Letter to the Editor
February 7, 2022
Like many who are attempting to observe and interpret the social upheaval that is so constantly oppressing all of us, it occurs to me that perhaps we need a new metaphor for this reality or at least the rethinking of an old one. In Baptist News Global’s piece concerning Texas Congressman Chip Roy’s attack of Texas Pastors for Children, he says: “Immorality is a bunch of Texas pastors running around lying to people about the goals of school choice, trapping the poorest Texans in schools with no choice, and denying the reality of court ordered removal of God from schools while forcing anti-American CRT education.”
I was still shaking my head as I then began to read Walter Brueggemann’s Introduction to First Samuel in the Interpretation Commentary in preparation for teaching. Brueggemann introduces the study with a word of caution to the teacher or preacher: “We should be aware of two temptations in our exposition that would misrepresent the intent of the literature. A ‘religious reading’ is tempted to make the story of Israel in the books of Samuel excessively pious, to overlook (among others) the reality of power, the seduction of sex, the ignobility of motivations and the reliance on brutality.” Brueggemann’s point is that this approach ignores what he calls Scripture’s “unlaundered history.”
That caught my attention because of my personal story. I will come back to that in a moment.
Why we are so afraid of our “unlaundered history?’”
Breuggemann continues by writing, “As the church has been tempted to a pious reading, so the scholarly community falls prey to a different temptation. The scholarly community has a long history of explaining away whatever does not fit our rationalistic notions of cause and effect. Our ‘Enlightenment’ modes of interpretation tend to disregard and explain away the direct or hidden governance of Yahweh.” Breuggemann argues for what he calls an artistic rendering of the books of Samuel. According to Brueggemann, an artistic rendering “lets us be open to the surprises, ambiguities, incongruities, surpluses and gifts present in Israel’s life, wrought by God, through which humaneness sometimes emerges and where holiness is strangely present.”
As I read Breuggemann and reflect on Congressman Roy’s comment about Texas pastors, “forcing anti-American Critical Race Theory education on our kids,” I cannot help but ask: Why we are so afraid of our “unlaundered history?” Are we insisting on a pious reading of America’s history or are we explaining away whatever does not fit our rationalistic notions of cause and effect?”
To put the question bluntly and personally: Why am I not almost as offended by the account of reliable historians writing (concerning one of my heroes) of John F. Kennedy’s actions with girls barely above the age of consent in the White House swimming pool, as I am with Robert E. Lee’s military defense of slavery?
I grew up in a laundry. I am not talking about a help-yourself laundry. My father owned and operated a large commercial laundry in Ardmore, Okla. This laundry washed people’s dirty clothes, bed and bathroom linens for residences, hotels and hospitals. I always had a summer job. One summer I drove a laundry truck all over southern Oklahoma delivering clean laundry and picking up dirty laundry. It is hot in Oklahoma in the summertime. There was no air conditioner in my truck. By the time I got back to the laundry to unload I do not know which smelled worse, me or the laundry. That is life in a laundry.
One day I was working inside the laundry itself. My dad for some reason was operating the huge washing machines that day. He came to where I was and said, “Come over here, I want to show you something.” I followed him to one of the washers. He opened the lid and started loading dirty and smelly laundry. He added the soap and other cleaning substances. He closed the lid and started the washing process. He said, “I will come get you when this load is finished.” He did, and this time when he opened the lid the laundry was sparkling clean and had a fresh smell. His eyes glowed with pride in his work. Then he said something I never have forgotten: “All of this clean laundry will be back here again in a few days. It will get dirty again.”
In the books of Samuel we are introduced to the enigmatic and towering person of David. In the first book of Samuel, the young David is described as “a man after God’s own heart.” In 2 Samuel, however, we see David as a man using his power to have a young woman who is not his wife. Her resulting pregnancy motivates David to send her husband into harm’s way hoping to cover up what he has done. This indeed is “unlaundered history.”
“Dirty laundry” has become a well-known metaphor for individual and even national bad behavior. David’s prayer of repentance in Psalm 51 suggests there may be an even better metaphorical question than are we clean or are we dirty. The better question may be one suggested by David: Are our transgressions being washed away? Are we being cleansed? Surely as people of biblical faith we can have the courage to ask these questions. However, before we do we must acknowledge our sin and the accompanying dirt. Perhaps Critical Race Theory at least helps us with that.
Gary Cook, Dallas