Intro to Watsonopolis

There was one who once said crazy things like, give your possessions to the poor, let your light shine, go to the ends of the earth, love God, love your neighbor, serve, pray, die and live. Those words, the words of Jesus, have gripped and shaped our lives.

Because of Jesus’ life, challenge and love we are propelled into an amazing life journey; a journey that most often finds us pitching our tent among the poor and those on the margins of our world, serving, living, teaching, learning and loving there.

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Thursday
Oct242013

Amos Heroes - Dr. Randy White

Over the past several weeks I have been making my way through the Minor Prophets.  Now, when I say, "I" I actually mean "we" and when I say "we" I actually mean me and a fiesty little church in the heart of Washington, D.C. called The District Church.  And the Minor Prophets?  That's just a short handed way of referring to a collection of 12 short books in the Old Testament of the Bible written during various periods of Israel's history wherein they got sideways with God.  Nearly all of them carry the same message, "You've forgotten God's love and He's pissed about it!".  The reasons vary somewhat, but in many cases its because of Israel's neglect of justice, care and compassion.  

Take away from me the noise of your songs;

to the melody of your harps I will not listen.

But let justice roll down like waters,

and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

Amos 5:23-24

 A few nights ago, I found myself in a room with 16 other people reflecting on the passage above and remembering that we too have been loved by and rescued by a God who loves us.  We reminded one another that a part of what it means to walk humbly with God is to boldly care for the poor, the dispossesed, widows, orphans and strangers.  

Sailing up to Hong Kong; BGU course 2011It was a powerful night; in part because of the message of the prophets, but also because of my location.  For a long time I've noted how context shapes the way we read the Bible.  My context on that evening was in the capital of the strongest (militarily) and the wealthiest (monetarily) nation the world has ever seen.  I was leading a discussion on the book of Amos surrounded by a community that has greater access to global power and influence than I could have ever imagined prior to moving to D.C.  

And the question came up.  "Who is your 'Amos' hero?  Who is the person that has modeled for you a life lived well with Jesus and a life lived well on behalf of those made poor?".  

For me, Dr. Randy White.  No question.  

When I begin to think how in the world I ended up in the nation's capital leading a Bible study with such an amazing group of people who carry an amazing burden of power and possibility discussing the Prophets' call to care for the poor I know exactly who to blame.  I blame Randy.  

Right out of seminary, Lisa and I moved to Fresno where I began working at a local community development organization and Lisa began working for IVCF as an Urban Project Director.  Randy was her boss.  Over the years Randy and his wife Tina became dear friends.  Weekly dinners at their house.  Hours and hours of conversation about the Bible, Church, the City, God's call for personal righteousness and public justice and where to find the best Merlot.  

Hong Kong, BGU course 2011God used Randy & Tina to ingrain in us a faith that takes seriously the responsibility to care for the poor and dimantle unjust systems in our world resulting from sin.  Randy reminded us through his life, living and teaching - and continues to remind us - that we were saved by Jesus for a purpose which includes care for the modern day widows, orphans, immigrants and the poor.  And Randy challenges us to consider how God shapes us and prepares us to do justice differently.  

Prior to and upon moving to D.C. I expressed concern about relocating here and pastoring a church that in many ways is made up of an emerging elite - those who very soon will be at the highest levels of government, business, finance and international development.  I worried that I'd become too far removed from the poor and those I felt most comfortable with and most equipped to minister to.  Randy reminded me of another prophet, Nathan, who was a confidant of and prophet to King David.  "Matthew, for Nathan to speak prophetically to David, he had to be in the room with David.  Yes, its easier to stand on the street and shake your fist 'at the man', but someone has to be in the room with the Kings and Queens of the world reminding them of Christ's call to care for the poor.  So get in the room."

A year ago Randy left his role with IVCF and joined the faculty at Fresno Pacific University leading their Center for Community Transformation.  I was still serving as Mission Pastor at Living Hope in Memphis and upon hearing his pending transition I sent him this email...

Randy,

Later this morning I travel to Delhi India with a small team of pastors and leaders from Living Hope Church.  While in India we'll visit slums, learn about community development efforts there, we'll visit church plants and encourage their pastors.  We'll teach a few things, learn a few things.  As I lead this team of leaders, over the week I'll ask them to make note of signs of death and signs of life.  I'll ask them to consider what Scriptures, stories and Biblical themes might be relevant to a group of women, living in a slum and learning the trades of cosmetology and tailoring.  When we meet with church planters we will listen together as they share with us about their villages; listening for commonalities among them and listening for examples of good community exegesis.

Through it all we will reflect well - reflecting on what we saw, what we didn't see, what God was saying to us, what He said through us.  And we will do the hard work of contextualization asking ourselves what did we learn from our Indian brothers and sisters and how might we apply that learning in Memphis.  We'll wrestle with how to steward this experience on behalf of the poor and lost in our city and consider appropriate next steps in India.

Randy, the way I spend the next 10 days is deeply influenced by BGU and by you most specifically.  You have ruined me!  In the best, most meaningful sense.  I'm a better leader and pastor and missionary because of how God has used you and how you have been faithful to steward your experiences, scholarship and wisdom on behalf of the cities and the ministers of the world.  I thank you.  My family thanks you.  My church thanks you.  Memphis thanks you.  And this week, Delhi will thank you.

I'm so grateful for you my friend.  I'm proud of what you've done and tremendously excited about what awaits you at FPU.
Now go grab a well deserved glass of Merlot.
From one wine wench to another!

-watson

Randy and Tina have for decades rooted themselves in the poorest neighborhood in the country in downtown Fresno.  And from that spot they've shaped hundreds of Christian leaders and ministers.  Their finger prints are on the lives and life's work of a lesser cloud of witnesses who owe a great thanks to God for Randy White.  I'm honored to be among there number.  

Monday
Jul152013

The Watsons go to Washington

On June 2nd, Lisa and I stood in front of a church that we love, in a city that we love, and announced that we were moving.  Below is the text of what we read on that day.  With tears in our eyes, joy in hearts and excitement in our guts we set our sights on Washington, D.C. - to the glory of the one who made us and saved us.

___

June 2, 2013

To the faithful saints of Living Hope Church:

It is with both heart felt joy and gut churning sadness that I share with you that I am resigning my position as Mission Pastor and Lisa and I and the children are moving away from Memphis. 

But before I fill in details of the why’s and what’s next, I want to say thank you.

I have been shaped – my family has been shaped – and not just shaped but conformed more fully into the image of Christ because of this church, its elders and the wonderful pastors that I have had the privilege to serve alongside.  My life is richer because of you, my family loves more passionately because of Living Hope and our faith more faithfully reflects the heart of God because of the Spirit’s work through Living Hope to us. 

There is so much for which I’m grateful.

Of the many things that Living Hope has ingrained into me is the central role of the church in the proliferation of the gospel in a place. 

Even before coming to Living Hope I had a love for the local church.  I am a product of a local east Dallas church that sent the church bus into our apartment complex to pick up kids for Sunday service; similar to how Living Hope sends the old McLean Baptist van into Vollintine Apartments now. 

But Living Hope has furthered that passion, showing me and teaching me that the primary way the gospel moves forward and affects people and places is through the local church. 

That bedrock belief is the primary reason why Lisa and I are standing in front of you now.  Lisa and I, after a tremendous amount of prayer and discernment, including a discernment community made up of other pastors, elders and members of our small group, sense the Lord’s leading to move our family to Washington, D.C., where I will join the pastoral staff of The District Church as a church planting pastor in order to further the mission of reaching DC with the gospel of Christ through planting neighborhood based churches throughout the city. 

Those are incredibly exciting words for me to share and yet, carry a gut-level sadness as well.  I love Memphis.  I love Living Hope.  I love the elders and the amazing pastors that I have served with.  I love the family that the Watson’s have become in this place during this time.  And yet, one of the things that Lisa and I settled over a decade ago was that we would ever and always say yes to Jesus when we sensed His call.  It was that love that compelled us to leave Fresno, California, another place we dearly love, and settle on the banks of the third bluff.  And it is love again that compels us to move to the nation’s capital in order to see churches, rooted in the gospel of Christ, planted, and grown to maturity and planting other churches rooted in that same gospel. 

The church we are joining, the church we eventually will plant out of into a new DC neighborhood – The District Church -  is a young church, just 2 years old, was planted by some dear friends of ours and is in the Columbia Heights neighborhood in the heart of DC.  The church has found resonance with those who have moved to Washington from the four corners of the country in order to make some difference in the world.  In the District Church, Capitol Hill staffers, Int’l Nonprofit leaders and long-time hard-scrabbled DC natives are hearing the gospel and having their lives changed. 

During our time of discernment and in conversations with those discerning with us, our hearts have warmed to D.C. and the work of The District Church and their vision to reach D.C. through the planting of neighborhood churches.  We’ve also resonated with their heart to be a bridge for the ‘two D.C.s’; a city that has the highest education levels in the country and the worst public schools in the country.  Lisa and I want to be a part of planting churches that embody gospel-centered reconciliation across race and class; churches that serve as a prophetic picture of a different Kingdom than the ones often pursued in a place like D.C.  We want to make disciples, shepherding those working on the Hill or in other places of power and influence, walking with them towards Christ-likeness even as they faithfully serve, living out their own calling in D.C.  This is what Lisa and I sense God calling us to in Washington, D.C. 

It is very, very hard to leave Living Hope and Memphis.  So I’m not going to do it just yet!

I will remain on staff through the end of June to ensure that current mission projects are seen to completion or handed off to other pastors or leaders.  The month of July will be a time of final transitions and final trips to Central BBQ and Gus’s Fried Chicken before arriving in DC towards the end of summer.

In between now and then please be praying for us.  Specifically,

Pray for the kids’ school situation.  We’re not entirely sure where the children will be going to school and our options are a bit limited and each with a set of challenges.  Pray for God’s wisdom and for open doors to the schools of preference. 

Pray for the logistics of our transition. Packing up a house and figuring out what to do with our things as we move into a down-sized apartment in a DC row house will be a lot of things but ‘fun’ might not be one of them.  Pray it goes smoothly and in a God-glorifying way. 

Pray for our transition into the District Church.  As Church Planters, we will soon begin raising prayer and financial support and turning our full attention to what God is doing in DC and what specific neighborhood He’d have us root in.  Pray for God’s specific direction regarding neighborhood and for the District Church as I join their team. 

So much of who we are and who we will be in D.C. is shaped by and because of Living Hope and Memphis.  We are proud of Living Hope and what God has done through our church.  In many ways we feel like we’re leaving just when its getting good! 

But the Apostle Paul’s life and words in Acts 20 have begun to find deep resonance with us - “And now compelled by the Spirit I go to Jerusalem”.  Just as he was compelled to go to the spiritual capital and later the capital of the empire - Rome, so too do we find the Spirit’s compulsion to go to our nation’s Capitol for the sake of the Gospel and to the glory of God. 

With a full heart,

the watsons

 

Monday
Apr292013

Some Prayers Take Time

A few months ago, me and the boys planted tulip bulbs in the back yard.  

Anne Lamott talks about the practice of planting bulbs as a form of prayer.  Prayers that take place in the dead of winter when the ground is cold and hard and wet and you can see your breath.  Even as you plant the ugly suckers you wonder if they'll ever bloom and if they do how could something as gorgeous as a tulip come from something as ugly as a shriveled bulb.  

But the truth of it is, is that the winter was a hard one for the watsons.  Men we dearly loved and who dearly loved us passed on leaving us with a lot of tears and questions and sadness.  And sometimes when you get into that place the best thing to do is to get outside, regardless of weather, and wrap your hands around things that are older than you.  

hostas & daffodils showing their faces in Spring @ the watsonsAnd that's how we came to plant bulbs in January.

In the days immediately following the planting, the boys would continue to return to the backyard garden where they were planted and check on them.  Finally they asked me when the flowers would come up.  "Not for a couple of months", I'd tell them.  I'd tell them that its too cold now, but now is the right time to plant them.  But they won't show their face until the cold goes away, the rains come, the time changes and the days get longer.  "They probably won't arrive until after Easter".  

Easter.  That holiday that reminds us that life always overcomes death, seeds have to die for the flowers to arrive and things buried, will ultimately come back.  

first signs of tulipsThe boys have forgotten, for the moment, about the bulbs.  It's been months after all.  But since Easter, this first easter since my dad went from life to Life, I've been checking on them.  Seeing how their doing. Waiting for their blooms.  Hoping that the prayers buried in cold black soil on a wet Saturday in January will find their way to the light and show their smile to remind us that some prayers take time.

 

 

Tuesday
Feb262013

Following Footsteps

A confession that will certainly come as no suprise.  As a dad, I have no idea what I'm doing.  Truth of it is that I'm not sure any father has much of an idea.  Most days I feel like the leader of a exploration throught the Amazon.  We're headed for the beach, but we're using what little sun we can see, hopes, prayers and our gut-level best guesses.  On harder days I shout loudly and confidently, "This way everyone, its just ahead!" hoping that if I don't flinch and look confident then my children won't know that dad is 1/2 lost 3/4 of the time.  

The best guides I have are those men that have gone before me; my dad, my pawpaw and my grandpa.  All men who were raising families like I am, but all of whom were much younger than I am at this stage of family-making.  In each case, they got an early start; or I got a late one.  I shake my head when I think that, when my dad was my age, his oldest son was a freshman in college.  My oldest is in first grade.  

But I'm following footsteps that my dad, my dad's dad and my granddad have put in front of me.  I'm raising my boys using some of the same patterns that I was raised with; for good or ill.  Lessons that I teach my boys remembering the lesson that my dad taught me.  

I remember one night, living in St. Francis Square Apartments, there was a stabbing in another building.  My dad putting on his shirt and boots and starting out into the night, because someone was hurt and someone needed rescue.  And I remember the feeling of pride and fear waiting for his return.

Elias wearing my bootsA couple of weeks ago, after picking up my first grader, I noticed, in the downtown alleyway a block from his school a woman trying to get away from a man she was arguing with.   I did what my dad, and my dad's dad and my granddad would have done.  I pulled into the alley, told my son to sit tight, and headed in to make sure this ended better than it had started.  Once sure that cooler heads were prevailing, I walked back to the car, looked at my boy through the windsheild and grinned.  Him grinning back.

I remember my grandpa teaching me the absolute duty of a man to defend a woman.  "The only reason you should lie is to save a life or defend the honor of a woman".  The truth underneath my grandpa's wisdom is the value of life and dignity of womanhood.  So, when, on the drive home, my boy asks me, "dad, why did you take off down the alley?" I am able to say to him what my dad, my dad's dad and my granddad would say, "son, if your sister grows up and some man is doing that to her, I'd want a father to stop and make sure she's ok.  Men don't treat women that way son, and when they do, other men - like me & you - have to stop and remind them of that".   

This Christmas my boys recieved gifts that serve as physical reminders of what I'm trying to do.  My oldest got a bike and my younger son got a pair of boots.  Both were hand-me-downs from their dad that their Pops and Grammie had been saving for decades.  Watching the boys ride 'my' bike and walk in 'my' boots has been inspirational and sobering all at once.  Reminders that I am paving a path for them, showing them - literally - which way to go and which way to walk.

I'm trying to leave footsteps for my boys to follow.  Signs that may not seem like much now or even make much sense, but later, a generation later even, will become crystal clear. 

I'm hoping the guideposts I leave help them when they find themselves neck deep raising their own children or in an alley 'reminding' another man how to treat a woman while his 7 year old looks on.  "This way boys!  It's just up ahead".

 

 

Friday
Nov232012

My Life as a Dancer Part 3: 3 Women or Ending with the Beginning

Nearly a year ago I started a series of blog posts entitled, My Life as a Dancer.  Somewhere between parts 2 & 3 my blogging got derailed by my living.  And while I’m not living any less now than then, it seems the changing of the seasons are giving me wider room to write…and hopefully, dance. 

The 3 Women with whom I danced or Ending with the Beginning

Tatiana

I’m almost certain Tatiana was my first real crush.  I was 12 years old, in the 6th grade at S.S. Conner Elementary when my mom informed me we were going to Atlanta.  My cousin Yvette was getting married, it was a big occasion and so we all packed up the sedan, scooped up grandma & grandpa and made the 14-hour drive from Dallas to Atlanta. 

The wedding was quite the cultural exchange.  My uncle was a tried and true North Louisiana man.  He carried himself with a southern dignity that befits a son of the South.  A graduate of Louisiana’s finest colleges during a time when you could say “Louisiana’s finest colleges” with a straight face.  LSU, then Tulane medical school.  My uncle John is class.  He married a woman who matched his dignity with an eloquence of her own.  My aunt Cecilia is from a proud, well heeled family from Costa Rica.  When she spoke, she had a Spanish accent that would melt you.

The wedding reception was to take place in my uncle’s back yard.  Tables in delicate decor peppered the back yard.  And in the front middle of them all was the parquet dance floor. 

At the reception I sat with mom and the grandparents.  Two tables over was Tatiana. 

Tatiana and I had met a few days earlier at my uncle’s house.  She was 4 years older than me and had come from Costa Rica to attend the wedding.  We hung out some and she laughed at my jokes.  I laughed with her too, but tried to make sure not to smile too much lest the light reflect off my blazing shiny braces and blind her. 

The band played, people danced and finally I mustered all the courage a 12 year old boy can muster in order to ask a 16 year old Costa Rican goddess to dance to whatever nonsense was being played by the oldies cover band. 

Interrupting the conversation she was having with some less-than-smooth-talking guy in the wedding party I asked, “Tatiana, would you like to dance?”.  And to the dance floor we strode. 

We were into our 3rd dance when it happened.  Words that would alter the trajectory of my life.  Tatiana looked at me with her big latin eyes and said, “Matthew, you have to move your feet more.  Like this.” 

Subtle I know.  But in the ears and heart of a 12 year old, this was tragedy.  She was giving me dance lessons.  Which translated to me, “She thinks I’m a horrible dancer.  Oh No!  This is terrible!”  Here I was trying to impress the 16-year-old beauty queen and she was none to impressed with the way I danced to Bob Segar’s ‘Old Time Rock & Roll’. 

Something had to change. 

 

Beverly

Beverly and I grew up in the neighborhood together.  We went to the same elementary school and then on to the same Jr. High School.  We didn’t hang out much and we moved in different circles, but we had a comfort and familiarity with one another that happens when you grow up with someone, see them nearly every day of your life even if its only across the school yard. 

Immediately following the ‘Atlanta Dance Floor Tragedy’ I resolved to be a better dancer.  So that next time Tatiana, or any girl really, danced with me, she would be duly impressed. 

I danced in my bedroom.  All the time.  In the mirror.  Different kinds of dances even.  And when I was over at friends’ houses that had cable I would watch music videos.  I even snuck cardboard through my bedroom window so I could work on my break-dance skills under the watchful eyes of my friends, Kevin & Reggie.  Both of whom were good dancers; for being 6th graders. 

Then, nearly 2 and a half years after Atlanta, the night of vindication came.  This time it wasn’t at a backyard reception that looked like a page out of Southern Living it was in the cafeteria of a Dallas public Jr. High School.  No parquet dance floor at this shindig as linoleum would have to do. 

The Cafeteria @ Gaston Jr. High School8th Grade Dance at Gaston Jr. High.  After years of practice, I put on my dancing shoes.  With confidence I danced with anyone who came near me on the dance floor; and oh did the girls come near me.  Towards the end of the evening, Beverly and I danced.  A girl that knew me when I was 12 but was unaware of the dance skeletons in my closet.  And then it happened.  Beverly, pushing her blonde locks aside, looks at me and says, “wow Matthew, you’re a really good dancer”. 

Boom goes the dynamite. 

 

Lisa Raquel

Fast-forward a decade.  Most of my dance exploits and accomplishments are in the rear view at this point, though the crowning dance achievement would lay in front of me, catching me altogether unaware. 

I’m California’s newest resident along with a few dozen other seminary students who’ve recently moved to San Francisco’s Bay Area.  Ironically enough, one of our first acts as Southern Baptist Seminary students is to host an impromptu cookout and dance.  Both of which are firmly entrenched in my wheelhouse. 

That night, with the other single seminarians, once again, I showed my moves, but not too much or too many so as to not come across as a braggart.  Then someone from the back requests Salsa.  Not one of my fortes, I’m more of a Cumbia & Meringue man myself.  So, I know I need a good partner.  Word in the seminary bubble was that Lisa was Cuban and from Miami.  “She’ll do”, I thought to myself. 

“What makes you think I know how to Salsa?!” the ice queen snarls. 

Hmmm.  Not the reaction I often get on the dance floor.  “Cuba + Miami = Salsa right?  I mean just like Texan + Country Music = Two Step”.  My answer sufficed enough to get her on the dance floor, albeit reluctantly.  Her guard remained up the entire dance and the entire night.  So much so, I think she even led on the first dance…just to show me she could.  Nevertheless, in the asphalt covered parking lot converted into party central we danced. 

Two years later, we danced again.  At a wedding reception.  On a parquet floor. 

But this time it was our wedding.  Our reception.  Our song.  Our dance.  And we have been dancing ever since. 

 

Epilogue

Last Thursday, marked day # 4,237 of my marriage to Lisa.  That night, we walked the streets of Washington, D.C.  and made our way to the Hill Country BBQ on 7th St. We wandered into the basement where a Texas Honky Tonk band played.  We pushed the tables aside and on a concrete floor beneath the streets of our nation’s capital we danced some more.