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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Friday
Mar022012

Cuba: Remembering 70 years ago

70 years ago on the outskirts of Pinar del Rio, Cuba a Free Will Baptist seminary was founded by an American missionary and Lisa’s grandfather Benito Rodriguez.  To celebrate the occasion, ‘Papi’ was invited back to the seminary to mark the occasion and remind folks of things that otherwise would have been forgotten.  And that’s what we did last Wednesday.

For the week that surrounded the anniversary day, Lisa, the littlest princess and me – along with 12 other Rodriguez family members from Miami and Havana - gallivanted around Cuba soaking of the country, hearing stories from Cuba past and enjoying ourselves and one another as much as we could. 

There are lots of stories and hopefully over the coming days and weeks some of them will be shared.  But, perhaps the first one should be an old one. 

During the early seasons of the seminary, Papi was instrumental in getting the schools infrastructure in place.  Established in what was (and in many ways still is) a rural outskirt of Pinar del Rio city, the school needed wells dug, facilities built and training executed.  So that’s much of what Papi did.  He dug a well.  He erected a windmill.  And he built a house. 

It is an amazing feeling to stand in a house that was the home of your ancestors.  Being in the very house that Papi built for his wife and his children, a house that was the setting for family stories, the center of ministry and formative for how Papi & Abuela would pastor, parent and live out the life in front of them. 

While in the house, Lisa and the littlest princess stood in the very kitchen where Abuela would have surely cooked countless meals for other pastors, families and ministers.  I suspect in that kitchen Abuela cooked picadillo, arroz con pollo and flan.  Meals that Lisa cooks today from Abuela’s recipes passed down and perfected in that small kitchen outside of Pinar.  And more times than not, Lisa is cooking picadillo and flan and frijoles negros for a neighboring pastor, minister or family. 

Later in the evening, before the night got away from us - before we were pushed by the schedule of the anniversary or pulled by our own vacation itinerary the 3 Watsons prayed with Papi in the living room that he built.  We thanked God for the history of that place, the blessing of a geography and the tradition that continues today.  We expressed a deep gratitude that God has blessed not just a place but also a people.  The house continues to be a haven for a pastoring family.  And the faith that was built in that home was continuing through the builder’s granddaughter and we pray even to the great-granddaughter that was with us. 

In that living room, a room where many have undoubtedly prayed, we spoke our own prayers to a God who hears and acts.  We spoke to a God who heard the prayers of an Abuela before she was an Abuela.  We prayed to a Savior who was working through a Papi before he was a Papi.  And we delighted in a 70-year history that was more than a seminary, but was a celebration of God’s faithfulness to family, 70 years later, even to the littlest princess 4 generations later.

Monday
Jan092012

My Life as a Dancer Part 2: When I was a Professional

This is the 2nd in a 3 part series that chronicles my life as a dancer.  You can see Part 1 HERE.

The truth of it is, is that early on in my childhood I enjoyed dancing.  I remember in elementary school I’d put cardboard in my room and work on my break dancing skills.  I was ‘electric bogaloo’. 

Secretly, though, I always wanted to learn how to tap dance.  I still want to learn how to tap dance.  I think that would be a great way to move through life; in rhythm, with a smile, and wearing cool shoes that make noise. 

But I also knew my family didn’t have a bunch of money and in my mind tap dancing classes were expensive.  I grew up in a huge East Dallas apartment complex and no one in my complex took tap dancing classes, so, I figured, it must only be for rich folks.  Kind of like golf and tennis.  Two other activities no one in my complex knew how to do.

But my fortunes would change when I entered high school and joined the Spanish club.  Ms. Barker, my Spanish teacher, was also the sponsor of the Spanish club and she encouraged me to join.  Ms. Barker was an 8 foot tall black Panamanian.  Well, maybe not quite 8 feet, but pretty tall.  Interestingly, the other Spanish teacher in my high school was African American - from Houston I think.   But he was a man and was closer to 4 feet tall.  He spoke with a stutter except when he spoke Spanish.  A fact that still fascinates me, but has nothing to do with my life as a dancer. 

It was in the Spanish Club at Skyline High School that I was introduced to Ballet Folklorico, the traditional dance of Mexico.  Ballet Folklorico is sort of like River Dance but to a Mariachi Band.  It’s fast, fun and you wear an awesome costume and, to my sheer delight, tap shoes.  Or tap boots really. 

For four years I would get up early, head to school and meet a couple of other students and practice dancing.  I danced in festivals, carnivals and parties.  I performed at schools and in parades.  I danced in several competitions and recitals.  Most times, the biggest surprise for the audience came at the end, when I would take my black felt sombrero off and out popped my bright red head.  I love the expressions on the audience faces nearly as much as I loved dancing.  “Gasp!  It’s a WHITE BOY”. 

“Yep, that’s right”.  I’d say in my mind.  “I’m a gringo.  With pelirojo.  Love me.”.

One Cinco de Mayo, I was dancing on the back of flatbed trailer being pulled by a tractor through the streets of Oak Cliff.  Our float was sponsored by the neighborhood Hispanic grocery store.  The people were clapping and cheering and then our float would roll by with the Skyline Folklorico group being led by ‘El Quero’ (the white boy).  We were a spectacle.  But we were good.  And that’s when I went pro. 

I was invited to join a professional Dallas Folklorico troupe my senior year of high school.  I practiced with them for a few months before resigning from the troupe.  2 months after my resignation, the group toured Japan.  I cursed myself.  But it was in Spanish, so my mom never knew. 

When I graduated, Mrs. Barker and the Spanish club gave me one of the two scholarships that the school gave out for Spanish students.  The stipulation was that I had to dance in college.  The Hispanic fraternity on campus caught wind of the fleet-footed white boy and tapped me on the shoulder around April to help teach a dance or two in preparation for a school-wide Cinco de Mayo celebration.  I obliged with the help of another teacher they brought in from outside.  That started my collegiate career in dancing.

I danced with the SMU folklorico group another year or two, but eventually it faded.  I think the last dance I danced with them was “El Javelin” which tells the story of some guys trying to impress some ladies so they go out, hunt and kill a Javelina.  In the dance, I was the Javelina.  I exited the stage, strung up on a pole, wearing a loincloth and a pig mask.  An unfortunate ending to an illustrious dancing career if you ask me.

I still have my boots and pull them out from time to time.  I’ve put them on once or twice in the last decade.  Every time I see them, I smile and wink at them like we have a secret between us and then I dance a “Jalisco" because no one is watching.

Wednesday
Dec282011

Miami Christmas: When Christmas = A New World

For the past week the Watsons 5 have been in Miami celebrating Christmas.  Miami is a remarkable city with a fascinating culture; the Hollywood of Latin America and a poignant collage of all things Latin America.  The climate and the culture make it an interesting place to celebrate Christmas.  It really is a different world here.

It's 80 degrees.  I'm wearing shorts and sunglasses.  We're swimming in the ocean.  I'm running the A/C in the car.  I sweat.  The Santa Clause on Miracle Mile has a Cuban accent.  It could be disorienting if it weren't so stinking amazing.  

Every morning I walked to the corner Cafecita with the boys and ordered pastelitos and cafe con leche.  I had to use my best Spanish which at best is humorous and at worst insulting.  The first day I think I introduced by sons & nephews as my uncles and ordered 8 birthday cakes.  But the workers were patient and the regulars were amused by the bald American with 4 children in tow.  

Somewhere in the midst of all the Christmas festivities, and family visits I remembered a more recent Christmas story.  One that intersects the older one, the first one.  

Lisa's family is from Cuba.  Her Papi and Abuela (grandpa & grandma) immigrated here just a year or so after Castro came in to power.  It was, like that of many families, a difficult journey, scary to say the least.  Yet one filled with hope and possibility.  

On Christmas eve, 1961, Lisa's Papi got papers and a plane ticket freeing him and his family to leave for America.  But they had to leave the next day.  Because Papi was a pastor, and pastors were not well regarded by the new regime, he was a wanted man.  So, that night, he packed up his family and on Christmas morning, Papi & Abuela, along with Lisa's dad and two uncles, and all their possesions in a couple of suitcases, boarded a plane that would carry them to a new world and a new life.  

It is exactly 50 years later.  It's Christmas eve and I'm in Uncle Danny's back yard.  I'm surrounded by the Rodriguez family.  A whole pig is being roasted Cuban style.  The smells and sounds are soothing, softening.  It's Noche Buena, the traditional Cuban Christmas eve meal.  All is calm.  All is bright. 

We're sitting in lawn chairs.  Papi, never one to miss an opportunity to tell a story, shares the story of their exile once again.  About how the fled and the circumstances surrounding it.  He tells me it was Christmas.  He tells me he was 37 years old.  "Hey, I'm 37 Papi!" I say.  And we look at one another and smile and nod our heads in recognition of the deep similarity of a long ago Christmas eve that gave birth to Christmas day and the world was changed; and how that story was played out again on Dec. 25th, 1961 when eve gave way to day and Christmas day gave way to a new world when the plane landed in Miami.  And even still as Christmas eves on the horizon will continue to give birth to new life and new worlds as Elias crawls into my lap and asks for a piece of lechon.  

2000 years ago a brave young Jewish man & woman, tossed on the waves of political cirucumstances beyond their control were forced to give birth in a barn.  And the world was changed.  

Years later, beacuase of the bravery of a Cuban pastor, and geopolitical cirucumstances beyond either of our control my life has been dramatically blessed and forever changed.

And Elias knows the word for pork - lechon.

Tuesday
Nov222011

Annelies Raquel

On November 18th, Lisa gave birth to our third child.  

We decided early on that we would wait until the delivery to learn the gender of the baby, but felt throughout that we were about to have our third boy.  To our great surprise, we are now the very proud parents of our first little girl, Annelies Raquel.  We have arrived back home.  Mother and child are doing remarkably well.  Annelies' brothers are completely smitten with their new little sister and have often been seen whispering to her while she sleeps.  

As with each of our boys, we sought to name this precious one with a future and blessing in mind - a name we pray and parent our child lives in to.  

Annelies (pronounced ahn Nah lees) ~ Annelies is an old-world name that is a marrying of two names, Anna and Elizabeth.  Anna and Elizabeth were two women-prophets featured early in the life of Jesus.  

Anna was an aged prophet who stood alongside Simeon in the temple when Joseph and Mary brought their young son, Jesus to the temple.  It was said of Anna that she gave thanks to God and preached to those who longed for the restoration of their great city.  

Elizabeth, was the daughter of preachers and encourager of women, the mother of a prophet and the aunt of a Savior.  A noble heritage to be sure.  

Raquel (Spanish for Rachel) ~ Raquel is Lisa's middle name, a name she was given in honor of her dear aunt who defected from Cuba just a few years ago.  In my (Matthew's) mind, Lisa has been, like Anna and Elizabeth before her, a woman who has spoken prophetically, preached, prayed, and encouraged those who long for the restoration of whatever cities one may call home.  And, she's raising not one, but two prophets (Nathan & Elias).  With that in mind, we've given our daughter the name of her mother.

We hope that you will celebrate with us, the birth of Annelies Raquel.

 

Friday
Nov042011

My Life as a Dancer Part 1: Dancing with the Devil

I haven't always been the amazing dancer I am today. It has taken years, hard work and concentration...and lots of fancy shoes.  But, the dedication has paid off.   And in a lot of ways, actually.  For example, a couple of months ago, I out-danced the devil.  

In September, I visited the West African country of Sierra Leone.  Traveling with a group of 5 others, we served alongside one of my friends from my doctoral program, Samuel Kargbo.  One morning while the others were lecturing in the Bible College that was hosting us, Samuel and I walked around the small fishing village that was adjacent to the college.  

We walked along dirt roads boardered by huts and shanty houses with the occasional beached boat or mended net.  Children were everywhere.  Adults were scarce.  Samuel shared with me that this community was where the Nigerian soldiers, sent by the UN during the civil war, set up base.  When the Nigerians weren't busy liberating the people of Sierra Leone from an evil tyrant, they were busy making babies with the local women.  

Then I began hearing drumming.  I noticed a crowd in front of us.  Nearly a football field away.  "What is that?", I asked.  "It's a women's cultural group.  Don't take any pictures Matthew.  It will upset them".  As we approached, I noticed a figure much taller than the rest, dressed all in white.  "Who is that?", I asked again.  "It's the devil".  

Of course.  

Turns out that 'a women's cultural group' is a very tame way to describe the women elders of the community that practice female genital circumcision.  A gruesome tradition still practiced in may parts of Africa.  One part of Africa where this form of mutilation is still practiced happened to be the village I was walking through - taking pictures like an American tourist.  And while circumsing girls is an accepted practice, apparently taking pictures of the women who do such a thing is frowned upon.  

The crowd, maybe a hundered strong, was singing and drumming and the devil, dressed all in white wearing a tall wooden mask, was dancing around from house to house.  That's when they spotted Samuel and me.  We tried to walk nonchalantly down a different street, but they soon surrounded us.  Drumming, singing and then the devil stood right in front of me.  Looked me up and down.  And began dancing.  

I let her dance for a few moments, then, with Charlie Daniels' 'Devil went down to Georgia' echoing in my mind, I recognized this for what it was.  Not being one to shirk a challenge, even if it comes from a 7 foot tall devil, I began to dance.  I tootsie-rolled, butterflied, krumped, robot-ed and threw in some other Watson-patened moves that came from the recesses of my East Dallas spirit long forgotten.  I danced.  Like a bad mo' fo' I danced.  

The crowed erupted in laughter, noise, drumming and delight.  The devil slinked away.  The crowd parted and Samuel and I passed through like the Hebrew children passing through the Red Sea and we continued our walk.  Smiling. 

p.s. I snapped this pic, while walking away from the crowd.  The devil is the tall figure in the center of crowd dressed all in white.