Hurling Stones at Our Goliath

Where a lone man may be overcome, two together can resist. A three-ply cord is not easily broken. 

~Ecclesiastes 4:12

You might need somethin' to hold on to
When all the answers they don't amount to much
Somebody that you can just talk to
And a little of that human touch.

~Bruce Springsteen


One evening around fifteen years ago, I stopped into a co-op with a friend of mine. We were either coming from somewhere, or heading somewhere, I do not recall, but somehow it made sense for us to stop there for dinner. I don't remember the name of the place, but it was kind of like a local version of Wholefoods. Smaller, more personal.

“The expensive grocery store,” is essentially how I regarded it. The place I would stop in on occasion for a chocolate bar or something as I headed to the more affordable Trader Joe's just down the street.

He and I had met a few years earlier at Blessed Sacrament, a Dominican Parish in North Seattle, and together, over the next few years, exhausted nearly every Catholic opportunity in town. We attended a weekly rosary group out of St. Joseph's Parish on Capitol Hill, went to retreats at the Carmelite Institute of Spirituality in Stanwood, attended the novena to Our Lady of Mt. Carmel at the Discalced Carmelite Monastery in Shoreline, and sometimes on Sundays even hit up the Tridentine Mass at the Josephinum in downtown Seattle. We were bonafide Catholic junkies.

I didn't have a car, so he always drove. Sometimes, when he was dropping me off, he'd give me a gallon of triple filtered water he'd picked up at the co-op near his basement apartment in Greenwood. It tasted so pure and clean that I developed a habit of triple-filtering my water ever since. He was a gardener, and in the spring he'd drive me over to see his place, where he'd cultivated beds of beautiful, multi-colored dahlias.

He loved all sorts of chaplets. The rosary was central, and the Divine Mercy Chaplet as well, but also more obscure ones like the Chaplet to St. Joseph, with 15 sections of four beads, used to meditate on the virtues of this oft-overlooked saint. And he regularly participated in Father Gobbi's Cenacles from the Marian Movement of Priests. But his spirituality wasn't confined to the scope of the Magisterium. 

“You're hard to read,” he'd explained to me once. “Because you're a libra.”

There was nothing memorable about that particular evening. It was pretty ordinary. The two of us sat in the dining area eating soup and bread, chatting about this and who knows what else, on the way to our next engagement. It only stands out due to a passing comment he made as we were getting ready to leave. 

“The Blessed Virgin is behind this movement of co-op grocery stores.”

“What?” I started, as I looked at the patrons milling past, women in Lululemon leggings heading back to their multi-million dollar Capitol Hill homes. “Behind this lair of the ultra-affluent?”

I imagined the BVM would get her pom-poms out for people praying rosaries outside of Planned Parenthood, or for those who passed out sandwiches to displaced men at the St. Martin de Poors shelter on the waterfront.

But supporting a co-op that drew throngs of smarter-than-Jesus, more-money-than-God Seattle liberals?

“Pshaw,” I muttered under my breath. “I find that hard to believe.”


But I have mulled on his comment over the years.

Currently, I live in a town where the main street is comprised of stores chock full of tchotchkes, artisan salts, puzzles and soy candles. The Rite Aid exclusively sells candy, hair products and alcohol. The owner of the nearest mall, twenty miles away, stopped paying on his loan about a year ago, and the mall just sold at a foreclosure auction to the bank who held the mortgage. The bank is uncertain what it plans to do with it.

Twenty years ago, this same main street had a drug store, an office supply store, a hardware store, and two auto part stores. The Rite Aid sold everything. The mall was the county's retail pit stop, were everyone shopped for shoes, clothing and electronics, and afterwards dined on pizza and Orange Julius' at a busy food court.

Now, the covid pandemic has really eviscerated the soul from this community. We traditionally have a Fourth of July celebration with a parade, food vendors, artisan booths and a street party the night before. And every year, the Rotary Club sponsors an auction that the entire community comes out for, aka a junk fest where everyone donates their storage overflow, only to find other things to replace it with. Both have been canceled for the past two years.

We conduct our everyday lives, rather, between the big big box stores and the internet. The monoliths have brought us to their logical conclusion: local retail has shut its doors and we all flock to Walmart or Amazon for amHAZingly affordable this and that. Workplaces have transitioned to remote or hybrid models, and nearly half of those born after 1980 say they'd quit their job if remote work isn't an option. Given the great resignation of 2021, this probably isn't just talk. Our social lives are conducted via video conference platforms, or highly addictive social media channels like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. (I once taught a student who said she'd spend up to 7 hours on Instagram on Saturdays!)

And, while most of us remain at least superficially abreast of the national political scene, we are largely unaware of politics at the city and county level.

I'm as party to this trend as the next person. When I need something, I go to eBay, where my last ten purchases include: vitamins, books, a sleeping bag, camping gear, a brush, shoes, a hair clip, and Christmas gifts. Had I set my mind to it, I could have found nearly all these things within 15 miles of my home. Instead, they came from California, Texas, Oregon, Minnesota, New Hampshire, South Carolina and China. This past week, some of my most meaningful and emotionally charged interactions took place via the internet. I embarrassed myself on a Zoom call, confronted some annoying coworkers on Slack, got into it with people on Substack, was touched by a thoughtful podcast, and caught up with friends on FB Messenger. My work is completely virtual; for the past several months I've received a paycheck from someone I've never even spoken to, and have only interacted with via email and Slack.

And politically, outside of a sex scandal on the city council, I'm largely unaware of anything that's happening locally—and have no idea where to start if I ever wanted to get involved.

Covid certainly has accelerated this phenomenon of an everyday online existence. And so perhaps we'll see this trend decrease once we're through this pandemic.

Or perhaps not. Many of these changes are irreversible. Now that companies have remote systems in place, they're far more likely to recruit from anywhere and everywhere, making water cooler chats with coworkers a thing of the past. And those of us who have utilized Amazon to see us through the pandemic are unlikely to break from this highly-convenient habit where, with the click of a button, an array of goods, from water bottles to books to windshield wipers, shows up at our doorstep.

Economically, this shift has been seismic. Check out this tweet from over a year ago:

The situation has only accelerated since then.

Perhaps I'd be remiss at this point if I didn't cite “Bowling Alone, America's Declining Social Capital,” the decades-old article wherein author Robert Putnam concludes that citizens just aren't civically involved like they used to be. 

This notion of a dear hometown has been dying for some time now. There's no more trolly going through front park with a vendor selling a special tomato stew using ingredients and a recipe local to the area. The county fair, the bustling front street, the customs that bring communities together; these sort of things just aren't anymore. The covid pandemic, perhaps, has served as the death rattle.

Who Do You Say That I Am?

According to someone like Dave Ramsey, the Christian financial guru out of Tennessee, a true disciple of Jesus is some sort of a good old boy looking to do right by his wife, his children, his community. He's playing by all the rules. He lives in a home with at least 3 bathrooms, he's paid off a mortgage, he contributes to a 401K and budgets everything else. And, par for the course, he's got so much stuff he needs to rent out a storage unit to contain it all.

It's sort of a conflation of Christianity with the materialistic aspirations of middle class America.

But when I look at Scripture, I see a different story.

The Holy Family is radically detached from their home and possessions. At God's beckon, they up and leave their home in the middle of the night and make off to a foreign land (Matthew 2:13-4). During his three years of public ministry, Jesus didn't have much of a home or livelihood to speak of. As he says in Luke 9:58:

Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head. 

And Paul, the apostle par excellence to whom we owe 13 of the 27 books in the New Testament, had a sort of hand-to-mouth existence throughout his missionary journeys, tent making when he really needed the money, but preaching exclusively when he could swing it (Acts 18:3-5).

I'm more inclined to think that when we encounter Jesus today, he's the very person Ramsey lives and breathes to fix and improve. With his “cash is king, destroy your credit card” commandments, Ramsey would love to get him onto the phone and tell him to get real about the facts of life.

He's certainly no one Ramsey would genuflect before.


Right around my 30th birthday, Jesus said something to me in a dream, and I remember he gave off an ultra hippie vibe. He felt like a person you'd come across in that certain sort of really exaggerated co-op, the kind you'd find in a place like SE Portland, that has dirt floors strewn with granola, and a few rats living in the store rooms. And he'd show up either barefoot or in Birkenstocks, looking like he hadn't bathed for a week or more.

I started and went, “Oh, that's Jesus?!”


The Catholic Church speaks at length on the concept of subsidiarity. Of it, the Catechism states:

Excessive intervention by the state can threaten personal freedom and initiative. The teaching of the church has elaborated on the principle of subsidiarity, according to which 'a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its function, but rather should support it in case of need and help to coordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good.' (1883)

Ok, so what does all that mean? 

If you can buy food grown at your neighbor's farm, you buy it there. Or you grow it yourself. If someone in your community fixes shoes, that's where you take them to be fixed. If the auto part store down the street has the piece for your broken headlights, that's where you purchase it. If the city wants a new park, it uses municipal taxes to build it. You look to a larger community, or another country, only when that good or service cannot be provided by your own. 

The consequence of tampering with this system; excessive state intervention; leaves people stymied. They feel no incentive to develop talent or initiate creative endeavors.

Putnam corroborates this assertion in “Bowling Alone,” where back in the 90s he wrote: 

With regard to the post communist countries, scholars and democratic activists alike have lamented the absence or obliteration of traditions of independent civic engagement and a widespread tendency toward passive reliance on the state. 1

And so my friend really was onto something. The BVM is behind a movement of supporting local, interacting local, being local. This ethos of the co-op grocery store; buying only what you need (or less) from local suppliers, living simply, and composting your waste; really IS at the heart of Catholic teaching. It's closely related to the way Jesus lived his life.

Easing the Totalitarian Grip

In the past two years, we've seen totalitarianism spreading across the entire world with alarming ease. It feels like a tidal wave. We see it coming, acknowledge the horror of it, but there seems to be no way to hold back the deluge.

I'm sensing a desperation, both in myself and in comments I've seen online.

“How do we stop this?” one commenter wrote in response to Steve Kirsch's January 15th article that covered Germany’s threat to cancel Telegram, the Washington State health board meeting that discussed putting unvaccinated into detention camps, and the Washington DC requirement of vaccine passports to use a public bathroom. 

Much of the discussion is focused around the delusion and inhumanity that's taking place. 

“They're killing us with propaganda!” Dr. Pierre Kory said at the Defeat the Mandates Rally in DC on January 23rd. 

How could people be so stupid as to believe the nonsense that masks are effective, that ivermectin is for horses, that it's perfectly OK for everyone to be injected with an experimental vaccine--and abhorrent that someone might refuse it? What's wrong with their brains? How do we wake them up?

How could the government ignore the hundreds of studies that show OTC drugs are effective in treating covid, or the hundreds of thousands injured from the vaccine? Who's really behind the dissemination of this propaganda that's led to the death of millions? And which are the useful idiots playing along?

Who's really part of the opposition that’s speaking out against the inhumanity, and who is the controlled opposition?


Another discussion that needs to be had centers around the question: How could all this have happened with so much ease? 

How did communities march in lockstep to the lockdown mandates, forcing their small businesses and churches to shut their doors, many of them never to reopen again, while places like Best Buy and Walmart never missed a beat, staying open throughout the pandemic? 

I hearken back to Putnam's article for the answer. Our communities were already weak. Twenty five years ago he wrote:

By almost every measure, Americans' direct engagement in politics and government has fallen steadily and sharply over the last generation...every year over the last decade or two, millions more have withdrawn from the affairs of their communities. 1 

And now, with the addition of smartphones, social media, and streaming services to our lifestyle, the problem has snowballed. First and foremost, we're “screen people” these days. Things like visiting with our neighbors, voting in local elections, attending political rallies or town halls, volunteering at civic clubs and participating in our churches happen when we find the time.

And with covid, society has taken a most insidious turn. Here’s Dr. Aaron Kheriaty’s assessment, from the January 23rd rally: 

Our ruling class has seen in covid an opportunity to revolutionize society. Recall how the phrase “the new normal” emerged almost immediately in the very first weeks of the pandemic. Asymptomatic spread turned every fellow citizen into a potential threat to my existence. It would be hard to find a better method to destroy the fabric of society and to divide us…People who are afraid of everyone, who are locked down, who are isolated for months or years behind screens are easier to control. A society grounded in social distancing is a kind of anti-society.

How might a scenario like this pandemic have played out, say, in the 1950s, before the digital age? In the face of mandatory lockdowns, it seems far more likely these communities, rich in social capital, would have banded together and said: “Hell no, you're not going to destroy the fabric of our town!”


In Luke 17:21, Jesus tells us that the kingdom of God is in our midst. It can be realized in the present moment, in what is right around us. 

And a key means towards realizing the kingdom, I'd propose, is embracing this principle of subsidiarity: invigorating our communities with localism, making in-person connections a way of life, socializing with neighbors, seeking employment in the area, participating in local politics and purchasing from nearby stores.


Recently I bought a car from a guy who told me outright he preferred me over another offer because I lived down the street, and the other person was coming from far away. He hadn't know me from Adam, but the simple fact that I lived a mile from him meant he liked me better.

“What's the difference?” one might wonder.

I can't put my finger on it exactly, and maybe that's a topic for another day, but there's something about physical connection that's really, really strong.

But do I really mean to suggest that we can slay this worldwide totalitarian Goliath, who for centuries has been “moving its slow thighs” toward this ultimate conquest, simply by meeting with friends for coffee, participating in local elections, checking in on neighbors and purchasing from nearby stores?

The answer is: “Yes, I do.” It's high time we step away from our screens and reach out into our communities to touch someone.

But enough of answering hypothetical questions.

What about you? What's your relationship to your community? Do you perceive that the internet or virtual interaction has reduced the quality of your local experience?

1 "Bowling Alone: America's Declining Social Capital," Robert Putnam, 1995.


0 reactions:

Post a Comment