March 1977 v.p. A Bureaucrats Prayer p. 3
Via Pacis Vol. 1 #5, 03/1977
The Bureaucrat’s Prayer
When I take pen in hand to start writing for our newsletter, I basically have written in response to one question: Why am I here doing what I’m doing? Today as I write again I realize that I don’t believe in any words much less the written word. Words, ideas, facts, statistics – all are abused in one way or another, yet the Body of Humanity/the Body of Christ suffers because of words’ estrangement from deeds.
Last month, Joe and I attended a meeting about battered wives at the YWCA. There were about 25 people in the room, mostly women, who in some way or another have contact, professional or otherwise, with women who have been physically abused by males. The intent of the meeting was to move towards a coalition for the battered wives to help address this rising problem in our city. Joe and I were there because our house is the only known place where women can come and stay in the protective space of our transient community without threat of reprisal
We have experienced offering shelter and food for a high percentage of physically abused women and hope to share and learn how others have been relating to the women. We also hoped to move towards a city-wide network of places and people who would make themselves available to these women.
However, as the meeting began and carried on, we soon realized that we were using completely different approaches. The great bulk of those participating at the meeting were professionals within the social welfare system. Personalism never was mentioned.
The first part of the meeting was devoted to assessing the problem. Forms of all kinds were issued with the intent of gathering information that was deemed necessary to establish there was a problem. Then, that the problem effected x amount of women between the ages of x and y. That this x% of women experience physical violence x many times in the past. There are usually x1/2 many children between the ages of x and y involved, and so on, and so on.
The whole purpose of this litany of questions and forms was to establish the “Social Worker’s” problem so that they could take their findings to the proper state representatives and justify setting up another government agency. As we listened to this barrage of self-justification, I could not help but write a note to Joe saying “Here lies Gary Gilmore’s body and they are taking it apart. We had very little to say at the meeting, other than that we would not be filling out forms or keeping records and that our door is open to all those most in need to the limits that we have.
We live in a world where we are bombarded by an unlimited flow of words and images (e.g. television) that either: 1) keep us detatched from human realities – what I would call “what” words, words that give us a description of empirical phenomena (how tall, how big, what color, how many) yet never invoke or move us to respond; or 2) illusionary words that keep us estranged from reality. These words and images allow us to not see the world as it is, but let us continue to see the world as we would like it to be: Kojak is the ideal cop, rugged individualism makes this country great, Americans are a deeply religious and just people.
I believe that a combination of “what” words and illusionary words are two tools that allow us to miss Jesus as he is enfleshed in our midst. We lost sight of the truth that the Body of Christ and the body of Humanity are one and the same. Illusionary “what” words keep us from moving towards this body, the body that shares in and is the afflicted – hungry – battered bodies of the poor.
Jesus tells us that “the poor you will always have with you.” I believe that infallibility means the assurance of God’s presence and promise through all times. It seems that if “whatever we do to the least we do to Him” then God’s infallible presence and promise is available through the poor. We are assured that the poor will always be with us, but that is no guarantee what we will make ourselves available to God’s presence – the poor.
The words and images used at the battered wives meeting we attended at the YWCA were basically “what” words that told us about things and did not invoke an encounter with a battered woman. Such words dominate professional fields. They allow distance and clinical detachment from their subject matter. “What” words can be useful but can never be truth.
Jacques Ellul tells us that we live in a technological society; a society that does not only use technology but lets the very fibers of its humanity be technological – believing that everything is a problem that can be solved. “What” words rule in such a society and illusionary words keep humanity sedated.
The challenge of the incarnation is to see all humanity as an encounter with God: a mystery, not a problem to be solved. Once words cease being encounter words, they cease being truthful words. In our newsletter, we try to use truthful words, words that belong to us because we are trying to live by them. We don’t always succeed; in fact, we often fail, but we do try.