Monday, August 31, 2009

Baby Update - August 31st

So we've been home from the hospital now for nearly 24 hours, and things are going fine. It's great to have the abuelos here to help. Our friends and teammates have all been awesome, too, making sure that El Pozo doesn't missing a beat, driving people all over the place, and even cooking us a huge southern feast, which was and continues to be a crowd pleaser. Little Elsa is eating and eating and eating and eating. Each time she finishes, she'll sleep a little, then cry a little, then eat some more. So far, we are undecided on whose nose she has. She seems to have my expressive lips and Erin's head shape and eyes. Somehow she got her hair pattern from George Costanza. She's got a good bit around the sides and back, but not much up top. She has big hands and feet with long, slender digits. Not sure where that's coming from - maybe my grandfather (Pappy). Pretty much everything she does is cute at this point, but here are my top five favorite things to see/hear her do so far:
5. blow bubbles with her slobber
4. stare at me in silence
3. pass gas (and crack a smile)
2. snort while she's crying (she does this a lot.)
1. sneeze
Okay, here are some more photos as promised. I'm not even posting any of her being held by the thirty-or forty-some friends who came to visit at the hospital - how could i choose? But Erin's making a folder on her facebook for those pics.

Fresh from the oven.

Proud papa.

Meeting the abuelos for the first time. Two down, four to go!

Yeah, this is how everybody looks just after 30 hours of labor plus a c-section. Nothing to it.

Blowing some bubbles.

Elsita with her mom's baby pic.

Carter and Emerson meet Elsa for the first time. These two will show her the ropes in the coming years. They also each made a sweet card for Elsa, complete with drawings.

The happy family. Just missing Lucho (the cat).

Thanks for reading and caring and praying. Talk to you all soon, I hope.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Announcing the Birth of Elsa Lynne McDade

She’s finally here!!! ¡Por fin ha nacido! At long last, little Elsa Lynne McDade has arrived!

STATS: She was born today, August 28, 2009, in Hospital Ángeles at 3:08 AM Puebla time (4:08 AM Eastern) and weighed in at 3 kilos, 120 grams (6 pounds, 14 ounces). It was a LOOOOOOOONG process, but after 31 hours of labor and/or surgery, our long-awaited little one was born by caesarian section. You can all be really proud of Erin – she was incredible the whole time. Little Elsa is beautiful. I don’t have any more words right now. Oh and nobody had the 28th in the international office pool, so no prizes will be awarded for that!

MOM: Erin is doing great. She was totally exhausted by the time we decided to go to Plan B (the epidural and medicine to elicit more contractions) after about 29 hours of labor, but once she got it she was full of smiles and energy. And then when the baby still refused to come out as planned (apparently she had her head turned to the side in a way that about one in five hundred babies does), and we had to move on to Plan C (-section), she chatted with the anesthesiologist all throughout the operation. She’s amazing, but y’all already knew that. I’ve never been prouder of her.

NAME: A little about the name for those who are interested… We have never really agreed on a boy name, but we decided on a girl name a couple of years ago, nothing to it. In one of those date night conversations long before we were even pregnant, much less knew our first child would be a girl, we just kind of stumbled across a name that we both instantly loved.

“Elsa” works great in both English and Spanish (and, as Erin points out, even German… We have lots of German friends.), so she can cross borders without worrying about changing pronunciations and whatnot. After all, as soon as we get the paperwork done, she’ll have dual citizenship. It starts with “E”, just like her mom’s name. Elsa is also neither weird nor extremely common, which is a balance we really like in a name. And of course it’s a name shared with a very good friend of ours down here – Miss Elsa Hurtado – the first person ever baptized as a result of the ministry of El Pozo and a great young lady with many admirable qualities that we’d love for our daughter to share as she grows older.

“Lynne” is Erin’s mom’s first name and “Lynn” is my mom’s middle name. We went with Lynne with an “e” on the end so that they’d both be included. Obviously, this part of our daughter’s name pays tribute to the two amazing ladies who loved us and raised us and will now relish and certainly excel in their new roles as grandmothers. Mom and Lynne – we love you so much and are honored for our little one to carry on your name into the future. Hopefully she’ll represent you well! I’m confident that, with your help raising her, she will.

We also really like the fact that “Elsa Lynne” sounds nice and Southern. You can totally drag out that first “E” and turn “Lynne” into a two-syllable word. I know that I have mostly been referring to her using both names together like that, but you all are of course free to call her whatever you want. For example, I always giggled when Charlie called Aaron “Turnip Head” on LOST. So be as creative as you want! She can take it. (Sorry, though, Donovan – looks like we’ll have to save “Mavis” for the next one!) And this was a later development, but when we realized that her initials would be ELM, we added a special elm leaf to the tree that we painted on her bedroom wall, which is kind of a fun little extra feature, we think.

NEXT: Erin is required to spend at least two nights in the hospital. Both while here and once we’re back at home, we’re anticipating lots of visitors – students, alumni, and other friends in Puebla and Mexico City who have been eagerly anticipating the arrival of “la McBaby” – and we can’t wait for them all to meet her. Thankfully, Abuelo Kim and Abuela Lynne are here to help, as well as our wonderful teammates. We’re also eagerly anticipating visits from the other four abuelos, as well as Tio Britt and Tia Candace and possibly some other loved ones. Erin now officially begins her maternity leave, which will last the rest of this Fall semester, at which point we’ll reevaluate her role in the ministry. In the meantime she’ll be a full-time mom and continue to be an important resource, encourager, and friend for the rest of the staff. She also plans on continuing to attend our weekly staff “family time and Bible study” and doing some informal counseling and encouraging of students out of our home. Just as it has during her pregnancy, her influence on the ministry will be felt and appreciated, even as she is physically absent from la Casa Verde most of the time. I, likewise, will be taking a little time off in order to spend it with the newest member of the family and take care of the new mom. I get two weeks of paternity leave, during which I may or may not have some preaching responsibilities. And I still have to keep up with my online Hebrew class. But other than that, it’ll be all baby, all the time. I plan to help Erin as much as I can and just enjoy holding and staring at little Elsa Lynne as much as possible.

SONG: A song that has meant a great deal to us during this pregnancy is “Magnificent” by U2. It’s on their latest album, “No Line on the Horizon”, and it is simply beautiful. It’s a song of praise that takes on even more beauty and meaning when heard through the ears of a first-time parent. Thanks once again to Bono and the boys for enriching my life and growing my faith through their music. Y’all check it out.

PRAYER: We want to thank, from the bottom of our hearts, all of you who have been praying with us and for us throughout this process. We are overjoyed at the blessing and overwhelmed with the responsibility of being entrusted, for a few years anyway, with guiding this human being into adulthood. We know that it’s going to go fast. We ask for even more prayer now as we embark on the journey called parenthood. We know that we don’t know diddly squat about what we’re doing, but we give thanks for so many fine examples and resources in our life, and we rest in the confidence that if so many other people can figure it out and do a good job, well, by golly with God’s help so can we. We’re totally excited about the adventure that lies ahead and THANK GOD that each of YOU makes up part of the village that it will take to raise her up right. We welcome your advice and don’t mean for you to take it personally if we don’t always follow it. We love and appreciate all of you more than you know, and can’t wait for each of you to meet her and begin to make your unique impact on her life and her story. We dedicate, from day one, little Elsa Lynne McDade to our great and gracious God, and to His glory. May she begin even now to understand His love and to grow into a person who will love and serve Him and others with every breath and every heartbeat, every word and every deed.

We’ll keep you posted on all of the latest developments. In addition to your email, stay tuned to Erin’s Facebook and my blog ( for photos and updates and whatnot.

Okay, back to staring at the baby!

Nathan for the (now THREE!) McDades

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

En Vivo #2 – Holy Ground – Tuesday, August 25, 2009

[The main event of our week here at El Pozo is what we call El Pozo “En Vivo” (which means El Pozo “Live!”), our Tuesday night all-community Bible study. It typically comes complete with preaching, music, videos, skits, free food, the whole deal. After each En Vivo, I hope to blog briefly about the night – what we taught, how it went, etc. Enjoy.]

A year or so ago I found myself in Madison, GA, where my dad lives. I was flying solo – I can’t remember where Erin was or why she wasn’t with me. My dad was/is kind of searching – or, if we’re being honest, more like hoping one falls into his lap – for a church home, so I said Hey let’s go visit the local Christian church. So we did. Well, it was a tiny little church with some sweet people, but it was definitely not the type of environment we were looking for. It was a largely forgettable experience, but there was one thing that stuck with me. These folks had just finished building a new sanctuary, and one of the announcements in the bulletin mentioned that, before the new carpet was to be laid down, they were going to have a service in which anyone and everyone who wanted to could write prayers, Scriptures, and blessings on the floor – a kind of dedication service. Later, these words would be covered up, but the members would always know they were there, not unlike the Shema and other Scriptures in the mezuzah on the doorpost of my house. I thought this was a beautiful, creative idea and vowed then and there to do something similar if we were ever to replace the carpet in the upstairs room of the Casa Verde.

So this week, at En Vivo #2 of this semester, I finally got my chance. We went totally out of the box with the night and talked about “Holy Ground”. Here’s how the night went. (And thanks to my friend Ben for giving me the main outline for the lesson.)

We began by doing first-timers and video announcements at the beginning, rather than the end of the night. Once again – tons of new people! Two guys alone – Federico, who has been around for five years now and is loving El Pozo more than ever, and Fernando, a friend we met playing flag football who’s a moderator in the dorm next door – brought about ten new people between them. Nice job, guys! The video announcements were fun and creative, with several different interns and student leaders participating. Then we watched a cheesy clip of Moses and the burning bush in which Moses had a British accent and God sounded exactly like Obi-wan Kenobi, and from there we went right into part one of a three-part talk.

In part one of the talk, I began with a shortened version of this personal story. I started with the line “A year and a half ago, I was a very different person, a much angrier person”, and proceeded to tell about how in June of 2009, during an otherwise awesome road trip from Phoenex to Atlanta (after flying to Phoenix to buy our Jetta TDI), I got into a loud, ugly, public fight with my brother at a McDonald’s in the middle of nowhere beside the interstate. I think we were in Texas somewhere – odds are we were in Texas somewhere. As we pulled out from the gas station and crossed the road to the McDonald’s, my brother said something that set me off, and in no time I was yelling and we were in each other’s faces. It was an incredibly childish and embarrassing moment. I ended up leaving Dad and Britt at the McDonald’s and going across the street to the Sonic, where I purchased my food and ate it in the car while crying my eyes out and yelling and generally having it out with God. I was incredibly angry, once again at the point of just being DONE with my relationship with my brother, feeling that if he would never stop living in the past, then how could there be a future? I was seriously thinking about leaving him in Texas and letting him find his own way home. (Thank God Dad was there, too.) I was also sad. How could we be such good friends one minute and then be so hateful toward each other the next? Why couldn’t we just be friends and get over the fighting? But more than anything I was ashamed and embarrassed – I mean we hadn’t fought like that in a very long time, and suddenly here we were screaming at each other in a public place like we were 11 and 9 years old, not 28 and 26. What the heck? And though Britt was not blameless, I was the one who had escalated things. So I sat there in my car and asked God, “WHERE DID THIS COME FROM???” And I mad a very important discovery. I realized that I was a very angry person. I realized that there was still some large part of me, though buried and well-hidden, that was extremely, extremely ANGRY. And I decided then and there that that part of me had to die. I made an important shift from working to manage and minimize and grow out of my anger to deciding to KILL IT. And the timing of this decision was significant because the day after we got back to Atlanta, where I hugged and dropped off my dad and brother, Erin and I left on our two-week pilgrimage to “the Holy Land”…

“What is ‘holy land’?” That was the question of the night. And so at this point I shared with the students some photos of the most memorable places we visited during our pilgrimage. I showed them the 2,000-year-old toilet in the Roman mansion at Zippori, which is the city closest to Nazareth where Jesus and Joseph would have hawked their wares as carpenters. I showed them photos from Bethlehem, where I touched the stone at the traditional birth site of Jesus and stood next to the three-foot-high door to the church which was lowered during the Crusades to keep horses and camels outside. I showed them a photo of some of us inside a cistern at Caiaphas’s house, which is where Jesus passed the night as a prisoner after being arrested at Gethsemane. I showed them the very moving sculpture of Peter’s denial of Christ there in Caiaphas’s courtyard with Gethsemane in the background. And I showed them photos from Peter’s house at Capernaum, site of one of my favorite Bible stories (lowering of sick friend through the roof) and site of probably my single favorite moment of our two weeks in Israel. And then I ended this first part of our talk with some photos from the place that, when we first went there, felt like the LEAST-holy ground of all – the tourist trap at the so-called Jordan River. Let me explain…

First of all, the actual part of the Jordan River where Jesus was baptized is in an Israeli military zone, so you can only get there from the Jordan side. So what they’ve done in Israel is just at the south end of the Sea of Galilee, close to all of the hotels in Tiberius, they’ve diverted the river and create a tourist trap. It’s not even a part of the river – I guess the water came from the river at some point, but it’s just a stagnant offshoot now – and there’s a massive gift shop and a burger joint. Also, when we were there we heard about people getting typhus from the water recently. Anyway, it didn’t feel “holy”, that’s for sure. But of course we were aware of the whole purpose of the pilgrimage – not just to go to those sites but ultimately to connect with the story – so that’s what we focused on doing. Most of us stuck our feet in the water, read the Scripture (which, and this was the coolest thing by far about this place, was written on the wall in what seemed like every language known to man), took a couple of photos, and headed back to the bus. Again, of all of the places we’d been, this one felt by far the least like “holy ground”.

Back to En Vivo #2… At this point in the evening, I asked everyone to grab some of the carpet (which had been previously cut up into pieces) and head downstairs and out back to our covered area. There we gathered in a circle and listened as Bego, one of our awesome student leaders, gave part two of the talk. She basically told the story of how she came to El Pozo, which goes something like this: Before coming to college, Bego had been praying and praying for God to provide a campus ministry or a church – some place where she could make real friends and grow in her faith. Upon arriving at UDLA, Bego was assigned a room in the José Gáos dormitory, and her room just happened to be on the east side of the building, overlooking – you guessed it – the Casa Verde. She began to notice the music and fun and people gathering down there, and one Tuesday she decided to come and see what was going on. She showed up at En Vivo and met several of us. (I vividly remember the first time Bego arrived, mainly because she has a really cool and unique voice.) After Bible study, even though she was still having fun, she decided to leave. But as soon as she left, she questioned why she had done so, and decided that she wanted to return. But she was embarrassed, so she invented a story about losing one of her earrings, took one off and put it in her purse, and came back under the pretext of looking for her missing earring. Several of us looked and looked, to no avail, but Bego was so sweet about it. No worries, it’s not that important. A few months later she confessed to the whole earring thing, but we took it as a compliment. Anyway, so Bego told everyone that story, and then went on to talk more about how she has grown as a person and as a believer through her involvement with El Pozo. She encouraged her fellow students to get involved because they are truly loved here, and to trust that God will be faithful to respond to our prayers. It was a really great moment for us to have our students hear a testimony of faith from one of their own.

After Bego finished, Mario (one of our three interns) read the Scripture from Exodus 3 in which God tells Moses from the burning bush to take off his sandals because he’s standing on holy ground. Mario then invited everyone to head back upstairs and, as a way of further participating in the story and remembering the lesson about holy ground, to take off their shoes before entering the upstairs room. We then all headed back upstairs where lots of Sharpie markers and papers with prayers, Scriptures, and quotes were spread throughout the room. At this point I launched into part three of the talk.

I talked about two friends we made during our week in Galilee, two employees of the hotel where we stayed. One was a young lady named Sivan, Jew by culture but not really practicing, a beautiful girl who had finished her requisite two years of army service and was now ready to travel and continue her studies. She worked at the snack bar and in the restaurant, and we chatted with her each day. The other was Ehab, the lifeguard at the pool, an Arab Muslim in his early thirties with a wife and two kids. We talked a lot, too, during the afternoons spent around the pool after mornings spent touring the holy sites.

As our last night in Galilee approached, we decided to go out. Ehab made the plan, Sivan was in, and our fellow pilgrims Ben and Karla signed on, too. The time came and we hopped into Ehab’s car, and he headed out toward what he promised was the coolest bar / night club around. After about 15 minutes, we pulled up to the place, and guess where we were? The Jordan River tourist trap! Turns out that the burger joint by day was a restaurant and bar by night, and the place was jumping. There was a birthday celebration for an older gentleman going on just inside, complete with lots of singing and laughter and loud storytelling. Sivan met us there, and we grabbed a table for six, where our friends ordered for us “limonanas”, which are like lemonade slushies with mint and the option of coconut, one of the tastiest drinks I’ve ever imbibed. Our table was outside on the patio next to that same stagnant water, and the grin on Ben’s face helped me to recognize the humor and irony and power of the moment. For what was happening there that night – a Jew, and Arab, and four Christians – four people from the other side of the world and two people from warring ethnic and religious backgrounds who, without those four pilgrims, would never have been sitting at a table together in public, even though they were friends by day in the safe confines of the Scots Hotel – was nothing short of a HOLY moment. We laughed, talked, told stories, got to know each other better, and generally celebrated the friendship that had grown during those few short days, knowing that our paths may never cross again. Eventually we headed back to the hotel, where we said emotional goodbyes to Ehab, a scene which would be repeated with Sivan at breakfast the next morning.

Wouldn’t you know it – the place that seemed the least holy turned out to be, in a significant way, the most holy ground of all. And this was the lesson for our students. What is holy ground? It is anywhere where God and people come together. Matthew 18:20 reminds us of God's promise to be there with us whenever two or more are gathered in His name. Mount Sinai is in the middle of nowhere. Moses took off his sandals because he was meeting God in that place. I am, and it’s hard to explain, most definitely and mysteriously a different person than I was before that pilgrimage. The angry part of me died – or, better yet, was crucified. How? Why? Because I walked where Jesus walked or went to Jerusalem or floated in the Dead Sea? No, because I communed with God. Holy ground can be anywhere. It's all about the presence of God.

I ended with two thoughts. One, I showed my favorite photo from the entire two-and-a-half week Holy Land pilgrimage – a group photo of all 30 of us, taken in Atlanta before we even left. It’s my favorite photo because more important to me than any of the places to which I went are the people I went with. Erin and I developed a special bond with our fellow pilgrims that is impossible to explain, and they are now counted among our dearest friends, family, really. They are more special to me than I know how to express. The ground we trod together was holy because we met God, and because we did it together. And two, I mentioned the Celtic Christians’ idea of “thin places”, places where the veil is lifted and it seems like heaven and earth are just a little bit closer than usual. And I expressed my great desire for the Casa Verde to be that kind of place.

After that, in an award-worthy example of deciding it better to ask for forgiveness than for permission from our landlords, we turned on some praise music and spent about a half an hour drawing and writing on the floor, all 70 or 80 of us (I haven’t heard the official head count). Some of the first-timers chose not to participate, but they weren’t uncomfortable or upset – they just hung out in the back and watched and chatted with different friends and staff members. The words that our students and friends wrote were beautiful, and we’re leaving the floor exposed so that more “holy graffiti” can happen between now and the installation of the new carpet early next week. Perhaps later I will post some photos and quotes (and I imagine they can already be found on El Pozo’s facebook page). Then we wrapped it up with one praise song and a prayer of dedication. Then it was on to eating together and laughing and the usual after-En Vivo madness – the beautiful chaos of a house full of energetic young people.

A great night, to be sure. It was different and fun and organic and Spirit-led. And the Casa Verde was, and with God’s help and our best efforts will continue to be … holy ground.

Monday, August 24, 2009

En Vivo #1 – Love Squared – Tuesday, August 18, 2009

[The main event of our week here at El Pozo is what we call El Pozo “En Vivo” (which means El Pozo “Live!”), our Tuesday night all-community Bible study. It typically comes complete with preaching, music, videos, skits, free food, the whole deal. After each En Vivo, I hope to blog briefly about the night – what we taught, how it went, etc.]

Our first En Vivo of the semester was an interesting night…

The teaching theme was “Love Squared”, and so in lieu of a skit, we ran up to the talk with a simple math quiz competition … or so I thought. I pulled up one guy and one girl to compete in answering some basic math questions that I found on the Internet. I had six questions prepared, and I asked them one at a time. First one to turn in the correct answer got the point. If he/she was wrong, the other person got 30 seconds to try to come up with the correct answer. Let’s just say that this event went over like a lead balloon. It seemed like everyone BUT the two people up front knew all of the answers. For example: “Karen and Steph are playing a game. They both start on the first space. Karen moves forward six spaces. Steph moves forward four spaces. Karen then draws a card that forces her to move back three spaces. How many spaces apart are they?” This is easy – the answer is one. But neither person got it right! I guess I forgot to factor in the enormous pressure from the fact that lollipops for the entire winning gender were on the line. The competition, after six questions, ended in a 1-1 tie. I declared everyone losers, thanked the two brave souls who volunteered, and we moved on quickly to the talk.

Love Squared was meant to be a vision-casting talk for the semester and the entire academic year. The basic lesson of the night was that overriding purpose behind EVERYTHING we do at El Pozo can be summed up in “the greatest commandment” (and with it the second greatest commandment) of Jesus, found in Mark 12 and Matthew 22: “The most important [commandment],” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” I told a very brief version of the overarching biblical narrative (which we rarely get the chance to do and about which many students are surprisingly ignorant), pausing two times to talk in more detail about the Ten Commandments, and later the greatest commandment of Jesus. I pointed out something that has really helped me to remember, understand, and apply the Ten Commandments to my own life – that they can be organized in two groups. One through four are the “vertical” commandments, relating to our relationship with God. Five through ten are the “horizontal” commandments, relating to our relationships to each other. (Side note - author Rob Bell points out that #5 can actually be included in either group...) So the Y-axis and X-axis on the big white dry erase board helped them to understand the concept of love squared. Then we moved on through the narrative and came to Jesus’ words, in which he challenged all of the religious folks who had fallen in love with rules and regulations but were missing the point to just LOVE GOD and LOVE PEOPLE. We talked briefly about what those mean – for example, Q: Who is my neighbor? A: Everybody! Or, whoever is in my path. – but mostly just stuck to the basics. That was the whole point. It all boils down to loving God and loving others. Then we ended with some words from 1 John (4:7-12, 19-21) and the image of the cross being drawn over top of the X- and Y-axes on the board, a reminder that for the ultimate sign of love, and the ultimate example of how to love God and love other people, one need look no further than the cross of Christ.

We had two “take-homes” for the night (other than the vertical and horizontal axes morphing into the two beams of the cross). The first was pushing the free Bibles that we always have available, along with chronological reading plans and small group sign-ups. We strongly encouraged folks to take a Bible, to actually read it, and, even better, to read it with a small group of friends with which they could discuss their questions and lessons learned. Our second take-home was the image of two hands (one vertical, one horizontal) making a “time out” signal. I quoted my high school basketball coach’s frequent words – “Keep it simple, son!”, and told about how, during the many times in my life when I’ve been confused, overwhelmed, or unsure of what to do, I have gone back to the basics. In those moments, I have learned to basically say to myself “OK, Nathan, just love God and love people. Forget everything else, and just do that.” Taking that spiritual time out has always helped me to refocus and remember my true priorities, and things get better from there.

Overall, it was a great night. We had several things go wrong – microphone failure, temporary projector outage, broken bass string, etc. – which I chalk up to some combination of first week rustiness and straight-up spiritual warfare, but at the end of the day, God’s word was spoken and heard and lived out. And we had a lot of new folks (15 or 20 first-timers!) who seemed to really enjoy themselves. (Side note, our team can tend to focus on the negative sometimes, so in our staff meeting on Wednesday, we started out by naming fifty things we were thankful for from Tuesday night before even beginning to get into what went wrong / needed to change / could be done better next time.)

So, in summary, En Vivo #1 brought with it many great moments, such as: the appearance of a guy named Ramón who we haven’t seen in a year or so (and he brought a friend); the fact that our buddy Viri FINALLY doesn’t have class on Tuesday nights; the great attitudes of the staff as they rolled with technical difficulties and stayed positive; the passion of the guys in the band to really step it up this semester; the buena onda (great vibe) afterward when everyone was sitting around and eating and laughing together; the girl who we spotted singing the praise songs for the first time; the homosexual guy who showed up because he was pleasantly surprised when he found out that one of our exchange students was a Christian and she still wanted to be his friend; Federico, who has been around for five years and always brings a bunch of friends; the way the grass/driveway project from last summer is holding up nicely; students like Yuyo who continue to grow and can always be counted on; intern Abril’s awesome energy and positive attitude; and much more. But I have to say that my favorite moment on Tuesday night was the excitement of Ireri (second-year student) over being invited to be a part of our leadership group. She said “This is what I’ve been waiting a year for!” and that she considers it an honor – which is exactly how we want them to feel about that!

En Vivo #2, coming up soon. Topic: “Holy Ground”. Thanks in advance for the prayers!

Oh and I’ll end with a few quotes related to the talk that you guys might enjoy:

“Loving God and loving one’s neighbor are really the same thing.” – Brother Lawrence

“All we really need to survive is one person who truly loves us.” – Penny to Desmond at the end of Season Two of LOST (and we all have this, thanks to Jesus!)

“You only have to have two loves in your life – for God, and for the person in front of you at any particular time.” – pastor Eloy Cruz

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Thoughts After Finding LOST

I’ll begin by acknowledging that I’m arriving very, very late, yet I’m thankful to still find space for me on the LOST bandwagon. For five years or so, Erin and I have been holding out on viewing what has arguably been the most popular TV show of the decade. We really like to view series from the beginning and in chronological order (which is now incredibly easy thanks to the Internet and DVDs), so for five years now, every time my channel surfing has landed me on an episode of LOST, I have moved on after no more than a scene or two. I wanted to start at the beginning, which, about two weeks ago, we finally did. With the final season coming up in a few short months, and with Erin on semi-bed-rest the past few weeks, we seized the opportunity to finally see what all of the fuss has been about. We have plowed through seasons one and two in a very short time, and I’m not afraid to say that we are both totally hooked. Addicted. Engrossed. They’ve got us. We are loving it. This is an impressive show, and I thought I’d share a little about why I’m so enamored with it with my vast following of readers. I hope you both enjoy it…

First of all, it’s just incredibly well done. The writing, acting, scenery, music, production – all of it is top-notch. The characters are compelling. There is a great mix of drama, mystery, and comedy. And the plot zooms along, twisting and turning like your favorite roller coaster, with perfect timing. Just enough is revealed to keep the viewer (or at least to keep this viewer) informed enough to stay with the story but curious enough about what’s still unrevealed to remain on tenterhooks for the next scene, episode, or season. You should see how fast I hit the [>>] button on my DVD remote control at the end of each episode, ready to keep watching and see what happens next.

LOST is also very relevant. It engages my heart, my brain, and even my spirit. In my opinion, LOST is at worst extremely thought-provoking and at best deeply insightful about dozens of important topics, including leadership, community, parenthood, identity, the idea of “home”, marriage, different personality types, commitment, fear, courage, spirituality, faith, science, technology, emotional intelligence, strength, weakness, mystery, sin, redemption, forgiveness, humor, mourning, purpose, … and the list goes on. LOST seems to speak directly and deeply to many of the core issues of our lives, something which few, if any, TV shows I’ve ever seen are able to do in such a wide-ranging and consistent manner. I, like everyone else, am often left wondering exactly what the creators of this show are trying to say – but no matter what happens in the final season or what the creators personally believe, I’m here to tell you that after watching the first two seasons I have found a great deal of overlap between my Christian faith and the statements made and lessons taught by this show.

I have also thoroughly enjoyed the interplay that, though involving many characters, has primarily taken place between the two natural leaders of the group – Jack and Locke. The show is overt about the fact that these two guys represent science and faith, respectively. I love how Locke has a faith that is based on real evidence and experiences, yet just like in real life, it’s impossible to explain it to others or convince them of the truth of what he has come to understand. I also like that Locke's faith comes with doubt. In one powerful scene, Locke asks Jack why he finds it so hard to believe in the unseen, and Jack responds by asking Locke why he finds it so easy, to which Lock replies "I has never been easy!" As for Jack, I like how he is a man of science who does so much good for so many with his skills and talents, yet he’s also forced to acknowledge that there are some things going on on the island that simply don’t fit inside his rational, fact-based paradigm. Jack, for all of his rationality and pragmatism, has a spiritual side that he can't deny. And I love how it is in everyone’s best interest for the two of them to find ways to get along and work together. It’s a beautiful metaphor for a wonderful truth, embodied by two imperfect but lovable characters.

Speaking of imperfect but lovable characters – that brings me around to my #1 favorite thing about LOST: the people. They are so real. They are so well-conceived. The cast of characters is incredibly diverse and infinitely interesting, and it is impossible to pigeon-hole or categorize any of them simply as “good guys” and “bad guys”. Each one of them is flawed but beautiful. Each one of them is extremely complex. Each one of them is at the same time good and bad, godly and sinful. Each one of them is at times victorious and transcendent and heroic, and at other times selfish and evil and totally disappointing. In other words, each one of them is very much like a real person. I enjoy nearly all of the characters and seem to identify with each of them at least a little because they are so very human, they are so much like the people I know in real life!!! They remind me of a quote by Blaise Pascal that I recently read (in Rob Bell’s excellent book “Sex God”):

“Man is neither angel nor beast.”

I have thought about it and read about it and discussed it, and I just can’t get on board with John Calvin’s idea of mankind’s “total depravity”. I mean, yes, we are depraved. Of course we are. I don’t know anyone who can honestly look at the world around us – or take an honest look in the mirror – and not conclude that something is terribly wrong. Mankind is obviously “fallen”, sinful, often downright evil. I like how John Ortberg said it: “The natural tendency of my mind apart from God is toward death, not life.” But that’s not the whole story. The doctrine of total depravity goes too far. It ignores the other side of the coin, the side that reminds us that we are also created in the image of God. What of all of the undeniable beauty in this world, and in the individuals who comprise it? Yes, we are sinners – but we are also God’s image bearers, the height of his creation. In His omniscience, even knowing that we’d choose to go our own way and reject Him and break His heart, God still chose to create us, to love us, and to save us. Why would he do that? Because we’re worth it. Because people are His greatest treasure. Because as far as we may go down the road of sin and depravity, we are always one step of repentance away from being right back in the good graces of our Father, forgiven and ready for a second (or 490th) chance to do things the right way.

Again, this is what I have loved most about LOST. In each character there is something of the beauty and glory of “God’s workmanship” – an absolutely unique work of art by the Creator – living side-by-side with the sinful nature that goes its own way and wreaks all kinds of havoc along the way. One episode we find ourselves wanting to hate one of the characters, disgusted by his or her actions, only to find our feelings changed completely when we learn a little bit more of his or her experience, reasoning, and character – his or her STORY – and when we see him or her come through in the clutch. And so it goes until we conclude that each of these people is going to fail and fall sometimes, while other times they will be heroes. And we understand that they are like we are, and so our hearts break for them and we cheer them on and hope for the best, even as we prepare for the worst. It has been a great reminder for me, because while I find it easy to love and wish the best for Charlie and Hurley and Sayid and Kate and the rest in spite of their sins and struggles, I’m often not so good at doing the same for REAL PEOPLE in my life. Watching LOST has helped me to desire to be a better Christian by reminding me that, as Philo of Alexandria said, “Every man is facing a great battle” and that, as C.S. Lewis said, “You have never met a mere mortal.”

There is a constant tension among the castaways on that mysterious island between civilization and wildness, between building something together and just, going, as Sawyer says, all “Lord of the Flies”. And although we see plenty of vengeance and violence and other ugly things, there is a lot of beauty and love and grace to be found there as well. As the makers of LOST brilliantly contrast the good and evil, the angelic and the animal, joining in the story as a viewer ultimately more than anything else causes me to desire more of those good and pure and godly things – qualities that we all have within us when we die to ourselves and allow Christ to live within us – in my own life.

God looked upon His creation and pronounced it “good”.
People are worth it.
Jesus died for ALL of us.
“Man is neither angel nor beast.”
There are no "mere mortals"...

I once was lost, but now am found
Was blind, but now I see…

It’s never too late to be found by our loving God who, as Scripture teaches, is constantly searching the whole earth to find even one who will follow Him whole-heartedly.

My prayer is that, even after LOST is long-gone as a popular TV show, we will all continue to recognize and celebrate the divine spark in each and every person, the work of the Creator who both loves us exactly as we are and loves us too much to allow us to stay that way!