Archive for February, 2011

Feb 25 2011

Alf Was Never My Target

Published by under Alf,Life

Do you know the #1 way people get to my blog? Alf. Yes. Alf. It was 539 days ago. On September 4, 2009, in a momentary, monumental lapse of judgment, I blogged about Alf. I wrote, “Listen, blog friends…If you’re self-conscious like me, cheer up! At least we’re better looking than Alf.”

Power Up
Every day I take 4 supplements. One of them promises to increase ability in lifting small cars and semi-heavy objects (the packaging is careful to note this does not mean semi trucks, but semi-heavy objects – where “partially” is a synonym for “semi”). According to statistics I keep (I don’t), about 40% of the time, I choke on one of the pills (it’s my Vitamin D pill, not the semi-heavy object pill. That’s called Vitamin BA). The Vitamin D pill is about the size of a personal pan pizza (the medium-sized ones). I sound like a cat coughing up a fur ball. Every time it happens, I think of Home Alone – the scene where Kevin comes into the kitchen and asks if anyone ordered a plain cheese pizza. His brother, Buzz, answers, “Oh yeah, we did. But if you want any, somebody’s gonna have to barf it all up. Cuz it’s gone.” Perfect. Now you’re grossed out and the #2 traffic driver to my blog will be Home Alone.

Rehab The Album
This morning I read an article about outstanding rapper Lecrae. He’s a card-carrying member in the Disciples of Jesus Club (he’s a Christian). His newest album, Rehab, which came out in September 2010, had a stint in the iTunes Top 10 Hip-Hop/Rap Album chart (it’s currently #33). It was easily my favorite rap album last year (and I listen to a lot of rap). The secular interviewer in this article asked Lecrae about his music and he said a cool thing. Speaking on how normal Jesus is, Lecrae said, “Everything on the radio is religious, whether they’re preaching the gospel of money, sex or weed, you know you’re still saying this will satisfy you. All we’re saying is we found a different source of satisfaction.” Lecrae goes on to say he wants people to hear his MUSIC first and then listen to the message/lyrics. He’s saying something subtle but important.

Rehab The Approach
1 Corinthians 1:18 says “the message of the cross” is foolishness to some and the power of God to others. People choke on the gospel. They choke on things that are good for them. I do in real life and in my spiritual life. Lecrae is trying to meet people in their own religion – music. With sick beats and sick lyrics/flow, he’s showing people the kingdom is enormous and beautiful – things they’d otherwise be cynical about or opposed to. What he says makes sense! How crazy would it be if God created us and said, “I’ve made you to get high, get laid, and get paid.” Put like that, most all humans would admit it’s not true. But people still resist. Some think Lecrae is a clown. Most don’t.

Rehab My Approach
One of the great battles many Jesus followers have today is the desire to make Jesus cool. We don’t want to seem like freaks or freak people out. Lecrae’s music and life are teaching me something.

Alf was never my target but that doesn’t mean I should stop writing. Some people (like you) are interested in my non-Alf posts (technically, though, this qualifies as an Alf post). Some people will never think Jesus is cool. Cool. We should labor to make Him look as cool as He is anyway. And to speak it out loud. Like Lecrae. Like the apostles in Acts. To some, the message of the cross is the power of God. They just need to hear someone speak (or rap) it.

 

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Feb 24 2011

India: Part 3 – Good Morning, Kolkata!

Published by under India

A couple years ago I was talking with my college buddy, Hoops, about our time in school. We were telling all kinds of stories about funny things we’d done. And it made me miss being in college. I said to him, “Dude, I regret my college days. I wish I’d done more.” My laughter turned to introspection turned to sadness. He replied with an insightful nugget. He said, “Bro, you don’t regret anything. You just miss it and wish your life could be like that now.” He was right.

Then and Now
In writing about the trip, I’ve felt a discontinuity in my thoughts but couldn’t figure it out. This morning it hit me. I’m documenting what WAS as I try to process what IS. It’s the difference between making observations about a day (the temperature, cloud cover, your mood) and explaining WHY the weather or your mood was a certain way. It’s facts vs. analysis.

Facts are usually simple. They’re single pieces of information. A travelogue is relatively simple. You make factual observations about the places you went, the people you saw, and the things you did. It’s not particularly difficult – although there’s great skill involved in good observation. On the other hand, analysis is complex. It takes into account facts but includes feelings, ideas, previous experiences. Facts stand alone. Analysis uses facts as only one small part of its fuel. If we do analysis with only facts we won’t get anywhere. It’s like a motor having gasoline but no air. It won’t go anywhere. That’s a bummer of a situation.

Now and Then
As we reflect on days gone by, we see facts – events, people, places. We remember what it was like and how we felt. Because they’re in the past, we think those times are gone. And that can make us sad. It can make us regretful of not doing more. It can make us resentful of our present because we’re not experiencing the same things we did back then. But my buddy Hoops was right. We just miss it and wish our lives could be like that now. But they can’t. At the moment. So how do we move forward? I have only one thought today. Merge.

Merging
I’m now aware of a new place and new people. It’s like I was traveling along my life path and a new road called Kolkata showed up on my radar. For a period of time, when I was in India, my life path traveled on top of this new road. Now that I’m home, it doesn’t. They’re separate ways. Instead of only observing and lamenting, it’s time for some plotting. How can my path merge closer into the Indian road? It might not mean moving there. It might mean helping them financially. Here, too, we can become discouraged. We don’t have tons of money. I’m not a millionaire. But that’s not the point. Paul taught the Corinthians something simple. “[I]f the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have” (2 Corinthians 8:12). Paul (and God) love that regular people partnered with him. My Indian friends doing God’s work there love it, too! There are kids in India who need to eat and learn – their times tables and about Jesus. My few dollars contributes to that!

As a final note today, I want to be honest…I don’t fully believe everything I’ve written here. In my head, I think I’m right. But in my heart, I’m still a little sad (though I can’t totally explain why). I’m remembering Proverbs 25:2. “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings.” The searching goes on – for ways to merge my life and how to understand all I’ve seen.

Now for the facts…Today I present our second day of travel to Kolkata. It was the last day I felt like a Westerner.

The Day
Kolkata sits in East India in the state of West Bengal. Population of the metropolitan Kolkata area during the last census was 15.1 million people. It’s a big city!

One thing about international flights is that you have a TV screen on the back of the seat in front of you. It’s cool! You can watch movies, listen to music, and see the Flight Map of the trip. Here are some images of what that looked like on our trip from Newark to Frankfurt. Note that the first picture even shows where it’s nighttime (dark shaded area) in the world and where’s it’s daytime.

That morning, the sunrise somewhere over the Atlantic was great!

As we got into Frankfurt, it was apparent to me (from the air anyway) that I was on a different continent. I’m not sure why I felt that way, but I did.

As we waited to de-plane, I saw the transport bus and immediately became a 5-year old again. Check out marquee on the bus.

I didn’t take photos of it, but as we exited the plane, there were about 5 German police officers standing on the de-planing ladder. I asked Pete if that was normal for an international flight and he said no. As we boarded the bus that took us to the terminal, we saw a woman from our flight being put into a police van on the tarmac. Sorry, Charlie!

Speaking of Charlie, who doesn’t love a plane with the Peanuts painted on it!?!?!?

The Frankfurt Airport. One interesting thing about airports in other countries is that in order to enter the gate area, you have to show your boarding pass and passport. I lost count of the number of times I had to show those things. By about the 4th check, I decided to find a permanent spot in my bag to store them so that I could unthinkingly pull them from that place whenever I needed it.

Yawny yawny, Bratcher!

 

McCants listening to obscure music. Seth...Hipster rocking in Germany!

We again went outside to board our plane to Kolkata. The plane from Newark to Frankfurt was a Continental 777 that was equipped with power outlets and coach seats with fairly luxurious leg room. Even better, our flight was only half full so people were laying out across the entire middle section of the plane to sleep. I decided not to do that because I saw this video one time of a school bus that hits a huge bump and sends the kids flying into the ceiling of the bus. I couldn’t shake that image of me getting pancaked to the ceiling in the middle of a freak turbulence acceident so I kept my seatbelt on.

BUT…this Lufthansa flight we took from Frankfurt to Kolkata was a bit more normal. To start, it was a full flight. To end, it was an Airbus A330 without electrical outlets. Boo hiss! Eight hours without power. I had work I needed to get done, so that was a bummer. If you’re depending on power on the plane, be sure to check beforehand if the plane has it! Or charge your battery on the previous flight that has them (I’m dumb!).

I told Pete to wave goodbye to Frankfurt. I didn’t have the heart to remind him that waving like this has  meaning in Germany.

These longhaul flights include a full meal. It’s not J. Alexander’s. It’s not even particularly tasty. It’s almost like it’s something to do. “I’m on this 8 hour flight. What am I gonna do? I guess I’ll eat.”

Check out the REAL silverware spork!

So after 8 hours, we arrived in Kolkata. About 5 minutes before landing, the plane started to smell a little weird. Pete leaned over and said, “That’s India. That’s the smell of India.” It didn’t smell BAD. It just smelled different. Like in the family of chlorine – in that it was a very distinctive smell. But about 15 minutes after landing, I didn’t notice it anymore. We de-planed and were greeted by a bus from circa 1960. I didn’t question getting on the bus, but it turns out it drove about 100 yards from the plane to the terminal entrance. Kind of funny. This was the last time we’d be surrounded by any white people for the next 8 days.

Once inside, we went to customs. They give you a form to fill out on the plane in order to declare anything of value you’re bringing into the country. You fill out your name, passport number, and where you’re staying while in India. As a note…keep your place of stay and its phone number somewhere on you so that you can fill it in on this form. It’s required. Basically, you just stand in line. When it’s your turn, you hand them the form and your passport. They look at it and then stamp things in 15 places and send you through to collect your bags. They’ll give you something like a receipt. Keep that on you. Some customs officers will check it after you collect your bags, as you leave the terminal to go outside. It was about 1:30am by the time we got everything together.

That's our bus in the background. We rode it during the whole trip

That airport name is a mouthful. It used to be called Dum Dum. Seriously.

 

We had to play Tetris to fit all the people and luggage into the bus

By the time we got to the place we were staying, it was a little after 2am local time. I woke up the next morning at 7:00am and snapped this picture from our room – which is where I’ll pickup tomorrow! Good morning, Kolkata!

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Feb 22 2011

India: Part 2 – Halfway To India

Published by under India

India is half way around the world from Nashville. Literally. Ok, not exactly literally. But almost. The longitude numbers tell the story. Nashville sits at 86W; Kolkata at 88E.

Time difference also tells the story. Between the two cities is 11.5 hours. Yes. Half a time zone. Indians like to enjoy Modern Family before calling it a night so they wedge another 30 minutes into their day.

In the first 24 hours of the trip, I rolled lots of video of the guys around me – Seth and Pete. The video takes us from Nashville to Newark to Frankfurt, Germany – not even to Kolkata. Before getting to that, I wanted to write again today that I miss the people on our trip. I also looked through some pictures earlier this morning (which I’ll begin posting later this week) and I miss the people I met in India terribly.

Why This Sorrow
I thought I’d try and write what it feels like. I’ve mentioned this was my first international missions trip. Going to a new land that has new things with new friends is like being in a snow storm. There are so many flakes floating around. As time wears on and you have experiences together, it’s like you start making a snowball. All the disparate things coalesce. The parts become a whole. It’s beautiful, really, because our lives can get monotonous. We see similar scenery and people every day. There’s lots to be taken for granted. But not in new contexts among new people. Everything is fresh. Of course, if you stayed in those places with those people for a period of time, you’d probably take that for granted also. I’m not sure that’s good. On a 10-day trip, though, that doesn’t happen. The sad thing is that instead of becoming routine, the snowball melts before you have a chance to fully enjoy it. That’s where some of my pain comes from. This trip has taught me to understand more of Acts and Paul’s expression of affection for those he labored with and for.

Paul and His Co-Laborers
Even he felt seemingly alone at times. Writing to Timothy, Paul says, “Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry” (2 Timothy 4:11). Paul is effectively saying, “I need Mark.” How rare it is in our lives to experience a genuine desire to really need other people. How often do we say, “I need you” to someone else? (I know…Lady Antebellum wrote a song about it :). Part of my vague feeling of sorrow is there are people my heart got used to that aren’t around anymore.

Paul and His Friends
What rounds out the rest of my vague longing is not knowing what’s going on with the people I met in India and had to leave behind. I can’t see them every day. Most of them don’t have email. Having been away from the Thessalonians, whom Paul adored, he wrote, “when I could stand it no longer, I sent to find out about your faith. I was afraid that in some way the tempter had tempted you and that our labors might have been in vain” (1 Thessalonians 3:5). Paul wanted his friends to stand tall. Not knowing their condition was tough for him. What of people living in tenuous circumstances in a slum in Kolkata?

I read Paul differently now because I’ve finally experienced what he experienced – a real love for the people he worked with and for. Paul was a real person with real friends in real places where he couldn’t stay. And that provoked real emotions in him. Just like I have.

My Friends and Me
To my dearest Indian friends who may never read this…I again learn from Paul writing his friends in the city of Philippi… “I thank my God every time I remember you…being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:5-6). I’ve known what it’s like to be with you. And now I’m learning what it’s like to be away. You asked me not to forget you. I have 5,000 photos to ensure I won’t. I intend to see you again someday soon. As soon as God allows. I miss you. I miss you. I miss you.

I now present to you….my first iMovie…movie: Halfway To India.

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Feb 21 2011

India: Part 1 – “You Guys Should Come”

Published by under India

About two weeks ago, I left the friendly confines of the United States for my first trip abroad – to Kolkata, India. I went with my church here in Nashville (Cross Point). Sixteen of us boarded Continental flight 2148 for Newark where we changed planes to Frankfurt where we changed planes for Kolkata. Getting on that plane was like walking through a door to a parallel universe. Most things in Nashville life ceased to exist for the next 11 days. I loved it.

What will follow in the next couple weeks on this blog (beginning tomorrow) is a recap of everything we did and many things I learned. I have photos and videos that cover about every aspect of the trip.

My journey started about six months ago at a little taco place in Nashville called Satco (San Antonio Taco Company). It was a Sunday evening – about 8pm. My best friend, Seth, his wife, my friend, Tyler, and our pastor, Pete, were nomming on some tacos. Seth asked Pete about the work our church had been doing in India. Pete answered his questions and then said, “We’re going back there in February. You guys should come.” After dinner, Seth and I walked back to our cars. After a 5-minute talk, we decided to go (assuming Seth’s wife, Betsy, said it was cool for him to go….and she did). Somewhere I have a picture of that night, but I can’t find it right now.

A few weeks later, the whole India team got together. The only people I knew were Pete, Seth, and another buddy, Adam. Everyone else was a new face. The thought of India was like a fairytale then. I couldn’t imagine myself there because I’d never traveled anywhere outside the US before. But now. Now I sit here in my room missing two groups of people – the Crosspointers I’d never met and the Indians I’d never known existed.

I don’t remember a time in my life I was more happy than on this trip. Looking through photos snapped by other members of our team, I saw proof of how happy I was…

Check out the background on the right hand side…

I’m left with a couple thousand photos, about 150 videos, and 27 malaria pills I’ll take over the next month to be sure none of the mosquitoes there injected me with poison.

When I run out of medication, I’ll be empty-handed…which is how I feel right now. Beyond merely observing things I saw in India, I’m not exactly sure how to process what it means for my life. All I know is this…I can’t explain why I went to India in the first place. And I’m unsure of what to do now. I only want God to speak of me as He spoke of David, “I have found David son of Jesse a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do” (Acts 13:22). I don’t need to know the end-game of all I’ll do in my life. I only need to know the End – Jesus Himself.

As emotions similar to anxiety or worry have entered my heart over the past 48 hours since our return, I’ve handed those emotions over to Him. I’m afraid I’m going to forget what I’ve seen and who I’ve met. I’m afraid I’ll get lost in my life here. I want to see them again and help them in some way. What do you do when you don’t know what to do next? You trust. Paul and the apostles were led from place to place in Acts by the Holy Spirit. And so, to the best of my simple heart’s ability, I’ll trust Him, too…and trust that I don’t need an explanation. I just need to take the next step I feel led to take. I can’t know those steps ahead of time. For the next two weeks or so (assuming God gives me the days) I’ll write about India each day.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6).

Dearest God, thank You for everything in my life…for Jesus and everything I have in Him. Thank You for my trip to India. What do I do next?

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