If I were a Scoutmaster right now, this is the Scoutmaster’s Minute I would give at this week’s troop meeting. Feel free to use it yourself. I think its message is both timely and timeless.
Scouts, we live in a challenging time, a time when all too often people settle their disputes with guns instead of words. Just look at the recent shootings of black men in several cities and of police officers in Dallas. But the problems go beyond these incidents, as tragic as they are. Everywhere you turn, it seems that you have to choose sides. Either you’re liberal or you’re conservative. Either you’re for Black Lives Matter or you’re for Blue Lives Matter. Either you like the Wildcats or you like the Cardinals. [Substitute your favorite sports rivalry here.]
It seems like there’s no middle ground, but in the middle is actually where most people live. The challenge is to find the middle ground when it’s easier to retreat to the safe corners where everybody looks and thinks like us.
The 1960s were another time where people were divided, especially about civil rights for African Americans. One of the leaders of the civil rights movement was a young Methodist pastor named James Lawson, who happens to be African American. (Yes, he’s still alive today!) In his book The Children, David Halberstam tells an amazing story about what Rev. Lawson did after a couple of protesters named Solomon Gort and Bernard Lafayette got knocked down by white counter-protesters in Nashville, Tennessee. I’d like to read it to you now:
Jim seemed nonchalant—just another day at the office. The leader of the whites was sporting what was the prevailing uniform of the day for white toughs: black pants, black leather motorcycle jacket, duck’s-ass haircut. When he saw Lawson he was enraged by Lawson’s coolness and he spat at him. Lawson looked at him and asked him for a handkerchief. The man, stunned, reached in his pocket and handed Lawson a handkerchief, and Lawson wiped the spit off himself as calmly as he could. Then he looked at the man’s jacket and started talking to him. Did he have a motorcycle or a hot-rod car? A motorcycle was the answer. Jim asked a technical question or two and the young man started explaining what he had done to customize his bike. Amazingly, Bernard thought, these two men were now talking about the levels of horsepower in motorcycles; a few seconds earlier they had seem to be sworn enemies, one ready to maul the other.
By this time both Solomon Gort and Bernard Lafayette were back up on their feet, the line was moving again, and Jim and the young man were still talking about the man’s motorcycle. In that brief frightening moment Jim had managed to find a subject which they both shared and had used it in a way that made each of them more human in the eyes of the other. As they walked away Jim waved to the man, and the man remained still, neither accepting the friendship nor, for that matter, rejecting it.