Tuesday, November 29, 2016

A Letter to My Son

Marquis Benjamin Thompson,

Hey bud, I just put you down to sleep after a really big day. As I've done most every night since you've been in our home I told you I'm glad you are my son. I'm glad I'm your daddy and I'm glad you're part of the family. Today we adopted you. November 29, 2016 will always be remembered as your GOTCHA Day. The day you went from a ward of the county, in the custody of the government, into our home and family. For. Good.

I wanted you to know a few things.

First, your name. Your name is oh so important. Marquis is your birth name. It was given to you by your mama who loved you first. We don't know much about her but maybe we can explore that together down the road. Your name means 'from the border' or 'from the edges'.

Your mama who loves you now and I wanted to honor where you've been and where you've come from, so we didn't want to change your first name. But we also wanted to import some meaning and destiny to your story, so we changed your middle name to Benjamin. That's your daddy's name of course, which hopefully you will be proud to share with me. But Benjamin also is important because it means "son" or "son of the right hand of God".

Before you were born, I lost both my mommy and daddy. It was very hard for me to lose them so young and it left me feeling like I had to prove myself and make a way on my own. But, something happened. The hustle and frantic pace...the drivenness and intense ambition...the desire to achieve and have an impact was stealing my joy. My identity was tied to what I did rather than who I was. But God came in.

And the words he spoke to Jesus at his baptism, He spoke to me as well.

You are my son. Whom I love. With whom I am well pleased.

Jesus had done nothing yet to earn this or achieve this. No miracles. No sermons. No disciples. He had God's approval apart from those things.

So do I.

So do you.

It was in that moment that God gave me my name back. Benjamin. A son. Not an orphaned son who lost his mom and dad. But a son of a Father whose love is fierce and whose grace is intoxicating. We long for this to be your story too.

So your name is your destiny.

From the edges, a Son.

Marquis Benjamin Thompson

Second, your family. Marquis, this is so huge! You have to know that on your Gotcha day, we had hundreds of people rooting for us, sending notes of encouragement to us, praying for us. When the lawyer asked us why you being adopted by us was in your best interest, we told them we would love you and provide a steady and stable place for you. But more than that I bragged about the village that will raise you...that is already raising you. The aunts and uncles. Your nana and papa. Your cousins. And your church. The 12 households who have begun exploring next steps of foster care and adoption. The college students. So many who love you and are for you. Watch them son. Not everyone has a village like this. Watch how they love you and each other. Watch how they serve the city together. There is nothing like it. Your family is way more than the people that live in your home. It's the village of world changers, peace makers, life givers and joy bringers that are your family. It is the greatest gift we give you.

Third, you will know some day a couple things that you don't know or seem to notice now. One of those things is that you have brown skin and your mom and dad and sister don't. No worries about that. We are just melanin deficient. We will do our best to help you know your cultural heritage to have friends with all sorts of backgrounds and melanin levels. You will find quickly that how you're designed to move to music is very different than how I'm designed to move to music. You will be embarrassed by this. Your mom is all the time. I apologize.

You will also know pretty quickly that I don't know what I'm doing as a dad. There will be some things that I'm good at. I tell pretty good stories. I tickle and chase with the best of them. I may even be able to get you to a 3rd grade level of athletic ability and math skills. But I won't know how to teach you to shave with a razor or work on cars or fix a computer or build or fix virtually anything around the house. I didn't learn a lot of these things from my dad and I regret never asking. Maybe we can learn together. But I WILL teach you to pray. I will model for you how to love, serve and lead a family. I will teach you how to dominate Scrabble. I'll teach you how to dream and to work hard but also instill in you that your identity is not tied to those things.

I love you son. You need to know that. You are loved. You are safe. And as of today, you are home. For. Good.

From the edges, a Son.
It doesn't get much better than that.

Love always in all ways,


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.