“Love is the final fight -- but it’s worth fighting for.”
This episode is a special one, friends. When Dr. John M. Perkins -- truly a living legend -- came to our little corner of Iowa to speak at Dordt College, I knew I had to do everything I could to get there and listen to him speak. At 86 years old, his life's work and ministry has been nothing short of amazing.
Dr. Perkins was born into Mississippi poverty, the son of a sharecropper. His outspoken support and leadership role in civil rights demonstrations resulted in repeated harassment, imprisonment, and beatings. He is one of the leading Christian voices to come out of the American civil rights movement. He is also an internationally known author, speaker, and teacher on issues of racial reconciliation and Christian community development.
So there I was, set to get babysitters lined up to attend his teachings. And then I got this crazy idea: Wouldn't it be incredible to interview him? And God threw open the doors and my friend Liz, managing editor of In All Things, a publication of Dordt, allowed me to sit down with Dr. Perkins.
Let me be clear: It was a half hour I will never, ever forget.
I felt like he looked at me and actually saw me. He exuded God's love with humility and compassion -- and so much faithful, faithful reverence. Here was this man who has seen and heard and experienced and served more than I can even begin to fathom, and yet he was wholly present with me. His eye contact never wavered: he saw me as an Image Bearer, a true sister in Christ. He told me that we all need to know that we are broken. And that reconciliation is rooted in Gospel love. We talked about how justice really comes down to stewardship -- about living a language of love. (I know my co-hosts wished they could have joined me!)
While Upside Down isn't an interview-based podcast, this conversation with Dr. Perkins is a special gift. Listen and soak up his words -- they are meaningful -- almost prophetic -- as we try to live as Kingdom-dwellers today in our tumultuous nation. With only a third grade education, Dr. Perkins has received honorary doctorates from multiple universities. He has guest lectured at Stanford, Harvard, Oxford, and countless other prestigious universities. It's incredibly powerful to hear him reflect on his 86 years. On his regrets, his joys, and his hope for the Church he loves so deeply. He has lived through brutal beatings, systemic injustice, and hateful racism. And yet, he is nothing but humble and generous.
In a nation that seems like it's shattering, his words gave me perspective and hope.
My favorite moment was when I asked Dr. Perkins what prayer he has been praying lately. He took off his glasses, closed his eyes, bowed his head and raised his voice:
"I need thee, John Perkins need thee. Every hour I need thee. I think of these thorns in the flesh, these patterns I broke up, these culture patterns that tell me I ought to hate you for what you’ve done to me. It’s really me trying to live this love, also trying to understand that suffering for others becomes vicarious and redemptive."
I'm working on a more reflective church + culture piece for In All Things based on what Dr. Perkins has taught us, but I'll leave you with a couple excerpts from our conversation. I've already listened to our conversation a dozen times, and I know it'll be a staple to return to when my heart is weary. And what a gift that I can tell my children, "John Perkins told me..."
I know this episode will make you think, and will leave you with a lighter heart.
Grace + peace from Iowa,
Quotes to think on from this episode with Dr. John M. Perkins:
"People are looking better to me. People are looking beautiful. I feel like I’m winning when I’m speaking to somebody who is different than me. I feel like I’m winning when I’m being kind to somebody who is different than me."
“My job is to try to reflect Jesus and hope they find some reflection -- a little bit -- in the way I try to live.”
"Believers become a friend of God. The mission is to know God, know ourselves, and make Him known."
“My prayer is: Give me joy in love. Give me joy in pain. Let me find the joy in my struggle in obedience to God. Let me find it in my fears - I have fears. So I need God. And I turn to the Psalms, David has so many psalms. He committed such an evil sin, but he felt the scars from it. I’ve been forgiven, but I feel the scars of my sin, of the sins against me. But I don’t want to be a victim, I want to be redemptive.”
"Justice is a stewardship management issue. Justice is how we use the economy that belongs to God, how we use that to help elevate those who are in poverty."
"The gospel’s message is to bring Jew and gentile, black and white, together in one body, and then live that out in love. That’s the gospel."
"I think we need others in our lives. St Francis had it right: Love is a gift you receive."
"What is our vision of Jesus? Is our vision of him a racist? A Bigot? Or do we see others bear his image, his likeness?"
"Your interest is my well-being ... In your progress and success, we all succeed together."
"I think we’re in a good place. I don’t want to just go around with the rest of my life beating people over the head. I want to go around thanking God for where He’s brought me from as a third grade dropout, where he has brought me to. I want to thank him for that and I want to try to love somebody. And people are matching me with that. I could tell stories about that. When you start playing the game of love, people want to play it with you.”