Tuesday, October 11, 2016

All Hands on Deck

Four years ago, I went to Ecuador and was moved by the struggle for basic needs to be met. Food. Education. Adequate housing. Effective medical care. All in scarcity.

So C3 helped plant a church where there were no churches and nearly 300 kids were sponsored from that village and given a hand up. At the time that we did this, we were only a church of about 30 people meeting in our living room.

Shaina and I sponsored one of those kids. Her name is Yelixa.

And then we took a team to Ecuador and Shaina and I met Yelixa. We saw where she lived. Met her mom. Found out she, like most of the kids in the village had no father figures in her life.

And we got to spend a day with her. And all she wanted to do was hold my hand. And that was when poverty became a person rather than a concept. Sure there was food and shelter and education and medical care. But there was also a poverty of relationship. And, even though I've never been "Warm and Fuzzy Hug Guy", I knew that the exact way to be good news to her was to give her my hand. For the entire day.

And I'm becoming increasingly convinced that people in poverty don't need a hand out, though meeting tangible needs in the moments when they arise is important. They don't even need a hand up. Though helping them break the cycle of poverty and have a shot at something better and more self-sustaining is important. It is not giving a hand out or giving a hand up that best changes the world. It's giving a hand.

Connection. To know we don't have to go it alone but that others are in it with us.

Lend a hand.

This is why 6 of us are trying to plant another church in Ecuador in an area impacted by major earthquakes and a place that doesn't have a local church. We get the church off the ground and immediately over 200 kids have the opportunity of being sponsored. They receive the helping hand to let them know they are valuable, loved, and cared for.

So we are running a half marathon this Sunday to give a hand to a village that needs Jesus people to show up in tangible ways for them.

My personal goal is to raise $15,000. I'm at $6700. I have 5 days. Because this matters, City Campus Church will match every gift given from October 11-15. Your $1 becomes $2. Let's get there together.

The opposite of scarcity is enough. Inviting you to lend a hand to change the story for a child, a village, a generation.

Give here and select Ben's run for Ecuador in the dropdown menu.

Monday, September 19, 2016

My faith, My city, and My black son.

It happened. Part of me knew it would. But part of me was optimistic that the city I call home would somehow escape it or be above it.

Tyre King, a thirteen year old young man was shot and killed by a Columbus Police Officer in an altercation this past week. That ought to be enough of a narrative to grab our attention and our hearts. But it's not.

Instead, as has been the case across the country, the reality that there is still a massive undercurrent of racial unrest has once again reared it's ugly head.

Here are the two narratives available to us.

Narrative one is that a teenager made a bad judgment, pulled a BB gun that looked eerily similar to an actual gun and the white officer had no alternative but to react on instincts and neutralize the young man who had fled the scene and then brandished a weapon when the police caught up to him. It's sad, but the kid had put himself in that position and the consequences of his actions led to his death. It's less about race and more about poor judgment, wrong place wrong time, and perhaps the parents are to blame.

Narrative two is that Tyre King is yet another black victim of a predominantly white police force...a police force that entered into a situation and rather than diffusing it, escalated it and the police officer who had shot and killed in the past reacted aggressively and with an underlying racial tension and shot the (barely) teenager excessively, (3 times, once in the head, while the young man appeared to be running away, per the independent medical examiner). This narrative admits Tyre probably shouldn't have pulled out the BB gun, but also asks, can you blame him based on all the other recent incidents between police and African-Americans? As a black person, you assume that the line of questioning and general treatment from the police will be a very different experience than a white person in the same situation.

Narrative one: Race has little to nothing to do with this. Instead its bad judgment, potentially a bad kid, and perhaps bad parenting.
Narrative two: Race has everything to do with it and the bad judgment was unloading a clip into a 13 year old.


Those two narratives are polarizing, black and white views that do nothing to foster dialogue and reconciliation. They simply perpetuate the fear and distrust.

If you identify with narrative one, you fail to hear and empathize with a very long road of brutality and hardship for an entire group of Americans. You fail to hear the outcry that the incarceration rates and the poverty rates and the violent arrest rates and the deaths by police force are crippling an entire community in our country. You miss the cyclical story of economic, social, educational, political and familial imbalance has got to be heard and rectified. If you embrace narrative one, then police are deemed heroic frontline contributors to justice and peace. And apart from a few occasional bad apples, they are a part of the solution, not a part of the problem.

If you identify with narrative two, you deem the establishment as often times equally or more oppressive than it has been in the past. Police can't be trusted. They are a major cog in the cyclical injustices that are undergirded by white privilege and other systemic horrors. And the outrage felt by folks in this narrative blinds them to the complicated role of the police. In real time, they have to try to piece together an entire story, assessing the situation and getting the lay of the land. If inquiry leads to potential suspects running from the police and then brandishing a weapon, what is the quick course of action as the adrenaline of a chase turns into an apparent threat to your own life. And if you've watched other comrades who did not react quickly by pulling the trigger and were the ones shot instead of doing the shooting, how does that factor in? What if you have a family at home? Vilifying all police seems exaggerated and unfair.

Here's my point: These two narratives are sabotaging what really must happen. If you can't at least sympathize with the notion that race and a distrust of police authority are a continuing theme in our country that has haunted generations of African-Americans, then you're obtuse. I'm a white guy who grew up in a predominantly white, rural town and now pastor a predominantly white church in Columbus. But my faith pulls me into a third narrative. One that is a tight rope between two sides that keep seeking to vilify the other side. My task as a pastor and agent of the gospel is to pull people from the alienating and polarizing ends of the spectrum into a dialogue that allows each side to HEAR. The answer lies not in the black and white but instead in the gray. Where grief and lament and the outcry of my brothers and sisters to be heard and for repeated tragedies to be examined by the masses to, at the very least evaluate how this keeps happening and why black children keep dying in escalating altercations. AND where compassion and grace be extended to the police officers involved, who in the heat of the moment had to make impossible decisions. Neither Tyre or the police officers involved are villains. The need to blame and vilify will not lead to reconciliation and trust. MY FAITH points me to the third way, which is the messiest and most complicated. It's the way of the towel, where even in the midst of denial and betrayal, we serve each other, empty ourselves and our agenda out for each other and grab a towel for each other. The third way is the only way for MY CITY to move toward redemption and forgiveness. If we don't seek to listen to hear rather than to listen to respond, we will continue the cycle of disunity and vilification. If we can't grieve and lament and support both sides we fail to be a genuine expression of Jesus who constantly pulled the people who sought to live the polarizing ways of black and white into the people of the third way.

My faith requires me to engage My city. And so does my son. A few months ago we had a two year old African-American placed with us through foster care. He quickly was moved into permanent custody of children services and is heading toward adoption to become a part of our family. And my wife and I feel the immense tension of what it will be like raising him. On a hot day this summer we busted out a bunch of water guns in the backyard with some neighbors. It was a great deal of fun and a good way to cool off. But there was a tension in us as we saw this two year old little boy having fun shooting everyone with the squirters. There is a different standard and approach to raising a black son than we have with our white daughter. In any interaction with the police, he will likely have a different experience than our daughter will have. We have a significant task before us in helping him experience and identify with his culture and heritage, but have a very real tension that there is a double standard in our parenting. There is a legitimate angst in my heart. On one hand we see the police officers in our neighborhood who take the time to stop as we are walking and interact with the kids (both kids) and flash their lights to make the kids laugh. On the other hand what happens if M is in the wrong place at the wrong time 10 years from now. Is he going to have fears and distrust because of his skin color or will he feel safe and protected?

This has rapidly gone from a national issue to being about MY FAITH, MY CITY, and MY SON. And it's about yours too. The third way of listening and lamenting and reconciling is the more complicated, more messy, more exhausting way. And it is the Gospel way. And undoubtedly the better way.

Here's to living gray.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Join Us

M has quickly gone from foster kid, to permanent custody of the state, to on a trajectory to be adopted by the end of 2016! It's been a crazy fast, uncommon experience. But he is normalizing in our family and Lord-willing is going to become a Thompson in November and have a forever family. The little lullaby I sing him when I'm putting him to bed simply says "You are loved. You are safe. And you are home." I'm praying that will continue to sink in.

As I think about our foster son and the hard road he's been on and the hard road still to come, I start to get fired up.

520,000 children in foster care nationwide.

Over 23,000 in Ohio.

The county with the most children in foster care in my state is my county, Franklin County.

Studies suggest that 1/3 of the homeless population in the country spent time in the Foster Care system.

Not only that, but 1/4 of all those incarcerated in the country spent time in the Foster Care system.

Not only that, but the case workers who are meant to be advocates for these children from vulnerable places are quitting in droves. Annually 20% of the case workers are leaving their jobs.

Now we can gripe and complain about the system...about what it keeps producing. Sometimes, I feel like that is what the church does best. Identify a problem and then yell at it or boycott it and then get louder when the problem doesn't evaporate.

The government can not fix this. Annually, we are throwing north of 5 billion dollars toward this foster care system that is clearly not solving much. That equals out to about 40,000 per kid in the foster system.

So we can shake our fists in hopes that proper legislation gets passed or we can stop waiting God or on government and own up to the fact that God is waiting on us. We pray, "God fix the system." And I'm growing increasingly convicted that God's response is, "I'm asking you to do the same thing."

I was talking with a colleague and friend today and he said the same thing I said for a long time. "We just haven't felt God's call for us to do this." My life changed because of one line in a book. It said something along the lines of "People are waiting for a neon sign for adoption and foster parenting. The Bible is your neon sign. It says to look after orphans and widows in their distress." In other words, we need to stop waiting on God to give us the green light and instead go confidently and courageously toward the things that are close to God's heart until he gives us the neon sign to stop.

You want to change the world? Reduce homelessness? Keep people from going down a road that leads to prison?

Offer the gift of stability. You don't have to have it all figured out. You just have to have a conviction that children matter deeply to the heart of God. And if that is true then they must matter deeply to His people. Foster. Adopt.

I'm not sure I can fix the system. Many who are smarter and more strategic than me have tried and failed at that. But I think I can move the needle in my city. Maybe you can help me knock Franklin County off the top of the foster care charts. I am going to lead City Campus Church toward that end.

We should be the ones singing over the scared, the lonely, the abandoned and the unwanted: You are Loved, You are Safe, You are Home.

Because we have a God who sang it over us first.

Join us. We can laugh together, cry together, support each other. It is brutally hard. Most things of value are. We are going to have a Next Steps opportunity in October. If you're wondering what options are out there, where to begin, what's the best fit, is it something you are capable of, then I encourage you to take your next step and join us in singing a better song.

Change Starts Here.