Thoughts on Paul Farmer and A Vine of Neighbors…

Love your neighbor as yourself, the Scriptures say. John talked about it in lecture the other day. The good Samaritan, like Paul Farmer in Mountains Beyond Mountains, was a man of action. He was busy, but he failed to erase the bond he felt with the man so he could move on. He was twisted with pain inside for the man, and instead of erasing the man from his world, he moved actively to improve this singular, personal instance of pain he had been made witness to. The good Samaritan made himself a neighbor to the injured man. Jesus’ command in this instance is not to be looking out for people who might merit your attentions in some way, but to be continually becoming a neighbor to those in one’s path.


There’s no telling how much of the good that occurrs in the world happens in just this way — Farmer’s care for the poor happened as he made himself the neighbor of those in his path. He didn’t start out with a master plan to save the world, or even to save all the TB patients in the world. His thought was never even bent for long on the theoretical task of healing all

of Haiti. He focused on individuals. The people who came to the clinic. Particular tasks he found to do which led the way to others. He refused to be sloppy with anything he did. And he refused to lose individuals in a big picture. That’s O for the P for you. They just added up to be almost more than he could handle. Once, I remember, he is irritated at how dificult things are for him and for PIH, and he says that’s it’s just because other people aren’t doing their jobs– which is entirely true. If you spend a little bit of time on that statement, it will stick with you. Other people aren’t doing their jobs.

Ologies fascinate me. They always have. They also drive me to work at defining myself apart from them. When I was young, I often found my parents’ ologies to be mind-bogglingly confining, narrow, and dark. I wanted to open them up to the sky, needed a breath of fresh air, couldn’t understand why the honey of the holy scripture was not sweet and freeing to them as it was to me. I closed my eyes with glory on my tongue at night for years, remembering Ezekiel eating the scroll God gave him of mourning, lament, and woe, and how the words tasted sweet as honey in his mouth. God was gifting Himself to us in His words, I felt, and if we could submit to Him, and Him only, the Holy Spirit would lead us through the necessary hermeneutics and keep us on the narrow path and we would be free to live with as much force of being on that path as we desired, spurred on by His Love. There was something I didn’t see in my parents’ ologies and in my church’s ology, something that would have allowed for a more whole-hearted grasping of God’s word. Something that would have allowed for a more whole-hearted acceptance of the people God claimed– and loved– while they were yet sinners. I saw blockages in love, everywhere. Blockages in the giving– or perhaps simply the transmission?– of Life.

Tracy Kidder notes that Paul Farmer “distrusted all ideologies, including his own, at least a little: “It’s an ology, after all,” he had written to me once about liberation theology. “And all ologies fail us at some point”” (195). What is it that makes our ologies so inescapably inhuman(e)? Like cold, confining skyscrapers gathering dirt and dust instead of like green, growing things full of abundant new life? Jesus said “I am the Vine.”

I identify with his distrust strongly. I’ve always been driven to redefine what I believe and to differentiate it from the mass opinion of the day somehow in the end. I find I enjoy where I agree with people very much and tend to focus on those areas with them, unless they invite a conversation deeper into my search for better articulation of my own relationship with God. Which is not a common occurrence. Even then I am slightly wary, however, and I sometimes find myself wishing I could ask them to take off their shoes.

We’re all cowards in one way and another, trying to justify ourselves in the face of a life filled with remarkable accomplishments. We, like the lawyer in the parable, stand up to test a living soul, seeking to find a way out for our restive consciences, a salve that will soothe our guilt. An opium answer, that we may sink back into comfort and complacency– and pay in misery. In so doing, we step into the shoes of the Death-dealer.

And, as Kidder says, “Among a coward’s weapons, cynicism is the nastiest of all” (209).

.But we are all part of the living vine, and we all have unique tasks. But what we all have in common with Farmer and PIH is that our jobs are, in essence, removing every blockage we can to the transmission of Life. How to love? Perhaps that is the question. Is it as simple as Farmer’s recipe of caring for and healing the poor and sick and disadvantaged? Is it allowing ourselves to be moved? Like Jesus was moved by each one he came across?

I keep coming back again and again to the fact that Faith acts.

And faith that does not is dead.

c. Mary Kathryn Gough (huffman, maiden), 9/30/05



Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Crypt ~ Marykathryn ~ 2.14.06

Valentine’s Day. Indeed. Don’t know what to say about that. I want to write about St. Paul’s Cathedral and the feeling I get when Walking on the Dead.

i would that i could
float; rectangles of
laid against one another and
above mortal flesh
entombed, entombed, entombed,
but i cannot. my
footsteps are an eerie
echo in this place
of must and mystery, of de-fleshed
history; a chill
walks its slim fingers windingly
up through my gut to rest, fluttering
solidcold in my throat.

my spirit quails within me and i am walking
(so heavily! bone, sinew, flesh encased in
breath)i walk
on the dead.

~marykathryn huffman 2.20.06 5.30pm

It felt like desecration, like insult after insult after insult and a rending of fragile heart-strings. I tried stepping on the cracks but it did no good. There was no going around them. I felt my boots treading on people’s faces, indignity and horrible lack of respect residing in the hollow space between my shoes and that-which-is-(I know)-no-longer-they. These people, who ought to have been laid to rest in deep soil, lost instead beneath a multiply burned out and rebuilt cathedral. . . No grass, but carvings of flowers, never changing. Can I make it out without crying? My heart moans. Suddenly, after perhaps half an hour, I realize I have been standing on someone’s face, listening to our guide talk about someone else’s achievements without so much as a murmur inside my chest. Not even a blink of discomfort. I have grown accustomed to walking on the dead. (Indeed, so have we all. . .)

c Mary Kathryn Gough (maiden:Huffman)


I would like to compare Weil, Havel, Solzhenitsyn, Gandhi, others, and the Bible when it comes to one’s basic identity and how it should interact, contribute to, and be separate from one’s government… I’d love to focus on what faith uniquely grants the individual life before it meets community or government, and also what it grants once the meeting has occurred.

The Following Article is From The New York Times, found following the writing of a paper
on Britain in India After World War I.

Mideast rules to live by
Article Last Updated: 12/22/2006 02:46:49 PM PST

FOR a long time, I let my hopes for a decent outcome in Iraq triumph
over what I had learned reporting from Lebanon during its civil war.
Those hopes vanished last summer. So, I’d like to offer President Bush
my updated rules of Middle East reporting, which also apply to
diplomacy, in hopes they’ll help him figure out what to do next in Iraq.

Rule 1: What people tell you in private in the Middle East is
irrelevant. All that matters is what they will defend in public in their
own language. Anything said to you in English, in private, doesn’t
count. In Washington, officials lie in public and tell the truth off the
record. In the Mideast, officials say what they really believe in public
and tell you what you want to hear in private.

Rule 2: Any reporter or U.S. Army officer wanting to serve in Iraq
should have to take a test, consisting of one question: “Do you think
the shortest distance between two points is a straight line?” If you
answer yes, you can’t go to Iraq. You can serve in Japan, Korea or
Germany — not Iraq.

Rule 3: If you can’t explain something to Middle Easterners with a
conspiracy theory, then don’t try to explain it at all — they won’t
believe it.

Rule 4: In the Middle East, never take a concession, except out of the
mouth of the person doing the conceding. If I had a dollar for every
time someone agreed to recognize Israel on behalf of Yasser Arafat, I
could paper my walls.

Rule 5: Never lead your story out of Lebanon, Gaza or Iraq with a
cease-fire; it will always be over before the next morning’s paper.

Rule 6: In the Middle East, the extremists go all the way, and the
moderates tend to just go away.

Rule 7: The most oft-used expression by moderate Arab pols is: “We were
just about to stand up to the bad guys when you stupid Americans did
that stupid thing. Had you stupid Americans not done that stupid thing,
we would have stood up, but now it’s too late. It’s all your fault for
being so stupid.”

Rule 8: Civil wars in the Arab world are rarely about ideas — like
liberalism vs. communism. They are about which tribe gets to rule. So,
yes, Iraq is having a civil war as we once did. But there is no Abe
Lincoln in this war. It’s the South vs. the South.

Rule 9: In Middle East tribal politics there is rarely a happy medium.
When one side is weak, it will tell you, “I’m weak, how can I
compromise?” And when it’s strong, it will tell you, “I’m strong, why
should I compromise?”

Rule 10: Mideast civil wars end in one of three ways: a) like the U.S.
civil war, with one side vanquishing the other; b) like the Cyprus civil
war, with a hard partition and a wall dividing the parties; or c) like
the Lebanon civil war, with a soft partition under an iron fist (Syria)
that keeps everyone in line. Saddam used to be the iron fist in Iraq.
Now it is us. If we don’t want to play that role, Iraq’s civil war will
end with A or B.

Rule 11: The most underestimated emotion in Arab politics is
humiliation. The Israeli-Arab conflict, for instance, is not just about
borders. Israel’s mere existence is a daily humiliation to Muslims, who
can’t understand how, if they have the superior religion, Israel can be
so powerful. Al Jazeera’s editor, Ahmed Sheikh, said it best when he
recently told the Swiss weekly Die Weltwoche: “It gnaws at the people in
the Middle East that such a small country as Israel, with only about 7
million inhabitants, can defeat the Arab nation with its 350 million.
That hurts our collective ego. The Palestinian problem is in the genes
of every Arab. The West’s problem is that it does not understand this.”

Rule 12: Thus, the Israelis will always win, and the Palestinians will
always make sure they never enjoy it. Everything else is just commentary.

Rule 13: Our first priority is democracy, but the Arabs’ first priority
is “justice.” The oft-warring Arab tribes are all wounded souls, who
really have been hurt by colonial powers, by Jewish settlements on
Palestinian land, by Arab kings and dictators, and, most of all, by each
other in endless tribal wars. For Iraq’s long-abused Shiite majority,
democracy is first and foremost a vehicle to get justice. Ditto the
Kurds. For the minority Sunnis, democracy in Iraq is a vehicle of
injustice. For us, democracy is all about protecting minority rights.
For them, democracy is first about consolidating majority rights and
getting justice.

Rule 14: The Lebanese historian Kamal Salibi had it right: “Great powers
should never get involved in the politics of small tribes.”

Rule 15: Whether it is Arab-Israeli peace or democracy in Iraq, you
can’t want it more than they do.

Thomas Friedman writes for the New York Times.


A Strategem for Sound Realism

For each one of us, the proffered fascade of the ‘Real’ must be apprehended as a substantive, solid box, accepted, and then entered into subversively in order to be appropriated truly as one’s own.  What can be touched and immediately sensed surrounds us, but it is an entirely Other realm in which we piece and sew and fuse and react with and upon these things. We are floating about inside a ‘Real’ box made up of our experiences, continuously entering it from one point and another and another and another — and it is a different substance entirely that surrounds us here — truly another realm. We seek, some of us more and some less, to find our way back to the center of the inside of our experiences in the ‘Real’ as those experiences multiply, the box itself expands, and our carefully measured longitude and latitude for returning to our point of origin seems to change exponentially hour by hour. But those realms of mind and soul are not commonly acknowledged to be any more than a fluke of natural selection. We are either the sperm whale or the pot of petunias, but in the end it is neither meaningful nor helpful to know what is in this realm of discovery or, conjointly, to find peace and familiarity with the central point of all our experience. Our deep desire to know is counted towards us as ridicule-worthy.

But how can this desire be so utterly useless as it has been painted by so many generations of flat-planed Realists? How can their own opinions be held by them in such high regard as to rise up against another’s precious beliefs? They must, I think, believe in more than they propose to, otherwise our very existence in this world is more than meaningless; it is an impossibly tense, beautiful and tragic outrage and whatever mind(s) exists when we expire should heave a sigh of relief. Each of us is somehow morally inferior for having presumed ourselves here in the first place. We are awkward things, doomed to destruction, and destroying ignorantly in plethora along our way while trying to ‘make up for it’ by trying to destroy ignorance. Any ultimate goal appears lost and without anchor. We are to make the best of this for little reason at all and wish the Real world and our descendants well for when we are gone. . . again, for little reason beyond the longterm existence of a happenstance species. Like trying to pin down an autumn leaf when, for good or ill, we have no right whatsoever, no passion, no love, no source for an ethical framework at all. What is the purpose of survival? One feels that nihilists have been on the right track, and that maybe the only ‘enlightened’ (for lack of a better word) beings on the planet are those we dope up to act like we-with-purpose-and-happiness… Awkward that science is so committed to lengthening the human lifespan and increasing health and vitality. You’ve got to ask yourself, like the Vogons who run the universe in Hitchhiker’s guide to the Galaxy upon being Marvin-rayed, “Whassa point?” *Who wants to live forever?*

Is psychic weight denser than physical? Is supernatural substance more causal than natural? We’ve often seen instances of the so-called miraculous where the laws of physics in our experience-based reality were defied unbelievably, and some still cannot be explained. The premiere scientists of our day are still discomfited by them, struggling to simplify and codify them according to patterns we know already. Many have experienced mania that physically changes this purportedly solid, experience-based reality of ours. Others have witnessed the physical world truly changing mysteriously. We’ve well-documented instances of people praying together for Yahweh to come to them, and by all accounts He has shaken the earth, sent lightening, spoken to people, and raised the dead to let them know of His mighty presence. Still others have experienced in one form or another the effect of calling on the dead or on demons in seances and rituals of varying kinds. The results of these things are inexplicable, no matter how many chemicals we measure, personality tests we administer, or videotapes we attempt to make. The very tolerant world of today is on the brink of accepting the authority of insanity because we cannot expand our flat-planed, ‘Realist’ minds to humanely describe the complexity of a multi-dimensional experience. Because we refuse to acknowledge its mystery any longer, or the power of an all-embracing, spherical journey rather than a limiting A to B to C collection of ‘been-there-done-that-have-a-prescription-for-it’s. Our conception of identity has been gypped by a lie.

Like classical music, realism has the capability of structuring our brains and preparing them to receive and translate more weight into physical conveyance upon further exploration of modes — however, it is not to be accepted as the peak of civilization’s career in any sense. One cannot experience the real without appropriating it according to one’s own unique fingerprint, and this entails a subversion of the raw material of the real into self and then acting upon/communicating out of the result. There is no other way to have integrity in this world, or a healthy self image.

Every pleasure or pain has a sort of rivet with which it fastens the soul to the body and pins it down and makes it corporeal, accepting as true whatever the body certifies.
{Socrates (469–399 B.C.), Greek philosopher. Quoted in Phaedo, sct. 81, Plato.}

Next: need to address dimensions, physical/chemical trauma, mental instability and A Beautiful Mind, the value of seeing what ‘isn’t there’, the value of community/relationships/accountability following on from and overlaying that, and the equal insanities of getting stoppered up in single dimensions.

Also following on to:





Family Pride + Love