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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Tuesday
Nov012011

N. S. Watson; 11/01

November 1st is our oldest boy's birthday.  Nathan isn't just our oldest son, he's our oldest child.  Which means, whatever we have learned about parenting, we learned from him.  Or better said, we learned ON him.  And at the ripe old age of 6, so far so good.  I mean, he's not committed any crimes for which he's been caught, not addicted to drugs, no out-of-wedlock babies and we are resonably pleased with the crowd he hangs out with.  

With each year passing, he comes evermore into himself.  His personality, identity, mannerism, preferences become more and more apparent.  And yet he's still very much a boy; a child.  Often, I find my mind wandering years into the future wondering what kind of man Nathan will be.  I imagine him with facial hair - a full beard even.  I imagine him still very fun-loving, excited and excitable.  I suspect he'll be a bit sarcastic.  Given his 'ladies man' behavior (even at 6), undoubtedly he'll have had his heart broken.  And will have broken others.  

The things that are harder for me to see are the things that matter.  Facial hair and sarcasm aside.  The things that are more dimly lit for me is the kind of man he'll be among other men.  You see, with Nathan and with Elias, we named the boys with a blessing, a future and a challenge in mind.  Every night, without fail, we pray that our boys would grow into their names.  That they would become men worthy of the names that we and the world call them each and every day.  

Today, as I celebrate again the birth of my first child, I also celebrate his life that is so much in front of him and remember again his name and, by God's grace, his future.

Nathan ~ named for the prophet who spoke truthfully to David.  named for the one of whom Jesus said, "in him there is no deciet".  May our Nathan likewise courageously speak truthfully and honestly to those in power.  

Santiago ~ In honor of his mother's heritage, his middle name is in Spanish.  the book of Santiago (St. James) in the Bible reminds us of what true religion is, cheifly, to care for the vulnerable.  May our Santiago, likewise be a man who cares for those who live on the margins of our world.

These were our hopes and dreams 6 years ago when Nathan Santiago joined us.  These hopes remain even today.  That he would grow into his name and the deep meaning it carries.  Well, that and be nice to his brother.  

Tuesday
Nov012011

NaBloPoMo 2011

Well, seems like I've been on a blogging hiatus for much of the past couple of months.  And NaBloPoMo may be just the thing to shake me out of the writing slump I've been in.  

 

NaBloPoMo 2011

If you're unfamiliar with NaBloPoMo, the jist is that you write one blog a day for 30 days of November.  I've taken a swing at this a few times over the past few years. Unsuccessfully mind you.  But, that's not stopping me this year.  Like the Red Shoed Rangers, I'll swing for the fences again this year.  I may come up short, but that's no reason to not swing.  So, here we go.

 

Saturday
Aug202011

When Miss Alexz came to visit

From 2002 to 2006 the Watsons were continuously surrounded by college students and various young adults of other academic persuasions.  We lived in Fresno, Ca in four-plex painted pink.  We occupied one unit and the other 3 were full of young men and women doing their darnest to learn about God and His great love for the world.  And on better days we all spent our days and lives for the well being of our downtown neighborhood.  

Time and providence has moved us along and its been 5 years since we lived there and 5 years since we invested our lives into the lives of young adults on a daily, intentional basis.

And then Alexz came to live with us.  

We met Alexz earlier this year when she was in Memphis for a spring break service project with an organization that does home repair for low income home owners in our neighborhood.  A group of these college students stopped in on the Watsons one night to hear about our time in Binghampton and because they heard we were a pretty awesome family.  At the end of the evening I mentioned to Alexz, in passing really, that if she wanted to come back and intern in Memphis, she was welcome.  2 weeks later she called and said she was coming for the summer.  

She said she wanted to learn about living and serving in an urban neighborhood.  We told her we'd do our best to make sure she learned something loosely related to that topic.  We promised to find a place for her to live, to feed her and to pay her, each day, in compliments.  

I know what Alexz did, but I'm not sure what Alexz learned.  Hopefully, it was something of value for her future, for her heart and for her spirit.  Nevertheless, I can tell you what I learned and was reminded of.  Cheifly, I was reminded that my faith and my life seem most in balance, most full and most authentic the more deeply I am living in community with others.  I still need folks in my life, that live close by, are serving and living next to me and can help me reflect well on my faith and my neighborhood.  

During her time with us, we had unexpected guests stay with us for days.  We praciticed hospitality to strangers.  During her time with us, we visited with a lot of different ministers; some of them cared about the neighborhood, some seemed to care more for the church and few cared deeply about both.  We practiced discernment.  During her time with us, we had lots of meals together where we processed the events of the day and reflected on what God was saying to us through them.  We practiced communion.  During her time here we served and lived in a beautiful but broken Memphis neighborhood as a witness to the hope that is in us.  We practiced resurrection.  

Alexz is back in Illinois now.  She starts classes this week.  And though she may be telling her classmates how she spent the summer with a crazy family that takes in traveling ex-gang members and takes left over chili to community potlucks I hope she's also telling them what she learned about how to love God and love people and live well in the city.  That's the lesson I learned from Miss Alexz.  

 

Saturday
Jun112011

The Nature of Cities and the Future of Memphis

For the last several months I've been taking an online course through Bakke Graduate University.  I'm taking the slow train towards a Doctorate in Ministry degree with this outfit, as I've mentioned before.  The course is titled, "The Nature of Cities" and we've been doing a lot of reading, writing and reflecting on the origins of cities, how they grow, where they come from and where they're going. 

For me, much of this course is viewed through the lens of cities in which I've lived and most especially through Memphis.  Below is my final post to the online forums.  I'm mostly reflecting on the future of Memphis as a global city or a city of days gone by.  If you're from Memphis or live in Memphis, you'll love the secret Memphis references.  If you're not, hopefully you'll still find a nugget to consider for your own cities.

--

"Oh Mama, Can this Really Be the End?"

Recently, Memphis Magazine won the Gold Medal for General Excellence for City and Regional magazines.  In reflecting on this award, the editor wrote, “Ours is such a weird, funky, and supremely unusual place, we have a huge advantage over just about every other city magazine in America…no one else has our kind of raw material”.

Author Mike Davis has written that Los Angeles is one of the most often destroyed cities in film and literature.  Memphis, on the other hand is the most sung about city in music.  Mentioned in nearly 1000 published songs, Memphis’ life, history and culture as the King of the Delta South; Memphis is a city celebrated.  In commenting on the South, the Delta and Memphis’ chief role in the region, Willy Bearden, chair of the University of Memphis’ Everything Southern Conference quipped, “They don’t write books about Iowa”.  The point being, so much of American culture finds its roots in the region that begins, as historian David Cohen put it, “in the lobby of the Peabody [hotel in downtown Memphis] and ends in Catfish Row in Vicksburg, Mississippi”. 

Yet, despite the city celebrated, Memphis is also a city challenged.  Though one of the top 20 largest cities in America, it is a city whose population has been in decline while crime and other social ills are on the increase.  Memphis is losing the battle of attracting talent, economic weight and the educated.  When viewed through this lens, Memphis is shaping up to be an after thought city, only referred to in sentimental songs about a day gone by. 

However, there is another way to view these changes in Memphis and its position among the cities of the world and the cities of the US.  And that is as a giver and an unlikely shaper.  I suspect that very few of us knew of Memphis’ prominence in American music.  The influence is subtle, yet profound.  I wonder how this subtle influence in American music, then gives shape to music worldwide.  Though it takes a bit to see the connections, they are there.  Similarly, with those individuals who have left Memphis for ‘greener pastures’, they carry with them this history, heritage and culture of Memphis and the Mississippi Delta.  As they go, they likewise influence (and are influenced by) their new homes and new home cities.  In this regard, Memphis is everywhere. 

There is yet, a second way to see the challenges facing Memphis and that is as opportunity.  And I want to beware of boosterism here, but I’m more thinking of Jane Jacobs’ comparison of 18th century Manchester and Birmingham.  Can 21st century Memphis become 19th century Birmingham, England?  Birmingham was the inefficient backwater of England at one time while Manchester hummed along with a prolific and efficient economy.  Yet it was Manchester’s efficiency that led to its downfall and it was precisely Birmingham’s eclectic and inefficient economic base that moved its innovations and development forward. 

Could the need for a diverse economy given the economic challenges facing Memphis be the city’s cattle prod that positions it for a 21st century resurgence?  Because Memphis cannot rest on a tech industry or tourism industry or oil industry or film industry, Memphis must have heart, be gritty and grind out the kind of inefficient economy that develops new forms of work and creates new pathways for economic growth just as Birmingham did in the most unlikely ways.  Stated differently, it is precisely Memphis’ challenges that hold the creative keys to a strong future.  Certainly the jury is out on this being the future, but the possibility is a real one. 

Given the historic (and to some degree current) situation for Memphis as an American culture influencer and the possible future of Memphis as a resurgent shaper in the US and the world, there are questions that I do believe will shape how I continue to pastor in this “weird, funky and supremely unusual place”.  Perhaps the chief question is, ‘How does the gospel get contextualized in such a way that the past is honored and the future is envisioned?”.  How do we proclaim and live out the truth claims of Christ in a place rich in artistic, cultural and musical heritage and all that that will imply in a place, while at the same time pushing for the kind of innovation needed from a people in a city that is a part of the fast moving 21st century?  My gospel proclamation must have the rhythm, feel and flavor of the Delta yet my Christian discipleship of my congregation must prepare them for global engagement and the multi-layered effects of urbanization. 

The short of it is that, as a minister in Memphis, I must know the history of my city.  I must also know the current landscape of my city set against the larger, global landscape of the world.  And I must also consider the future of my city.  To be a faithful, contextual shepherd requires it.  Memphis deserves it. 

 

Closing Note:

Professors and fellow classmates, I’ve greatly enjoyed our class these past many weeks.  I’ve not only learned from each of you, but I’ve been shaped by you.  You have challenged me, encouraged me and given me space to consider ministry in my city as we have, together, considered the city to come.  I pray for an opportunity to visit each of you in your city and commit to continue to pray for you as you lead your ministry and love your city. 

 

“Oh Mama, Can this really be the end?

To be stuck inside of Mobile, with the Memphis blues again”

-Bob Dylan

Thursday
Apr282011

Post-Easter Reflections

Easter was later this year than in years more recent.  Yet for me, it seemed to come right on time.  Had it come earlier, it would have been too early.  Had it come later, it would have come to late. 

The days leading up to the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus are dramatic.  They are filled with a roller coaster wave of emotion.  Intrigue, horror, disbelief, tragedy, celebration, sorrow and tears fill the week.  Lots of tears. 

My days leading up to this Easter were rollercoaster as well.  Absolutely not to the degree or depth of Jesus’ Easter week, but a taste.  Or better said, bitter reminders of why Good Friday was good and why the Resurrection was necessary. 

Ginger

Ginger is my aunt.  She and my Uncle Charles have been together for years now.  By any measure of love a couple has for one another, theirs was deep and honest and true and warm. 

Earlier this month, Ginger was out helping a friend who’d broken down on a rural road in Love County, Oklahoma.  She stepped out of her truck and another truck came by, hit her, killed her and sped away.  In the wake of her death, she left 2 adult children and a grieving spouse – my Uncle Charles. 

Marye

I met Marye at the Med the week before last.  For 12 years now, Marye has been working in the Med’s Adult Special Services unit.  That’s code for the HIV/AIDS unit.  Marye shared with me her amazing story of how she’s provided care to thousands of Memphians living HIV/AIDS.  She shared how she’s lost family members to the disease.  She told me of how her mother-in-law scolded her and then ostracized her when she began working with AIDS patients. 

The she introduced me to one of her patients; a woman just older than myself with two daughters.  All three of them living with HIV. 

Olga

Olga is a hero of mine.  She works hard to raise money for St. Jude and his fellow saints of ‘lost causes’.  She gave me a tour Tuesday before last.  I was blown away at the work going on in that place.  Like a citadel of hope anchored in downtown Memphis, day after day they treat the youngest among us whose bodies have turned on themselves.  Though I’m sure there are times where their work feels like one long defeat, they labor and labor looking for the right mix of medicine, care, prayer, good luck and love – hoping against hope that a child’s life doesn’t end before it has the chance to begin.  I left St. Jude proud of St. Jude and of Olga.  I left glad that there is a St. Jude and sad that we live in a world where even our bodies can be at odds with us. 

Vollentine Elementary School

One Wednesday a month I head up to Vollentine Elementary School to join the Principal, Counselor, and a small handful of teachers and parents for the monthly Site-Based Council meeting.  Vollentine is a wonderful school, but it has had its share of challenges in recent years.  Nearly 100% of the school is on free or reduced lunches, which means nearly every student is at or below the federal poverty line.  Their grades are poor.  They are an academically struggling school by most measures.  Poor neighborhood plus a poor school most times means a bad outcome for its students. 

At this meeting, the Principal – a dynamic young educator bent on turning the school around - shared that the school met its Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) goals for the year.  This is the first time in years Vollentine has met these goals marking a turning point for the school.

Jos, Nigeria

The place that Lisa, Nathan and I once called home was in the news again last week.  Following the country’s election, violence broke out.  Muslims killing Christians, tribes fighting other tribes and everyone jockeying for power.  Some of the violence took place just north of our city, Jos.  So far as we know, none of our friends have been victims, but we continue to pray. 

Dr. Prince

Dr. Prince was one of the first people we met on our very first trip to Nigeria.  He lived in the flat above us in the apartment complex we lived in in Jos.  He’s remained a dear, dear friend for years now.  He was in the US presenting at an AIDS conference in Denver and prior to returning home, he stayed with us.  We were encouraged by his visit and we talked about a wide sweep of topics – Muslim / Christian relations, HIV/AIDS work, approaches to ministry, immigration reform – but mostly we talked of God’s love and the work of God in the restoration of all things.  And we talked about how difficult it can be to live in the ‘in between’ of here and now. 

These people and places made up my Easter preparation.  These things and their juxtaposition to the highest holy day reminded me of the weight of Good Friday.  Jesus took on the weight of the world.  He took on the million ways humanity has made a mess of the world.  He took on tragic accidents and tragic diseases.  He took on broken systems and broken neighborhoods.  He took on violence and what can feel like dreams deferred.  And in return he offers life.  Life beyond bodies, lives and families destroyed by trucks, or AIDS or cancer.  Life beyond the violence of neighborhoods.  And somehow, that life is extended to us now, not just in some sweet by and by.  But rather God is active in the renewal of all things even now.  Jesus was resurrected.  Death was defeated in all of its forms.  And that defeat is being worked out in the million cracks and crevices where death finds home.  And in its place life is taking root.  Even though, like a germinating seed, it’s not always seen.  Nevertheless, its still there, waiting to burst forth like a spring flower from the soil, or like a savior from a tomb.