Telling the Stories that Matter: October 27 – Clarence Jordan, Farmer, Founder of Koinonia Farm, Opponent of the Status Quo

Southern Baptist Theological Seminary had hosted many people before Clarence and would host many after him but Clarence Jordan was something different. In 1938, Clarence had just received his Ph.D. in New Testament and felt equipped to do whatever it was that God was calling him to. The challenge, of course, is that what had seemed so clear for so many years was suddenly cloudier. This further calling had descended upon Clarence as he studied the scripture and would not let him go. He was challenged by what he read and translated and would not allow himself to rationalize away its scandal and strength. Clarence was challenged and rebuked by the stories he enveloped himself in and found his increasing discomfort with the status quo a powerful witness to the possibility of redemption.

Clarence had been raised in a small city in Georgia named Talbotton. It seems that Clarence was always disgusted with the racism that he found everywhere he looked. Further, he was confused by the poverty of the communities around him. He didn’t get why “the way things are” included a lack for people that the Church claimed to love and care for. He didn’t get “the way things are.” He studied agriculture at the University of Georgia so that he could use his mind to carry knowledge back to the people who needed it but couldn’t afford to go and get it. In other words, he hoped to be a vessel of grace and equality for a people so far from the source. This was his path–taking farming knowledge back to poor rural farmers–for many years but he was changed when he began to see a more essential and more fundamental problem: the spiritual roots of poverty.

Not wanting to simply apply a bandage to a wound with a deep cause, Clarence went to Southern to learn and prepare to address spiritual concerns and the spiritual foundation of the system that fed on the lives of the poor. It would be no use to fix the symptoms of the problem if the disease of a broken system was allowed to incubate within society. With degree in hand and his new wife, he moved back to Georgia to begin his life’s work–to continue in the path of God’s calling. He and his wife joined with former American Baptist Missionaries to found a community called “Koinonia Farm.” This community was racially equal. Further, they rejected all violence and materialism. They lived together sharing everything and invited any who were truly willing to take up their cross to come and live and work on the farm. This was not received well by the powers in Georgia. They were investigated. They were harassed and threatened. They were called Communists. Yet, they didn’t seek recourse in political power. Instead, they insisted that the only way to change the region, the nation, and the world was to live out a different life in sight of the “the way things are.” They lived equality instead of demanding that others do so. Their impact is not easily overstated.

Clarence translated the New Testament into English in a translation called the “Cotton Patch” translations. For Clarence, the process of translation was about more than words or phrases but also the context of the scripture. In the Cotton Patch Gospels, Jesus was born in Gainesville, condemned by the politicians in Atlanta and Washington, D.C., and was lynched. This was a powerful difference that challenged people in new ways. The scripture as Clarence translated it was not something you could simply put down and out of mind. It stuck in your brain because it shared your context. Clarence was a prolific writer and translator until the day he died in 1969.

from Blogger http://ift.tt/2gHWBVd

Advertisements

Telling the Stories that Matter: October 18 – Luke, Evangelist, Physician, Friend of the Prodigal


Luke was a physician. But not like what we think of when we think of a physician. There was no white coat. There was no large salary (in fact, many physicians were slaves). There was no immediate cultural respect. There was no fancy degree or education. There were no easily dispensed medications or diagnostic tools. But, in Luke’s case,there was an intense desire to help those who suffered. Luke seems intimately connected with prodigals and misfits. Whether he was eating with them and listening to them or doing what little he could to soothe their physical pain and suffering, Luke loved and was devoted to the people that the world said were worth nothing.

Luke learned this from his master–Jesus.

Luke was a Greek gentile who had, at least, some familiarity with the person of Jesus even if he never actually saw Jesus.Instead, he heard the stories and found a faith growing in him that spurred him to change. He couldn’t sit still and listen to these stories–they were too important simply to hear–and so he had to tell them to others. He would record the stories that meant so much to him by listening to others and reading what others had written. Beyond that, Luke knew that the stories of Jesus’ disciples were critically important, as well. If Jesus had really brought a new Kingdom into the world, then his disciples would do amazing and wonderful things. Luke recorded these things in a letter that would be known as the Acts of the Apostles. Luke makes a few cameo appearances in this second work but does so in support of the Apostle Paul. When we see him, his character matches the voice in his text: intimatelyconcerned with the lives of the oppressed and unrepresented. Luke had been set on fire with a message of good news about a Kingdom that was changing the world and could only find relief in telling this story to others. His desire to heal became a desire to offer hope to desperate people.

Luke’s mercy and soft heart for the invisible people can be seen in the stories that he chooses to highlight.Consider that Luke’s gospel is the only gospel to tell the radical story of the Prodigal Son. Luke was a friend of the Prodigal and was excited about the God he saw in Jesus that was willing to love and forgive with fury and passion. This was no meek and mild god that stood aloof from creation but, rather, was a God who was elbows deep in the process of healing the voiceless and abused. Jesus was the Great Physician. Luke desired to be his apprentice. Luke’s Gospel is the only Gospel to record Mary’s response to God’s calling: “”has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.”

Luke was energized by the work of healing that had begun in the Church. He recognized that the Kingdom was the possession of those who had no other possessions to prioritize. In this way, Luke characterized the prodigal nature of the Kingdom of God and their common savior Jesus.

He begins his Gospel by writing:

“Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you…”

Luke recognized the healing power of stories to change the minds and outlooks of people. He knew that the stories that we tell inform the way we think about things and so he wanted to pass them on. These were the possessions of the citizens of God’s new Kingdom. These were the valuables that established value in the New World. This is what Luke passed on to us.

from Blogger http://ift.tt/2ypR6VJ

Telling the Stories that Matter: October 10 – John Woolman, Quaker, Abolitionist, Lover of Life

“I bet I can hit it from here” said John Woolman to his friend.

“No, you can’t,” retorted his friend snidely “it’s too far away for you.” John picked up a small stone and took aim at the robin on a limb of the nearby tree. It was hopping among the branches and keeping guard over its nest. The quiet peeping of the baby birds was inaudible at this distance but John knew that they were nearby. He hadn’t expected his friend to challenge him to do it. But, he had and now John stood with a stone in his hand and a burden on his conscience.

“I’ll hit the branch underneath it and scare it” he thought to himself. He reasoned “If I do that, then it will be good enough and maybe my friend will think I succeeded.” He hefted the stone and threw it. It missed wide of the bird. He selected another stone and felt the tension rise a little as his friend watched intently. He took a little more time before throwing a second time. This time it missed to the other side but was getting closer. “Almost there” he said to his expectant friend. He selected another stone and concentrated on hitting the branch that the robin rested upon. He threw the stone and his heart sank as it hit the robin squarely and caused it to fall from the branch.Anxious to see it fly away, John ran to see if the bird was okay and found it dead on the ground–killed by the errant stone. He was awestruck and so he failed to notice his friend running away for fear of getting in trouble. He was frightened by the death of the bird and repeated to himself that he hadn’t meant to do it. But, he couldn’t escape the memory of deciding to gamble with the life of the robin. He had decided to risk the robin’s life (and the lives of its hatchlings) on a silly wager and game–it had cost him nothing but the robin everything. He collected the baby birds from the nest and fretted over what to do. They would die slowly without their mother and John could not care for them himself. His willful stone had condemned these baby birds to a slow death. He killed them, as he recalled in his journal, out of a desire to offer merciful and quick death to the victims of his lack of consideration. John was changed by this event and began to realize how this scenario played out time and time again in the world that he would grow into.
John was a clerk and a tailor by trade and did what he could to make enough money to live on in the North American colonies. In the colony of New Jersey, he was a reasonably successful tradesman. As a clerk, however, he had one particular challenge. Having learned an incredible respect for life, he could not reconcile it with the colonial attitude toward slavery. When asked to write a “bill of sale” for a slave, he bucked initially before being forced into it. He salved his mind by rationalizing that it was a sale of a slave to a woman who would treat the slave kindly but his conscience continued to sear him inwardly and he regretted the sale bitterly.He feared that his lack of consideration had cost another human more of their life and he resolved not to support slavery in any way from then onward. He was called to the home of a friend to write their will. He wrote out the will but left out the portions concerning who would gain possession of the man’s slave when he died. He recorded in his journal, “I could not write any instruments by which my fellow creatures were made slaves without bringing trouble on my own mind. I let him know I charged nothing for what I had done, and desired to be excused from doing the other part in the way he had proposed. We then had a serious conference on the subject; he, at length, agreeing to set her free, I finished the will.”

John had effected redemption in one through relationship and love. Having thus started, John would go on to change many people’s opinions on bondage and slavery. He did not seek to confront or create conflict–John wasn’t interested in arguing with people about freeing slaves so much as he was interested in redeeming the slaveholder and letting that redemption take its own path in freeing slaves. Later he would begin to resist the tides leading to the French and Indian war. His commitment to life continued to push him further as he endeavored not to make the same life-stealing mistakes that he had made in his past.

from Blogger http://ift.tt/2kDwq6Y

Bruce Was Ready

The following is written about our brother, Bruce, who passed on September 8, 2017. We’ve written about Bruce before: hereherehere, and here. He has also written for our newsletter twice: here and here. We’ve already had a service to celebrate Bruce and offer some meager resolution to our community, but the following story is another frustratingly inadequate memorial to our brother, whom we miss dearly. 

***

_MG_3193.JPGIt was my distinct privilege to walk alongside Bruce for about six of his sixty-one years. He reminded me upon occasion that his years in community were his favorite years, even if some of our habits irritated him. Bruce was a punctual person deep down and it took him a long time to grow accustomed to our way of saying “we’ll get started at 6ish” or “let’s wait a few more minutes to see if Deborah shows up for prayers.” He coined a term for our way of approximate time and hospitable delays: “Grace and Main time.” But even if it had been a while since you told him you were coming, Bruce still had a smile for you when you pulled up to his place. He might be aggravated—community doesn’t mean never being frustrated with the people you love—but the bonds of love are so much stronger than momentary irritations. And Bruce had a heart full of love, hard won through sixty-one years of struggle mixed with celebration that all too often seemed mixed too strongly toward struggle.  Regardless of when you pulled up and whether you were operating by the clock or on “Grace and Main time,” Bruce was ready.

Bruce came to dinner the first time because we pestered him until he showed up. His friend, Robert, helped us out with the pestering until Bruce eventually told him, “If you’ll shut up about it, I’ll go once.” Of course, Bruce ended up going much more than once. A few months after he shared that first meal with us, Bruce told me: “that first time I came, I didn’t believe that yall loved me; but I could tell that you loved each other and it was nice to be near that.” Bruce had burned every bridge he’d ever had and the match he used to set the fire was alcohol. It was a fateful meal with a four-year-old (that we’ve written about before) that provided the impetus for Bruce to dare to hope that our love could include him. With grilled chicken on his fork and with gentle trust in the heart of his four-year-old friend, something changed for Bruce. He called the next day and said he wanted to get clean. We promised that we’d make sure he had food to eat, a place to stay, and work to do when he got out of rehab. He’d end up keeping that promise for good. He was a little scared, in the moment, but Bruce was ready.

Though he was trained as a carpenter and evidence to his skill abounds around our community, Bruce had an innate gift for hospitality and welcome. Third Chance Ministries hired him as our Associate Missionary to the Northside because of his deft combination of practiced skill and natural gift. Bruce worked alongside LindaJoann, and Robert in a little house on North Main Street for quite some time. They started a breakfast together that eventually welcomed 80+ people to share a meal on the porch, grass, and curb of that house. Bruce rebuilt a rotted-out tool shed, that once served as temporary shelter for him, into our first tool library. Bruce planted some of our first gardens that became the impetus for our Urban Farm. Dozens of people got clean and sober, citing Bruce’s influence and loving support. Bruce made countless urns of coffee and coolers of lemonade to share with anybody who might want it. When he moved into his own home, he stocked his candy bowl not with peppermints or butterscotch, but with candy bars, packs of gum, whole rolls of lifesavers, and whatever else struck his fancy on his most recent shopping trip. When somebody needed a place to talk, eat, or rest, Bruce provided it. When it came to hospitality, Bruce was ready.

Bruce was integral to our establishment of the Urban Farm and he was the founding leader behind our community’s Tool Library. Bruce was one of four people in our city who received a certificate in permaculture design and sustainable gardening practices. Because of Bruce, dozens of people got thousands of hours of work through the tool library and through the connections that Bruce forged working around town. There were some things that Bruce loved to do: working at the farm, repairing tools, building things with his hands, cooking breakfast, and going out for ice cream. There were other things that Bruce didn’t love doing, but did because he loved us: paperwork and reports, long meetings, Mexican food, and talking about money. For so much of our shared work, both loved and unloved, Bruce was ready.

Once Bruce got clean and committed himself to the life and work of our community, his life was marked by prayer in a special way. Wherever Bruce landed, whether it was the house on North Main, an apartment nearby, or his eventual home on Moffett St next to the Urban Farm, Bruce soon carved out a special place for a Bible, a prayer book, a pair of reading glasses, and a chair. Bruce was quiet, but steady in his prayers for each of us and so many of you. To ask Bruce to pray for somebody or something was to know that it would be remembered and thoughtfully considered, even if only rarely mentioned. He gave himself to wrestling with scripture and the teachings of Jesus. He lived them out in front of our eyes, often drawing us deeper into the path of mercy or grace. On one occasion, Bruce reminded us of the wisdom and cost of love in practice, when a man attacked him with a baseball bat. With tears in his eyes for having punched the man in self-defense, Bruce offered forgiveness and love to his enemy in a way that left me awed. Bruce chose the path of love and his attacker joined him there, choosing to get clean shortly thereafter and take up the work of ministry in our neighborhoods. By the prayers of his heart, his mouth, and his actions, Bruce was ready.

When Bruce was admitted to the hospital this past August, I dreaded to find out what was wrong. So many concerning symptoms were wrapped up with my dear friend’s life that I feared our shared story would soon have a tragic turn. On August 14, 2017, shortly after I left his hospital room to pick up my daughter from school, Bruce had a stroke. It took him a long time to come off of the ventilator in the ICU and a little longer to come back to himself. We found out that, in addition to his stroke, he had cancer and it had spread. He was scared and we were heartbroken. He decided to fight and for several days he got stronger, even getting up and walking a little bit for a few days in a row. But, the cancer he had was relentless and he soon weakened and knew that he was facing death. In those weeks, the community gathered round him and prayed earnestly with him. The medical staff was astonished at how deep was the love for Bruce. They googled him, the said, because surely he must be a special man to have so many who love him so much. When he was given the option, Bruce insisted that he wanted to go home for the last few steps of the journey. He wanted to die in his home, and Bruce was ready.

So, they carried him to his home next to the Urban Farm and the Tool Library. They laid our dear brother in a borrowed, hospital bed in the living room of the house he had made a home. He looked out over the garden and the tool library. He scratched his cat, Booboo, behind the ears. He talked on the phone with friends who could not make it into town quickly enough. He consoled us in our grief and loved us through our tears. We did what he asked us to do: we waited nearby, we sang songs, we played cards, and we told jokes. Nearly two dozen of us took time to make that living room a holy place full of the things and people that Bruce loved so dearly. Then, late on Friday, September 8, 2017, Bruce slipped away into glory.

Bruce was ready. We weren’t. But we’re accustomed to Bruce teaching us how to do things.

Telling the Stories that Matter: October 1 – Therese de Lisieux, Nun, Doctor of the Church, Little Flower of Jesus


Therese was the youngest child of nine children born in Alencon, France. Louis, her father, was a man of vibrant and life-changing faith who had applied to be a monk in his younger days. Though his passion and earnestness was not questioned, he did not know (and didn’t have much prospect of learning) Latin. Consequently, he was rejected from the monastic life. Azélie-Marie Guérin, Louis’ wife and Therese’s mother, shared the same eager and deep faith that her husband professed and proclaimed. She had considered becoming a nun but had been rejected as unfit for the convent on lack of skills. Though Therese’s parents were rejected from the cloistered life, they were gladly and lavishly accepted into Christ’s Kingdom and guided their children toward this same goal. Therese’s mother died when Therese was only four years old and this caused Louis to move the family to Lisieux to be closer to family in this time of crisis.


Therese had a passion within her that seemed unnatural for a child of nine but when her older sister became a Carmelite nun Therese wanted to, as well. She appealed to the abbess but was rejected because she was only nine years old. Five years later, another one of her sisters became a Carmelite nun in the same convent as their older sister. At the age of fourteen, Therese felt that she was finally prepared to take her vows as a devoted minister of the Christian faith. She was, again, rejected because of her age. She must have felt some of the same pain her mother and father had felt before her. But, she was grounded in the reality of the faith they had passed on to her and continued to persevere in her desire. When her father took her to Rome, she had an opportunity to speak with the Pope for only an instant. In this moment, she asked if he would make it possible for her to take the vows that stood for the devotion she already possessed. Her greatest desire was to formalize what already was within her. He advised her to trust the movement and decision of the ministers in charge.


At the age of fifteen, the bishop allowed her to enter the convent and she did so gladly. Her life and her writings were characterized by a certain way of looking at life. Her repeated rejection–and her family’s heritage of rejection from service–had formed an attitude and approach in her that prepared her to do great things by doing little things. Therese’s life was characterized by small actions that she ascribed great importance to. She wrote, “I prefer the monotony of obscure sacrifice to all ecstasies. To pick up a pin for love can convert a soul.” It is in this thought, saved for all generations of Christians to remind themselves, that we see the beauty of the story of Therese de Lisieux. She knew that love could change the world if people would practice it. She saw the redeeming and saving power of love and held onto it fiercely. She would advise all who asked not to endeavor to do great things because works and feats were of no consequence for the salvation of the world–rather, they should endeavor to be loving in the small and insignificant moments of the day. By loving more greatly, she reasoned, the person was being saved and sharing redemption with those along her way. Though her mother and father has been rejected for not being fit for service, Therese found true service to be an act of daily redemption and love and not works or gifts.

from Blogger http://ift.tt/2fCn9qA