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 (Luke 19:5-10; John 3:1-14; 4:1-30). 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. Luke 12:1). 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 (1 Peter 1:1-2). 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 (Rom. 5:1-11; 2 Cor. 5:16-21). 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.