This July 4th weekend let us honor our nation’s genuine community organizers.
On the bottles of its signature drinks, the Boston Beer Company describes Samuel Adams as a brewer and patriot. Although he was instrumental in forming the Boston-area “Committee of Correspondence” that helped spark the American Revolution and was copied by other colonial towns, the beer bottle labels do not identify Mr. Adams as a “community organizer.” Like other heroes of our founding generation including Paul Revere the silversmith, William Dawes the tanner, and Joseph Warren the doctor, Adams never thought of organizing as a full-time occupation; he just lent a hand where he thought it was needed.
This July 4th weekend, my heart is filled with gratitude for the men and women who, like Adams, are untitled community organizers. What they do in their spare time makes our lives better than they would otherwise be.
The lack of title in this context is important. Any card-carrying “community organizer” has yoked him- or herself to assumptions that owe more to Marx than to Jesus, in apparent (if not always conscious) homage to the saying that when the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.
Untitled community organizers, however, are simply people who help others in need. They are part of the remedy for the social ills described eloquently by Elizabeth Scalia, who wrote from a Catholic perspective about how cheaply we often give ourselves away, and “how thoughtlessly we toss our valuables to those who will trash them.”
With the infidelities of a governor and the racy photos of a beauty pageant winner in mind, Scalia wrote that “we allow breeching and encroaching without understanding that our natural or learned boundaries are not prisons but safety zones, the places reserved for ourselves and God and those most beloved to us.” From that thought, she went on to observe that “All are guilty, from time-to-time, of throwing away our Holy Things.”
And why would that be? Because, as Scalia wrote in a subsequent meditation, “We forget we are Royal children.” It’s a fair point. As contemporary philosopher Peter Kreeft once observed, from a Christian point of view, the problem is almost never that we ask too much of God, but that we ask too little.
Fortunately for anyone depressed by the thought of our demonstrably fallen condition, all is not lost. The world is also full of Good Samaritans.
For every Christian denomination that throws evangelization into the slag heap of a study group or gives missionary work the old heave-ho, there are fair-minded people who defend the good names of others, or acknowledge God in unexpected places.
For every partisan hack who trades on the reputation of one of the giants of antiquity by calling Paul of Tarsus a community organizer, there are others who point out that he was, in fact, a tent maker who gloried in the gospel.
That said, there is no need to thank God for those who love their neighbors as themselves by name-checking apostles or American patriots of the Revolutionary era. Past is prologue, and (as friends and neighbors continue to show me) the same point can be made with what songwriter Townes van Zandt once called the “live and obscure.”
If my experience in the aftermath of a recent car accident that could have claimed two family members but did not is anything to go by, those who rally around others in time of need are animated by love rather than economics. They may never give a thought to community organizing as such, but it doesn’t matter. There are people who coordinate meal deliveries for others; people who shop or do laundry for friends who can’t; people who send teddy bears or lend shoulders to cry on; people who pray for strangers in need just because that helps, too.
Scalia is right to say that we often fail to esteem holy things as we should. Begging her pardon for a pun on a fine old lullaby, I think of that problem in Catholic and Latin-infused terms: it seems to me a clear case of “when the wind blows, the credo will rock.”
And yet I want to suggest that there is no need to despair, not only because we are now in a position to answer the apostles’ question (“Who is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”), but also because while we all have occasion to repent of having cast pearls before swine, we also have a confident call to dignity implicit in what Ignatius of Loyola used tp pray when he asked for the grace “to give, and not to count the cost.”
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