Rereading With Justice For All by John Perkins

About two weeks ago, I posted about the Justice Conference and recommended that you should go if you could make it to Philly on Feb. 22-23. I also mentioned that I wanted to but it didn’t look likely. One of my closest friends (who upon our move to MA now lives 10 mins from us) said let’s do it – so we’re going. And so I am trying to catch up on some of the speakers that will be there, among them is John Perkins.

Now I enjoy reading and but find myself unmotivated in rereading a book, even though I say to myself while reading a book for the first time, “I really need to read this again one day.” I suppose it’s part of my problem with consumption.

Having resolved to reread more, it was an easy choice – John Perkins’ With Justice For All. He is so hard not to like and while I’m I haven’t come around to all his points, I love his story and his message. He’s one of those guys that by hating on him reveals more about your own flaws than his.

What I like so much about With Justice for All is that it simply shouldn’t be. He tells his story growing up in racist Mississippi, moves out to California, gets married to Vera Mae gets a decent job, a decent house, a growing family and likely a promising future. By all practical accounts they should have stayed there. I mean really, who wants to move from California to Mississippi? But they felt the Lord leading them to return home to MS and help.

He tells his story about being rejected from the white church in Mississippi as well as the black church. He and Vera Mae start children’s and youth ministry programs out of their home, they start rallying the community to help each other, he becomes a community presence. Then one day he gets beaten up by the police. Unsure of surviving the night, he promises God that he won’t allow the violence and racism of the night embitter him and so he promises to do what he can to seek reconciliation between whites and blacks. I would have moved back to California. They face so many struggles and challenges and all they had to do was get out of Mississippi.

There is a good bit of wisdom in the stories he tells. And it’s always disturbing and mind-boggling to read about the South during the Civil Rights era but he has one constant objective throughout the book and he makes in three points: Relocation, Reconciliation & Redistribution. Likely you have heard these terms before but if it hasn’t been from Dr. Perkins, I would get a copy of the book just to have him explain them in his way.

He’s practical in a good way, there’s an awareness resulting from decades of conversation and experience. One of my favorite lines for example.
“Now usually when I mention redistribution, people think that I’m talking about taking all the money from the rich and giving it to the poor. That wouldn’t help a bit! If today you took in the money from the rich and gave it to the poor, the rich would have it back within a few days. Why? Because the poor would go out and spend all their money on Cadilacs, fur coats, suede shoes and whiskey – empty symbols of “success” – rather than on the means of production.
The kind of redistribution we need must go far beyond a dependency-creating welfare system … it must involve us – our time, our energy, our gifts, and our skills. If we are sharing ourselves, sharing our money will follow naturally.”

Some of us call this incarnational ministry, some call this missional living, we can spend a lot of time parsing the details. My hope is that all who say they want to make a difference in the world would find their place to serve and while there is a lot of helpful words here – it’s a great story of one family who found theirs.

As far as the reading of the book, it depends on where you are in the social justice conversation. If you have heard John Perkins speak and have come to appreciate him over the years, you’ll like his stories. If you haven’t heard him, you may find that the book gets a little bogged down on the details and names and dates of the stories. It just depends on where you are in the conversation. This book definitely works best for those who have just listened to him speak and want more.

In any case, it’s a challenging read, especially for us evangelicals in the suburbs – Chapter 18 is a place to start – not all is practical and I appreciated his update. This second reading hasn’t convinced me to move out of the ‘burbs (Also, the cultural landscape has changed a bit since Dr. Perkins first wrote this in 1982; it’s been updated but the where should we live conversation – suburbs or inner city is always important. See The Suburban Christian by Al Hsu for more).

Further, I don’t see his message as a universal prescription for all people, rather, I see it as his calling. But I also see it as an opportunity for each reader to prayerfully ask God what their unique calling is. You may not be called to relocate your physical address but you may have to relocate some priorities, reconcile certain relationships, and redistribute specific resources, energies and time commitments.

God has called us to leverage what He has given to serve God and others and Dr. Perkins is a fine example – looking forwarding to hearing him speak again. Hope you consider reading With Justice For All and if you have already and sensing uninspired, consider rereading.

Next on the reading list is Ken Wystma with his new book that just released this week called Pursuing Justice. He will also be at the Justice Conference.  If you’re going to be there too, let me know, would love to meet up – Drop me a line.

More info here – Justice Conference


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