Don’t Look Back
Sunday, June 26, 2016, Reflection on Luke 9:51-62
by Elizabeth Dede
This is some of Jesus’ teaching about counting the cost of discipleship. It is not cheap. You must give up a lot: home, family, visions for your future—all for a sometimes uncertain road.
And you can’t look back. If you look back when you’re plowing, your rows will be crooked. Jesus’ way is straight, and I’m not talking about sexual preference—I’m talking about the narrow gate we are called to enter, and the unwavering path we are called to follow.
I must confess that sometimes I look back and wonder what my life would have been like if I had chosen a different path. What if I had gone on for my PhD? Would I be teaching at a small college somewhere, looking forward to retirement in another 10 years? What if I had stayed at the Open Door Community? Would I now be facing the end of my life’s calling as that community is closing? What if I had continued to work at the Prison & Jail Project? What would I have done when it closed?
All of that pondering, though, is chasing after the wind. It gets you nowhere. It is better to sing songs about staying the course. I have decided to follow Jesus; no turning back. Keep your eyes on the prize. There is wisdom from Jesus in those songs.
What if St. Paul had decided to turn back? We might not be sitting here in worship and prayer. The early Christians might have been persecuted out of existence. What if Jesus had decided to turn back? We know we wouldn’t be sitting here because we would have nothing to follow.
So how do we follow Jesus here at Koinonia? First, we are a Christian community. We claim Jesus as our head. There are many paths of faith to follow, but we follow Jesus. We are intentional about what we do. We make decisions that are informed by the life of Christ. So there are things that we do together that identify us as a Christian community: those are specifically, prayer, work, study, service, and fellowship.
As the body of Christ, we look for things in our lives. We are people of peace. We want that in our own personal lives. We want to be at peace with the decisions we make, with our lifestyle. We want to be at peace with those around us. We don’t gossip; we seek reconciliation with each other if we have a quarrel or disagreement. We seek peace in our world.
We try to live and work sustainably. So we want to live lightly on the land, looking for ways that our cows can save the planet, treating our land with respect, taking care of our pecans, fruit, and gardens in ways that build up the health of our environment, rather than killing it off.
We share with each other. We don’t go off as individuals, but we eat together, worship together, and play together. We share the income of the farm, rather than making solitary wages. We make decisions together, not in a way that separates us, but in a way that brings us together.
We see our lives together as an alternative way to live in the face of a materialistic, militaristic, and racist society. We try to undo these three things, through peace, sharing, and reconciliation.
Our life together in Christian community is a structured life. We don’t look for individualism. It would probably be an easier life if we lived on our own, in our own house, with our private automobile, eating on our own, whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted, getting up when we wanted, instead of going to chapel. But Jesus’ way is not easy. He tells us in this Gospel lesson that we won’t necessarily have a place to lay our heads; that we might have to give up family ties; and that we don’t look back.
Pick Up Your Cross
Sunday, June 19, 2016, Reflection on Luke 9:18-24
by Elizabeth Dede
What does it mean to pick up your cross daily? We all know about the cross that Jesus had to pick up. In this Gospel passage, Jesus foretells that he will suffer greatly. Part of his cross — he is knows he will suffer. He prays in the Garden of Gethsemane that this cup of suffering be taken away. Jesus shares in this passage that all his followers carry their own cross. What does this mean for us?
My suffering is nothing like Jesus’, or the suffering of other people in this world. I just finished reading an article about Ghandi. He knew true suffering, and he also saw it in the lives of the people he chose to walk with. He literally walked nearly 250 miles on the Salt March to embody the suffering of colonial rule.
I found myself thinking about the Prison & Jail Project as I read this article. I was a part of the Prison & Jail Project for six years. Each year we would do a 100-mile walk over a week in September to call attention to the injustices in Southwest Georgia for poor people caught up in the criminal justice system. We always started on the Sunday after Labor Day, and it seemed like Southwest Georgia always suffered a heat wave during that week. We would be out on the hot pavement, sweltering in 90 plus, plus, plus degree heat. No matter what shoes I wore, I always ended up with terrible blisters on my feet and aching knees.
One year we highlighted our work in Smithville. There, an all white police force was brutally attacking the African American community, which makes up the vast majority of that little town’s population. As if to prove their white supremacy, six, of our small group of eight, were arrested for Parading Without a Permit as we peacefully walked through the town. The parade ordinance had been adopted by the town during the Civil Rights Movement of the 60s to stop anyone who thought they might want to protest the injustices of the Jim Crow South. The white police chief was literally shaking in his boots with fear as he arrested us. We were not jailed because the chief did not want us stirring up trouble in the jail. So we went ahead and walked through Smithville. It was the most ridiculous of my many arrests for civil disobedience. We were later exonerated when the judge found, after a night of prayer and research, that the Supreme Court, in the marches on Birmingham, Alabama, of the Civil Rights Movement, had ruled that such parade ordinances were unconstitutional, which is what we had argued with the police chief when he decided to arrest us.
That year I suffered a stress fracture while walking on the Freedom Walk, but I was determined to walk the whole way. I wanted, in the heat and pain, to feel a little of the ongoing spiritual and emotional, and even sometimes, physical pain that the African American community of Smithville felt daily.
That was a direct way to suffer, and sometimes I look back on those radical days of my life and wonder if I was suffering in some way from symptoms of my bipolar disorder. I have left behind those days of civil disobedience and cannot imagine a scenario in which I would submit myself willingly to arrest, jail, and all of their dehumanizing aspects.
Nevertheless, we are called to pick up our cross. Now I am more aware of my bipolar disorder and my need for a peaceful, orderly life. Often I wish that I didn’t have bipolar disorder. I don’t like the constraints it puts on my life. As I look back on my life, there is a certain satisfaction I feel in solidarity with Ghandi and Martin Luther King. But I have done what I can. Now I must submit to the nonviolence of life on a Christian farm, which lives out nonviolence in a totally different way from those days of the radical life.
So how do we pick up our cross? One way is simply living in community. In many ways it would be easier for me to live alone with my little dog Willie in my own house in town. I didn’t have to worry about the daily interruptions of life in community. I didn’t have to submit my introverted self to a life that necessitates extraversion. I didn’t have to share a thing. Just yesterday I found myself upset with one of our neighbors who had taken over all the driers when I needed a couple to dry my bedding. But that’s life in community.
There are little acts of kindness and self-giving that you find in yourself as you live in community. These aren’t the heavy burdens of splintered, wooden crosses. But they are the daily actions of picking up your cross.
So for me, although it has its suffering, life in community is the only way to live. It has also the blessings of the resurrected life—sisters and brothers on the journey with you, a happy home, shared bread, prayer and worship together, and love and care from many.
Jesus knew the suffering of the cross, but he also saw through to the joy of resurrection, just as Ghandi saw through to independence from colonial rule. Let us all find joy in life together.