Sunday, June 6, 2010

Dr. John Perkins--Hope for a Reconciled World

I was not able to attend this year's Summers Institute put on by the Center for Reconciliation at Duke Divinity School. Too much going on in June with Durham Cares/RAAM, but I did happen to cross paths with the group walking to lecture and there I quickly said hello to old friends, Catherine Piwang, David Higgonbotham, and Chris Rice. I desperately wanted to join for worship, but the week just did not permit. One person I did not eye was saint John Perkins, but seeing this image of him at work below reminds me of the way he shapes the things I do and the kind of evangelist I try to be.

He is pictured here in what I can only caricature as his soft and compelling evangelistic style of teaching and preaching.

I first encountered the man as the overarching hand of influence in Grace Matters written by Chris Rice and John Perkins' late son, Spencer Perkins. Years later, I met him through a friendship with John Blake brought about through shared ministry at the Durham Nativity School. John Blake and I arranged for John Perkins to speak to the middle school students at one of the weekly chapel sessions. They were awestruck by his story of salvation, his boyhood hatred of whites, his conversion through the witness of his son, Spencer, who had come to know Jesus through Good News Clubs of Mississippi decades ago.

I was sorry to miss the witness of saint John Perkins this week at Duke, but I am so pleased that others heard some of how he follows Jesus Christ.

He said in an interview: *On the Church as community: “We are called to die to ourselves and have new life, and we live out that life in the Beloved Community. The church was supposed to be a neighborhood and we’ve made it into an institution.”

Here I am on a Sunday morning writing in the quiet of my office when guilt and obligation say I should be with some church, some people, worshiping the Lord. And I would like to be, but I am too tired and too determined to be where God is calling me. And my Lord has me right here, right now, trying to envision a beloved community that is less institutional, and more about neighborhood.

Some of us, thanks to Durham Cares, are taking this neighborhood on the road by bikes in six days beginning in Oceanside, California and ending in Annapolis, Maryland--this neighborhood we call Durham, North Carolina. I feel like in so doing, I am a minister to the city, and yet I struggle with that because it is so conceptual and abstract. I am formed as most Christians are formed that the first place church is--is inside a building at 11:00am on Sunday morning. And I am not there. What would John Perkins say?

I'm open to hearing that I am just plain lazy, or miss-prioritized, or vain because I don't particularly want to go somewhere where I am not leading worship.

But I am hopeful that these conclusions are incorrect, and God help me if I am wrong. I think God is telling me to lead on the American Tobacco Trail in every weird creative way imaginable. I think I was leading God's church at the front of 700 person bike race yesterday morning. I think I was leading in the form of coaching 12 runners in the NO BULL training clinic these last nine weeks. All of these are weird ways to lead. I didn't have a robe or a stole on. There was no altar present. And I take those symbols very seriously for my mentor in five of the last six years has been Timothy Kimbrough, an anglo-Catholic who taught me so much about the traditional gestures of Christian worship.

But perhaps Jesus asks us to part with those symbols from time to time, because a stole would get caught in the chain of a bike or a heavy wooden altar just isn't all that mobile.

The Israelites really struggled to move the Tabernacle all through the desert. Maybe they were in a season of minimalism and they should have left the altar because their mission was mobility, to travel, to move. I'm not looking to move very far, just around Durham, but I can't take brick and mortar of a church building, or the elements of communion, or an altar to every corner of Durham on a bike without at the least a car or even the help of the Army Corps of Engineers and somehow that defeats the purpose of the manner in which I should travel--quieter and more sustainably.

Paul says to the Ephesians, "as shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace." The word whatever indicates to me that it will be different shoes or modes of transportation in different seasons to different audiences, worn by different evangelists. I'm grappling with what I know in my heart is true, there is not one right way to worship the Lord, at least not now, before he reveals himself again.

The church has its institutional place and identity, but it cannot be just that. It must be neighborhoods again. It must be mobile. It must not fear change and humiliation, and that at times for this community it will be difficult to articulate what and where this community is. Jesus was nothing if not misunderstood. If our present day Beloved Communities are at first, unintelligible to the world, that might just be a sign that we are on to something.

Pray for this endeavor and learn more at:

*Image and quote taken from Chris Rice's blog:
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