I have read just about everything that John Perkins has written. So I pre-ordered Dream with Me months ago on kindle and picked up the audiobook as well. I have followed John Perkins’ work since I first became aware of the Christian Community Development Association in 1991 and attended their annual meeting in 1992.
Since then I have attended two or three additional annual meetings and read widely books that have been written by others associated with CCDA. I wrote my Masters thesis for my Masters in Social Service Administration on the different ways that Christian Churches and their church based non-profit arms related to one another using three Chicago based CCDA member organizations as examples.
If you do not know the name John Perkins or anything about CCDA, this probably isn’t the first book I would recommend. I would suggest starting with Perkins’ earlier memoir Let Justice Roll Down or Stephen Berk’s now out of print biography on Perkins, A Time to Heal, both give a much larger context to Perkins’ work and thoughts and would help you to understand why we should listen to Perkins in the first place.
Honestly, I thought Dream With Me would be more autobiography than it is. Once I altered my expectations to see it as an end of life reflection (similar to John Stott’s The Radical Disciple: Some Neglect Aspects of Our Calling or Jimmy Carters: Reflections at 90) it made more sense.
Many of the themes of Dream with Me are themes that have been a part of John Perkins life focus. He talks about his understanding of the importance of working with people in ministry, not for them. His Three R (Relocation, Reconciliation and Redistribution), which have been the cornerstone of his ministry philosophy are also here.
But the chapters of Dream with Me that struck me most were the chapters on the loss of his son Spencer and his concluding couple chapters, which were more about him dreaming of a future for the church and working through scripture around that. Nearly 20 years after Spencer’s death (he was in his mid 40s), the pain of that death is still evident. Watching elders in faith work through pain and loss visibly, without wrapping it up in some nice sweet bow, is helpful. Loss matters. Loss matters especially to a world where we think we might be rewarded in this world for effort.
Perkins was nearly killed for his civil rights work. He has had life long pain and health problems from one particular beating by the police. But the pain that still drags on him is the pain his children went through integrating schools and the pain of Spencer’s death. It is good to see real questioning about whether some of the things that he and his family went through were the right things to do. His goals were good. His God was good regardless of the result. But if we don’t question our methods after the fact, then we can’t learn.
Part of what I have enjoyed about CCDA conferences is that it is usually John Perkins that opens each morning with biblical teaching. He is just a good teacher. Theologically (and politically) he is more conservative than I am. And that challenge, when tied to a voice that I know has both struggled much and served well, for ideals that I believe in matters more than some of those same words being said by someone that has not done the work that puts life into the words.
If you are conservative politically, economically or socially, I would encourage you to engage with John Perkins’ work. He operates out of conservative principles, but also in a place that focusing on what can empower ‘the least of these.’ I think he pushes against both liberal and conservative positions in important ways.