Black Lives Matter Meeting, Reflections from an Old Head
That’s right, I’m considered the “old head” on The Porch. It’s a title I wear proudly among my younger brothers whose heads look older than mine. (Yes, I’m talkin’ bout you, Thabiti). Born in the early sixties and raised in the seventies, I have perspective and experiences that slightly differ than the untested on the Porch (Isaac!), so I accept the “old head” moniker gladly. I hope my thoughts are half as helpful as the “old heads’ who shared their perspectives with me.
Last week, I stumbled into a Black Lives Matter meeting. When I say stumbled, that’s exactly what I mean. I study at the neighborhood library two to three times a week. Last week at the end of my study time, I noticed an old acquaintance in one of the meeting rooms and thought I would greet him. To my surprise they were about to call to order a Black Lives Matter meeting to which my buddy invited me to join them. I quickly decided to stay for several reasons. First of all, I have very little confidence in media reporting, and I wanted to get a first-hand view of the organization. Also, I was interested in simply listening. Too often, we (pastors) go into situations like these, with people we know we have disagreements with, only to be quick to speak and slow to listen. The day I walked into that meeting I wanted to simply hear what the Lake County IL, BLM chapter was all about, especially given their national purpose statement.
I’ll summarize my thoughts with five reflections—or, as the young-ins say, “takeaways.” These reflections come from the meeting itself and the subsequent conversation I had with one of the attendees afterwards.
The brother who opened the meeting started out with dispelling the myth that the Black Lives Matter movement has isolated itself from the needs and issues facing over demographics. He used the popular cancer illustration. “All cancer kills” he said. He went on to say, “it would be reckless and insensitive for someone to accuse Breast Cancer Research of not considering the trauma and death brought on by other cancers. To accuse the Black Lives Matter movement of being unconcerned with the lives of others is just as reckless and insensitive.” From someone whose mom died from breast cancer, I thought the old argument was persuasive and his illustration spot on.
Freedom of Speech Matters
This meeting was in the form of a Q and A and the leaders allowed folks to take the mic, ask what they wanted and say what was on their mind. To be honest, I was a bit concerned about this format. I’ve seen meetings with a much tighter agenda go astray when the wrong person got a hold of the mic. However, the leaders of this meeting had more confidence in their abilities to control the crowd than in any overly abrasive or highly charged speaker. Their goal was to listen to the community and hear their concerns unfiltered; that’s exactly what happened. This was a town hall meeting at its best.
They even gave a proud Trump-cap-sportin’, self-pronounced Republican attendee the mic. Though he was like a fish out of water, he was received with dignity from the speakers and was well respected by other attendees.
What I observed was brothers and sisters under control. The facilitators had a handle on their message, and they knew their community. Yes, there was, in my opinion some outlandish things said, but those leading the meeting kept it focused. Everyone who desired had their say.
This observation goes in hand with my earlier comments. A lot of different people stood up to speak from diverse backgrounds. They had a myriad of opinions, and each speaker was given their chance to tell their story and give their perspective. Everyone was treated with common courtesy. It didn’t matter if you agreed with them or not, the person speaking was received by a room of respect.
In the room there were Police Chiefs from several troubled areas in Lake County, retired law enforcement personnel, County jail employees, representation from the States Attorney’s office, local politicians, pastors, and members from the community who don’t trust anyone from the aforementioned groups. However, no one was disrespected, no one was thrown out of the room for having an opposing view and no one was heckled.
The BLM movement has been labeled many things, but “courteous” or “respectful” has not been one of their popular characterizations. I marveled and was deeply impressed by the gracious tone I observed from the leaders and the other attendees. Even when people disagreed, which happened frequently, civility was never lost.
The Front Porch is all about having conversations. We are so committed to having a good conversation, we are hosting a National Conversation in March called JUST Gospel. So much is missed, relationships are truncated, misunderstandings abound, and solutions are stifled, largely because people are so unwilling to have a conversation, to sit down and talk, exchange ideas, hear each other out. I’m sensing much can be accomplished through conversation, even when you disagree with the person you are talking with.
Reading the Gospels, you’ll discover over and over again that Jesus was willing to have a conversation (; ). He talked to all kinds of people—the hurting, the oppressed, the oppressors, the rich, the poor, the influential, the marginalized, even those He knew were His enemies. Jesus told His disciples to “beware of the leaven of the Pharisees” (cf. ). He didn’t say don’t talk to them.
My father was a conversationalist. His approach was to sit down and attempt to reason with you. Of course, if that didn’t move us in the direction he wanted us to go, then he would take firmer steps. He used to preface that next step of discipline with this statement: “You see, boy, I try to talk to you, but talking don’t do you no good.” Yes, at times Dad would have to bring the heat, but it was hardly ever done without some good old conversation first. The next step would not have come if I had just adhered to a very important part of having a conversation—listening.
That’s what I admired about the meeting. It was more of a dialogue. People talked to each other and people listened to each other, people disagreed with each other (sometimes heated), and people learned from each other. Because that’s what happens in a good, old conversation. Come on down to Atlanta and join us in a National one in March. (Okay, that’s a shameless plug.)
One of the greatest benefits of attending this BLM meeting was being introduced to a young man who is a former gang member, now a street activist of sorts, feeling called to go to his former gang brothers persuading them of a better life.
My interest in this particular young man was heightened by his comments at the very end of the meeting. He stood up and quite boldly called Black people to personal care and attention. He said it’s time for us to take care of ourselves and stop relying on people who don’t care anything about us and can’t do anything for us. He went on to say, “Politicians can’t help us, the police can’t help us, and preachers can’t help us.” It was the “preachers can’t help us” comment that made my eyes widen.
I happened to be sitting behind another pastor and we both almost instinctively snickered, blowing the young man and his comment off. You know that’s the easy way out, isn’t it? Just blow them off as being off their rockers or use some other form of dismissal, and we never have to do the hard work of engaging anyone.
I was immediately convicted, brothers and sisters.
I believe my conviction was rooted in the gospels I had been reading through the past week. You know Jesus never blew them off. Chapter after chapter you read of our Lord engaging them, even those He knew were His fiercest and most combative enemies.
Well, when the meeting was adjourned, I made a beeline to the young man seeking a conversation regarding his remarks. I didn’t know what to expect, I just wanted to hear what his issue with preachers was all about. This brings me to my final reflection.
The Gospel Matters
It wasn’t long into our conversation when I discovered that a large portion of his dismissal of the church and her spokesmen was due to a lack of biblical knowledge on the young man’s part.
His conclusions lacked any knowledge of Christian truth, especially as it related to the Gospel. So I spent the majority of our time together explaining and making him aware of what Christians actually believe about our triune God and how He, in His sovereign rule and grace, brought salvation to sinful people (). He knew Jesus died on a Roman cross, he knew Jesus died between two guilty offenders, but even like many who claim to be Christians, he didn’t know why. He had no true insight into the central event in Christian history, in the history of the world, brothers and sisters. He had no idea Jesus was dying a substitutionary death on behalf of and in the place of sinners (; ). He couldn’t fathom the truth that the sinless, perfect Jesus was bearing the just wrath of God in the place of guilty sinners. When I shared these precious truths of our faith with that young man, he was startled. He’d never heard these things before. He’d been around Christians; his grandmother is currently a faithful member of a well-known church in the City of North Chicago. He admires her, but he was unacquainted with what her church is supposed to be built on.
So I got a chance to share the truths of the Gospel with my young new acquaintance, and he asked if we could get together and talk again. He said he’s been trying to have a conversation with several pastors, but he just can’t make it happen.
To me, just meeting the young man made the meeting worthwhile. Perhaps that’s the real reason I stumbled upon the meeting. Will I join BLM’s Lake County chapter? Probably not. Will I attend another meeting? Not sure. Are these reflections a complete endorsement of the BLM organization? Absolutely not. However, kudos to the facilitators and attendees of that meeting; this old head was impressed.
5 And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” 6 So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. 7 And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” 8 And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” 9 And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (ESV)
3:1 Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? 11 Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up,
4:1 Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John 2 (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples), 3 he left Judea and departed again for Galilee. 4 And he had to pass through Samaria. 5 So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour.
7 A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8 (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) 9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) 10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” 13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.”
16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” 17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” 19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”
27 Just then his disciples came back. They marveled that he was talking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you seek?” or, “Why are you talking with her?” 28 So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, 29 “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” 30 They went out of the town and were coming to him. (ESV)
12:1 In the meantime, when so many thousands of the people had gathered together that they were trampling one another, he began to say to his disciples first, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. (ESV)
1:1 Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,
To those who are elect exiles of the dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, 2 according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood:
May grace and peace be multiplied to you. (ESV)
5:1 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (ESV)
16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (ESV)