President Carter graciously wrote a letter to be read at the opening of the 2018 Clarence Jordan Symposium:
Rosalynn and I have long admired Clarence and Florence Jordan and the work of Koinonia Farm.
Clarence spoke with an unwavering prophetic voice. He was not one to mince words; the man could turn a phrase. He firmly rejected materialism, militarism, and racism as obstacles to authentic faith, yet he never took part in the public demonstrations of the Civil Rights era. He believed we could all affect greater change in this world through living an authentic Christian life. Koinonia was evidence of that life and still is today.
At Koinonia Farm in 1942, a group of Christians came together for the express purpose of exemplifying the teachings of Jesus. Now, 75 years later, a group of Christians continue to carry on what is perhaps Clarence Jordan’s most enduring legacy, his ongoing invitation to participate in the love and life of Christ.
Welcome to The Clarence Jordan Symposium and this 2018 celebration. Join us as we wish Koinonia Farm a happy 75th birthday. We hope you are grateful for this time to reflect once more on the Jordan’s call to fully live out our part of the gospel story.
A Few Thoughts From Bren
It’s Holy Week. In a Holy Week past someone said to me, “It’s just another week. I don’t feel anything.” I found myself responding – and what I said surprised me – “It was just another week to me, too, until I decided it wasn’t going to be.” The decision isn’t one I make once and it’s done. This Easter mindset is a decision to make over and over and over again. I choose to practice faith even when my faith falters. I choose to invite faith to permeate me even when cynicism threatens to take hold.
We intentionally gather as disciples. We share the stories of the first followers of Jesus. We feel their bewilderment as we do our own. We acknowledge their doubt, as we are honest about our own. We face their uncertainty as we admit our own. We can be helped to see and believe by looking through their eyes and by looking through their faith. We can do the same by looking at the lives of those throughout history who have taken Jesus seriously. This was made very real to me as I witnessed the gathering at the Koinonia Family Reunion and Koinonia’s 75th Birthday Party that culminated the Symposium. I stood in awe of those people who came before us reuniting in fellowship. Their presence enkindled the fire of belief in us.
Easter is more than a beautiful spring festival, but Easter won’t force itself on us. Easter can change us, make us different and make us new, but we have to invite it in and allow it to permeate our very being.
Shane Claiborne and I co-presented a pre-symposium workshop on community at the recent Clarence Jordan Symposium. I am always learning from Shane. As I listened to him, I was reminded of something he wrote, “The Jesus revolution is not a frontal attack on the empires of this world. It is a subtle contagion, spreading one little life, one little hospitality house at a time.”
I’m also reminded of what Shane wrote about mustard. Mustard was the kudzu of Jesus’ time and people didn’t like it. But in the Roman Empire that held sway over Jesus’ Palestine, mustard was a sign of power known for its healing properties. It had to be crushed and ground to become a medicinal salve.
Jesus compared the God Movement (as Clarence called it) to a tiny mustard seed that grows and grows. Oh, that the mustard will take over our garden. There is no promise it will be easy —mustard seeds have to be crushed before they can heal. This Easter may we have those full hearts of transformed disciples of which Clarence Jordan wrote and may the loving revolution spread. And on days our hearts aren’t full, let’s search for a little more mustard. May it be in us, may it spread out from us, and may it heal us all.
Happy Easter, everyone.
A Few Thoughts from Bren
There are more than a few thoughts rattling around in my mind. Koinonia Farm has turned 75 and next week (March 8-11) we are taking four days to celebrate. The Clarence Jordan Symposium kicks off at the farm with Pre-Symposium workshops. At the end of that day, we travel into town for the Symposium opening at the First Baptist Church and it closes Saturday evening at the First Methodist Church with a whole lot of activity going on in between. Sunday will find us back at the farm enjoying the Koinonia Family Reunion and Birthday Party. Yes, my head feels like one gigantic “to do list.”
But I have been living this life at Koinonia long enough now that I know what to do — I get out of my head and into my heart. When I am drowning in the myriad of detail — and likely taking myself far too seriously — I stop. I find quiet whether it be external or internal. I sit down or go for slow walk. I let my thoughts and my heart wander for a while.
What I find in the heart today is a sense of wonder about Koinonia Farm. This place and its people have been through many ups and downs. How have we made it to 75 years? My heart bumps into lyrics from a Beatles song — “the love you take is equal to the love you make.” Then it wanders into the Gospel of Luke.
Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. In my fifteen years here , I have witnessed the tender mercy offered to everyone. Tender compassion runs through the veins of the farm. It is not that we wouldn’t be compassionate people elsewhere, but there is something special here. Some would call it God’s Holy Spirit.
Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Humility does not always come easy. We often quote Abraham Lincoln, “Don’t I defeat my enemy when I make him my friend?” Koinonia is about building relationships, not tearing them down. Sometimes we stumble, but we are quick to stand back up. Koinonia is about friendship and sisterhood and brotherhood.
Forgive and you will be forgiven. Ahhhhh, there is no shortage of opportunities to forgive one another and ourselves. We live in a world of humans. We work to intentionally forgive. We try not to let hurts fade into scars, but to approach others to say, “I’m sorry” and to seek reconciliation.
Give and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you. I wonder if John Lennon and Paul McCartney were inspired by this passage when they wrote, ““the love you take is equal to the love you make.” The love at Koinonia Farm is tangible. Love is given even when there is little else to give. For many of our 75 years we have struggled financially. But we freely give our most abundant resource — love. And it is returned to us and we keep going.
That love is what we’ll be celebrating next week. Whether you will be with us or not, we send you our love. Thank you for sending yours.
A Few Thoughts from Bren
Steve is a novice in our community. He often reminds me of that familiar line:, “He is wiser than his years.” In Steve’s case it is absolutely no cliché. I especially love his chapel talks. Recently, he gave one on the Parable of the Sower and once again I benefited from his wisdom.
These days at Koinonia, Steve oversees the vegetable gardens so he certainly knows something about sowing seeds. Perhaps because of this, the sower in this parable caught my imagination. Steve is a good preparer of the soil. He is not so silly as to scatter seed on the paths where we walk or on rocky ground or among the thorns. He nurtures the soil by feeding it with compost tea. He works with that hard, sticky, red Georgia clay and turns it into a more receptive and hospitable environment for the seeds soon to be sown. He takes away rocks and he pulls weeds. He waters the ground.
As I was reflecting about Steve as sower and listening to what he was sharing with us, I was struck by the thought, “He is a good preparer of the soil of our souls.” We all have our failings, our thorns and our stones. We can be full of weeds. Each of us has the responsibility to work the soil within our own souls. Steve reminded us of the need for discipline to do the necessary work. We are to make time for prayer and spiritual reading in the privacy of our homes.
But he also gave me the insight that in community, as sisters and brothers, we are to help work the soul soil of the other. Steve has many a time supported me in removing a rock or grabbing a handful of weeds within my own soul and pitching them. Koinonia is a place where the Word is sown throughout each and every day communally — at chapel in the morning, at meals, at Gathered Worship. Koinonia is a place where we work the physical land and we work the soul land. By working the soil of both, the yield just may be what we hope for or beyond.
Steve is a sower who prepares the soil well and because he does, God’s Word has a chance to take root.
And that is a very good thing.
A Few Thoughts from Bren
I Love Baseball
If you’re from Houston, Texas like I am, this has been a great year to love baseball. What a Christmas gift the Houston Astros gave to the city and to fans far and wide. Here at Koinonia I’m known for using baseball metaphors. The Astros have inspired me to do so even more in 2017. Bear with me.
Baseball is spiritual. It’s all about coming home. It’s a great metaphor about life and about dying. Baseball is full of sounds. I love them all — the crack of the bat as it makes contact with the ball, the crunch of cleats as the runner sprints for first, the thud of the shoe as the player rounds the base and oh, the roar of the crowd as he races for home. Getting home … that’s what it’s about, but how often does it happen? Someone who bats around .300 is considered a good hitter. That means two thirds of the time the hitter is out, she has failed. She may hit the ball, but someone catches it or someone throws it to a base she’s trying to reach. Maybe it’s a force out or maybe he’s tagged, but he’s out. But there is going to be another turn at bat. There is the thrill of another chance. Those who hit at the top to the middle of the order often get four at bats in a game. Four chances to hit. Baseball is such a hopeful game.
Jesus is even more hopeful than baseball. There is an icon that’s a favorite among Christians belonging to the Eastern Orthodox and Byzantine Churches. It depicts Christ descending into the world of the dead, setting captives free even to the point of finding Adam and Eve and pulling them out of their graves. The truth the artist conveys is Christ reaching all the way back to our human beginnings. Reaching even through death for everyone — all of us.
Jesus is clear — “Love one another.” Loving one another is about dying to self. In baseball there’s something called a sacrifice. A runner is on first base. To get him to second, the batter bunts the ball. She lays down a sacrifice. The hope is the runner gets to second and into scoring position even though the batter is likely thrown out at first. Or a runner is on third. The batter lifts a long, high fly ball, but the outfielder catches it. That’s all right. The batter is out, but the runner tags third base and makes it home ahead of the throw to the plate.
Loving one another is about making sacrifices for one another. Many seem to be in touch with this in a special way during Christmas time. It seems we are more trusting, more cooperative and more forgiving. The light is just a bit brighter this time of year. Read the Scripture readings of these days — Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth, poor shepherds, angels, well-to- do wise men and even John in the womb point to this baby named Jesus.
Jesus shows us how to live. We keep going up to the plate even when we fail two thirds of the time. We don’t stop trying. The bat meets the ball, we see the ball going, going, gone; we touch all the bases. If we strike out, well … if Jesus came and pitched his tent with us and if Jesus reached, as depicted by that artist in the icon, for Adam and Eve in the grave, isn’t he reaching for us? Always. His longing for us never ceases — strike out or homerun.
I love baseball. Houston waited a long time. I love Christmas. We wait all year. Jesus is always reaching no matter the season. Merry Christmas.
Live My Life
In a play I wrote, Irish Mist, the central character, Jamie O’Hanlon, refuses to use the word “friend.” She also never speaks the word “love.” To her, both words are empty — spoken frequently, but rarely meaning anything beyond the superficial and shallow. Of course, if you know anything about dramatic writing, the play has to be about friendship and the deep, abiding love that can come with it. And it is.
In a social science study I read a few years ago, data showed that the average close relationship lasts seven years. What does “close” mean in the context of this study? How does the data and the vision of friendship it offers square with “There is no greater love than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (John 15:13)?” To me, there is something longer than seven years in that verse.
Numbers are on our mind at Koinonia these days — in particular, the number 75. What does it mean to live in a religious community that turned 75 years old this year? Data doesn’t support the likelihood of a community like ours making it this long. Perhaps the world would tell us that Koinonia, therefore, is a success and has a bright future ahead. I see that word “success” and recall what Clarence Jordan, one of our co-founders, shared in an interview not too long before he died: “We are called not to be successful but to be faithful. I hope the future will find us faithful.”
In an article published a few months after his death, Clarence was quoted, “…Love is never ‘strategic.’ The minute you love your wife so that she will cook you a steak, it isn’t love any more but a polluted form of selfishness. You believe deep down that love does good, but that’s not the reason you love. You love for love’s own sake. Ours [Koinonia] has been a struggle for integrity. What will come of it? I hope we can say, ‘We’ve been obedient.’”
But to what are we faithful and obedient? Are we to be faithful and obedient to social and political causes? As good and worthwhile as causes are, I do not believe this is it. Isn’t there something before? Shouldn’t there be something deeper, something out of which the work for causes is born? Are we to be faithful and obedient to Jesus? What in the world does that mean and how are we to know if we are? What would the core be?
Simplified, Jesus said, “Live my life.” Simplified, Jesus said, “Be friends.” At Koinonia, we struggle to be faithful and obedient to this way of friendship, to this way of love. We love our neighbor and our enemies. We welcome. We serve.
And we long for others to come live this way of life with us. We pray for more friends willing to lay down their lives, pick up Jesus’ life, and live out their days with us. There is no greater love.
Sunday Evening Gathered Worship, August 27, 2017
By Elizabeth Dede
Jesus asks the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” And he might ask us the same question if he were to gather with us here today.
So who do we say Jesus is? We have lots of names for Jesus, but what do they mean?
Well, for one, we call him Jesus. The angel visits Joseph, as told in Matthew 1:21, and says, “You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” Jesus is our Savior.
In the Gospel lesson today, Peter calls Jesus, Christ. Martha also calls him Christ just before Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead. Christ means anointed one, and by the time of Paul, everyone knew that Christ was equated with Jesus, and then the followers of Christ became Christians.
Jesus is also called Lord, a title of deep respect. It shows the relationship that Jesus had with his disciples, and then connotes Jesus’ lordship over all the earth. Again, by the time of Paul, confessing Jesus as Lord led to salvation. In Romans 10:9, we read, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
Matthew also uses the name Emmanuel for Jesus. Emmanuel means God is with us. Matthew is the only Gospel writer who uses that name, and the idea surfaces again at the end of Matthew’s Gospel where Jesus says, “I am with you always to the end of the age.”
John calls Jesus the Word, and tells us that the Word was in the beginning, eternal. The Word was with God, distinct from God. And the Word was God, in unity with God, and therefore divine.
In the Gospel reading this evening, Peter calls Jesus the Son of the Living God. Jesus is in relationship with God. God is his Father. Jesus is fully divine. God calls Jesus his Son.
Jesus is also the Son of Man. This name for Jesus teaches us that Jesus became human in the incarnation. He really walked the earth as one of us.
We call Jesus the Son of David. Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus tells us that Jesus was descended from King David, and is a member of the Davidic line of Kings. Son of David is used many times in the Gospel of Matthew. We heard it last week in the cry of the Canaanite woman, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me.”
These are just a few of the names and titles we have for Jesus. In each instance, we learn something new and different about who Jesus is. Who do you say Jesus is?
Sunday Gathered Worship–Matthew 13:24-43
July 23, 2017
By Elizabeth Dede
A few years ago, two little girls named Ida and Kellan lived here at Koinonia Farm with their parents. I spent a lot of time with them in childcare and school. There was never a dull moment.
I read an article in “National Geographic” which reported that redheads feel pain more acutely than other people. This was definitely the case for Ida and Kellan. There was a lot of weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth.
When we started school together, I had a rule: No Weeping and Wailing and Gnashing of Teeth. If they were playing too wildly, I’d warn them, “Somebody’s going to get hurt and then there’ll be weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth, and you know how much I don’t like that.” Or if they were teasing each other, I’d say, “OK, time to stop before there’s weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth.” I’m sure they got tired of hearing me say it, and maybe that’s why it was an effective way to get them to settle down.
I don’t know about you, but at the end of the age, I don’t want to be collected out of the kingdom and thrown into the fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth. I value my teeth too much. And you already know how much I don’t like weeping and wailing.
So how is it that we will be counted among the righteous who shine like the sun. Jesus tells us that we need to listen carefully.
What does the Gospel tell us? In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus speaks plainly about the righteous and the unrighteous. At the end of the age, all the nations will be gathered together, and they will be separated as sheep and goats.
The goats are the ones who did not feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, give clothes to the needy, and visit the sick and the prisoner. They will go away to eternal punishment, presumably the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth.
The righteous ones are the sheep. Without knowing that they were serving the Lord, they fed the hungry, gave a drink to the thirsty, welcomed the stranger, gave clothes to the needy, and visited the sick and the prisoner. The righteous will go to eternal life.
I often wonder how I’m measuring up. I feel like I have a long way to go, not for lack of opportunity. It’s that I’m shy and scared of the stranger. Before I lived and worked at the Open Door Community, I used to go out of my way to avoid homeless people. In Boston, I would cross to the other side of the street just so I wouldn’t have to look a homeless person in the eye. My friend Mary would force me to stay on the sidewalk and make eye contact, give a dollar, or say hello. She was just a natural at the Gospel life.
I still have to work at it. Even here at Koinonia, where we welcome the stranger every day, I find myself sticking to the familiar, sitting at the table with Craig, and avoiding new people.
It’s not necessarily easy to shine like the sun. But the light is infinitely preferable to the darkness. And the cool of eternal life is infinitely preferable to the fiery furnace.
So let’s wake up every morning, ready for a new day. Look for an opportunity to give food to the hungry. Share water with a thirsty person. Give clothes to the needy. Visit someone who is sick or in prison. Let me tell you, those things are infinitely preferable to weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth.
Sunday Gathered Worship, July 16, 2017
By Elizabeth Dede
The parable of the Sower and the Seed might very well be the most well-known of Jesus’ stories. I remember learning the parable in Sunday School and Vacation Bible School. It’s not a parable that makes us wonder about its meaning like the one about the overseer who has been cooking the books. What did Jesus mean when he praised that man and said, “Make for yourselves friends with unrighteous Mammon?” In the parable of the Sower and the Seed, Jesus even gives an explanation to his disciples so that there cannot be any confusion.
Sometimes Jesus’ parables are just downright confusing, and we might say that the disciples’ question, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” is a good one. Why did Jesus use parables?
Well, there are some easy answers: the parables use images that are familiar. Here at Koinonia in rural Southwest Georgia, we understand about seeds falling on hard clay that are there for the birds to gobble up. We know about the scorching sun that burns up little seedlings. We see kudzu grow even while we’re standing there watching. We know about weeds.
Sometimes, though the parables are confusing. No matter how straightforward the parable of the mustard seed seems to be, I’m still not sure about it. Mustard seeds are just not the smallest of seeds, and mustard plants are not the tallest of trees. So that imagery just doesn’t work for me.
Is it possible that Jesus meant for his words to have some meaning that would be known only to those who were given the gift of understanding? I think so.
You can just listen to the parable of the Sower and the Seed as a nice agrarian tale. But you have to have ears to hear if you want to know what Jesus is talking about. And that’s the message of the parable.
If you’re hard of hearing, then the Word will just fall on the hard path where it gets snatched away by other things that make more noise. If you’re looking for the smooth and easy way, then the Word won’t be able to establish roots because there is no easy way to follow Jesus. If you get all tangled up in the worries of life, then the Word will be choked off by concerns other than life with Jesus. But if you have an open and well-nourished heart, then the Word will spring up, take root, and flourish in your life.
We are blessed to live with this Word so open to us. We can hear these stories with the gift and understanding of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection told to us by the Gospel writers, by the Apostles, by the early Christians, and by all the faithful down through the ages.
Like Simeon, many longed to see the face of Jesus before they died. Simeon saw the salvation of the Lord, but many didn’t. They longed to see and hear, but they didn’t.
So let us be thankful for the words of the Gospel. Let us listen to them attentively each day. Let us see them at work in the lives of people all around us. And let us work hard to put them into practice.
Sunday, July 2, 2017
Gathered Worship Lesson, Matthew 10:37-42
By Elizabeth Dede
Just in case you haven’t noticed, it is really hot in Georgia right now. So what does that have to do with today’s Gospel lesson?
When I lived at the Open Door Community, we constantly faced the suffering of homeless people and the city of Atlanta’s indifference to it. In those days, there was one public water fountain in the whole city, and there were no public toilets. Most shops and businesses had taken the handles off their outdoor water spigots, and no homeless person was welcome to come inside to use the restroom. It was a hard life for people without homes in that city.
In protest of those conditions, and even though it made our neighbors angry, we had two water fountains (one inside, and one outside), lots of public toilets (both inside and outside), and a water spigot outside. There was plenty of water available to the poorest of the poor at our house.
Elsewhere in the Gospel of Matthew, we’re told that to give a drink to the thirsty is to give a drink to Jesus. Here at Koinonia, we, too, give a drink to the thirsty.
We serve each other by putting food and drink on the table every day. And often we serve a stranger that way. Matthew also wrote that to welcome a stranger into your home is to welcome Jesus. Providing for the physical needs of people is clearly a Gospel call, and it brings us into relationship with Jesus.
From this Gospel reading, we learn that this relationship with Jesus is more important than any other relationship we can have. We have to love Jesus more than our mothers and fathers, more than our daughters and sons.
I think Matthew tells us pretty clearly how to love Jesus. But it isn’t easy to lose your life.
I’ve just got back to Koinonia from a trip to visit my mom and dad. For a long time, while I lived at the Open Door, I neglected my relationship with my mom and dad. I felt strongly called to serve the physically poor, and I truly believed that meant that I, in the strong words of Jesus, had to hate my mother and father. I didn’t actually hate them, but I didn’t pay much attention to them either. I felt that giving up my old life and ideas of how I should live it was finding my life in Jesus. And I suppose that for that time in my life it was true.
On this visit to Florida, though, I found myself regretting that neglect. Those years while I was at the Open Door were probably my mom and dad’s best years. They were still relatively young and full of energy, and they were mostly free of the weight of caring for children. Now I wish that I had not been so focused on a literal understanding of Matthew 25. I wish that I had enjoyed my Mom and Dad more.
But I don’t want to wallow in regret. Now that they are old, I can care for them, and lose my life in that. It is in those relationships with my mom and dad that I find my life in Jesus.
So give a drink of cold water to a child of Jesus. You will find your life.