If you could go back in time and tell me 3 or 4 years ago that I would march in a #BlackLivesMatter rally I would have said “you lost your freaking mind!” I may have even said “Don’t you know all lives matter?” I have never been overtly racist, but I am learning how ignorant I am of racial struggles in America.
So how did I get here? What was it like? What am I learning? What will change going forward? I’m so glad you asked.
An Uncomfortable Call
In March, Stef and I announced our plans to launch a new church in the City of Coatesville. For many people in our lives the announcement felt abrupt, but for us it was a calling that God had been growing in us for close to eight years.
I tend to think of myself as a country boy. Most of the places I have lived were long drives back into the wood where you only saw neighbors houses in the winter. I love hiking, gardening, hunting, guns, and event country music. The community I have spent most of my life in is over 90% white. The idea of doing urban ministry made no sense to us. How will we relate to people different from us? Can we relate? Where will we live? Will our kids be safe? Although it was uncomfortable, we felt the call was undeniable.
So we started trying to educate ourselves on the struggles and pain of the people in Coatesville. We really want to help struggling people in Coatesville get well. To be honest we were learning, but it wasn’t a high priority. Things like building our launch team, creating a brand, building a social presence, fundraising, and making sure we were legally forming the church took priority. All that changed last week.
Stef and I realized there were people around the country and in our new city with hurts and pains we couldn’t understand. So we quietly listened, learned, and looked for ways to love people.
An Uncomfortable Opportunity
Earlier this week I had someone pass on a Facebook event invite for a march in Coatesville. It was received with a message to “Stay out of Coatesville on Thursday.” For some the march brought fear but I knew that this march was where the Church (big C means all Christians) should be. Jesus found the hurting, alienated, forgotten, and social outcasts to hang out with. I think this was the first time I realized much of the #BLM movement is people saying “We want to be seen, heard, and honored”.
As I told a few people my plans to attend, I received a few comments like “watch out for pallets of bricks” and “be really careful.” I was nervous. I try to be politically educated but I have never attended rallies, protests, or marches before, much less for a cause that wasn’t even on my radar a few weeks before.
I am so thankful I didn’t end up needing to go alone. I had the opportunity to meet up with several other Pastors who also attended.
An Amazing Event
According to much of the media I have seen #BLM events are riddled with hate, anger, violence, and profanity. That’s not what I saw today in Coatesville. I saw people grieving, not just for the death of George Floyd, but for the years of injustice they have experienced. I still can’t speak for all of America, but it did make me question the narrative I have heard.
At one point I was walking next to a girl who said things like, “I can’t believe we are finally doing this!” “I think people are finally listening!” “I think things are changing!”
I lost count of the men and women who are from my parents generation who had watched with what I can only describe as a look of pride. It’s the look I saw in my dad’s eyes when I graduated from High School, or my mom on my wedding day. Their smile took up their whole face, and their eyes looked like tears of joy would pour forth at any moment. Many of these individuals were watching from the sidelines, maybe unable to march that distance, but today gave them hope of a better future.
I saw a small police presence at the event but it seamed their primary focus was protecting the people marching by providing traffic control. There didn’t seem to be any tension.
The march was intended to be a physical demonstration to get peoples attention. Going from Double D’s Dinner to Coatesville Police Station, it was hot but all along the way there where people offering water to anyone who needed it.
As we walked there were an amazing number of people watching and celebrating.
At the police station one of the first things that happened was everyone kneeled. I couldn’t hear the call to kneel but soon the crowed went quiet. A gentleman was praying and hundreds of people knelt before the God of Justice and called out for Him to move in power in the City of Coatesville.
His prayer had no timidity to it. He was speaking to God, in the name of Jesus asking for the Holy Spirt to come in power. And when he said Amen, the crowed responded with more excitement then I have seen at the last few pastors conferences that I attended.
Soon after this everyone was kneeling again, but this time for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, the amount of time a police officer knelt on George Floyd’s neck. During this time people had the opportunity to share.
I wish I could have heard better as people told of the pain they have experienced because of their race.
As they ended giving opportunity to heal emotions the focus changed to politics. Again, hearing was a struggle but I picked up a few interesting things.
The speaker questioned how Chester County, the wealthiest in PA, had one of the poorest cities in the state. He also talked of the pain experienced by defunded programs.
As I tried to listen I couldn’t help but wonder how many of the needs the Church could, and should fill.
An Opportunity to Speak (and say shut up and listen)
Up until now I have been relatively silent. I didn’t know what to say, I didn’t know how to help. And to be honest I still don’t have a great idea.
But I would like to challenge my white friends to pause, listen, and learn. I know you have probably heard people like Larry Elder talking about how BLM hurts the black community, and from where most of us sit that’s a comfortable narrative to listen to. We want to get back to normal. But let’s pause for a moment, look people in the eyes, and see their struggles. For many “normal” is living in fear of miss stepping in front of the police, and they are tired of it.
I am not going to try arguing “facts,” but I want to challenge your heart. A saying that I use as a lens to process most hard conversations is “perspective is reality to the person that has it.” Even if you don’t believe the statistics warrant the fear, pain, and struggles the black and brown community experience it’s still very much their reality. Let’s listen. I mean really lean in and listen.
Have you ever promised your spouse or parents that you would do something and kept putting it off? Eventually what happened? They let you know it can’t wait anymore. They YELL! That’s what we are seeing! A community that is tired of being told “we will get to it” or “it’s not really a problem” and is screaming “THIS WILL BE FIXED NOW!” For the white community, especially conservatives, it’s time to shut up and listen.
What are you learning in this season? I would love to hear in the comments.