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15 Years Without Spencer Perkins: The Wounds Don’t Disappear

January 28, 2013

Yesterday was the 15th anniversary of the passing of Spencer Perkins, Mississippi friend, co-laborer, Christian prophet of justice and reconciliation.  Spencer was only 44 when he died of a heart attack, at the threshold of a new chapter of vitality and a fresh voice for America’s new racial time.  After Spencer died a friend told me I had lost “three limbs – yokefellow, vocation, and community.”  I praise God that these 15 years have been years of unexpected resurrections.   But I learned from Spencer’s death that while no one is indispensable, their presence is also absolutely unique, cannot be replaced.  There is always a hole I feel both personally and on the landscape of voices speaking into our time.  Perhaps this is what it means to live in this “time between the times” where the wounds of the resurrected Jesus do not disappear.

I share with you a poem I wrote (first published in Sojourners magazine) a year after his death.  From his painful journey amidst Mississippi oppression, to his embrace of do-gooders who had no idea how much conversion we needed, to his ultimate vision of both extravagant justice and extravagant grace, Spencer was “much greater than he knew.”  I am afraid of who I would be without the 14 years I shared with him.

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 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 at the blog Reconcilers.

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

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