Where Does Joy Come From?

I was in Jackson, Mississippi recently, and as I sat waiting in a van outside John Perkins’ home, an afternoon rain pelted the windshield steadily. On the plane to Jackson, I had been rereading John’s amazing autobiography, Let Justice Roll Down. I came to visit again this place where a lot of blood was shed in the name of racial hatred, including the blood of my dear friend John Perkins.

And I wondered if anything could wash clean the blood stained soil of Mississippi.

The great John Perkins was on our campus again recently. I have concluded that John Perkins is a very big man. Why? What is the power of John Perkins?

You may remember that John is one of the strong civil rights leaders out of the rural South, one of those who finally stood up against enormous forces of racial hatred and sheer oppression. He broke open a sealed box of sinister injustice, intractable poverty, and degrading unfairness.

But it was the raw hatred in his story that horrifies me the most, people who came close to killing John, precisely because he is black, precisely because he threatened the orderliness and comfort of control by one race over another. His blood too stains the soil in Jackson, where he continues to live, and in Mendenhall, where he grew up. A bunch of redneck cops beat him one night almost to death. Because he is black. Because he finally raised his voice about profound unfairness. He doesn’t like to talk about this part of his story a lot.

But the real mystery about John’s story sets in for me: How can this sharecropper’s son speak with such joy about life, with such hope about the world?  I am overwhelmed by John’s perpetual, consistent joy. John Perkins preaches a gospel of joy. He believes this is the only way for Christians to carry themselves in the world.

This is what we call real transformation. We use that language rather glibly at times, but something very powerful, something utterly mysterious, got hold of John and turned him from legitimate bitterness and hatred and anger — into to joy. It could only be Jesus, John will tell you.

But things don’t stop there for John Perkins. This transformation comes with a requirement: That we take this joy, relentlessly and boldly and humbly, to the ends of the earth. That is John’s mission statement for life. That is John’s notion of the work of the church. As Christians, we take this joy with us everywhere. We spread it around, as Zora Neale Hurston once said.

That’s what I want to do with my life. That’s what I think our Christian universities ought to be doing. If I have any chance of impacting the world, this is the way. Through joy. Through lives transformed by the gospel of joy. That may just wash things clean.

What do you think? I’d love to hear from you.


Categories: Joy, Ministry, Reconciliation, Transformation

20 replies

  1. Thank you for your comments, President Eaton. When I read John’s book I was also greatly impacted by his story of transformation.

    I also remember being struck by this thought: much of the racial oppression that John experienced in his life went unchecked in his time; there were many who considered that treatment acceptable and justified. Looking back on those events in 2009, it’s easy to point to that behavior and see that it is clearly wrong and horribly unfair.

    It does make me wonder though, what are the practices and systems in place today that my children or grandchildren will look back on and be similarly appalled? Once those systematic injustices are identified, how do we go about changing them? What role does joy play in that?

    Maybe those of us who still currently experience privilege will find that the joy of Christ compels us to be willing to share our power and privilege. Maybe Christ’s joy can take the place of fear that may come with both acknowlegding the injustices of our day and with the act of sharing power and privilege so that all of God’s children might prosper.

  2. I recently heard John Perkins speak in chapel and now want to read his book – Let Justice Roll Down. Thanks for the insight on Joy and Jesus!! I look forward to further reading of this blog…..

  3. “It does make me wonder though, what are the practices and systems in place today that my children or grandchildren will look back on and be similarly appalled? … Maybe Christ’s joy can take the place of fear that may come with both acknowlegding the injustices of our day and with the act of sharing power and privilege so that all of God’s children might prosper.”

    Good question, Kristi, and good insight as well. The hard part for me about discussions like this is that the concept of “spreading joy around” is so ethereal. “What does that even mean?” I find myself asking, as I resist the urge to wave the challenge away. I agree with you, Dr. Eaton, that ideas can shape society, can effect change, but only if they are turned into practical action. What does it mean to have joy in our lives, and what can we do to make others’ lives more easily joyful? Because it will take, I predict, more than smiles and God-bless-you’s.

  4. I appreciate the premise of your blog, Dr. Eaton. I remember as a child learning about the joy of Christ. It was the witness of that joy in my Christian friends and mentors that led me to accept Christ.

    I have noticed over the last couple of decades that the concepts of joy, peace, hope, and love are largely missing from the national Christian dialog. They have been replaced with social anger, fear, judgement, and condemnation. Many people now seem to enjoy being riled into anger over social issues or political fault lines more than they enjoy being joyful. Anger is the new joy.

    Thank you for bringing real joy back into the discussion.

  5. Joy is not a feeling. Joy comes from Christ alone, and knowing that God is the God of justice and in the end His justice and righteousness will prevail. Joy comes from knowing that we are truly saved by grace. It’s joy in Christ that makes us want to share Christ with others. Our joy should not be conditional upon our circumstances as with John Perkins and the tribulations he has had to endure.

  6. Engaging the culture, Changing the world. . . and John Perkins

    I read John Perkins book, “With Justice for All” in 1986. I found it so compelling it changed the entire course of my life. Having recently graduated from Seattle Pacific and then finishing up Seminary at Alliance Theological Seminary it struck me that if we all did what John Perkins suggested the world truly would be changed.

    Upon graduation from seminary, I married my husband, Ed Glover and moved to the inner-city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. We “relocated” into a once fashionable neighborhood now, decimated by drugs, crime, homelessnes and prostitution. We “set up house” in a neighborhood where 4 out of 5 houses were boarded shut. and we started to practice what John Perkins talked about in his book: relocation, reconciliation and redistribution. In reality, we started living out the whole gospel on the North side of Pittsburgh.

    There are many times when I have been tempted to give up, thought, “Isn’t it somebody else’s turn” or begun to believe nothing we were doing would ever make a difference but after 23 years the “Joy of the Lord” continues to be our strength.

    While we work with an underserved population with less than adequate resources, yet I cannot think of any place I’d rather be. Kids that started out in our ministry, now transformed by the gospel, live in houses with whole families doors away. As I write, 200 students in grades 1 – 9 are participating in a day camp that goes from 8:30am to 5:00pm everyday for 8 weeks. There young people are safe, surrounded by a loving atmosphere, given educational instruction and spiritual nurture as well as a bunch of other stuff!

    Another 100 middle school and high school kids come once a week for Bible study, worship and activities.

    70, 7-12 year olds play little league and memorize scripture and learn that good character and good sportsmanship make a winner, not just winning statistics.

    Three weeks ago, 500 kids, 100 volunteers, countless parentsand friends and 20 players from the Pittsburgh Steelers came together to run drills, and hear about how players faith in Christ has transformed their lives.

    43 people came to a week long event where they were immersed into the city and given an opportunity to see if a city and a neighborhood like the Northside might be a place where God might call them.

    15 students demonstrating strong character and excellence in the Performing Arts will travel across the country sharing what God has done in their lives through song, drama and dance.

    During the school year:
    350 young men gathered in high school gymnasiums on the Northside once a week to share a meal, hear the gospel and play basketball. 80 of those young men received Jesus Christ as their savior for the very first time.

    73 children gather weekly to play soccer, have a Bible lesson and memorize verses.

    95 students participate in a choir, where they receive instruction from God’s word, a warm meal and sing songs of faith that give them courage to face what most people would consider insurmountable situations. 5 of those students received Christ for the first time.19 students graduated from 16 week STEP program that ensures kids are prepared to enter the work force and then guaranteed a job upon completion of the program.

    57 students gathered weekly for a weekly Bible study and instruction in the performing arts: dance, voice, drama, and visual arts.

    500 students gathered for a one day event called “Global Impact” where young people were challenged to fulfill their part of the “Great Commission” going into all the world beginning with Jerusalem, (your town) Judea, (your area), Samaria,(across the tracks to the people you don’t like and who don’t like you) and the ends of the earth.

    While these are exciting statistics the real dividends are in changed lives. And while this mission field can be filled with hardship, pain and trial being in the center of God’s will, seeing him make a way, where there seems to be no way, watching his miraculous provision when our human limitations have been exhausted,is the source of all joy. Joy is not the absence of pain, it is the presence of God in the midst of it. Thank you John Perkins for sharing that truth it has changed so many lives including mine. Thank you President Eaton for your desire to engage our culture and change the world.

  7. I appreciate John West connecting me to this blog. I thought I might peruse it and saw this reflection by President Eaton on John Perkins. I have had the privilege of spending some time with Dr. Perkins at Multnomah University, and he does radiate a deep and profound joy in all he does whether it is speaking or sharing or listening.
    As I read some of the responses to this blog, I believe joy is lost in the dialogue among Christians, because we don’t see or experience much of God’s transforming love and power in our lives and in our daily journey. We don’t rejoice, because we don’t feel we have much to rejoice about. I have the privilege of serving in a Christ-centered residential healing community called His Mansion Ministries where broken, busted, and abandoned young people commit to a year of healing, and where staff give their lives without any pay or salary to serve them (and be served in the process). We have horrible days here, but we also rejoice regularly as God does transforming work in the hearts, mind, and bodies of men and women with substance abuse, eating disorders, trauma of every kind, and mental health disorders.
    I believe that if we Christians lived in community with the broken and broken-hearted and serve a cold glass of water both literally and figuratively we would see God does His work and we would experience profound joy. So often our busyness, our self-preoccupation prevents us from seeing all those around us who are literally dying to meet someone who embodies the love of Jesus.
    Dear brothers and sisters, do we want to live a life overflowing with joy? I believe one very important way is to be the hands, arms, feet, leg, and aroma of Jesus everywhere God has placed us.

  8. Michael Tso,
    I love your comment. It is so true! My husband and I lead a bible study, and last night one of the guys who had been coming for about 6 mos. — but not really talking — shared his testimony. It was evident that he had been believing the he wasn’t acceptable to God.

    Six of us, gathered around this young man and prayed. We proclaimed the truth of what Jesus did on the cross, and he cried and cried. Jesus did something real and valuable last night, and I woke up feeling so thankful and praising God.

    So much joy comes from seeing God reach down and touch others and ourselves. More than anything, I have a desire to see Christians (and myself) really understand this joy. I want people who proclaim Jesus to get a taste of who he is, and what it means to follow him. Yes, faith alone gets you saved, but there’s so much more! We have access to the power of God, and can help usher those who are hurting into his presence.

  9. I was deeply moved as a read many of your comments. I have been a pastor of local churches for 34 years. When I entered the ministry, I did so because of joy. God had baptized me with His Holy Spirit at 17 years of age, and the result was joy. There have been many things that have hindered and and stolen joy. I have suffered much, yet after all these years it remains my strength and motivation. There is nothing like the joy of the Lord! How I have longed to help others find this same joy. Thank you all for helping me see God’s calling on my life and ministry with greater clarity once again.

  10. Your article moves me. I have been fully committed to God from a young age and its great to read articles like this. Do you have a blog I can subscribe to?

  11. Being fully committed to God is wonderful.

  12. It’s a Joy to wake up and look in the mirror and see a wonderful person staring back. Knowing that each day is another chance to start all over again.

  13. Wow…that is a powerful story. John Perkins serves a true example about how we should live. (And to think that we often complain about traffic)

  14. The social facet of culture embraces a range of fundamental influences on organizational life. Norms for human interaction, control, the value placed on material versus spiritual life, the way language is used to express ideas and relationships, and the symbols that resonate in the minds of people in the culture

  15. It indeed is a joy to be a born again woman of God whom God has allowed me an opportunity to the “right” versus the “wrong” things in life. I get Joy when I think about all God has done and is yet doing in my life. His joy comes from within not from the outside. Nothing can replace nor equate the joy that God gives to mankind.

  16. I’m also a born again woman and I get joy in my life from this very fact. I also get great joy in knowing god loves me and when I look in the mirror I thank the lord that I’m alive.

  17. This reminds me of a classic “change the world” quote…
    “As one person I cannot change the world, but I can change the world of one person.” ~ Paul Shane Spear

  18. It is very inspiring to see that there are people in the world that consider themselves rich,although they have no financial wealth. Joy is exactly the right expression . How wonderful life must be not to worry about such things as accumulating material gains. It goes to show that happiness comes from our perspective within our hearts, rather than our minds. Thank you so much.

  19. An oppressed individual can feel and express joy simply from knowing his or her eternal reward is beyond the boundaries of Earth. No matter what another person does to another, they cannot take away their soul.


  20. The great John Perkins was on our campus again recently.

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