Slow Kingdom Coming, Kent Annan. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2016.
Summary: From years of experience in justice work, Kent Annan commends five practices that both better enable us to serve and to sustain our efforts for the long haul.
One of the delights of working with collegians is that every generation has a fresh passion to change the world. The challenge is that real change is not simple and takes a long time. Often, change efforts end up not fitting the needs of those served, are culturally insensitive, reflect a good deal of hubris, fail to treat those served as full partners, and attempt to build on false premises. At best, the change is often superficial, sometimes it makes things worse, and often the change agents end up burned out and disillusioned.
Kent Annan has worked for a couple decades addressing relief and development work in Haiti, child exploitation in Haiti and southeast Asia, and worked with refugees in Europe. Out of this experience he commends five practices that sustain those who pursue justice for the kingdom of God’s sake when that change is slow in coming.
The practices are:
- Attention. Awakening to the need for change, focusing so we can help well, and renewing our commitment. I’m struck that individuals and congregations can have “justice work attention deficit disorder” running from activity to activity rather than attending to where we need to change, maximally focusing our efforts, and committing for the long haul.
- Confession. Confessing mixed motives, desiring to feel good when helping, our public gestures, hero complexes, compassion fatigue, and privilege. “Confession helps us to humbly lift up the agency of others and be wary of being the hero of our own story.”
- Respect. This is the practice of the Golden Rule “through listening, imagining and promoting rights.” Listening gives those we serve a voice in how we serve. Imagining frees us from cheap compassion and promoting the rights of others means being guided by the rights for which we advocate as we relate to those for whom we advocate.
- Partnering. We come to recognize we work with and not for others. We move from rescue partnership to fix-it partnership to equal agency partnership and finally partnering with God.
- Truthing. Without forsaking love, truthing looks long and hard at the real situation on the ground to best steward resources. Personal truthing gets on the ground rather than trusting in second hand reports. It uses data and research to find out how well proposed courses are actually working. It is incremental, recognizing that learning the truth is an iterative process.
Annan must like the number five, because his concluding chapter suggests five practical ways to keep moving forward in these practices, even when we are overwhelmed:
- Leave behind what holds you back.
- Step forward with faith.
- Find opportunities for healing and reconciliation.
- Renew a vision of mutual flourishing.
- Find joy.
The appendix to this book has additional comments of how the five practices work together. These and the practical suggestions as well as model prayers at various points make this brief book full of spiritual enrichment as well as concrete help.
As I write, many of my friends are asking how they might pursue justice in a political climate where many at home and abroad are feeling left out and fearful that their rights will be eroded. I would highly commend this book as a handbook to all who desire to “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God in the world” (Micah 6:8) and to do it well for as long as it takes.