Can Idealism and Popularity Coexist? Looking at Koinonia’s Founder, Clarence Jordan

Having just gotten back from one of the most amazing experiences at Allume, it’s been a little hard to switch gears back to a thought that began before this weekend took place.  As a blogger, when you’re in a community that thrives in large part around your online presence, your brand, and what you have to offer to a community and let’s face it, maybe even some popularity, it’s hard to switch back to the small, to the ideals that are fundamental, ideas that shape who you are, those things that call you to the mat when it comes to what you will fight for, no matter what the cost.
I recently watched the movie, Briars in the Cottonpatch: The Story of Koinonia Farm.
Clarence Jordan, the founder of Koinonia Farm was born in 1912 to the family of a prominent banker in Southwest GA.  Growing up, he had a shy personality, but apparently on things that mattered most to him, he never backed down.  After graduating from high school, he went on to UGA to earn a degree in agriculture hoping to use his education to help poor black farmers where he grew up, but he continued his education went on to earn a doctorate degree in Greek New Testament at the Southern Baptist Seminary in Kentucky. 
In 1942, Clarence, along with his wife and a good friend, purchased some neglected farmland in Sumter County, Ga., establishing a farm called “Koinonia”, the Greek word for “commune” where whites and blacks worked the land and shared life alongside each other. For almost 10 years this community existed in peace before trouble began…
 When word got out that Kononiea was paying its black and white workers equally, there was unrest.  And in 1950, when Clarence brought a dark-skinned Indian man with him to the local Rehoboth Baptist Church, this man was perceived as black and trouble began brewing.
On May 17, 1954, when the decision of Brown v. Board of education was handed down from the Supreme Court hatred continued to bubble to the surface and that was the summer that Koinonia decided to organize a summer camp for both black and white children.  They received so much backlash and threats from the community, that they decided to move the camp to TN. 
That was the last summer of peace on Koinonia Farm. 
In March of 1956, Clarence Jordan was asked to sponsor black students to the Atlanta Business College and he agreed, but this decision received negative publicity and violence broke out on the farm. Gunshots riddled the house where the children were gathered on a bed one night for storytime.  Bullets came into the walls just inches from their heads.
The surrounding community did everything they could to make life unbearable for the families at Koinonia.  There was an economic boycott in town, banning anyone from selling to, or buying from Koinonia.  Finally, in January of 1957, Jordan sent a plea to President Eisenhower for the protection of this community of some 50 people.  Five weeks later, Jordan received his reply from the White House Attorney General saying that they are unable to help because no federal laws had been broken and simply passed it off to GA’s governor and the GA Bureau of Investigation.  Blame for the violence was ultimately placed back on to Koinonia.
During these years, the children of Koinonia were under a constant threat, and the “briar” of this community was making the local Klu Klux Klan howl.  One day, a 70 car caravan of Klansman descended on the farm, requesting from Clarence that they purchase the farm for only half its value: 149K.  Many left the community, they had no other choice, it was a matter of survival.  And despite efforts from the local newspaper not to sensationalize the activities at the farm, the whole county became afraid.  Clarence pleaded for brotherhood, peace.  His answer?
Their roadside stands were blown up.
Gas tanks and farm signs were riddled with bullet holes.
Fruit trees chopped down.
Klan rallies, burning crosses.
The result?  The Koinonia story spreads.
Things came to a head on May 17, 1957 when a white-owned store in downtown Americus that had sold supplies to Koinonia  was blown up.  Just a few days later, on May 26, concern citizens in the community held a meeting with Clarence and confronted him, they asked him to leave for the good of the community.
Their insurance is cancelled.
Terrorist attacks continue.
They are investigated by the state.
They are under extreme pressure to leave.
They stood on the brink of extinction, but they refused to fold.  Support for the community came in the form of $50 pledges from 2,000 people (can we give a shout-out for crowd funding?) Clarence got smart and started a pecan business out of the farm, in keeping with his sense of humor, their tagline was “Help us ship the nuts out of Georgia.”  In a community that was founded on passion, optimism and faith, all this testing brought out its core of courage and commitment to their ideal that all men were created equal.  
Even the white children of the Kononia were bearing the full brunt of their stand for equality: they had been banned from Americus High School, with the thought that they would poison the thinking of the students there, but the court decided in Koinonia’s favor and the students were allowed in.  They faced years of rejection, anger and mistreatment–they were the front line of their parent’s beliefs. 
Veterans of this movement called Americus one of the meanest places in America at that time.  By the summer of 1965, Americus was nationally notorious, just as famous as Selma, AL in their fight in the civil rights movement.
The movement in Americus began at Koinonia as blacks would generally use this as a gathering place before their rallies.
By 1968, only two families remained at the farm, but in came the Fuller Family.  Millard and Linda Fuller and their children, who had recently decided to give away all their money in search of simplistic and less materialistic existence were vacationing that summer in Florida.  While driving back home they stopped in to visit friends at  Koinonia and stayed for lunch. 
In walked Clarence Jordan while they were eating and they decided to stay. 
By the 1960’s public places were being integrated, but unfortunately, this ideal had not yet spread to the religious community.  Kononia was invited to First Baptist Church of Americus  by a speaker there that Sunday, and a black friend came with them and everything broke loose.  They grabbed him, demanded that he leave–apparently, Clarence mistakenly had taken this place for God’s house-not their house. 
It was in the late 1960’s, the idea for the future Habitat for Humanity began to grow.  In the Spring of 1969, Kononia was looking for a mission, a way to serve, and in looking around their community, Clarence found the overwhelming need for new houses so they purchased land for 42 1/2 acre plots to build new homes for the underprivileged, Clarence knew that being an authentic disciple of Jesus meant providing a relevant need. 
Clarence planted the seed… 
And on October 29, 1969, as they were beginning this project, Clarence was writing in his small shack on the property, laid his head against the wall and passed away. 
In death, the local community treated Clarence as they had during his lifetime, with absolute contempt and disrespect.  After his autopsy, the hospital returned his body naked, with his clothing shoved in a paper bag.
Clarence was buried in a simple pine box, clothed in his overalls, no authorities or people of prominence attended his funeral, mostly just those from around the Koinonia community. 
Clarence is labeled as a giant of the 20th Century. 
Kononia’s influence didn’t end in Sumter County.  The Fuller family went on a missions trip to Africa in the 1970’s and put some of Clarence’s “fund for humanity” concepts into practice.
This was the birth of Habitat for Humanity.
Millard’s projection and dream was to provide housing for the poor worldwide, while Kononia was committed to serving in Sumter County.  Habitat began their work in the county and “proved” themselves, they built their headquarters in uptown, creating jobs and adding new taxpayers.
And from briars came the bloom of Habitat for Humanity and Americus was now known as the headquarters for Habitat.  It’s funny how things have a way of coming full circle.
Kononia still operates a thriving mail-order business, shipping out chocolate, breads, pecans today.  Twenty to thirty people live on the farm at one time.  In the words of Jimmy Carter, the things that made Jordan so innovative was how early he performed his duty before God, Jordan started his work 15 years before MLK, Jr. was even well-known.
In February, 1968, Jordan made this statement in an interview, “We have not made statistical success our goal, we have made success from a spiritual standpoint our goal in that whether there is 1 or 100 or 1,000, we will be faithful to the ideals to which we’ve committed ourselves.”
Ask yourself today, What have I committed myself to?  What matters most?  Appealing to the crowd, or sticking to your ideals?  I have a feeling if you pick the second option, you might sleep a little better this evening.

Growth in the Hard Places

Yesterday my pastor delivered a message on wholeness.  It may, hands-down, be the best sermon I’ve ever heard him preach for a couple of reasons, #1 how relatable it was #2 his vulnerability in delivering the sermon–he shared how wholeness has had to come to play out in his own life.  His words hit me particularly hard because I’ve been going through some stuff lately, hard, soul-mucking stuff.  He made the point that there isn’t some magic switch that’s thrown when we accept Christ into our lives, there is still work to do, particularly addressing those harmful patterns and injuries we received early in life.
He outlined five necessary steps to take towards this process of healing and wholeness:
1) be honest with yourself
2) cease blaming others
3) forgive others
4) ask God for help
5) when you need to, seek help
I’m not sure if this is true for most other people, but I think step five has really boiled down to a pride issue for me, but we weren’t created in a vacuum.  We need people to share in our sorrow, to offer constructive ways to move forward–why shoulder that burden myself?  
He made the point, too, that it’s going to be hard work and oftentimes it’s going to take a while.  I wonder, too, if Paul’s conversion is, in some ways-ostensibly deceiving–struck blind and then a few days later, he’s this awesome indefatigable powerhouse for the Lord.  However, if we look just a little bit closer at his experience we see that immediately after being struck blind, he is silent for three days and eats or drinks nothing (Acts 9:9) and he is praying (9:11) before he receives his sight back from Ananias.
We shouldn’t look at this valley time as just that, we need to look at it through God’s lens, the last four years of years of my life have been full of uncertainty, upheaval and change.
BUT
God has grown me, he has shaped me into a person of greater faith and trust in who He is and I’ll share the scripture that my pastor quoted from Romans 8:28-29–yes, And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose—and let’s keep going: For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 
He is shaping us, friends!  He is molding us, and he is disciplining us. Why? 
Because He love us.

Royal Backfires, From Gold to Bronze and The Majestic Walk of Shame and God’s Continual Grace Part 1 of 2

Father, help me to concentrate so I can give you the glory and the honor with this post.  Please give me a clear head, pure heart and even purer intentions.

The kingdom has been divided: Israel in the North and Judah in the south.  In the North, we have Jeroboam, the man who had been hand-picked by God in, but as we see in Chapter 13, li
All the way back in Chapter 12, we see that Jeroboam initiates a “new religion” in his kingdom.  He decides he wants to make “idol” worship convenient with his people, so he builds golden calves close to his town so people don’t have to travel all the way to Jerusalem and end up giving their allegiance to Rehoboam, King of Judah.  This showed a blatant  irreverence for God and put his lust for control above God.  The crazy thing is, the plan backfires.
{Ever have these things happen in your own life?  You are certain, sure, things are headed in a certain direction, things are going swimmingly, and bam, your plans backfire.  And you know what, I think this can sometimes happen in obedience as well as disobedience, in our obedience, we are certain that God is guiding us in a particular direction and that, yep, sure enough, that thing, that roadblock is going to happen, but roadblock after roadblock remains, and when it’s all said and done that thing doesn’t happen anyway, but what was God trying to teach us in the first place?  He is teaching us that He is all-knowing, all-powerful, worthy of our trust and all our praise.  The second, darker area comes at a much deeper, graver cost as we see in the case of Jeroboam.}
What does Jeroboam and his Northern Kingdom lose as a result of his decision to construct his convenient religion?  A royal backfire is what, because it explains in 2 Chronicles 11:16, that those from every tribe of Israel who set their hearts on seeking the Lord, followed the Levites to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices to God–and Rehoboam’s kingdom was strengthened anyway!
Don’t worry: it gets worse, you see, a prophet is sent to Jeroboam predicting that someone named Josiah will be born into David’s line, that he will sacrifice the priests of the high places, human bones will be burned on these altars and that the altar will be split apart and the ashes on it poured out (in Bible times, the spilling of ashes rendered the sacrifice useless).  Jeroboam is so angered by this that he stretches out his right hand, saying to his guardsmen, “Sieze him!” and his hand shrivels up.  But God in His infinite grace and mercy, healed him when the prophet prayed on his behalf.
Unfortunately, Jeroboam did not learn his lesson and did not change his evil ways, moving into I Kings 13.  Once more, he appointed priests for the high places from all sorts of people, ignoring many of God’s commands, including that of Exodus 40:12-15 that Aaron and his sons should be consecrated to the Lord as priests, that this should continue from generations to come and well as his command in Dueteronomy 12:13 not to sacrifice anywhere he pleased, but to offer sacrifices only in places that the Lord chooses.  And according to I Kings 13:34, this led to the downfall and the destruction of this kingdom from the face of the earth.  Jeroboam was muddying the waters–big time–and this could only lead to destruction.
Part II
From Gold to Bronze: The Royal Walk of Shame
If you will, now, follow me into Chapter 14, the story continues in this same vein of disobedience.  Jeroboam’s son has become ill, so he sends his wife, the queen, disguised, to the prophet Ahijah to see what will come of the boy.  Interestingly enough, the disguise that his wife put on was completely useless, as Ahijah is blind and the Lord told him ahead of time that she was coming.  This is what will become of Jeroboam:  The Lord outlines exactly what Jeroboam is guilty of “You have done more evil than all who lived before you.  You have made for yourself other gods, idols made of metal; you have provoked me to anger and thrust me behind your back.  He goes on to outline the consequences.  “Because of this, I am going to bring disaster on the house of Jeroboam.  I will cut off from Jeroboam every last male in Israel–slave or free.  I will burn up the house of Jeroboam as one burns dung, until it is all gone.  Dogs will eat those belonging to Jeroboam who die in the city and the birds of the air will feed on those who die in the country.  The Lord has spoken!”
He goes on to say that as soon as she enters the city, their son will die.   The Lord will raise up for himself a king over Israel who will cut off the family of Jeroboam.  He will uproot Israel from the good land that God gave to their forefathers AND he “will give Israel up because of the sins Jeroboam has committed and has caused Israel to commit.”  This last phrase is pretty bone-chilling, because here the sins of the father are being paid for by generation upon generation with displacement and unrest. 
Which begs the question, how can our sins, our repeated offenses to God have an effect on our children, our community, our nation.  It is sobering to say the least.
True to God’s word, Jeroboam’s son dies and later, Jeroboam’s house is destroyed.
But the roots of disobedience do not end there, we switch the camera lens to Judah, with Rehoboam as their king later on in I Kings 14:22.  Scripture says that Judah did evil in the eyes of the Lord, by the sins they committed, they stirred up his jealous anger more than their fathers had done, they set up idols and engage in all sorts of “detestable practices of the nations the Lord had driven out before the Israelites”.  This sin crippling has a far-reaching effect: in the fifth year of King Rehoboam, Shishak, king of Egypt attacked Jerusalem and carried off the treasure of the temple and the royal palace, taking everything, including the golden shields that Solomon had made.  King Rehoboam made bronze shields to replace them and assigned them to the commanders of the guard on duty at the entrance to the royal palace.  “Whenever the king went to the Lord’s temple the guards bore the shields, and afterward they returned them to the guardroom.”  I don’t know what it is about this verse that frustrates and discourages me so much.  Apparently, the original shields, made of gold were valued at somewhere around 5M dollars and sadly the bronze shields were worth only a fraction of that…
What acts of disobedience in my life have resulted in my attempting to remake my shields.  It’s pathetic, really, when left to my own devices what facades I’ll try to construct to make things look ok, and when I realize how truly glorious they could be when left in God’s hand in God’s timing.
And yet, here is this beyond beautiful picture of God’s grace in the midst of all this cheap imitation: it’s obvious from this recent attack that the nation of Judah is in some serious trouble, so we see in 2 Chronicles that the leaders of Israel, for a time, humbled themselves and said, “The Lord is just.” Because of their repentance, he does not destroy them, but does allow them to become subjected to Shishak. He is disciplining them, just as he disciplines us, somedays I feel He is constantly disciplining me, but that’s the other lovely part of all of this.  What if He is?  He disciplines those he loves.  Wow, what a privilege, in a way, that I am part of my Creator’s Creative process.  He is refining me, burning off the ugly stuff, replacing it with bits of colored glass and ceramic, only more beautiful.  You see, the same God who created this,

and this,

 is working on me, can you imagine how lovely we will be when his process in through (that is,  the day he takes us home!)

Psalm 78: 38 Yet he was merciful; he forgave their iniquities and did not destroy them.  Time after time he restrained his anger and did not stir up his full wrath.  He remembered that they were but flesh, a passing breeze that does not return.

He HAS Done It

The words of David in Psalm 22, written some thousand years before Christ himself uttered them on the cross in Matthew 27:46:
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
 Why are you so far from saving me,
 so far from my cries of anguish?
My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
 by night, but I find no rest.
Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One;
 you are the one Israel praises.
In you our ancestors put their trust;
 they trusted and you delivered them.
To you they cried out and were saved;
 in you they trusted and were not put to shame.
But I am a worm and not a man,
 scorned by everyone, despised by the people.
All who see me mock me;
 they hurl insults, shaking their heads.
“He trusts in the Lord,” they say,
 “let the Lord rescue him.
Let him deliver him,
 since he delights in him.”
Yet you brought me out of the womb;
 you made me trust in you, even at my mother’s breast.
10 
From birth I was cast on you;
 from my mother’s womb you have been my God.
11 
Do not be far from me,
 for trouble is near
 and there is no one to help.
12 
Many bulls surround me;
 strong bulls of Bashan encircle me.
13 
Roaring lions that tear their prey
 open their mouths wide against me.
14 
I am poured out like water,
 and all my bones are out of joint.
My heart has turned to wax;
 it has melted within me.
15 
My mouth is dried up like a potsherd,
 and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth;
 you lay me in the dust of death.
16 
Dogs surround me,
 a pack of villains encircles me;
 they pierce my hands and my feet.
17 
All my bones are on display;
 people stare and gloat over me.
18 
They divide my clothes among them
 and cast lots for my garment.
19 
But you, Lord, do not be far from me.
 You are my strength; come quickly to help me.
20 
Deliver me from the sword,
 my precious life from the power of the dogs.
21 
Rescue me from the mouth of the lions;
 save me from the horns of the wild oxen.
22 
I will declare your name to my people;
 in the assembly I will praise you.
23 
You who fear the Lord, praise him!
 All you descendants of Jacob, honor him!
 Revere him, all you descendants of Israel!
24 
For he has not despised or scorned
 the suffering of the afflicted one; 
he has not hidden his face from him
 but has listened to his cry for help.
25 
From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly;
 before those who fear you I will fulfill my vows.
26 
The poor will eat and be satisfied;
 those who seek the Lord will praise him—
may your hearts live forever!
27 
All the ends of the earth
 will remember and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations
 will bow down before him,
28 
for dominion belongs to the Lord
 and he rules over the nations.
29 
All the rich of the earth will feast and worship;
 all who go down to the dust will kneel before him—
    those who cannot keep themselves alive.
30 
Posterity will serve him;
 future generations will be told about the Lord.
31 
They will proclaim his righteousness,
 declaring to a people yet unborn:
 He has done it!