Tracy Brown, a regular reader and commenter on this weblog, sent me a testimonial related to the value of SCHIP yesterday. I thought others would benefit from reading it. He's given me permission to publish it.
I grew up in a poor family. My mother did not work outside our home, and she suffered from a debilitating mental illness. My dad was a Type I diabetic who made no more than minimum wage up to age 65 when he retired. We had no telephone. We had no hot running water in our house. We had no indoor bathroom when I was a very small child.
My sister died of pneumonia in 1936 at about age 3. At the time, my mom and dad lived in a rural area with poor medical care. They eventually got my sister to Vanderbilt Hospital in Nashville---but by then it was too late. Long after my dad died, my uncle James (who was a minister in a small Pentecostal church) pulled me aside one day and told me a story that I had never heard. As my sister lay dying in her hospital bed, my dad walked down the hall of the hospital to get something (maybe a drink of water). When he walked back to her room, but well before entering the room, he saw something that stopped him dead in his tracks. A human-like figure, bathed in glowing light, was standing over my sister's bed in a prayer-like pose and with a demeanor of enormous concern. He stood and watched it until it vaporized. There was no SCHIP program back then -- not even Medicaid. Poor folks had to depend on limited local charity to get into a hospital -- sometimes when it was too late -- like it was for my sister -- and there was certainly not enough of this charity to go around to everyone who needed it. I wonder what that mysterious figure bathed in light would say about the Bush veto of SCHIP?
Every parent who loses a child lives in fear of losing another one because they have learned the hard way that it can really happen. Twenty-two years after my sister's death, I was a late-in-life child who became sick with a strep infection that turned into a nasty bout with rheumatic fever, which can destroy your heart and kill. My parents were frightened out of their wits. They were still very poor, and they had another seriously sick child. I survived the first attack of the fever intact but had to go into the hospital to get my tonsils removed. The medical bills were no doubt enormous, and I have no idea how they paid them. Even after coming home from the hospital, I appeared to still be a strep magnet. The germs would come after me often, leaving me with heart murmurs until the infection could be driven away. My doctor's last resort was to put me on a prophylactic daily dose of something newfangled for that time (oral penicillin tablets). However, they were enormously expensive -- far beyond my dad’s miniscule paycheck. I saw the pain and concern come over his face when the doctor told him how expensive the medicine would be. Just for a second, it must have transported him back to that sad room so many years before at Vanderbilt Hospital. However, something happened. Suddenly, in that examination room, the figure bathed in light showed up once again, not as a visible figure, but interposing itself in a different way, this time with just a few words that spilled out of my doctor's lips:
"Mr. Brown. I don't know all of the details right now, but there is a new federal program here in the county. If my hunch is correct, this program may be able to pay for most of this medication until he no longer needs it. I'll check into it and get back to you."
Just a day or two later, an enormous bottle of penicillin tablets showed up at my house. I took one every day until I was 12 years old. The strep never came back. My parents were still able to buy food and the other basics that we used to (as the old folks say) "...barely get by." I am alive today because of God’s mercy, His love, and someone in our government who was touched with compassion for the plight of the poor.
This is the point where those who appreciate people like Ann Coulter, Newt Gingrich, or Richard Land stop the story to make an intermission statement that goes something like this:
"Yeah, but that medicine was paid for with someone's hard-earned dollars. Those dollars were wrongly taken from them by an unjust government and redistributed to some no good lazy person across the tracks in the bad part of town. These people are all alike. You throw money at them, and it achieves nothing. Sure, maybe the kid never got a strep infection again, but you know he is going to end up just like his parents: poor, high school dropout, barely employed (if at all), probably on drugs, maybe headed to jail, and certainly a drain on someone's wallet for the rest of his life. We might as well have flushed the money for those penicillin pills down the toilet for all it got us."
Now, I have something very personal to say to them and everyone else who opposes the SCHIP bill. My mom and dad were both evangelical Christians -- just like you. Sure, my dad was poor. He was a member of what is called the "working poor." He got up every morning of his life until age 65 and went to work at a real 40-hour per week job that paid almost nothing. His employers (all of them) told him that they could not afford to pay him as much as the other workers (even though his technical skills were light years beyond theirs) because of his Type I diabetes. They said it was too much of a risk to their liability insurance to even have him on their property -- so he had to give them a break by allowing them to pay him peanuts. He did not drive a car because he could not afford one. Because he had occasional bouts with insulin shock (poor access to medical care), he also knew it was unsafe to drive a car even if he could afford it. His was a heart that would have rather saved your children's lives on the highway than to have fed his own convenience behind the wheel of a car. No, my dad walked two miles to get to work and back each day. That was my dad. Even though he had very little, he was kind and sensitive to the needs of other people. As small children often do, I watched my dad be generous to friends and strangers with what little he had. It must have struck some chords somewhere in life. My dad died from pancreatic cancer in 1986 -- a horrible way to die for a person who had already suffered too much in life. At the funeral home, I watched as one of his former employers (by then a multimillionaire and evangelical Christian) bent over his open casket. He broke down with nearly hysterical tears and sobs. I never saw anything like it before that time and have never seen anything like it since that time. I guess there was some measure of Christian love for my dad in that moment, along with the deadly weight of guilt for the way he and others like him had treated my dad during his work life. If Jesus is anything more to you than just the prime mover behind the weekly broadway-style show down at the megachurch, this is the kind of thing that happens to you.
Oh, and whatever happened to that kid after he quit taking the penicillin tablets. He almost certainly followed in the inevitable downward tracks of mom and dad -- right? I am sorry to disappoint you, but he did not. Some bleeding-heart socialist with a secular humanist bent took some more of your hard earned money (probably the money you were saving for that new bass boat) and sent me to college. Those unwisely given federal grants and loans soon turned into an A+ average, huge private scholarships, research assistantships, and two college degrees from a large and very well-known university. My student loans from your pocket were paid off fully -- with the interest. I have a great career and an income that would have been beyond my dad’s wildest dreams. I have paid an enormous amount of that to the government in taxes. And you know what? I do things with that money that you would probably define as crazy -- like supporting a Compassion International child all the way through high school in a poverty-stricken place like Bolivia. You know what else? I DO NOT think my taxes are too high. Someone helped me once with some penicillin tablets. If the government wants to raise my taxes sky high to help another kid who needs penicillin, I am all for it. Bring SCHIP on!!!
I hear a lot these days from evangelical Christians about how the Federal income tax is wrong because it is "...not the Biblical and Christian way for a government to raise money." Do you seriously think that Jesus cares even one flip about that two-bit excuse from Satan while some child in Mississippi tonight is hungry, beaten, sick, and in need of your help? Ask yourself what Jesus would do!!! Would he cut off any form of possible help to this child -- and let her slide into the abyss? Please wake up to the fact that the evangelical church organizations in our country, such as the Southern Baptist Convention, have been seduced by political charlatans and sold out by hungry preachers lusting after the things of this world -- position, power, wealth, political influence, and accolades from the highly placed on this earth. In the old days on the front porch, we had a word called "selfishness." It had a solid meaning, and everyone knew what that meaning was. That meaning has been forgotten in this day and time. The conservative evangelical church in the United States has taken the rank selfishness in our society, blessed it, anointed it, and turned it into a Christian virtue.