, because this is what I love to do. People who study literature and history stand in the proud tradition of continuing and shaping civilisation as we know it. Without medieval Irish monasteries, we wouldn’t have copies of manuscripts that were destroyed during Viking attacks. Without Arabic commentators, we wouldn’t have known about Aristotle. What would the world be like without Shakespeare? Milton? Goethe? Dickens? Hawthorne? Hemingway? Eliot? Pound? I could go on and on. A world without literature is a world that does not know itself. A major that is useful, indeed!

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The Long Defeat

I have joined the long defeat
That falling set in motion
And all my strength and energy
Are raindrops in the ocean

I can’t just fight when I think I’ll win
That’s the end of all belief
And nothing has provoked it more
Than a possible defeat

–“The Long Defeat,” Sara Groves

As I compiled an extensive Dystopian fiction reading list for myself, I remembered how Kali once described me as a “pessimistic idealist.” I am someone who stares into the middle-distance and sees the ideal hidden behind a veil, within our grasp, should we choose to reach for it, but I also recognize that this is an imperfect world, where people are more attuned to their selfish desires than to squinting to see a world they cannot see. I’ve resigned that this sad fact is true for the world, but still hope, still dream, and still strive to reach for that ideal even if I am the only one looking.

When I heard “The Long Defeat” by Sara Groves, I had to look up the phrase because she seemed strangely defeatist. I found that in Lord of the Rings, Galadriel says to Frodo that she and Celeborn “together through ages of the world we have fought the long defeat.” No victory is complete or without loss, and evil will rise again. Apparently Tolkien wrote in a letter: “I am a Christian, and indeed a Roman Catholic, so that I do not expect ‘history’ to be anything but a ‘long defeat’ – though it contains (and in a legend may contain more clearly and movingly) some samples or glimpses of final victory.” I think Tolkien was a pessimistic idealist, too.

As a historian of sorts, and as a Christian, his words struck me as contrary to the popular belief I know to be held by most Christians: We have won. Christ defeated death and Satan when he triumphed Easter morning, and it’s only a matter of time before Satan gets his come-uppin’s and is thrown into the lake of fire. We continue in this imperfect world knowing that we are the victors, come the end of all things.

Yet the road is long, and the load is heavy. This is an imperfect world and each day comes a little farther apart at the seams. The universe spinning spinning toward entropy. We claim the hope that one day it may all be restored, but where does that leave us? The hope we hold restores all things by first destroying the old. For this universe, perhaps it is a long defeat. With every kind word, every time we place the interests of others ahead of our own, every time we are motivated by love instead of selfishness and choose the harder path over the easy one, we fight a losing battle against the powers of this world. But it is a noble battle, too.

“And nothing has provoked it more than possible defeat”—is this not true? The words of my philosophy professor come to mind: “You cannot claim your faith as  your own until you have stared atheism in the face.” He made much of the class uncomfortable. I have considered whether faith is only poetry and song, of the possible defeat, and I have made the conclusion that even if it is, it is poetry to lift the eyes of the downcast, song to lighten the hearts of the weary, and is the noblest lost cause I can think of to live and die for. The history of Christianity is far from perfect, and those who call themselves Christians imperfect still, but if God was someone we could fully understand or something we could be fully comfortable with, then he would be of human design. And that is not faith. The stubborn hope of the unseen, inspiring those who believe to fight the long defeat, and in the process bring a little light into the darkness—this is faith. We who believe, we must continue even when we think our victory unsure, for to give up is certain defeat indeed.

These thoughts spurred from a song, dystopias, and riding with the horse-lords of Rohan. The answer to the question, “What are we holding on to?” is, as Sam says, “That there’s some good in this world, and it’s worth fighting for.”

Fire with fire

Strike on Gaza School kills 30. They attacked a school. Not just an Islamist/fundamentalist school, but a UN run school at that—not that the former would make it any better. How in heaven or hell does Israel justify bombing, murdering children? I have been watching the development of this war with increasing disgust and frustration that I can do nothing to stop it. Why this continued pandering to Israel? The facts are clear: the Palestinians were removed from their homes, shoved into refugee camps that they’re still living in 50 years later. Yeah, Israel says it has the right to protect itself, but the Palestinians have an equal right to be angry. And when they’re unable to obtain the education and work that is their right, they’re more likely to respond with violence. This is horrific beyond words.

Meanwhile, I’m also praying for Danielle’s safety. What a time to go on pilgrimage to the Holy Land.


This still brings tears welling up in my eyes and down my cheeks, and a wish that I could have been there in person, or be involved in something just as great. Let us never stop dreaming.