Three Street Fights

By JD Pearring
Director, Excel Leadership Network

When I was fourteen my best friend wanted me to meet his first girlfriend. I went over to see them at a Catholic mission church. It was less than a mile from my house, yet it was in a different neighborhood, with a different ethnic group, different culture and different language.

I met the girl, then she left. My friend and I discovered a full basketball court inside an enclosed courtyard at the church, we grabbed a basketball and started playing one-on-one. Maybe I could finally beat him.

As we competed, a local, a younger boy, maybe ten-years-old showed up on his bike—one of those stingray cruisers, banana seats, with high chopper handlebars.

The boy started riding on the court, which was no problem because we were playing half-court—there was a whole side he could ride on. But he insisted on pedaling on our half. We kept asking him to move, but he didn’t seem to understand. It was annoying, we kept hooping.  

At one point during our game, he rode right into us, swerved, lost control and smashed head on into the pole that held up the basketball hoop.

Before we could even ask if he was okay, boom, seventeen of his older brothers, cousins and best friends arrived to surrounded us. They started shouting at us, yelling at us, in two languages. We barely had time to react, we were in a fight. One of the guys reached up and knocked my best friend’s glasses off his face so swiftly neither of us saw it coming. He was completely flustered and basically incapacitated. There was pushing and shoving and posturing - we finally got out of there with our tails between our legs.

That pretty much ended our friendship. Maybe my buddy was embarrassed. We went to different schools. I saw him once in college.

Less than a year later, when I was fifteen, I was in thirty miles north of home in Glendale, California visiting some family. I was walking down the sidewalk on a busy boulevard when something hit my left shoulder and knocked me off my path. I looked up, it was a ten-year-old-ish boy, on a stingray cruiser. It looked like the same kid, on the same bike. He hit me from behind, but that caused him to swerve out of control and smash right into a telephone pole. 

Before I could ask if he was okay, boom, seventeen of his older brothers, cousins and best friends showed up to surround me. They were yelling in two languages. I was stuck. They asked me to come with them, I refused. If they were going to bloody me up, they were going to have to do it on the busy street in front of everyone. 

There was pushing and shoving. I can’t even remember how I got out of there.

Those two events messed with me. I was angry, confused, infuriated. I remember thinking, this is how it happens. I was really tempted to give in and become prejudiced against all … bicyclists. 

That was 14 and 15. When I was 13, at my grandmother’s house in the Pico Heights area of Los Angeles, I had one of the few actual conversations I ever had with Grandma. “Jimmy, they are bums! she insisted. They came here the wrong way. They didn’t respect us. They didn’t have to treat us that way, but they did—they are bums. I will never, ever pull for…the Dodgers. They should have changed their name to Angels. The bums!”

Those are my stories. Temptations toward bias, anger, prejudice, and disdain out of choice, and temptation toward bias, anger, prejudice and disdain out of inheritance and family history.

How do we deal with this?  We’re right in the middle of major tensions in our culture, our state, our country, our world. We are tempted to think the worst about people who may not look like or talk like us or think like us. The temptations may come from specific incidents in our lives, or maybe we got it from Grandma.

How do we deal with it?

I must admit I’ve heard a lot of conversations about this tension. I’ve read a lot, seen a ton on the news, but it seems few people are looking to the life and teachings of Jesus. Let’s look there.

The gospel of Mark has some insight for us. Mark is someone who messed up as a teenager, but later wrote Peter’s eyewitness account of the life and teaching of Jesus.

Mark starts where the law and the prophets of the Old Testament left off, with a promise of a messenger - John the Baptist. Mark says,

“And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”

Mark 1:4 (NLT)

Mark describes JTB’s work, and how he baptized Jesus. Later he says this: 

After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

Mark 1:14-15 (NLT)

Those two sound-bites, one from John the Baptist and the other from Jesus give us three simple words and three major steps on how we can deal with the racial, social, political and cultural tension in our world.

The first word is Repent

Repent, it was John’s message, it was Jesus’ message. Repent means more than to just feel bad. It means to turn around, to literally do a 180.

If we want to stop racism, we need to stop being racists. Stop, whether it is a choice or even if you have to sit down and go through the hard work of trying to figure out what anger you inherited from your grandmother. Repent!  Go Dodgers!

The second word is Forgive

John uses it, Jesus talked a ton about it. Jesus offered it. Forgiveness means to cancel a debt. It means letting go.

Again, I admit I’ve heard a lot of conversations about this tension. I’ve read a lot, seen a ton on the news, but I don’t think I’ve heard anyone talk about forgiveness. 

My heart sank a couple weeks ago when I heard two pastor colleagues lead a webinar on race relations. Both told stories of being called names as kids. That is awful. Then they talked about George Floyd. “People say we should let it go,” one said. “But we can’t let it go!”  The other chimed in, “We can’t let it go because it’s been too long.”  The first added, “We can’t let it go because it keeps happening!”

My heart hurt. Maybe I misunderstood them. Perhaps Zoom cut out and I didn’t hear it all. But letting go is the crux of Christianity. Jesus died to pay our debt. He forgives us. He takes away our sin, our shame, and our guilt. He didn’t pretend sin never happened, but he cancelled it. He removed it. God remembers our sin no more. 

The Apostle Paul wrote:

Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”

Ephesians 4:31-32 (NLT)

Do you know what happens when we don’t let go?  We hold on…to bitterness, rage, anger, slander, brawling.

But it keeps happening!  

“Then Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?” “No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven!” Matthew 18:21-22 (NLT)

Are you familiar with the PPP—the Payroll Protection Program where the government gives loans to small business—even churches—to help through COVID? Did you or your company get one? The government was going to tell us at the end of June—and I guess that has been moved to November—what percentage of the loans they will forgive.

Aren’t you glad Jesus didn’t just forgive a percentage of our sins?  “I’ll forgive you eighty-six percent, but I can’t let that racism thing go—that’s crossing a line!”

Jesus forgives 100%!  Receive it and extend it. Forgive, yes, name the sin, call it out. But let it go. You will change your life and maybe even your grandkids’ lives if you forgive.

The third word is Kingdom. The kingdom of God is at hand.

Do you know you get to choose what kingdom you will subject yourself to?  You get to choose what kingdom you will represent.

You can pick a color. You can choose to be part of the white kingdom. White supremacy is an oxymoron. Speaking of morons, have you seen these individuals?  (My wife says individuals is a nicer word than knuckleheads!)

We’re white, we’re best at…sunburns?  Join us and we’ll give you…skin cancer?

You can pick the black kingdom. This is popular now. Be careful though about what you say, the exact words with the right order.

You can pick another color.

Let’s talk about the reds and the blues—the Republicrats and the Demoderms. They are represented by an elephant and a donkey. Pardon my language, but Dumbo and a jackass?

Are you going to go all in on a group that can’t even come up with a compelling animal as a mascot?  There are some cool animals - Jaguar, Mustang…they should’ve just been honest ,and used a snake and a vulture.

You can choose a color. Or you can choose the kingdom of God. A great feature of the kingdom of God is it has a big umbrella. 

Larry Osborne points out that when Jesus was picking his twelve apostles, he chose Matthew the tax collector and Simon the zealot. Matthew was working for the government, oppressing the people, taxing the daylights out of folks and pilfering the profits. Simon was a zealot—he was part of the freedom movement who worked to stop government oppression. Both became apostles, and there is no indication either switched his political views.

The kingdom of God is about forgiveness and serving.

Here is the truth. If you choose to primarily align yourself with one of the colors, this is what you’ll get—guaranteed:  Bad News! 

If you are part of God’s kingdom, you get to live the good news.

Guess how you choose to jump into the kingdom of God. You say, “I didn’t have a choice, I was born white, I was born black or Asian or Latino. Like Lady Gaga, I was born this way!”  Guess how you stop being consumed by your color kingdom and live for God’s kingdom? 

Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.”
John 3:3 (NLT)

You must be born again!  

I’ll always be Irish, and I’ll wear green on St. Patrick’s Day, but that is secondary. I was born again into a new family, a new kingdom, a new inheritance.

 Check out Mark chapter 3. Jesus is teaching. He is interrupted and informed that that his mother and brothers are outside waiting for him.

His response is mind-boggling!

Jesus replied, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?”  Then he looked at those around him and said, “Look, these are my mother and brothers. Anyone who does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.
Mark 3:34-35 (NLT)

Repent!  Forgive!  The Kingdom of God is here. Live in it.

Let me end with this:  I told you about when I was 13, 14 and 15. Here’s something that happened when I was 16:  I was staying with my brother and his brand new wife in Inglewood, California. They had attended Loyola University and lived in a small house in a very poor neighborhood in Inglewood.

We were in the front room when, boom, there was a big commotion out front. My brother bolted out the door and ran into the street right into the middle of a gang fight. That was craziness!  What’s even crazier is I followed right behind my brother. I was stunned as the two sides were shouting, posturing, showing their weapons and readying for a battle. 

My brother asked calmly, “What’s going on?”  The two sides shouted, “They did this, and they did that, and he took her, and they stole that. They vented, and then my brother spoke softly, “That’s not right, that’s not good, is it?”  “No, no it isn’t right,” they said. We could tell they were quieting down. My brother asked, “Is this how you want to settle it?  This way, today?  Is this what you want to do?  Right now?”

Amazingly, they stepped back, de-escalated and everyone slowly walked away. 

We went back in the house. I had to ask my brother, “What was that?”  His wife concluded, “Happens all the time.”

Tensions are high. Sometimes I feel like I’m surrounded, like we’re about to get into some sort of street fight.

Repent. Forgive. The kingdom of God is here.

Reprinted with permission. Originally published on the Excel website -

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