alternative healthcare debate

March 15, 2017

The debate about the Affordable Care Act, the attempt to repeal and/or replace it, is an invitation to examine the core values embedded in the various assumptions of the discourse. Three values that have become apparent are: the primacy of financial considerations, an individual’s freedom, and the right to health care for every human being.

Financial implications, for example, are emphasized in the March 13, 2017 email issue of “The White House” proclaiming, “Americans were promised that Obamacare would bring down healthcare costs Americans were promised that Obamacare would not raise taxes on the middle class.” Senator Rand Paul said on Face the Nation, “we’re not going to vote for it” (Ryan’s plan) because it creates a system of refundable tax credits. In addition, the recently released Congressional Budget Office analysis focused on costs of insurance premiums and federal deficit reduction.

Representative Paul Ryan, speaking on CBS’s Face the Nation, March 12, 2017, advocated for the primacy of the value of an individual’s freedom. He seeks to eliminate any mandate on individuals to buy insurance saying, “People are going to do what they want to do with their lives because we believe in individual freedom in this country.” He proposes a plan where people are free to buy insurance in the private market. Also, National Public Radio interviews with people who are critical of ACA reveal a positive attitude toward acquiring health insurance but a resistance to any “mandate” telling them they must have it.

The problem with being guided by the primacy of economic considerations traps us in a debate about the value of a healthy human being and which of us has earned the right to be healthy. Adhering to the mantra of ‘individual freedom” leads us into a society where every person must fend for him/her self. Both of these approaches are divisive and contrary to the vision of freedom and justice for all. They ignore the reality that we’re all in this together. The freedom and health of each individual affects the freedom and health of our communities and nation.

However, there is a value that can serve us well in the debate about health care in our country. Senator Annie Kuster, in a March 10, 2017 e-mail, suggested valuing the importance of health care for every human being. She wrote, “I am ready to get to work to… find ways to help improve healthcare for every citizen.”  Logically extending her focus on improving health care for every citizen invites us to begin a serious discussion by first seeking agreement to value good health for all human beings, no matter who they are, their economic situation, or where they live.

Some cynics will suggest that it is the nature of human beings to center on individual and family fortune. For example, in the current debate of ACA some healthy young people say, “I don’t need health insurance so why should I pay for the coverage of those who are unhealthy?” However, there is another side of human nature that may be worth cultivating. Consider the times and situations that bring out empathy and care for others. How often have we observed the ways people rally after a natural disaster or a tragedy in the life of an individual, a family, or a community. People are energized and heartened as stories are told about volunteers contributing their time, skills, and money to support victims. People celebrate these situations as evidence that human beings are really good people supportive of their neighbors. It seems, in times of crisis the glorification of rugged individualism is subverted. The people of our country have a history of standing with each other. In the early years it took a village to raise a barn. Not so long ago, neighbors would help one another get the hay in before a thunderstorm descended.

It is time to refocus the healthcare debate based on personal economics and individual freedom values to the basic value of communal support for every person in our society. Contributing to this discussion can be the many stories and examples of empathy and commitments to helping others in need. In the course of the conversation the evolving nature of the human condition may surface. Could it be that rugged individualistic self-interest is giving way to communal concern? The task for elected officials and the American people will be to embrace this new possibility.

With this groundwork, the means of developing a healthcare system of economics that shares wealth and benefits and a society that recognizes freedom to be supportive of one another will begin to fall into place. Returning to the barn-raising example, once we agree that a barn is needed to shelter a given number of animals and store a given amount of hay, the details of the shape and size of the barn will soon be resolved. In the same way, when we agree we are together responsible to provide adequate healthcare for all people, the economics to make it happen will take shape. It will be a triumph for our basic cooperative human nature working for a greater America.







When we read and see on television and the internet the horrible ways that human beings treat each other it makes me despair of the nature and future of humankind. What is the dynamic that makes possible the kidnapping and recruitment of 10-year-old boys to be taught to torture, kill and commit suicide? What in human nature justifies the incarceration and shooting of Palestinian children by the Israeli military. How can people in the United States tolerate 33,000 people being killed in gun violence each year.

What is the thinking of the Texas legislature with its vote to permit concealed carry of guns on the state university and college campuses or the New Hampshire legislature allowing guns to be carried into the legislature chamber? And what drives a Christian church in Texas to hire armed guards to be present at its services of worship? The television report showed men with body armor and automatic rifles standing against the walls on each side of the church sanctuary.

During this election cycle, what is the human condition that drives grown adults to insult, defame, discredit, and hate others under the guise of being strong, truthful, and a winner? In contemporary society, how is it that beliefs and actions of civility and tolerance are twisted into perceptions of weakness, gullibility, and looser mentality?

The Southern Poverty Law Center conducted a survey from March 23 – April 2, 2016 concerning the effect of the 2016 Presidential campaign on school children and classrooms. The results of the survey included, “Gains made by years of anti-bullying work in schools have been rolled back in a few short months.” Students have been emboldened to use slurs and engage in name-calling. Some have become fearful of the people in power in our country. Other children justify their language and blustery behavior as they “point to candidates and claim they are just saying what everyone is thinking.” In New Hampshire, “one high school teacher… wrote, ‘A lot of students think we should kill any and all people we do not agree with.’”

These observations invite us explore the nature of humanity, where we have been and where we are going as the human species on this earth. There are two possibilities. One, humanity may be too broken to override violence and hatred that cling to our society and world. Commitment to striving in the same historic ways of domination through coercive power and using the ways of more lethal weapons, xenophobia, gender bias, and racial constructs may be advancing the extinction of humanity.

However, there is a second possibility. Humanity may be on the verge of becoming a new kind of influence in our world. It may be that we are experiencing the last gasps of people resisting the progress and change of humanity. It may be that we are moving toward a future where the relationships among people and between people and the natural environment is exchanging violence for empathy, caring, cooperation, and the complexities of diverse cultures. It could be that we are experiencing the birth pangs of a future where the intellect and the heart join together to resolve the challenges and stresses of humanity and its relationship with creation.

You see, just as I begin to think that evil and depravity are overwhelming us, I remembered where we have been. I think about attitude changes, just in my lifetime, concerning issues of anti Semitism, racism, sexism, the rights of the GLBTQ community, care for the environment, and many others. I read accounts of people sacrificing their own wealth and wellbeing to serve the needs of others. I read about people running into burning buildings to rescue victims. I read about a person running across a university plaza under sniper fire to retrieve a fallen student.

On August 6, I witnessed a group of people demonstrating on the Concord statehouse plaza against the proliferation of nuclear weapons. A family from out of town, who happen to be walking by, joined them. Together they walked to the edge of the Merrimack River to confess and to grieve over the people killed and maimed by the U.S. bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They threw flowers into the river in their memory. At the riverside, they meet a family picnicking and fishing. The woman wore a hijab. This family also threw flowers into the river.

Then I listen to the account of an educator in Tucson, Arizona who hosts a classroom of 3-5 year olds. Together, they build a caring community of children who support each other while they learn through questioning, exploring, and experimenting. They try out ways among themselves to solve conflicts, celebrate successes, and be with someone who is sad. They practice ways of hospitality as they welcome new children, parents and friends into their classroom and include them in their community. When these children move on to the first grade, their new teachers recognize the children from this pre-school classroom by the way they are energized to learn and by their skill in mediating and negotiating difficult behaviors among their peers.

Many religious faith traditions envision the progress of humanity from bearers of weapons to people armed with powers of persuasion, reason, empathy, community, love and care. The prophet, Micah, envisioned, “They (human beings) will hammer their swords into plows and their spears into pruning knives.”   When Peter drew his sword against Roman occupiers seeking to arrest Jesus, Jesus said, “Put away your sword.” Muhammad urged charity toward people in need.

Governments may refuse to relate to populations with compassion and nurture. Some people may resist movement toward equality and freedom for all people in favor of the ways of domination. But some, during this season’s election cycle, will let the vision of a common humanity guide our words and our votes for candidates.   Some will give support to teachers as they provide relationship skills for children. Some will encourage gun-free suburban – urban neighborhoods and churches. Some will reject our government’s plan to fund a renewed nuclear weapons arsenal. We have the memory, the will and the imagination to define humanity’s future.

September 8, 2016


Published in “My Turn”, Concord Monitor, September 15, 2016

No Trumpisms for me

A coffee mug holding my pens and pencils sits on my desk. It is decorated with insulting phrases spoken in Shakespeare’s plays. They are pithy, insightful, humorous, imaginative images. They hint at truths about the adversary and the speaker. They often embody a critique of manners, selfishness, or ethics: “A fusty nut with no kernel.” “Highly fed and lowly taught.” “Infinite and endless liar, an hourly promise-breaker.” I’m envious that I did not think these up or recognize occasions to use them.

Verbalizing ludicrous images that encapsulate a germ of truth contained in an action, an attitude, or an idea contribute to understanding and expose hidden motives. At the same time laughter eases the tension of discomfort over the personal and societal flaws exposed. The goal is to raise consciousness and stimulate the intellect of the audience.

However, Donald Trump’s political rhetoric consuming this year’s presidential campaign leads us in a different direction.   His efforts to show his superiority are blatantly uncreative, dull, humorless, and lacking any hint of truth. His goal is to win by domination, destroying the dignity of the opposition, and playing his audience for fools. It’s troubling to me to read reports of people saying, “We like Donald Trump because he speaks like us. We admire Trump’s refusal to be ‘politically correct.’”

Joining with a “winner” sounds good when we feel buried in the daily frustrations of economic, political, or social impingements on our lives. It’s distressing when a health insurance company resists paying for a covered procedure; a bill collector demands money that’s been allocated for the basics of food, shelter, and education for our children; or when ordered to work overtime instead of attending a daughter’s school play. It’s fearful when we experience familiar laws, rules, and customs changing in ways that challenge historic relationships between women and men, among races, strangers, immigrants, and levels of privilege.

Given these daily struggles, joining Trump’s chorus of angry words, labels, and accusations seems like a good idea. How good would it feel to let it all out, shake loose from inhibitions, and join the world of name-calling; invective; derision; and ethnic, religious, racial, and gender slander! And if I’m unable to risk it, I can at least be on the side of someone rich enough and brazen enough to abandon political correctness and hurl derogatory epithets without consequences.

However, I would suggest that bravado and unbounded ranting and raving never trump empathy, humility, creativity, and clear thinking. “Political correctness” may be simply recognizing and honoring people’s sensitivities and dignity. It invites people into community: listening to concerns, discovering differences, and seeking ways to create common understanding and solve problems. The models come from our childhood and may include the hospitality of Mr. Roger’s neighborhood, or Sesame Street. They may recall the stories of Dr. Seuss or watching the recently released film, Zootopia. The model comes from the Torah, the Bible, the Koran, and other writings from faith traditions.   Basically, it doesn’t take a college degree or accumulation of wealth or the credentials of a “winner” to initiate these concepts we learned as children and contemplate as adults. And what about that old adage, “Count to ten before speaking?”

This approach is not naive, weak, or gullible. One of the ways to make America still greater is to resurrect impulse control, particularly control of the mouth! There are ways toward empowerment that are far more effective than lashing out with bluster or hitching our wagon to a rich man who cannot relate to an hourly or salaried worker, a grocery shopper, a commuter, a prisoner of war, or a refugee. To make our lives better, it is not necessary to associate with a man who has bankrupted two companies and makes questionable statements true by saying them over and over until they seem true. To make America still greater is to do the work of a good neighbor.

The world is watching. Handala, a ten-year-old Palestinian boy, has shown up in most political cartoons of Naji al-Ali since the early 1970’s. We see Handala standing with his hands clasped behind his back observing the injustice portrayed in each cartoon. He is watching depictions of injustice in Israel, Palestine, the United States and around the world. He’s the witness to oppression everywhere. Al-Ali says that Handala will not grow up or turn around until there is peace and justice in the world. He is our conscience.

What does Handala see when he looks our way? Donald Trump with his entourage speaking out with belligerence, belittling others unlike themselves, and relishing the bluster of a bully? Or will Handala witness evidence of the making of a still greater America?  I hope he will see my college cross country coach who insisted that whenever we passed an opposing team member during a race we talk to him, encourage him, and challenge him to pick up his pace and run with us. The result was we all ran faster, made personal bests, and contributed to a great race for all of us.

I hope Handala will see a small group of Muslims, Jews, and Christians meeting monthly together in Concord exploring ways of justice and peace for all people. Perhaps he will see college students in Palestine seeking nonviolent ways to claim dignity while under Israeli occupation.   He will see a group of Concord church people joining Minnesota Representative Betty McCollum’s initiative to write to President Obama, asking him to appoint a Special Envoy for 440 Palestinian children in Israeli military detention.  He will see people from many walks of life forming food co-ops and farmers’ markets to access affordable healthy food. He will see the hospitality Concord citizens extend to our refugee community and the help struggling people give to each other.   He will also see courageous volunteers from our country serving in Doctors without Borders, the Peace Corps, and working with refugees in Lebanon. And he will see groups of people speaking truth to power in the language of reason, imagination, and empathy while affirming the dignity of all people.

These ways are filtered out of Trump’s awareness. He seeks personal domination to rule. People in a democracy seek community empowerment to correct injustices. No matter who we are: our education, our social or economic class, our race, ethnicity, gender orientation, religious belief, or skill set; we have contributions to make for a greater America. Donald Trump does not speak for us. We can refuse to be, in Shakespeare’s words, “not so much brain as earwax.”  We can choose faithfulness over fear, hospitality over hostility, dignity over domination.

Rev. John Buttrick, Minds Crossing, Concord, NH







Hope in our Time

My Turn                                                                                                                            March 2, 2016  Concord Monitor

Daily print and electronic reports are filled with disheartening news. This past week these reports invaded conversations I had over dinner, over a cup of coffee at the True Brew Barista, on conference calls, and at meetings. We inevitably found ourselves mired in despair over the state of affairs at home and abroad. There are stalemates in Congress. Our country is involved in chaos in the Middle East. The danger of terrorist attacks invades our daily lives. There was a tangle with the Pope over the ethics of wall-building verses bridge-building. Our economy is not supporting the wellbeing of the middle class. The frontrunner in the Republican primary process is a candidate proven to speak misinformation approximately 75% of the time. The Democratic Party options are framed as choosing between practical responses to the issues of the day or ethical visions and goals that may be laudable but unrealistic aspirations.

In this primary season, many of these problems have been laid at the feet of our President and Congress. We are being told that the “American people” want a change. The Executive and Congress are stalemated on almost any issue. Bills are proposed and others stalled based upon pledges of non-cooperation with the Executive Branch. Many members of Congress are clear that their recalcitrance is based upon personal antipathy toward President Obama. The latest expressions of non-cooperation include declarations to refuse to participate in the process of nominating a Supreme Court Justice or considering the merits of closing Guantanamo Prison. Other issues dividing us include the Iran nuclear agreement, Mexican Border Reform, and gun regulations. Add to these denials of human induced climate change, acceptance of huge amounts of money for campaign financing, and introducing bills into Congress written by lobbyists that favor big business and the wealthy. The result is a formula for failure.

However, even amidst protests of this troubling state of affairs, the same conduct we witness in the halls of our Senate and House of Representatives is being magnified in the daily debates and commercials in the Republican Presidential campaign. Those who identify themselves as “outsiders,” free from the influence of the vagaries of Congress, are choosing an even lower road littered with antics of name-calling, crude imagery, interruptions and yelling at each other and at anyone else who dares to challenge them. It seems obvious that when a candidate resorts to personal attacks on rivals it demonstrates a weakness in the candidate’s position and/or the inability to communicate effectively. The default position is to declare, “Never mind the issues, my opponent is a bad person and a loser, I’m a good person, a winner!” Focusing on winning trumps any process toward understanding and problem solving. This approach is hardly a formula for effective change.

Chris Christie has suggested, “There is no better fighter than Donald Trump.” Evidently the “better fighter” is the one who has perfected the technique of personal attacks on critics and the demonization of whole groups and categories of people. Particularly in the Republican primary contest, some candidates are learning to mimic the “fighter” rather than seeking to be an effective debater. Courtesy, consideration, understanding, and empathy are relegated to weakness and being “politically correct.” It is interesting that respect and love of neighbor wears this derogatory label. A potential president who is the best “fighter,” skilled in hurting and destroying any who are different or who disagree, is hardly fit to demonstrate the way to “make America great again.”

However, there is already a great America buried beneath all of this tough simplistic talk of building an America in the image of bombastic bravado. Burdened by the despair of my friends and colleagues, I’ve looked for respite by recalling the America I’ve experienced over the years, not only in New England but also in the Mid-West, the west coast, and the south. Here in New Hampshire I know and live with people who support our refugee community, work with the homeless, advocate for prison reform, attend churches open and affirming to GBLT folks, collect food for the hungry, volunteer to teach English as a second language, organize to end racism, raise consciousness for establishing a living wage for all workers, collect money for disaster relief around the world, and serve as volunteers in international settings.

When I was in the military, training in Texas, two of my Yankee friends and myself were regularly invited into homes for Sunday dinner after church. They remained hospitable even when we laughed at the name of one of their grocery store chains: “Piggly Wiggly.” Living in a barracks at Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington, DC I experienced for the first time the contrast of my New England cultural upbringing with the culture of men from the African American community. Together we figured it out.   When I lived as a student in the San Francisco Bay area, I experienced a community of extreme diversity, where people argued and demonstrated with great energy and then ate together at the same table and mingled during intermission at a symphony concert. In the Mid-West I lived with people who were troubled by my love for controversial debates. However, they put up with me and at the same time taught me the values of compromise and nurturing those in distress. In South Dakota I learned a new expression of hospitality. “Stop by our home for a visit” meant come by unannounced on any Sunday afternoon – in contrast to the New England way of going home and anticipating an invitation with a specific date and time.

This is the greatness of the America I’ve experienced. It gives me hope in this time of disconnect, common among many people. I’ve been reminded there are countless other people across our country demonstrating what it means to be a neighbor: learning about, recognizing, and celebrating the diversities of cultures and ethnicities among us. It’s easy to devalue one another. It takes courage and effort to risk changing ourselves prompted by relationships with others. However, as we give voice to our changes, our government and country will be influenced to change. This is what it means to be strong. This is what it means to be a real winner.

Rev. John Buttrick