Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Pushing Acorns Around

As the pastor of a little church, my duties are rather more varied than those of the regional CEOs of AmeriChrist, Incorporated. I'm not just responsible for spiritual guidance and sermons. I'm also the guy who goes up on the roof and cleans gutters. Or who weeds the parking lot. Or who digs trenches in the pouring rain to stop the youth group room from flooding.

Today, I was the guy who sweeps up acorns. We've got a huge oak tree by the side entrance to the church, and every Fall it rains down a squirrel's fantasy, a cornucopia of nuts. The walkway to the office gets completely covered with acorns, and in the interests of keeping older church folks from taking a tumble, I found myself behind a broom today, driving acorns scattering before me.

For an obvious reason, this got me thinking about the new favorite whipping-boy of American conservatism: ACORN. It's the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, a loosely organized agglomeration of folks who attempt to get low income communities to engage politically. It is also, if FoxNews and most of the right-wing blogosphere are to be believed, a dangerous radical organization with a powerful influence over the American political process. Even my denomination's ultraconservatives are getting in their licks.

This is hooey. There are other words that might be more accurate, but hooey is the only one that's permissible to a pastor.

I used to have a solid awareness of the American nonprofit world through my work at the Aspen Institute, with a broad sense of who the major organizations were and what sorts of influence they brought to bear both locally and nationally. I once shared a beer with one of the founders of ACORN, which makes saying this a little awkward. ACORN...well...it was...um...just not a player. By that, I don't mean it wasn't a player advocating for policy on the national scene. It's focus is too intentionally local for that. But even among the subset of organizations that follow the community organizing model touted by Saul Alinsky, ACORN has never seemed like the most effective entity. Perhaps that's because of my own local experience.

In the Washington Metropolitan Area, the local Washington Interfaith Network seems far more influential, as do other affiliates of the Industrial Areas Foundation. I see the fruits of their organizing regularly in local media...but ACORN has never really reached that level of prominence. Part of that, in my opinion, comes from ACORN's more secular focus. It hasn't engaged as deeply as other Alinskian organizations with faith communities in blighted areas, which means it lacks as deep a connection to organic networks within struggling communities. What is more significant, I think, is the membership composition of ACORN. It's membership is often on the margins of our society, and it can be somewhat marginal itself.

It's not, up until recently, an organization well known to most Americans. And that means it's an easy target for folks who need something to fear. Honestly, watching American conservatism focus it's umbrage on ACORN feels pretty much like watching a bully in action. Bullies look for the marginalized kid, the isolated one out there on the periphery of the playground, and then they attack. Kicking that little kid around does make 'em feel good, but it's hardly a major accomplishment, no matter how much they crow and brag about it.

15 comments:

  1. "I found myself behind a broom today, driving acorns scattering before me."

    Thank you for not using one of those annoying leaf blowers! I'm a broom guy myself. I enjoy the whole "Zen", contemplative aspect of pushing broom. It's quite peaceful...until some yahoo across the street cranks up his leafblower.

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  3. Jonathan,
    You are indeed a "broom guy" type of "guy". Feel better yet?

    David,
    You said Ezra was, to put it simply, a racist. The "cleansing" he mandated was not just religious, but ethnic. The text makes no mention of a test of the faith of them furrin' wimmen. They are..all of them, without exception or effort at discernment..to be cast out because they are not Hebrew. To be foreign, for Ezra, is to be automatically unfaithful. That is what the text says.

    Ezra was a racist according to you because he did what...? Repeat God's law (Dt 7:2-3)? Will you please tell your readers what scripture source (book) Jesus quoted from while in the desert being tempted by Satan and then let them know why this source was not an authoratative source for God in flesh?

    Was it really race that Ezra thought was at issue, and not idolatry? Was it not those returning for the second "exodus" / time who did not fear God's judgement(Is 66:2,5)?; returning right back to their old ways after "a really bad" as the kids like to say exile that Ezra was addressing, and that they had once again participated in intermarriages leading to, well ya know idolatry?

    Isaiah's witness is in resistance to this, as is Christ's. He is willing to see that God embraces those who are not of "our blood." Ezra is not. That is their core distinctive, and it is real.

    How is it that you want others to take your writings literal, that being Ezra is a racist just one example, and yet not God's word? Could it be, like Eve, you are more comfortable with your own truth, than trusting God's word?

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  4. @Mark I come from the Walt Kowalski school of lawn care. No gas/electrical implements for me. I just enjoy it so much more.

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  5. "Was it really race that Ezra thought was at issue, and not idolatry?"

    @Mark, undoubtedly, idolatry and it's tragic after effects are at the core of the text of Ezra. Faithlessness and the abandonment of God's law being but two of those effects.

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  6. I agree with you Jonathan, well said. Ezra goes "ape" when he finds out once again the utter unfaithfulness of those returning to the land. God, not man, told them not to intermarry due to the idolatry. God's word is not something to trifle with, its clarity is freedom and true light to those who have had their eyes opened.

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  7. @ Mark and Jonathan: Um...were we talking about that on this post? It matters not.

    While idolatry is the putative foundation of his hatred of foreign women and half-breed children, Ezra's language is the language of race. Ezra 9:1-2 makes it clear that he makes no distinction between race and "destestable practices." It does not matter if the wives are faithful. They are unworthy, no matter what. Or if they've converted. Again, I'm not reading into the text. I'm reading it, in it's plain and clear meaning.

    Isaiah, however, makes that explicit distinction. Race means nothing. Faith is central. That distinction is also made in narrative form by the Book of Ruth, which was put into written form at roughly the same time as Ezra. That book points out that were it not for intermarriage, the Davidic line would not even exist. There is real tension in scripture here...assuming you care what the Bible actually says.

    This tension is, of course, not something that you can accept. But it is, nonetheless, real.

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  8. Isaiah, however, makes that explicit distinction.

    Actually "pastor" that would be God. Thus saith the Lord...need not your (man's) "explicit" double talk, not man's opinion.

    This tension is, of course, not something that you can accept.

    Now you sound like a modern day progressive Pharisee "pastor."

    While idolatry is the putative foundation of his hatred of foreign women and half-breed children,

    No sir, Ezra was following God's commands - Repeating for the stiff neck people once agin God's law; (Dt 7:2-3) ring a bell? Didn't Jesus also quote from said book that you claim was man made and perhaps full of nonsense?

    Simple question Pastor David: How is it that you want others to take your writings literal, that being Ezra is a racist and hates, and I quote "foreign women and half-breed children" and yet not God's word?

    Yeh pastor, Christ did indeed bid men to dwell in uncertainty, as the kids say - NOT! Our exchanges have indeed been a "pleasure", thank you, now please answer the simple question before you.

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  9. @ Mark: You may have inadvertently gotten it. It is not Isaiah who opposes Ezra's rigidity. It is the Lord who spoke through Isaiah. Ezra was, after all, a scribe. Not a prophet. God did not speak through him in the same way or with the same authority.

    We must choose between our witnesses...and it is Christ who guides us. Did Jesus recognize the authority of Ezra? No. Ezra is part of the Ketubim, not the Torah or Nebi'im. At the time of Christ, Ezra did not have the authority of the Law. Jesus never referenced Ezra.

    Did Jesus recognize the authority of Isaiah? Yup. He started his ministry with a quote from Isaiah.

    Helps to know context.

    As to your question: What I say is not at issue. I expect those who read Scripture to attend to it's actual meaning. If Ezra says something, he means it. If his plain-text statements are in opposition to the core moral teachings of the Gospel, then we must assume that those teachings are not to be viewed as ethically authoritative. Are they still "useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness?" Yes. Absolutely. That is God's intent for all Scripture. But some elements of the Law, like the ethics of dietary and racial purity, are transformed and inverted by Christ. You know your Scripture. You know I speak from it.

    These conversations are...useful. Iron sharpens iron, my friend.

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  10. Let me get this correct David - are you telling your readers (me) to skip to the red letters in their Bibles (Jesus quotes) when in doubt about some personal or particular theological "conflict"?

    Did Jesus recognize the authority of Isaiah? Yup.

    What about Deut. ?

    Helps to know context.

    I could not agree more, I mean that literally. :)

    As to your question: What I say is not at issue. I expect those who read Scripture to attend to it's actual meaning. If Ezra says something, he means it.

    Therefore, I assume you ask your readers to take the Bible literally, since it is after all God's word, absent of anything False?

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  11. @ Mark: Sure, if you understand Deuteronomy the same way Jesus did. He did redefine it, you know. "You have heard it said...but I say to you.." His was, as C.S. Lewis might have put it, the "deeper magic."

    So we agree that context is significant. Good. Glad ta hear it.

    Literally? No. Of course not, because that's not the source of authority for a believer. You need to attend to the meaning of the words, sure. You also need to understand historical context, and the dynamics of the original languages. Reason has it's place. But first and foremost, the Bible is to be read through the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

    As Calvin taught in his Institutes, "..those whom the Holy Spirit has inwardly taught truly rest upon Scripture." (Institutes, I.vii.5)

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  12. But first and foremost, the Bible is to be read through the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

    Would the "guidance" of the Holy Spirit ever guide in opposition to what the scripture says?
    We are about to do a full circle; but before we do, Who wrote the Bible?

    Need help with the answer? mark 12:36; john 16:12-15; acts 1:16; Acts 28:25; 1cor 2:13; 1; Peter 1:11; 2pet 1:21; Hebrews 3:7

    Literally? No. Of course not, because that's not the source of authority for a believer.

    If the Bible is not to be read literally, who is to say that one person’s interpretation of a biblical event or truth is any more or less valid than another’s?

    Reminder, Jesus literally took God's commands in Deut 8:3; 6:13, 16 in the desert rebuking Satan. The disciples took Jesus words literal when He said "go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matt 28:19-20.

    Why would we do any different?

    Sure, if you understand Deuteronomy the same way Jesus did. He did redefine it, you know.

    No, He did not "redefine" it, He clarified it, made it much more meaningful to those with blind eyes and stone hearts.

    Way too many people, yourself included I believe, will read a verse or passage of Scripture and then give it their own definitions ignoring mot only the context but the author’s intent.

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  13. @ Mark: That's the second time you've used that list of miscellaneous scriptures. Let's look at them:

    Mark 12:36 - Describes David speaking through the Holy Spirit. Makes no mention of God "writing the Bible."

    John 16:12-15 Describes the authority of the Holy Spirit...but makes no reference to Scripture at all. It refers to the Paraclete, which is not the Bible.

    Acts 1:16 This affirms David's inspired writing...but makes no such statement about Scripture as a whole.

    Acts 28:25: Again, the assertion relates to Isaiah's inspiration, and makes no broad assertions about the authority of scripture.

    1 Corinthians 2:13 Paul is speaking about the Spirit's role in his broader message...his whole "message and preaching" to Corinth. (1 Corinthians 2:3-5)

    1 Peter 1:11 This affirms the inspiration of the prophetic message, but again, makes no claims about the entirety of canon.

    2 Peter 1:21 Again, this is the same affirmation.

    Hebrews 3:7 The Holy Spirit's witness through scripture is affirmed here, but not to the extent to which you'd like to project it.

    The governing scripture here is 2 Timothy 3:16. It specifically lays out both the source of textual authority and the proper role of Scripture in the life of the believer. What it describes does not require a Christian to use the interpretive framework of literalism.

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  14. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

    It is God's word?

    What it describes does not require a Christian to use the interpretive framework of literalism.

    If one is not to take the texts literal, (it means what it says) then what it "describes" becomes opinion, no better then a Dr. Phil book, no?


    but again, makes no claims about the entirety of canon.


    So God was absent during canonization? Which btw is an historical datum, fact, etc..

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  15. “if the voice of God is heard in the Bible as it is heard in no other book, the canon has relevance for all to whom the word of God is addressed” F.F. Bruce

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