All posts tagged “John Perkins

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Book Review: Making Neighborhoods Whole

Rock bands like Switchfoot don’t compose tribute songs to just anybody. But when they do, one does well to take note. The band famously memorialized the words—or at least the sentiments—of St. Augustine in the 1999 song “Something More.” And as philosophy professor David Naugle wrote last year in Comment, this was anything but an isolated instance. Rather, he argues, “key aspects of the influential saint’s Christian vision, especially its existential aspects, permeate the band’s lyrics.”

A decade after “Something More” appeared on the album New Way to be Human, Switchfoot paid tribute to another hero on Hello Hurricane. Here is what frontman Jon Foreman had to say about “The Sound (John M. Perkins’ Blues)”:

[It] is a very important song for us as a band. I see so much hatred and fear around me, I see so many people living out their pain. I hear it on the radio. I see it in the headlines. John Perkins story needs to be heard. This song was inspired by a man who sang a louder song than hatred. In a world where we are defined by our differences, Mr. Perkins’s life of service and compassion is a tangible demonstration of what it means to live a life of love. Love is the loudest song we could sing. Louder than racism. Louder than fear. Louder than hatred. John Perkins said it right, love is the final fight. We’re excited to hear this song on the radio, louder than pain.

Perkins, as I’ve said before, is something of a hero for me too, and his books have profoundly shaped my thinking on faith, justice, racial reconciliation, and especially community development. But of course, he’s impacted the lives of many, perhaps primarily through his involvement with the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA), which he helped to establish nearly 25 years ago.

makingneighborhoodswholeNow, along with Wayne Gordon, a Chicago pastor who led CCDA for many years and now serves as president of the board, Perkins has written Making Neighborhoods Whole: A Handbook for Christian Community Development (InterVarsity Press)The book primarily serves as an overview of CCDA’s distinctives, which may not sound overly compelling, but I found that it does so in a richly engaging way.

Perkins and Gordon begin with a bit of history, including formative moments in their own lives, how their paths eventually crossed, and of course, the story of how CCDA took root, how it has morphed over the years, and where it might be headed in the future. I’ve read several books by Perkins (and one co-authored by Gordon) before, and have been familiar with CCDA for some time. Some of this was therefore review, but I was interested to discover details I’d either never known or forgotten about the remarkably vibrant association they have helped to lead.

John PerkinsThe authors then outline the eight core components or hallmarks of Christian community development, taking them a chapter at a time. The first three—relocation, reconciliation, and redistribution—originated with Perkins early on, while the latter five—leadership development, listening to the community, being church-based, a wholistic approach, and empowerment—were added later in collaboration with others. (One or two of those words might raise red flags for some readers of this blog, but I’d encourage you to find out what they mean by them before rushing to judgment.)

Supplementing these eight hallmarks in the book are short essays from a variety of Christian community development practitioners, most of whom toil in obscurity. That is, they’re only household names in the neighborhoods where they actually live and work, where they’re beloved and anything but unknown.

For those already acquainted with the work of CCDA, Making Neighborhoods Whole will help provide context for the organization as it exists today. For those interested in the book who represent broad swaths of evangelicals newly energized by the idea of seeking the flourishing of our cities, but who don’t know much about CCDA, the history chapters might get into some unnecessary minutiae (budget fluctuations and conference attendance year by year, for instance). But the real heart of the book—the chapters and corresponding essays on the hallmarks—will be helpful and interesting, I think, for everyone.

Those with any level of responsibility for or involvement in church or nonprofit ministry among the poor, both domestically and abroad, would find much of value in Making Neighborhoods Whole.

[Header image via]

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An invitation to The Justice Conference – Phoenix Simulcast


One of the highlights of 2012 for Katie and me was the opportunity to attend The Justice Conference in Portland in February. We loved the chance to hear from provocative and thoughtful speakers (my notes are here), to participate in the topical pre-conference breakouts, to mill around in the exhibit hall, to catch up with friends new and old, and simply to experience Portland’s weirdness.

In 2013 (February 22 and 23, to be precise), the conference is moving across the country to Philadelphia, and once again the lineup is top-notch. For those who can make the trek – and for those already near the Philly area – it’ll be well worth your time to be there in person.

But for many others who don’t have the time, the money, or the inclination to travel, there’s great news: the conference will also be simulcast to cities across North America, including Phoenix! I happen to be coordinating the Phoenix simulcast, so if you live in this neck of the woods, I’d like to invite you to come (and to help us spread the word).

When? The simulcast will be live, corresponding to the main conference’s schedule, with two sessions Friday evening (the 22nd) and seven more on Saturday (the 23rd).

Who? The jaw-dropping list of speakers includes:

Where? The Phoenix simulcast will be held at New City Church (4331 N. Central Ave), conveniently located in Phoenix along the light rail and, as a matter of utmost importance, just a stone’s throw from Lux Coffee.

TJC_Simulcast_NoYear_Pos_RGBHow Much? All the basic info is available at the conference’s simulcast page, including pricing and the registration form. If you can, I’d recommend taking advantage of the Holiday Rate available through the end of the year (that’s next Monday!). We don’t know how quickly it’ll sell out, but space is somewhat limited, so please do register sooner than later.

If you have any questions, feel free to email me, tweet me, message me, or call me (if you’re privy to my number, that is).

All registration will happen through the conference’s site (here’s that link again), but we’ve also created a Facebook event page to help us (and you) spread the word. Please join us!

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Theological reflection for community development practitioners

The good folks at the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) have been helping Christians to engage their cities and communities holistically for nearly 25 years, especially through their three Rs: relocation, reconciliation, and redistribution. And they’ve just taken another step to engage us further in thinking about what it means to seek the shalom of the places God has called us.

For those less familiar with CCDA, the network was formed in 1989 by John Perkins, an evangelical leader who was active in the Civil Rights movement. In Welcoming Justice: God’s Movement Toward Beloved Community (IVP), Perkins argues that after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., the movement largely lost touch with its deep Christian roots. He writes:

Only as long as the Civil Rights movement remained anchored in the church — in the energies, convictions and images of the biblical narrative and the worshiping community — did the movement have a vision.

Robust theology, in conjunction with the importance of thick Christian community, has been a core tenet of CCDA since its inception, and I think that’s a significant part of what’s kept this movement on track for these 25 years.

In keeping with this key value, CCDA has just published the first edition of its very own theological journal:

The Theological Journal is designed to enable our practitioners to capably integrate theological concepts into their practice. The articles are written by CCDA members and will challenge us to go deeper theologically, while giving us language that will allow us to dialogue outside of The Academy. Theological reflection and engagement among practitioners and with our neighbors can often be strange bedfellows, but this should not be the case. A significant focus of this first edition will speak to why we need more theology and dialogue, giving historical and Biblical precedent for engagement, helping us explain who we are and why we do what we do. Building on that foundation, the journal will then address the theology and practices of reconciliation, shalom, self-perceptions of the oppressed, and multiculturalism within churches. Contributors include Vince Bantu, Soong-Chan Rah, M. Daniel Carroll, Chris Jehle, Sydney Park, Randy Woodley, Chanequa Walker-Barnes and Curtiss Paul DeYoung.

The journal is available for free as a PDF, and can also be viewed online using Uberflip.

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The Justice Conference, according to my Moleskine

I’d hoped to live-tweet The Justice Conference in Portland last weekend with quotes from speakers throughout the two days, but spotty phone coverage served to sort of nix that plan. I did take notes in my trusty Moleskine, however, so belatedly, and in lieu of a barrage of tweets all day Friday and Saturday, here are some quotes (admittedly paraphrased at times) from the different speakers, an all-around top notch bunch.

This could get longer than usual, so I’ll omit notes from breakout sessions, and just include those from the main sessions I attended: Ken Wytsma, Miroslav Volf, Walter Brueggemann, Richard Twiss, John Perkins, Stephan Bauman and Francis Chan. For some speakers (Rick McKinley, Maddy DeLone, Shane Claiborne & Ben Cohen), I just listened without taking notes, and I missed hearing Rachel Lloyd while meeting a friend for coffee, so nothing from her either.

Please feel free to weigh in with any thoughts on what different speakers had to say. It’s a lot of good stuff, some of which could be controversial, but all of it is worth pondering, I think. Also, I want to mention that all the photos in this post are from The Justice Conference’s Friday and Saturday albums on Facebook.

1. KEN WYTSMA – founder of The Justice Conference, pastor of Antioch Church, and president of Kilns College.

– You are 4,000 people who believe it’s better to give than receive.
– It’s a bit crazy to be spending a weekend being told to die to self.
– We don’t worship the word justice, but it’s a helpful, important word
– Truth is what IS; justice is what OUGHT TO BE; both are uncompromising.
– Justice is a theological necessity – why do we have such a hard time with it?
– The way we’ve come to understand the biblical word “righteousness” – purity, morality, personal piety.
– Those who thought they were okay because they’ve majored on purity, morality and personal piety, but have neglected the REAL MAJORS are NOT righteous, according to the Bible.
– When you push against the powers-that-be, they push back – “blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ [justice’s] sake.”
– “The just will live by faith.”
– Where am I missing the story because of my presuppositions?
– Many of us grew up hearing the David story in the Bible as a morality story; it’s a JUSTICE story.
– Bonhoeffer: “Being a Christian is less about avoiding sin than about courageously and actively doing God’s will.”
– Justice is deep, broad, necessary – we need a humble posture.
– Justice both surfaces the need for, and is made complete by, grace.

2. MIROSLAV VOLF – a theology professor at Yale, director of the Center for Faith and Culture, and the author of books like A Public Faith (which I plan to blog about soon).

– In the story of Job, how is it that one can do justice, but then experience injustice? Who was unjust?
– Job discovers God as an incomprehensible One.
– We need justice, but we need more: we need a God of mercy and gratuity, who can hold us when the world has abandoned us, or has turned against us.
– Topic tonight: respect & honor of others.
– We live in an inter-connected, inter-related world – if religions are violent, what are we to do about it?
– Is violence the bastardization of religion? (Crusades, Jihad, etc.)
– Authentic Christian faith indeed serves others, but we have seen that violence has been done in the name of Christianity.
– “Honor everyone.” (I Peter 2:17)
– Honor is even stronger than respect.
– Honor. Period. Not conditional on how you’re treated.
– It’s easy to internalize the violence done to us.
– Most of us want to be more than tolerated, though in some places, mere toleration would be an improvement.
– Christians are called to more than tolerance – honor and respect those made in the image of God.
– Respect others’ integrity and help others develop their potential, even if they may end up becoming your enemy.
– Speaking the truth is also part of honoring – and being willing to hear the truth from the other.
– Honor without conditions – don’t just tolerate, but honor by speaking the truth in love.
– The reach of God’s love is the scope of our respect.
– Everyone who loves separates the doer from the deed.
– Can we respect not just the person, but even the opinions, conclusions or convictions or someone with whom we disagree?
– In other faiths, can we respect not just the adherence of other faiths, but even in some sense the faiths themselves? Can we find in them something that may be true, despite our deep differences?

3. WALTER BRUEGGEMANN – renowned Old Testament scholar and author of about a million books and articles, including Journey to the Common Good (my thoughts on it here). He was interviewed on stage by World Relief’s Don Golden.

– Turning the world upside down is what I sense among us.
– Hosea 2 has a lot to teach us about what justice is.
– Five words that describe fidelity and risky/costly relationship: steadfast love, righteousness, justice, mercy and compassion.
– All five should characterize our relationship with God, and we know they are how he relates to us – when they’re in place, we experience shalom, or wholeness.
– Baal is a false god representing bad religion, but also represents bad politics and bad economics.
– Steadfast love: tenacity to stick with it, no matter what.
– Righteousness: has to do with shalom of the community.
– Justice: everything necessary for good living.
– Compassion: being with others in their hardship.
– Mercy: complete self-giving.
– These five words provide a kaleidoscope of fidelity, which touches religion, economics and politics.
– Everything depends on loyalty to God and neighbors.
– Bad religion/economics/politics says loyalty to God and neighbor isn’t really necessary – the biblical prophets called that a lie.
– “Go tell John” – that everywhere Jesus goes, the world is changed and justice is done – that’s what happens when fidelity in relationship takes root.
– “Justice and righteousness” is a key slogan of the prophets.
– The coming of the Kingdom is about relationships with all kinds of economic, political and social ramifications.
– The staying power of justice requires that our guts are stirred, realizing this isn’t right, it can’t be sustained, and it must be changed.
– Television ads are designed to make us numb because numb people are compliant consumers.
– In Hosea, we see God held nothing back in relationship and we see how scandalous it is that he loves us.
– We sometimes understand righteousness as avoiding messes – but we need to be there.
– Jesus intentionally and publicly chose his natural companionship among those disinherited by the power structure – justice requires casting our lot with them.
– Walk and talk are both essential – justice walkers need justice talkers, but walking is most important.
– “Those who wait on the Lord” (Isaiah 40:31) – promises us certain things, but we can see that those who DON’T wait on the Lord can’t expect these things.
– Is there one program or party that can best serve the cause of justice? No.
– Go in the mode you can (whether through the state, private sector, nonprofit, etc.) and do the most you can for the neighborhood – injustice is rampant and we need all kinds of approaches to do justice.
– The vulnerable need to be on the screen of theologians, economists and politicians.
– Eucharist (holy communion) is the pivot point of God’s generosity to his people – God gives God’s self, along with mandate to give yourself away for the neighborhood.
– When you give yourself away you get yourself back, enhanced. It’s a miracle, but it’s the truth.

4. RICHARD TWISS – president of Wiconi International and author of One Church, Many Tribes (my thoughts here).

– As Native Christians, “We’re trying to rescue theology from the cowboys.”
– God brings life through the soil, in community and relational context.
– To the victor goes the spoils of re-writing history.
– Europeans believed land was worthless if not developed.
– Doctrine of discovery: if inhabitants didn’t belong to a recognized kingdom or nation, Europeans  decided they could put a cross on it, claim it and establish it as their own.
– The Bible became an instrument of injustice, instead of a message of freedom and liberation.
– “Kill the Indian, save the man” – boarding schools were established to strip children of their “Indian problem.”
– God put Indians here to be stewards of the land, keepers of the land, who were willing to share – but Europeans took it and used it how we wanted, because we don’t even know they’re here.
– How can non-Natives join hands with the Native people, believing we need each other?
– When was the last time you read a theology book by a Native person or heard a Native speaker at a conference (other than me)? Do you believe Native people are equal members of the church?
– We’re establishing the North American Institute for Indigenous Theological Studies (NAIITS) in conjunction with George Fox Evangelical Seminary to train Native pastors and leaders.
– My prayer is that you’d no longer see Native people as the mission field, but as co-equal partners in pursuing shalom together.

5. JOHN PERKINS – was a leader in the civil rights movement, is the grandfather of Christian community development, and has been a big hero of mine (evidenced here and here, for example). He was interviewed on stage by Dr. Paul Louis Metzger.

– The gospel itself is an explanation of God’s justice – the good news that redemption has been worked out.
– To have a gospel without justice is to have no gospel at all.
– The basis for justice starts with Creation and Psalm 24.
– It’s a big theological problem when we leave justice out of it.
– Our language too often contributes to racism & bigotry – we’ve got to learn a new language and a new way to sing songs.
– You folks are part of the possibility of revival in our day.
– Discipleship is an urgent social issue – needs to happen among neglected urban people.
– It’s difficult for those who’ve benefited from colonization to identify with the poor and vulnerable (referring to the importance of listening to and learning from Richard Twiss and other Native Americans).
– What is grace? God taking the initiative to make us his workmanship.
– Grace is taking all the redemptive biblical thought and bringing it all together.
– Tremendous discipleship problem: helping people understand the gospel and the need to plant churches where real discipleship will take place.
– Church planting and finding/joining with existing churches are both worth pursuing.
– Discipleship happens when you’re near people and able to nurture them.

6. STEPHAN BAUMAN – president of World Relief and quite the poet. I like him a lot, but during this session I didn’t take as many notes as I should have. Here’s the little I have of his interview with Lynne Hybels.

– Injustice wears skin; it’s personal.
– We so easily forget injustice is embodied in human flesh.
– Miroslav Volf: “The demands of justice and the extravagance of love meet on a wooden tree.”
– In reference to one of his poems about those he has met in the Congo: a lament is a consolation and a protest against suffering.
– Flannery O’Connor: “The truth doesn’t change according to our ability to stomach it.”

7. FRANCIS CHAN – former pastor in southern California and author of Crazy Love and Forgotten God. I copied some of these quotes/concepts from Katie‘s notes, as my brain was too fried by that point to take any more notes of my own.

– I said a lot of stuff, and people challenged me on it, so I was quiet for a while. I’m done being quiet.
– True religion, according to James, is to care for orphans and widows.
Some parts of the Bible are hard to understand, but a lot of it is straightforward – we just don’t want to live that way.
A lot of people in our churches live lives that don’t make sense biblically.
Do we get this? Our life is so brief, then comes forever.
Get rid of stuff, and pursue justice.
– Jesus will come in all his glory and will gather all the nations before him – live in light of that.

Which of these thoughts jumped out at you? If you were at the conference, what were your big take-aways?

[Photo credits: The Justice Conference via Facebook]

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Katie’s top 11 books from 2011

One of the myriad things I love about Katie, my wife of eight weeks, is our shared passion for books. Even better, we read a lot of the same kinds of books. And then we get to talk about them, and often, what ends up on this blog begins as a conversation over dinner or while driving through the Arizona desert. I’m smarter and wiser because I have her around, that’s for sure. On Monday I shared my top books from 2011. Here now are Katie’s top picks. There’s a bit of overlap, as you’ll notice, which owes itself just as often to me copying her as to her copying me.

Although I share my husband’s desire to read widely to develop critical and discerning thinking rather than cloning myself to one or two author’s thoughts or perspectives, I have compiled a rather narrow top 11 reads of 2011. It seems somehow wrong to have two of the same authors as well as three books on the topic of justice, but these were the books I was honestly most impacted by this year.

Gregory Boyle, Tattoos on the Heart
An inspiring and informative read about how relationship and empowerment can bring change and self-respect to those who easily believe they are worthless. Boyle is a priest whose impact shows how each of us desire to be invested in, known and loved.

Emmanuel Jal, War Child
An especially timely read in light of South Sudan’s 2011 independence, Emmanuel shares his story of becoming a child soldier. Scarred by hatred, hunger, isolation and violence while just a child, he found his voice through music which he has used to raise awareness, protest and advocate for peace, child protection and human rights.

Richard Foster, Streams of Living Water
Foster’s grace and wisdom approaches six traditions of the faith offering perspective on the strengths and weaknesses of each. Each offer enduring elements that challenge those of us who desire to live faithfully.

Miroslav Volf, Free of Charge
Who among us can say we grasp forgiveness and extending it to others? This book is best summarized by this quote from the introduction: “The true God is a God who cannot stop giving and forgiving, and that our knowledge of Him is utterly bound up with our willingness to receive from the hand of God the liberty to give and forgive.” (Dr. Rowan Williams)

David Powlison, Seeing with New Eyes
I re-read this for a class and am grateful I had the opportunity to do so. A solid collection of articles written for those who desire to help others in the process of becoming more like Christ. He encourages us to place the Redeemer at the center of the picture and find the power to change in turning to Him in all of life.

Eugene Peterson, The Pastor
Absolute soul-medicine. A masterful weaving of the formative moments of Peterson’s development into a true pastor. He redefines what we often view as the essentials of a good pastor and extends to us something richer, steeped in Scripture.

Edith Schaeffer, L’abri
The concepts of L’abri had shaped my views of hospitality and personal vocation long before I read Edith’s description of their story and vision. But this book still brought new shades of light and context  to the ideas of facilitating, in relationship, the process of leaning into God and what he has to say about the realities of the world we live in.

Robert Lupton, Compassion, Justice and the Christian Life
Lupton breathes experience, wisdom and genuine love for the poor and marginalized. He navigates the tensions between reaching out with compassion and defending the dignity and humanity of every person.

John Perkins, Let Justice Roll Down
A compelling story of Perkin’s civil rights journey. Although heartbreaking to read about the depths of hate and oppression, it’s inspiring to learn from one who pursued social justice rooted in strong evangelical faith even before it became trendy.

Timothy Keller, King’s Cross
A collection of sermons based on the Gospel of Mark which bring the words of Jesus to life, offering context and references that reveal the message as truly good news.

Timothy Keller, Generous Justice
A treatise of the implications of our faith and belief in Scripture; the Biblical basis for what should drive us to pursue justice. Keller beautifully articulates what many of us know in our hearts and see as we read Scripture, but often struggle to communicate effectively.