The Christmas Story

For Jill, on her first Christmas.

 

Now listen, dear child, to the following Christmas story,

No metaphor, tall tale, nor mere allegory.

A critic may complain about my meter and my rhyme,

But scorn for form is not my concern at this time.

Instead I wish that this poem will be a mirror,

In order to reflect the Christmas story clearer.

I promise you I believe that this story is true.

The story is old, but each year we tell it anew.

For each and every cold and dark December,

The most essential thing we must remember,

Is that the holy day of Christmas means,

So much more than bright lights of reds and greens.

It’s more than a time that we should be kind and pleasant.

It’s even more than Santa and your favorite present.

 

Before we get too deep, there are some things first to know.

They will help the story make more sense, even if they hinder flow.

It is sometimes said that God can do anything; but that’s a minor fiction.

For the one thing God cannot do is complete a contradiction.

At the time God made the angels, He chose to make them free,

But in doing so He opened up a weakness plain for all to see.

For to allow angels to be free, God needed to hang back,

And took a risk by doing so, as it allowed evil to attack.

What’s that you ask? Why would God do such a thing?

It’s the only way His Kingdom He could bring.

 

His Kingdom is a realm of love and to love one must be free,

So the only way for love to exist is to allow the chance for evil to be.

And soon it happened that an angel did wrong and fell,

Into the strange dominion that on earth we know as Hell.

Now remember that because it is crucial in what I tell,

But now I turn to a moment before bad times befell.

 

God made the sun and made the moon,

The plants and animals would follow soon.

And to crown creation He made woman and man,

Free as the angels, He bid us be, we are a part of His great plan.

But the Fallen Angel helped turn us against God’s design,

A terrible thing! Evil was multiplying.

 

But God now rose to action, and a battle began,

One looking very closely could see His guiding hand.

He protected a certain people – they are called the Jews,

And through these hardy people, He would bring us our Good News.

To the Promised Land God brought them, and to us it is a sign,

Of another Promised Land, that can be yours and mine.

But in order for God to save us from Adam and Eve’s sin,

We have to make the choice, to freely let God in.

 

Our story now comes to its point, and we meet the woman Mary,

The angel Gabriel appeared to her, and it must have seemed quite scary.

All Heaven was arrayed and the feeling there was fervent,

And all were soon elated when Mary proclaimed to be God’s servant.

For from the Fall a tear between God and Man was rendered,

But the split began to heal once the Son of God had entered.

 

O Mary, Brave Mary, may your courage teach us all,

How trust in God can remedy the deepest of our Falls.

And from Mary’s trust in God it was that Jesus Christ was born,

Which is what we truly celebrate every Christmas morn.

For Christ’s coming taught us all that the God that’s up above,

Is first and to the utmost a God who is filled with love.

Merry Christmas my dear child, may you remember this story,

And to the King of all, we give all of the glory.

 

Amen.

 

The Virtue of Signaling

Many words have been spent on blogs and social media criticizing individuals for engaging in “virtue signaling.”  I will take James Bartholomew at his word that he is the creator of this phrase, and who wrote in The Spectator that he “coined the phrase [in a previous article in which he] described the way in which many people say or write things to indicate that they are virtuous…One of the crucial aspects of virtue signaling is that it does not require actually doing anything virtuous.”

There is an easy aspect of this to dispense with, and I note that to the extent Bartholomew and others condemn actual virtue signaling (as defined above) where it occurs, they are correct to do so.  Virtue signaling is simply a subset of something which has gone under another name and which has been present since at least The Fall.  In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis explains the rationale for the Christian commandment against judgment, aside from opening one’s self to a fair charge of hypocrisy, as thus:

“Human beings judge one another by their external actions. God judges them by their moral choices. When a neurotic who has a pathological horror of cats forces himself to pick up a cat for some good reason, it is quite possible that in God's eyes he has shown more courage than a healthy man may have shown in winning the V.C. When a man who has been perverted from his youth and taught that cruelty is the right thing does some tiny little kindness, or refrains from some cruelty he might have committed, and thereby, perhaps, risks being sneered at by his companions, he may, in God's eyes, be doing more than you and I would do if we gave up life itself for a friend.

“It is as well to put this the other way round. Some of us who seem quite nice people may, in fact, have made so little use of a good heredity and good upbringing that we are really worse than those whom we regard as fiends. Can we be quite certain how we should have behaved if we had been saddled with the psychological outfit, and then with the bad upbringing, and then with the power, say, of Himmler? That is why Christians are told not to judge. We see only the results which a man's choices make out of his raw material. But God does not judge him on the raw material at all, but on what he has done with it. Most of the man's psychological makeup is probably due to his body: when his body dies all that will fall off him, and the real central man, the thing that chose, that made the best or worst out of this material, will stand naked.”

Lewis’s point here stands regardless of whether a person accepts it as the ultimate rationale for Matthew 7:1 or whether one comes from any particular faith background whatsoever.  The decisions we make occur within a certain framework, and evaluating the moral blameworthiness or praiseworthiness of a person’s decisions in light of the differing frameworks we all come from, which presupposes a full knowledge of the Moral Law, is something we are not capable of competently doing.  I am not here yielding to determinism, which I reject, nor am I saying that as a society we should not punish people for committing certain actions because we are unable to adequately weigh moral blame, both of which are separate topics.  Instead, the point is that the same practical reason that Lewis outlines regarding the limits of our ability to judge others should also counsel us to be wary of assigning great moral praiseworthiness to our own good actions and declaring ourselves as virtuous.  Virtue signaling then, is both a form of the sin of pride, and separately, we are not particularly good arbiters of our own (or others’) ultimate virtuousness.  Let us be done with it then.

There is something else, however, that has also made its way into our recent discourse.  It disguises itself as condemning virtue signaling, but in reality it condemns virtue itself.  Indeed, nearly every time I read someone’s post or tweet condemning another’s response on social media as “virtue signaling,” there is no indication that the individual so accused is trying to signal to everyone else about how virtuous he or she is, rather than (A) being sincerely empathetic to another’s pain; or (B) showing sincere moral outrage at something wrong; neither of such responses are claims of one’s own virtue, but instead are a defense of virtue.

We are a broken world.  Children are starving.  Dictators torture and kill the innocent.  There is poverty, homeless, addiction, and despair.  The horrors of war.  We treat human lives in their earliest stages as disposable.  We don’t love one another the way we ought to.  There are reminders all around us of our own moral failures.  And at the same time, what signal are we sending to the next generation?  When we elevate people, whether in business, politics, the arts, or whatever, who are we lifting up?  What qualities are we emphasizing in doing so?  I agree that we should not be signaling about our own virtue; but I humbly submit that signaling about the importance of virtue is as necessary as ever.

Death with Dignity: A Brief Reflection on My Dad's Passing

I would like to share a few thoughts on my Dad’s passing, which was three years ago today.  I don’t mean for this to be political, though I realize readers may take political implications away from it.  That is not my purpose. 

I had intended to write a book about his death – and about the valuable lessons he taught to me during that time.  Lessons about love, God, suffering, courage, cynicism, forgiveness, empathy, living for others, gratitude, mortality, priorities, and dignity, among other things.  I do not know if I would have tried to publish it.  But books take longer than I realized to write, so instead I will just offer a reflection. 

Dad was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer on March 25, 2014.  His condition deteriorated rapidly, and he died a mere fifteen days later.  Dad had always served as my role model – the person I wanted to emulate in so many ways; watching him die was very hard. 

During those last couple of weeks, there were some amazing moments, including a hospital room baptism of my daughter, and Dad and me and my brothers watching March Madness with him in the room.  There were lots of prayers and all-nighters.  It all brought home the terrible truth about the inextricable relationship of love and pain, at least in this life.  That is, if we love, we will experience the pain of losing that love (in a sense), and the more we love, the more pain there will be (and it reinforced how much the price of love is still worth it, regardless of the terrible cost). 

Dad suffered much, and those who loved him also suffered much because of that. But his death was anything but lacking in dignity.  That would be inaccurate and a dishonor to the tremendous courage he displayed, and the love he showed at the end of his earthly life.  And for love to win through terrible pain and suffering struck me as almost the opposite of lacking in dignity.  Among all those lessons I took away, that was a key one – suffering does not preclude dignity, and with it comes an opportunity. 

The way we are coming to define dignity as it relates to death saddens me, and it is hard for me to not connect Dad’s death and Christ’s Passion, especially at this time of year. As a Christian, I cannot imagine a higher dignity than when we try to imitate the Savior, and follow on the Road that Christ walked – and that Road ultimately leads to Calvary.  It is worth noting that Christ did not want Calvary (“Take this cup away from me, but not what I will but what you will”).  Suffering is not a good. But Dad taught me, by his example, that good can be brought out of it.  And that our darkest hours can be the greatest opportunities for virtue.  Dad taught me this and much more during those last horrid weeks.  Horrid weeks which I am utterly grateful to have had with him. 

Dad spent his final days gradually forced to relinquish control over everything – and at times, he suffered.  But looking for the purpose in his suffering, he asked that God use it for His purposes.  On Dad’s own Road to Calvary, he was surrounded by those who loved him dearly, helping to carry his cross.  Such was a very good man’s death with dignity.

God bless.

The Party Lincoln Belonged to is Dead; Long Live the Party of Lincoln

I posted some thoughts on Twitter, and I decided to repurpose that thread into a blog post for easier reading. Yesterday, Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, seemed like the right time to again highlight the potential need we have for a new political party, something I began pondering in an earlier thread.

I’m not convinced that such a party would need to adopt particular policy positions in the way we’ve grown accustomed to. Instead, the critical issue at this juncture is electing those committed to our fundamental values and who have the courage to stand up for them.  What are those fundamental values?

First, a firm commitment to the dignity of all persons, reflecting the radical statement in our Great Declaration;

Second, a commitment to a free society – freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of association, freedom to protest, and freedom of the press.  Such is the foundation for a society which is a prerequisite for us to have our traditional policy disputes;

Third, we need a commitment to our rules – the Constitution and the laws created pursuant thereto.  Citizens are skeptical of whether broad commitment to the rules and fair play exists, and if commitment to the rule of law continues to be questioned people will resort to extra-legal means to achieve the goals they seek;

Fourth, to unity. For years now, politicians and others with financial incentives have exploited fault lines in society for their gain.  The bonds that unite our society are fraying & we must work in a spirit of seeking to mend those.

Fifth, a commitment to truth. Our debates continue to be misinformed by the creation of strawmen and outright lies.  Americans deserve to have serious policy issues debated on their merits. We must reject spin and other distortions.

A commitment to: the dignity of all persons, a free society, the rule of law, unity, and truth - a political party committed to those things is what we need now.  Our regular policy debates are important; but they all assume a backdrop of such commitments, which we cannot take for granted.  Without those commitments, this whole American experiment in self-government is in danger.

Both parties are atrophied, and still fighting partisan battles in a framework that is falling apart.

Lincoln's birthday makes me think about his commitment to the America, and the party he belonged to is barely a shadow of what was.  But the man himself echoes through our history, and it is imperative that we reclaim his commitment to the American Experiment.

Which is why I think that a new party, bigger than the Right or the Left, should consider forming under the banner of Lincoln.

Statement Regarding Sexual Assault, Our Political Discourse, and Our Culture

The rhetoric surrounding allegations of sexual assault in the presidential campaign is revealing with regard to just how much work we have ahead when it comes to making potential perpetrators know how unacceptable it is, and how far we have to go so that victims know that it is safe for them to come forward. I truly worry about the impact of the messages being sent right now by persons in positions of responsibility who publicly excuse allegations of sexual assault, and who personally attack those who come forward. That is not simply irresponsible; it is disgraceful. People who are in positions of responsibility need to know that their rhetoric on this matter has real world consequences. 

The conversation regarding sexual assault that we’re seeing play out in our national politics isn't creating a new problem, though I think it’s exacerbating the existing one; but it has served to further reveal the depth of the problem and the way we have failed at a cultural level.

This is a moment that we should not miss. This is a moment where we need people from diverse backgrounds – ideological, age, income, profession, and everything else – to speak up and speak out against sexual assault, the type of rhetoric that trivializes it, and the type of rhetoric which makes victims reluctant to come forward, and we need to rebuke it.  

The way in which we address sexual assault goes to the core of who we’re going to be as a society. And we need to be doing a much better job.

Statement on America, Race, and the Police

I aim to tread into these waters carefully, and in some sense, I am filled with great reluctance to do so at all – not because I don’t want to talk about this subject.  I do.  But because it requires wading into a subject filled with immense pain, passion, and complexity – a hard thing to discuss.

At Church today, I heard a story from the Gospel of Luke with which many Americans are familiar – the one where an expert on the law asks Jesus about what must be done to reach Heaven, and Jesus confirms the man’s belief that the key is to love God and to love one’s neighbor.  The man then inquired as to the definition of one’s “neighbor.”  Jesus, in response, tells the parable of The Good Samaritan:

“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

I cannot possibly know the experience of being Black in America.  But to the Black Lives Matters protestors, and to every African-American in this state, and in this country, I say this:  I hear you.  I may be a Samaritan, but that doesn’t mean I’m not your neighbor – I hear you, and I want to do what I can.

I love reading about American History, and especially the Founding – an era where the American people set off a spark which would ultimately become a fire that would spread to Europe and beyond – the spark of Liberty, and the demand that the governed be treated as citizens, not subjects.  But one cannot study the Founding, or really any other time in our history, and not also stumble into the dark history of racism in this country.

For nearly one hundred years after leading Americans declared that all men are created equal, many leading Americans perpetuated an abominable and dehumanizing sin against individuals because of the color of their skin.  And thinking about the growing divisions in this country leads me to think about the man who watched over this country at its time of greatest division.  President Lincoln wondered whether the horrible carnage of the Civil War was God’s wrath against this nation for slavery.  I will not guess at Divine motivations, but what I do know is that the natural consequences of that great sin of slavery have never fully dissipated.  We remain but a half-century removed from Jim Crow laws.  Only one year ago did South Carolina stop flying the Confederate flag, under which marched armies seeking to maintain the horrible institution of slavery.  I will not make an attempt to catalogue all of the racial injustices in-between and thereafter, but there have been many and they still occur today.  And of absolutely pressing concern is the way the African-American community has reasonable fear of unequal treatment by law enforcement.  We have made huge, great strides as a nation on racial equality since our founding; there is more to be done.

I cannot possibly know what it is like to grow up as a racial minority.  Or to be the parent of one.  I don’t know what it’s like to get pulled over repeatedly and reasonably believe it was because of the color of my skin.  But I know I would be outraged.  It is especially painful to see bad actors where we grant immense trust.

Let us also recognize that we put our police officers in an impossible situation.  We ask a relatively small number of officers to enforce thousands and thousands of laws, and every interaction they have is a potentially life-threatening situation.  These police officers are by and large amazing persons.  As any of us who have family or friends who serve as police officers know, the overwhelming majority of officers are among the very best of us, and are people who are working for a better world.  Day in and day out, they put their own lives on the line in order that we may live our lives in the way that we choose.  Each day that they put on the badge, they know there is a possibility that they might not return home.  Each day, their sons and daughters, wives and husbands, know that they might not return home.  Any given traffic stop might result in a police officer’s last moment on this earth. 

The above does not excuse instances of unjustified force.  It does not excuse bias against communities of Americans, intentional or unintentional, which we must work to end.  But careless rhetoric painting all police officers as villains unjustly inflames an already-volatile situation.

Are there legislative solutions to all this?  Perhaps some.  Among what I find to be the most reasonable proposals I have heard are those calling for decriminalization of certain offenses, and those calling for certain offenses (e.g., having a broken taillight) to be remedied in some way other than a police interaction.  That said, I am not writing to pretend that I have thought of or considered all of the solutions.  But whether there are solutions that are legislative or otherwise, let all people of goodwill join in committing to seek them out in a spirit of peace and justice.

On Twitter, the last message left from Officer Patrick Zamarripa (also a veteran and a father), one of the officers murdered in Dallas, was dated from Independence Day: “Happy Birthday to the greatest country on the face of this planet. My beloved America!”

Officer Zamarripa gave up his life because he believed in America, and what it stands for.  We owe it to him and to those loved ones from whom he was unjustly taken to see to it that the wounds in this country are peacefully and justly addressed, and that we continue to strive to be a nation that works to put into practice the great and radical statement that we are all created equal, and endowed by God with the rights of Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

In seeking the way forward, I look again to President Lincoln.  He paid the ultimate price for his efforts to end the scourge of slavery while holding the fabric of this nation together, and so I think it is only fitting that we hear his plea from his Second Inaugural Address.  I urge that it be our guiding principle as we proceed together:

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

May God bless America, and may we be good neighbors to one another.  My prayers are with all Americans, and in particular, with those who have lost their lives in recent days, and with their loved ones.

Campaign Update: Fundraiser and Moving to the General

I have won the primary election, and I am so grateful for the support of everyone who voted for me or contributed to my campaign.  Together, we are going to get Oregon on the right track.  Last week also marked the first significant fundraiser for the campaign, and I took the opportunity to emphasize the importance of this election and our need to restore public trust: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y1VWm3EkN6w&feature=youtu.be

 

Thank you again for all of your support!

 

Threats to Oregonians' Healthcare

While a recent article in Willamette Week seemed to imply that hospitals have never had it so good (http://www.wweek.com/2016/04/13/the-five-things-hospitals-dont-want-you-to-know-about-obamacare/), there is ample reason for serious concern regarding the long term economic stability of our healthcare system.

Following up on my last post, private insurance coverage is down in Oregon while public insurance coverage (Medicaid/Medicare) has risen dramatically (http://www.oregon.gov/oha/OHPR/RSCH/docs/Uninsured/OHIS2015TrendsFactSheet1.pdf, page 2).  But persons with public insurance coverage are the most likely to face access to care issues – in its 2015 data, the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) reported that around a quarter of individuals aged 19-64 with public insurance reported that a health provider were not accepting patients with their coverage type (http://www.oregon.gov/oha/OHPR/RSCH/docs/Uninsured/OHIS2015Access%20FactSheet.pdf, page 4).  In what I think is an understatement, OHA acknowledges that one “possible reason for this finding is that public insurance programs typically have lower contracted payment amounts for health care than commercial insurers. Providers that accept public insurance may limit the number of patients they serve with that type of coverage.” 

So, we already have a shortage of providers.  More and more Oregonians are on Medicaid.  Medicaid is the type of coverage where access to care issues are most prevalent.  And then on top of that, federal dollars currently sustaining Medicaid will begin to shrink (http://www.wsj.com/articles/obamas-medicaid-budget-trap-1460070725).  That doesn’t even begin to address concerns about costs skyrocketing in the private marketplace (http://thehill.com/policy/healthcare/276366-insurers-warn-losses-from-obamacare-are-unsustainable). 

Serious public policy issues call for serious and responsible public servants.  I will work with individuals of whatever party in a deliberative manner to address the continuing threats to our healthcare system.

Access to Healthcare Remains a Priority

We may be tired of discussing healthcare in the political realm, but it’s not going away.  The systemic problems in our healthcare system continue to exist, with the shortage of providers being a critical problem.  It’s especially an issue in clinic-based care.  The margins there are much less than for procedural care, as clinic-based care providers receive far less for their services performed (from both private insurance and Medicaid and Medicare).  More broadly, Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement in general is so low that providers are sometimes losing money when seeing primarily Medicare and Medicaid patients – aside from that amounting to what I view as an unfair tax (in fact, if not in law), it is exacerbating the problem of access as providers stop seeing Medicare and Medicaid patients altogether.  

 

Additionally, increasingly onerous government regulations have made the practice of medicine less appealing, as MDs are more and more often acting as paperwork administrators instead of working to heal their patients.  You’ve probably noticed that your provider has spent less and less time with you in your appointments throughout the years.  That is a shame, not only because it decreases the quality of care, but it decreases the time for the patient-provider relationship to be established – and trust is a key aspect of care. 

 

This doesn’t even begin to address the issues surrounding rising costs in light of defensive medicine performed to prevent lawsuits (i.e., procedures/tests recommended only because a provider is concerned about the chance of a lawsuit, rather than thinking the procedure/test is medically warranted). 

 

But if the foregoing doesn’t already make you think that we need to take action, I’ll highlight my concerns by sharing a recent example I was told about.  An individual with Medicare needed to see a mental healthcare provider – however, because there is only one provider in that person’s area who is accepting Medicare, it is expected to take several months to get an appointment.  That hugely increases the risk of a mental health issue spiraling – which would be terrible for the individual, and ultimately be more costly to society.  That is an unacceptable situation, and one we need to address. 

 

As with all of the big issues, there are not easy solutions, and I’m not sure how many of solutions in this area can come from the government.  But government’s first objective here should be simple: Do not make things worse.  Healthcare for all is a noble objective, and one that I agree with, but it is not something we should ask the medical community to bear the financial brunt of.  Medical providers should be properly reimbursed for their work – not only because it is fair, but because the result of not doing so is to have Medicaid and Medicare patients be dramatically under-served.  There needs to be an incentive for providers to accept all forms of insurance, which in turn will provide better access to all Oregonians, regardless of income.  Congress needs to act on Medicare rates, and Oregon needs to act on Medicaid rates.  We should also be looking at steps we can take to cut down on administrative burdens for providers, wherever plausible.  This issue isn’t going away anytime soon, and we need to work together so that we have a healthcare system that meets our basic needs.

Responsible Public Service

We trust our public servants to act responsibly.  We expect them to carefully consider the effects of legislation before something is enacted into law.  Or at least we should.  Too often it can seem like politicians are trying to get something done to appease the special interests, instead of carefully working through how a particular bill will impact regular people in our day-to-day lives.  

This was especially apparent, in my view, during the short legislative session this year.  I shared my thoughts on the same in a recent op-ed in the Lake Oswego Review: Oregonians Deserve BetterBut what do you think?  I would love to know how you think we can and should do better.  Or, if you think our representatives are already acting responsibly, I'd love to hear your views on that too.  Send me an email at deklotzhd38@gmail.com. 

Campaign Update: Primary Filing Deadline

Yesterday was the filing deadline in Oregon for candidates seeking the nomination of a major party. As the only Republican to file for House District 38, it's onward to the general election this November.

But this election isn't about Republicans, Democrats, or Independents. This election is about rebuilding Oregonians' trust in the government that is supposed to serve us. This election is about sending people to Salem who will work together to address our shared problems, regardless of party or other labels that can divide us. This election is about electing individuals who recognize the growing divisions in our society, and who will work to bridge those divisions. This election is about putting people into office who don't simply vote the way special interests aligned with their party tell them to vote, but who instead listen to individuals and small businesses who are not politically connected.

In the coming weeks and months I'll be updating this website with more detailed information regarding where I stand on issues, as well as providing regular updates on the campaign. I hope you'll consider volunteering for me, or otherwise supporting my campaign. And if you have any questions, or if you would like to discuss any ideas you have for how we can do better as a state, please reach out to me at deklotzhd38@gmail.com.

    The Campaign Begins!

    Welcome to my blog!  In this space I'll be highlighting the issues at stake in the 2016 election, sharing my views about how we can be working to address solutions to the problems facing Oregonians, and providing regular updates on the campaign.  I hope you'll follow along or check in from time to time.  And more than that, I hope you'll get engaged in the process by sharing your views with me and letting me know how you think Oregonians can work together to make things even better in this state.  If there is an issue you would like to discuss or have highlighted, please email me at deklotzhd38@gmail.com.  More to come!