Paying it Parallel

A young boy, not unlike my own in a Palestinian refugee camp in Bethlehem. Would I deny him medical care? Would his family deny me since I was not from their country?

“I give you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, so you also must love each other. This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other.” – John 13:34-35 (NRSV)

When I was growing up, my church had a row of chairs behind the last pew. Each week, there was a faithful contingent of “little old ladies” who worshipped there. They were ever present at church potlucks and other events. They knew me by name, and I knew them as well. They were part of my understanding of what church was.

When my boys were little, we sat behind an elderly couple in church. My boys were not quiet during the service, and like most young parents, I worried they were disturbing the people around us. One week I apologized to the couple. They were quick to tell me how much they enjoyed the boys: they had raised three boys of their own.

Over the years, this couple were “pew great-grandparents” to the boys. As they got older, they were able to come to church less often. I visited the husband in the hospital and nursing home. Once I made them soup and took them groceries when they both had been sick. The connection reminded me of the “little old ladies” of my growing up church and I liked my boys having a similar, multi-generational experience.


I have never lived close to my grandparents. I knew the couple had family who visited them and took care of them, but visiting them when sick, sharing my boys with them in worship were all things my grandparents would have loved. My grandparents were also active in their churches, and I knew there were people who shared their children with them and visited them when they were sick. By doing the same for those in my church, I felt like I was loving my grandparents.

It’s a bit like paying it forward, but I saw it as paying it in parallel. If all over the world, we care for the elderly, the children – for those in our midst – we are at the same time caring for those we love who we can’t be with. Said in another way, someone in Iowa was being my surrogate, and I was a surrogate in my church for someone else. It didn’t matter that they weren’t “mine.” I was loving others in the way I wanted my loved ones to be loved.


I’m wired to be connectional. Don’t get me wrong: I can be selfish and narcissistic. But I have a hard time seeing myself, or my family, or my community as an island. The choices I make impact others – often others I don’t know. I can be judgmental, but most of the time, I consider how I would feel in another’s situation, what if it was my family member, what if it were my circumstances? I care about strangers.

I think that’s why the current fight whether healthcare is a human right, earned privilege, or only for pay hurts me so much. I waver between anger and deep sadness. This morning, I read an article about the House election in Georgia. And I wanted to cry.

One woman said that she was having a really hard time and supported tax cuts. I empathize with her financial struggle, even if I don’t agree with her solution. I don’t know her specific situation, but too many people have to make impossible decisions about whether to fix their car so they can work, pay their rent/mortgage, buy food, go to the doctor, or buy a decent winter coat. Costs are rising as wages stagnate (or even decline using inflation-adjusted numbers), and people who never had to make these decisions are now facing them. I can’t imagine how scary this is for too many people in our country.

This woman formerly worked

in an emergency room and complained that undocumented immigrants from Mexico would always get medical care with no questions asked. She said she resents freeloaders and explained that she supports the House bill because her understanding is that it will make Mexicans pay more for their health care. “I didn’t have a child because I didn’t know if I could afford it,” the 58-year-old said as she took a break from tending to her vegetable garden. “But Mexican kids in the country illegally are automatically covered. Hopefully that changes.”[1]

My church has several students abroad this summer. I would hope that they would receive medical care, no questions asked. And these are high school and college-aged students. How could you not provide medical care to a young child?

Why wouldn’t we pay it parallel?

Many of these countries where these students or my family travelled have universal healthcare. We may get a small bill but we would all be freeloaders because we certainly haven’t paid into their system with our taxes. Not to mention that Obamacare (or the Affordable Care Act, if you don’t care for the other name) says nothing about covering non-citizens. (Ironically, if the employer follows the rules and doesn’t pay cash, most undocumented workers pay income related taxes. It’s actually an important step in establishing your longevity and community participation in the process of becoming documented.)


When immigrants live in your land with you, you must not cheat them. Any immigrant who lives with you must be treated as if they were one of your citizens. You must love them as yourself, because you were immigrants in the land of Egypt; I am the LORD your God. – Leviticus 19:33-34 (CEB)

It hurts my heart that this is where we are as a country. We’re better than this. Faith aside, maintaining our health and having an expectation that if we become ill, the excellent healthcare we have in this country would be available to us. It’s part of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

I understand that this woman is scared. I doubt she’s a bad person. I don’t know where she gets her information, but I hope she is also aware that she is in the age group that will suffer significantly under the current House bill. I hope she knows this not because I care about her politics but because I care that she has access to good and affordable medical care when she needs it. I care about that for all people.

What if we paid it in parallel – caring for others in a way that we hope others are caring for the people we love? What if we simply loved others as we love ourselves? What if we believed we could find a way to enough?

[1] The Daily 202 from “The Washington Post,” James Hohmann with Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve., accessed June 20, 2017.

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