Archive for September, 2012

Go here for Part 1here for an “excursion and here for Part 3

We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you. (President Barack Obama Inaugural Address January 20, 2009 emphasis added)

These terrorists kill not merely to end lives but to disrupt and end a way of life… But the only way to defeat terrorism as a threat to our way of life is to stop it, eliminate it, and destroy it where it grows. (President George W. Bush Speech to a Joint Session of Congress, September 20, 2001 emphasis added)


These two strikingly similar quotes from our current and most recent former presidents could be considered merely the post-9/11-requisite reassuring rhetoric of our commander-in-chief[i] were it not for the fact that these men are fully capable of mobilizing the vast resources of the US military to carry out the threats laid out in their speeches.

In other words, they hold the power to eliminate, destroy, stop and defeat. Given the destructive power of said military they are certainly capable of eliminating significant numbers of people and things, of stopping certain actions and of destroying life and property.  Defeat, as we have learned, is another thing entirely.  But the point here is they can, and have, brought to bear the full force of US armed “superiority” to eliminate large numbers of humans (if not movements) and destroy large bits of cities, towns and the critical infrastructure upon which they rely.

In (further) other words, they are quite powerful men.

For our concern here the critical point is that they engage in these activities in our name—in the name of every man, woman and child who calls the United States of America home.  In the quotes provided above they make it clear that they are in the destruction business to protect “our way of life”—that is, the American way of life.

They do this in our name and I am refusing to vote in this year’s national election because I no longer wish to have the destruction of human lives done in my name.  I will not give my vote to any man or woman who promises, and then fulfills the promise, to rain down destruction and death to protect our “way of life” (more on this “way of life” below). (more…)

The Phone Call

Posted: 24 September 2012 in Faith and Life

I staff a transitional housing shelter overnight every Saturday night. In the winter I do another night at a cold weather shelter. For the most part I am there to assure compliance with a fairly limited set of rules and policies. In the cold weather shelter we see people whose lives and stories represent a level of brokenness that is breathtaking. We are there to make sure they can stay dry and get something to eat.

The transitional housing shelter is more “hopeful” in that the folks who stay there (some for a year or more) are working on moving beyond lives that are often very, shall we say, constrained to begin with but made much worse by a chain of questionable decisions and choices. Some who stay at the shelter actually put the past in its place and move on to jobs, houses and friendships (of a healthy variety).  These folks are the ones who faithfully attend their meetings, look for jobs, follow the counsel of their caseworker, do their chores faithfully and work hard to get along with everyone else.

Others who come seem to be on a good path but for reasons that are rarely clear, suddenly disappear never to return.  We hear from some of them—most have gone “back home” and are working to heal things as best they can.

Still others crash out in astonishing ways and head down the backward path that all too often in recent years has led to a lonely death out along the rail line or in a dusty draw on the edge of town.

Like every other shelter out there ours has its bed limits and since men make up the overwhelming majority of the unhoused, there always seems to be a shortage of beds for… women.  This may be because we are in a kind of transition in which the “overwhelming majority” is no longer so.  I am not sure.  All I know is that we seem to have to say “sorry” to more women than men (all other things being equal—like we just are not set up to handle the severely mentally ill male or female; few places are).

So when I got the phone call the other night I knew right away that I was going to disappoint the person on the other line. I did not know how much I was going to disappoint myself.

We have four women’s beds and they were full.  The call came in from the only hospital in town—I assume from the ER.  At first the question was only: “Do you have a bed for a woman?”  When I said that we were full, the person’s frustration, which had clearly been building throughout the evening, came pouring forth across the wire.

She asked if I had any suggestions about where she could send a woman who needed emergency housing.  I dutifully pulled out my list of local and regional “providers” and started going through it.  She cut me short.  She had been down that list already. No go. She asked me if there was not some other option.  Was it possible that the others had missed something?  I was embarrassed to learn that one place I suggested was “no longer open.”  Embarrassed because this is “my” business and she was clueing me in to the fact that I did not know what I was talking about (disappointment number one of several).

Soon the full story was on the table: a woman, pregnant, battered by her partner, no place to go.  What was she going to do? “She” meaning the hospital staff person.  “She” meaning the woman.

Now, and I hate to admit this (disappointment number two), but I was having some issues with one of our residents that evening and I was anxious to deal with it.  Hers was a problem that I had no answer for (hell, I did not even know that one of my recommendations was bogus).  There are things I can do something about. There is problem solving in which I can engage.  But this one… This was not my problem. Right?

I said “good luck” as I dispensed with this alien problem so I could get back to my own.  But I did not sleep well.

Was that it?

No solution so…

“So long and you take good care?”

“Sorry to hear about, you know, this woman?”

“All the best?”

“Have a nice evening?”

I talked to a person involved in veterinary medicine the next day.  I do not know her well but when she asked how things were going I found myself dumping the events of the previous night all over her.  Quite sincerely and innocently she shook her head and said “Yeah, I get that way with my patients.  I just want to get the ones that need placed taken care of.  Thankfully I can always find a place for a needy dog or cat or horse.”

Always?  Apparently. (more…)

Part 1, Part 2 (to be read after this excursion) and Part 3 of this series.

Finally, I have arrived at this maxim: “Think globally,

act locally.” This represents the exact opposite of the present spontaneous procedure… (W)e have the spontaneous tendency to demand centralized action, through the state, through a decision center that  sends down decrees from above; but this can no longer have any success.  The human facts are too complex… (I)f you really want to act, you must do it beginning from the bottom, on the human scale, locally and through a series of small actions… these actions can accommodate all the human potential… (Jacques Ellul in In Season Out of Season: An Introduction to the Thought of Jacques Ellul)

…I always apply a motto: “Think globally, act locally.” By thinking globally I can analyze all phenomena, but when it comes to acting, it can only be local and on a grassroots level if it is to be honest, realistic, and authentic. (Jacques Ellul in Perspectives on Our Age: Jacques Ellul Speaks on His Life and Work)

An initial post on “why I will not be voting in this year’s national election” elicited some questions as to what I was actually calling for, or doing, in choosing not to vote.  Some were concerned that I was calling for withdrawal from political engagement—a kind of quietism borne out of frustration over the direction of the national political process. Let me state unequivocally that was not my intent and I hope to clarify that I am not calling for withdrawal or inaction—quite the contrary—as the following will bear out.

My argument in the initial post was actually quite narrow.  I am choosing, if you will, to protest the manipulation inherent in, and dissimulation that characterizes, the current national political process by refusing to participate in its machinations.  Another way to say this—an idea I will explore in much more detail in the fourth post in this series—is that by not participating in this election I am choosing to ignore the powers that seek to capture my allegiance for their ends.

So let me be clear: I will not be voting this year in the national elections but I will redouble my efforts to act within the democratic system in which I live. However, that action will occur not at a national scale, attempting to find global solutions to the many challenges our society and world face. Rather, I will act in the nearby, in the local—in the small scale.  This is critically important because I am essentially saying I will eschew working at a systemic level—the national level in this case—in order to work for positive change in spite of the constraints imposed upon me by decisions made at this “higher” level. Allow me to try to explain the kind of action I plan to participate in in this excursion away from the question of voting. (more…)