"All human nature vigorously resists grace because grace changes us and the change is painful."—Flannery O'Connor, The Habit of Being
After 17 years of intense church-based racial justice and reconciliation ministry in Mississippi, my gospel had largely become a matter of trying harder and doing more. And things I held dear began to fall apart.
At the same time that my African American colleague, Spencer Perkins, and I were traveling the nation preaching about reconciliation, we could hardly sit at the same dinner table at home, where our families shared daily life in an intentional Christian community called Antioch. The long friendship and partnership that we had forged in Reconcilers Fellowship, the national ministry we co-founded, was on the verge of breaking up.
While Reconcilers Fellowship was vibrant, in my eyes the Antioch community had shriveled up inside. We were riddled by unresolved relational difficulties, financial stress, and constant and intensifying busyness. I could no longer live with joy and excitement in one sphere and discouragement and hopelessness in the other. Nor could my wife, Donna. I was striving to make a national impact, but that wasn't enough anymore.
I didn't know it at the time, but I needed to be born again—again. This is how it happened.
Interrupted by Jesus
In 1997, Donna and I decided we had to tell the Antioch members what we saw and felt. But could we reveal our deepest concerns and have them received with compassion?
We took the plunge, sharing in a letter at an Antioch meeting what had become an unbearable contradiction. To our great surprise, a number of others responded positively. "That letter could have come from me," one said.
For Spencer, though, any talk that sounded like ...