Tag Archives: Clarence Jordan

Lovers or Liars?

I recently completed my final report for the Louisville Institute.  These generous partners in ministry awarded me a grant to study the sociopolitical construct of race, Clarence Jordan’s Koinonia Farm and why persons fear Christian community.  I visited Koinonia Farm in Americus, Georgia.  It was Clarence’s “demonstration plot.”  He would create his own world, challenging segregationist laws in the 1940s.  The community was intentional, sharing in a fair wage and a common purse.

The farm was bombed.  The business was boycotted.  The members of Koinonia Farm were ex-communicated from their church.  Because they loved their neighbor, their African American neighbor at a time when it was not socially or politically advantageous to do so. Clarence is my kind of Christian.

So, I set out to learn as much as I could in the year and a half I had allotted.  I registered for conferences, signed up for workshops, ate fellowship meals, had tough conversations.  I asked hard questions of myself and those around me.  I dug deep and nearly scraped the bottom of my soul.

I conducted interviews and read a small library of books about the sociopolitical construct of race, intentional community, the life, work and witness of Clarence Jordan on Koinonia Farm, multi- cultural/ cross- cultural ministry, forgiveness and reconciliation.  I took copious notes, wrote extensively, preached the message of community faithfully.  I even redecorated my office in D.C. to reflect the work that had reshaped my life.  It was all about community- building.

I was being transformed, emphasis on the I.

In the end, the results were not what I expected.  No statistic or story could have prepared me for the narrative that would emerge.  Long story short– Christians are afraid of Christian community.  While there are those who would point to those who are doing it right (“See, we’re not all bad.”), there is a long and troubling history of Christians in North America who do not follow Jesus in the way of love, who refuse to integrate socially with persons of other cultures, who refuse to integrate their faith and life.  As it was during American slavery so it is now.  Bible in one hand and a whip in the other, European Americans are shamelessly able to oppress others while claiming to espouse the liberating words of Jesus Christ.

Call them what you will.  It makes no difference because at least they are white.  And in America, whiteness pays.  It pays to play.

It must be said that those who agree to the conditions of whiteness (that is, the oppression of other cultural groups so that they might have privileged access to wealth, the land and its resources) are a serious impediment to the healing work required for reconciliation in the Church.  You simply cannot build an authentic Christian community where whiteness and its interests are at the center, if socially colored white people do all the leading and none of the following, if they control the resources and determine the ministry emphases, if they influence the votes to ensure that it always goes their way in business meetings.  Because the identity of whiteness is protected at all costs.  Put above the cross of Christ, who persons are as white people and as the model citizens for the world in appearance, behavior and conduct is to be defended.

But it takes the place of Christ’s body and his work.  Or, is it that there are those who think that their body is his?  The work of race is complete in these cases, swapping out Christ’s body for their own, deifying their flesh and nullifying the work of his.

To be sure, this is not a matter of identifying with Christ’s body or doing what he would.  This is proof that America’s created identity of whiteness is wedged in between the cross and the crown for many European Americans.  The kingdom of this world and the kingdom of God are at odds but there are those who believe that they are one and the same, that if you have seen a socially colored white person, then you have seen God.  Skin “color” long associated with good and evil and used to determine the heathen/ barbarian/ uncivilized versus the civilized/ cultured, the same is true for the Church in North America.  The social coloring of skin separates the righteous from the unrighteous.  It is not a matter of separating goats and sheep but “white” people and all the other “people of color.”  The Church has a color line.

Christians, who claim to be made in the image of God, live in and through racialized identities. They create segregated sacred spaces, somehow walking in the footsteps of Jesus while avoiding marginalized and oppressed people who are victims of race and its progeny.  The theological disconnect could not be more obvious.

Persons will close ranks and churches will close up shop in a community that is experiencing cultural change before it will integrate.  They will take their Bibles and believe somewhere else.  Christians need for power, all while worshipping an all- powerful God, cannot be underestimated. The impact of colonialism, American slavery and its other versions of domination continue to determine and influence the ways in which we relate to each other.  And even for persons of faith, they cannot get the colonizer out of their head.

John said, “Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen” (First John 4.20).  In my estimation, there are only two choices, only two kinds of people.  Love is the deciding factor.  Because you cannot love God and not love everyone that God has created.  It is a package deal.  Take it or leave it.

So, Christians, if there is hatred in your heart for your brother or sister, the one you won’t speak to, who you dodge at the grocery store, whose food you don’t like though you’ve never tasted it, whose clothes you wouldn’t be caught dead in, then you are not a lover but a big, old liar.  John is pretty clear that there are no little white ones.  There is no question about it.

True Justice

In June, I visited The Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice.  It is part of my work with the Louisville Institute for which I was awarded a pastoral study grant to examine the sociopolitical construct of race’s influence on the malformation of Christian community.  My project centers around the work and witness of Southern Baptist minister Clarence Jordan and Koinonia Farm in Americus, Georgia.  I felt drawn to Montgomery, Alabama as part of my pilgrimage to healing communities of faith.

I attended the 75th anniversary of Koinonia Farm’s founding last year.  Walked the grounds and walked around in search of Jordan’s spirit with us.  He believed that his Christian witness compelled him to break the laws of segregation, commanded him to work with persons socially colored black and to pay them a fair wage for work in the 1940s.  His life was threatened.  His businesses boycotted.  His faith no doubt challenged.

He was even kicked out of his church.  His sin– loving his neighbor.

Jordan held up a mirror when churches were expected to be a reflection of the broader society.  Who else was doing this kind of work, challenging the stories we tell ourselves and daring to live into them?  “We hold these truths to be self- evident…”  Bryan Stevenson.  The grounds that now house The Legacy Museum was a “slave warehouse.”  The experience in the space for one present and available to experience this truth is indescribable.

This is not a tourist attraction but a space for truth- seekers.  It tells another side of the story: the human cost of building a “great nation.”  It did not come easy and there was much sacrifice.  The sad and unfortunate truth is that the sacrifice was paid heavily in African and African American lives.  The greed for power and wealth was worth their lives by the thousands.

Still, we talk about it as if it is “water under the bridge.”  But, it is blood in the ground.  Blood that is crying out much like Abel’s (Genesis 4.10).  Likewise, God is looking for answers: “What have you done?”

The answer that is stuck in between our teeth or manifested by the lump in our throats is what gets in the way.  Still, I am going my own way, the only way I know.  Up and away from this train crash, this culture clash.  I’ve seen this one before.  It is a rerun hundreds of years old.

I am seeking hallowed ground, sacred space that challenges the dominant narrative of division, that laments our losses and keeps a record of them.  Lynching in America is one that has been overlooked.  Bryan Stevenson, the visionary for the museum and memorial, wants to make sure that we cannot look away.  Thousands of people were lynched for one reason or another and no reason at all: “refusing to run as errand for a white woman,” “for organizing black voters in Choctaw County,” “for not allowing a white man to beat him in a fight,” “for performing the wedding of a black man and white woman.”

“A lynch mob of more than 1,000 men, women and children burned Zachariah Walker live in Coatesville, Pennsylvania in 1911.”

“Walter Johnson was lynched in Princeton, West Virginia in 1912 by a mob of 1,000 people.”

“Dozens of men, women and children were lynched in a massacre in East St. Louis, Illinois in 1917.”

Mary Turner was lynched, with her unborn child, at Folsom Bridge at the Brooks- Lowndes County Line in Georgia in 1918 for complaining about the recent lynching of her husband, Haynes Tuner.”

And there is more.  Connected to American slavery, later convict leasing and now the prison industrial capitalist venture, Bryan Stevenson ties it altogether.  He aims for equal justice under the law and makes a strong case that the American judicial system continues to miss the mark.

True justice, this is what he is after.   A more just fellowship, a kindred faith relationship is what I seek in North American churches.  We both have our work cut out for us.  We were made for it.

HBO has created a documentary on Stevenson’s work.  You can watch it for free right now.

Tell them what I said

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Repeating after Jesus is dangerous. It can get you killed. This is why the disciples gave the cat their tongue, why they feigned deafness, laryngitis and amnesia when the authorities came to arrest Jesus. “Jesus who? I’ve never met him before in my life.” They didn’t even want to be found in the same sentence with Jesus because it was a death sentence. But Jesus was always a dead man walking.

The disciples would rather take the walk of shame back to their homes rather than travel Calvary’s road with Jesus. They would rather hang their heads in disgrace than in solidarity with him. They said they wanted life eternal in heaven but, in the end, they wanted to live another day on earth. They saved their necks but not their reputation. They just didn’t think the man and his message were worth dying for.

Repeating after Jesus is hazardous to your health. It is not the smartest or safest thing to do. The gospel of Jesus Christ should come with a warning label: This message if practiced faithfully may cause abandonment, baseless accusations, isolation and ridicule. It is also old life- threatening, prone to end friendships and relationships if taken seriously.

The gospel is not medicine that goes down easy. Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor writes in her book Gospel Medicine, “(T)he medicine of the gospel—those healing stories did more to put people back together than all the potions in the world.”[1] Still, we fold our arms, shake our heads and refuse to open our mouths to receive it. “It’s not sweet enough. It has a funny smell. It makes me feel strange or not like myself,” we say. I fear that we don’t take in more of the gospel because we don’t like the side effects.

Thomas a Kempis said,

“There will always be many who love Christ’s heavenly kingdom, but few who will bear his cross. Jesus has many who desire consolation, but few who care for adversity. He finds many to share his table, but few who will join him in fasting. Many are eager to be happy with him; few wish to suffer anything for him. Many will follow him as far as the breaking of bread, but few will remain to drink from his passion. Many are awed by his miracles; few accept the shame of his cross.”[2]

The good news is hard on our ears and bad for our hard hearts. Our lives as we knew them will not survive. Everything goes down Calvary’s hill from here.

Melito of Sardis reflecting in AD 180 on the meaning of the Crucified God, who dies at the hands of those Jesus was reaching for, who is sentenced to death by those who share his breath, who enact the severest of punishments though Jesus has come to spare them eternal damnation, wrote, “And so he was raised on a cross, and a title was fixed, indicating who it was who was being executed. Painful it is to say, but more terrible not to say… He who suspended the earth is suspended, he who fixed the heavens is fixed, he who fastened all things is fastened to wood; the Master is outraged; God is murdered.”[3]

Jonathan Edwards famously preached in July of 1741 a sermon titled “Sinners in the hands of an angry God.” But, clearly, God is not safe in the hands of a self- serving humanity. Less we make Jesus the victim, Blaise Pascal provides clarity. He writes, “Jesus suffers in his passion the torments inflicted upon him by men, but in his agony, he suffers the torments which he inflicts upon himself. He was troubled. This punishment is inflicted by no human, but an almighty hand, and only he that is almighty can bear it.”[4]

This punishment is self- inflicted. Jesus says in the gospel of John, “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say— ‘Father, save me from this hour? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.’”[5]

Because the devil didn’t make him do this. This is not a work of darkness but at the root of the cross is love. Jesus is not trapped in a relationship he wants to get out of. And while his flesh is weak, his spirit is willing.[6]

One songwriter said, ” He would not come down from the cross, just to save himself
He decided to die, just to save me.”  He could have saved face, saved his reputation, saved his mother the grief, saved the disciples the embarrassment but Jesus put all of that aside, just to save us. And he is not just going through the motions of commitment. Jesus’ body goes limp and he gives his life. They have nailed his body down but have only driven the point home.

They take his body down and put him in what persons thought his final resting place. But, as we know, that’s not how the story ends. Mary Magdalene and another Mary went to Jesus’s tomb. There, they are met by an angel who tells them what to say. They ran from the tomb to tell the disciples what the angel said and are met by Jesus, who tells them what to say.

While the women, Ministers Mary Magdalene and Mary, are en route to spread the good news, to preach the message of Jesus’ resurrection, some of the soldiers run to get ahead of the story, to tell the chief priests what happened. They were not able to kill Jesus, so they try to kill the story.  The Pharisees put their hard heads together, formulate a plot to pay them off and to protect the soldiers if the governor hears about the resurrection of Jesus. They are to forget what they saw and know to be true. The Pharisees tell the guards what to say: “You must say, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’” [7]

They are spreading gossip. But the women are carrying the gospel. They don’t want the people to get the story straight. Perhaps, they did not expect Jesus to keep showing up but here he is in Galilee and on a mountain. Some lift their hands in worship and others lift their hands with questions.

Jesus doesn’t mind either way as there is still work to do. He issues these instructions: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Clarence Jordan said, “The crowning evidence that Jesus was alive was not a vacant grave, but a spirit- filled fellowship. Not a rolled away stone, but a carried- away church.” People are always going to talk and tell lies about where Jesus is and what his disciples are doing. Pay them no mind. You know what you saw. You know what he said. You know what he asked us to do.

Today, be reminded that the world doesn’t need more small talk. As Jesus commissioned the disciples after the resurrection, so he charges us. There are lots of stories circulating these days but this one is ours. No matter what you hear, Jesus says, “Tell them what I said.”  But I must warn you—repeating after Jesus can be dangerous.

End notes|

[1] Barbara Brown Taylor, Gospel Medicine, (Plymouth, United Kingdom, Cowley Publications, 1995), ix.

[2] The Editors, Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter, (Walden, NY: Plough Publishing House, 2003), 36.

[3] Quote offered in the opening of Fleming Rutledge’s The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2015).

[4] The Editors, Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter, (Walden, NY: Plough Publishing House, 2003), 140.

[5] John 12.27, NRSV

[6] Matthew 26.41

[7] Matthew 28.13, NRSV