Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Tales From The Cotton Patch

Today was the eighteenth day of school and I have already introduced Cotton Patch Gospel to my classes. If you have never heard of it, read on from this entry dated August of 2008.

It was at Nebraska Youth Camp when I was a kid that I first heard of Cotton Patch Gospel. Harold Tandy, one of our directors and a NYC legend, read to the campers from this book during several of our many devotional times. Cotton Patch Gospel was the work of Clarence Jordan, a radical for-his-time writer and theologian from Georgia. Jordan had the audacity to believe that people should be treated with respect and dignity, regardless of their skin color or ethnicity. With that premise, he put large sections of the New Testament into the context of 20th century America. Thus, Jesus was born in Gainesville, Georgia to a young couple named Mary Hagler and Joe Davidson. After his upbringing in Valdosta, Georgia, Jesus began his ministry which led ultimately to his lynching in Atlanta. In the epistles, as seen by Jordan, Jewish and Gentile struggles became tensions between black and white. As you might guess, the KKK hated Jordan with a passion and did their best to make his life miserable.

In the 1980's, actor Tom Key came upon the writings of Jordan and turned them into a one act play. Key then persuaded Harry Chapin (Cats In The Cradle) to set the performance to music and Cotton Patch Gospel became a musical. We use the video of Key's work in my Bible classes. I emphasize that Jordan's version is not the Bible but more like a skit that makes us think. The video is hilarious, gut-wrenching, and thought provoking. Below, I have included the introduction of John The Baptist, taken from Jordan's rewriting of the gospels of Matthew and Luke:

Now during the fifteenth year of Tiberius as President, while Pontius Pilate was governor of Georgia, and Herod was governor of Alabama, his brother Philip being governor of Mississippi, and Lysanias still holding out over Arkansas; while Annas and Caiaphas were co-presidents of the Southern Baptist Convention, the word of God came to Zack’s boy, John, down on the farm. And he went all around in the rural areas preaching a dipping in water–a symbol of a changed way of life as the basis for getting things straightened out. This guy John was dressed in blue jeans and a leather jacket, and he was living on corn bread and collard greens. Folks were coming to him from Atlanta and all over north Georgia and the backwater of the Chattahoochee. And as they owned up to their crooked ways he dipped them in the Chattahoochee.

When John noticed a lot of Protestants and Catholics showing up for his dipping, he said to them, "You sons of snakes, who put the heat on you to run from the fury about to break over your heads? You must give some proof that you've had a change of heart. And don't think that you can feed yourselves that 'we-good-white-people' stuff, because I'm tell you that if God wants to he can make white folks out of this pile of rocks. Already the chain saw is set at the trunk of the trees, and every tree that doesn't perform some worthwhile function is sawed down and burned up. I am indeed dipping you in water into a changed life; the one who follows me is so much stronger than I that I'm unworthy to shine his shoes. He will dip you in Holy Spirit and fire. His combine is already running and he'll give the field a thorough going-over. He'll store the grain in his bin and burn off the stubble."
Then Jesus arrived at the Chattahoochee from south Georgia, to be dipped by John. But John tried to put him off. "Look," he said, "I ought to be dipped by you, yet you are coming to me." Jesus replied, "Please let me be baptized right now, for it is proper for us to give meaning in this way to all that's right." Then John consented. Now when Jesus was immersed and just as he came up from the water, the sky was split and he saw God's Spirit settling on him like a dove alightning. And you know, a voice spoke from the sky, "This is my dear Son; I'm proud of him."

Applicable quote of the day:
"It is not enough to limit your love to your own nation, to your own group. You must respond with love even to those outside of it. . . . This concept enables people to live together not as nations, but as the human race."
Clarence Jordan

To watch the trailer from Cotton Patch Gospel, click or copy and paste the link below!

God bless,
Luke 18:1

E-mail me at steve@hawleybooks.com

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