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Cotton Patch Gospel

posted Mar 24, 2012, 7:38 AM by Steven Vaughan
In the late 1960’s, Biblical scholar Dr. Clarence Jordan wrote a “version” of the New Testament in colloquial Southern language. He didn’t call it a translation, for he sought to take the text out of the “long ago and far away” and place it in the “here and now” of the mid-20th century cotton fields of rural Georgia.  Folk rock singer-songwriter Harry Chapin, who had a number-one hit with Cat’s in the Cradle, composed a bluegrass style musical of it as his final completed work; since he was killed in an automobile accident just months before the show premiered at New York City’s Lamb’s Theater in 1981. 

In Dr. Jordan’s reinterpretation of the story, Jesus is born in an abandoned trailer and laid in an apple crate.  He’s baptized in the Chattahoochee River; and when confronted by a reverend who wants to know what makes his preaching different, he responds it’s time to “Turn It Around.”  He brings the daughter of a United States senator back to life by teaching her to “Love the Lord Your God.”  I could go on, but…

It was originally written as a one-man show with the rest of the band, or “cotton pickers” as they’re called, playing cameo roles, though it can be made to accommodate more actors.  (I had the pleasure of directing a production that was performed in Loyola University’s Ignatius Chapel.)  This Saturday night, March 31, the original DVD starring one of the script’s authors will be shown in our school at 7:00 pm, and I hope you can come watch it! 

Many people claim Cotton Patch Gospel has influenced them; including Habitat for Humanity founder Millard Fuller and President Jimmy Carter, who grew up just down the road from Dr. Jordan’s pioneering interracial farming community, which was a radical concept in the 1950’s.  And if you can’t join us to watch the DVD Saturday night, get a copy of the books, read them, and then share them with anyone who wonders if the peace and love promised by the gospels is still possible in our modern world.
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