News, views, notes, and quotes

Signs of the Times  •  6 December 2017 •  No. 146

Processional. “All God's creatures got a place in the choir / Some sing low and some sing higher, / Some sing out loud on a telephone wire, / Some just clap their hands, or paws, or anything they've got now.” —Makem & Clancy, “A Place in the Choir”

Above: The Anasazi Family rock formations in Bears Ears National Monument, Utah. (Alamy Stock Photo) This week President Trump dramatically reduced the size of two national monuments in Utah, Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, which opens the land for commercial exploitation, particularly by fossil fuel companies.


Given the stampede of urgent, breaking news in recent weeks, we neglected to mark the extraordinary 75th anniversary of Koinonia Farm in Sumter County, Georgia. The farm was envisioned and launched by two couples—Florence and Clarence Jordan (see their photo below), Mabel and Martin England—who, inspired by the Acts account of the early church, committed themselves to create a “demonstration plot” for the kingdom of God. Clarence Jordan’s writing have been a sustaining inspiration for many, especially those of us with southern-flavored small-b baptist inclinations.

        The community’s name is the Greek word used to describe the early Jerusalem based Jewish-Christian community’s solidarity, including practice of the common purse. (Clarence had degrees both in agriculture and New Testament Greek.) Keep in mind that its use in the larger Greek culture, “koinonia” had a more concrete and sturdier meaning than the word “fellowship” connotes. Its usage included what business partners do when joining assets, each accepting both the costs and rewards of the venture.

        Clarence and Martin moved into a dilapidated farmhouse, surrounded by exhausted land, in November 1942, renovating the structure so that Florence and Mabel could join them. To mark the Farm’s ongoing legacy, selected quotes from Clarence’s writing are scattered throughout this issue of “Signs of the Times,” and a few resources for further background are noted.

Invocation. “God is not in his heaven and all's well on the earth. He is on this earth and all hell's broke loose!” —Clarence Jordan

Feast Day of St. Nicholas – 6 December. For more, see “Who’s St. Nicholas: Tracing Santa Claus’ history to a fourth century saint,” Colleen Kelly, Knowledge News

The “war on Christmas” actually started nearly 400 years ago when Puritans banned it in Boston, charging it was an unholy pagan holiday. —for more, see Petula Dvorak, Washington Post

Call to worship. “They who have an unsatisfied appetite for the right are God’s people, for they will be given plenty to chew on.” —from Clarence Jordan’s paraphrase of the Beatitudes, Matthew 5:1-12, in “Cotton Patch Gospel: Matthew & John”

Good news. “While the federal government hits the gas on fossil fuels, states are speeding ahead to develop renewable energy—and reaching new milestones.” Only it may not be the states you suspect. “The state that produces the most renewable energy in terms of sheer quantity? It's Texas. The states that generate the largest portion of their power from renewables: Iowa, Oklahoma, Kansas and the Dakotas.” —Irina Ivanova, “The future of renewable energy is in Texas,” CBSNews Moneywatch

Hymn of praise.Ndikhokhele Bawo” (“Lead Me, O Father”), sung in Xhosa by the Mzansi Youth Choir.

In an act of opposition to the Republican tax reform bill, 12 Christians were arrested (pictured at left) Thursday, 30 November, in Hart Senate Office Building while reading 2000 verses from the Bible that speak of God’s special concern for the poor. Watch this 2:55 video from the event. —Photo by Heidi Thompson. For more background, see Jack Kenkins, “Faith leaders arrested as major religious groups rally against the GOP tax reform bill,” ThinkProgress.

Short story. “In 1929 [Jordan] enrolled in the Georgia State College of Agriculture in Athens. There, he joined the ROTC. On a summer day in 1933, just days from being commissioned as a second lieutenant in the US Calvary, he sat on a black horse, pistol in one hand an saber in the other. He had been memorizing passages of Scripture, focusing on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. When his turn came to gallop through the woods, stabbing and shooting at straw and cardboard dummies, the verse ‘But I say unto you, love your enemies . . .’ (Matt. 5:44) kept repeating itself in his mind. Before the drill was over, the Sermon on the Mount urged Clarence off his mount. He walked over to the commanding officer and announced that he was resigning his commission.” —Joyce Hollyday, "Clarence Jordan: Essential Writings"

Confession. [Clarence Jordan] once said to a pastor who had just proudly pointed out the modern $10,000 cross atop a new church that he had been cheated on that price.  "Time was when Christians could get those crosses for free."

Hymn of supplication. “We live in a world  / Of trials and tribulations / People filled / With hatred everywhere / So we bow our heads / And we raise our voices / Offer our petition  / In this prayer / Peace come stealing slow / Fall like silent snow / Swing down sweet and low / Peace come stealing slow.” —Kate Campbell, “Peace Comes Stealing Slow

The Sermon on the Mount was not a sermon at all, Clarence taught, but the platform of the God Movement. “Its purpose was not to evoke inspiration but perspiration."

Words of assurance. “It is your path I walk / It is your song I sing  / It is your load I take on  / It is your air that I breathe  / It's the record you set  / That makes me go on  / It's your strength that helps me stand  / You're not really  / You're not really going to leave me.” —Michael Callen with Cris Williamson and Holly Near, “They Are Falling All Around Me

Professing our faith. “I don't think a Christian is worth his salt who has not been called a Communist today. Trying to refute that epithet is about like running for your birth certificate when someone calls you an s.o.b.” —Clarence Jordan

¶ “There just isn't any word in our vocabulary which adequately translates the Greek word for ‘crucifixion.’ Our crosses are so shined, so polished, so respectable that to be impaled on one of them would seem to be a blessed experience. We have thus emptied the term ‘crucifixion’ of its original content of terrific emotion, of violence, of indignity and stigma, of defeat. I have translated it as ‘lynching.’” —Clarence Jordan

Hymn of intercession. “The darkest hour is just before dawn  / The narrow way leads home  / Lay down your soul at Jesus' feet  / The darkest hour is just before dawn.” —Emmylou Harris, "Darkest Hour Is Just Before Dawn"

Short take. At the peak of controversy surrounding Koinonia Farm, in 1957, a delegation of folk from Americus, Ga., implored the community to go elsewhere. One member of the Sumter Country Chamber of Commerce said:
        “Unfortunately your experiment has not [made brotherly love in the community]. It has set brother against brother; it has created bitterness; it has created hatred; it has created every emotion that is contrary to my concept of Christianity.
        “We want to appeal to your good judgment to pray over it and think over it and see if you don’t think you’ll be serving the best interests of the community and certainly the best interests of your Lord to move and leave us in peace.”

Nevertheless. “In 2009 the Sumter County-Americus Chamber of Commerce presented Koinonia with the Agri-business of the Year Award; and the Americus Mayor and City Council voted unanimously to place Clarence Jordan’s name on the Walk of Fame in downtown Americus for “his outstanding contributions to civil rights and the founding of Koinonia Farm.” —from the “Koinonia Farm Chronicle,” Fall 2009

When only the blues will do. “Blues for Christmas,” John Lee Hooker.

Preach it. “"The dove doesn't roost on a person who is scared to get hurt. If you want to share the life of Christ, you should be prepared for the suffering of Christ." —Clarence Jordan

The state of our disunion. Washington’s subway banned a civil liberties group’s ad consisting entirely of the text of the First Amendment, which ostensibly violated the rule against ads “intended to influence members of the public regarding an issue on which there are varying opinions.” ACLU

Call to the table. “The Good News of the resurrection is not that we shall die and go home with [Jesus] but that he is risen and comes home with us, bringing all his hungry, naked, thirsty, sick, prisoner brothers with him." —Clarence Jordan

Best one-liner. "We'll worship the hind legs off Jesus, but never do a thing he says." —Clarence Jordan

For the beauty of the earth. “Paul Stamets spent his live exploring fungi, their role in enriching the forest soil with nutrients and ultimately in helping our home planet defend itself against us humans. Unfortunately, unless we learn to communicate with Mother Nature and stop killing Her, all of this won’t be enough.” Watch this extraordinary time lapse video (2:24) of mushrooms growing in the forest.

Altar call. “The proof that God raised Jesus from the dead is not the empty tomb, but the full hearts of his transformed disciples. The crowning evidence that he lives is not a vacant grave, but a spirit-filled fellowship. Not a rolled-away stone, but a carried-away church.” —Clarence Jordan

Can’t make this sh*t up. The US Supreme Court is currently deliberating what is considered a significant religious liberty case: Of whether a baker can, on the grounds religious conviction, refuse to create a cake for a same-sex wedding. At the same time, President Trump is dramatically scaling back protected status for two areas in Utah considered sacred land by Native American nations.

¶ “On a brisk October in 1969 [at the age of 57], sitting in his writing shack where he penned his cotton patch translation, Jordan succumbed to a heart attack. He was treat in death as in life—reviled by his enemies and tenderly loved by his family and friends. The coroner refused to come to the farm, so Millard Fuller drove Clarence’s body to town in a station wagon. The body was placed in a cedar crate, of the kind used to ship fancy coffins.” He was buried in an unmarked grave on a hill where the Koinonia community shared picnics. —Joyce Hollyday, "Clarence Jordan: Essential Writings"

Benediction. “Faith is not belief in spite of the evidence. Faith is life lived in scorn of the consequences.” —Clarence Jordan

Recessional.Muiñeira de Chantada,” Carlos Nuñez & The Chieftains.

Left: "Life and Miracles of Saint Nicholas," painting by Alexander Boguslawski

Resources to learn more about Clarence Jordan and Koinonia Farm

       • Listen as Clarence Jordan (in his downy-soft Georgia accent) tells the story of Koinonia Farm (46:10).

       • Watch this short (4:19) video, “Clarence Jordan: Legacy of Faith.”

       • Rent or buy the PBS documentary, “Briars in the Cottonpatch: The Story of Koinonia Farm

       • Jordan’s “Cotton Patch” paraphrases of several New Testament books are still available online.

       • Dallas Lee’s The Cotton Patch Evidence: The Story of Clarence Jordan and the Koinonia Farm Experiment is packed full of wonderful anecdotes and short stories.

       • For an essay-length biographical sketch of Jordan’s life, plus a collection of some of the best of his writings, see Joyce Hollyday, Clarence Jordan: Essential Writings.

Lectionary for this Sunday. “To what wilderness have you strayed, oh people of the Way? To what distraction have you tuned your ears? Have you not heard? To what diversion have you loaned your eyes? Have you not seen? Oh people of Mercy: Sing chords of comfort to worried minds, tender songs to wounded hearts. Raise a song of gladness!” —continue reading “Chords of Comfort,” a litany inspired by Isaiah 40

Lectionary for Sunday next. “Do not say with your lips, ‘The Spirit of the Lord! The Spirit of the Lord!’ when your hearts are shackled in fear, enslaved to security. / The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed. / Anointed you for what?! Have you grown confused by the barking of market reports? / By the demands of national security? By your 401K addiction?”  —continue reading “Anointed,” a litany for worship inspired by Isaiah 61:1-4 and Luke 4:18

Just for fun. Mr. Bean directs the Christmas orchestra. (2:22)

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Featured this week on prayer&politiks

• “Who’s St. Nicholas: Tracing Santa Claus’ history to a fourth century saint,” by Colleen Kelly

• “Silent night,” a new Advent poem

• “Advent & Christmas resources for worship: Litanies, poems, sermons & articles
Other features

• “The greedification of tax policy is a sign of spiritual impoverishment

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