Sacred ground

Many people don’t know that Jesus was born in Gainesville, Ga.

When I spoke about “The Class of ’65” earlier this week at the Cresswind community in Gainesville, I began my talk with this unusual bit of latter-day biblical scholarship. It comes, of course, from the Cotton Patch gospels, Clarence Jordan’s retelling of the New Testament in the Southern vernacular. Jordan co-founded Koinonia, where my story is set, so it seemed fitting that I tell my listeners we were on sacred ground.

In the Cotton Patch version, Mary and Joseph are headed to Gainesville to see about a tax matter when Mary goes into labor pains. The couple pull over at the Dixie Delite Motor Lodge, but there aren’t any rooms, so they take shelter in an abandoned trailer out back. The baby is born, swaddled in a comforter, and laid in an apple crate.

This was my first talk since November. I’ve been very busy the past few months finishing my next book, a history of barbecue for the University of Georgia Press. As I took the podium, I was afraid that I’d start blathering about wet ribs vs. dry ribs, but I needn’t have worried: I fell back into Koinonia and Americus High and Greg Wittkamper and his classmates like I’d never left them. 

It was a great audience: about 70 people representing the dozen or so book clubs that meet regularly at Cresswind. One of them, a group of men, call themselves the Curmudgeons. If I were writing a Cotton Patch translation of the New Testament, I would definitely include Paul’s Epistle to the Curmudgeons.

Many thanks to Wilson and Kris Golden (seen in the photo with Pam and me) for inviting us to Cresswind for a lovely evening.


Memorable voices

One of the best pieces done about "The Class of '65" during its publication week was the radio show "Two Way Street," aired over Easter weekend on 17 stations of the Georgia Public Broadcasting network. Host Bill Nigut had the inspired idea of augmenting the usual author interview with comments from Tom Key, the Atlanta actor who wrote "The Cotton Patch Gospel" and has performed it for years. The musical is based on the writings of Clarence Jordan, the co-founder of Koinonia and a looming figure in the new book, whose "Cotton Patch" versions of the New Testament retold the gospel story in mid-20th century Georgia, starting with the birth of Jesus in Gainesville. They laid the babe, not in a manger, but in an apple crate. If you didn't hear it live, GPB has posted the program on its web site (link below). It's a fine introduction to Koinonia, the place that molded Greg Wittkamper and laid the foundation for the moral conflicts at the heart of "The Class of '65."