Last Friday (June 5th) I shared a short lesson at our Friday Morning Men’s Group meeting for our church, which continues to meet virtually (via Zoom) because of COVID-19. A 21 minute recording of my lesson (NOT including our opening prayer / joys & concerns / devotional, breakout table talk time or closing sharing time / prayer) is linked below, along with the slides I shared.
This was and is an important conversation, and it was challenging to put together in-part because of the polarized society in which we live. Like our wider church family, our Friday Morning Men’s Group includes a cross-section of people with varying perspectives and opinions about politics and current events. Generally we do not directly address political topics in our group, we focus on Bible lessons and teaching. I believe it was appropriate and indeed vital that we talk about these issues together, however, and our ‘leadership team’ for our group which met on Tuesday had consensus on this.
I have not received much feedback on this lesson and these ideas yet, but the limited feedback I have heard surprised me. At least one member of our group found the opening article I shared, which was an op-ed written by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, to be offensive “hate propaganda.” (“Op-Ed: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: Don’t Understand the Protests? What You’re Seeing Is People Pushed to the Edge.” Los Angeles Times, 31 May 2020. www.latimes.com, https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2020-05-30/dont-understand-the-protests-what-youre-seeing-is-people-pushed-to-the-edge.)
My intention in starting with this article and reading directly from it was certainly not to share “propaganda” of any kind, and certainly not ‘hate propaganda.’ One of the last things I want to do with anything I say or share is to encourage hate or a perception that I am promoting hate. To the contrary, my purpose was to share Jesus and share love, and to encourage us all (myself included) to listen with intention to the voices of others in our community and nation so we can better understand and better ascertain how we can better understand and should respond in this time of upheaval.
I was surprised this article and these words from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar were perceived in such a different way than I read and heard them, by at least some in attendance. My purpose was to share the perspective of an articulate and well-respected African-American / black American whose perceptions of both our society and culture, and the specific events involving George Floyd’s death, are different from my own. We all look at the world from own own vantage point. There is a great deal I do not understand about the world and about current events, but I definitely DO know that I can’t and don’t see the world the exact same way others do. This is not only true for my brothers and sisters of color, but also true for “other white men” who are hearing about and watching the same events happening in other parts of our country and world, as well as in our own community in Oklahoma City.
I am hopeful that in the not-too-distant future, there will be face-to-face opportunities to discuss these issues. I certainly had not planned (before last week) to present a Men’s Group lesson which would directly address race relations in our nation. This is not, incidentally, a topic which I feel overqualified to speak about publicly. But this was and is a situation and issue which we all need to discuss and process, and hopefully figure out how to explore together even when we disagree.
There is much to process here. I did not have time to share this video during our lesson on Friday, but I did include it in the slideshow and commented about it to the men in our group Friday. This is Pastor Jim Cymbala (of The Brooklyn Tabernacle in NYC) sharing a short, 3.5 minute mid-week message with his congregation about George Floyd’s killing and our responses as Christians. I heartily agree with his point that we must put our ultimate faith and trust in God, not in other human beings, in this time and always.
In addition, I want to share and commend two other videos. This first one is the panel discussion at our church from June 2nd with Larry T. Crudup of Tabernacle Baptist Church, Rev. Dr. Major Lewis Jemison of St. John’s Missionary Baptist Church in OKC, and D. Lavel Crawford of Avery Chapel AME Church. Pastor Eric Laverentz from our church (First Presbyterian of Edmond) facilitated the conversation. This was an outstanding dialog and I plan to watch it again. Our family was able to watch it live at lunch together on Tuesday.
Finally, here is another panel discussion video about these issues, shared by Herman Stevenson, who is a member of our Friday Morning Men’s group and also participated in the panel. Panelists included Nathan Phifer, Herman (Steve) Stevenson, Jason Robinson, and Derrick Sier. Nathan’s purpose in organizing this panel was to build empathy and understanding among members of our Oklahoma City community.