Thursday, July 29, 2010

The MAGIC of Bing (and pure imagination)

So many of you have been following the story of our adoption, and the journey of the Howerton clan embracing, and being embraced, by Duzi. I thought I’d share another moment of PURE MAGIC (giggle).

After traveling for 26 hours, we were delayed on the tarmac in Atlanta, waiting for the final leg to Seattle to begin. Duzi had a window seat, I was in the middle, and sitting next to me was a really friendly Microsoft Employee named Brian. He asked me some questions about our adoption process, and was insightful, articulate, and kind. When I mentioned that our faith was a major motivator for us, he was respectful and affirming, even though he indicated that faith normally wasn’t his thing (I forget how he phrased this exactly, but he was cool.) He asked me if I had shown Duzi anything on Bing Maps.

Uh, no. I hadn’t. In the whirlwind challenges of adoption, Bing Maps didn't make it to any sort of priority.

So he pulled up Seattle on his computer. It was in a 3d, Birdseye view, which I thought was pretty cool. We tried to find Duzi’s hometown, but it was slow to load, and when it did, it was 2d Arial view. Just like Google Maps. Then we looked at my home…2d Arial view. By this time, Duzi was bored, so I put on Clone Wars on my computer for him. Brian looked up the Washington Monument, but Duzi was glassy-eyed with travel by then. I was a bit glassy-eyed myself, and as I fell asleep, with my son’s sleeping head on my lap, I noticed Brian looking up additional locations on Bing Maps, and I was honestly glad that he was excited about where he worked.

As we were descending, Duzi and I woke, and prepared to deplane. Brian and I shared a few more pleasantries…I believe we both wished one another well, which was sincere on both sides. All in all, a great plane buddy. NOW, check out the story from HIS perspective…I had no idea the pure MAGIC that was unfolding. The following I have left in Brian’s own words…apparently it was a pretty powerful flight for him. He put this on a Microsoft Work Distribution list. My comments are in parenthesis. PLEASE enjoy:

“Hi everyone,

“After telling this story to a few people in the office, it was suggested I write it up and send it out to the group. On my flight home from MGX last Saturday, a little boy and his father came to sit next to me and I overheard the father talk about the boy’s “new home in Seattle.” I quickly found out that this little boy was a South African orphan being adopted by a family from Redmond. The husband and wife already had an 11 year old girl and 8 year old boy but found it in their hearts to have a 5-year old orphan of a different race and background join their family. (Brian really WAS a nice guy).

“Halfway into the flight, the father and I got into a discussion about job and then about how the boy really didn’t know where he was going, how far he was moving from his old home, and what opportunities he now has. At the risk of being too forward, I asked the father if I could switch to the middle seat and provide the boy his first experience with a computer, first experience with the internet, first experience with maps, and his first opportunity to see his new country and new home. Providing all these firsts is an extremely rare opportunity these days and I was lucky enough to be on a flight with WiFi, and get a “yes” to my question! (NO chance in HELL that I would give an eager techie unrestrained access to my NEW, adopted son who was ALREADY in culture shock. This guy obviously doesn’t have kids.)

“I first showed him how far he was traveling and where his old and new homes were located. The boy, Doozier, originates from Durban which is on the East Coast of South Africa and the Southeast Corner of Africa. The fluid Silverlight navigation into his old orphanage and then out to South Africa, Africa, and then the World lit up Doozier’s eyes, and I got some amazement from the father too. (Only amazement that it didn't happen this way.)

“Then we explored his journey, which took him from Durban to OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg to Hartsfield International Airport in Atlanta which is a city in the Peach State. After a six hour layover, he was now on the last leg of his journey to Redmond, Washington. His new home is a really beautiful house in Overlake. The father was floored and Doozier reached over me to give his father a huge hug when he saw his house. Father and son already had super big smiles but we weren’t done yet. (Does this read like emotional porn to anybody else?)

“I let Doozier take control for a few minutes and watched as he scrolled in and out to random places all over the world. I had to teach him typing and mouse movement a little bit, but kids pick up technology so fast and once he seemed comfortable I gave him a directed tour around the US and the world. (Now we have loosed all semblance of reality and have embraced the flight into pure imagination).

“First, he searched for Washington, DC – the capital of his new country, and my home! The left-panel gave him a brief history of the city and we opened up the Wikipedia page to have him learn more. Then I had him search for the Washington Monument, learn about that, and then go Streetside so he could take a virtual fieldtrip to one of my favorite places to visit. At this point, I wished a camera magically appeared and took a snapshot of Doozier’s face. It was pure amazement, excitement, and happiness. (Or maybe just a hint of drool on his sleeping chin. Aren't ALL 5 year olds crazy to read more Wikipedia pages on our nations capital?)

“The father patted me on the back and I could see he was on the verge of tears as it hit him just how big of an impact he is making on this boy’s life. We say it and we hear it – but this…this was proof of the Magic of Software. (PUKE.)

“We spent around 30 more minutes doing tours like this - the Empire State Building, Ayer's Rock in Australia, the Taj Mahal, Mount Everest, and a few others. It was one of the most special experiences I’ve had and proves that anyone can make an impact, anytime, with just a little bit of technology. I’m thrilled to be a part of this team and hope this story was inspiring. Thanks for reading!

“Sincerely, Brian”

This is Mike again, and I’ve got a few thoughts:

Seriously? I’ve seen God move mountains, I’ve seen Jesus save, I know that the Lord puts the lonely in families, I’ve traveled around the world and invested blood, sweat, tears, and resources into adoption, Jodie and I have been to the brink of despair stuck in bureaucracy and we’ve felt the deliverance of God’s Spirit…we live in joy because we trust Jesus for everything, including our amazing son…and a 3d image on a Bing Map search is supposed to have some kind of emotional impact?

I like Brian a lot. I'm glad the ride with us was a special experience for you. But please. You need to set your sights a little higher.

Adoption is a bit larger than looking at pictures. The real world is full of amazing stories and wonderful people and all sorts of significant needs that you can be involved in filling. There's really not much else to say. There is a LOT of life to be experienced when you lift your eyes up from the computer screen. LIVE it.

Now a word to my friends in ministry: I know we’re all tempted to stretch the truth just a bit when we tell stories, analogies, illustrations…we want to make the biggest impact possible to move people to Jesus. We don’t just want people to get fired up about software (pardon me…the MAGIC of software), we want people to know peace through God’s love, we want them to know hope through Jesus…our desire for folks impacts eternity. But still. Whenever we take flights of fancy in telling people's stories (like Brian did with ours), we render illegitimate the very truth we are so passionate about.

The truth has nothing to hide.

It’s the truth that sets us free.

The Father is looking for worshippers who will worship in spirit and in truth.

So Brian, if you read this…I love you. I’m not mad at you. It’s a forgivable lie. I’ve been known to use a kernel of truth to create a whole meal of emotional fluff too…and I thank you for the reminder to keep it clean.

And if you Microsoft guys ever make a commercial about this story that is loosely based on actual events, then just remember to get the royalties to Duzi. Spelled D-U-Z-I. Thanks.


Vuvuzeling said...

Thank you Mike. I wanted to believe the original story, but it bothered me that it read a little bit too much like a Bing commercial. I'm glad I did a bit of research and found your post. Your attitude to being the subject of a shameless piece of glurge is commendable, showing much graciousness.

I always tend to notice when Christians are hypocritical, but I must comment that I couldn't have imagined a more Christlike response. Truth coupled with understanding and forgiveness.

Congratulations on the new addition to your family. I can only hope that one day I have the guts and selflessness to do what you're doing. I hope that Duzi gets all the opportunities that every child deserves here. I am a South African, and I know desperate needs of the orphans there. Thank you for making such a difference in this one life.

Mike Howerton said...

HI Vuvuzeling!!
Great to hear from you! WE LOVE the vuvuzela! we brought back a few (our kids LOVE them) although we needed to make a rule against blowing them in the car.

Thanks for your words. The truth is, a lot of us Christians can be hypocrites. I know I can. But I don't want to be. I want to be honest, and real and authentic. But I know I blow it sometimes.

The truth is that hypocrisy cuts across all sorts of gender, ethnic, and religious boundaries, and we're all guilty sometimes.

That's why I'm big on forgiveness, both asking for it, and offering it. And I try to make sure everyone knows...that if it wasn't for grace, I don't know where I'd be. Anyway, thanks for posting...

Andrew said...

Mike, I respect you very much as a pastor, and I've been blessed to be under your teaching on Sundays since some of the first Illuminate services in the chapel. I want you to understand that because I felt your post was very harsh, and perhaps even hurtful, which is something I've never felt from you before and has prompted me to post this comment.

Two people can have completely different views of a given situation - different perspectives of the same set of circumstances. Eyewitness reports of the same events can differ wildly, with each person genuinely believing their version is correct. Yet you judge "Brian" and assume he intentionally made up or exaggerated parts of his story. Without talking to "Brian" again and understanding where he's coming from, are you really in a position to do that?

Please read your editorial comments again, and really put yourself in "Brian's" shoes, as though he were reading this (and assume he will, along with hundreds of other MS employees, because I'm guessing this post has already been forwarded around). Were phrases like "emotional porn" and "PUKE" really necessary? What about all the sarcasm? You have such a gift with words, but it seems like in this case you used them to tear down.

Don't misunderstand: much of what you said was respectful and positive. And your points about the impact and power of adoption and Jesus compared to the "magic" of software are right on. But I feel like there were definitely a few places where you were just "speaking the truth", and the love got lost along the way.

Am I being too sensitive here? Maybe - I honestly don't know. But it's really disturbed me when I think about the witness this post represents to someone like "Brian", who based on your comments is someone we'd want to come experience the kind of grace-filled faith we have at OCC.

I guess maybe that's why this bothers me so much. You always (rightly) emphasize grace through Jesus as being the core of everything that Christ-followers do at OCC. I just don't see any grace here.

Mike Howerton said...

Hi Andrew,
thanks for this thoughtful comment. You're right...words like PUKE and emotional porn are a bit more harsh than I would typically use. If they've offended you, and if they offend Brian, then I'd be happy to apologize. My goal is not to cause offense, but obviously, I'm recognizing that his lies have caused offense, and I'm trying to show that I have been offended, AND that I forgive him, even though he hasn't asked.

I'd love to have a conversation with you, if you'd like, because I tried to make the conclusion of this post one of grace. I also take the lesson seriously to heart...many pastors are guilty of this same thing...and I have been as well. If it wasn't for grace, non of us could stand!

Anyway, maybe I'm not able to communicate my heart as clearly as I thought, because I truly did/do like this guy, and I really do forgive him for lying. Andrew, he did lie. It's not a perception thing. He did not take my seat. He did not teach my son to type. My son never used his computer, never looked up the Taj Mahal, never hugged me with tears in his eyes when he saw his wonderful new home. These are lies, not just perception. So I forgive Brian for lying, but I'm not going to pretend he didn't lie in order to forgive him. That's not how forgiveness works.

Love you bro. It bums me out that I've bummed you out! Maybe I can buy you a coffee to make it up to you!!

Andrew said...

Fair enough. I obviously wasn't there, so if you are certain this was a case where "Brian" was genuinely lying, then I can understand where you are coming from - the post is much more reasonable from that perspective. I came at it differently - by default I tend to think the worst of people, which actually makes me compensate by consciously trying to assume the best; in this case the fact that it was a fellow MSFTie reinforced that desire, so I went into this thinking it would be about how cool this guy was to you. That's probably why the disconnect felt so negative to me, and influenced what I read into it.

I think we're good - maybe I'll find you in the mallway sometime, but I'd rather you spend time with your newly-expanded family than debate more about this over coffee. :)

mike said...

Thanks for explaining the parts that were purely made up. That provides excellent context for your comments.

Love the passionate and well thought back and forths with Andrew. That's how we come to understand each other!

Loudest Mom said...

I have never posted on your blog...we went to high school together but did not know each other. This post really resonated with me. I have four children, w/ all four being deaf/HOH. Basically they are completely normal kids. But I too have experienced this...."awe", or involvement when there really was little. That said, I hope the person who told the story got as much out of it as they claimed, as I think my kids are amazing, as I'm sure your's is ;)
Anyway, great blog, great family, and great perspective on the church and Christianity.
I wish you and your family the best on your journey. I hope you don't mind if I peek in now and again.

-Melissa (Bode) Wilson

Loudest Mom said...

EDIT- Should have said yours are...

Anonymous said...

Hi Mike,

I think this post was something that could have best been addressed between yourself and Brian. I see that you have gathered many kudos from adoring fans...but there are many of us out there that think this blog post is inconsiderate, unnecessary and completely inappropriate for the "lead pastor" of a church. As a fellow believer, I think this post is so inappropriate, there are hardly words. I pray God will shower you with His grace and you will let the little things go. In the grand scheme of life...was it really worth it to write this blog and show Brian that infamous Christian hypocrisy??

marisabutterworth said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
marisabutterworth said...

Removed my initial posting...

Anonymous Christians making comments on blogs makes my blood boil and shows a complete lack of maturity and respect.

I love the Howertons!

PS. (I'm not a "fan". Just a friend.)

Mike Howerton said...

Hi Anonymous,
I do love you. I'm sorry you feel like I've let you down. You ARE absolutely right...rebukes are best done privately. Exactly what you chose not to do.

In this situation, however, the forum was public from the beginning, and I had no contact with Brian personally (after the flight). His posting was public. We didn't exchange contact info. He's not my BFF.

Several friends had asked me if it was true, and I needed to respond. I tried to be gracious...I don't hate him, I do forgive him, I think there is a lot to learn from this episode for all (including my own pastoral temptation to tell the story that I wished had happened instead of the story that really did happen).

I've thought and prayed about my sadness over his writing, and I think I nailed it down to this: it bugs me that he sat next to an orphan who had just been adopted, and he figured out how he might lie to make some kind of personal gain from that proximity. That bums me out. So I identified it, and then I let it go.

Anonymous, it bums me out that you would judge me for graciously trying to bring truth. That's what pastor's do. I might not have done this with as much skill as you would have liked, but that was my heart. I wrote this blog with the thought that Brian might read it, and that we might have a follow up conversation.

It bums me out that you would call me hypocritical and put my title in quotes. That just feels hurtful.

But it bums me out most that you would do it anonymously. You and I both know, that's a mark of cowardice. Plus, you seem to be guilty of exactly what you're accusing me of...public rebuke...which sounds like hypocrisy to me.

Look, Jesus called sin, sin. And then he forgave. I really was trying to do the same. That isn't hypocrisy. That's Christlike.

If you re-read my blog and you really think I'm off base, I'd be happy to meet with you to process through it. But you'll have to identify yourself.

Anonymous said...

"If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, **just between the two of you.** If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that 'every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.'If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
Matthew 18:15-17

I do love OCC and your Preaching Mr. Howerton it has always been SUCH a blessing in my life but this post saddened me. I really feel that it was not biblical to call this man out publicly. I know that if this letter was available online you were probably capable of finding this mans email and discussing with him privately and see if we can resolve his false words. I left the above bible verse because its where my thinking came from in writing you.

By all means you do not have to publish this I just meant it for you personally.

God Bless!

Mike Howerton said...

You're right. That's the best way to handle conflict (Matthew 18) and I didn't go that route. I didn't try hard to find Brian's contact info. I had a bit of an axe to grind, and I ground it.

I'm gonna see if I can't find Brian's email and contact him. We'll see where it goes.

I'd still love to know who you are. You biblically and graciously rebuked me. I accept it. Don't hide. Come give me a hug on Sunday...

AMInnovative said...

Thanks so much for sharing this Mike! I love that you're ever afraid to keep us all straight and one our toes! Good intentions are good intentions but you're right, God doesn't need us to add in our own emotional "fluff" to make the events He orchestrates come alive any better. He's got it under control all on His own! I'm out of the states but I can't wait to see your family of 5 now together when I'm back... missing the whole Overlake family in fact! Praying for you all and thanks again for sharing!