The whole Pope thing came with a giant bureaucraseizure. It is no wonder we had our own temptations to bureaucratize last week. To bureaucratize is a “tendency to manage an organization by adding more controls, adherence to rigid procedures, and attention to every detail for its own sake.”
Being from the land of bureaucratization, I am subject to a malady: bureaucraseizure.
- I can be seized by the need to bureaucratize. I might obsess over getting things to work out according to their assigned procedures and I can make more and more procedures in order to make sure nothing uncomfortable happens.
- More ominously, bureaucraseizure means I can be seized by bureaucracies, by giant, faceless processes run by “the great other.” The tendency of our society is to add more controls on us, make us adhere to rigid procedures and provide endless details for us to consider as if they were crucial.
I am not alone in being subject to this malady.
Stories of bureaucraseizure
1) We decided to get new water meter at our project the other day. I was given the mission to procure one. So I called the Water Department, home of fascinating bureaucracy that is usually inscrutable to them, too. Four phone calls into the mission the meter shop told me to go to 1101 Market, 5th Floor, to get a permit. I did. That address is the Personnel Department! But the clerk called a number on my notes and found my contact who said I needed to talk to Vincent Brindisi who was her boss, but he was out on the road. I called him anyway. He answered and happened to be in the neighborhood! He went to the property and personally explained to my plumber why he should already know how the whole process works. I had a bureaucraseizure. All I wanted was a discernible process that did not take me two hours to discover. Instead I got Vinny.
2) Then the Pope showed up and I got bureaucraseized with the rest of us. There were National Guardsmen patrolling Broad and Washington. (Now you know what the government is prepared to do!). I was in Allentown on Thursday, listening to the last static-filled gasp of WHYY when I saw an alert sign telling me about Pope traffic (in Allentown?). At the same time a New Jersey bureaucrat was lamenting on the radio that only 50 of his 1700 parking spaces had been sold for $44. All I wanted was to be uncontrolled and unterrified for a minute. But I think we have been on orange alert, at least, for ten years. We are seized by forces who can shut down the city for four days.
It is no wonder we become bureaucraseizers. We are constantly being trained. We are trying to navigate some inscrutable bureaucracy that holds the keys to what we need and then some giant bureaucracy rolls over us and floods the whole city with road closures for four days.
Tangled in procedure
At the Imaginarium, l was leading the council of the church, asking for general agreement on direction for quite a number of items. As soon as I laid some things out people immediately became entangled in procedural questions. Almost everyone gave a pass to the ideas — they appeared to be not nearly as interesting as the procedures that might follow their implementation. I was kind of Vincent Brindisi, bumbling around thinking I was fronting the system and they were me wondering where the procedures are!
Afterward, I met with the Cell Leader Coordinators. They wanted better data on the weekly reports they get from the pastors. I finally protested that I did not think there could be enough data to satisfy their itch for assuredness. “At the end of the day,” I said, “you’ll have to feel it.” Organizing data can’t really quell anxiety or achieve wisdom. They felt a bit like big government demanding that everyone fall into line and be justified by filling out the form properly.
Recovery from bureaucraseizure
So everyone is having bureaucraseizures and being bureaucraseized. How to we recover from the trauma?
Pray. Yes, that is the number one Christian answer to everything. Thank God some of us do it. If we don’t pray, we are too weak to withstand the onslaught of bureaucratizing and we begin thinking it is central to how the world works. Jesus upends the powers and sustains us as they flame out.
Relate. It is so wonderful to relate face to face rather than rule to rule, isn’t it? We do well at this. Sometimes we do too well, of course. The Pastors are going through a sea change right now, so they had a four hour meeting on Tuesday. Much of it was about the injustices of recent procedures, I understand. When do we just go ahead and trust God in each other rather than needing to be constantly reassured that nothing bad will ever happen again? It is a hard answer to discern in the moment. Trusting the rule can be easier than trusting a person.
Serve. – We are getting better and better at this, don’t you think? The other day I washed the steps for our tenants. Kind of unexpected for everyone, me being a relatively unlikely washer and the owner. But I overcame the seizure coming on to do what is expected and make them wash their own steps or at least get mad a some worker somewhere for not having it clean already. It was so tempting to ask, “Who’s job is it to keep these things clean?” What bureau is in charge of serving the needy and redeeming the world?
Was Jesus ever tempted with bureaucraseizure? Not in the first century. But every time he calls the water department with you, he gets what it is like to live in 2015 Philly. I imagine he found the popocalypse somewhat ironic, at least, as well. I imagine he agrees that hope comes by praying, relating and serving as the body of Christ assured by the Spirit, not just relatively comforted by how well everything is controlled.