Zombies & Other Viral Things


Last night, for the first time in a looong time, we rented a movie.  We chose World War Z.  And by “we” I mean me.  It definitely was not the wife’s first choice.  I, on the other hand, cop to a slight obsession with post-apocalyptic plot lines, such as AMC’s The Walking Dead.  She finds snarling zombies shuffling about to be all kinds of silly, not to mention a bit disturbing.  But she loves me.  I know this because we rented World War Z last night.

The plot follows Brad Pitt’s (he of the flowing blond locks) intrepid UN Inspector as he tries to solve the mystery of a global viral outbreak that turns people into ravenous, rabid zombies hellbent on biting people.  <Side note: When depicting zombies, why are they always biters?>  Anyway, I thought the visual depiction of the zombie hordes to be incredibly arresting.  I mean, just harrowing.  It kept me up last night.  I could feel the chaos and the panic as the veneer of civilization’s order is stripped away.  I could feel the desperation as the uninfected try to contain a seemingly uncontainable viral outbreak that consumes everything in its path.  I liked it.  The movie, not necessarily the thought of uncontrollable viruses.

Fortunately, we don’t have to deal with zombie-producing viruses in real life.  The mechanics of a viral spread are real, however, and we got a glimpse of how it works this week.    Our adoption video debuted in October 2012 through a few portals: Youtube, Vimeo, Austin Stone Community Church’s website, and at Austin Stone’s church services on October 29.  In the following 14 months, it was viewed approximately 70,000 times.  And if you had told me at the time we were shooting our  video that it would be watched 70k times, I’d have had some disbelief that our little story could find such an audience.

Then…last week happened.  This is a screen cap of our video’s statistics on Vimeo.  Is this what happens when something goes viral?

Screen Shot 2013-12-17 at 4.07.46 PM

The key factor (or the “patient zero” in infectious disease terms) was our video being picked up by the website www.faithit.com last Tuesday.  From there, it just kind of spread.  Since last Tuesday (December 10), the video has been watched 701,059 times on Vimeo.  There have been almost 10,000 additional views on Youtube.  So, by my count, that’s over 710,000 views in a week’s time…or, more than 10x the number of views as there were in over a year.  Not sure if there’s an official threshold that needs to be crossed for something to qualify as “viral,” but we were shocked and totally caught off guard.  We started seeing links to the video all over our Facebook feeds, friends were notifying us of their friends sharing the video.  It certainly felt viral to us.

The internet is a craaaazy place.   There are countless videos/clips online with millions of views, dwarfing the stats I’ve mentioned.  My point is not about how our video compares to any other.  It certainly isn’t a “Look at us!  Look at the attention we’re getting!” kind of deal.  Honestly, the video has some limiting factors that impact viewership.  We talk about the Gospel.  We talk about Jesus by name.  So the only thing this post is really about is how God has, only by His good pleasure, chosen to use our story.

There was a teenager, herself adopted at birth, who contacted us and informed us of how our video helped her to again draw closer to her adoptive parents.  Another couple shared our video with the birth mother of the child they would soon adopt, helping her to understand how they felt about adopting her child.  Yet another couple told us of how some in their extended family never fully accepted their adopted children; upon seeing our video, these family members offered apologies and some of the first positive words of encouragement and reconciliation in years.  We’ve had friends and strangers alike share their stories of waiting (for children, for a spouse, or for yet another hope deferred) and how our video gave some needed encouragement to wait upon the Lord.

This is without mentioning the various people who’ve contacted us over the years after reading this blog, asking for advice and prayer.  How a blog with a readership numbering in the teens still manages to impact people – even in faraway countries – is pretty incredible, too.  Honestly, we are humbled and blown away by all of this.

I have a few observations/take-aways that I’d like to share:

  1. The internet is a powerful thing.  Duh, right?  Well, it’s one thing to know that in theory and an entirely different thing to see it first-hand.  The extent to which our lives are wired to the World Wide Web and, therefore, the accessibility to information and each other via the Web is scary.  Not necessarily in a horrible way, but certainly in a sobering one.
  2. Stories sometimes need time to find their audience.  Eight days ago, I thought I had a pretty good idea who the audience for our adoption video was.  I would have been wrong.
  3. The conditions surrounding orphans are fundamentally compelling.   What do I mean?  When we see a child without a father, without a mother, I think there is a sense of wrongness that stirs within us.  The orphan holds a mirror to our faces and challenges us to envision our own lives without family.  It is not a pretty reflection.  What we do with that sense, if anything, differs from person to person.  We may call our responses different names (sense of justice, compassion, etc.) and we may have different motivations to act or not act (our faith, insecurities, superseding priorities, etc.), but that fundamental sense that “life should not be this way” is what I’m talking about.  I think it’s universal, hard-wired into how we are made.  I also think it must be part of why our video, on some level, appeals to people.

On that last observation, I need to be clear about something: I am pro-adoption.  Obviously.  There are people who are NOT, for a variety of different reasons.  Some of them have even written to us to tell us why.  Some say that adoption breaks up families, point to how it can be forced upon helpless mothers, how it encourages profiteering and human trafficking, how it damages communities.  They have concerns about issues like the implications of transracial adoptions, for the children and the larger culture.  And I agree with much of it.  In a different post, I might address the topic of adoption ethics <Given my writing pace, it might be a while. 🙂   I’ll file it right alongside the “China” post that I’ve been meaning to write for years, as we still await our China adoption>.  For this space, I’ll just say that I completely agree that adoption is not – and should not – always (be) the answer to the orphan crisis.  It is not always the right or best solution.  I acknowledge these things while still passionately advocating for adoption, when appropriate.

In fact, I think every adoption has the threads of heartbreak and joy woven into its very fabric.  Behind every adoption, there is a birth mother/birth parents that had to make the gut-wrenching decision to put their child up for adoption…and endure the grief thereafter.  There are birth families and siblings that will not be able to share life with that child.  There are children who will grow up with the awareness that they were “given up” and they may suffer for it.  But there are also children who will be given new hope and new futures.  There will be adoptive parents who will joyfully take on the privilege of raising those precious children.  There will be adoptive families who will experience a new wholeness through adoption.  Heartbreak and Joy.

Each day with our son, Jacob, fills me with a sense of overwhelming gratitude and utter gladness.  I am still shocked at the depth of my affection for this boy.  Adopting him has changed my life and turned it upside-down.  Each day also gives me a keen reminder that people are broken and this world is broken.  For if not, Jacob’s birth mother would have been able to keep him and raise him in a good home…and we wouldn’t have needed (or been privileged) to adopt him.  I don’t feel any guilt, but there is a sadness.  The fact that, in some ways, my joy rides on the coattails of another’s grief is a very real thing.  Every.  Day.

So, I pray that Jacob’s birth mother will see our video someday.  I pray that she’ll experience some peace when she sees it, that she’ll have some comfort in knowing that her child is loved.  I pray that she’ll be reassured that she did an incredibly loving thing when she put him up for adoption.  I pray that she’ll be motivated to connect with us someday, when the time is right.  After all, the internet is a powerful thing…and some stories need time to find their audience.  Ultimately, I pray that when she sees the video, it will somehow help her to see that the brokenness of this life and world, the brokenness rendering all of us spiritual orphans – like some viral outbreak infecting us all – has an antidote.  His name is Jesus.


Naming Rights

A few days ago, Jacob’s Social Security Card arrived in the mail.  I am not sure of all the reasons why this felt significant to me, but there are a couple of reasons that jumped out at me:

I recently tried to obtain a copy of my own Social Security Card.  Due to discrepancy in the spelling of my middle name between federal records (passport) and state records (driver’s license), it became a big hassle.  Such are the joys of having an English middle name transliterated from a Chinese name…just like the first day of school in every grade from K-12 when teachers stumble over its pronunciation or having to spell it out while speaking to customer service over the phone.  With that in mind, the ease by which we obtained Jacob’s was a relief.

It was also significant to see our son’s name on an official government document. Although the card itself is none too impressive, looking like a dot matrix print job circa 1986, there’s still something “real” about having that card. Maybe this is made more significant in context of adoption, but our son’s name is really Jacob Dylan Chen.  That isn’t just what we’re choosing to call him…that’s him, that’s his identity.

A name is an identity.  This is the reason why corporations pay millions for naming rights to stadiums, for example.  It’s why Reliant Energy pays a whopping $10 million a year to have the Houston Texans call their football stadium Reliant Stadium, on a contract that runs through 2032.   It’s why the Houston Astros, after the Enron scandal, couldn’t wait to change the name of their baseball stadium from Enron Field to Minute Maid Park.  If you can’t buy a name, you can buy a close association.  It’s why you see corporate sponsorships on everything from the AIG on the front of Manchester United’s soccer jerseys to Lowe’s Home Improvement on Jimmie Johnson’s number 48 car to POM Wonderful pomegranate juice on the title of Morgan Spurlock’s new movie.  Since Google wouldn’t pay us to name our son Google Chrome Chen or to plaster “Google” all over his onesies, we had to put some thought into what we’d name our son.

We chose Jacob as his name, after Jacob of the Old Testament.  It was a choice rooted in hopes for our son.  The Old Testament Jacob was a flawed man with a track record of scheming, lying, and trickery.  But, he also wrestled with God and was a man who refused to settle for the circumstances he’d been born into.  He fought for a different inheritance and the blessing of God.  As we thought about this adoption, we prayed for God’s redemption to extend to baby Jacob.  We prayed that he, like his namesake, would refuse to settle for the circumstances under which he’d been born.  We prayed that he’d fight for a different destiny, a new future. We prayed that he’d be willing to wrestle God Himself for his inheritance and His blessing.

When our son was born, he was officially called “Baby Boy” by the hospital staff. He was given no other name because, for the first 2.5 days of his life, he had no other identity.  In fact, he was the only baby in the nursery because every other baby born in that hospital was with his/her mother.  Alone in an otherwise empty nursery.  No parents.  No family.  No home.  No name.

Then, we arrived.  When we showed up, suddenly he had parents who loved him already. He had two sets of grandparents. He had aunts and uncles and cousins. He had friends and community.  And he had a name:  Jacob.

Now being part of a Chinese family, we needed to give Jacob a Chinese name, too. For that, we asked my Dad to pick out a suitable Chinese name.  Chinese names are somewhat complicated and beyond our knowledge of the language to pick out. Also, with Jacob being the first Chen grandson, we wanted to honor my father in this way by having him name his grandson.

Chinese names can be full of meaning and blessing.  We were expecting Dad to pick out something very Chinese, with references to mountains and trees and lions and courage. Instead, the name he picked out was the Chinese name for Jacob of the Old Testament.  The first character is the last name, Chen.  The next two are the name Jacob.  It’s pronounced Chén Yǎ  Gè in Chinese Pinyin (2nd tone, 3rd tone, 4th tone). According to Dad, the reason he chose that as Jacob’s Chinese name is because the reasons for why we chose his English name should be the reason for all of his names.  Pretty cool, Dad…

When we say that adoption is the Gospel, we’re not talking in an illustrative sense. It isn’t simply a metaphor.  We’re not just making a comparison.  The Gospel is adoption.  So the earlier scene at the hospital is very much what happens in us when Jesus intersects our lives.  He enters in and, having chosen us, gives us a family (the Church) and a Heavenly Father.  He brings us into community and gives us a new identity and a new name (Rev. 2:17, 3:12).  All of this because He showed up.  We are His and He is ours.  Consider this as you consider why Adoption should be an important “cause” for the Body of Christ.