Tuesday, May 9, 2006

The Story of Jesus of Valdosta

I discovered today that the Cotton Patch Gospel is now available online. If you have never heard of the Cotton Patch Gospel, it was written by Clarence Jordan, a southern minister who also started an intentional community called Koinonia Farm in the 1940's, and underwent a lot of persecution because Koinonia Farm was a community of both blacks and whites. A Koinonia Farms project to build houses for poor people in Americus, Georgia was a precursor to Habitat for Humanity (Millard Fuller, the founder of Habitat, ran the Koinonia Partnership Housing project for its first few years).

When I first read parts of the Cotton Patch Gospel, I was a little put off by it. Clarence Jordan has torn the New Testament from its first century Palestine roots and plopped it down into mid-20th century Georgia. I used to think it was just quaint, but I have come to the understanding that it is trying to give you a story you can relate to better. You might be able to picture people and places better when their names are familiar. It isn't just giving things different names, he changes some of the situations. In the letters of Paul, where he had been talking about circumcision and the inclusion of Gentiles in the church, in the CPG, he is talking about segregation and churches that include both blacks and whites.

One of the things that was changed that seems a little harder to get used to is that Jesus was lynched. Instead of the cross, Paul talks about the noose. For example, this is an excerpt from the 1st Letter to the Christians in Atlanta (the modern-day Corinth):

To the so-called "practical" people, the idea of the noose is a lot of silly talk, but to those of us who have been let in on its meaning, it is the source of divine power. It’s just like the Scripture says:

I will tear to bits the dissertations of the Ph.D’s;
I will pull the rug from under those who have all the answers.

I just love the part about tearing to bits the dissertations of the Ph.D's, it is quite a vivid image. The original was something to the effect of "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise".

When you read the CPG version of Matthew, however, Jesus was crucified. Matthew was a later work for Jordan, so perhaps he was also not as comfortable with the idea of a noose instead of a cross. Even if you don't enjoy the Cotton Patch Gospel, it is instructive and inspiring to read about its author. You can find out more about Clarence and Koinonia Partners at the Koinonia Partners web site.