Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Shattering the Illusion

I don't remember my great-uncle Carl's face - it's kind of a blur. What I do remember is his aging hands doing amazing magic tricks... close-up magic with coins & silks, stunning bits of trickery with cups & balls, and (most vivid in my head) shuffling & fanning cards with fan decks.

Much later when both Uncle Carl & Aunt Beulah had died (I need to write more about Aunt Beulah later - she was a hoot!), Uncle Carl's magic books & some of his equipment was bequeathed to my dad & I. Dad confiscated the marked decks (probably an excellent idea - your average elementary school kid doesn't need a professionally marked deck) and then let me loose on the 10+ books on magic.

Frankly, the magic books were both exciting (it's really cool to look at the diagrams of some of the big stage magic tricks) and disappointing. What talented magicians make look so dang easy is full of hard work - sleight of hand requires not only hands (I had those) but also skill (which I don't have) and practice (which I wasn't willing to do).

I wonder sometimes if my life as a "professional Christian" (aka senior pastor) doesn't have some of the same flavor to folks in my church & community. From the outside, my life looks pretty nifty - each week I get up and speak with confidence about Biblical truth. I show up in people's hospital rooms to listen & pray. I counsel individuals over the phone and in person, dispensing wisdom & grace.

From the outside, I realize that it all looks as smooth as a Las Vegas magic act (without the white tigers). But from my side of the stage, I can see all of the flaws.

Another thing I learned from those magic books? Magic is primarily the art of distraction. You use patter (what you say) and motion (the way your hands & body move) to pull people's focus away from the trick. Sadly, "professional Christianity" can work the same way - it's "all too easy" (thank you, Darth Vader) to distract congregation & community members from the messiness of following Jesus with a well-timed Scripture quote or by bowing my head like I'm deep in prayer. And, because I'm a guy whose job title sounds ultra-spiritual, people buy the illusion.

This, by the way, isn't something (for the most part) that you're taught in seminary. Just like magicians, you learn the secrets from other practitioners. Nobody tells you to fake it... but when you see enough folks doing just that - layering on spiritual-looking behavior with a trowel - you get the message loud & clear.

But if I'm honest... if I'm really willing to do what I was called to do, as opposed to the cultural training I received or my own worst inclinations, my job is a bit like those TV specials that aired on Fox a few years back with titles like "Breaking the Magician's Code". (OK, all you magic aficiandos out there, don't get all freaked out about this... I'm NOT saying the specials were a good idea.) The trick of being a pastor is to stop using patter & motion to distract people from my imperfections. Instead, my objective needs to be pointing them to Jesus rather than covering my own rear end.

Even as I type this, I realize that this isn't simply about "professional Christians" - plain ol' everyday regular Christians deal with this stuff, too. The temptation to hide who we are is overwhelming sometimes... so much so that we come up with a laundry list of rationalizations to deal with it:

  • if they saw what I was really like, they'd think badly of Jesus
  • if they knew what I was thinking/feeling, they wouldn't listen to me when I preach/teach/share/pray/whatever
  • if they get a glimpse of how messy my life is, they'd think that Christianity is bunk & doesn't really help anyone
I have to remind myself that:
  • I am not Jesus. Anybody who mistakes me for Him is not paying close attention.
  • My feelings/thoughts are not the same as my actions. People pay attention to me better when what I do lines up with the character of Jesus, not when I use the smoke & mirrors of spirituality.
  • Despite what some preachers/teachers say, the Bible does NOT promise us a mess-free life. In fact, people who follow God often find themselves at the bottom of a well (Joseph, Jeremiah), in trouble with the government (Elijah, Peter & John), or killed for telling the truth (Jesus, Stephen).
Most of all, I have to hit the rewind button in my brain over & over again to play back one of the most important concepts in the Bible:
I am not trying to please people. I want to please God. Do you think I am trying to please people? If I were doing that, I would not be a servant of Christ. (Galatians 1:10, CEV)
It's time to shatter the illusion - so that the real mystery can be revealed. It's time for us to let people see the supernatural power of God at work in our messy lives, rather than the "magic" of our own attempts to appear spiritual & together.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

I Couldn't Stop Myself

For the most part, I try to stay out of the "yelling matches" that sometimes get started in the community forums of Board Game Geek. I managed to resist staying out of this one an extra day or two by posting here on the blog (a post entitled In Depth.)

But that wasn't enough - so, just a few minutes ago, I posted this to the discussion. And now I've put on my fireproof underwear... sigh.

Like it or not, folks - religion matters. If any of us had any question about this, the thread itself is proof that religion matters to people. (125 posts when I began typing post #126...)

Even those of you who have taken an anti-religious stance have indicated by your continued presence & participation in this discussion that religion makes a difference. If religion doesn't matter, I don't understand the need to insert yourself into conversation about a particular world religion & board games. If it does makes a difference, well then, welcome to the chat room!

We may disagree on whether the difference that religion makes is positive or negative - there is clear evidence of both results - but you can not examine recorded history without stumbling across the influence of a variety of world religions & belief systems.

I am currently reading an excellent book on religious literacy that would primo reading for everyone involved in this discussion: Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs To Know - And Doesn't (by Stephen Prothero)

Prothero is not trying to convert anyone... he's advocating that since religion plays a major role (acknowledged or not) in so many areas of our society, it is prudent/wise for citizens to have a rudimentary knowledge of religions.

I am NOT talking about Christianity specifically here. Many of you know that I am an evangelical pastor, but I'm not attempting to argue (in this forum) for the legitimacy of the truth claims of the Christian faith.

Here's my dream:

  • I'd like to have interesting debates with atheists who've actually read the Bible instead of repeating chunks of Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens.
  • I'd like people who claim to follow Jesus to learn not to react like someone has set their hair on fire when they are disagreed with.
  • I'd like to play board games with anyone who can understand the concept of a social contract & a modicum of good manners, whether or not we agree on the historicity of the Bible.
  • I'd like to discuss history & religion with people of various backgrounds, secure in the knowledge that I won't be treated like an ignorant hillbilly because I choose to believe in something they don't.

Note: there are people in the gaming community who help to make my dream a reality. I'm thankful for their friendship.

May their tribe increase.

Friday, July 27, 2007


Just wanted to pass along a couple of nifty links to those who are playing along at home... in other words, folks who finished reading Book #7 of Harry Potter or folks who are involved in a discussion of board gaming & church groups over on the Geek.

Group #1: Wonder who that V. girl was that popped up at the end of the book? Curious about what kind of life the survivors of "the Deathly Hallows" manage? Check out this nifty compiliation of information straight from J.K. Rowling, courtesy of the nice folks over at Beyond Hogwarts.

Group #2: It probably wasn't the best thread title ever (Are there any Christian Gamer Associations functional?) but I understand the impulse behind it. Over time, however, the thread degenerated in a variety of ways:
  • I probably didn't help by questioning the whole tendency of Christians to congregate & create hermetically sealed bubbles of "Christian culture".
  • There was some discussion of appropriate behavior & inappropriate games (as I'd predicted.) One guy in particular has been very clear that he has the right to use the "f-word" around anyone he wants. (I'll give him that - I'll also suggest that if he uses that right liberally, I'd probably exercise my right not to invite him to play board games at my place.)
  • And, of course, a couple of atheists decided to drop in. I'm not knocking them for doing that - the digital frontier is open to all pioneers - but when that kind of thing goes down, some of my fellow followers of Christ can get pretty snippy and, well, fearful. (And in a few cases, rude. Dial it down, guys... seasoned w/grace & truth, right?)
So, here's my recommended reading for anyone who finds themselves wanting to over-generalize about the antagonistic nature of non-believers: Thom Rainer's excellent book, The Unchurched Next Door. It's a giant-sized helping of perspective, topped with a double portion of encouragement.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Card Games & Paint Spatters

By now, pretty much everyone who reads this blog is aware that I'm somewhat obsessed with my hobby, collecting & playing board games. (Those of you who've seen the game room are sniggering at my use of the word "somewhat" in the previous sentence - stop it.) One part of my enjoyment of the hobby is online conversations about board games with other folks who share my enthusiasm.

One of those conversations yesterday (on Spielfrieks) took a very interesting turn. We had been talking about a new "take that" card game (the best known "take that" game is Milles Bornes) which has weak gameplay & even weaker card art. That got some folks wondering about the ugliest card art they'd ever seen... which then led someone to bring the cliché that "beauty is in the eye of the beholder". And then I felt compelled to tell my story:

I'm reminded of our visit to the Art Institute in Chicago... after hours of perusing art by Seurat, Rembrandt, CĂ©zanne, Van Gogh and others, we found ourselves in the lower reaches of the Institute, in the "Contemporary" section.

After looking rather askew at a Jackson Pollock (I understand intellectually that I'm looking at something "fraught w/meaning", but it still looks like paint spatter to me), we turned to see a small African-American woman in a guard's uniform standing beside.

"I painted that," she said... and smiled.

My wife & I laughed and turned to look at an abstract nude of an obviously overweight woman to our left.

"That's my mother-in-law," she said.

I don't think I ever appreciated art quite as much as I did that afternoon.
Matthew Frederick responded:
One afternoon at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, after having spent a week straight touring the city with my daughter, I plopped down exhausted on a bench to wait for her to finish with something and come find me.

I'd felt exactly as you do about Pollock, that it was just paint splatters, and that though in theory I should see something or be moved, there just wasn't anything there for me. Turns out I was sitting across from a huge Pollock, but I pretty much ignored it. Suddenly, though, WHAM, I could see it. Motion, and flow, and depth. The painting was simply stunning. My brain had finally worked it out.

To this day I can immediately find depth in Pollock paintings, but my brain's never quite worked out improvised jazz. Similar to the Pollock, I know it's a matter of my brain "getting it," and perhaps someday it will. I'll never forget my sudden awakening to the painting style, though, and the realization that there are some things that I just don't get yet, but that doesn't mean there's nothing there.

(Not saying that you're saying there's not... just a memory and an observation.)
To which I responded:
Actually, Matthew, you've just given me one of the best sermon/message illustrations ever. That's the way I feel when I try to explain the grace of Jesus Christ to someone - like I'm talking & talking andthey're looking at me like I'm trying to describe a Jackson Pollack painting.

And then there's that moment when they "get it"... sweet.
With some more time to think about it, I've come to a trio of interesting conclusions about art & faith:

  1. I think we feel like it's our "Christian duty" to be able to explain everything there is to know about an infinite God... it's this impulse that leads televangelists to claim to know why God allowed 9/11 or a Christian friend to jump quickly to "they're better off in heaven" to a grieving friend. Since we can see, as Matthew put it, the "motion & flow & depth" of a life that orbits around Jesus, we want desperately for other people to see it, too.
  2. According to the Bible, our primary obligation is to live a life of "motion, flow & depth" - to do what Jesus did. (Romans 8:29) We should be "prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have" (1 Peter 3:15), but that verse doesn't imply that we should explain the ways of God. Our responsibility is to tell our own story... (BTW, explaining the ways of God is gonna be pretty darn difficult when the Bible claims that "his ways are higher than our ways" (Isaiah 55:9).)
  3. Finally, notice how Matthew ended up in front of the Jackson Pollack painting. He wasn't planning to be there - but someone (the curator) had placed a bench where he could take his time to soak it in. Another part of our job as followers of Christ is to metaphorically put up paintings & place benches so that people can have the opportunity to examine Jesus... the chance to have one of those moments where the "motion, flow & depth" becomes clear... a moment where they can clearly experience the grace of God. Our churches need to be that kind of place - where people weary from life can come in, sit down & see what it looks like when people in love with Jesus give themselves to Him 100%
So... what are you thinking? What's God saying to you out of my silly conversation about board games & art?

This article was adapted from an article originally published in the 7/26/07 edition of the Grapevine, the newsletter of NewLife Community Church.

If you'd like to join the aforementioned gaming discussion group, spielfrieks, here's a great article (from my buddy, Larry Levy) on why it's so diddly-dang hard to get into an "open" group... and how you can join the conversation!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Four Years Ago Today

That's right - I've been in Fresno for four years now.

On Friday, July 25th, I got up early in San Jose, drove south through Gilroy (which was in full garlic mode, as it was Garlic Festival Weekend), and headed across the mountains to the Central Valley with my stereo blaring Rich Mullins' Here in America and Derek Webb's She Must & Shall Go Free. (That 2nd album makes for real interesting listening when you're on the way to pastor a new church... well, new to you.)

That was the day the moving van arrived - we won't talk about how totally messed over we were by our moving company - and it was also the last day of Vacation Bible School. My first official act as pastor was to attend the closing night carnival.

Shari & Braeden (Collin wasn't around yet!) didn't arrive for two more weeks... giving me time to (sort of) get everything moved in, buy a new TV, eat out a lot of meals with folks from the church (while only getting food poisoning once), and generally start to set a routine. (The picture is from the day they flew into Oakland... we took Braeden to Alameda to the beach to let him play in the water.)

Four years down the road, I can't tell you how much I appreciate the folks here at NewLife Community Church... as we've struggled with Braeden's Kawasaki syndrome, Collin's birth & feeding issues, Shari's emotional struggles and the craziness that comes when you lead a church into faith-testing decisions (hiring a 2nd staff member, starting a building campaign, beginning a new innovative worship service), these folks have been with us all the way.

Thank you... it's really been a gift from God for us to be here. We hope you feel the same.

Stumbling, Thanks to Firefox

I feel like a traitor.

A little history to explain:
  • When I first connected with the Internet, I did so through CompuServe, back when the whole "World Wide Web" wasn't so worldwide & the folks at CompuServe primarily channeled you through their glorified BBS systems... and then, attempting to stem the tide, finally let users onto Usenet.
  • My first real browser, when I graduated to actually using a browser, was Netscape Navigator, which I dearly loved. But when we changed from OS7 to, well, whatever we changed to, Netscape was pretty unstable in the new enviroment, leading me to...
  • ...sell out to the Dark Side of the Force and begin using Internet Explorer. (The less said about this blighted period in my life, the better.)
  • With our most recent computer upgrade, I had access to OSX and Apple's own browser, Safari - which I used (mostly) happily...
  • ...until I visited my folks earlier this month and got to try out Firefox on my mom's Mac G5. The features were roughly comparable to Safari - but the thing that got me to turn traitor was that Blogspot (who host all of the blogs I write) supports Firefox & only has a patchwork editor in Safari.
Parting is such sweet sorrow.

The other thing that Firefox has given me is StumbleUpon, a weird little Web-cruising add-on that recommends sites based on your preferences. I've found some interesting things I'll be sharing you, starting with this picture with this post - Shari & I both laughed so hard at this we nearly cried. (Picture found at http://sprott.physics.wisc.edu/pickover/pc/manwoman.html)

Monday, July 23, 2007

For Crying Out Loud, I Was 4 Years Old!

Me at Knott's Berry Farm in the summer of 1968... I mentioned this in a post earlier today.

Bunco Nite @ the Fresno Gamers

When four out of the six games you play in an evening rely on a sweet touch on those six-sided cubes, you know you're in for a wild ride.

We started out with Dancing Dice... a pleasant diversion of a dice game that has two important features/bugs:
  • everybody plays at the same time (feature!)
  • everybody rolls their dice behind a little screen, making it insanely easy to cheat (potential bug!)
The solution? Don't play with people who cheat. Simple enough, eh?

Braeden (my six year old son) beat 3 adults at this... partially by rolling "Boogies" 3 times in a row - and partially by scoring the only Gala I've ever seen in my 10+ plays of the game.

Next up, a non-dice game: Burg Appenzell. I finally got to play this 4 player & it was as good as I'd thought it would be. I have a minor quibble with the sliding part of the game (the works get gummed up sometimes, I think because of the curved edge finish of the tiles), but otherwise I love the components & the gameplay. Steve Case pulled out a win... but Steve G & I were only one kind of cheese behind him.

Rum & Pirates followed, a game with a lot of dice-rolling but still a good bit of tactical play. Due to the board placement (the HQ was in the center, with all three pubs near the outer edge), we managed to drink all the pubs dry, plunder all the treasure chests, and two of the five players (John & Steve G) managed to recruit their full crew from the Pirate Unemployment Office. John's larger crew was probably the margin of victory, as he was only 8 points in front of my smaller & yet surprisingly effective crew.

Then John broke out his brand-spankin' new copy of
Heroscape Marvel: The Conflict Begins - and even though we had five players, we just divided into two teams (John & the 2 Steve's were the good guys; Richard & I were the villains) and played the "amulet" scenario. (I don't remember the name - but it uses the abandoned warehouse set-up.) It's an 8 round "last man standing" game, with the added oomph of the amulets - the character who picks up the amulet gets the special powers of any character it kills. After Abomination spent 4-5 rounds just chipping the paint on Iron Man's suit, we finally got Thanos into range. Since he was the amulet holder on our team, his killing Iron Man was a very good thing - it gave him a double attack that we soon turned on Spiderman & the Silver Surfer.

A capsule review from a long-time player & collector of Heroscape: this is a MUCH less effective starter set for this series than the original Heroscape. I think this will need expansions quickly - and esp. terrain, to allow some kind of interesting movement. (As it was, we all got into position & rolled dice to attack each other.) It's not a bad game, mind you - just an incomplete one.

The Steve's had to hit the road, so the three remaining gamers got in two more games.

The first was (surprise!) not a dice game - though a number of folks feel like closed fist bidding is just as random. It was the quick little auction game
O Zoo Le Mio... which offers an interesting combination of blind auctions, tile-laying & cute bits in a 30 minute package.

Admittedly, the game (as published) does have a bit of a "rich get richer" problem, which would be inexcusable in a game that runs 60 minutes +, but isn't quite as big a deal with a 1/2 hour playing time. (There are some fixes listed on the Geek - I've actually never tried any of them, as it doesn't bother me that much.) You just have to win enough early auctions to stay with the pack in income, and then the later rounds become a very interesting mess of decisions on when to bid or over-bid.

Richard's Villa Gorilla had a hard time early on, which, as mentioned, translates into a tough time throughout the game. So John's AquaShark and my Crocodome battled for supremacy, with my park snaking out the victory in the final round.

Our last game of the night was To Court The King... a brilliant dice game that I've likened to a cross between Yahtzee & Magic: The Gathering. You take turns rolling dice to make certain combinations (all evens, pairs, X of a kind, straights, etc.) in order to acquire cards which give you special powers (more dice, the ability to re-roll certain dice, add pips, etc.) The objective is to eventually roll 7 (or more) of a kind and claim the King & Queen, which sets a "last licks" endgame into motion.

I'm a huge fan of this game with three players... and this playing showed the game off. John was the one who finally grabbed the King, forcing me to go first. I managed to roll 9 sixes, which knocked Richard out (he only had 8 dice). John, with nine dice, proceeded to roll 8 sixes - and then booted on his final roll. A-mazing.

17 Hours, 18 Kids, 4 Bathroom Stops

Last Tuesday, I (along with 5 other adults) took a crew of 18 4th-6th graders to Knott's Berry Farm. It was a very long day - we met at 6:00 am, left Easton at 6:20 am, arrived at Knott's around 10:30 am, played until 5:00 pm, stopped to eat dinner, and then (3 bathroom stops later), arrived back in Easton around 11:00 pm.

Still, long day aside, it was a lot of fun. I've been going to Knott's since I was a very small child (there are pictures of me sitting next to the saloon girl statues at about age 4) and I have pretty vivid memories of:
  • riding the Log Ride for the first time
  • being beaten to death by the Corkscrew (which isn't there anymore)
  • riding Montezuma's Revenge over & over
  • being frightened by the miners in the Calico Mine
  • singing with my high school choir in the Birdcage Theatre
  • riding with my girlfriend on the Parachutes (which are also gone)

We rode most of the coasters (Ghost Rider, the big wooden coaster, was closed) and way too many of the "queasiness" rides (like Wipeout, which, as advertised, wiped me out). Xcellerator is a great (if short) "gun" coaster that fires you out of the station at 80 mph then over a 200 ft hill where you pull negative G's. Silver Bullet is a hanging coaster with a smooth ride & a lot of inversions. The aforementioned Montezuma's Revenge is a forwards/backwards loop - but it still packs a wallop for a 30+ year old coaster. The Jaguar is no big deal, but it's got some nice curves and some good air on a couple of the bumps.

The newest coaster is Sierra Sidewinder... a small-ish (100 ft high) coaster that primarily has banked turns & short drops. What makes it so wild is that each 4-person car in the four car train spins independently as you ride - it's like crossing a small coaster with the Tea Cups at Disneyland. (That's the picture at the top of this post.) I was surprised that the spinning didn't bother me much - it wasn't constant - and a couple of times it allowed us some wild views. (We went through one of the banked circles facing straight down at the ground - yowsa!) They also took video of the ride - which they'd sell to you for $20. (No thanks...) This is the first ride of this type in the U.S. - of course, Disney just opened Crush's Coaster at Disney Studios Paris, which uses this ride system on an indoor ride with some pretty cool special effects.

Speaking of Disney, Knott's is missing two main things in comparison to my beloved Disney parks:

  • decent theming - while parts of Ghost Town are very nice, the majority of the park is like a state fair set in concrete... and it's esp. sad in light of what used to be. The Roaring 20's theme was used for the "back" of the park to great effect in the early 80's - and now most of that is gone, eaten by a hodge-podge of rides & stands. And don't get me started on Fiesta Village - with the obviously Viking "Dragon Ship" ride.
  • pleasant cast members - our last five-day visit to the Disneyland Resort yielded one cranky cast member and a plethora of delightful experiences. 7 hours at Knott's on a less-crowded summer day with good weather, and I only saw 3 or 4 crew members smiling at guests.

Knott's does have a price advantage - it's a very cheap park for kids ($18 normally/$15 for group tickets) and their price break for adult folks in groups ($45/$23) is really good. They are also the easiest amusement park to work with for group reservations I've found ever.

So, here's what I walked away with:

  • We'll probably keep taking kids to Knott's... it's the most hassle-free amusement park trip we can do to a decent park.
  • I like the big coasters... but I'd rather have the total package (Disney).
  • I came home & looked up whether my G4 Mac can handle the system requirements for Rollercoaster Tycoon 3... which it can't. Sigh. (Being a park which I think needs help made me want to design my own.)

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Mad About Harry

Quips, quotes, thoughts & reactions about Harry Potter from a couple of evangelical followers of Christ... followed by some commentary from me:

I stand by my recommendation to be familiar with Rowling's works. This is a momentous occasion in popular culture. There have been few phenomena in modern history that have rivaled these books and the cottage industry of films, video games, and merchandise that have followed.

But beyond reading them for cultural literacy, are they also a cultural battle front?

I think not (for a full "Whitepaper" on Harry Potter, for use by parents, teachers & pastors, use the following

First, to think the books are evil and wrong and harmful - in and of themselves - is misguided. As Christian author Charles Colson, along with other Christian writers and thinkers such as Richard Mouw, Connie Neal, Alan Jacobs and Francis Bridger have noted, the magic used in the books is mechanical, not blatantly occultic. No more than the magical powers of Superman. It's attempting to be fantasy, not reality. There is no contact with a supernatural, demonic world in the classical form of the occult.

In truth, they are simply morality tales, and the magic is used as a metaphor for power. The overarching theme is the fight between good and evil, and that evil is real, and must be resisted. The characters develop courage, loyalty, and the willingness toward self-sacrifice. In and of themselves, the Harry Potter books are best lumped with the fantasy works of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, where wizards and witches and magical potions also abound, but in a fantasy framework where the author uses them to present good as good, and evil as evil. In fact, Rowlings's appreciation for Lewis runs so deep that his writing was the primary reason for seven Potter books - she wanted to match the seven in the Narnia series. Rowling herself is a professing Christian and member of the Church of Scotland, and while she doesn't pretend the Harry Potter series are overtly Christian books, a Christian worldview is behind every page.

This does not mean that parents shouldn't talk their children through the books - they should. As with any fantasy book - or film - you should make sure that your child is old enough to know the difference between fantasy and reality. Further, the Harry Potter books are not "kiddie" books. The later books in the series become increasingly mature (in the first book, he is eleven; by the seventh, he is seventeen). Parents should also make sure they help their children contrast the mechanical, fantasy magic in the books - and the fantasy magic in all fairy tales and children's literature, from Snow White to Cinderella - with the real life witchcraft the Bible condemns, which encourages involvement with supernatural evil.

Yet the larger conversation can be more positive, for the Harry Potter books and films give every parent and child something to think about as Christians, such as the reality of good and evil, the critical importance of choices, and the nature of sacrificial love.

So I, for one, say pick up and read.

I know I am going to.
That's from James Emery White, author of some wonderful books (my favorite is Embracing the Mysterious God: Loving the God We Don't Understand), pastor of Mecklenberg Community Church, and professor & former president at Gordon Cornwell Theological Seminary. (It comes from his Serious Times newsletter/website.)
Granger has focused on her [Rowling's] language and symbolism, in large part because of his similar studies in "Great Books" and ancient languages.

"I started reading the Potter books as an Orthodox Christian father who had to explain to his oldest daughter why we don't read such trash," he said. "But once I started turning the pages the University of Chicago side of me kicked in."

Take that climactic scene in "The Prisoner of Azkaban," he said. The Latin "expecto," as used in the Apostles' Creed, is best translated "to look out for" or "to long for expectantly." And "patronus" means guardian, but can also mean "deliverer" or "savior." So Potter cries "I look for a savior" and a stag appears, one that looks mysteriously like a unicorn.

In the Middle Ages, noted Granger, stags were Christ symbols, in part because of the regeneration of their antlers as "living trees." A cross was often pictured in the prongs. Lewis uses a white stag in this manner in "The Chronicles of Narnia." Unicorns were also popular Christ symbols, portraying purity and strength.

Rowling repeatedly links Potter with creatures - a phoenix, griffins, centaurs, hippogriffs, red lions - used by centuries of Christian artists. Her use of alchemy symbolism taps into medieval images of spiritual purification, illumination and perfection.

And Harry's snowy white owl? It is interesting to know that Saint Hedwig is the patron saint of orphaned children. And the final product of that spiritual, alchemical discipline? The goal was to create a symbol of salvation and eternal life, something called "The Philosopher's Stone."
And that last quote is from the folks at GetReligion.org, as they quote John Granger. Look, I'm not sure I see everything that Granger sees (and I have a B.A. in English Literature and did some particularly deep study of the works of C.S. Lewis) - but stuff like this helps me to see that there's more going on in these books than a simple yarn.

Here's my recommendation for dealing with these books & kids: read them WITH your children and talk about the Christian truth evidenced in these stories. They are, whether you like it or not, a huge part of the cultural conversation (over 2 million copies of the final book were pre-sold online... and the first printing in the U.S. alone is 12 million copies). Rather than bury our heads in the sand, why don't we see how we can pull an Acts 17 moment with these well-written works of fiction?

This post is adapted from an article published in 7/19/07 edition of the Grapevine, the newsletter of NewLife Community Church.

While Daddy Was Gone

While I was in Paso Robles, Shari & the boys ended up playing in the backyard. Add a sprinkler... and this is what you get.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

7 Hours & Change...

...that's how long it took me to read Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows today.

Some of you are aware that I have a 2 year old & a 6 year old and are now wondering how in the world I carved out 7 hours to read. Ah, but you are unaware that I had to go to officiate an out-of-town wedding without my family & thus had lots of time on my hands.

Enough time, in fact, to join the line outside the Paso Robles, CA, Wal-Mart right around midnight last night in order to pick up a copy. I read for 3 hours (until I was having trouble concentrating on the story), went to bed, woke up around 8 am and kept reading until right around noon. (Such is the joy of having a hotel room to yourself.) Then, because I am a connoisseur of fine culture, I watched the American Gladiators marathon on ESPN Classic while I got ready for the wedding.

Some (NON-SPOILER) thoughts on the book:
  • It made me cry - two or three different times. Some sad, some happy. (Man, am I over-invested in these fictional characters or what?)
  • It's the darkest (appropriately) of the series... while there isn't anything in here that kids wouldn't here and/or see on network TV, it's still not for the youngest 'Arry Potter fans.
  • It's going to make a stunning movie in a couple of years - there are some amazing set pieces (action sequences) that will be overwhelming on the screen.
  • Don't wait for them to make this into a movie - each book the films have been able to get less & less of the story onto the screen... and this one has more stuff "stuffed" into it than all but Goblet of Fire. You should read this one.
  • In fact, you should read all of them... more on that tomorrow when I post my Grapevine (church newsletter column) from this week.
Do everyone else a favor - no spoiler comments in the comments, OK?! (And congratulations, Josh & Crystal - "Mwarriage. Mwarriage is what brings us together today. Mwarriage that blessed arrangement. That dreawm within a dreawm...")

Monday, July 09, 2007

OR is OK by ME

Greetings & salutations from the Great American Northwest... the family & I are on vacation here in Oregon, staying with my mom & dad. (This, somewhat obviously, explains the dearth of blog posts this last week.)

So, here's a quick highlight reel so far:
  • watching fireworks on the 4th over the Columbia River
  • seeing Ratatouille in the Columbia Theater in St. Helens, OR... a great little small town theater! (This was Collin's FIRST "in the theater" movie.) BTW, the movie itself was delightful.
  • going to OMSI (the Oregon Museum of Science & Industry) with my dad & Braeden... the picture above is taken in the Chemistry lab
  • having lots of time to read & relax, thanks to my sister (Aunt Liz) and mom & dad being able to help take care of the boys
  • having lots of time to hang out with my sister & folks, thanks to being in Oregon
  • spending time with my best friend from high school, Keith, his lovely wife Melissa and HIS mom & dad who were up here visiting from SoCal... while we chatted, Braeden played with Keith's daughters (all three of them!) and two neighborhood girls. (Keith commented that the overload of estrogen was his day-to-day existence - Braeden was just getting a taste.)
  • Braeden & I got to make stops at Rainy Day Games (what a great store!) and the Lego Store in Washington Square.
  • And, thanks to that visit to the Lego Store, I found the missing set of our Castle Duplo Legos... and an extra armored dragon! (Yes, small things make me happy.)
We're headed to the coast today... so no posts again until late in the week. If everything works right, however, we should come back with pictures of sand castles!

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

This Blog Is Rated...

Online Dating

Fight The Disease

If you are involved in church, either as a volunteer or as a staff person, please help Anne by taking part in the survey & spreading the word.

I know I say this a lot, but I plan to write more about this later. For now, let me just say that "Better to burn out than to fade away" is a horrific way to live & minister... yet I've watched too many folks inside the church do just that. And this isn't just a "professional Christian" problem - volunteers watch the stupid way we choose to live & follow us right over the cliff like lemmings. It's time for this stuff to get out in the open.

BTW, I found this thanks to the guys at
Church Marketing Sucks... as usual, they're perched on the bleeding edge of ministry issues.