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Posts Tagged ‘John Perkins’


I’ve been wanting to read some of John Perkin’s books for some time now. His new book, Dream with Me: Race, Love and the Struggle We Must Win, is a great place to start.

This book is a little bit of everything. Partially autobiographical you get insight into the events that have shaped John’s life and ministry. This also gives people like me a better grasp of the black experience in America.

He also provides some background to Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) and summarizes the Three R’s (relocation, reconciliation and redistribution). He also allows himself to dream and invites us to share his dream.

So, there is a little bit of everything John is about in this book. Hopefully it will pique interest in his other books to develop areas on interest more deeply.

John has about a third grade education, and notes he had some help in the process of writing (we all need good editors). As a result the book is easy to understand and generally easy to read. It is not overly complex but not simplistic either. At times it does seem to change direction unexpectedly. There is a stream of consciousness feel to it as if you’re sitting down and listening to John over a cup of tea (you can have coffee if you’d like).

He begins with his story as part of the larger story of segregation in America. Things most of us take for granted were out of the realm of possibility for many/most black Americans. For instance, he noted not only blacks having different waiting rooms for the doctor, but not having appointments. They were for white people, and blacks got the left over time on a first come, first served basis. The medical clinic he founded in Mendenhall was intended to help blacks gain access to health care as if they were white people. And they didn’t exclude whites.

“Black citizens weren’t allowed to participate in the society they had spent centuries helping to build.”

He then shifts into the history of the CCDA. It is based on a biblical view of a new humanity in Christ living and working together for the common good. It is a vision of a “multiethnic, multicultural, multigenerational, multiclass” community based on the same elements in God’s kingdom.

Perkins returns to race relations more specifically in talking about poor whites. Often the only relationships in which they had an power was in their relationships with blacks. They were often damaged and gained some sense of power and worth by playing the oppressor toward the one group lower on the social scale then they were. This, in turn, damaged them even more (oppression damages both the oppressed and the oppressor).

“Wealthy whites also used the poor whites as tools of oppression, making them overseers or guards or sheriffs charged with taking care of the dirty work to keep black people in their place so they didn’t have to. In reality, though, this just fueled the resentment between blacks and poor whites.”

He moves toward his experience with non-violence in the face of oppression. The move away from this is one of the things that concerns him about the present and the future. He believes people have the power to win with love, but often think they don’t (or don’t have the time) and resort to violence and rioting that makes they no better than their oppressors.

“In the face of power, some resort to violence as a way to create chaos. That’s terrorism. That’s what people use when they don’t have the power to win. Nonviolence is a better way. It’s radical.”

“I quickly came to realize that nonviolence takes more strength than violence- and it takes more than just human strength. It takes God’s strength working in human beings to produce self-control, gentleness, and the other fruit of the Holy Spirit. God’s power comes in our weakness and brokenness.”

From here he moves into the 3 R’s mentioned above. To assist a community, he believes it is best to live there. This often means relocating into the community so you help from the inside, not the outside (and security of your gated community). While there you seek reconciliation between groups and individuals in conflict. This can be race, class, culture or other barriers used by sin to divide and impoverish. He speaks of the redistribution of opportunity, not free stuff. Not working robs people of dignity. He addresses stewardship- sharing our skills and opportunities (like networks) with people who don’t have those skills or opportunities. These new relationships give the poor new opportunities. In the Gospel we see Jesus “relocating” to planet Earth as a man, reconciling all creation to God through the cross and making Himself poor to enrich others. This notion of incarnation is addressed in the next chapter.

“Reconciliation is God bringing people into relationship with Himself and other people. Redistribution is caring for others’ needs as we care for our own.”

“I long to see the church give up its power and privilege the way Jesus did when he came to earth to give us the greatest of gifts.”

Perkins then talks about justice, and the differences between theology done by whites and blacks. He speaks in generalizations, obviously, but those differences affect how we view justice. White evangelical theology has focused on the personal side of redemption thanks to our commitment to individualism (among other things and despite some people’s commitment to covenant theology). Black theology, often written in response to white oppression sees redemption as communal as well as individual. Both are true and in tension with one another. But we tend to be polarized and talk past one another (on many topics unfortunately). He notes how both sides have sins in need of repentance and forgiveness.

After a very personal chapter about his son Spencer, he moves into human dignity, the final fight (love) and forgiveness. I’m not sure about the order there but all three are important if we are to discuss reconciliation and justice. He sees the church as the primary communicator of these truths. Sadly, we’ve allowed tribalism (Democrat vs. Republican, black vs. white, poor vs. rich etc.) to set in so we now disparage those who disagree with us (unAmerican, denier, homophobic etc.). He mentions immigration in particular (recognizing government’s role as possibly different from a Christian’s view) as a place we should be able to talk, and disagree, peaceably.

“So becoming a Christian is discovering God’s love for us, and being a Christian is learning to love God back- and then finding ways to show God’s overflowing love to the people around us.”

I certainly agree with him that the noise in our culture is too loud and we must move beyond it to think and act as responsible people instead of performing a series of knee jerk reactions that perpetuate the conflicts of our time.

“There is too much noise in our society right now, and that noise just keeps getting louder. We need quiet time for reflection. We need to be still and know that God is God.”

He briefly concludes with his dream which shouldn’t surprise us if we were paying attention throughout the book. It is the dream of a civil rights leader and Christian. It is a dream we should all share, one that is not simply about externals but about the heart. I leave John Perkins with the final word.

“I want to see a real community of love. Everyone wants to fight crime, fight violence, fight racism, and fight injustice, but love is still the final fight, and unless we have these communities of love, we will never see this dream realized.”

[I received a complementary copy from Baker Books for the purposes of review.]

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I was glad to see that Switchfoot would be coming to Tucson for their Looking for America tour in support of the newest album. Instead of a festival show (the last time I saw them was at the Pima County Fair). I was glad to see I didn’t have a scheduling conflict to mess this up (as has frequently been the problem).

In preparation for the show I wanted to become familiar with both the new album, and Reliant K. Spotify seemed to conspire against me. It appears that I needed an update, but with the horrendous sound I wasn’t going to spend much time on there. Thankfully I got the email from Switchfoot about their Live in Chicago digital release. It is a great live album, and I made sure I ordered early so I could get the live version of The Sound (John Perkins’ Blues) which is one of my favorite songs.

While looking at tickets I was concerned since it said the show was from 7 pm to 1 am. This seemed unlikely unless they had a bunch of opening acts that were not disclosed. The day of the show I got a Facebook reminder, and the time was from 7-10 pm. Only 3 hours for 2 sets with a stage change in there too? I was a bit concerned.

This was my first show at the Rialto. My friend noted they used to have theater seats in the back. That would have been great, particularly during the intermission. The sloped floor made standing for 3+ hours tough for this aging man.

Reliant K hit the stage at about 7:35 and play until about 8:40. For me it was a long hour since I really didn’t know the songs. They sound to me like a pop-punk band. The songs were generally shorter, usually fast and not much in the way of solos (I love a good guitar solo). There were pockets of serious fans in the audience as they bounced up and down and waved their hands. While it was “lost” on me doesn’t mean it wasn’t a good show.

I felt bad for the guitarists, they seemed to have a difficult time staying in tune despite frequent instrument changes. I struggled to understand the lyrics. One song I understood was about technology and the loss of presence in the moment. It was ironic with the people taking pictures and taping the show. There was an interesting one at the end of the show about dealing with girls and all those emotions. They did have plenty of energy, and props, but I thought the guitarists spent too much time with their backs to the crowd.

All those props- grill, giant white buffalo etc.- slowed down the stage change. I was surprised with they left the drum kit on the side of the stage. Usually his drum kit is center stage, but maybe Chad’s mustache got him banished over there. (Looking at pictures I took from the Pima County Fair, he’s over on the left…. )

The set mostly followed Live in Chicago with some additions (Dark Horses, Twenty-Four, When We Come Alive and Dare You to Move). The only song from Chicago they didn’t play was Hello Hurricane. It stared with Jon offstage for the first verse of Holy Water. It was a slow start to the show. Drew and Jerome didn’t quite seem engaged yet (hyper-focused?). This would change. Tim was active, as usual. I really like his bass line in Float.

The new songs sounded great live. They were generally more aggressive. Drew had some longer solos on songs like Bull in a China Shop and The Sound. As usual, Jon was often down by, or in, the audience. He was body surfing during Float. The older songs, though few, held up well, particularly Meant to Live. I was disappointed there was nothing from Nothing is Sound, which in my opinion was their best album.

One interesting aspect was this is the Looking for America Tour, but they didn’t play this song. Most likely this was since LeCrae was featured on the vocals. The theme really seemed to be Where the Light Shines Through, which popped up in a few other songs. While I appreciated Jon’s comments about being able to disagree with people and still remain friends, I think he went a bit far in saying “brothers”. I take that as “brothers in Christ” which may or may not be true. But people should be able to disagree about the things he mentioned and remain friends, fellow Americans (if they are) and in most cases fellow Christians. This focus is probably a big part of why The Sound is in the set. Unfortunately this mid-song musings, were not very clear. On the Live in Chicago version, they were able to make it clear. He speaks about hatred and violence breeding hatred and violence. There was a nice reference to Amos (and MLK) with justice rolling down, and then the Declaration of Independence- “we hold these truths to be self-evident”. All while Drew’s feedback rolls over the audience.

It was a fun show. The songs were heavily weighted to the new album. But it was a short show (about 1 hr. 20 min). It was also a LOUD show. During Reliant K I had ear plugs in. There was a loud, distorted bass or keyboard should that frequently drowned out the guitars. There was less of that during the Switchfoot show. But I took out the ear plugs, and my ears are still ringing this afternoon. But the sound was so much better without the plugs. Switchfoot continues to put on good shows, but short shows.

Set List:

Holy Water

Meant to Live

Bull in a China Shop

Where the Light Shines Though

I Won’t Let You Go

Love Alone is Worth the Fight

Twenty-Four

If the House Burns Down Tonight

The Sound

When We Come Alive

Encore:

Float

Live it Well

Dare You to Move

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Much of Generous Justice to this point has been theological- why we should pursue justice as Christians.  Keller moves into the more practical with the 6th chapter of his book.  Taking Job 29 & Psalm 4 as a starting point- we are to give sustained, concentrated attention to the hows of justice.  We won’t accidentally become just (or mature in Christ).  Often it requires analyzing a situation and using wisdom to determine the best goals and means.

Here Keller brings us some examples.  One is of a car dealer who realized that haggling for prices tended to benefit the rich, men, and whites (who were more persistent negotiators).  The people who most needed a good deal weren’t getting it because the business practice exacerbated inequalities and cultural differences.  So he set fair prices without negotiation (I have negotiating, and always feel ripped off when done.  I am thankful for the Christian businessmen who sold me car at fair prices.)  Businesses sometimes choose the short-term over the long-term.  This car dealer was choosing the long-term.  He knew he was building a loyal base of customers who appreciated his more equitable system.  But he also disadvantaged himself, reducing his profit per car.  Justice cost him.

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One of last year’s more important books was on the topic of helping the poor.  When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor … and Yourself was written by Steve Corbett & Brian Fikkert.  This is no treatise hatched in the hot house of academia.  They have been engaged in developing these models on the field.  They have often had to learn from their mistakes.

I haven’t finished the book yet, so my comments are only with regard to the first 5 chapters of the book.  The book does come with an endorsement from John Perkins who has worked in tranformational ministry for decades.  He’s one of those guys shaking his head when Glenn Beck lumped everyone who talks about social justice in the same bucket.  John Perkins sees a connection with redemption (we seek it as redeemed people longing to see that redemption extended to others) and the need for solid theology- not liberation theology.  The book has the “dubious” distinction of being recommended by people as diverse as Ron Sider and Bryan Chappell (or Joel Belz) and Steve Childers.  This means it has enough gospel in it to be Christian, and enough justice in it to get Ron Sider to buy in.

It starts with the premise that much of the work going on around the world to alleviate poverty actually makes matters worse.  John Perkins recognizes this with the U.S. government’s war on poverty.  It left people dependent on the government.

John Perkins

Another important premise is that most Americans (and other westerners) live as though there is nothing wrong in the Majority World.  We have no grasp of how serious things can be, and think a little money can make it all better (or a concert fundraiser).  We live as if not much is wrong.  We don’t need to feel guilty for our wealth, but we do need to think of ourselves as stewards instead of consumers.

Theologically they embrace both the individual and cosmic implications of the redeeming work of Christ.  Yes, there is the forgiveness of sins.  But there is much more too!  Some churches (and Christians) seek to bring forgiveness but neglect the justice of the kingdom.  Some people seek the justice of the kingdom without bringing the forgiveness of the king.  They illustrate this from the story of a southern pastor and civil rights workers.  They both got it partly right and partly wrong.

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