Reflections on John M. Perkins' Visit to UVa | Cameron Strange, '16

John Perkins’s legendary reputation precedes him in such a way that I was afraid at the thought of potentially meeting him;  this fear of meeting him only further solidified when I heard him speak at the Common Grounds dinner and then the Capps lecture. I contemplated the ramifications of being face to face with John, and I figured my fear wasn’t so much a fear of there being something to lose as it was a fear of there being something all too great to gain. I feared that, if I introduced myself to him and shook his hand, he might impart some sort of prophetic call over my life that I would not be ready for – I feared that God would use him to speak to me words from God Himself. 

Shortly after I became aware of these fears, I realized how silly it is to place any man on a pedestal such as this, to the extent that simply meeting him would be a fearful encounter. Moreover, I think John himself, if he had known there were people like me who think in ways like this about him, would do his best to dismantle the pedestal and deflect all exaltation to God. Even still, while I acknowledge that putting John on a pedestal was absurd, perhaps my fear in meeting John was not founded solely on pure absurdity – perhaps, it was partly founded on an underlying sense of respect for what he preaches. For, I must say, he preaches words that carry an air of optimism– optimism to a great extent but also to an appropriate extent, considering he uses the Gospel as the basis for what he preaches. 

The vision that John implores us to move towards is lofty in nature, yet it entails a God-given purpose that is so worth living for. The Gospel deserves nothing less than visions for a future world that are seemingly impossible to achieve yet so awe-inspiring and captivating that we can’t help but be sucked into its mission for seeking God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. Oddly enough, I think that John did speak to me words from God himself. But, with no disrespect to him, I realize that the message underlying these words weren’t necessarily anything I hadn’t heard before, nor were these words only meant for me. John merely re-cast the vision of the Gospel in the specific context of our present day struggles on the journey towards racial reconciliation. 

His message was a refreshing reminder of the Gospel’s purposes which God has called us ALL to pursue in His strength and by His grace. I felt John inspiring me to become implicated in the world’s brokenness and our every-day struggle for reconciliation, to take responsibility (as he would say) for the world that God has given us to care for.  Part of the good news, however, is that while I am personally convicted by this call to take responsibility for a world that I am often apathetic towards, I am also entangled with my brothers and sisters in Christ, such that I don’t have to “take responsibility” alone. Meanwhile, we also have a sovereign God working on reconciliation’s behalf with us, such that we mere humans do not have to “take responsibility” in vain and for a hopeless cause.

Even having said all of this, I would still probably be somewhat afraid to meet Dr. Perkins (perhaps for fear of inadvertently saying or doing something that disrespected him). But if I did have the guts to say one thing to him in person, I think I would tell him, “Thanks for the reminder – I hope to pass it on to those of my friends who unfortunately couldn’t be here to hear it.”