By Bren Dubay
Recently, I read about Desmond Tutu and his mentor Trevor Huddleston. They met when Tutu was only nine years old. Tutu later referred to this chance meeting as “the defining moment of my life.” It was during the time of apartheid in South Africa when, if you were Black, you were expected to step off the sidewalk into the gutter to let a white person pass. Too, if you were Black, you were to nod your head to the white person in a gesture of respect.
One day when young Tutu and his mother were walking, and before they had a chance to step aside for the white man dressed in black approaching them, he stepped off the sidewalk and tipped his hat in a gesture of respect to them as they passed.
Bewildered and confused, Tutu asked his mother what had just happened. Her answer captured him, “The white man stepped off the sidewalk because he is a ‘man of God.’” She went on to tell him that the man was an Anglican priest. “When she told me that he was an Anglican priest I decided there and then that I wanted to be an Anglican priest, too. And what is more, I wanted to be a man of God.”
I never met Clarence Jordan. This co-founder of Koinonia died on October 29, 1969. Fifty-two years later, people still visit Koinonia who share how they heard him speak at this or that event and how it forever changed their lives. I never met him but like so many who did, my desire to be a person of God is greater because of him.
I’ve read all his writings and listened to all his recorded talks we have in our possession.* I’m always hoping that others will turn up that we have never heard before. I know Clarence was a very funny man. I know he was witty and charismatic, faithful and intelligent. I imagine he was joyful as well.
The Hebrew word “zakar” means “to remember, to recall.” As followers of Christ, it is our charge to remember that our assignment is joy. No doubt, Clarence, and the others who were at Koinonia at the time, suffered tremendously during the violent attacks and subsequent boycott. But, as a Greek scholar and a man of God, I think he would have been familiar with the concept of “apatheia.” Many of the Church mothers and fathers wrote and lived its meaning — “light heartedness, holding things lightly.” Joy is an act of the will. Joy is the gift of knowing we are loved and loving others before all else. Christ can laugh at himself. We, too, are to work not to take ourselves too seriously. We are to cultivate within ourselves the heart of a child. I think of Clarence as having the heart of a child and I smile. I think of Clarence laughing and I can’t help but laugh myself.
Clarence and Florence Jordan and Mabel and Martin England founded Koinonia to be an experiment in Christian living. It was and is to be a demonstration plot. But what is it supposed to demonstrate? Love and selflessness, yes, but what is the sign that demonstrates we are loving and selfless? Joy is the fruit, the sign for which we look.
St. Jerome said, “Sometimes we forget that we walk on an earth that has been warmed by the blood of its creator.”And if we remember that, how can we not be joyful? I believe Clarence remembered. I think even with bullets flying there was a light at the core of Clarence Jordan that could not be extinguished. I think that Clarence was joyful even all those times he had no reason (by the world’s standards) to be joyful. I think that Clarence had faith when perhaps his hope faltered.
So, how is Koinonia doing today when it comes to joy? How are you, dear reader? I hope to write more about joy in future Brief Thoughts.
For now, I leave you with this image. Clarence was a farmer so he wore hats. I imagine him tipping his hat to the many guests who came to visit, to the many audiences who came to hear him speak. I imagine little girls and little boys listening to him and being inspired to become women and men of God.
Trevor Huddleston and Clarence Jordan demonstrated for us how we are to live. We live so all those little nine-year olds want to be people of God. What Trevor and Clarence said mattered. What they did mattered. A tip of the hat mattered.
A tip of the hat matters.