Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Peace/Pain

Some thoughts flowing from last Sunday's message at Restoration Church...

Pain, suffering & heartache will be part of the rhythms of life for every follower of Christ. Jesus prepares us for this in John 16:1...
“I have told you these things so that you will not stumble or be caught off guard and fall away.” (John 16:1 AMP)
I should not be surprised when life is difficult - when my expectations of God as a cosmic concierge are thwarted.

True religion is not about a smooth stroll through life. Jesus is not a steamroller crushing the sharp-edged obstacles in our way.
“Life is pain, Highness! Anyone who says otherwise is selling something.” (The Princess Bride)
The answer to a broken world is not a heavenly fixer... it is an Advocate who brings peace that transcends circumstances. 
“Peace I leave with you; My [perfect] peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be afraid. [Let My perfect peace calm you in every circumstance and give you courage and strength for every challenge.]” (John 14:27 AMP)
And that peace doesn’t come like a weighted blanket or a cup of cocoa (with little marshmallows). It floods in as the Holy Spirit enters into our lives.
“When he comes, he will convince the world of the meaning of sin, of true goodness and of judgment. He will expose their sin because they do not believe in me; he will reveal true goodness...” (John 16:5 PHILLIPS)
My prayer:

Jesus, dwell in me... rather than letting me choose to dwell in a Christian bubble. Remind me over & over about my need for you... as if I were a distracted child - because, if I'm honest, I am a distracted child. Calm my heart with Your presence; help me to stop relying on perfect circumstances to experience peace. Call to mind the truth that permeates Scripture - that the love of God does not equal a life of ease. Give me a heart that beats with the truth... a heart that longs for more of You rather than just "more".
“I have told you all this so that you may find your peace in me. You will find trouble in the world—but, never lose heart, I have conquered the world!”John 16:33 PHILLIPS

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Truth or Fiction: The Closet

I found this post when I was hunting for things I'd written about 9/11... and realized I wanted to post it again with some revisions. 

As a kid, I was deathly afraid of my closet. I was afraid of other things, too: the dark, being beat up, giving a wrong answer in class, etc., but nothing trumped the abject terror I felt when I forgot to slide the closet door closed before I went to bed.

This was the kind of paralyzing fear where you try to yell but your voice won't work... where your imagination fills in all the details of what might lurk in behind the hanging clothes & piled-up toys and games. Once in a while, I could force myself to get out of bed and close the door, but many times I would just lay still on my bed, fixating on the shadows & the darkness.

Of course, there was nothing in my closet except boxes full of construction toys and scads of games. (Yes, even then.) :-) There was no secret entrance to my closet... it actually backed up on the bathroom my sister & I shared.

In other words, my fears had nothing to do with reality.

--

After September 11th, 2001, thousands of people in this country swore off airplanes and began driving cars, apparently believing that cars are safer. In fact, the number of deaths on U.S. highways in a typical year - more than 40,000 - is more than double the number of people who have died in all commercial airplane accidents in the past 40 years. To put it differently, the odds of being killed in a terrorist incident in 2002 were 1 in 9 million. In that same year, the odds of dying in a traffic accident were about 1 in 7,000. By taking the precaution of not flying, many people died.

Anne Applebaum, "Finding Things To Fear" (Washington Post 9/24/03) - quoted in Marc Siegel's book, False Alarm: The Truth About The Epidemic of Fear

Marc Siegel goes through one major "false alarm" after another: terrorism, anthrax, SARS, bird flu, etc., suggesting over & over that while there is a possibility of these things affecting our lives, the vast majority live with fear way out of proportion with the actuality of the threat.

In other words, our fears have little to do with reality.

--

So, when it comes to what we believe about Jesus, how does this fear-laden balancing act between truth & fiction play out? Again, I'll just pick one point this week and "land on it."

We are inappropriately afraid of other people's unbiblical behavior. Let me explain... we expend incredible amounts of time, energy & effort to convince and/or force non-believers around us to knuckle under to our moral practices. When those efforts are unsuccessful (and they almost always are), we then retreat in a hypocritical game of tightrope walking between the cultural enticements of the world and the safe companionship of those who appear to have it "together" spiritually. We'll take in media with questionable content, but excuse it because "we feel bad about it." We'll talk endlessly about "winning the world for Jesus", but never actually spend time with people who are struggling with questions about faith & life.

This was not the way Jesus lived!

How can I account for this generation? The people have been like spoiled children whining to their parents, "We wanted to skip rope, and you were always too tired; we wanted to talk, but you were always too busy." John came fasting and they called him crazy. I came feasting and they called me a lush, a friend of the riff-raff. Opinion polls don't count for much, do they? The proof of the pudding is in the eating.

Matthew 11:16-19 (The Message)

This is the same guy who asked woman with 5 ex-husbands & a live-in lover for a drink of water; the same guy who went toe-to-toe with demon-possessed people. Jesus populated his band of closest followers with anger-driven hotheads, a political nutjob, a greedy thief, a Roman sympathizer, and some guys that the fish smell was never going to wash off of.

So, how do we close the door to our bedroom closet? How do we turn off our "false alarm"?

  • Resort to prayer for a heart that loves people like Jesus loves us.
  • Rearrange our lives to spend time with people who need Him.
  • Refocus our energy on making healthy, Biblical choices for ourselves, rather than policing the rest of the world.

It's not going to be easy... and chances are we're going to make some mistakes along the way.

But it will sure beat living in fear.

A version of this article originally appeared in the 3/9/06 issue of the Grapevine, the newsletter of NewLife Community Church.

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

First Impressions - A Primer for Convention Going Gamers on the Eve of GenCon 2018

I'll keep this short, sweet and to the point.

Chances are excellent that your first impressions of the games you play over the next few days (for those of you attending GenCon) will be skewed.

Note: I didn't say "wrong"... I said "skewed".

Here's some of the ways that your view of these games can be "through a glass darkly" rather than "face to face". (Sly Pauline reference for my friends out there in Bibleland.)
  1. Nice people showing you the game - it's easy to confuse your warm interaction with the designer, publisher or volunteer with the actual quality of the game you're being shown.
  2. There are only X copies available - every once in a great while, a game you really love will only be published in small quantities and will require you to jump on it immediately. But the vast majority of the time, if it's worth owning, there will be more available later.
  3. Have to be the first guy on my block! - related to #2, but with the added pressure of being the cool kid who buys all the new hotness. Remember, just because it's new doesn't mean it's good. 
  4. Chronological snobbery - related to #3... new stuff isn't automatically awesome (Cult of the New "beer goggles") nor is it automatically a derivative pallid imitation of a classic (Cult of the Long-Suffering Curmudgeon).
  5. Playing with the wrong rules - long the bane of all convention plays... and even if you aren't playing a booth demo. Wrong rules can cause you to think a diamond is a piece of coal.
  6. Playing with the wrong people - I hated my first game of RA. Due to a particular AP-prone player, it lasted over an hour and a half. When I (much later) finally got to play it in 35-45 minutes, I fell in love. Moral of the story: keep in mind who you are playing/demoing with - the objective is to get the feel of the game, not turn it into a competition to find the winning strategy.
  7. Blinded by the bits - attractive components have managed to cover over a multitude of game design "sins" over the years. Just because it has cool minis does not mean there's a healthy game system under all that plastic.
  8. Other people think it's cool - the BGG Hotness and convention buzz is interesting, but it can be misleading. And, let's be honest - every gamer doesn't love the same things about board games. 
All that said, don't let my "sage advice" deter you from demoing, playing, buying and enjoying games you find at GenCon (or any con, for that matter). Just remember that your first impression may or may not be your long-term verdict on a particular game.

Monday, June 25, 2018

When I'm Right



I knew I was in the right
I was right
And that rightness gave me boldness

To do wrong
To treat another person
To treat someone created in God’s image
With callous disregard

I poured out my righteous anger
I let my frustration boil over
I made choices
Choices to spew hatred
Choices to belittle and demean

But I was right
And isn’t that enough?
Isn’t that permission
No, obligation
To use
Any means necessary?

Image bearers be damned
I was right
The Golden Rule
Can be brushed away
When I’m right

My actions are justified
They would have done the same
Or worse
I am vindicated

Or am I?
What if in my rightness
I did wrong?

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Five Years

Little did I know when I stood up
Lego Hero Factory figure in hand
My Bible open and my notes beside
That this would be it

I thought I knew what God was doing
I thought I knew what God should do
I was wrong
On both counts

Knowing I’m in the right place now
Doesn’t make the loss any smaller
I miss preaching
I miss teaching

But Jesus is still here
In the middle of my struggles
I am not alone
I am not alone

My primary identity is not
Invested in a paid ministry role
Or a title of respect
Or time behind a pulpit

I am a child of God
I am a minister of the Gospel
In my office cubical
Or playing a board game

Jesus is still here
In the midst of my questions
I am not alone
I am not alone 

The last time I preached a sermon was Feb. 10, 2013 at Easton Presbyterian Church. 

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Prayer - Remembering tc@hh

20 years ago today, a group of 7 of us held the first public service of the church @ hickory hollow (otherwise known as tc@hh). Not quite five years later, we closed the doors on this wonderful experiment/experience of faith.

Lakeview Elementary School (pictured here) was our home for the majority of the five years. Our bigger "home" was South Gate Baptist Church, who supported us and loved us.

The prayer that follows was written by Dennis Mills and was shared as a part of the closing celebration service on September 21st, 2002.


Father,

This evening, as we celebrate the church @ hickory hollow,
we celebrate You because

You made it possible for us to have authentic Biblical community.
You gave the original vision for a church of this kind in Nashville.
You enabled this church to begin and take root, even though we had little more than a direction to go and an urgency to go there.
You brought together people like me who were tired of hiding behind masks and longed to know more of You.
You gave us a safe place to express how we hurt and struggle.
You gave us each other to carry our burdens, to share our hopes, and to celebrate our joys.

But most of all You drew us closer to You, to live more fully and to grow more deeply than we've ever dared before.

We've seen You do so much in and through the people of this church;
Which makes us all the more perplexed why You seem to see fit that this church should disband.
We don't understand. 
We don't know what lies ahead for us.

Calm us, Father, because sometimes we grow anxious and worry.
Steady us when our faith wavers.
Strengthen our hearts, because when things are uncertain it's easier to doubt and fear than to trust.
Father, protect our tender roots as You replant us into new soil.
Hold each one of us close to You. Let no one be forgotten or neglected.
Help us to tune out the noise in our lives so we can hear Your soft, gentle voice.

We can't see where You're leading us, but we count on You to take us there.

Thank You for Your undying love for us.
Thank You for community and for families that model our love relationship with You.
Thank You for forgiveness and for restoration.
Thank You for giving our lives meaning and purpose.
Thank You for the promise of eternal life.

Help us to share the hope of restored life today and eternal life after death with those who do not yet know You.

God, You are our everything.
We thank You
And we praise You
In Your Son's name,
Amen


Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Flamme Rouge & Peloton (Board Game Review)


  • Designer: Asger Harding Granerud
  • Publishers: Lautapelit.fi & Stronghold Games
  • Players: 2-4
  • Time: 30-45 minutes
  • Ages: 8+
  • Games Played: 12 with the base game, 4 with the Peloton expansion (with review copies provided by Stronghold Games)

My ability to speak French is nicht sehr guht. Yes, I know that’s German, because that’s a language which I can (barely) speak/read. Which leads me to the beginning of this review.

I’m not sure how I’m supposed to say the name of this game.

I’ve been calling if “flaw-may rouge”… but then I hear Stephen Buonocore (the English publisher) call it “flaw-mmm rouge”… and as I noted a couple of paragraphs above, I don’t know enough about French to hazard a guess which is correct. I feel like a tourist that doesn’t know how to find los baño. (And that’s Spanish – which my vast knowledge of consists primarily of curse words and food items.)

Regardless of how you say the name, Flamme Rouge is an excellent game that occupies a particular niche in my game collection: sports games that capture the feel of the sport without being simulations.

“Three – is a magic number.”

My personal theory is that there are three basic types of sports games:

Simulations – games that use real-life player/team statistics to simulate classic sporting contests, entire seasons, and/or “what if?” match-ups. Some games that fit into this bucket include:

  • Dynasty League Baseball/Pursue the Pennant
  • Decathlon (Avalon Hill)
  • Bowl Bound and Paydirt

Representations – games that use some level of statistics, strategies and history of the sport in question to create (or re-create) games and/or seasons. Some game that fit into this bucket include:

  • March Madness
  • Soccer Tactics
  • Pizza Box Football
  • 1st & Goal

“Feel All the Feels” – games that manage to capture the feeling of the sport without relying on statistic-based simulation… or sometimes even a clear representation of the actual sporting event. Some games that fit into this bucket include:

  • Harry’s Grand Slam Baseball
  • StreetSoccer
  • En Garde (Knizia)

It will be no surprise to my gentle readers that I’m a big fan of Bucket #3. (For the record, I’d throw Snow Tails, DownForce and Winner’s Circle into de derde emmer – Dutch for “the third bucket”. I’m a veritable linguist today.)

But a great sports game experience can come from any of the three types – one of my favorite gaming memories is playing Dynasty League Baseball and Pizza Box Football on the same night with a crew of sports/board game fans at Gulf Games.

Still, when I’m choosing a sports game to play, more often than not I’ll choose something simple yet evocative… like Flamme Rouge.

“I Want To Ride My Bicycle, I Want To Ride My Bike…”


One of the first games I bought from directly from Germany back in the late ‘90s was the 1992 Spiel des Jahres winner, Um Reifenbreite (which loosely translates as “By the Width of a Tire”).

The description on The Game Cabinet (which was the landing page for board game geeks before BGG appeared) had me practically salivating… so I ponied up the big bucks to have the team from Funagain Games scour the used game stalls at Essen to find me a copy. And, true to their word, they did.

Um Reifenbreite uses a combination of roll’n’move with card play (to simulate pushes to the front or climbing ability) along with a random event card to evoke the feel of team cycling. Each player has four cyclists and they can draft off other riders as they race around the board. The board design allows for four different races (two shorter, two longer) that can be chained together into a series of stages for a “Tour de Spelrum”. (The last phrase – “Tour de Game Room” – is brought to you by the mashup of French & Swedish – let’s call it Swench. Or Frendish. You pick.)

I have few complaints about Um Reifenbreite – it’s been in my top 20 games for nearly two decades. Probably my own concern is how difficult it is to get to the table – due in part to the cartoonish French art style and the roll’n’move nature of the game.

“Whenever I see an adult on a bicycle, I do not despair for the human race.”


Fast forward to Essen 2016… and the nice folks from Lautapelit.fi in Finland released Flamme Rouge. (Ok, kids, say Terveydeksi! to our Nordic friends…) Seeing pictures (and positive reviews) from the folks across the briny blue just made me want to play Um Reifenbreite again.

That is, until I had the opportunity to play Flamme Rouge – and suddenly all of the “thumbs up” noise began to make sense.

The game itself is a model of streamlined design – the rules only take four pages, and that includes the cover & components list. Players start by choosing a track from a selection of six different tracks and then build it in the center of the table. (You can, of course, build it on the edge of the table… heck, march to the beat of a different drummer. But if you’re playing at my house, it goes in the center of the table.) The track itself is a series of double-sided straights, gentle curves and right angle curves.

After placing their two riders in the starting grid, the race begins. Players have two decks of cards, one for each racer – a rouleur (I call him “mountain guy”) and a sprinter. Simultaneously, players choose one of their two decks and draw a hand of four movement cards – then they choose one and place the other three under that deck face up. Then the player does the same with the other deck, leaving them with two cards ready to play.

When all players are ready, they turn over their cards and resolve movement in order from the front to the back of the racers. Cyclists may move through other riders but cannot stop on a full space (one with two riders). After all the riders have moved, drafting is calculated, starting at the back of the pack and moving forward – any group of cyclists who have exactly one space between them and the next group slide up a space to close the gap. When all movement and drafting are taken care of, the lead cyclists in each group have to take an exhaustion card and add it to their discards at the bottom of your deck.

There are a couple of twists – there is no drafting when going uphill (and your maximum speed is 5). By the same token, your minimum speed if you start on a downhill slope is 5, regardless of which card you play.

The first rider to cross the finish line wins the game for his team. If multiple riders cross in the same turn, the one who goes the farthest first wins.

“Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of riding a bike.”

As I finish typing up this description, I’m reminded of one of the many reasons I love this game: it is unbelievably easy to teach. While folks have varied in their ability to figure out winning tactics, no one has come away frustrated that the game was too difficult to comprehend.


Another element I love is the way in which these simple rules create a game that “feels” like team cycling. I’ll admit I was skeptical – what with my deep love for Um Reifenbreite – about a team cycling game with only two cyclists… but much like StreetSoccer’s five player game of fußball, Flamme Rouge manages to capture the ethos without getting bogged down by fleshing out a full cycling team. There are attempts to break from the pack, lagging to conserve energy, blocking to hold back leaders, slow starts, fast starts, breakdowns due to exhaustion… it’s all there.

Flamme Rouge is also a quick game – once everyone has a game under their collective belts, races should clock in at about 30 minutes. There is an unofficial iOS app that allows groups to create stage race series if you want to link races together – but the game works just fine playing stand-alone races.

“Life is like a 10-speed bicycle. Most of us have gears we never use.”

Flamme Rouge is best with 4 players, though it works very well with 3. Two players is fine – but you really need more riders on the track to get the full feel of the game.


The Peloton expansion was released last month at Essen and it adds the ability to play with 5 or 6 players… something I’m looking forward to greatly. (Stronghold Games will be bringing the expansion over in early 2018.)
Special content just for readers of aka pastor guy: Since I wrote this review in late 2017, I was sent a copy of the Peloton expansion and have been able to play it 4 times. It not only adds riders for 5 or 6 players, but also includes ways to create "dummy" teams, adds cobblestones, supply zones & additional track layouts, and even includes suggestions for playing with up to 12 players! 
We've enjoyed it immensely - the game runs slightly longer with more players but it is still has the same quick-playing cycling feel. The cobblestone sections are evil... very tight and tough to pass. Decisions on when to strike out for the front are even more important since the track can get clogged.  
We now return you to the previously published review of Flamme Rouge... note: a full review of Peloton is in the works!
We’ve played all of the official track configurations in the game – and the only one we’re unlikely to play again is La Haut Montagne. (Reason: it ends with an uphill climb – which is would be fine in a stage race situation but is a little anti-climactic when you’re playing one-off races.)

“Learn to ride a bicycle. You will not regret it if you live.”

While Flamme Rouge has not replaced Um Reifenbreite in my collection, it has hit the table over and over throughout 2017. The short playing time is certainly a factor – and as we get to add the Peloton expansion, it will be suitable for a wider variety of player counts. So with the attractive production (we love the cyclist pawns), the variable tracks, the easy-to-learn rules and the excellent fit between theme and gameplay, this is a winner – a maillot jaune. (I couldn’t end this review without one more linguistic bon mot – ok, make it two.)



Quote References (in order of appearance)

  • Schoolhouse Rock, “3 is a Magic Number”
  • Queen, “Bicycle Race”
  • H.G. Wells
  • John F. Kennedy
  • Charles M. Schultz
  • Mark Twain

A Trio of Extra Cycling Quotes for Your Enjoyment

  • “Melancholy is incompatible with bicycling.” — James E. Starrs, US book editor
  • “The bicycle is the noblest invention of mankind.” — William Saroyan, Nobel prize winner
  • “Bicycles are almost as good as guitars for meeting girls.” — Bob Weir, Grateful Dead singer, songwriter and guitarist
A version of this review was originally posted on the Opinionated Gamers website.