cisler on Wed, 21 Jun 2000 00:45:02 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Nostalgia trip

Here's a triple dose of nostalgia.  First, the URL, then the writer, and
finally the subject.


Yes, there are still gophers running, even if the information is not new.  This
one is an article by a newspaper reporter named Al Gore.  He visits a large
commune in Tennessee called "The Farm" which supplied The Well with two of its
best sysops in the early days.


Twenty-one years ago, Albert Gore was a staff correspondent for 'The
Tennesseean', a newspaper out of Nashville, Tenn. On March 13, 1972 the paper
published the following article by this now better known reporter.
Unfortunately, the good copy machines were not handy at that time, and no one
thought that a little known reporter's article about The Farm was important
enough to make a high quality copy, so the copy that was made is in very poor
condition and I have difficulty reading some words. None of it is readable
enough to copy directly and so I am having to transcribe it in its entirety to
publish it here.

        Ramon Sender Barayon,


NOTE: for the unfamiliar, Stephen Gaskin was the teacher of "Monday
Night Class" in San Francisco for six years and later together with
many of his students founded a communal settlement known as The Farm in
Tennessee. At one time it had as many as 1,700 people living there, but
now is more successful as a smaller community of about 300. Here's the

SUMMERTOWN, Tenn.  A barn decorated with oriental rugs and bleachers
made of straw has become the unlikely meeting ground between members of
Stephen Gaskin's commune and a Church of Christ congregation.

Every Sunday afternoon and every Monday night for the past four weeks,
the minister of Sandy Hook Church of Christ has come with 30 to 40
members of his congregation and several other ministers to share "the
word of God" with Gaskin and the estimated 450 members of his commune
who live on a farm near here.

IT BEGAN as a brave attempt by the churchmen to ...(unreadable line).
Overshadowing all the disagreements, the real importance of the debates
is that representatives of two groups of people who are mortal enemies
in many parts of America are learning to listen quietly to each other.

...(bad line) "save" the souls of those who came here seven months ago
from San Francisco to start a new life here in Lewis County.
But it has developed into a series of electric debates. Each side
presents its beliefs and then both sides hash out their disagreements.
Unlike most communities, the Gaskin group is committed to leading a
religious life. His followers look to him for spiritual guidance and he
is more than willing to give it to anyone who asks. Gaskin describes
his group as a ...monastery.

TO THE SURPRISE of both sides, they found they share a lot of common
ground in the Ten Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount, the Golden
Rule, the value of working hard and trying always to tell the truth -
and most important, a deep faith in God.

"I think it's been profitable for all of us", said Bobby Williams,
minister of Sandy Hook Church of Christ. "Our first impulse was to
associate them with Charles Manson and their first impulse was to
associate us with their unfavorable religious background." There have
been some surprises on the other side, too. Gaskin, the "Spiritual
Leader" of the commune which is known simply as "The Farm" said of all
the persons he has debated in San Francisco and around the country,
"These Church of Christ folks are some of the toughest, a lot tougher
than the Hare Krishna people".

A WEEK AGO yesterday the crowd began to gather for the fifth meeting
between the two groups shortly before 2 p.m. The atmosphere inside the
barn was electric as bearded young men in overalls sat down beside the
well groomed Church of God ministry who had driven out from town.  The
ministers had planned in detail their strategy of the meeting. Harry
Anderson, minister of Spring Hill Church of Christ had come to listen
to Williams and his parishioners. Anderson said he had been studying
tape recordings of what was said the previous week. He wanted to be

Ralph Gilmore, 23, minister of Main Street Church of Christ
... (three lines unreadable)
Williams turned out the lights and for the third week began showing the
"Jewel of all Gospel Films", a series of slides accompanied by a
recorded explanation of the way to salvation" For the third Sunday in a
row the members of the commune sat patiently in silence throughout the
presentation, a feat that delighted the Church of Christ members and
made them glad they had the foresight to buy the slide projector and
screen just for the occasion.  "You must admit that the soul needs a
bath", said the recorded voice.  When the lights came back on Williams
thanked everyone for his patience and formally opened up the floor to
debate. Immediately a member of the commune went on the offensive.

"IT SAYS in there that God preaches to all creatures, not just man, all
creatures", he began. Williams shifted his weight in anticipation of a
continuing argument over whether it is a sin to kill animals for food.
Gaskin's followers eat no meat because the say they have made a
"spiritual agreement" with the animals. "There would be a lot more
vegetarians if everyone had to kill his own meat", Gaskin said later.
Gilmore raised his hand and asked why, if eating meat were wrong, did
Jesus give the multitude fishes and loaves ? There was a slight pause
and then a dozen people in the audience picked up an answer
simultaneously: "Because they were hungry". It was the first of many
times that afternoon the two groups forgot their differences and
laughed together.

OVERSHADOWING the disagreements, the real importance of the debates is
that representatives of the two groups of people who are mortal enemies
in many parts of America are learning to listen to - and like - the
other. "One of the most important things we found out", said Anderson
of the commune members, "is that these people are extremely kind and
courteous. I'm impressed by their sincerity.  Anderson and Williams are
quick to add that they by no means "condone" many of the practices of
the commune - particularly the use of marijuana. Gaskin and three of
his followers are awaiting appeal on a conviction of possession of

WHILE GASKIN says they no longer grow marijuana, he admits that his
followers smoke it and occasionally do stronger drugs like peyote and
psylocybin - or "mushrooms" as they refer to it. "We strongly
disapprove of their use of these things" said Williams, "but we feel it
is our duty to teach them New Testament Christianity." In other words
Williams and other ministers feel it is more important to try to teach
them than merely to condemn them. "We're trying to be patient and
understanding with them", he said, adding he feels the world would be a
better place if people would try to reach out and understand those with
whom they disagree.

FROM GASKIN'S point of view, it is the Church of Christ that is "making
progress" as a result of the meetings. "They're getting so mellow", he
explained. "You should have seen them the first week they came." The
series of meetings was arranged by one of Gaskin's neighbors. The
ministers agreed to come out for two weeks, but now they feel the
meetings may go on "indefinitely". While the ministers have charge of
the Sunday meetings, Gaskin conducts the meetings on Monday night.
"Monday Night Class" in fact was the original name of the commune group
when it began around his lectures in San Francisco six years ago, and
Gaskin has published a book outlining his philosophy entitled "Monday
Night Class".

LAST MONDAY the barn was already filled when Gaskin tiptoed through a
sea of crossed legs toward his place up front. The delegation from the
Church of Christ was seated along the back. The ministers prefer
folding chairs to the straw-covered floor and the bales stacked along
one side. Now was the Church of Christ's turn to display some
tolerance. Instead of a slide show, Gaskin began his meeting with
thirty minutes of meditation in silence. Almost in unison the group
begins to chant "hmmmmmmmmmm it's like a hymn", one of the members
explains to Williams. When it was over, Gaskin got up to speak; "We've
been spending so much time with our friends from Sandy Hook that it
seems to me The Farm is getting raggedy", he said.

HE CONTINUED with one of the things he thought the commune was
neglecting, some of the things they were doing wrong. Then like
Williams the day before, he opened the floor to questions. During one
of his answers Gaskin tried to remember a quote from the Bible. "Maybe
you can help me, Bobby", he said to Williams. "It's the place where
Jesus says: "Go on your way but keep yourselves together because if you
don't you're going to get in worse trouble than you were before I
cleaned you up - you know the place" There was a pause and then Park
Boshears from the Church of Christ recognized the passage and spoke up:
"Go and sin no more less a worse thing befall thee". "Yes, that's the
one", said Gaskin, continuing with his answer. When he finished,
Anderson stood and asked Gaskin where he gets his authority to make
such sweeping pronouncements, "Who are your teachers", he asked.
"EVERYBODY", replied Gaskin, and then elaborated. "I feel there's a
lamp of holiness that's carried down through mankind for thousands of
years and that we see people, one or another, carrying that torch.
Some of them really carrying it high and really bright, some of them
maybe just a spark, but as long as the flame carries, you know that it
transmits -and I take as my preceptor and my teacher everybody that
carries that torch." Douglas Davis from Spring Hill Church of Christ
wanted to know what fault Gaskin finds in Jesus as a teacher. "I don't
see any fault with Christ", replied Gaskin. In a flash, Anderson was on
his feet. He hadn't studied those tapes for nothing. Quickly he reeled
off a list of shortcomings Gaskin had ascribed to Christ the day
before. Gaskin disposed of the rest with an explanation and then
admitted, "I was a little flip as usual when I said that. We were
tripping pretty heavy at that time as I remember". "we're making him
read the Bible more", said Williams afterwards, "We heard from somebody
out there that he is spending more time now with the Bible." Maybe, but
Gaskin says he looks to Buddhist and Hindu texts to support many his
beliefs. And other beliefs, he says he just "feels" intuitively to be
true. For instance he feels that anger is bad and refuses to believe
that Christ was ever angry, even when he threw the money- changers out
of the temple.

WHEN GASKIN matches his own authority against that of the Bible, the
Church of Christ ministers seem really to get upset. The Bible for them
is absolute truth - the word of God. You either accept it completely or
you don't. Gaskin, however takes from the Bible what he feels is
correct and leaves alone what he disagrees with. In one of the early
meetings, he buttressed a point with a reference to one of the Gospels.
"Wait just a minute", said Anderson, getting to his feet, "The Bible is
my witness." "Okay, but I've read it", said Gaskin continuing with his
point. Gaskin seems to style himself as a new messiah figure - and that
too, disgruntles the Church of Christ members. On one occasion, when
Gaskin talked about healing, Anderson challenged him to "Come with me
right now out to the cemetery to my grandmother's grave, and if you can
raise her, I'll follow you for the rest of my life."

"I SEE HIM as a leader of men, said Williams of Gaskin, "But not a
spiritual leader. He's shown that he's a leader of men by holding
together 300 or 400 people through everything they've been through.
But I don't see him as a spiritual leader. They obey his directions
because they believe he can help them find enlightenment". According to
them, the key to Gaskin's success is something more than Charisma.
They believe he can communicate without words - by projecting his
thoughts telepathically. Often when talking to people he straightens up
his spine and stares intently into their eyes - at the same time
opening his mouth to take a deep breath, yoga-style, filling up his
stomach first, then his lungs - all the while maintaining his
penetrating gaze into their eyes.

HE USED THIS technique several times during the Monday night meeting.
At one point a girl who had left the group for Nashville and had come
back to see if she wanted to stay, raised her hand to ask a question.
With her voice shaking, she told Gaskin she wasn't sure what she should
do. Then she admitted she had eaten a piece of bacon and an egg that
morning before coming back to the farm because her parents warned her
to beware of persons who don't eat meat. "If Dracula had been Jewish,
would you have to wave a star of David at him?", asked Gaskin.  Then he
straightened up his spine and gave the girl an intense look in the
eyes. He took a deep breath and when he let it out he had come to a
decision. "I think you ought to go to Bobby's church for a while", he
suggested. "I'm not just saying that, I really think you should".  When
the meeting was over, Williams and his wife went over to invite the
girl formally into their church. She couldn't, she told them, because
she had been raised a Southern Baptist. In spite of all the obstacles,
Williams and the other ministers plan to keep going out to Gaskin's
farm. "We're sowing the seed of God's word - whether it will grow
depends on the condition of their hearts", said Williams.

A MORE immediate result, however, is that the people of Summertown area
are learning to live with the strange people who have all of a sudden
become their neighbors. "We had a lot of misconceptions about them",
said Williams, "but the people who have come out here with us have a
much better attitude toward them". "They have been misunderstood by a
lot of folks in this area", added Anderson, "If more people came out to
see what Gaskin's followers are doing, I think there would be more


Ramon Sender Barayon, who transcribed this article and made it
available to u for the WELL gopher server, is a writer of speculative
fiction, book reviews, essays.  Also composer, father, retired
communitarian. He aspires to putting more time in on the garden and
getting just a few of many manuscripts into print.

DEATH IN ZAMORA, a family memoir, published June, 1989, by The
University of New Mexico Press (and in Spanish by Plaza y Janes,

Available direct from Ramon:  ZERO WEATHER, A Future Fantasy $10.
postpaid; ZERO SUMMER, the ongoing adventures $8.50 postpaid;

Much thanks to ramon for getting this piece to us.

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