Hymn to an Insane-Loving God: In Memory of Spencer Perkins

Twelve years ago today, far too soon, we lost one of our great prophets for racial justice and reconciliation–Spencer Perkins.

I share with you a poem I wrote about my friend (first published in Sojourners) a year after his sudden death of a heart attack at age 44.  From a painful Mississippi racial journey toward forgiveness and his ultimate vision of a “culture of grace,” Spencer was, indeed, “much greater than he knew.”  At his weakest moment in life, he received a gift which led him downward into spiritual greatness.

Three days before his departure to heaven, Spencer and I preached side-by-side for the last time at Belhaven College, at the end of a College, Ethnicity, & Reconciliation conference in Jackson, Miss.  Spencer’s message that night was Playing the Grace Card–a prophetic call to a “culture of grace.”  The message was embodied in an extraordinary human being who altered me and many others at the very core.

Hymn to an Insane-Loving God

For him it was always hard, accepting who he was,
Even in your eyes.
So I do that today,
For he was much greater than he knew.

For his undeserved embrace of Prodigals,
Despite persecution across-the-tracks,
Ugly hate, flight, abandonment,
Indifference, neutrality, silence,
And countless white eager-beavers busy disappearing.
For soothing souls with the balm of forgiveness felt,
While propelling them forward to make a new history.
We thank you, insane-loving God.

For keeping his vows to his little postage stamp on earth,
West Jackson, in sickness and health,
Christmas robberies and Bulls-eye barbecue throw-downs,
Over decades long enough to uncover all our masks,
and his:
A fellowship of recovering sinners
Freeing from addictions seen and unseen:
Cocaine and pride, winos and egotists,
We thank you, insane-loving God.

For his Labrador-like patience, stability, devotion,
Sticking with impossible people
And an abused druggie-looking
momma mutt stray we called Bebe—
Car-hit, we wanted her put to a restful end;
He couldn’t bear it, and without permission,
beyond reason,
Spent $300, enduring our wrath,
And Bebe wiggled her way into our extended family.
Even for that, we thank you, insane-loving God.

For his restless Truth-seeking,
Enlarging us with gift of language and story:
Scottie, who would not come through that open gate,
God’s “prime directive,”
“Reconcilers don’t die, we multiply,”
For playing the grace card, not the race card,
We thank you, insane-loving God.

For yoking with me to the end,
Dragging the plow through sin-thick sod,
Never, either of us, easy to love.
The fragility of our yoke gave way,
Only to reveal a greater one, invisible,
Binding us mysteriously to you
And so to find the way back to each other.
I miss that holy, muddy ground,
The jokes that only we shared,
His hug, and his promise,
“Chris, I love you like my own brother.”
I thank you, insane-loving God.

For bushwhacking him by grace,
And carrying him to the top of the mountain,
Moses-like, to glimpse awesome new territory
And there, for once, to see himself with your eyes,
“My beloved son, with whom I am well pleased.”
For sending him back down, for a moment,
To describe the view,
We thank you, insane-loving God.

What he saw from afar,
Is now for us to possess.
To cross the dangerous river, to seize the land,
To cultivate the culture of grace,
Sowing with love beyond reason, unfair, undeserved—

The way you love.
Like you, he showed me how to love insanely, too,
And he was greater than he knew.

About the Author: Chris Rice is co-director of the Center for Reconciliation at Duke Divinity School.  He is author of Reconciling All Things, Grace Matters, and More Than Equals. He writes regularly at the blog Reconcilers.

Related Reconcilers posts: Celebrating “Grace Day”: From Trying Harder and Doing More to a Culture of Grace

Also See:

Last 5 posts on the Reconcilers Blog:


  1. Thank you for sharing this, Chris. It brought me back to sitting in that room and listening to Spencer’s last sermon. We have been marked by our relationships–and called by God through the company of people whom God has given us “To cultivate the culture of grace, Sowing with love beyond reason, unfair, undeserved”. Thank you for your faithfulness to that vision, too!

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