Sam Swope is one of my favorite writers. His book, “The Araboolies of Liberty Street,” was published by Clarkson Potter in 1989. It became an “underground” classic, a favorite for people who live and move and have their being outside of the establishment.
It is a story about Liberty Street, where all the houses and all the people are exactly the same and where General Pinch and his wife are in charge.
“Liberty” means “freedom from arbitrary or despotic control.” So “Liberty Street” wasn’t a good name for that street.
General Pinch and his wife were nothing but arbitrary and despotic. They ordered the children to stay inside and to cease and desist from any fun over the summer!
Then, one day, the Araboolies move onto the street. They are a colorful, noisy, multihued family and are not like anyone else on the street, especially not like General Pinch and his wife.
They paint their house in bright zigzags, camp out on their front lawn and invite the neighborhood children over to play wild and joyful games.
Of course, the general and his wife are horrified. “I’ll call in the army,” the general screams. And he does.
He commands the army to find the house that is different and take it away.
The children on Liberty Street respond by staying up all night and using paints, banners and balloons to decorate every house on the street. Every house, that is, except the general’s house.
After this creative act of nonviolence, the Pinches’ house is left as the “weird one” on the street. Following the general’s orders, the army arrives, ties up the house that is different – the Pinches’ house – and drags it away!
The first “company of believers,” as Clarence Jordan calls the followers of Jesus in the Cotton Patch Version of Acts 2, must have seemed like Araboolies to their neighbors.
In my study of the world as it was during that time, I find that many of those neighbors thought and felt that God was arbitrary and despotic and always ready to call in the army if they didn’t fulfill his every whim.
According to Clarence – who, along with his interracial community at Koinonia Farms in South Georgia during the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s, were Araboolies themselves – the “company of believers” in Acts 2 stuck together in a world where people were tearing apart.
While people were taking and taking until there was a wide gap between the few who were rich and the many who were poor – building a system where the rich got richer at the expense of the poor who grew desperately poor – they held all things in common by selling their goods and belongings and dividing them among the group on the basis of need
While individual good trumped the common good and sowed despair in the world around them, they were knit together with singleness of purpose – gathering at the church every day and eating the common meal from house to house with joy and humility.
While others praised the powerful and showed kindness only to those who could do something for them, they were praising God and showing overflowing kindness toward everybody.
Their purpose wasn’t to survive but to serve. They lived and taught that God is love.
They may as well have painted their houses in bright zigzags, camped out on their front lawns and invited the neighborhood children over to play wild and joyful games!
The question I leave for us is: Wouldn’t we like to be Araboolies, too?
Trevor Barton teaches second grade and is a member of First Baptist Church in Greenville, S.C.