Archives For Reconciliation

John M. Perkins is an American civil rights campaigner. His 2017 book, ‘Dream with Me’, is a brave step forward in seeking to create better dialogue between both black and white communities. Overall, ‘Dream With Me’ is a call for both black and white Americans to unite, in their diversity, under God. This review will focus on two primary strengths of Perkins’ work.

The first strength is the presence of a Theology of Christian Liberation. Perkins refuses to take the easy path of perpetual anger, condescension and resentment – both traits found in Black liberation theology (which is largely tainted by Marxism). Instead, Perkins leans towards the rules of solidarity[i] and subsidiarity[ii]. In doing so, he proclaims a social doctrine, not the social gospel[iii].

The significance of this distinction is, in the former, Jesus Christ remains at the core of the gospel and isn’t replaced by attempts (found in the latter) to synchronise Karl Marx with Jesus Christ[iv]. In addition, a social doctrine allows the freedom to affirm and critique the issues impartially. The social doctrine, in this context, is greater than the social gospel, because the Gospel remains free of any ideological lens (particularly atheist and theistic Marxism).  The Gospel (read Jesus Christ) is allowed to speak for Himself without being muffled by Marx.

Unlike the social gospel, which tends to ‘stray from Scripture’ (D. Bonhoeffer[v]), Perkins’ social doctrine doesn’t respond to injustice through a lens of victimisation, double-standards, excessive-unbridled egalitarianism (dismissive tolerance and irrational equality), dependency on the state, or entitlement. He, instead, advocates for a ‘new alternative’[vi], building on what he calls the ‘three R’s’: ‘relocation, reconciliation and redistribution.’(p.88)  Here, Perkins upholds the uniqueness of Christian liberation, which holds to God’s liberation of humanity from slavery to sin[vii].

‘White people need to take responsibility for centuries of imperialism and failing to repent, but black people  also need to take some responsibility for the breakdown of our families (p.70) […] Things only get fixed – truly fixed – when they are mended by God through faith. Often we have it backwards trying to fix things for God rather than letting God fix things through us (p.81).

The secondary strength of ‘Dream With Me’ is that Perkins doesn’t sugar coat reality. He’s up front about racism, the impoverishment of some Americans (in general[viii]), and is outspoken in his call for the renewal of efforts that move America towards justice[ix]; towards lived reconciliation. Such a lived reconciliation will require jettisoning the shackles of identity politics.

For Perkins, progress towards this goal involves reclaiming the word reconciliation. Perkins believes that

‘‘Issues related to ethnicity and tribalism may divide us, but we are one race – the human race (p.54) […] we have taken God’s definition of reconciliation and made room for bigotry by inserting race into the concept. Racial reconciliation is not a biblical term. People use race as a slave master.’ (p.84)

What he calls for instead is a reconciliation firmly grounded in God’s reconciliation of the sinner to Himself.

‘I will call for – what I believe the gospel calls for – unity across ethnic and cultural barriers’ (ibid)

Perkins’ quest is to attain genuine equality (as opposed to any false utopian idea of supremacy[x] or the fool’s quest of seeking perpetual payback, in order to make things equal). He is adamant that Americans should build on the faith, approach and doctrine of the early civil rights campaigners. This road is difficult, but it should, and must be travelled.

Perkins offers no instant-fix formulas. What he does offer is a roadmap for how this can be achieved.  At the heart of ‘Dream With Me’ are ‘the three R’s: these are relocation where the old informs the new; reconciliation, free of victimization and identity politics; redistribution, not of wealth, but of opportunity’ (pp.74-89). What Perkins means by relocation is a readiness to be available; a readiness to be where, and to do, what God has called the individual to. Redistribution is about ‘stewardship[xi]’ (p.85) and reconciliation ‘is a way of life that displays God’s redemptive power’ (p.84).

Dream With Me’ is a careful discussion about the issues that face African-Americans. Perkins acknowledges (with great care) the historical wrongs suffered by African-Americans at hands of racial hatred. He acknowledges historical abuses by returning to his own experiences. Referring to his own suffering, Perkins sets the example:

‘On February 7, 1970, while I lay on the floor of the Simpson County Jail in Brandon, I made the decision to preach a gospel stronger than my racial identity and bigger than the segregation around me.’ (p.56)

Dream With Me’ brings the civil rights movement out of the museum, and it takes reconciliation out of the hands of race baiters, who seek to keep African-Americans down purely for political advantage.  ‘Dream With Me’ challenges the status quo of racial divisions by inviting change through humility and understanding.

Perkins doesn’t play the blame game. He seeks to end the cycle of abuse by encouraging others to not engage in reciprocating stale responses veiled by resentment and forced tolerance, all of which are underpinned by unrepentant hearts, pride and a fraudulent reconciliation, grounded in toxic identity politics.

In sum, ‘Dream With Me’ brings the practice of reconciliation to life. Perkins provides a viable way forward. This is a brave book written by an elder in the Civil Rights movement. Whether Americans can move beyond stale cultural slogans and tribal segregation; beyond blame and shame[xii], is an open question. It’s one that can only be answered when and where people are freed from the prison of ‘isms’ – racism, sexism, ageism, classism, and so many other divisive systems’ (p.50)

This book is for anyone who has been dealt blows by the hands of injustice, ostracism, abuse and uncalled for hostility. It’s for those who want to move beyond the logical fallacies which manipulatively assume that because someone has a certain type of skin colour, their melanin predetermines their heart, character and how they view the world around them; for those who want to keep Jesus Christ at the centre of justice, reconciliation and stewardship toward our neighbour.

Dream With Me’ is a call to prayer-filled action, which falls in line with Paul the apostle’s command and prayer for the Church in Corinth: ‘aim for restoration.’ (2 Cor. 13:9 & 11, ESV)


References:

[i] Defined as proactive empathy, as opposed to the spectator-sympathy.

[ii] Community and government groups play an auxiliary role in supporting initiatives; helping, not controlling or taking away individual responsibility; ergo offering a hand-up, not a hand out.

[iii] Teachers about Jesus’ teaching, not about Jesus Christ; turning Christianity into a list of ethical principles. In effect, Christless Christianity e.g.: “Who needs Christ? If I follow his example by being a good person, then I’ll be able to save myself, make God happy and get into heaven.”

[iv] See Jacques Ellul’s brilliant criticism in Jesus & Marx, 1988.

[v] ‘The contempt for theology is outrageous. Rauschenbusch’s own “theology for the social gospel” clearly shows, like its successors, that a lack of obedience to Scripture is characteristic for the teaching of the social gospel.’
(Bonhoeffer, DBW 12, Memorandum: The Social Gospel, p.242)

[vi] Perkins, J.M 2017 Dream With Me: Race, Love, and the Struggle We Must Win, Baker Publishing Group, (p.85)

[vii] Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, 1984, Instruction  on Certain aspects of the Theology of Liberation, (Source)

[viii] ‘To be honest, I had never given a second thought to poor whites. I still regarded them negatively – as redneck, trailer park white trash. The wealthy white people could help me, but what good were the poor whites to me? But then this poor white couple showed up at my doorstep. My automatic response was to treat them the way whites had treated poor blacks – to patronize them. But these people were teaching me, John Perkins, the guy who was supposed to be leading the church in reconciliation; a lesson in what it really means to be reconciled to one another.’ (pp.56-57)

[ix] ‘Justice is an act of reconciliation that restores any part of God’s creation its original intent, purpose, or image’ (p.207)

[x] ‘Wealthy whites also used the poor whites as tools of oppression — having blacks beneath [poor white folks] made those [folks] feel superior.’ (p.60)

[xi] ‘We’ve gotten away from the understanding that all of resources belong to God, and that we are stewards of whatever portion of those resources He has entrusted us with.’ (p.85)

[xii] ‘…we need to start getting beyond this stuff. Issues related to ethnicity and tribalism may divide us, but we have to start recognizing that we are one race – the human race’ (p.54)

Disclaimer: I did not receive any remuneration for this review, in any form.

Darwin

On this day in 1942, Darwin, a city in Australia’s Northern Territory was bombed in two air raids by the Imperial Forces of Japan. Just over two months after the attacks on Pearl Harbour.February 19thre probably will not find it imprinted anywhere on Australian made calendars. What could account for this is that the Government of the day downplayed the event through ‘censored and limited coverage, in order to protect public morale in the southern states of Australia’[Source: Australia.gov.au]. It is probable that this accounts for the limited awareness of the severity of the air raids in the contemporary Australian psyche.

We marked it on our calendar but even I almost missed marking the day.As a nation we do Anzac Day [April 25th] well, we remember the cost of war, remember those left, those who sacrificed and are also get our fair share of confrontation with the indifference of generations who forget it.

darwin_gpo_web_Darwin Post office_1942

Bomb damage done to the Darwin post office.

The 19th of February needs to be marked as national day of remembrance for Australians. Thankfully efforts are being made by politicians to see that this happens..

According to the archives regarding the events in Darwin, 1942:

‘The two raids killed at least 242-3 people and between 300 and 400 were wounded (including members of the U.S military personal). Twenty military aircraft were destroyed, eight ships at anchor in the harbour were sunk, and most civil and military facilities in Darwin were destroyed…the intention was not invasion, but to disrupt the Allies using Darwin as a base for a counter-attack against the invasion of Timor’ [Source: naa.gov.au]

The bombing of Darwin stands alone as the first big attack against the Australian mainland by a foreign nation.

‘In all, there were 64 air raids on Darwin. The final occurring on the 12 November 1943’ [Source: Australia.gov.au]

The Darwin bombing is not only about remembering how close the War in the Pacific came to Australian shores. It is also a reminder of the rough road to reconciliation present in the relationship between the Australia and Japan after the war had ended.

This is exemplified in an excellent 2010 production from the ABC program 7:30 N.T. The brief documentary outlines the event and the aftermath. The dangers in Darwin harbour, when the time had come to remove the hazardous wrecks would also have been crocodiles.

The highlight from this story is the Japanese salvage team. They used metal from the wrecks to forge crosses “as a sign of peace and reconciliation”.

For my home-school friends I have attached a free printable which contains the Geographical outline of Australia. (This one is homemade). We gave it a spin today and our Year Four home-schooler loved filling in the blanks, adding a ton of colour-shading, borders, capital cities and other key locations.

 

Belonging Rom8_15_GVL_RL2013

This time of year is particularly difficult for those with family who are absent or who feel as though they don’t belong. Christmas can be seen as unfair, an unwelcome reminder of too much disappointment. The dreaded time of year when more salt is added to already aggravated, yet-to-heal wounds. When Christmas eve is spent ringing sometimes hostile and estranged family members to at least, albeit at a safe distance, meet and greet them in the hope that this year wounds will heal as prayers are answered.

Even in this reflection, I find that my longing to fit in where I think I belong is confronted by a new belonging, if it isn’t replaced by it completely. In the midst of this encounter I am reminded that I cannot remain absent in places where I have been given an invitation to be present.

This is because belonging when you don’t belong is a unique attribute of a Christian gathering, particularly pertinent at Christmas.

This idea lingers in the storylines of movies which narrate to us the wisdom that says our worth and identity exist outside of our possessions, work and social status. The music at this time of year reminds us of a homecoming even if the house or the family in it are not, or were not originally ours.

The gift of the gathering is to be recognised by those of us who encounter more sorrow than merriment during Christmas. Presuming that the gathering is an authentic gathering, we will discover, if we care to admit it, something special – unique. The bitter disappointment that enters your entire being; the taste of fallen Christmas’ past are slowly eroded by the loving merriment of those who were once strangers. An emptiness filled over time by people who consider your presence the most important present of all.

As time goes by, the echo of this response leaves memories that are generally filled with more Merry than “Meh-rry”. It is untidy at times and not perfect, but it is healthy, joyful and genuine.

Something, or rather someone who grasps us, even as we are gasping, trying to smile and not entertain thoughts about where ones own side of the extended family are this time of year.

Your heart may feel like it is being squeezed into your throat, but thankfully the sensation passes, even if the questions and contrasts increase the sense of inferiority and displacement. The pain of isolation and abandonment is not cancelled out or discounted by this strange, new belonging; rather it is answered by it.

This discovery uncovers lives grounded upon the reconciliation between God and humanity. We find ourselves in a different, strange and unique place of acceptance, a place where we belong even if we don’t truly think we do.

Out of the gathering we are reminded of the theological position that states, in Jesus the Christ we understand that our reconciliation with God happens through his movement towards us  – the answer to the paradox that we belong even though we don’t belong is exemplified by Paul Tillich’s imperative to ‘accept that you are accepted[i]’.

It may be only once a year, but in the gathering the melancholic and the introvert finds the gift of acceptance, the gift of being present, of being around people he or she doesn’t feel they even belong being around. It is then up to the melancholic and the introvert to respond. To accept that they are accepted if it is safe enough to do so.

This kind of gathering is a gift. The wonderful knowledge that being present is itself received as a gift.

This kind of belonging is driven by the acceptance of, and invitation to, those who don’t belong by those that do.

Men and women who may fail to understand the significance of your reticent manner, but still acknowledge that you’re being present is a worthwhile gift; a selfless offering made in spite of the pain, the brokenness and sorrow. In spite of the emptiness and the clear absence of anyone directly related to you.

This encounter with a new belonging cannot be purchased; neither does its impact dissolve into the atmosphere once the event has come to a close.

During Christmas and New Year, busyness and distraction are temptations too easily agreed to. However, agreeing to these only enable negative patterns of anxiety avoidance.

Alternatively accepting the invitation to gather lovingly confronts a soul-filled with sorrow by the gentle reminder that you will find less solace in the solitude of a glass of wine, than in a Christ led crowd of forty plus people who are genuinely pleased that you made the effort to show up. Matthew’s Gospel records Jesus as saying: “where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” (Mt. 18:20, ESV)

Perhaps this might coincide with Paul’s reminder to the Church in Rome, as a potential reminder to us that we:

‘did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption, as sons (and daughters) by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” (Paul, Rom.8:15, ESV)


[i] Tillich, P. 1952 The Courage To Be Yale University Press p.164
[ii] Video: [Official] Linkin Park, Somewhere I Belong from the album Meteora available @ itunes