Discussions of Book of Mormon issues and evidences, plus other topics related to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Faith, Insurance, and Blessings from Disappointment: How Bad Programming Made Me Healthier

Sometimes our little setbacks or disappointments can open doors for big steps forward. One frustration and disappointment with my return to the US after 9 years in China was discovering how difficult health care and especially insurance has become in the U.S. It seems that foreigners in the Communist nation of China have more options and economic freedom when it comes to health insurance than US citizens do in the U.S.

To be more specific, my disappointment came in two parts: (1) the surprise discovery that US health insurance would not be available through my work as I had been counting on, and (2) finding that purchasing private insurance was extremely difficult. In China, if you want basic insurance or added coverage, you call an agent, choose from a wide variety of plans, and sign up right away. It's much harder here, but these disappointments led to unexpected blessings.

In the US, I found that healthcare companies didn’t return my calls and seemed to have no motivation to work with me. Those that I reached told me I needed to enroll through Healthcare.gov. I wasted hours trying to enroll there, ultimately finding that the US government’s system did not recognize me as a US citizen.

The system would not allow me to enroll for their expensive plans due to technical glitches in their poorly programmed website. Technical support could not resolve the glitch after nearly two hours of effort, having me try all sorts of variations in the application process for an engine that just would not recognize me in spite of having paid US taxes faithfully for the past 9 years in China and many years before that, always filing with the same US address where we have kept and owned our home while renting it out during our China years. In the end, the supervisor at Healthcare.gov admitted that, “Yeah, sometimes this just happens. Sorry.” I could not accept that and didn't give up as I think he wanted me to do. I pressed on and asked what they could do. He finally agreed to call the developer, then put me on hold, and after a few minutes predictably (according to a doctor friend of mine) just hung up on me. When it comes to health care, why does it seem that capitalism, choice, and customer service are more alive in Communist China, at least for privileged foreigners, than in the US?

With COVID raging, it seemed like health insurance was a necessity, so I was getting worried. Then I heard ads for Medi-share on the radio and saw a ray of hope, but they require a religious declaration that I could not sign in good faith largely because I believe their statement on the Bible contradicts the obvious existence of gaps and errors, however minor, that are clearly present, if only because of the challenges arising from the lack of original manuscripts and the numerous variants that exist for numerous verses in the competing texts that have been preserved. I accept it as the word of God, but can’t say it is “completely authoritative and entirely true.” It struck me as odd that my ability to get insurance would be limited by my faith. But this is a consequence of US law (the controversial Affordable Care Act), or rather the steps needed to avoid the very costly implications of US law. Such "healthcare sharing programs" aren't actually insurance per se but are collective efforts to share health care costs organized under ministries or other religious organizations, resulting in substantially reduced costs but also some reductions in coverage.

At last I found Liberty Healthshare (https://libertyhealthshare.org/), another healthcare sharing program. Their statement of belief required for members (https://libertyhealthshare.org/do-i-qualify) is actually more restrictive in some ways that Medi-share’s, but is one I can fully accept and actually like. To my surprise, their plan is not as expensive as the government plans, and the plan came with a wonderful surprise: a personal health coach who helped me set specific goals to improve my health, and encouraged me in periodic calls to pursue those goals.

I soon found myself motivated to exercise not just a time or two per week, but almost every day. I tracked blood pressure carefully for three months and paid lots more attention to diet, sleep, etc. I met the goals and feel better than ever and grateful. Regular exercise is a much bigger deal for me now, and with my wife back in the States now, our main date is going on bike rides around beautiful Appleton, which has become such a fun part of our life together, almost daily. I also found that I love going to Crunch Fitness in Appleton, the best gym I've ever been to. And I always look forward to going there -- such interesting equipment and friendly people.

Many thanks to Brooke Preston, my health coach, and the good people at Liberty Healthshare. Also special thanks to the programmers who developed the Obamacare software that governs the health insurance for millions. Had it not been so deficient, I'd be less healthy today!

Thursday, July 16, 2020

A Book of Mormon Place Name that Teaches Us About Grace: Onidah

Both personal names and place names in the Book of Mormon once were a source of ridicule. Like many Book of Mormon weaknesses, recent discoveries have increasingly turned these weaknesses into strengths. Examples include Alma, long ridiculed as a modern woman's name misapplied by Joseph Smith to an ancient Nephite male, an embarrassment that became a strength when modern archaeologists examined the Bar Kochba documents from around 100 A.D. in Israel and found a deed signed by Alma, a Jewish male. But what is especially interesting about many of the names in the Book of Mormon is not just that they may be plausible, but that they are used in ways suggesting that the writers of the Book of Mormon understood the meaning (or range of meanings) of the name and skillfully drew upon the meaning with word plays or other literary tools. In many cases, this can strengthen the message being conveyed in that passage.

A recent find in these arena is the name of the hill where Alma and Amulek taught a group of poor people who had been mistreated by the lofty, arrogant Zoramites. A reader of the translated text may well wonder why the hill's name is mentioned at all. But when its plausible Hebrew meaning is examined, one sees that the meaning of that name is being exploited by a skillful writer to teach us about grace and the Lord's knowledge of our afflictions here in mortality. It's a fascinating case study of the beauty of names in the Book of Mormon. See Matthew L. Bowen, "He Knows My Affliction: The Hill Onidah as Narrative Counterpart to the Rameumptom," Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 34 (2020): 195-220.

Abstract: The toponym Onidah, attested as the name of a hill in Alma 32:4, most plausibly derives from Hebrew ʿŏnî /ʿōnî/ʿônî (ʿonyî, “my affliction”) + yādaʿ/yēdaʿ (“he knew,” “he knows”) — i.e., “he has acknowledged my affliction” or “he knows my affliction.” This etymology finds support in the context of the Zoramite narrative in which it occurs. In view of the pejorative lexical associations of the Rameumptom, the “high” and “holy stand,” with Hebrew rām (< rwm, “high”) and haughtiness, arrogance, and pride, we see Mormon using the Rameumptom, the “high” platform for Zoramite self-exalting worship, with Onidah, the hill from which Alma and Amulek taught the Zoramite poor and humble. The latter name and Alma’s teaching from that location constituted a sign that the Lord “knew” their “affliction.” Alma devotes a significant part of his message not only extolling the spiritual value of their state of “affliction” and humiliation or compelled “humility” (ʿŏnî Exodus 3:7, 17), but teaching them how to “plant” the “word” (even Jesus Christ himself) in their hearts through prayer — the word that would grow up into a “perfect knowledge” of God — experientially “knowing” God (Alma 32:16‒36) and being known by him (cf. Alma 7:12).

Sunday, July 05, 2020

A Heart on Fire: The Inhumanity of Neglecting Black Lives that Matter

Black lives matter. Of course they do. Sadly, the pains and sorrows faced by the victims of violence and inhumanity among black Americans is not adequately addressed by slogans and virtue signaling, or by giving support to any group or person that encourages or tolerate violence against blacks. The horror of violence from some bad cops is bad enough, but there is also brutality and inhumanity far more widespread in the violence that permeates too many communities across our country. The lives of those being shot and murdered everyday in largely black neighborhoods across America matter and deserve far more attention and compassion than they have received. Let's begin with the story of the murder of a young man, Horace Lorenzo Anderson Jr., who was murdered in Seattle. The story is told by a man with his heart on fire, a man who has been treated with callous inhumanity by the government in Washington. His story resonates with me, not because I have faced pain anywhere close to his, but because of what happened to him when he wanted to see his son at a hospital.

Watch at least the first 10 minutes of this interview with the father. The interview is part of the story, "Father of CHOP shooting victim speaks out in emotional 'Hannity' interview: 'All I know is my son is dead.'" It was written by Yael Halon on July 1, 2020 for Fox News. The video is an interview of Horace Lorenzo Anderson, Sr. and his friend, Andre Taylor, two remarkable and eloquent men who share perspectives that could help the entire nation move toward healing. They are sharing views aimed at building our future, at bringing our country together, and having more humanity. It's a healing message in the end and may we all learn from it. But the father's story may also leave your heart on fire as you realize what terribly inhumanity and stupidity has been heaped upon some precious black lives in our midst.

The inhumanity in this story is found not only by the callous neglect of irresponsible government leaders, blinded by their extremist ideology out of touch with reality, who allowed his son and others to be victimized and even killed without the basic protection of citizens that is the fundamental duty of the leaders of government to provide, the fundamental reason why we have government in the first place, but is also found in the neglect of the grieving father, by a system that did not inform him of his son's death and even refused to let the grieving father see his son at the hospital. When he went to the hospital that had his dead son, he was not allowed to go in to see his boy and at least confirm that it was really him. He was not given any information about how and when he died. He was turned away in what appears to be an expression of the brutal inhumanity that many of our hospitals have unwittingly adopted in their cruel overreaction to COVID fears.

I can slightly relate to his hospital experience. In June, I visited my 88-year-old father in Salt Lake City and the day before I was to return to Wisconsin, had the opportunity to take him to see a doctor for a check up. She noted that his blood pressure was low, probably due to dehydration from an imbalance in his complicated medications dealing with the many problems he has, so she recommended that he be given an IV for a couple of hours to get him rehydrated and stabilized. For this, I had to take him to the emergency area. While we were chatting, a medical worker came to take him away for his IV, and told me that I could not accompany him due to COVID-19 policies. But he's be done in about 3 hours, so I could come back then. And no, I could not wait in the waiting room of the emergency area but would have to leave the building and wait in the parking lot or somewhere else. They would call me when he was finished, they said, to let me know when I could come back. I would never get that call. In fact, I have not seen him since that day.

My father is still alive and I shall be going back soon to see him again this month, if all goes well. After giving him an IV, they decided he needed further care and admitted him without letting me know and without giving me a chance to see him and at least say good-bye. He spent several days there and returned home, but in the meantime I had to return home without knowing if I would ever see him again. This hospital and many others refuse to let family members come visit patients due to COVID-19 fears, but surely there are ways to manage that and keep risks low. They could show up in a hazmat suit surrounded by a plastic bubble and still not be allowed to visit a drying relative. Inflexible bureaucratic rules contribute to the inhumanity of the world. A friend of my sister in Salt Lake is grieving over the death of her father who died alone in a Salt Lake City hospital that refused to allow family members to visit her declining father. He was forced to die alone when he could have been surrounded by children who loved him.

These rules that keep family members away have some serious downsides. For a mother delivering a baby, keeping the father away strikes me as not just inhumane but also dangerous. Not only does the mother need that support, and should have the right to have that support during one of the most difficult and painful moments of her life, but for the protection of the baby, it is often vital that the father be there to ensure that the baby is properly cared for, not given unwanted or improper treatments without informed parental consent, not misidentified and confused for another baby later -- problems that are highly unlikely but still have happened, making it reasonable that both parents should be there to help watch over their child and reduce the risks of neglect or harm in a world where bad things happen every now and thing. There may also be the need to oversee treatments given to the mother and to help her with needs that medical workers may not be able to do.

Let's turn back to Mr. Anderson, the grieving father and his son, two black lives that didn't seem to matter to some aspects of Seattle's government and health care system. Who shot his son? Why? Is the murdered being pursued? What is known about the crime? Does anyone in Seattle care? Why can't a father identify the corpse of his murdered son? What COVID fears justify keeping family away from the dead? The father still doesn't have answers. I suspect that if it weren't for the interview with Sean Hannity, that man's voice and his son's story would be swept under the rug, neglected and ignored because it doesn't fit the narrative of the Revolution supported by most of our media and their wealthy Silicon Valley friends. And the healing non-political message on the importance of family, love, accountability, and safety in our communities shared by Andre Taylor and Horace Lorenzo Anderson, Sr. would not be heard. God bless these good men. 

The son was a victim of a disastrous experiment with chaos and the neglect of black lives and many other lives by callous officials. The failed experiment, of course, was CHOP, the Capitol Hill Organized Protest, formerly known as CHAZ, the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, the lawless region embraced and tolerated by the Governor of Washington and the Mayor of Seattle, where the police were ordered to back down and leave a large swath of downtown Seattle in the hands of chaos since, in the bizarre mindset of those  leaders, a community without police would be some kind of "summer of love" utopia with power to the people, vegan snacks to the people, everything to the people. Power to the people, of course, seemed to quickly became power to some of the people with guns, the local thugs with muscle. The extremist ideal of America without borders was quickly replaced with a fence and with guards, keeping out police and making it extremely difficult or impossible to respond to 911 calls. Disaster.

Fortunately, the Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, after weeks of actually supporting the experiment in chaos, showed that she does strongly object to lawlessness -- but clear action seemed to only come after her own house was surrounded by protesters. But on the day the Horace Lorenzo Anderson was killed, she continued her support and Tweeted that "We have had some incredibly peaceful demonstrations." In spite of the violence with several being being shot and many others suffering from crimes and living in fear without the protection that should have been provided, she continued her support. James Altucher caught the gist of what happened in this Tweet:
After people began to threaten her very expensive home (how do so many public servants manage to get such expensive homes?), action was swift. Those demonstrators were driven out and then the order was given that caused CHOP to come down. Perspectives on the Mayor's actions are offered by The Federalist and by Jason Rantz. I can sympathize with the Mayor: if a potentially dangerous mob was gathering around my home or my vehicle, for that matter (thinking of the white "peaceful protester" who shot a driver in Provo, Utah recently when a mob surrounded his vehicle at University Avenue and Center Street), I'd be scared and would want the protection of armed police, even though some police are bad people. I'd turn to the police. But that instinct, according to the white women leading the Minneapolis City Council, is just an expression of white privilege. How do so many whites imagine that blacks don't want that kind of protection also from criminals that might approach them in their home, in a vehicle, or on the street?

Why is it so hard for elite white people to understand that black neighborhoods need and want protection also? I recommend a powerful essay from Charles Love, a black man who has explored what's up with the "wokeness" that is sweeping some parts of white society. His essay, "White Wokeness: It’s the new factor in our national life," was published in City Journal on June 25, 2020, and has since been adapted and used in other forums such as the New York Post in "What ‘woke’ whites get wrong about blacks’ priorities," June 28, 2020. Please read it.

Mr. Love was surprised by what he found and by how seriously wrong perceptions are among woke whites about life for black people in America. Those misguided perceptions are causing more harm than good, he feels, especially with the extreme notion of defunding the police.

As for what folks in Harlem think about the idea of defunding the police in their neighborhood, see Ami Horowitz's contrasting interviews of folks in a high-end New York neighborhood and those in Harlem. (I heard an interview of Ami about this survey. Of about 30 people he spoke to one the street in Harlem, all but 1 were clearly supportive of having police. The video only captures a handful.) Where violence is real, scheduling a social worker as a response to emergency 911 calls may not be the answer. We need more compassion, not neglect and virtue signaling, for those who face violence in their neighborhoods. Some can come from bad cops, but the vast majority of police are seeking to protect neighborhoods, not traumatize them.

Two good men in grief over the unnecessary loss of a young boy, a boy born at 25 weeks who struggled with developmental disorders and was among the truly disadvantaged in our society, among those who are most in need of our protection, was neglected and killed, and then his family was neglected as well. There is brutality and inhumanity that needs our national attention. There is also hope if we take action. The many issues involved here are complex, painful, and clearly beyond me in many ways. Still, there are things I think we can to help beyond slogans and fruitless anger.

For members of my faith and who are asked to be "ministering brothers" and "ministering sisters" to others, along with people of all faiths seeking to do good, this may be a good time to put expand our circles of influence and to minister as friends and neighbors more broadly. Looking to the example of Christ and others in the scriptures, the concept of ministering in all its forms can help us to reach out more to those around us, regardless of color and regardless of religion. There are too many who are neglected and too many without enough friends to help in times of trouble. Single parents with special needs children have overwhelming burdens and when things go wrong, face overwhelming pain. Staying close to them can make a huge difference.

For the millions in need with burdens of all kinds, I fear that big bureaucratic programs driven by failed ideologies aren't going to help, but loving neighbors and friends often can. Local government leaders also can if they fulfill their duties to protect their citizens and work for police reform and accountability but not the elimination of protection that is so desperately needed in high-crime neighborhoods. Health care leaders can when they fight to make sure their programs and policies are  humane and loving (some institutions and especially many health care workers individually do inspiring work in this regard), and to make sure that grieving family members are not coldly turned away when they need to see a boy who has been shot, or when a family member needs support. Citizens can also help by simply standing up to oppose dereliction and insanity from local government and demanding that resources be increased to aggressively promote safety in high-crime areas and that violence not be ignored. The children, the teenagers, the young people and old who are dying from violence deserve attention. Those lives matter, too, and need our help, not our neglect. I also offer my opinion that we must oppose some of the insane ideas from privileged  politicians who may have armed guards and live in secure gated communities and yet claim that turning the security of poor neighborhoods over to local gangs and occasional social workers will bring utopia. It's time to care more, to love more, and to stand up for sanity. We can do this.