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Posts Tagged ‘Clarence Jordan’

My friend Amanda snapped me out of my blogging slump today, with this great post about what it means to be a neighbor. It got me thinking…what kind of a neighbor am I?

I’d like to say I’m the type of neighbor who always thinks of others before myself. I’d like to testify that my house is filled with friends, that I frequently visit others just to say hello, that I create about myself a calming presence that welcomes everyone into my midst so that I can show them God’s love in the way I behave.

Reality, I must confess, is unfortunately the flip side of that coin. I’m usually so busy rushing from task to task that I walk too fast to notice the blue sky, much less to pay attention to the needy person in my path. My house is usually a mess, and though I aspire to have friends over for tea, the invitations I issue are too few and too infrequent. I rarely visit or call on others unless I need their help with something, and only after my agenda items have been covered do I ask how they are doing. And since I haven’t been managing my stress well, people are more likely to encounter emotional shrapnel from my venting than meeting me as a serene and loving daughter of the most high.

All right, I’ll stop blasting myself for a minute now and say that I am pretty good at welcoming people, I do love to hear and share stories about all sorts of topics, and generally people give me feedback that it’s fun to be with me. But lately, I’ve been so caught up in project lists, or caring for sick kids, or crying over all the stress in my life, that I’ve been shutting others out. And it’s about time I pulled my head out of my own backside for a minute to take hold of all the opportunities I have to become a better neighbor.

When Jesus issued the Golden Rule, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind. And love your neighbor as you love yourself,” one of his listeners (an expert in religious law) challenged him to define neighbor. This is when Jesus told the parable of the good Samaritan. The tale is so familiar that it’s almost become cliche, yet it sill presents a direct challenge to our modern attitudes and prejudices. In Clarence Jordan’s Cotton Patch Version of Luke 10, the injured man is white and the Samaritan is a black man. In the more familiar version of the story, it’s well-known that Samaritans and Jews did not hold mixed company. Jesus skillfully turns the idea of neighbor on its head! We are to live as neighbors to everyone, not just to people who are like us, or who make us feel completely comfortable all the time.

But even more relevant to my current predicament is the analysis of those who did not stop. All of them were in a hurry to get on with some self-important errand. Yes, I would argue that motivation to serve in the ancient temples, and especially in today’s churches, can easily be born in the ego rather than the heart. We can get caught up in the work, in the plans, in the fundraising and maintaining our image. All for what? For nothing, if at the end of the day we have no energy left to enter the holy experience of being a neighbor to those we encounter.

Perhaps this recent stress I’ve been going through coupled with being sick at home all last week, and now still at home caring for my daughter who has bronchitis…maybe these are blessings in disguise. Each obstacle has forced me to slow down, to think about what’s most important in life, and to truly value the people around me who’ve loved me enough to let me say “no” to the daily grind, and who have kept things going in my absence. Perhaps all the agendas can be set aside. And then I can grasp hold of this new opportunity to remember what the Golden Rule was all about in the first place.

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” When I think of all this I get down on my knees before the Father who has stamped his image on every race in heaven and on earth, and I beg him to give you, out of his glorious abundance, the power to win by his Spirit ruling your inner life. God grant that Christ, through your faith, might establish residence in your hearts. May love be your tap root and foundation. May you have the strength to grasp with all God’s people the width and length and height and depth of the love of Christ which surpasses all human understanding. Let God’s fullness fill you.”

Ephesians 3:14-19, Cotton Patch Version

Back in March, I was reading William Powers’ Twelve By Twelve and wrote a post called Sacrifice Your Birthright. Today I’ve been pondering again over my privilege as a white North American woman.

My thoughts rested on an experience from my college days, on a particular evening when I was waxing philosophical with a couple of friends. One was a young, naive white man who had come to college to find a wife. The other was my friend Kamran, whose parents had moved to the U.S. from Iran when he was a small child so his father could pursue a career as a doctor. The conversation bounced all over the map, until we began talking about our grade school days. All three of us had experienced some relentless teasing and physical bullying. During Kamran’s turn to tell his story, our other friend nodded vigorously and proclaimed over and over again, “Yeah, man. I know what you mean!” I could tell that Kamran was frustrated, but was a bit taken aback when he suddenly insisted, “No, no you don’t!”

He went on. “You’ll never know what that felt like, because you’re white! My family came over here with money, education, status. But I’m still treated like I might be carrying a bomb in my jacket, just because of how I look. You’ll never know what that’s like, because you blend in with all of them.”

Now, this happened back in 1997, so I’m paraphrasing Kamran’s response. But the gist of his message has stayed with me ever since that night. Because I’m white, I don’t and never will experience discrimination in the same way as a person of color. Even when I traveled to Honduras with Habitat for Humanity that same winter, and we were refused service at a gas station because our bus was full of gringos. Even when I was touring Spain in 1999, and there was anti-American graffiti because of some international situation that was upsetting folks that particular year, and some people sneered and swore at me in the streets. Even when I had dreadlocks in my hair and the airport security searched my bag for drug paraphernalia (I have never been searched before or since). Even when I took my daughter to a birthday party here in southern Georgia, and we were the only white people there, and I awkwardly made conversation and tried to help with the food preparations, making all the wrong moves.

Because in Honduras, we simply went to the next gas station and got served. In Spain, most of the people left us alone. A few months after my flight, I cut off my dreadlocks. And after the birthday party, I shook off the awkward feeling and went back out into the world where I am part of a white majority. In other words, I always had a relatively simple way out of an uncomfortable situation.

In 2002 Kamran took a winding road trip that encompassed all 49 states on the continent. During the trip, he crossed the Canadian border so he could visit Alaska. He was heavily searched during both crossings, with little or no explanation. He was even forced to use a crow bar to pry open his glove compartment, which had jammed shut years before, simply because he looks like he’s from the Middle East. When he told me about the experience, he tried to laugh it off, but he was angry and hurt by the discrimination levered against him.

I recently heard a white man say to a black friend, “When I was in Africa, the only white man in the village, I finally understood what segregation must have been like.” I wanted to jump out of my seat, to yell and scream, “No, no you don’t!” Because in Africa, white people are not forced to use separate bathrooms from the Africans. They are not forced into slavery, treated like second-class citizens, jailed for no apparent reason beyond the color of their skin, shoved into corners and forgotten about, dying nameless deaths. No, in Africa, this particular white man went on to say, he was frowned at until he smiled and waved, and then the villagers waved back. The kids were curious about his hairy arms and pale skin. He did some good deeds, and a week later he was back home. That’s all. His experience simply gave him a two-dimensional snapshot, a mere glimpse of a fragment of a moment in time, compared to the agony that black Americans have been through in the last 200 years.

It’s a bitter pill to swallow the truth of racial discrimination as it exists in our world today. In the past I’ve tried to argue that all prejudice is the same, but now I’m not so sure. Because these wrongs have been passed down through generations, and we cannot hope to right all the wrongs of slavery and genocide, of racial profiling and workplace discrimination. A few friendships across racial lines cannot heal enough wounds to bring reconciliation between people whose families and cultures have suffered under injustice for centuries. In short, it would take a miracle to bring about that sort of peace.

The truth as it stands for me is that I need to continue sacrificing my birthright. I need to listen to others’ stories, and recognize that though I can empathize, I’m a long way from knowing what it is to be in someone else’s shoes. That goes for my friends who are black, Latino, Arab, Asian, or even white for that matter. And when I admit what I don’t understand, that’s when God can step in and show me that the miracle of peace was completed over 2000 years ago, and that it continues to unfold before me every day, if I’d only take the time to listen to his word.

I’ll leave you with the text from another chapter in Clarence Jordan’s Cotton Patch Version of Ephesians. Translated into the dialect of southern Georgia in the 1950’s (where black and white churches had replaced Jews and Gentiles) Clarence said of his volumes, “If this humble work may be used of God to enlarge and strengthen the faith of others in his Son Jesus Christ, then indeed my joy will be full.”

Ephesians 2 CPV

1.         In days gone by you all were living in your sin and filth like a bunch of stinking corpses, giving your allegiance to material things and ruled by the power of custom. You can still see this spirit working now in the lives of those who won’t listen. In fact, at one time or another all of us were following our selfish inclinations and doing just as we pretty well pleased, because we were naturally just as big scoundrels as everybody else. But even though we were a bunch of corpses rotting in our mess, God in his overflowing sympathy and great love breathed the same new life into us as into Christ. (You have been rescued, I remind you, by divine intervention.) With Christ Jesus he resurrected us and elevated us to the spiritual household. This clearly demonstrates forever the untold richness of his favor which he so kindly bestowed upon us in Christ Jesus. So again I remind you, you have been rescued by his kind action alone, channeled through your faith. You didn’t get this on your own; it was God’s free gift. So nobody can brag that he himself achieved it. For we are his doing, made for the good deeds which God intended all along for us as Christians to practice.

11.         So then, always remember that previously you Negroes,who sometimes are even called “niggers” by thoughtless white church members, were at one time outside the Christian fellowship, denied your rights as fellow believers, and treated as though the gospel didn’t apply to you, hopeless and God-forsaken in the eyes of the world. Now, however, because of Christ’s supreme sacrifice, you who once were so segregated are warmly welcomed into the Christian fellowship.

14.         He himself is our peace. It was he who integrated us and abolished the segregation patterns which caused so much hostility. He allowed no silly traditions and customs in his fellowship, so that in it he might integrate the two into one new body. In this way he healed the hurt, and by his sacrifice on the cross he joined together both sides into one body for God. In it the hostility no longer exists.

17.         When he came, he preached the same message of peace to those on both the inside and outside. In him we both found a common spiritual approach to the Father. So then, you are no longer segregated and pushed around, but you are fellow citizens with all Christians and respected members of God’s family. This is based on the unshakable foundation Jesus himself laid down through the apostles and other men of God, with Christ being the cornerstone. Around him all the rest of the building is fitted together into a dedicated temple of the Lord. And you all are a vital part of God’s spiritual dwelling place.

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“What the poor need is co-workers, not caseworkers; capital, not charity.” –Clarence Jordan

Lately I’ve been hyper-sensitive to the types of societal issues that can’t be solved by latching onto a particular cause and pushing for a certain outcome in a certain circumstance. What I’m talking about is issues that seem to encompass the problem in and of itself, but when I really begin to dig into the causes and conditions beneath the surface, I find that U.S. society is obsessed with removal of symptoms without treating the disease.

When it comes to poverty, we throw money and possessions at the problem, and tell people to do silly things like “pull yourself up by your boot straps.” To solve world hunger, we think we need to grow more food faster and cheaper. To put an end to war, we hold marches and rallies and demand that lawmakers make peace. To end crime we hire police officers and judges to arrest and convict criminals. The symptoms neatly taken care of, or maybe just shoved into a dark corner, we do-gooders pat ourselves on the back for a job well done and add a slash to our collection of good deeds.

This approach just isn’t good enough for me any more, and so I’m trying to be patient while I wait for God to reveal to me how he would like me to respond to the systemic problems that, according to Jesus, require the attention of all Christians. Living with integrity is an important part of it, but the other piece is having compassion for those I would like to judge, truly being willing to care for the “poor in spirit” even when it’s inconvenient.

At Koinonia, the reality of societal sickness is often right in front of my face, and there is nowhere to hide from the openly wounded souls who show up on our doorstep all too often. I am confronted with poverty, hunger, prejudice, alcoholism and addiction on a regular basis. And it’s so tempting to offer unsolicited advice, or to bark orders, to blame others for my reactions, or to just throw up my hands in despair and turn my back on those who suffer. But I am always reminded that Jesus came into the world for those who are sick; since I consider myself one of Christ’s disciples, I must learn the amount of humility it takes to serve those who are reviled by society.

And then there are those who seem outwardly fine, but bring with them a deep spiritual hunger. It’s not always obvious when a well-to-do family or a happily retired couple or a seeking college student arrives that they need anything at all. But when they are willing to reveal it, frequently they need just as much if not more along the lines of spiritual sustenance than those with obvious troubles.

As Clarence Jordan so simply stated, the poor need people not to throw them a few bones, but to walk alongside of them without judging them, and to stay present even when it would be more “sensible” to send them packing. This means, in some cases, physical work and cash money. But in all cases it entails prayer, compassion and willingness to engage in relationships.

When I look at it from a gospel perspective, the causes and conditions might not be so complex after all. Jesus says “Come to me, all you weary, and I will give you rest.” In light of this humble request, the causes and conditions are rooted in our stubborn refusal to come openly before Christ and allow him to work in and through us.

I pray that we may stay in relationship with the Lord and with one another long enough to realize the miracles that he created us to be. And in such a moment when we understand the wonder of our very existence, may we find relief from the troubles of this world. For Jesus did not tell us to rest after every problem has been solved and we’ve gotten everything just right.  He invites us now, to find rest in him. Only in accepting salvation through life in Christ can we be open enough for true miracles take place.

I’ll close with chapter 13 of the Tao Te Ching. The way I read this, groundedness in “the way things are” means seeking life in Christ and “the world” as God’s omnipresent spirit. Balance is achieved through faith, which enables us to act without fear:

Success is as dangerous as failure.
Hope is as hollow as fear.

What does it mean that success is a dangerous as failure?
Whether you go up the ladder or down it,
you position is shaky.
When you stand with your two feet on the ground,
you will always keep your balance.

What does it mean that hope is as hollow as fear?
Hope and fear are both phantoms
that arise from thinking of the self.
When we don’t see the self as self,
what do we have to fear?

See the world as your self.
Have faith in the way things are.
Love the world as your self;
then you can care for all things.

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“Wake up from your sleep,
Climb out of your coffins;
Christ will show you the light!

–Ephesians 5:16

In Clarence Jordan’s Cotton Patch versions of the Gospel, he names Satan “the Confuser.” This is the best description of evil I have ever heard. In my confusion, I replaced reality with a world of dreams. I did not know I was harming myself and others. I was asleep, dead to real living, impervious to any other way.

Growing up in the church, I was taught that all humans are inherently sinful and that no matter how hard we try we cannot become perfect in God’s eyes. The only way to salvation was through belief in the death and resurrection of Jesus, but there was this whole other part about how Christians should act that always…well…confused the hell out of me. Literally.

As a young adult, I had grown weary of sitting in church on Sunday mornings muttering the hymn-book confession. I can still remember  most of it: “I, a poor miserable sinner confess unto Thee all my sins and iniquities with which I have ever offended Thee, and justly deserve Thy temporal and eternal punishment…” And so forth. Like so many of my peers, I grew up with the image of an angry God seeking justice against my sins, and try as I might I couldn’t reconcile that furious father with the supposed unconditional love of the Messiah. It just didn’t make any sense.

I chose a different path, one that seemed easier and softer. I quit going to church unless I was with my parents. I stopped using words like “God” and “Jesus” because it was too hard for me to say them without conjuring up feelings of shame and guilt. Instead of praying, I began “putting my intention out to the universe.” Original sin became a relic from archaic times, because I knew I was made in perfection, and so everything that happened was therefore perfect. I believed in some sort of omnipotent, omniscient being, but one that only wanted me to be happy every moment of every day.

And so, as I said above, I’d had the hell confused out of me. In other words, at the hands of the Confuser I’d stopped believing in hell and sin. I thought that if I just believed something different, then forces of evil and destruction would cease to exist. I believed that heaven was to be experienced here and now, and if I got into a high enough state of consciousness I would be able to stay forever in a state of enlightenment.

The thing is, throughout those years I was far from happy. In fact, they were some of the darkest times in my life so far. I spent most of my time trying to escape, seeking my happiness at the bottom of bottles of booze, getting high in an attempt to raise my consciousness.  I struggled with severe depression and waded through a sea of broken relationships and friendships. How could the benevolent universe have led me to such depths?

After sobering up, I continued my search for eternal happiness. Yet even though my intentions were set on love, peace and joy, depression still lingered near and try as I might I couldn’t keep from harming those I loved the most. There were many happy, spiritually charged times as I embarked on the road to self re-discovery. Through recovery work I learned how to deal with the reality of what my life had become and what I could do to change things. I also began learning how to pray again, but I still had a hard time with the concept of God. I believed I had already lived through hell, and the afterlife became a moot point.

Looking back, though, I can see how God was working in my life, even working through all the idols an blocks I had built up around me. Even through my shield of self-reliance, God found small inroads that would later break open my dream-world and bring me back to his light. This morning when I read the verse from Ephesians, I was reminded of a passage from A Course in Miracles that I read many years ago:

The dreamer of a dream is not awake,
but does not know he sleeps…

What difference does the content
of a dream make in reality?
One either sleeps or wakens.
There is nothing in between.

You must learn the cost of sleeping
and refuse to pay it.
Only then will you decide to awaken.

Three years ago I became a Christian and dedicated myself to Christ’s teachings and God’s will. One would think that this awakening would lead me to a blessed assurance of salvation, and even higher experiences of heaven on Earth. I was shocked to discover that a few months after inviting Jesus to live in my heart, my belief in sin and hell had returned in a very real way, and for the first time in my life I knew that the Devil was alive and well in the world.

I used to think that the power of the Devil was big and dramatic. Now I know that Satan does not need to wreak havoc on Earth, because all of us do the dirty work for him. The Confuser is not the one “making me do bad things.” If that were the case, I wouldn’t have free will. No, the Confuser is the one who whispers and sneers from the back of my memory, calling me back to the dream world, back to my coffin. He says things like, “They don’t really care about you…Don’t trust them…It won’t make any difference anyways…Go back to your escape, you’ll be safer there…” and suddenly I’m disbelieving God’s will, thinking I’m not fit to live out my calling in this world. I’m tempted to retreat to the dreamworld, where everything seems so much easier.

All the while, God is patiently lighting my way, reaching out his hand for me to hold if I want it, waiting on me to ask his advice. I want to choose the way of life always, the path of the wakeful warrior, always alert to the spiritual snares along the way. I have learned the cost of sleeping, and it is too great for me to bear any more.

I confess that I have fallen short, and I place myself in God’s care. I have put down my old ways of shame and guilt. The voice of the Confuser is present, but I choose not to listen. I am awake. I am ready. I belong to God.

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Today I was driving down Highway 49 on my way back to the farm, mindlessly taking the subtle curves and staring at the amazingly blue sky filled with bright, fluffy clouds. Suddenly I was jolted out of my bliss by the sound of something striking my windshield. A large butterfly left an iridescent red streak on the glass, and it got me thinking about what it truly means to live a life in service to God and his kingdom.

Clarence Jordan, founder of Koinonia Farm (the community where I live) and author of the Cotton Patch translations of the Scriptures, preached an amazing sermon entitled Metamorphosis.  He explains how the Greek root of the word that we translate as “repent” means much more than simply feeling sorry for something and asking for forgiveness. The Greek Bible uses the word “metanoia” which is the root of metamorphosis. So God is not calling us to simply change our minds or ask for his help. He’s actually calling us to become entirely new.

If I were to look at a caterpillar with no knowledge of its life cycle, never in a million years would I imagine that it would engulf itself in its own cocoon and emerge a week later as a delicate, colorful winged creature that gently sips nectar from flowers. This transformation is nothing short of miraculous.

In the same way, when God calls us to metanoia, he means that we should become entirely new in our relationship with Christ. It takes an incredible leap of faith to go through that sort of change. What’s happening to the caterpillar inside of that cocoon? How on earth does it change its form like that? What does it feel like? If I say yes to the cocoon, how much will I have to sacrifice? Will it be painful? Will I still be me after I “hatch,” after I am literally born a second time around?

We cannot let our fear of the unknown stop us from growing into the awe-inspiring creatures God intended us to be. Likewise, once we have been through this transformation we cannot become so obsessed with preserving our newly transformed state that we never fly out across the highway. So what if our guts get splattered across the proverbial windshield of life? God is there with us, and he will make something lasting and beautiful out of our kingdom work, a calling that might lead is into painful, even deadly circumstances.

I also find myself thinking of the early Koinonians as I write this. They were literally willing to die for their faith, if that’s what it would take to show God’s message to the people of their times. I wonder, as a present member following their incredible legacy, am I following God’s vision for my life so closely that if he called me to lay down my life in his name I would risk that much? From my safe, comfortable couch, clicking away at the keys on my laptop, it’s so easy to say yes.

My prayer tonight is that, when the call comes, I will be ready to risk everything to reveal God’s infinite love and beauty to the world. That when he calls me to fly out over the road and I see the windshield coming at me, I would trust God’s outcome, willing to be the splatter of butterfly guts that could steer one of God’s children back on track.

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Today was a rough day at Koinonia. I believe in Clarence Jordan’s assessment of the devil as “the great confuser,” and there was some pretty serious confusion among the folk at the farm this morning. People were arguing, grumbling for no apparent reason, complaining, wallowing, and falling prey to self-righteousness and judgmentalism. Meanwhile, pipes were leaking, water heaters were failing, neighbors called needing a place to stay because their house burned down last week, someone called looking for a place to bury their impoverished friend who had suddenly died…the requests couldn’t have been more random or poorly timed. All the while, the storm named Ida (which is my 5-year-old’s name) was encroaching, and so the pecan harvest will face another setback this week.

With all the opportunity for ill-will and bad behavior, of course most (if not all) of us succumbed to the temptation to sin at one point or another. A friend of mine said he felt as though “the weight of evil had descended” on his shoulders. I, for one, fell into complaining in front of visitors, spreading rumors, and generally behaving like a total nag powered by self-righteous zeal to get everyone else straightened out in their thinking.

Just about every night before I log off of my computer, I click over to Bible Gateway to see what the verse of the day is. And just about every time I do that, the verse is exactly what I need that day. Today was no exception. The verse of the day always shows up in the New International Version, which is not my favorite translation. But tonight the good ol’ NIV did the trick.

Isaiah 1:18

“Come now, let us reason together,”
says the LORD.
“Though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson,
they shall be like wool.

What strikes me is the nature of God’s invitation to reason. In the Message translation it says, “Let’s argue this out.” The New Living Translation reads, “Let’s settle this.” But NIV calls for reason. My trusty online dictionary defines reason as “a rational motive for a belief or action.” It also uses words like logic and justification. So when God calls for reason, you might expect a logical, rational solution to the problems that his followers are facing.

Yet, as we read on, the very next sentence shows that God’s reason says sins will be washed away, that blood-stains will be made white as freshly fallen snow, as the wool of a lamb. Where’s the logic or rationality in that? It’s totally beyond reason.

This is why I’ve come to love this crazy God, father of all creation. No matter how tarnished I appear, regardless of how impossibly stained I am by the sins of my past, I can bring everything I have and everything I am to God. No need to hide anything, after all God sees all and knows all. And even with all the ugliness of sin, he loves me just as I am, so much that he’ll take on all my burdens and give me a fresh start every time.

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As most of the world now knows, Millard Fuller, the founder of Habitat for Humanity and the Fuller Center for housing, passed on to the next world this past Tuesday. His death was completely unexpected, as the 74-year-old lived life with a vigor that makes my 30-year-old body feel tired just thinking about it.

For anyone who doesn’t know his story yet, Millard’s life changed drastically when he first visited Koinonia Farm with his family 43 years ago. He had been a successful lawyer and wealthy businessman through his 20’s, but was already veering down a new path when he first set foot on our farm. His marriage was falling apart, and when his wife Linda called for change, the two of them decided to sell everything and set out seeking God’s will for their future. They had no intention of joining a community. They were just traveling through the south. In fact, the story goes that they did not much want to visit Koinonia the day they came, but had an obligation to connect with an old friend.

Well, long story short, they came to Koinonia planning to stay for less than an hour. But they were enticed to stay for lunch (magical things still sometimes happen during community lunch hour!), and after they met Clarence Jordan they stayed for the day. The day turned into a week, then a month…then five years. It seemed that God had some ideas for Millard and Linda the day they drove through Georgia. Conversations between Millard and Clarence opened up the realm of the Holy Spirit to them, and once the inspiration took hold it was impossible to stop. Through their shared vision and through lots of prayerful listening, the idea of Partnership Housing** was born and eventually it grew into Habitat for Humanity International, and continues with the Fuller Center for Housing. Literally millions of lives have been touched by the witness of Habitat and the Fuller Center, and thousands of homes stand as proof that God has a calling for each one of us, if only we would show up and listen to him.

My own life was drastically changed when I went on my first Habitat build during my sophomore year in college. I traveled with a group of students to a small village in Honduras, where we doubled the size of a 13-member household’s living space (from one room to two) and built sidewalks around a one-room school. I had never seen such poverty, nor had I ever met such genuine people as I met on those mountains. After the first day I knew for certain that wherever my path would take me, service to others would have to be the heart of my life’s work.

Now, living in a community that recognizes service as one of our “pillars” of daily life, I sometimes lose sight of that certainty. I sometimes forget that service is my calling. I get wrapped up in the personal dramas as they unfold, get disgruntled and whiny about all the work I have to do…I focus on myself first, and others fade into the background until I forget they are there.

The day that Millard died, a group of Koinonians met with his family to plan the funeral. His wish was to be buried just as Clarence Jordan had been, unenbalmed, in a simple wooden box, without too much fanfare. He would be buried at the same site as Clarence, on Picnic Hill at the edge of one of our pecan orchards. The burial needed to take place within 48 hours of his death, as Georgia laws allow unenbalmed burial within that narrow time frame.

So there was Millard’s family, less than 12 hours after his passing, still not even sure what had caused his untimely demise, sitting in the meeting room in our office planning his funeral. I was in the office that day working, grumbling a bit about the fact that the construction of our new website is so far behind, and as the Fullers walked in I was forced to come out of myself for a moment. I have eaten lunch with Linda in our dining hall, but only know her informally. She looked exhausted, and I knew she had probably not slept all night. I felt like I should hug her or something, offer her some comfort. I half-smiled and said hello, mumbled that I was sorry. And then Linda stopped me in my tracks.

Imagine losing the love of your life, your best friend. Then imagine that their death was completely unexpected. That you had been up all night trying to piece it together, to make sense of it all. That you had struggled to recognize God’s hand and remain faithful, but you were still confused, filled with grief. Whose needs would come first in this situation? A stranger’s? A distant friend? Or your own?

Well, it might seem insignificant, but as Linda Fuller walked into our office to plan her husband’s funeral, she smiled at me and noticed that I had a new haircut (and the last time she saw me was more than a month ago). “Oh, you cut your hair!” she exclaimed and her face lit up for a moment beneath her fatigue, as I was awkwardly mumbling my regrets and sympathy.

My friend Amanda told me later that I had looked so confused by her compliment, and in fact I could not piece together a response. She said I kind of stammered, “wha- wha- what?” and shook my head. I’ve been thinking about that moment every day since, and all I know is, I want to be like Linda Fuller when I grow up. I want to be thinking of other people’s needs before my own so much that I will notice them even in my hour of deepest sorrow. So much that I will ask how they are doing and truly listen to the answer regardless of what is going on with me that day. So much that, if I felt God was calling me to it, I would give up everything familiar to me and set out to seek his will for my life regardless of the outcome, just as the Fullers did when they stumbled upon Koinonia.

Millard’s funeral bore witness to how deeply one person can affect our entire world, and how much God can do through the faith of one believer. Less than 48 hours after his death, hundreds of people gathered from all over the continent at a small farm in rural Georgia to carry out his wishes and lay him to rest. The songs and laughter, shouts of “Amen!” and heartfelt prayers stirred my soul that day. The torch had been passed. God was calling each of us closer to him, giving us a little more of the picture of his calling for Habitat, the Fuller Center, and most importantly for Koinonia.

I’m not the type to imagine the people in heaven looking out over us here on earth. But for some reason, I could just feel the reunion of Millard and Clarence, and I will forever picture them embracing one another with laughter and smiling out over our little demonstration plot. We who live here now are charged with carrying forward the vision of all those who have come before us. We are called to be so faithful that we will follow God’s calling for us, no matter what it takes, that we will follow it without fear and bear witness to his hand in it all.

I don’t know if I will ever get to tell Linda this story, but I will never forget the way that God spoke to me through her that morning. He seemed to be saying, “I love you, you’re mine, and you’re amazing! Stop looking at all that’s wrong in the world. Go make sure that other people know that I love them too!” And it was exactly what I needed to hear.

**You can click on the link for Partnership Housing to read an excellent letter from Clarence Jordan describing the genesis of the idea.

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