The vision of the Kingdom of God is one of justice—all wrongs put right, swords into plowshares, and all tears wiped from each and every eye. However, despite Jesus’ claim (and ours) that the Kingdom of God is at hand, the work for justice remains exhausting work. We have a nation in the throes of debate over whose lives matter, systems still grind up the poor and the marginalized. The poor are always among us and the Kingdom of God is subject to violence. Lord have mercy. God’s Kingdom is coming, but it often feels like it doesn’t come fast enough.
Kent Annan has written a hopeful book, extolling practices which will sustain us as we work for justice. Slow Kingdom Coming is rooted in Annan’s own experience of working for justice, especially in Haiti ( he serves as a codirector for Haiti Partners). This isn’t really a ‘spiritual disciplines book.’ Annan’s practices are about reorienting ourselves so that our work for justice is lived from a right center. These practices bleed into one another and it is hard to say where one starts and another ends. In one way or another, each of these practices have to do with truth-telling.
Annan’s first practice is Attention or ‘awakening to justice’—learning to pay attention to the voices of those who suffer. It means really looking at people and what their experience (32). Yet injustice abounds and Annan advoctes that we focus our attention in one area (on an issue or a geographical area) so we will be able to work for change. He illustrates this with a Haitain proverb: Pise gaye pa fe kim (when your stream of pee hits the ground too widely, it doesn’t make foam). “It’s an earthy way of saying when our attention is too scattered, we won’t make much difference” (33). Annan advocates setting aside time to discover what breaks our hearts to discover what we ought to pay attention to.
Confession is the second practice Annan discusses. In his focus on justice, he advises we confess our mixed motives in our work, our hero complex, our ‘compassion fatigue,’ our privilege, the pain we’ve caused and received, and our longing for change. This more than a personal confession but an honest look at systemic problems and our complicity in them.
The third practice is Respect. Annan describes the Haitian practice of greeting other when you pass their yard by calling out honé (honor). If they respond with respé (respect) you are invited in (64). This rhythm of honor and respect, means recognizing the personhood of others and serving them on their terms, not your own. When we take the honor-respect idea seriously, we listen to others to discover the best way to show mercy and we advocate for the rights of others.
The practice of Respect leads to Partnering. Instead of models of ministry and charitable work which promote a ‘rescue partnership’ or a ‘fix-it partnership,’ Annan encourages us to move beyond these to establish ‘equal agency partnerships’ where the people we serve have an equal share and stake in our work. This isn’t an easy transition and involves, humble listening, an awareness of context and costs, a realistic view of sin, cleat expectations and mutual accountability, preparing the way for the others, commitment to the long view, mutual trust and shared credit (89-95). In this we are also partnering with the God, that is already at work wherever we are (98).
The final practice is Truthing. Annan borrows the concept of ‘ground truthing’ from environmental sciences. Ground truthing establishes the reality of truth on the ground, as opposed to an aerial view. Annan advocates we take the data about injustice, and check it against the reality on the ground (and vise-versa). He suggests a sky-downward and a ground-upward approach which will help us improve our work for systematic change (118).
This isn’t a ‘how to’ book and the five practices Annan recommends will look different for each of us. This book is helpful and hopeful and an invitation to work for justice. I recommend this book highly and think it would be a good resource for non-profits, ministries and missions programs. I give it five stars ☆☆☆☆☆.
Note: I received this book from SpeakEasy in exchange for my honest review.