“Dream with Me: Race, Love, and the Struggle We Must Win” by John M. Perkins

I had never heard of John Perkins until my husband read a book of his last year, and recommended it to me: With Justice for All. It contained a bit of his general life story, but focused on his work on community development in Mississippi. His vision for Christian reconciliation and community development was strong and compelling — I could hear his devotion and determination in his words. But I found myself thinking “This book was written thirty years ago. What would John Perkins say about things now — have we made any progress?” So of course, I jumped at the chance to review this book when I saw it was coming out.

For a bit of background, John Perkins is an African American sharecropper’s son from Mississippi. He witnessed his older brother being shot and killed by a police officer, and eventually went out to California. No one would have blamed him for staying as far away as he could from the segregated South. But after he became a Christian there, he felt God’s call to go back to his home town and help the people of Mississippi. He worked tirelessly for civil rights and was arrested, and at one point beaten and tortured by white police officers in the 70s. After all the injustice he experienced over the course of his eighty-six years, it is no wonder that he has spent his life fighting for justice. But he believes that the church should be leading that fight, and that is what I found so compelling in his vision.

Growing up a “white evangelical,” I often saw social justice as something that was left to others, more specifically those on the “left,” unless it involved abortion. I’m so grateful for John Perkins’ voice, to exhort and encourage the church to be more than it has been–to care about our neighbors enough to be intentional about reaching out and helping them. He doesn’t even have to say that he is a peacemaker and a bridge builder — I can hear it in his writing.

“You have to be a bit of a dreamer to imagine a world where love trumps hate–but I don’t think being a dreamer is all that bad. Joel prophesied that God would “pour out [His] Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions” (Joel 2:28). I’m an old man, and this is one of my dreams: that my descendants will one day live in a land where people are quick to confess their wrongdoing and forgive the wrongdoing of others and are eager to build something beautiful together.” (p. 171)

He admits that he is first and foremost a Bible teacher–we see a lot of that here as he digs into scripture to present the many passages and messages that address reconciliation, forgiveness, and love. He reminds us what we’re here for.

I love how carefully and deftly he handles the tension between both loving the church and calling the church out. He is honest enough to admit that he is often disappointed with the church and the ways we go about trying to change things (or not bothering to at all). He even admits that sometimes he isn’t very optimistic. But he always has hope and dreams that God is still working. The theme of “dream with me” is so prevalent here, even in the midst of gentle rebuke. He is inviting the church to come alongside him in his vision for not only racial reconciliation, but much broader confession, repentance, and forgiveness–being reconciled to each other and God, which he believes is at the heart of the gospel.

If you’ve read John Perkins before, you will probably notice some repeated information and ideas here, but I didn’t mind. He devotes a chapter to his “Three Rs” principle of community development: relocation, reconciliation, and redistribution (which has to do with stewardship, not socialism).

He laments that “It has often been said that church on Sunday morning is the most segregated time in America today,” (p. 45) and encourages churches to be intentional about becoming more multi-ethnic — being willing to reach across the table and compromise, rather than settling for “not excluding.”

He devotes a chapter to the life and heartbreaking death (from a heart attack in his 40s) of his firstborn son, Spencer.

I appreciate his straightforwardness and honesty, even when it comes to asking hard questions of his own life. He led the efforts to desegregate schools where he was living, and felt that it would be hypocritical to encourage others to do it without sending his own children, and so he did. Now he does not say he regrets it necessarily, but is willing to ask hard questions about how much social justice advocates can and should ask of their children — where the line is when it comes to protecting them vs. engaging them in fighting society’s ills.

John Perkins has influenced so many people, including authors Philip Yancey and Randy Alcorn (who wrote the foreword), and Jon Foreman of the band Switchfoot, who wrote a song called “The Sound (John M. Perkins’ Blues).” Some lyrics:

This is the sound
Of a heartbeat
This is the sound
From the discontented mouths
Of a haunted nation

We are the voice of breaking down
Can you hear me?

This is the sound
Of the desperation bound
By our own collision
We are the voice of breaking down

The static comes alive
Beneath the broken skies
John Perkins said it right
Love is the final fight

Let it rise above
Rise above
There is no song
Louder than love

John Perkins has wrestled with the tension between love and justice, but confidently affirms that love is “the final fight.” If you are a Christian and have never read Perkins before, this book is a great place to start.

Disclosure: I received this book free from Baker Books through the Baker Books Bloggers www.bakerbooks.com/bakerbooksbloggers program. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/wa….

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