In Sickness and in Health…


Typically, ministers and military personnel have at least one thing in common: we know how to move, and we know that it is likely we will move several times during our careers.

In some ways, these moves are similar. Our families are uprooted (or they are forced to change our entry in the family address book), our houses are littered with boxes and packing paper and we must say “goodbye” or “until we meet again” to friends and co-workers. But, for some in the branch of service called “ministry”, there is a very different component to such wanderings, especially when a move sends us to another state – in other words, we must search anew for health insurance.

This year, my husband and I embarked on such an interstate journey, leaving a beloved community behind and heading into the great unknown of new church, new city, new house…and new healthcare. While I was excited about this new call, the healthcare question left me in a full-blown state of the jitters. My denomination, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), has a health care program for its ministers and church employees – but this plan is rather expensive. As is the case in most denominations, a large percentage of our ministers are older and often in need of considerably costly healthcare, and this means that younger ministers and their families take on a portion of those higher costs in order to care for the many.

This arrangement is a worthy sacrifice in the quest to care for so many of God’s servants – but it is also one that is sometimes impossible for younger, lower-paid ministers who bear the additional burden of substantial student loan debt (ah, the price of seminary!) and high-dollar rent. Many ministers just can’t make their budgets work without finding insurance through different providers.

As one of those under-paid and highly indebted ministers, I had made the decision a couple years ago to leave the denominational plan and join one of the larger insurance giants. It grieved me to do it, but at the same time I could insure both myself and Chuck for nearly the same price as individual coverage in the church-wide plan. With the state of our budget, that decision was a no-brainer.

But joining the behemoth had its costs. In the time that we were at my old church, Chuck and I had developed some health issues – and though they were relatively minor, when the time came to apply for new insurance in a new state, we were stamped with the pariah-mark: “pre-existing condition.” On top of that, the program in our new state would only offer maternity coverage if we purchased the most expensive plan and waited for two years before conceiving. Apparently, being a woman of child-bearing age is, in and of itself, a pre-existing condition.

I was crushed. I was angry. I was dumbfounded and terrified. And I was privileged. For, in the middle of all the nonsense, my new congregation was paying me a living wage, AND they would pay a huge portion of any plan I chose, AND the companies still deemed me worthy of insurance (albeit insurance at a high price) – a right that everyone has but so many are denied.

Ultimately, my husband and I rejoined the ranks of those insured by our denomination’s plan. While they are more expensive in some ways, they don’t penalize for pre-existing conditions and they treat pregnancy as a natural part of human life (just as illness is a natural, though unwanted, part of our existence). We are covered, and we are grateful for it.

Still, this experience leaves me with so many questions and so much outrage. What about the millions of people who can’t afford or gain approval for coverage of any kind? And what about the members of my own congregation who pay for my care but can’t afford care for themselves and their families? As one who bears the yoke of justice-seeking for all of God’s children, I find no justice in this arrangement despite the relatively happy resolution of my own situation.

The facts of the matter are these:

  • Until maternity is no longer considered a disease, I am not well.
  • Until people who are sick are treated as human beings instead of being “othered” by labels like “pre-existing condition,” I am not healthy.
  • Until all can receive good and affordable healthcare, I am not whole.

God of healing and wholeness, let that day come…

(This essay was originally published on November 5, 2009 in the Divine Details column of Fidelia’s Sisters, the online journal of the Young Clergy Women Project.  You can read this essay and more articles by young clergy women from a variety of denominations by visiting )

The Un-Holy Bible??


Ministers tend to have odd habits.

One of mine pokes its head up every time I set foot in a major bookstore.  Regardless of my purpose for entering the establishment, whether it be the need for a new cookbook or a fluff-filled sci-fi paperback, I inevitably end up staring at the shelves upon shelves of religious fare.  The racks of Bibles are of particular interest to me – in part because of my turbulent relationship with the Book, but mostly because of the various and sometimes sundry ways that the Book is marketed to a wide array of readers.

There is the “Duct Tape Bible” – an edgy-looking tome presumably intended for teenagers and some young adults, “The Green Bible” – for burgeoning environmentalists,”The Life Application Study Bible” – for those who want to bring the Bible into conversation with their day-to-day living,  “The Extreme Faith Youth Bible” – for young people who need scripture that goes beyond the normal, boring faith of their parents,  “The Apologetics Study Bible” – for Christians looking to defend the reasonableness of their faith,  “The Oxford Annotated Study Bible” – for the more academic of believers, “The Good News Bible” – for those who didn’t enjoy reading the Bad News Bible… the list goes on and on and on.   And then, of course, there are dozens of varieties of “The Holy Bible” to choose from.

This bizarre (and VERY abbreviated) list brings me back to the habit I came close to describing:  I am very nearly obsessed with watching others select Bibles from the shelf.  

Some walk up knowing exactly what they are looking for.  They scan the shelves, irritated by the various other Bibles present – and when they find the “right” one, they snatch it and leave with satisfied, victorious expressions on their faces.  Others pace in front of the shelves, obviously overwhelmed by the sheer volume of options at their fingertips.  Still others walk up, see the plethora of Bibles and stiffen as though they have abruptly encountered a brick wall – these folks usually leave the section empty-handed with a slightly glazed expression.  And every once in while – very, very rarely – someone peruses the shelves with wonder, his or her face backlit with the whimsical joy of discovery and love for the written Word.

But, more often than not, the individuals I’ve watched don’t come looking for a new version, a new perspective, a new twist…

Instead, they come looking for “THE RIGHT” version. 

During  one of my people/Bible watching sessions, I gave in to the temptation to help someone find what she was looking for.  When I asked her which version of the Bible she was trying to find, she snorted at me with contempt and disbelief:  “I’m looking for the HOLY Bible.”  She then snatched a slimline leatherbound copy of the KJV off the bookshelf and stomped away.

I’m still trying to figure out which Bibles are holy – and which ones are not.

And I still watch people select scripture from the stacks.

And while I don’t know the answer to the “un-holy Bible” question, there is one thing I do know:

The holiest of those people-watching moments has never depended upon a particular translation, version, endorsement or binding.

Instead, the most sacred of those moments has invariably come in faces awash with wonder, resplendent with joy — the faces of people thrilled to discover that there is more than one way to know God, more than one way to  interpret the Word, and more than one way to share that word with others.

That love.  That joy.  That energy…

That’s what keeping something holy is all about.

And in that regard, they are all holy.  Even if “holy” isn’t printed on the spine.