Sunday, November 30, 2008

Which reality?

The 2008 SOA vigil was a sobering event. The most profoundly moving part was a role call of the names of victims who have been killed in Latin America by graduates of SOA training. Several hundred names were read and for each name the crowd responded with Presente! As the role call continued, a massive funeral procession, more than 20,000 strong, made it’s way slowly past the fenced-off entrance to Fort Benning. As each mourner passed the gates they deposited a cross bearing the name of a victim in the wire mesh fence. The process continued for more than 2 hours and they only covered a small fraction of the more than 10,000 documented victims of US intervention in Mexico, Central and South America. These people’s lives are the price of keeping Latin America safe for Corporate America.

During the entire vigil, US military helicopters hovered overhead and police officers lined every foot of the street. This constant presence insured that Fort Benning, with its’ several thousand trained soldiers and its’ incredible variety of state-of-the-art weapons of death and destruction, would remain safe from the peaceful, unarmed demonstrators who gathered outside the walls. Why were they so afraid?

Perhaps it can be summed-up using the words of Rabbi Michael Lerner, the editor of Tikkun magazine, who spoke at the beginning of the rally. Rabbi Lerner suggested that the SOA vigil represented a conflict between two realities. The current reality contends that we are born alone, helpless and afraid into a hostile world. There is a shortage of resources so we must compete for our very survival. Only the strongest can obtain the resources that are required for life, so we must support the powerful who will protect us from others and help us obtain the goods that we need for our survival.

Whether Rabbi Lerner realized it or not, he paraphrased the thesis of the 17th century English philosopher Thomas Hobbes who argued that human life in a state of nature is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short” because each person would think they have a right or a license to everything in the world. According to Hobbes, this necessarily leads to each person being in a perpetual state of conflict with everybody else; or a condition he called the “war against all”. Hobbes framed the concept of a “Social Contract” in his masterwork “Leviathan (1651)”. This “Social Contract” theory, where citizens cede their natural individual rights to a powerful (read forceful and violent) sovereign in return for protection, is still widely accepted as the basis of civil society in the Western world. Interestingly, Hobbes also noted that the inevitable abuse of power by this sovereign must be tolerated as the “price of peace”.

While this fear-based reality may seem all too familiar to most of us, Rabbi Lerner went on to suggest that there is a powerful alternative view. He asked us to think our best thoughts about how the world could be changed for the better. Then he asked us to envision the convention center auditorium, which was full of people thinking these same positive thoughts. He called us to imagine the people who were already outside Fort Benning who held the same positive and loving thoughts. Then the people of the city, the people of the state of Georgia, people of America, the entire world and all of this within a beautiful and amazing universe that is ruled over by a loving and merciful Creator. A Creator who gave us a world with more than enough for everyone if we take according to our needs and not according to our unrestrained desires and irrational fears. Of course this second world view must be taken mostly on faith. We see few expressions of this reality in the headlines of our daily newspaper. Nevertheless, I have personally witnessed expressions of this reality in rural Honduras, Bolivia, Jordan, Palestine and Indonesia. Places where people have next-to-nothing and yet are willing to share everything they have for the sake of a stranger in need.

So, what does this have to do with the drama that played out at the Fort Benning gates? Inside Fort Benning there were people armed with guns, airplanes, helicopters and tanks who have sworn to uphold and sustain an abusive power structure that provides enormous benefit for a privileged few at tremendous cost to the many. Most of these stalwart defenders feel justified in their position because they are certain that chaos will break out if the existing “social contract” is questioned. Outside the gates were people armed with faith, hope, love, joy and a certainty that the resources represented by the 1.0 trillion dollars of annual US “defense-related” spending could be better used to bring sustainable food, water and shelter to the people of the world. I suppose we truly do represent a serious threat.

What would happen if the vast majority of US citizens woke up tomorrow and refused to allow 50% of their hard-earned tax dollars to be spent on the military-industrial complex? What would happen if they demanded health care, improved education, a living wage and justice for themselves and the other citizens of the world? What if they chose to live in a world of faith rather than a world of fear?

According to the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus started his ministry with these words - “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near”. I suppose we are so familiar with this phrase that much of the meaning is lost. Clarence Jordan, New Testament Greek Scholar and the founder of Koinonia, pointed out that “Repent” in the English translation comes from the Greek words meta and noeo. It is very similar to our familiar word metamorphose - where meta means a complete and utter change and morph means form or shape. By the same logic, metanoeo - “Repent” - means a complete and utter change in your way of thinking. If we all did this, wouldn’t the Kingdom of Heaven be a whole lot closer?

I know it won’t be easy, but would you ever imagine that a caterpillar could fly?

Friday, November 21, 2008

SOA Watch and Vigil

It has been quite the week. Pecan harvest is still the big concern but nothing stands still at Koinonia. Yesterday Al Zook and his friends from West Virginia dropped by for a visit. Al and his family moved to Koinonia in 1968 and they were close friends of the Jordans, Fullers and Mosleys. Most of the Koinonia community sat in the museum and listened intently as Al recounted his stories about the golden era of Koinonia Partners. These people - Millard and Linda Fuller, Don and Carolyn Mosley, Al Zook are truly the spiritual elders of Koinonia. We have been blessed to meet them - and saddened that they have been called beyond Koinonia in their personal spiritual journeys.

We are now coming up on the SOA (School of the Americas) watch and vigil. School of the Americas (SOA) - now named Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC) - is responsible for training Latin American soldiers in commando techniques, torture and psychological operations which they often use in the suppression of their own countrymen. The SOA is located at Fort Benning - about 60 miles from Koinonia - and for more than 30 years Koinonia has been active in drawing attention to the abuse and injustice that originates from these programs.

In recent years, more than 20,000 people descend on Fort Benning during the weekend of Nov 21. They come from all over the US and Latin America to call for an end to the injustices and the interventionist programs. Koinonia has been a launching pad for these protests for decades. Today we have seen a multitude of people come, pitch tents, sleep on floors, etc. Tomorrow we will drive up to Columbus for the big event.

For more information on the SOA - please check this site

(In the photo: Nashua - Koinonia's Peace Clown, veteran of several SOAWs, Prisoner of Conscience, and our dear friend - getting ready for the big event.

Jubilee Partners

Well, what can I say. Life at Koinonia is anything but dull!

Since the election and Millard's visit, lots of things have happened here and there has been no time to add to the blog!!

Among the highlights - On the weekend of November 9th the Kiononia intern group went up to visit Jubilee Partners. Jubilee is a daughter community of Koinonia that was formed in the late 70s. Koinonia Partners bought the land - about 250 acres near the town of Comer in Northern Georgia - and three families from Koinonia started the community. Don and Carol Mosley were among the original families and they still live in the community. In fact, Don gave us a guided tour of Jubilee and also a very personal history of a vital period in the life of Koinonia and Habitat for Humanity.

It was the height of the Arab oil embargo and Koinonia was a leader in exploring alternatives: solar techniques for energy - and ferro concrete for house construction . In fact, it appears that one of the main reasons that Jubilee was conceived was to bring this technology to Northern Georgia. As Don pointed out, God had different plans for Jubilee.

Once the land was acquired, the Mosley's, Wier's and Karis's moved from Koinonia and began to homestead at the new site. For the first few months they camped on the land, bathed in the cold creek and struggled to build houses before winter settled in. Increasingly they began to feel as if they were refugees trying to survive in a new land after being driven from their homes. At the height of their experience, the news media started daily coverage of the plight of the Vietnamese boat people who were fleeing the fall of South Viet Nam. The two realities came together in a powerful way and Jubilee Partners heard the call to assist refugees and help them get established in the USA.
As of today, they have helped more than 3500 refugees learn English and get a fresh start in America. These people have come from every major conflict zone over the past 30 yrs. More details about Jubilee and the Mosley's will follow, but for now you can read more here

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

BCC water network receives YMCA Peace Medal

We were thrilled to receive word that Trevor and Janaki were recognized by YMCA Calgary as the winner of the 2008 Peace Medal for International Group efforts. This award recognizes the amazing accomplishments of the Bolivia Canada Clean Water Network which has helped to bring clean water to more than 1500 Bolivians over the past year.

Move information, including a video presentation is available at this link:

Well done Trevor and Janaki!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

An Evening with Millard Fuller

This evening our intern group had the privilege of meeting with Millard Fuller, the second leader of Koinonia. Millard, who is better known as the founder of Habitat for Humanity, shared his story and perspectives on life in general.

Millard was born in Lanett, Alabama, near the Georgia border, in 1935. He grew up poor and milked cows to earn money for his schooling. Millard graduated with a degree in economics, followed by a law degree. He founded a marketing firm with one of his college friends and by 29 he had made his first million. He married Linda Caldwell in 1959 - and according to Millard - he brought her home and ensconced her in a big, beautiful, but empty house. He was so busy working that he was never home.

Within a few years their marriage was on the rocks. Linda had left to live in New York and Millard went after her. They decided their life was not making sense, so they sold everything they had and gave the money to the poor. Then they dedicated their lives to serving Jesus.

They came to Koinonia for the first time in 1965. They came to visit friends, who were living here, on their way back from a family vacation in Florida. Their intention was to stay for one hour, but during lunch Millard had the opportunity to talk with Clarence Jordan and they ended up staying for a month. Millard’s experience milking cows turned out to be very valuable because he could volunteer to help Clarence milk the cow two times each day. These are the times when Millard would sit and talk theology with Clarence. To this day, Millard tells people that he is a graduate of the Cow Seminary.

Life took them different directions but they came back to Koinonia in 1968. By that time, Koinonia was almost finished. Clarence related that Koinonia was already in trouble in the 50s due to internal bickering. The KKK shootings and bombings had forced the community back together in the face of a common enemy. Once that threat was gone, the community began to dissolve. Only the Jordans and Whittkampers remained on the farm. According to Millard, these were four of the most Godly people he ever met and yet their relationships had deteriorated so badly that they would not talk to each other without a tape recorder running. That way they could insure they wouldn’t be misquoted.

Shortly after Millard and Linda returned to Koinonia they began working with Clarence on a project called the Fund for Humanity. They surveyed out some lots on the North end of Koinonia Farm and began partnering with black sharecropper families to help them build their own home. This was the beginning of Habitat for Humanity.

Unfortunately, Clarence Jordan died suddenly of a heart attack on Oct. 29, 1969. The first house was not yet completed. Most people credit Millard with taking over leadership of Koinonia after Clarence died, but he shared with us that Clarence asked him to lead the community shortly after he arrived. Clarence was a theologian at heart and in Millard he recognized someone who was born with the gift of leadership.

Millard shared his unhappiness about the direction that Habitat for Humanity has taken. In the beginning, he and Linda founded the organization on the same principles as Koinonia. In fact, they had the organizational meeting in an abandoned barn here on the farm. In the early days people were paid according to their needs, not their position in the organization. For example, a janitor with a larger family made more money than a director with a smaller one. Today Habitat is a darling of Corporate America. The director now makes an impressive salary and a large percentage of the income goes to salaries and overheads. Disagreements between the Fullers and the Habitat board led to their dismissal in 2005.

Shortly after this, Millard and Linda founded the Fuller Center for Housing. In their new capacity they are responsible for building affordable houses in countries as diverse as North Korea, the Congo, El Salvador and Armenia. In August 2009, the Fullers are celebrating their 50th anniversary. Fuller Center is celebrating by coordinating a build of 100 houses, 50 for Millard and 50 for Linda, in locations all around the world. What a way to celebrate 50 years of marriage.

At 72 years of age, Millard is vibrant and active. He attributes this to a belief that God calls us to wear out, not to rust out. He shared some other gems of wisdom.
1) Successful communities rely on two things- good leadership and Faith in God.
2) Legalism is an ever-present danger to authentic Christian Community.
3) People and Communities must have vision and direction. People need to feel that they are working towards something.
4) God made you the way you are - with all your personal strengths. When you dedicate your life to Christ, your personality really shouldn’t change - only your goals.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Hope over Fear

Live from Sumter County Georgia:

From the town that imprisoned Martin Luther King, almost destroyed Koinonia Farm through boycotts and bombings for their belief that the great commandment extended across racial divides, and a past stronghold of the KKK we are celebrating the election of the first black president of the United States.

Jan, Krista and I had the wonderful opportunity to volunteer for the Obama campaign. We worked side by side with a group of white and black democrats to telephone, canvas houses and drive folks to the polls. While it looks like Georgia will remain a red state, Sumter county was carried by Barack with lots to spare. This is no small thing. In fact, one of our fellow African American volunteers compared it to putting a man on the moon!

So tonight is a time of celebration. When someone asks where we were when Barack was elected, Jan, KJ, Krista and I will have the memory of sitting in the backroom of Woods Swinging Chicken Wings - the headquarters of the Obama campaign in Sumter county - with a collection of young and old, black and white, veterans of the civil rights movement and those of us who never experienced anything remotely like racial discrimination in our lives. It is truly a momentous day for Sumter County, America and the world.

Clarence Jordan, founder of Koinonia, would be truly pleased.