The city and the plumb line

By David Grima | Jan 20, 2021

I have heard from a reader who commented on my recent piece about a friend needing to travel to Bangor for a relatively minor medical procedure.

I wondered why we so often have to travel over 100 miles when we have a hospital right here. The reader said he has had some fine treatment locally from some decent people.

Here is how I replied to him:

“Thanks for getting in touch. The story, about which I am not at liberty to share details, concerns a minor case of outpatient day surgery that somehow could not be carried out locally. I do not doubt for a moment that you, or people you know, have had good treatment at our local hospital over the years. So have I.

“But I sometimes tell stories like this to point out weaknesses in, or at least questions about, complex and expensive systems that we depend on here in the Midcoast.

“I assume that all people, not just in hospitals, are good people unless there is some genuine evidence to suggest otherwise, and I have no evidence about bad people in this case. I am more concerned about the systems we have, and raising questions about why we cannot get simple things attended to in Knox County.

“I do hope you understand. For what it's worth, I also heard from another reader who thought I was not severe enough, based on her own medical experiences locally. Again, I do appreciate you writing to me about this.”

As this reader also advised me to stay out of the high winds, I added this post-script.

“P.S., I agree strongly about the high winds we've had now and then in recent weeks. I have a friend out of town who has lost four of five trees on several occasions.”

* * * * *

As I seem to be on a theme concerned with replying to messages, there is the note I wrote in response to one from the vicar at St. Bildad’s By-the-Sea, who mentioned this week’s Bible Study class will delve into the Book of Amos.

“Ah, Amos! Among the sculptures that adorn the modern Cathedral of St. Michael in Coventry is a piece representing a city with a plumb line hanging over it, as is described (I think) by Amos. It makes me remember how important was the spiritual life of communities rather than merely the spiritual life of an individual, in those times.

“These days, faith is often seen by many as largely a private and personal business, a deterioration in outlook that seems to happen when a culture wants to sideline a particular perspective: Oh, it's just a personal matter; believe what you want but don't seriously expect others to take part in it because truth is just a personal perception.

“It perhaps reminds us how much modern life resembles the religious ideal of the Roman empire; you can believe more or less whatever you choose as long as you don't try to upset our apple cart. Your religion remains safe so long as you keep it to yourself.

“Against this view, and reinforcing the lesson of the city and the plumb line, we have Jesus telling his people that they are meant to be the salt of the Earth, something that has to be mixed into the community if it is to give its intended flavor; and that they are the light of the world, intended to illuminate a community rather than simply providing light for their private lives.

“The question, then, becomes how can we usefully be salt to the earth, light to the world? Just a few thoughts on a Sunday morning in January.”

* * * * *

Towards the end of my reply, I seem to have mentioned the person who is also believed to have said we cannot honestly claim to love God while simultaneously detesting our fellow human beings.

This sort of thing must have been on my mind lately, for in my grubby notebook I find I have scribbled the following little gem.

“You cannot at the same time love your country but also detest your fellow countrymen, any more than you can love God while hating your brother.”

Well, I suppose that is open to debate. In fact, many people would say I am completely wrong, out to lunch, with this idea, and it is indeed perfectly possible to detest all kinds of fellow citizens while still loving your country.

I suppose the statement I have made and am now pushing back against, is more of an aspiration than an indisputable scientific fact. Because, of course, there are simply scads of people alive today who love their country, but would like to see a large number of their fellows locked up with an unfindable key.

The trouble is, when we let things like this get a grip upon us, the results are rarely pleasant as we all saw two weeks ago at the Capitol. I suppose I should have said that when we say we love our country but allow ourselves to hate many of the people who live in it, things are very likely to go from bad to worse.

That, I think, is probably a better way to put it. Yes, you actually can detest them. But there are consequences. It’s the hate that causes the corruption.

The question also arises about exactly what kind of country we think we have that has so many wicked people in it. It’s not exclusively an American question, obviously, and furthermore I admit to having a sense of irony in asking it.

However, we cannot just brush aside every observation as just so much more talk. Underlying much of this week’s piece is the assumption that there is, in some meaningful way, such a thing as truth, or enough of it that it matters.

For example, if some people were capable of understanding when they are being lied to, either by a troubled president or by some cantankerous misfits behind fraudulent websites, we might all be in a better situation.

But how on earth can enough people learn how to recognize when they are being lied to? Especially when powerful people have a strong personal interest in their own lies being swallowed hook, line and sinker?

NPR broadcast a news snippet Monday, claiming people who monitor disinformation (let’s call it lies) online have detected a measurable decrease in such stuff since a couple of weeks ago. So there is hope, to some degree.

Possibly we need more people to have their own visions of a plumb line hanging over a city. Given the state of modern technology, it shouldn’t be too hard to come up with some kind of virtual plumb line to suspend prominently above a certain large place south of here.

A million-dollar reward to whoever figures that one out, but please try to get it done in time to save us from going through all this nonsense again.

David Grima is a former editor with Courier Publications. He can be reached at

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Comments (1)
Posted by: Richard McKusic, Sr. | Jan 20, 2021 14:41

I grew up with: "Truth, Justice, and the American Way", a catch-phrase of the comic-book character Superman. Maybe it will become popular again.  HOPE. HEALING. HUMILITY. What a breath of fresh air!   ;)

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