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Wednesday, June 22, 2016

"Slow Kingdom Coming" (Kent Annan)

TITLE: Slow Kingdom Coming: Practices for Doing Justice, Loving Mercy and Walking Humbly in the World
AUTHOR: Kent Annan
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2016, (149 pages).

Just like the action movies, our busy lifestyles and activities that we do make us look like people constantly on the move. If we are not putting anything in motion, we may even be accused of idling. For believers who want to let their faith make a difference in their lives, the pressure is on to do something quick, lest we be accused of hypocrisy. If we open our ears and eyes to see what is before us and what is beyond us through the news and media, we will know that the injustice in the world far outstrips the amount of justice we see. Maybe, the bad news receive greater publicity than the good. There is so much to do that we do not know where or how to start. There are racial discrimination all over the world with the rich and poor often separated by privileges both explicit and implicit for certain people groups. There is human trafficking that despicably enslaves women, children, and vulnerable people. There is violence; violation of human rights; lack of basic resources; and immoral practices throughout the world. Besides that, there are needs closer to home, like the lonely people in our neighbourhood, people experiencing unjust treatment; and the ever growing rich and poor divide. How can we see God's kingdom come when the world seems to be heading toward greater brokenness? Where is the healing and the shalom of God? When we pray "Thy Kingdom come and Thy will be done," where are the results? The key thesis of this book is that the most effective way to ensure the long-term development of developing societies is when we spend time and resources defending, promoting, and cultivating their freedom and their rights.

If we adopt the short-cut approach to practicing Christianity, we will surely be disappointed. In fact, we may even give up doing it altogether and choose to bask in the hopelessness of it all and how our work would hardly make a difference at all. In this book, author Kent Annan seeks to shine hope through five different ways, encouraging us not to give up but to be faithful in God's calling. We do our best, let God do the rest. Annan suggests five practices for us to cultivate this "slow kingdom coming" approach. These five practices can greatly help those of us in churches, in community groups, and as individuals in a sustained effort to help the needy.

First, there is the practice of Attention where we are awakened to the importance of justice. Reflecting on one Church's huge building activities, there is a tendency for many churches to spend so much money and resources on local needs to the detriment of needs far and beyond. The practice of paying attention means being awakened to needs both near and far; to learn to focus our resources on what is best; and to renew our enthusiasm to help. One way to be awakened to justice is to intentionally put ourselves in situations where our eyes would be opened. One immediate application I can think of is the need for us to look up from our cellphones, our tablets, and our digital gadgets which have largely molded our modern body postures. Many people think that before they can focus on justice matters, they need to grow their spiritual lives. They have unwittingly reversed it. In fact, attending to justice deepens our spiritual walk.

The second practice of fidelity is Confession where we acknowledge that we are sinners needing grace instead of presuming that we are saints trying to minister to other sinners. The truth is that when we extend a hand to help, we are equally capable of hurting the very people directly or indirectly. Confess our mixed motives. Confess that we often help in ways that make us feel good instead of truly meeting the needs of people. Confess our selfish desires that want to be seen doing good rather than secretly doing good deeds that nobody know. Confess our desire to want to claim credit. Such a confession helps us take attention off ourselves and our ego-building efforts, and to really see others with compassion.

The third practice of Respect comes after we have addressed the two earlier inner practices. With his experience in a Haiti culture, Annan shares about how typical Haitian families do their household chores outside their houses. When walking past their homes, there is a need to be respectful of their space. Such a posture acknowledges the honour and dignity of the people. In Western culture, this is also about common courtesy and due consideration. Learning to be considerate does not simply means giving them stuff out of our rich pockets. For all we know, our actions may lead them to an unhealthy dependency or impoverish them in other ways. Thus, the practice of respect means learning to listen well. It means listening incarnationally, that attitude of working with instead of working for. Second, we listen in order to learn. We cannot pretend to be the know-all and have-all, even though our country's GDP exceeds the host country by many times. A classic way to describe why there is a lack of respect is Dr Martin Luther King Jr's observation of people.

“Men often hate each other because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they can not communicate; they can not communicate because they are separated."
Respect enables us to move closer together, to listen, to support each other, and to promote each other's interests. It enables us to practice the love that God has called us to do.

The fourth practice is Partnering, where we learn of two short-term and two long-term models. Rescue partnership and Fix-It partnership are both short-term and largely dependent on a transfer of help and resources from the haves to the have-nots. The "equal agency" and "partnering with God" are most helpful for the long term and it enables both parties to grow in understanding and in learning the best ways for both to grow. The fourth way of partnership seems to be too supernatural and difficult to experience for some people. Yet, it is foundational to the meaning of the relationship between creation and Creator. Without this fourth model, all of our humanitarian efforts remain largely humanistic.

The fifth practice is the way of Truth, something that the author calls "Truthing." For the truth will set us free. The many things that we can do to help must be anchored on truth. Personal truthing means one puts theory to practice and vice versa. Know the good we ought to do and then to do it. Data truthing is about being wise in how we help people, learning from the lessons of the past and the experiences of people.

So What?
Annan is a wise guide that we can all learn from. He still travels regularly to Haiti and other developing countries, learning and playing a part in the practice of slow kingdom coming. The five practices that he helps put forth have all been shaped by years of observation, of education, of passion, and compassion. He is particularly influenced by Thomas a Kempis's "The Imitation of Christ" where he learns about the need to "Fight bravely, for habit overcomes habit." We cannot merely talk about the needs in the world and the ever growing problems that seem to overwhelm us. We need to act on them with appropriate speed. The title of the book is important to give us space to pace ourselves. This is important for three reasons.

First, the ministry of care and compassion is not a one-shot project but an ongoing ministry of help. Thus, long-term planning is crucial to the beneficial development of the people we are trying to help. People being people need time to grow in the building of relationships. For rich nations to just donate cash, while the material needs can be addressed, the emotional and spiritual needs will need more than a mere handout. Thus, any ministry of care must look long-term because people will need to be comfortable with the givers and the givers must need to learn what are the true needs of the people they are trying to help. For that matter, I do not consider short-term mission trips as particularly useful for the recipients. In fact, short-term mission trips ought to be re-labeled as short term "educational trips." Only when we have learned sufficiently can we begin a ministry that benefits others more than ourselves.

Second, such ministries require lots of perseverance and faithfulness. That is why it is a calling in the first place. It is not for the half-hearted or the squeamish.  I like what Annan calls the five practices, which essentially declare to us that help is no help if it is merely talk and theory. We must put our care into action. For love is not love until it is given away. Only through perseverance and sustained faithfulness can the kingdom truly come in its fullness. No rush, no quick-fix, and no expecting of immediate gratification. There are exceptional situations for quick-fixes but those are more of exceptions rather than the norm.

Third, each of us must pray and discern what is best for our ministries. Just because Annan has said a lot of good things about missions and overseas charity work, and the need for us to look beyond our shores, we cannot simply abandon our local posts and venture overseas. It comes back to calling and the vision of the Church we are part of. If the Church has become overly myopic in its programs and activities, we should urge the Church to learn to switch from inner focus toward more outer needs. There is a time for everything, a time to go and a time to stay. As leaders, we must all learn to discern which is which, and if possible, do both.

Kent Annan is a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary. He is co-director of Haiti Partners, a non-profit that works toward providing basic education in Haiti. He has also worked with refugees in former Yugoslavia, Iran, Sierra Leone, Kosovo, and Albania.

This is perhaps one of the best and most practical books about letting God's kingdom come, and if necessary, through us.

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of IVP Books and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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