Beat Bureaucracy

"May I Please Speak With Your Supervisor?"

Sermon by Most Rev. Dr. Robert M. Bowman, United Catholic Church, about the US military's bureaucracy

How many times have you found yourselves fighting city hall, bucking up against an uncaring, inflexible bureaucracy, or getting the runaround from some low-level employee who tells you they’re sorry but, "That’s against the rules" or "We don’t do it that way" or "I don’t think that’s ever been done before." I’ll bet it’s happened to you many times. It sure has to me. Over the years, I’ve learned how to deal with situations like that. I just say, "May I please speak with your supervisor." And I don’t take "No" for an answer.

Let me give you an example of what I’m talking about. When Maggie and I were first married, Maggie (being a young officer’s wife) was easily intimidated. On one occasion, our oldest child was sick, so Maggie took him in to the base hospital on a Friday. The doctor raked her over the coals for bringing him in and wasting their time. "He’s just got a cold," the doctor told her. "You mothers are always bringing your kids in for every case of sniffles."

So Maggie took him home. Sunday at church, one of our choir members (who happened to be a nurse) noticed that Bobby was sick and asked Maggie why she didn’t take him to the doctor. "I did," she said, "and he just raked me over the coals and sent us home."

"Well, you take him back," the nurse told her. So we took him back to the hospital. A different doctor was on duty and, after examining Bobby, told us "This child has pneumonia. Why didn’t you bring him in sooner?"

Years later, when we had all seven of our children, Maggie again encountered the hospital bureaucracy, but this time she was better prepared. We lived out in the country several miles from the base. I was off flying somewhere, defending America from the Soviet threat or something, so Maggie was home alone with the seven children when one of them started running a high fever in the middle of a cold winter night.

Maggie called the hospital to ask how much aspirin to give him... The one who answered the phone told her, "I’m sorry, but we can’t give that information over the telephone. You’ll have to bring the child in."

So Maggie patiently explained that there were six other children at home that she’d have to bundle up and bring as well, and it was five below zero outside. No matter. "I’m sorry. We’re not allowed to give that information over the telephone. You’ll have to bring the child in."

Well, Maggie wasn’t about to give up, so she said the magic words, "May I please speak with your supervisor." "Well alright, but it won’t do you any good. We’re not allowed ..."

To make a long story short, Maggie talked to six different people before finally getting to a doctor who told her the same thing. Still Maggie persisted. "You want me to take a sick child out in five below zero weather in the middle of the night, not to mention six more?" Finally the doctor relented and told her how much to give him. Persistence, common sense, and a refusal to be intimidated had paid off.

On another occasion, when we were stationed outside London, England, Maggie ran into a problem at the American base hospital. A civilian contract doctor told her she wasn’t sick enough to bother with. This time she didn’t bother with all the intermediate steps. She went directly to the hospital commander. He saw that she got taken care of immediately. She got the medication she needed for what could have been a very serious situation.

I’ll bet every one of you has a story of when you were intimidated by authority and later regretted it. And each of you probably has many stories about when persistence and refusal to be intimidated served you well.

Bartimaeus, in today’s gospel story, is a great example of persistence and the refusal to be intimidated. He was only a blind beggar, the dregs of society. His condition didn’t get much pity. Most folks in those days believed he was blind because of sin (either his or his parents’). When he tried to call out to Jesus, he was told by people in the crowd to shut up and leave the Master alone. Now all these people were wealthier, healthier, more educated, and higher on the social ladder than Bartimaeus. Many of them were disciples of Jesus. In short, they outranked him. But he was undeterred. He kept calling out, all the louder. Finally, he got the attention of Jesus, who promptly healed him.

The moral of the story is, "Don’t be intimidated by intermediate levels of bureaucracy, people with a little authority trying to show how important they are. Never give up until you’ve gone right to the top. Whatever your situation, take your case to God."