Can a group of men who are racially diverse discuss taboo topics with respect and humility? Yes, and it’s happening at a local park in the heart of Texas. In this first segment of Reports from The Front, Tim and Rick speak with Shane Hurley about a group he helped form to discuss difficult issues, including race relations, interracial marriage, police brutality and white privilege. They get into how the group began (sports really do bring people together), how it’s taking shape and growing, and they discuss the challenges and insights learned, including the power in an invitation. Shane and his friends provide a shining example that it is possible to discuss difficult topics in ways that challenge convictions, provide perspective and foster respect while disagreeing.
Shane Hurley: So I went into it saying, "If I'm offended, I'm upset, I disagree. Whatever that emotion is, I commit to coming back the next time." So I'm not going to bail out because this person doesn't have the same views that I have. I had to commit upfront to be open to hearing other people's perspective.
Tim Muehlhoff: Welcome to the Winsome Conviction podcast. I'm Tim Muehlhoff, professor of communication at Biola University in La Mirada, California.
Rick Langer: And my name is Rick Langer, and I'm a Professor at Biola as well in the Biblical Studies and Theology department. And I'm also the Director of the Office of Faith and Learning. And one of the things that we love to do is to talk about the way we talk and to do whatever we can to help us to talk to one another better. And one of the things we have long wanted to do, and this will be our first episode for doing it, is doing what we call the report from the front, where we just interview people who have for one reason or another, one way or another, done something that we thought, "Wow, well done. That was a good thing to do and if that were done more we would be in a better place."
Rick Langer: So our first guest, here's a man named Shane Hurley. Shane's a native of New Orleans, went to school at Louisiana Tech with a background in electrical engineering, telecommunications, things like that, and worked doing that in entrepreneurship for a long time. And he is now a newly appointed deacon as well in the One Community church in Plano, Texas, lives in Texas now. And there's an interesting story that Shane has to tell, and let me just kind of turn it back over to Tim to share a little bit about how we first found out about Shane, and then we'll dive into the story.
Tim Muehlhoff: Shane, welcome to the podcast.
Shane Hurley: Thanks guys. Appreciate you inviting me. Great to be here.
Tim Muehlhoff: Well, I first met you, we really don't know each other, but we first met because we're both huge fans of One Community Church in Plano, Texas, and I was doing some speaking on marriage and relationships and we got together for a dinner. And it's there you started to talk about an experience you had on your daughter's volleyball team, and this was after the tragic murder of Floyd, and an interesting conversation came up between you and another dad. So can you kind of bring us up to speed on how that conversation progressed and started?
Shane Hurley: Yeah, so the Genesis of it, if you will, started kind of out of the blue. Our daughters have played together probably for the last five years on a volleyball club team. And I mean, we spend a lot of time together just in the gym while our daughters are practicing and then even they travel. So there's some weekends that we spend together, but most of our conversation had been primarily around volleyball and kind of raising daughters and that experience of just getting to spend that quality time with dads being involved in the girls' lives. But that was pretty much the extent of it. And I received the text that I guess when all of the media attention was surrounding the murder of George Floyd from one of the dads, just kind of expressing how he had a difficult conversation. He and his wife were talking to their kids, they have three daughters, talking to their kids and just kind of sharing with them and getting feedback and answering questions from their daughters on all that was going on surrounding the George Floyd murder as it related to police brutality, race relations, all that type stuff.
Shane Hurley: So he found it in his heart to reach out to me, so I received a text, kind of expressing, "Hey, my wife and I have been talking to the kids and I just want to basically say how difficult a conversation that was for me. I can only imagine what you're going through having to facilitate that type of conversation with your kids." And then beyond that he expressed, "If you're interested," in a nutshell is kind of went to the point of, "If you're interested, I would love to get a group of men together. I'm not sure what the full scope of it would be, but my thought is that we will come together, kind of share our experiences and insight and perspectives on these types of situations is having these conversations to gain some introspect from one another that I can then take back to my family and kind of give a broader perspective than just my own."
Shane Hurley: So I received that text and responded, "I would love to do that." I kind of been already thinking along those lines for a while, just actually I've been praying about it because with all that was going on, because that was right on the heels quite honestly of the Ahmaud Arbery murder. And then it was just, the tension was boiling in our country and in our circles, and everybody had their opinion, their experience, and what they thought about it. And I knew what my circle was feeling and expressing, but I was curious about somebody that I don't talk on that level with, how were they receiving and perceiving these events that were taking place. So we jumped at the opportunity and put some heads together and brought together kind of a collective group to start discussing those things, so.
Tim Muehlhoff: But were there any apprehensions. I mean, here's a father, a white man, who is approaching you and your daughter is playing the same team, so this thing can't go sideways, right?
Shane Hurley: Right.
Tim Muehlhoff: And if it goes sideways, then you got something. I have three boys-
Shane Hurley: Awkward moments.
Tim Muehlhoff: ...they all played Pop Warner football. Yep. And so were there apprehensions about you as a black father getting together with this white gentleman to talk about race? My goodness. Talk about a recipe for explosion. Did you have apprehensions?
Shane Hurley: So I would say yes and no. We've discussed that particular thing since then, and there was apprehension on both sides. He talked about that he wanted to reach out to me and I had drafted a text several times and deleted it and drafted it again and changed the wording. And then finally got to the point of saying, "You know what, I'm going to just send it and whatever happens, happens." From my end-
Rick Langer: Shane, I'm glad you shared that, because I, that was one of my thoughts. On the one hand it seems like such a simple thing, "Hey, just shoot him a text." And I thought, "I wonder what he was thinking when he did that." So I'm glad you cleared that up, because I was thinking that it might have some of those feelings. I'm sorry. Go ahead, tell the rest of the story.
Shane Hurley: Oh no, absolutely. On my end I had a similar apprehension. I didn't get to the point of reaching out to somebody, but as things would happen, whether it was these situations or things prior to, because like I said, our daughter has played together for the last four or five years. So, as things have happened in society, I usually just question, I know how I'm feeling or what I'm thinking, I wonder. And it was exactly the same gentleman, him and another father. I was curious of how they were processing similar things, but I never took it any further than that. And there was a situation right after the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, that one of the coaches, that's the coaches at the club that our daughters play at, posted something about the murder and how, basically saying, "How could this happen? And she couldn't believe that had happened," that type of stuff. So there was commentary as most posts have after that.
Shane Hurley: And then one of the fathers reached out, a different one who's actually in the group that we're in, but a different parent reached out to my wife, because my wife had commented as well and say, "Hey, I'm not sure if you're interested, but after some of the COVID issues and stuff kind of simmered down, I'd love to get together with you and Shane to just kind of talk through some of this so I can get perspective. He reached out to my wife. So that was kind of already in the air, and that's kind of when I started praying about it. Like I'm having these thoughts, obviously other people have these thoughts, we've been contacted by him. So when Chris, who's the guy who texted me, when he reached out, it had already kind of in the air, so I jumped at the opportunity. So at that point there was no apprehension because I was primed if you will about some of the other stuff [crosstalk 00:09:04] and some of my own thoughts.
Tim Muehlhoff: What was the first meeting like? So you're actually there, you're going to have this ... How do you start? How did it go initially?
Shane Hurley: So the initial meeting, I mean, Chris and I decided that the two of us would meet and kind of try and get a frame of what we wanted it to be, what it could be. And then the particulars of when, how frequent, that type stuff. And quite honestly, my spirit left that meeting, basically saying, "This is bigger than us. This is a God thing. So I don't want to put myself in the way and mess it up. So we'll just kind of allow God to do what he's come to do obviously, and be subject to his agenda, as opposed to trying to push any type of agenda that either one of us could potentially have." So the first meeting was between the two of us, which was more talking about what had happened from George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery, but more around the structure of how we could develop it, what it would be, how frequent, the type of people we want part of the group and that type stuff. So that one wasn't much of a firestorm.
Shane Hurley: The first meeting that we brought people in, which is I think what you're really asking, was I would say very interesting, because I invited my brother. So I invited my brother. So I gave him a bit of a scope of what we're trying to put together and accomplish. But he was, he still do, but he has a guy that they go cycling together every Saturday morning, so he was like, "Okay, on my ride I'll just detour and come over to the park," which is where we decided to meet because of COVID, "but I'll just come over to the park and then Kenneth can just keep going. So that morning he came and I thought about Kenneth anyway as being part of group, Kenneth's also black.
Shane Hurley: So I told him, I say, "Hey, would Kenneth be interested in something like this? If so, tell him if he has the time to just stay and he can be a part of it as well." And then Chris had invited a friend of his, their daughters, one of his other daughters, but their daughters were in dance together. So he knew this guy and was this guy is Hispanic. So he invited him. So it was the five of us at the first group and Kenneth and Robert had no idea what they were walking into. They had absolutely no idea. So I think Robert was thinking, "We all have kids around the same age, so it was more about parenting and we can kind of get some advice and introspect on how we handle certain situations with our kids." But first meeting, I don't what happened-
Tim Muehlhoff: They didn't know it was about race? They didn't know the topic?
Shane Hurley: They didn't know the topic, no.
Tim Muehlhoff: Oh, okay.
Shane Hurley: They didn't know the topic. And Robert, since then Robert has said, "If I had known what the topics or what the purpose of the group would be prior to coming, I would probably would not have wanted to touch it. I want to avoid potential conflict and that type stuff." He was like, "But I'm so glad," he calls it the ambush. He said, "Oh, I'm so glad I was ambushed."
Rick Langer: So tell us about the ambush. Now I'm really intrigued.
Shane Hurley: Well, that's kind of the going joke now, because now other people who we've invited. I mean, it's kind of hard to give them a full grasp of what we're going to talk about, because the topic is usually based on what's going on. So it could be as mild as, "This week my kid was involved in this and I didn't really know how to steer them in the right direction. Any advice?" All the way to Black Lives Matter, political, Trump, Biden, dating outside the race, police brutality.
Shane Hurley: I mean, the topics have been all over the place. So it's kind of hard to say, "Hey, here's what we're going to talk about. Are you okay with that?" And just kind of say, "Hey, we're all over the place with conversation. It's really no topic that's off the table." When you hear that, but you don't really think, because these are the things that are usually taboo type subjects. So usually people avoid those. So going into this environment blind that you think, "Well, I know those are on the table," or you don't even think of them. So I think that's what they were coming into it thinking, and right out of the gate it was like, whoa.
Rick Langer: So what was it out of the gate? I'd love to hear kind of the specifics of some of the hard things you ended up kind of talking about?
Shane Hurley: I don't remember the topic of the first meeting, but I know that we talked about police brutality. We talked about of course at the time what was big was the George Floyd murder. So we talked about details of that and our different perspectives. How could anyone sit there so callously, and one of the guys, their father was a retired police officer. So they grew up with dad going to work as a police officer protecting and serving. And our experiences were quite different, where we had little trust for police, we saw some of the police brutality in our neighborhoods, we saw profiling. But these aren't the experiences that some of them had. I mean, just something as simple as we had a conversation once about how if I'm leaving the house to go and jog in my neighborhood, that I should be very comfortable, and I'm conscious of what I'm wearing. I make sure I have identification on me. Just these things that were not even a thought, let alone a second thought for him. And it was so eye opening, like I never thought of that.
Shane Hurley: Just interaction, even if I'm passing the police or policeman pulls behind me on the road, I'm looking, am I driving right? Speed, make sure I'm not swerving. Just make sure everything, my tags are current, and the police hadn't even approached or made any attempt or anything that looked like they're going to approach. But I mean, we talked about, I think at that first meeting we talked about the hot topic of white privilege and where the people, what does that mean? What does it look like? But that was part of it. The fact that you don't have to, as a white male, you don't have to think about, "What am I wearing, or do I have an invocation on me if I'm going for a walk or a jog in my neighborhood?" And you just go, but these are things that are entrenched in me to make sure.
Shane Hurley: And then raising a son, I now have to figure out how to balance having those conversations to where he's not afraid to go out, but alert and aware that, "Hey, these things exist. So you kind of need to understand how to handle yourself and make sure you don't be disrespectful." So all these type things, I mean, and he was like, "Whoa." Well, he said he wasn't sure he'd come back. But at the end of that session, Chris asked him, "How do you think it went?" He was like, "Man, had I known that's what it would have been, I would not have come." Chris said, "I guarantee you, you'll be thinking about it over the next week."
Shane Hurley: And he said, "That's exactly what happened." It challenged him at his core because here are ideals that I have, how I live my life, how I've lived my life, my beliefs, and they were challenged in a good way. And then the curiosity of what else is out there that I'm blind to, what do I have blinders on about in my life? Because I see things a certain way.
Shane Hurley: And that's one of the things we talk about. We talked about at the beginning and we also talk about any time someone new comes into the group is we've each experienced life through the lenses that God has given us, right? So that paints a picture for us individually. Even me and my brother grew up in the same house, but we've experienced life through different lenses, maybe to some of the same events and experiences, but how we pull from those experiences and events may be different based on where we are in life, what's going on, and the lenses that God has given us. So I come into life into this group with a certain perspective based on what's happened and my experiences in my life that has shaped my beliefs and convictions that are totally different then someone who grew up on the same environment, but in a different city. Or a different environment in a different city. And that's a lot of times where we butt heads because we only focus on those events and experiences based on the lenses we've been given and we shut out any other possibilities.
Tim Muehlhoff: This is so good. I can imagine our listeners are going, "No way am I doing what this brave individual did." But from a communication perspective, I really think the most important meeting was the first one with Chris, right?
Shane Hurley: Absolutely.
Tim Muehlhoff: Where you kind of talked about who to invite had to have been. So that first decision, we call that meta-communication, that's communication about our communication. And so now looking back, how important was that first one-on-one conversation with Chris?
Shane Hurley: That was absolutely vital, because it laid the foundation and framework for what we wanted it to be and didn't want it to be. And in that conversation we talked about the type of character and personality that probably would not be ready for the maturity needed, emotional maturity, spiritual maturity that will be needed to have these tough conversations and be okay with it.
Rick Langer: Did you lay down any specific kind of ground rules or things about the way you would frame a question or rules for how you converse to one another?
Shane Hurley: No, not from how we would frame a question, some of the ground rules that we talked about in that first meeting, first of all was, we profess ignorance. I'm coming into it, saying there are things in my life I've had blinders on, knowingly or unknowingly, that I'm ignorant about. And I'm okay with that. And then we said that we'd be comfortable being uncomfortable, meaning there'll be conversations and topics that we'll discuss that are uncomfortable, and we have to get to a place where we're comfortable with that. Because if we stay where it's comfortable, then we don't grow.
Shane Hurley: And then the third thing was that we seek, we come in, seeking to understand and not to be understood. Because if I come in with my agenda and I'm trying to convinced him of what I believe or my perspective, but I can't hear him about what he believe and his perspective, then I don't allow myself to receive or grow. So those are the three main things. And that's, anytime somebody comes in that's, we start with those ground rules. Here is how we got to where we are. Here's some of the principles we kind of lead by. So it kind of puts them in that mindset of, "Can I do this? Is this something I see myself a part of?" And we're okay if it doesn't fit, it's not going to fit for everybody.
Tim Muehlhoff: Can you literally zoom into every one of my [inaudible 00:22:22], if those three points? I'll give you a Starbucks coupon man from the Winsome Conviction. Shane, that is great. That mentality is what shaped your discussion. So how many people were there the first day, and you did this every week I understand? And you added people, like where are you now? And how quickly did you add more people?
Shane Hurley: So we started out with it ended up being five of us. Because we had the guy that Chris invited and then my brother was there and the guy he was cycling with. So it was the five of us. We have 10 guys in the group now and they've kind of come in along the way, different stages, but we've had that 10, I would say probably for a couple months now.
Tim Muehlhoff: Every week you meet, every week?
Shane Hurley: Every two weeks. So that was another part of the conversation, the frequency, because we didn't want it to be so frequent that it became monotonous or stale, but we didn't want it to be so long a gap that it was too ... Our the real button was not necessarily how long, but if we went monthly, once a month, then we thought about, "If someone had to miss, then they're then out of it for two months in a sense. As opposed to every other week somebody could miss and still kind of be engaged."
Shane Hurley: And then the other side of it, we were kind of hoping really here's what we're going to try and see how it goes. If it works, we stick with it. If it doesn't, we tweak what we need to tweak. And one of the other things I think that was important from my acceptance of the invitation, I went into it saying, and understand the climate at the time. It was, everybody's up in arms about whatever side you're on about the murders that have been happening and innocent lives being taken.
Shane Hurley: So I went into it saying, "If I'm offended, if I'm upset, if I'm emotional, I disagree, whatever that emotion is, I commit to coming back the next time." So I'm not going to bail out because I don't agree or because this person doesn't have the same views that I have. I had to commit upfront to be open to hearing other people's perspective. And one of the beautiful things about it is, we don't agree a lot. We have different perspectives. We have different intake on certain topics. But I think there's enough respect and humility, which is another huge piece, that I can disagree with you. But now I understand why, and that's been huge for me. We had one topic, one conversation about one of the guys literally brought up like, "I need someone to help me because I personally don't understand how anyone can vote or support for Donald Trump." So that was on the table, throw that grenade in, right? But then-
Tim Muehlhoff: Ready, go.
Shane Hurley: Right. So that was presented to the group. And then people started giving their input and perspective. And at the end of the day, if someone doesn't agree with that or doesn't believe the same or feel the same, we were able to get understanding around how someone could. And that was, I think that was huge for all of us. And then the other side also, because the whole thing about spirituality, can't be a Christian the way he lives. And he says this and does this and that type stuff. And then the other like, "Well, this side says this and does this, how could they profess to be Christian?" So we had that conversation of the positioning and pro-life versus pro-choice. And when you say pro-life, the question was asked, "Where does that cut off? Are we only talking about conception and abortion? Or are we talking about death penalty?" Is that still pro-life?
Shane Hurley: So yeah, it's been some very, very interesting conversations that have been very enlightening and challenging, quite honestly. It challenges my beliefs, it challenge what I go into it thinking one way. And then after hearing other people's experiences that brought them to where they are as far as belief and conviction to understand, this is not as black and white as I thought it was. And the other thing that's been great is, through all of this, I realize, regardless of how we look, where we come from, socioeconomic status, we have a lot more in common than we have differences. We just lock on to that difference or commonality and ride that as opposed to getting to know the person more intimately to see, oh, this is one area, we're not both fans of whatever, the Cowboys, but on a 100 other different issues and challenges we are common. But we just locked in on our favorite sports team and now we don't think the same and don't like each other because of that. And I'm of course simplifying it.
Tim Muehlhoff: Let me ask you a bit of a different question. Have you had any moments in these discussions where you wished you could have had a do over?
Shane Hurley: Not that I can recall. Quite honestly I think I like what comes out I believe is, and people are strong on their position, open to being challenged by it. But I think I've gleaned more from people's honesty and true, and that's another beauty of it. We have that trust and respect to be able to be authentic. So I appreciate that. So I don't think I would do any do overs and have someone to be able to edit if you will, because then we can take that and discuss it openly.
Tim Muehlhoff: Hey, can you share a story? And I hope I got this right? Because this is all the way back at the dinner that we were at together. Well, isn't it true that people will often walk, because you're in the park, right? Isn't it true that people would walk by and literally stop and look at the racial diversity that you have and ask, "What are you guys doing?"
Rick Langer: Who are these people?
Shane Hurley: All the time. Not many of them are comfortable I would say asking, "What are you guys doing?" But the looks that we get, you can tell it's like, "What's going on here?" And that particular comment comes from multiple degrees. Some are like, "What are y'all doing? What's this?" Others are like, "Wow, I wonder what's going on." But there was an incident, and this, I may have shared this when we were at dinner. There was an incident where, it's very funny to me, because now, like you say, we're in a park and there's like this gazebo type area that has picnic tables, where is kind of where we sit around and talk.
Shane Hurley: So it's a public place. So we're there one Saturday morning, a guy comes up on a skateboard, older guy actually, which was intriguing in and of itself, because he's probably I would say in his late 30s or 40s on a skateboard, so that caught my attention. But then he comes into the gazebo area where we are and puts the skateboard up against the pillar and then he does some other stuff. So we're kind of looking like, "Who is this? Did someone invite somebody, we don't know about it." But he's just in his own world, I didn't realize at the time he had this like air pods in or whatever, so he's probably listening to music or whatever it is, he was coming to work out. But the interesting thing is, I felt like he was in our space. Even though we're in a public park, you see us at this table. And part of it was kind of almost a defensive, like, "Is he up to something? Keep my eye on him." But then I realized he's harmless or whatever. He's just coming to work out.
Shane Hurley: And just the fact that we're here means nothing to him. But he starts working out, doing some air squats and sit ups and planks and all this type stuff not far from where we're seated. And so we just kind of resume with our discussion, kind of not even paying attention to him anymore. And then when he completed his workout, he interrupted with an apology like, "Sorry to interrupt you guys, but I couldn't help but overhear your conversation, even to the point of where I cut the music off from my ear side to hear what you guys were saying." He was like, "Just coming up to this area and seeing visibly the diversity and then hearing what you guys are talking about is like, it's affected me to the point where I have a conversation to go home and have with my kids."
Rick Langer: Wow, that's great.
Shane Hurley: And he was saying something about in that moment he was convicted that he realized that he has, I forgot the term used, but basically he had a bias against Indians. So he shared that and basically his heart was pricked about that conviction. And almost in a sense of, "I need to repent." He didn't say that, but that was kind of his heart. And we kind of talked a little bit at that moment. And he just went on about his way, but I'm sure that that interaction has impacted him and probably his family just from being around us 20 to 25 minutes, being able to listen. And I appreciate his comfort in interrupting us and sharing that with us.
Shane Hurley: Because then it sparked the conversation with us about that and our prejudices within certain demographics, whether it's race and we talk about black and white, but then you go to India and you go there and we talked about post 9/11 and all these, how it affected us and how we look at certain races and trust and distrust. And you know, may not be outwardly prejudiced towards somebody, but we're more careful because that person fits a particular "profile." So it kind of sparked the conversation for us. And then my brother has a adopted daughter who's Indian, so it really touched on with him. So yeah, so it was great. Great.
Rick Langer: But that's a great example, Shane of the, of sometimes the power of a good example. People just hear you doing it. You don't necessarily have to export it so to speak. They just see it and go, "Hey, there's something good about that. Maybe I can participate as well." But I want to commend you for doing that. And in a sense, one of the beauties of what you've described is how simple it is in one sense, but how powerful it is, and contagious perhaps. The same way the negative can be contagious, it's great to hear the positive being contagious as well.
Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah, Shane seriously, my first class is 8:00 AM Monday. So I'm just going to send you a Zoom link and I'll let you go for about a half hour. This is what people need to hear. So thank you for being the first person on a reoccurring episode called a report from the front. And we are just thrilled that people like you are trusting God and stepping into what you said were like taboo topics. And thank you for being such a great example to our listeners, and thank you for joining us.
Shane Hurley: Absolutely, that's my pleasure. I appreciate you thinking of me and inviting and putting this together. It's been great to be a part of it. And I'll share this experience with the guys to let them know that the thing we think simply being done on every other Saturday morning is having an impact beyond that table. So it's been great.
Tim Muehlhoff: Well thank you, Shane. And thank you for listening to the Winsome Conviction podcast. Please come visit our website, winsomeconviction.com, and you can check out past podcasts. We have articles, essays. We have some great interviews, so please check us out. And also you can check out our podcast, come like us, give us four stars, any place like Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. And feel free to buy a 1,000 copies of our new book, Winsome Conviction, as the spirit leads. We do not want to squelch that spirit. So thank you for joining us. And, Shane, thanks again. Take care.