One of my favorite sports movies is Remember The Titans. It’s about a football team in Virginia in the early 70’s during school desegregation. Two schools, one black and one white merged which included the football team. The movie centered around the coming together of the team and the process to get there. It wasn’t easy, it had it’s challenges but the only way it worked was that it was a team effort. Sports can be one of life’s great teachers. I have learned many of the biggest lessons of my life through sports. Many of us like to think that we know all we need to know but those who have experienced great success are those who put themselves in positions to learn from others. Nowhere do we see this played out more than we see in the great sports heroes and teams that we all love and want to emulate.
To be a great athlete, one must have a willingness to learn what it takes to be a superior athlete and teammate. The biggest thing for those that play team sports, they learn that for the team to work, there must be unity of purpose. I recently heard Dr. Tony Evans describe what that looks like. He described a football team who is made up of a group of unique individuals who are different but are bonded together under one uniform with one common purpose, to score and get the win. The thing that brings them to the team is a shared love for the game.
In the movie, both teams we’re talented but the issue that divided them was race. The coaching staff was charged with the task of helping the team to recognize what unites them and letting that override the issue of skin color. Each teammate brings something to the table that will contribute to the success of the team. As the team comes together, they learn how each other operate. The process is not easy, especially at the beginning of the season. Conflicts are all over the place. It’s always never a question of if, but when will conflict rear its ugly head. At the root of each of these conflicts are people who both think that they are right. Until everyone on the team realizes that they have more to gain by working together they will remain in conflict. It takes a willingness to engage and a commitment to work through the problems. It won’t be easy, but the end result is a team that is united in reaching the goal of winning. That’s all good, but I’ll bet you are thinking; what does that have to do with the issue of racial reconciliation, well… everything! Allow me to break this down.
If we have learned anything from the recent COVID-19 pandemic is that we are all in this thing called together whether we like it or not. We are on this team called humanity and we all are playing this game called life. We all have the same goal which is to live the best life that we can. The problem is that there is this natural opponent known as evil. Evil shows up in many forms. Racism is one of it’s most divisive forms. It can keep people who can benefit from knowing each other separated. Evil’s goal is to stop you from living the life you were meant to. It will do whatever it takes to win. It’s relentless and will not stop until you do. The good news is that evil can be defeated but it has to take a total team effort to do it! Here’s a simple game plan.
Reconciliation Game Plan
Step 1. Identify The Opponent
When it comes to racial reconciliation the opponent is named SIN. We can call it many other names like racism, bigotry, prejudice etc…but at the end of the day it is sin. Why do we call it sin? Sin is defined as missing the mark. The mark in this case are the top two commandments that God gave 1) Love the Lord Your God and 2) Love your neighbor as yourself. This issue is deeper than all the injustices that we see in the world it is a matter of the heart. We’re busy fighting each other when the real fight is not even fleshly, it’s a spiritual battle…a heart battle. Ephesians 6:12 “For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world” If we can recognize what the real opponent is, we can get the right team together to defeat it.
Step 2. Assemble The Team, Get On The Same Page
There is an old African proverb that says “it takes a village to raise a child”. That can also be said that about this task of racial reconciliation. One person and one ethnic group can’t get the job done. Just like the sports team, there are many different positions that are needed to make it a team. One of my greatest sports heroes is Michael Jordan. He in my opinion is the GOAT of his time. In the early part of his career the team was centered around him. It wasn’t until Phil Jackson came and helped MJ to shift his thinking and see that it was going to take the whole team to get them to the championship. It isn’t about who is the top dog on the team, but it is about all the pieces coming together to get the job done.
One of my early mentors told me that in order to make a great team you have to first get all the people on the bus but then you have to figure out where they all sit. Revelations 7:9 says “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb…” It is a great vision of what the future looks like, but it is not the current situation. In order to get there, it is going to take some work that will be at times painful and discouraging.
Pastor Leonce Crump of Renovation Church in Atlanta GA says it like this “We cannot be one without intention, we will not be one without cost” To get the team together will require an intentionality to tackle the task at hand. It will not be easily done. It will cost everyone something. It’s easy to say we all need to work together. We want to be unified to tackle this problem. But how often do we get enthusiastic about doing something good yet to find out that what it costs to get there is a price we may not be willing to pay.
If I may go back to my man MJ, one of the quotes that he made recently puts it plainly. “Winning has a price. Leadership has a price. I pulled people along when they didn’t want to be pulled. I challenged people when they didn’t want to be challenged.” How true that is! In my 30 years of working with people I have encountered many who just weren’t willing to pay the price necessary to ensure success. That price is pain. In order to build up, you must first break down. You can’t build something strong on a shaky foundation. That foundation has to be taken down to the absolute bottom in order to build it back up stronger.
As painful as it was to experience all that has come with the events that have happened after the murder of George Floyd, from the protests, to the riots, to the endless debates in the media and social media it is necessary to see where we really are, it is necessary and essential to our growth. There has to be a willingness to be exposed. Dr. Eric Mason says, “all reconciliation begins with tension and honesty” We must be intentional in being honest as we come together and with that honesty will come tension. That is where the real work begins.
Step 3. Put In The Work
Until you get all the players together and put them in situations where they are forced to work together, they will never know how each of their gifts and talents fit into the game plan. All the players need to see their need for each other, at times they will need to oppose each other in order to see how they naturally operate. Too many times we want to avoid conflict at all costs, but the reality is that the conflict needs to happen in order to expose all the parts where the team is vulnerable.
Proverbs 27:17 says “as iron sharpens iron, so does one man to another.” We need each other to get better. The analogy here is one of sharpening iron. The only way that you can sharpen an abrasive surface like iron is to put it into direct friction with a surface that is equally as abrasive. Many surfaces can come close, but the only thing as abrasive as iron, is iron. The friction created causes each surface to become sharper. The end result is two knives fully equipped to take on the task at hand.
When it comes to racial reconciliation, we have to roll up our sleeves and put in the work. None of us hold all the answers but we do each have part of the answer. In order for this to work we need to take the time to equip and encourage one another to do our part. The only way that happens is when we endeavor to step into each other’s worlds. There are many ways this can be accomplished, but the bottom line is that you have to do the work.
Step 5. Play The Game
Once the opponent is identified, the team assembled, and the practice is done all that is left is to go out and play the game! The game is not easy at all, but if you have prepared right, you are ready to challenge the opponent. Now many would say that the end goal is to win the game and that is true, but in order to get there, you can’t just be focused on the victory, you have to concentrate on how you play.
Wins and losses are simply the result of how you play. Each play has its own unique challenges and your opponent is going to throw everything they have in the moment to stop you from going forward. If you are not focused on doing what you are supposed to, you will be caught off guard and not hit the shot or make the play that you were supposed to. If you’re focused and can just make each play successfully, by the end of the game you should be able to raise your hands in victory.
That's a lot of team talk but the reality is that when it comes to this battle with the evil of racism, it takes a team to make a positive change. One of the best things to come out of the recent events here in Minneapolis is seeing people cross cultural lines to stand up against racism. I recently went on a prayer walk in a neighborhood near the area where the unrest over the murder of George Floyd happened. It is a block where the neighbtors have banded together to take their neighborhood back from drug dealers and gangs. While talking with one of my fellow Navigator staff who lives on the block, he told me about how on this one block, five different cultures are represented and have gotten together to do what the local police have failed to do. It's a constant battle, but they have managed to improve the situation. During the unrest, the only damage came to the gas station on the corner which had some minor looting, but the rest of the block was okay.
This is just one example of how it takes a team to combat evil. Racism is bigger than one person can handle. It will take groups of people in their respective areas to band together to make a change. Where do you start? In a previous article, I shared some tips on how to start your personal journey (click here for the article). Once you get a start on your journey, you need to find others who are on a similar journey. As you develop relationships you will be able to discover what each of you can bring to the table and begin to formulate a plan. There you have the makings of something that could change your corner of the world. Enough talk, let's go get this!
Stay Forever Strong!