Tuesday, August 03, 2021

They Say It’s Your Birthday! – A Plethora of Gaming Impressions


Well… between a great sale at Miniature Market in mid-June, Father’s Day, my birthday, and a Kickstarter finally delivering, my already overly-large game collection became – ahem – larger. 

More importantly, my birthday “party” was to road trip to West Virginia with my older son, Braeden, and spend a long weekend with my good friend (and fellow OG writer) Ted Cheatham playing board games and eating Jane Cheatham’s delicious cooking. 

What follows is my quickie recap of the games we played… some old, some brand new – but all enjoyable due to the company! In addition, I’ll add some notes about additional plays of other games played in the week or so since the trek to Charleston.

And, because I understand some of you just won’t every word I’ve written, I’ll add the box cover picture of my favorite new-to-me game from each day.

Wednesday (not actually at Ted’s)

Marvel Champions: The Card Game

My sons and I fought bravely (but badly) against Drang & the Brotherhood of Badoon… it was fun to bring out Rocket Raccoon, Groot, and Gamora as characters. However, their pre-set decks need some fine-tuning. (Good thing I’m aware of Marvel CDB… a great database of decklists!)

Undaunted: Normandy

Just the first scenario… but both Braeden and I were impressed with how clean the game design is and how much fun it was to play. It reminds me a bit of War Chest, but with more random elements and greater flexibility. A second play with my younger son, Collin, reinforced my excellent first impression. I’m very much looking forward to the Reinforcements expansion box coming later this summer that will add solo and four player elements to the game system. (Note: I feel this way despite losing both games to my evidently much more battle-savvy sons.)

Thursday (at Ted’s after 6 hours of driving)

Great Western Trail

My first play of this was really enjoyable (it doesn’t hurt that I won) – though it may be a little long for me to regularly get it on the table, it’s going on my wishlist with the new edition coming out later this year. (We played with the Rails to the North expansion – which added some complications I’m not sure are entirely necessary.) Now that I’m OK with this ‘bigger’ Pfister design, I may have to break down and try Maracaibo. 

Paleo

Very clever nominee for the Kennerspiel this summer, this prehistoric co-op went well. It is a crowd-dependent game – the inability to cooperate and sacrifice in a group would doom the experience – but we managed to fight off the hordes of wolves, build a stone circle, and save our people from extinction. Braeden liked it enough that he bought himself a copy to take back to college!

It’s a Wonderful World

I’m closing in on 30 plays in 2021 of this card-drafting civ builder – thanks in good part to my younger son (Collin) and I playing through both expansion campaigns. (I wrote a review on the OG of the Wonderful World expansions that you’re welcome to read.) This was a “back to basics” game (as Ted hadn’t played before) in which Braeden edged me out for the win by two points. (I’m not bitter, I promise.)

Monster Expedition

Another Pfister game, set in the Carnival of Monsters “world”… but with much less mental overhead than Great Western Trail. I’ve described this dice game as Pickomino/Heckmeck im Brautweck with a slightly friendlier “bad roll” policy and, well, monsters. It’s a very good (if short) solo game… but works well with 2-3 players. I think it’s a tad long with 4, but my gamer friends here in Nashville thoroughly enjoyed it over the July 4th weekend at that player count.

Heist: One Team, One Mission

A battery-operated real-time puzzle for a team of players, trading resources back and forth and punching the button on their side of the cube when ordered. Winning releases a shower of gold (aka plastic) bars. One play was enough for me. 

Slide Quest

Remember those old wooden Labyrinth puzzles that challenged you to get the metal marble past all the openings? (Or, if you’re a Survivor fan like me, the similar puzzles used in immunity challenges?) Now, imagine adding some theme, what looks like a shrunken Little People figure with a ball bearing underneath him, and multiple players controlling the pitch and yaw of the “table”… and you have Slide Quest. We managed to complete 5 missions before we ran out of lives. If the boys were younger, I’d probably make sure we had a copy of this one in the collection.

Friday (at Ted’s house)

Jambo

Somehow, I had never played this “classic” Kosmos two-player, so while Braeden slept on Friday morning, Ted & remedied that lapse in gaming knowledge on my part. Honestly, I’m not sure I see what all the praise was about – there’s a LOT of take-that action cards to juice up a pretty straightforward “collect stuff to buy victory points” game. 

Of course, playing this reminded me of playing Waka Waka (another game in Rudiger Dorn’s Jambo setting) at midnight at the Gathering of Friends… with a badly rendered Google translation and the mellifluous vocal tones of Warren Madden reading the rules to an increasingly confused Larry Levy (another OG writer) and I. The game – eh. The experience – priceless.

1911: Amundsen vs Scott

Ted & I only played the basic version of this historically based racing game… which means we only had to get to the South Pole. (The advanced version requires you to actually return to safety.) I like the asymmetric nature of the pathways and use of cards, but it’s not something I need to play again.

Dragonheart

Braeden was still slowly getting up, so the two-player games continued. Dragonheart was another game I’d missed – though I’d heard a number of gamer friends talking about how much they’d enjoyed it. I was not sure what to expect… but it’s an excellent two-player filler game. It plays quickly (10-15 minutes max) and has some painful decisions (which good thing do I leave for my opponent while I try to hang onto these better cards?). I’d be happy to find a copy as it is right in my younger son’s “let’s play something short” wheelhouse.

Cosmic Cows

Maureen Hiron’s take on Yahtzee… yet another game I knew about but had never played. It runs a little long, but I found it charming and much more fun than playing straight Yahtzee. (The cow bits are very cute.) My thought on further reflection – I’d love for a travel version of this where the sliders are locked into the board – it would be a great “play anywhere” game.

Core Worlds: Empires

I’ve been a playtester as well as a huge fan of Andrew Park’s newest journey into the Core Worlds universe… so it was a real treat to introduce Ted to this sprawling worker placement game. (If you’re interested in more details, I wrote an extensive review earlier this year.) Ted and I tied – with the tiebreaker falling to him. 

This is the opposite of Dragonheart, though – it’s not a short filler but a long (slightly over 3 hours for 3 players) game with a good bit of reacting to the vagaries of the event cards and keeping yourself in position to take advantage of them. The game should be available late this year – and I’d recommend it highly to fans of the Core Worlds universe and folks who like think-y worker placement designs.

Bastion

An older (2015?) cooperative tower defense game from Hobby World… the encircling card mechanic is a neat idea. Overall, though, it didn’t generate a lot of difficult decisions – the majority of best moves were relatively easy to see. (We won, but it was close.)

Aqualin

Braeden took a break, so it was back to 2 player games… and this very pretty abstract tile-laying game was an enjoyable 20 minutes. The sliding component of the game reminded me a bit of Tally Ho!… but combining it with normal placement makes for a very different kind of game. I would say that it could be difficult for some players to mentally deal with grouping by color (one player’s objective) versus grouping by species (the other player’s objective). I edged Ted out for the win… but it easily could have gone the other way.

Carnival of Monsters

I had really wanted to play this Richard Garfield design back in 2019 when it was released around Essen, but the only copy we had at the Post-Essen Weekend I attended was in German (and without English rules available online). That made the chance to play it with Braeden and Ted even more exciting… and I wasn’t disappointed, even with Braeden running away with the win.

This is one of the four drafting games we played over the weekend… and I really like all of them. In Carnival, the drafting of lands in order to capture monsters is an interesting twist. This one has gone on my wishlist… and not just because it partners nicely with Monster Expedition (see above). 

Last Aurora

On paper, this is a game I should like – a race across a post-apocalyptic Snowpiercer-like environment with card drafting and some clever resource/worker management issues. In practice, it felt processional and unbalanced. (A problem inherent with race games – once you get behind, the old joke applies – the view never changes. I’m looking at you, Rallyman GT.) 

My poor finish didn’t help my attitude about the game – I’m wondering if I’d feel different with more or less players and/or a better understanding of what trucks might become available. Still, I’m unlikely to try it again.

CloudAge

Still in the post-apocalyptic vein, we took on our third Pfister design, this year’s CloudAge. I really enjoy this game (you can see the review I did with Tery Noseworthy on the OG) but hadn’t yet been able to play it with more than 2 players. So, I set up scenario 3 and we worked to make the world safe for plants again.

Although I won, the scores were close – each of us was pursuing our own objectives and doing so in pretty successful ways. I still think the choices available in the game are interesting – and once you head down a particular scoring/development pathway, require you to make sure you are doing everything you can to keep the engine fed. I was struck by how I felt better resourced in the 3 player game versus 2 players (or solo!) – which makes me really curious about 4 player games!

Back to the Future: Back in Time

Ted and I ended the night by re-enacting the first of the Back to the Future films with the cooperative game Back in Time. If you’re familiar with the storyline, the game design does a splendid job of pulling all of those elements together – and the game itself is not a particularly easy co-op to win. I think the theme will appeal to non-gamers, but there’s some definite gamer-y sequencing elements (which dice? what order do I roll them in?) that could make it tough sledding for newbies.

Saturday (at Ted’s house)

Solenia

I was completely unfamiliar with this lovely-looking game of collecting resources from around the airship… but it’s a really great design. The unusual components (a dual-sided staggered board that loops like Up the River/Marrakesh, the cards with holes in the middle so you can see the resources) lend an exotic air to the straightforward gameplay. Ted managed to beat me – but I’d happily play again. 

Reavers of Midgard

In early May, our local games cafe (the wonderful Game Point in Nashville, TN) hosted a board game flea market… and one of the items I picked up was a Kickstarter copy of Reavers of Midgard (which included extra cards and, more importantly, nifty wooden resource pieces). I’ve enjoyed each game I’ve played of this Puerto Rico-ish game of Viking lore… though I am wondering if the “focus on sea journeys” strategy isn’t weaker than some of the other pathways. I managed a win over Braeden (barely!) with Ted lagging a bit – but Braeden & I had both played before. Note: I also really like Champions of Midgard, which I think does many of the same things as Lords of Waterdeep without the difficult-to-read cards across the table.

Draftosaurus

We didn’t actually play Draftosaurus live – this simply marked the end of the fourth or fifth game I’d played on Board Game Arena. My impression now after multiple plays – meh. I like the idea of a simple drafting game, but the limiting factor of the die roll means large chunks of your control are illusory.

Imperium: Classics

I had just received this game for my birthday… and had fought my way through the well-written but jargon-heavy rulebook before we left. So, with the warning that this would be a learning game for all of us, we jumped in.

I’ll cut to the chase for this post – both Braeden and I were bowled over by how much we liked the design and play of this game. And that’s in spite of Ted winning! I published a review of the game system - both multiplayer & solo - on the OG a couple of weeks ago.

Fast & Furious: Highway Heist

Let’s be clear – I’m not a fan of the Fast & Furious film franchise. The stunts/special effects are awesome, but my impressions of the parts of the films I’ve watched are “lots of substandard acting to set up stunning action sequences.”

So the designers of Fast & Furious: Highway Heist distilled their game down to the “stunning action sequences” – and it works beautifully. We played the first scenario (stop the tank with your sports cars) and won with only a turn or two to spare. The ability to do cool stunts is baked into the system, as is the ability to have a fistfight on top of a car with a bad guy. (There are two other scenarios in the game – one involving a tractor-trailer heist and another with a helicopter!)

We all noted that it was essentially “Thunder Road: The Cooperative Game” – so you can only imagine my delirious joy when Restoration Games announced one of their new projects was Thunder Road: Vendetta. (Yes, I Face-Timed Braeden at college and showed him the logo almost as soon as the press call with Restoration was done. That’s the kind of dad I am.)

Menara

Still going with cooperative games, Ted brought out Menara – which is the Villa Paletti-looking image you see at the top of this post. I will say that while this isn’t really my kind of game any longer, it works really well and it isn’t easy to win. And we didn’t.

Little Town

Recommendations from folks here on the OG and my long-time gaming friends in the L.A. area caused me to get Little Town… and I understand why now. Each game takes on its own personality (how mean are folks going to play? are we mixing buildings or essentially building our own very small villages?)… and each game is chock full of interesting decisions. My win here is likely due to my experience with the game.

Hadara

After dinner, one more drafting game – this time, Hadara. First things first – the new cover is ugly and doesn’t do the game any favors. With that taken care of, the game itself is an interesting take on the pass & draft system of 7 Wonders and I liked that multiple paths to victory seemed workable. I’d love to play it again… but someone should blow up the current cover.

Saint Malo

I told Ted I’d never played Saint Malo… but when I put the game into my board game tracking app (BG Stats), I discovered I’d played it 8 years ago at the Gathering and wasn’t terribly impressed. (I guess this is what it’s like to get old.) Sadly, I’m still not impressed – it’s a perfectly playable roll’n’write, but it just doesn’t have much zing.

Wonder Woman: Challenge of the Amazons

The third of the Target-available cooperative games we played this weekend – and while it has a very interesting mechanic to foil the alpha player problem (players are dealt two cards face up – and with that information discuss their plans… then receive three more cards that only they see and program their 3 moves without discussion), the game itself is pretty generic. In order to include multiple villains and scenarios, everything is done with cubes that change identities based on a single large villain scenario card – leading to the same issue I have with Lords of Waterdeep – I don’t ask for a rogue, I ask for a “purple”. That low level of thematic engagement is, for me, off-putting.

Sunday (at Ted’s house… and then home)

The River

Another morning, another day for Braeden to sleep in. Meanwhile, Ted and I continued pulling games out that I hadn’t played. The River has lovely production, but Ted’s description of it as “Worker Placement 101” is spot on. It would be a good gateway to those style of games to non-gamers… but there’s not enough there for folks with more experience in the hobby. Note: I won this game, so this isn’t sour grapes.

Cupcake Empire

I loved the dice mechanic at the heart of this game – and the graphic design was pretty sweet (pun intended), including the multi-colored meeples. But the progress of the game was pretty processional. I do wonder if more players would balance out some of that feeling… we played with just two players… and Ted, no surprise, was king of the cupcakes.

Fleet: The Dice Game

Fleet: The Dice Game reminded me of Hadrian’s Wall… and that’s a good thing. (As some of you might remember, I wrote a very positive solo review of Hadrian’s Wall earlier this year.) What it does better than Hadrian’s Wall is player interaction… the dice draft offers interesting but not-overwhelming choices that don’t bog down the game. I’d be happy to find a copy of it and add it to my collection. (My fishing boat-heavy loss to Ted was by only two points!)

Dragonsgate College

I’d considered buying this totally not-Harry Potter themed game a couple of different times – and while I enjoyed our play of it, it’s got a little too much fiddly to make it really enjoyable. Which is too bad, as the theme (really, Dragonsgate does not = Hogwarts… at all) is well-done and there are interesting ideas in the design. This was Ted’s morning, as he bested both Braeden & I, but the scores were very close.

And with that, we hugged Ted & Jane goodbye and headed back to Nashville.

Later (at home)

Just a couple of quick thoughts on games that arrived that same week!

Era: Medieval Age

My first play of Era was a bust (back in 2019)… but a great sale on the game & expansion along with birthday money burning a hole in my pocket convinced me to give it another go. I’m now convinced that the base game is solid but that the expansion is a must-buy/add due to the greater variety of buildings and the cards. We’ve been having a lot of fun with it two-player and solo.

Terraforming Mars: Ares Expedition

My Kickstarter copy arrived almost as soon as we got home – and I’ve managed to play 3 games solo and one game with two players. I think, over time, you’ll be able to quickly check the resource board of other players and make decisions on the best actions to choose (a la Puerto Rico and/or Race for the Galaxy). The early going is pretty much multiplayer solitaire, though. I’m impressed with the way they melded the action system with the familiar Terraforming Mars elements… so it’s going to make an excellent travel game to scratch that TM itch. Given the time and the choice, however, I’m more likely to bring my TM Big Box to the table.

Final note: if you’ve gotten this far, thank you. More importantly, thank you once again to Ted & Jane Cheatham for their amazing hospitality – and to my sons, Braeden & Collin, without whom their dad would have played a lot less games in the last 15+ years.


A version of this post originally appeared on the Opinionated Gamers website - which you should be checking out on a regular basis, since it's one of the best sites out there for written reviews & board game commentary. (And I'm not just saying that because I've been on the writing staff since the beginning... ok, that probably influences my opinion a bit.)

Wednesday, July 07, 2021

Build It And They Will Come: A Review of Minigolf Designer


To find a man’s true character, play golf with him.
P.G. Wodehouse

Growing up in Southern California, my miniature golf course of choice was Camelot Golfland… which, I figured out (thanks to the magic of Google) is still up and running. In seminary, my roommate and I managed to win second place in a best ball Putt-Putt tournament in North Richland Hills, TX… which meant we were awash in arcade tokens and free games of minigolf. During our Fresno years, the way we celebrated Thanksgiving away from extended family was to go to Blackbeard’s and buy an unlimited play pass for the minigolf and the arcade. And I was bummed to find out while working on this piece that I somehow missed National Miniature Golf Day on May 8th.

More recently, my boys & I have been deeply, profoundly, and hilariously moved by the ridiculous blend of miniature golf & Wipeout that is the TV show Holey Moley. If you haven’t seen it, you need to correct that as soon as possible – both seasons are on Hulu, there are clips on ABC’s website, and the new season (“Holey Moley 3D in 2D”) arrived in June.


I tell you those things so you know that miniature golf is in my blood – the neon colored golf balls, those tiny golf pencils, the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat… and that weird hole at the end of every minigolf course that eats your ball so you won’t go play again.

So when someone (I can’t remember who) mentioned the existence of Minigolf Designer, my ears perked up. I dug around and found out I’d missed a Kickstarter (that happens a lot) and that I’d have to order it from the company website. Having a little Christmas cash to burn, I did just that… and 2-4 weeks later, it arrived.

And what I got was a box packed full of gaming goodness… a quirky mix of mechanics, quality components, and simplistic art design that offers some interesting tile-laying challenges and plenty of opportunities for enjoyable game play.

Yeah, I like it. A lot.

Par Three

The objective of the game is straightforward – build a minigolf course that attracts people and satisfies the various demands of your investors. You need to stay within the property lines, not make the course too difficult or too easy, and layout the holes so that it’s easy to figure out where the tee box for the next one is located. 

The basic gameplay is equally straightforward – tiles are laid out drafting “lanes” (much like Kingdomino) and players choose tiles in an order based on which tiles they chose previously. There is a one-turn “look ahead” lane that can prove helpful… and a park bench at the front of each lane, where players can choose not to take a tile and instead have an early position for the next turn.

Once a player has chosen a tile, they place it in their minigolf course either orthogonally or diagonally adjacent to their clubhouse or any previously placed tile. 

Par Four

Just like miniature golf, the basics may be simple (hit the ball in the hole) but the particulars make it tricky (hit your ball through the windmill and bounce it off the angled bumper into the hole). The same thing is true with Minigolf Designer.

Each hole in your course is made up of at least two tiles – a tee box and a hole, both of which are rated at least 1 (and up to 3) in assessing the difficulty of a particular hole. The tile mix also includes a variety of straight and curved pieces rated from 0 to 3 to make longer holes and/or make your holes fit inside the property lines. Some tiles have a specific orientation, denoted by an arrow on the tile, that shows how they have to be placed in a hole.

Players track the difficulty of their course using their score cards and 36 small cubes. The objective is to keep the par number of each of your holes between par 3 and par 5 – while not exceeding a total of 36 for the par for your 9 hole minigolf course. 

Each course has property lines delineated by a blueprint card chosen by the player at the beginning of the game. Players are dealt three cards and select one to be their building site. Blueprints come in three different levels of difficulty – which also affects the number of points they’re worth at the end of the game. The highest level of difficulty has oddly shaped boundary lines and/or creeks and ponds that make building trickier.


In addition to course tiles, the tile set includes a number of tiles that show trees, dogs, patrons, tables… a wide variety of non-hole-related stuff. These tiles are useful for completely filling your building site as well as scoring points when your course is judged at the end of the game.

Par Five

The game enters the final stage when one player manages to complete their blueprint – whether or not they have everything “correct” for their course. That player has “stopped building” – and from then on takes tiles as a way to record points (and undercut the other players by taking tiles they want/need). The other players have a choice each turn to stop building and join the first player in collecting tiles or continuing to add to their course. When all players have stopped, the final accounting begins.

There are a number of ways to score points in Minigolf Designer:
  • You receive one point for each person pictured on the tiles in your golf course.
  • You receive three points for each tile chosen after you stop adding to your course.
  • You receive two points for each hole that is a par 3, par 4, or par 5.
  • You receive points from your blueprint card, ranging from 15-25 points.
  • You receive two points for each hole which helps form a circuit – in other words, where the green of the last hole is orthogonally adjacent to the tee box of the next hole.
  • You also receive points for satisfying the whims of your clients – there are two cards active each game. (For example, they might want trees… or benches… or holes with curves… or long holes.)
There are also a number of ways to lose points:
  • You lose one point for each unused par cube and one point for each extra par cube used. (In other words, you want the par for your course to be exactly 36.)
  • You lose one point for each spot without a tile in your blueprint.
  • You lose three points for each tile outside your blueprint.
  • You lose ten points for each missing or additional hole.
  • You lose three points for each hole with two greens or two tee boxes.
  • You lose three points for each mismatched connection.
  • You lose one point for each tile placed in the wrong direction (the aforementioned arrow tiles).
And that’s just the Family (or Basic) Game. In the Advanced Game, players have the opportunity to promise (using a deck of cards) to be the best at certain scoring areas… which can provide extra points at the end of the game as you are ranked against the other players. 

Alone Again (Naturally)

The solo mode for Minigolf Designer is the classic “beat your personal high score” system – which, given the design of the multiplayer game, makes perfect sense. You can play the Basic game or the Advanced game… either way, your turn consists of drawing two tiles and placing one into your golf course. Refusing both tiles costs you three points. Play until your blueprint is finished and score the game as usual. 

Stuff Tacked to the Clubhouse Bulletin Board

One of the punchboards provided in the game is the statistics sheet – which is never clearly explained in the rulebook. The designer, Alban Nanty, was kind enough to include this information to fans over on BoardGameGeek:
Well this sheet was added to use the empty space in the third punch board (taking the remaining place of a score sheet). I mentioned it in the component list in the rule book, but I didn’t find any space in the rule book to explain the usage.

Basically it explains how many Putting Green, Tee, straight tile, corner tiles, and field tile are in the bag. Moreover, by doing a simple division by the number of players, it tells you how many of each type, each player can hope to have. When you see a client face with an exclamation mark in one cell, that means the competition will be very tight for this type of tile with this specific client, if all the players try to fulfill the client constraint for all their holes.

Also the top of the Statistics Sheet reminds you that if you create 9 holes of 3 tiles + 9 field tiles, you will fill a 400 m² land. If you play with Mr Long, and if you want to have your 9 holes 4 tiles long, that means you won’t have space for field tiles (unless you chose a land of 410 m² or 420 m²).

This Statistics Sheet is mainly useful for ultra-competitive players. :-)
There’s also a nice tile sheet included in the box as well so you can, if you’re so inclined, see every one of the 264 tiles.

Final Thoughts

I’ve already noted at the top of this review that I like the game… but why I like it is important as well.

I think Alban Nanty has taken the part I like best about Kingdomino (the drafting system), used it to drive a tile placement game with thematic scoring (like Carcassonne but without the arguments about which set of farm rules we’ll be using), and provided the proper components (big cloth bag, easy to read tiles, clever use of cards to add variety) to make a really enjoyable game experience.

I’m not in love with the art on the cards, but the tile art and iconography work well. (Note: the cards are perfect playable – there’s no difficulty in reading and/or using them – I just don’t like the art style.)

I’d strongly suggest starting with the Basic game and leaving the Promise cards/tokens out of the mix until you’ve got a few games under your belt. The suggestion in the rulebook to only use the simplest (level one) Blueprint cards for your first game is also a good idea. 

Some reviewers feel like the all of the different scoring areas make the game difficult for new or casual players – but so far I’ve found that the combination of well-thought-out components (the large score board has all of the scoring rules clearly laid out in the middle of the track) and the thematic nature of the scoring keeps that from happening. 

I’ve been able to play the game with two, three, and four players… and a number of times solo. Each experience has been enjoyable – and I look forward to playing it more in the future as we return to face-to-face gaming with friends. I particularly look forward to the craziness likely to ensue when five of us build our minigolf empires all at once!

This review originally appeared on the Opinionated Gamers website. It has been slightly updated.

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Musical Theater, White Evangelicals & Politics

Over the years, my Grandma Jackson amassed a collection of Reader's Digest created record collections... including the one pictured here - a collection of Broadway standards. I have fond memories of sitting in the front room at her house, playing those records and listening to all of those songs over and over again... which might explain why I can sing "If They Asked Me, I Could Write a Book" from PAL JOEY even though I've never seen a production of the show.

Starting in late elementary school, I began appearing in musicals myself. I played Winthrop Paroo in THE MUSIC MAN, Schroeder in YOU'RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN, Lord Boxington in MY FAIR LADY, Pop in GYPSY, Ali Hakim in OKLAHOMA, and a secondary role whose name I can't remember in TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA. And I loved it, even though I didn't have a strong singing voice or any real dancing talent. (Let's be honest: when required, I could waltz or do a box step, but it required me to be muttering the count under my breath.)

In college, I was a theater major for a semester, even stage-managing a production of NO NO NANETTE... but more importantly, I discovered (thanks to friends) the wider catalog of musicals beyond the mid-century hit parade. I was intrigued by the theatricality of PIPPIN and CANDIDE and dove headfirst into the wonder that was BIG RIVER. I was mesmerized by the intricate (if darkly cynical) music of Stephen Sondheim. Of course, in the last few years I've come to deeply enjoy the music and artistry of HAMILTON... 

...but this post isn't really about my love of Broadway (even though I've never been to NYC). 

It's about politics. And white evangelicals.

Really.

It's the tale of two musicals. (Apologies to Charles Dickens.)

In THE MUSIC MAN, Harold Hill is a traveling salesman who is, without question, a con artist. He sells band instruments, uniforms, and the dream of "Seventy-Six Trombones" to unsuspecting townspeople... then skips out with the money. Marian, the town librarian and piano teacher, falls in love with him even though she knows he's a fake. Though he could make a run for it, he chooses to stay and face the music because he has also fallen in love with her. (I'll leave the wonderful coda to the story hidden for those of you who need to go immediately and watch the glorious movie adaption starring Robert Preston and Shirley Jones.)

I've come to believe that many white evangelicals had a similar view of Donald Trump back in 2016. They knew he was a con man, a flim flam artist, but they figured that his willingness to spend time with certain evangelical leaders would cause him not only to appoint conservative judges but also to take faith in Christ more seriously than he did with quotes like "I don't like to ask for forgiveness" and "two Corinthians". 

Yes, I realize that I'm over-simplifying this... bear with me for a minute.

In GREASE (a musical I really don't enjoy), Danny Zuko is a bad boy who's actually a nice guy when he's not around his gang of knuckleheads. His summer romance with Sandy is challenged when she ends up being the new girl at his high school... and comic hijinks and romantic plot twists ensue. And singing. Lots of singing.

Anyway, one of the key elements of GREASE is how it turns the classic "women tamed the West" trope on its head, as Sandy chooses to become a bad boy's dream girl to win him back. 

Which is similar to what has happened to white evangelicals in response to the craziness of the last four+ years. Rather than "the love of a good woman" changing the "unrepentant man" into a hero, the flim flam artist got a huge chunk of white evangelicals to figuratively dress themselves up like Olivia Newton-John in the final minutes of the film version of GREASE. ("Tell me about it, stud.")

I am a conservative white evangelical - though, as many of you have read, not a supporter of the former President or the current lemming-like bent of the Republican Party. My prayer is that we who claim Christ would have "A Brand New Day" (sly reference to THE WIZ) where our primary loyalty is not to a political party, not to a media-driven narrative of fear; and not to a guy with a spray tan whose trail of failed marriages & businesses should have made clear (similar to the song he often quotes) what kind of snake we were electing. 

To bring the metaphor back around, it's as if we lost our collective minds and decided that the best thing for the cause of Jesus was to throw our support behind a mixture of Mama Rose, Mrs. Lovett, Max Bialystock, and Jud Fry. Which makes the musical we've been writing look more like a Sondheim story than Jimmy Cagney in YANKEE DOODLE DANDY.
Now the practices of the sinful nature are clearly evident: they are sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality (total irresponsibility, lack of self-control), idolatry, sorcery, hostility, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions [that promote heresies], envy, drunkenness, riotous behavior, and other things like these. I warn you beforehand, just as I did previously, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit [the result of His presence within us] is love [unselfish concern for others], joy, [inner] peace, patience [not the ability to wait, but how we act while waiting], kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such things there is no law.
Galatians 5:19-23 AMP
Let's write a better story... one where the lead character is marked by the fruit of the Spirit rather than "fits of anger, disputes, dissensions" and "other things like these". Let's sing a better song, one that resonates with grace of the Bishop in the prologue to LES MISERABLES.

And let us live with your loyalties clear:
It’s not Godly to:
  • Love a news outlet more than the good news of God’s Word.
  • Love your American Citizenship more than your Heavenly Citizenship.
  • Love your membership to a political party or church denomination more than your membership to the Church.
Rondell TreviƱo (Twitter: @Rondell_Trevino)


Monday, June 21, 2021

Hadrian's Wall: A Solo Review

Someday, I’ll actually get to England and see Hadrian’s Wall for myself… but until that point, I’m stuck with surfing the Web to find pictures. For the uninformed, many parts of what remains of the Wall look like overly thick decorative walls – in some places as tall as nine feet (3 meters), but much of the Wall is substantially shorter. (Many of the stones that made up Hadrian’s Wall were carted off over the years to be used in other projects… kind of like a 19th century version of your standard HGTV renovation show.)

Playing the new flip & write game – Hadrian’s Wall – does not require me to “cross the pond” but instead cross off a number of boxes and symbols on my way to doing my duty as a Roman general, building a milecastle and the bordering wall. While the basic game mechanics are simple and straightforward…
  • Flip and resolve some cards
  • Take resources based on your decisions
  • Use those resources to train your troops and build structures
  • Face the onslaught of the Picts
…the game itself involves a myriad of decisions in how to best utilize what you’ve been given to accomplish your mission. 

From here on out, I’ll be focusing on how the game plays as a solo exercise. Near the end, I’ll offer my completely uninformed opinion about Hadrian’s Wall as a multiplayer game as well.

I Have Seen the Writing on the Wall

The first thing you’ll notice when you pick up the game box is how dang heavy it is for a flip-n-write game… and that’s due to two very thick (and large) pads of paper.

A digression: what do I call these? Scorepads? Score reams? Well, that’s not exactly right – this is more like a paper game board. The rule book calls them Game Pads… but that just makes me think of controllers for my son’s Nintendo Switch. 

Anyway, you (the solo player) take one of each page to make up an 18×9 writing space. Directly above it is your player board that shows the progress of the six game rounds and acts as a holding area for your workers and resources. 

With your trusty #2 pencil (or ink pen, if you’re the kind of person who never makes a mistake) in hand, this double-wide writing area is where all the action happens.

We Don’t Need No Thought Control

Each round, you flip the top card of the Fate deck to receive a set of workers and resources. (The number of workers & resources total 8 on each card, though they vary in amount of workers from 1-3 of each type and 0-2 resources.) You also receive resources based on your resource production (which can be improved throughout the game) and extra workers if you have built the appropriate buildings to attract them.

Then, you flip over two cards from your personal player deck – choosing one to slot under the player board to create end game scoring bonuses and one to place to the side which gives you more workers and/or resources.

Finally, you turn over one card from a second player deck to give you additional areas to scout and a different good to purchase. (This mechanic is used in both 1-2 player games to simulate other players.)

You will have three cards “visible” for each round
  • the Fate card (which has a possible good for purchase)
  • your Player card (which shows an area to send Scouts to examine)
  • the other Player card (which has both a good to purchase and an area for Scouts to, well, scout)
And now the spending of workers and resources begins… you alone decide from a veritable cornucopia of options where to pay to fill in various parts of your community to accomplish a wide variety of objectives.

The left hand “page” of your game board is about the wall and milecastle:
  • Increase your cohorts to defend the wall
  • Send servants out to harvest resources and increase resource production
  • Put soldiers forward as the Wall Guard against attacks from the Picts
  • Use Builders and resources to finish the Fort, erect the Wall and prepare the Cippi
  • Granaries are essential to allow more development
  • Train a Builder to fight as a soldier at the Training Grounds
  • Build Hotels, Workshops, and Roads to increase the number of workers
  • Use the Forum to retrain workers to do other jobs
The right hand “page” of your game board is about building your community in order to support and enhance your work. Your Citizen workers help attract important groups of Romans who then allow various buildings and opportunities:
  • Traders let you create Precincts and open the Market (which allows you to buy Goods)
  • Performers help open a Theatre and the Ludus Gladiatorious (bring on the bread & circuses!)
  • Priests tend their Gardens and erect ever larger Temples (which can curry Favor to mitigate losses in battle)
  • Appariotores allow for the creation of the Baths (a perfect place to bride officials to forget about your shortcomings) and the Courthouse
  • Patricians provide you with Diplomats (who can placate the invading Picts) and Scouts
Many spaces on your game “pages” contain a symbol that lets you mark off a space on a different place on the board or provides you with another worker or resource. Setting up chain effects is a particularly enjoyable part of the game design.

Some of the symbols lead you to mark off the four scoring tracks:
  • Renown
  • Piety
  • Valour
  • Discipline
These tracks provide end game points as well as additional workers. They also open up the possibility of building landmarks at high enough levels.

Yes, it’s overwhelming the first time you play. Take your time and go back to look at the rules for a particular building or area. Some things you build must be built in order; others allow you to mark boxes as needed. Still other areas require you to note the round number as you can only use them a limited number of times each round.

A strong suggestion: use your first couple of games to explore the space and try things. Don’t spend a lot of mental energy trying to figure out your best move when there is so much going on – it’s more important that you get a feel about how different elements of this game interact.

It’s also important to note that you won’t build everything. This is not Agricola – you can’t (and shouldn’t) try to do a little bit of everything. You’re going to need to lean in a particular direction.

Don’t Be Surprised When a Crack in the Ice Appears Under Your Feet

At the end of each round, the blue-painted folks from the North appear to attack your fortifications. You turn over cards from the Fate deck which indicate where the Picts send their troops – to your left, center, or right. Attacks that are repulsed earn you Valour; attacks that break through give you Disdain.

The Fate deck has one other use that I couldn’t find a great place to mention – so, since it’s combat-adjacent, I’ll put it here. When your gladiators fight, you flip a Fate card in order to see how much damage they take.

How Should I Complete the Wall?

The player deck offers twelve different scoring opportunities (worth 0-3 points each, for a maximum possible score of 18).
  • Final Disdain
  • Completed Wall Sections
  • Completed Cohorts
  • Complete Wall Guard Sections
  • Filled Temples
  • Completed Citizen Tracks
  • Total Gladiator Strength
  • Completed Scout Columns
  • Collected Goods
  • Resource Production
  • Large Buildings
  • Constructed Landmarks
Six of these will be under your player board to be scored at the end of the game.

Add to that four main scoring tracks worth from 0-25 points each. Subtracted from that score is the amount of Disdain you received from losing battles against the Picts. 

And with that, you see if you are worthy of leadership… or likely to be working on the next milecastle carting rocks to the site. (Personally, I’ve chosen 60 points as the threshold to count as a win –  though it’s the second tier in the rulebook rating system. With that metric, I’ve won three of my eight plays of the game.)

There are three difficulty settings – which are based on the number of Pict attacks you receive at the end of each of the six rounds. Personally, I find the middle (“Normal”) setting to offer the nicest balance between challenge and freedom to pursue a mix of objectives.

Is There Anybody Out There?

As the title makes clear, this is a review about Hadrian’s Wall as a solo game (see my final thoughts below)… but I still have a couple of thoughts about playing it multiplayer. I will stipulate that I haven’t actually played HW with anyone else, which means you need to take my next paragraphs with a rather large grain of salt.

There is very little interaction built into the game engine – only if you choose to send out a Scout or purchase a Trade Good will you give any workers or resources to one of your neighboring players. There are no racing portions of the game – in other words, no player gets a bonus for finishing their wall faster or winning the most battles against the Picts or (says the former theater kid) putting on the most plays at their theater. 

In some ways, I think this low level of interaction is probably a good thing. The tableau of two sheets of paper is very busy and would be extremely difficult to read across the table – thus leading to frustration as players would have little or no idea what their opponents were doing. 

On the other hand, I’m not sure there’s a great need to push for a full table of players to “get the real experience”. Your mileage may vary, of course… and, because I’m a stand-up guy, I once again remind you that I’ve only played this solo.

There’s Nothing You Can Say to Make Me Change My Mind

So, with all that information about how the game plays (and how the card decks are structured)… what do I think of Hadrian’s Wall as a game?

Honestly, I like it a lot. I’m intrigued by the choices I have as a player and the myriad pathways you can attempt in your quest for accolades and glory. After the first couple of plays that ran about 60-70 minutes, I’m now (just finished game #8 last night) knocking out games in about 35-40 minutes.

The same kinds of resource management issues that draw me into games like Terraforming Mars, Oh My Goods (and it’s cousin, Expedition to Newdale), and Empires of the North are an integral part of Hadrian’s Wall as well. (I’m not saying it’s just like those games or “if you love TM, you’ll love HW”.) These kinds of decisions make for solid solo designs – and Hadrian’s Wall has a lot of them.

In addition, the set-up/tear-down time (due to the flip-n-write design) is minimal, meaning a large chunk of your time is spent actually playing the game. And it has a relatively small table footprint, which means it will work well in my travel kit when I’m stuck in a hotel and need something to play on a less-than-roomy hotel desk.

The color palette of the game “pages” is pretty bland – appropriate to the historical time, but not what we’re used to with many current game designs. That said, the structure of the pages is well-thought-out and contains most of the information you need for play. (There is also a nice player aid for symbols on the back of the rulebook.)

Here’s the big finish – I usually give games I review 4-5 plays before writing the review… and sometimes 2-3 if they really don’t click. When I passed five games with Hadrian’s Wall, I was more than happy to keep playing… and look forward to bringing it to the table in the months ahead.

Notes of Various Kinds

Historical note: there are a variety of theories about the purpose of Hadrian’s Wall – defense from the Picts and other tribes to the north, regulation of trade, etc. I am not qualified to give a historical defense of this game design – but for someone who is a history buff, the combination of various elements of Roman society on the fringes of the empire seems right – gladiators but not to Russell Crowe-like proportions, trade markets and temples, diplomats and scouts (but not always and not always as helpful as you would hope), even a weak attempt at local theater (long before that Bill Shakespeare guy appeared on this very island).

Musical note: the headers for each section of this review are borrowed from Pink Floyd’s classic album, THE WALL (which both seemed thematically appropriate and an homage to my 15 year old self thinking that this album was the deepest thing I’d ever heard.)

Review note: I was provided with a review copy of Hadrian’s Wall by the kind folks at Renegade Game Studios. This review originally appeared on the Opinionated Gamers website.

Update: Since I wrote this review, I've played the game two more times... it's still intriguing and enjoyable!

Monday, June 14, 2021

Yesterday, Today... and Tomorrow: More Thoughts About the SBC

Yesterday

I went to church... the Southern Baptist church my family & I have attended for the last three years. Our pastor, just back from preaching at a Centrifuge camp site, did an amazing job of teaching Philippians 4. We sang contemporary worship songs and even had a verse of "I Surrender All" acapella. We dedicated a family with their newest child... and we honored our graduates and prayed over them. 

More than once, I teared up as I compared the joyful experience of worshipping with fellow believers to the horror show that has been the lead-up to the annual SBC convention this week.

Today

Later this afternoon, my family & I will make the trek to downtown Nashville and brave the crazy registration process in order to be present for the IMB Sending Celebration, where my nephew and his family will be recognized as new missionaries with the International Mission Board. As I've said before, I couldn't be prouder of them and their faith in Christ.

Tomorrow

There's been more information come to light since I wrote my Avalanche of Thoughts post about the SBC last week... in particular, the audio recordings that back up Dr. Moore's letters. And more things have happened... Ronnie Floyd's (dangerously close to gaslighting) response, the frantic action of the Executive Committee to hire a third-party firm to review themselves (though without the proper level of independence and reporting that will bring about meaningful change) - along with their self-congratulatory press release, the foolishness of the Wokeness and The Gospel conference, and a variety of news articles in places like The New Yorker and the Washington Post on what's about to happen here in Nashville on Tuesday and Wednesday.

So... as I pray for justice to prevail, for the truth to set us free, for God to use what some have intended for evil instead to do good, some more thoughts for you to consider.

---


The only way to end these controversies is to do the right thing. And the right thing is to vote on resolutions that support the sufficiency of Scripture and acknowledge that there are places where racism from the past still systemically intrudes in the present. And no, this does not make me a Critical Race Theorist, no matter how many times people on Twitter lie about that.

If we fail to do so, we will spark an exodus of black, young, and other leaders who care deeply about these issues.

Friends, if you think that Danny Akin is liberal, that black pastors have secretly infiltrated us with Marxism, and that abuse survivors are the enemy, then you’ve been fooled. Instead, I hope you will be discerning as you make wise choices on resolutions, motions, and elections of officers.

---


The idea that black Christians needed Karl Marx to teach them about *systems of oppression* in a country that had *legalized slavery* and *Jim Crow* might be the wildest take to gain footing in a long time.

---

Rachael Denhollander:

Guidepost [the firm hired by the SBC Executive Committee] is a highly skilled and qualified firm and I have confidence in their ability to do what the SBC needs.

HOWEVER, the ability to do what they are capable of will depend on the EC letting them do their job. Here's what you should ask for that isn't commissioned yet:

The EC has NOT included all paid, appointed or elected leaders or staff of the Convention in this commission. The scope should be broadened to include these official actors.

The EC has NOT committed to waiving privilege so that Guidepost has access to all data and information. This step is absolutely critical, but the EC alone can make this move, and any firm hired would be inhibited by a refusal to do so no matter how good the firm.

The EC has NOT commissioned a public report on the findings and recommendations. This is a critical component of accountability and transparency that must be included in the commission.

Guidepost is a truly independent, international firm that specializes in policy and cultural analysis and ethical compliance, with leaders that have a strong background in religious dynamics. I've been aware of their work for several years and been very pleased.

But the EC will only get the benefit of what they allow themselves to get. 

Ask for waiver, an extended scope and a fully public report. Only the EC can make those decisions, and they are critical pieces of this assessment and training.

---


My personal plea for #SBC21:

I pastor a small SBC church in East Nashville (less than 5 miles from where the convention is taking place).

The demographics of our neighborhood have entirely changed in the past decade. As Nashville has boomed, East Nashville (EN) has transformed from a rough neighborhood to the Brooklyn of the South. Most new residents come to us from NYC, Chicago, San Francisco, LA, Boston, etc.

There are more 30-year-olds than children under the age of 18 in my zip code. 1/3 residents are in their 20-30’s. And they are typical Gen-Z/Millennial in posture toward religion plus a good deal more progressive.

Many are non-Christians. Some are exvangelicals. Some never grew up in church. But many new residents don’t automatically find a church to worship in on Sunday.

Over the past 30 years, all of the SBC churches in my ZIP code have experienced significant decline. There were as many people attending my church 30 years ago than in all SBC churches in EN combined today.

Everything religious demographers haves predicted has come true here.

Many of my neighbors don’t agree with our church’s position of theological issues such as the inerrancy and authority of God’s Word, the exclusivity of Christ for salvation, or social issues concerning abortion or LGBT relationships.

At the same time, there is a passion for justice among many of my neighbors. We might disagree about tactics and degree on certain things, but it’s the kind of neighborhood where racial equity is on the fore of people’s minds. People want to help the poor and homeless.

All this to say: the inevitable row at #SBC21 this year is going to reverberate to my neighborhood. All the toxicity that will emerge is going to be on local headlines. They’ll chat about it in the neighborhood FB group.

It’s not going to help at all as we endeavor to engage in outreach and evangelism in our neighborhood.

Furthermore, if there is a failure to address the issues concerning sexual abuse, if decisions made on the floor result in a mass exodus of leaders of color and ethnic churches, if leaders are elected who refuse to address these issues, not only will it be a moral failure…

but it will also give a black eye to churches in my area who are trying to adapt to a changing culture while we proclaim the never-changing truth of the gospel.

It’s not about respectability in our neighbors’ eyes. I know where I’m going to diverge from them in my moral calculus, and it isn’t always going to make me comfortable or laudable to them.

But the all-or-nothing, winner-takes-all politicking, especially by those of the CBN who are literally waving flags with a symbol of death and war on it, it’s just going to besmirch the reputation of humble churches like mine trying to do God’s Work in our context.

It also besmirches the reputation of God and grieves the Holy Spirit.

I’m but a lowly pastor, and this is my perspective. But after the mushroom cloud clears on Wednesday, I’ve got to stay in town.

I’ll have to explain why we affiliate with people who are so uncooperative in the name of “Jesus.”

I’ll have to explain to skeptical neighbors why the Jesus of the gospels – who has the words of eternal life, who calls us into his own glory and excellence, who humbled himself for us and for our salvation – is worth following and worthy of praise.

But then again, so will we all.

But back to that plea: 
Do justice
Love mercy
Walk humbly with thy God

Let’s tackle the bungled response to the sex abuse crisis head on.

Let’s resolve to be a place who is a missions-sending juggernaut AND where we have the highest standard of ethical conduct. No thumping our chests about missions if we can’t follow our Lord’s command (see 1 John)

Let’s not allow decades of efforts toward racial reconciliation be reversed by those determined to demonize black voices.

Let’s not allow falsehoods and half-truths perpetuate by those eager to win power.

Let’s resolve to believe abuse victims and seek justice on their behalf.

Let’s not let disgraced and ambitious men use the SBC as their hobby horse or platform for personal interest.

Let’s pray that the SBC would reflect who Jesus is and who he called the church to be.

Let us heed the master’s words so eloquently captured in the hymn: “They’ll know we are Christians by our love.”

Wednesday, June 09, 2021

An Avalanche of Thoughts on the State of the SBC


Two things are getting ready to happen next week that help explain why my heart & mind are a muddled mess when it comes to the denomination I've been a member of since I was seven years old:

1. My nephew and his family are being commissioned here in Nashville for International Missions Board work in South America - I couldn't be prouder of them or more grateful for their faith & trust in Jesus.

2. The actual SBC annual meeting - also here in Nashville - is going to have to wrestle with the fallout from leadership who chose to ignore and/or dismiss sexual abuse in our churches... and chose to focus on a legal theory about racism rather than grappling with racism and our call as followers of Jesus to live as "one in Jesus Christ" (Galatians 3:28)

I’ve tried for weeks to write about this in a meaningful way - I literally have pages generated as I tried to get a handle on how to respond. And, of course, that all kicked into overdrive with the release of Dr. Russell Moore’s letter to the ERLC leadership... and then his letter to J.D. Greear… and SWBTS’ section in the Book of Reports… and the email from the former Executive Committee legal counsel… 

...there’s frankly too much to take in. I can barely hold my own thoughts together, let alone attempt to wrap all of them into a neat package for my faithful readers. Instead, I’m going to simply put out a brain dump of personal thoughts, quotes from others, music from Common Hymnal, and Scripture. 

My apologies for the length... it's actually shorter than what I started out with [he says with a wry grin].

---

Mark:

May God light up the dark corners of SBC leadership. It is past time for us to renounce abuse and injustice not just with our resolutions but with our day-to-day lives - and the way we do "business" as a denomination. For the many pastors and lay people who are serving others powered by the grace and love of Jesus Christ, this power-hungry manipulation of truth in denominational leadership must end.

---

Aaron Schwartz:

Those who have claimed there is a "drift" are right.  A drift away from the love of Christ, in favor of name calling, condescension, and outright dismissal. If we are this committed to the Word of God (which I 100 percent am), then we must recognize the spirit of the Pharisees which has permeated our culture.  They loved the Torah, memorized it, taught it, and even strapped it to their bodies.  It wasn't a lack of love of God's Word for which Jesus rebuked them, but their lack of love for God's people.  It even led them to misapply the Torah they loved so much in order to keep power. 



Mark:

Sexual predators should never be protected from the legal and employment consequences of their destructive and sinful behavior… no matter how winsomely they preach or how well-connected they are to those in authority. Success and talent are not a substitute for character… and it is not grace to cover up sin. 

---


I am a conservative complementarian gun owner Calvinist baptist who grew up SBC and will prolly die SBC, Lord willing.

If you think that convention wide action against sexual abuse is a lib attempt at hindrance at the gospel, you need help dawg

---


The worst pain for a survivor is the institutional betrayal - losing everyone, finding out the abuse might have been prevented or stopped, and that you are powerless to save others.

SBC Messengers, hear are some things you desperately need to hear:

Everything that Dr. Moore laid out in his letter was preventable - the abuse, mistreatment, bullying, intimidation, defamation of survivors - it was all preventable.

It was preventable because this type of behavior has been long-known and reported on. Survivors and advocates have been sounding the alarm on these exact dynamics for decades...

It's not a secret. It has never been a secret.

If you are shocked by the content of Dr. Moore's letter, I understand. But take this time now to find out the history.

Ask how these leaders could behave this way and KNOW they would not be stopped or caught. What gave them the confidence to act in that manner?

The answer is that they could speak that way, take those steps, retaliate and control, because history had long taught them that it was safe to do so. That no one would care enough to speak out, vote against them, or stop them.

These leaders could behave this way because history has taught them they can operate with impunity. That survivor and advocate voices would be quickly maligned as "angry", "bitter", "unreasonable", and by sidelining those voices, they could do as they pleased.

SBC's theology of autonomy and representative-based structure is intended to create a system with extra accountability - where power isn't concentrated in a few, but rather placed on the consciences of all. But...

That only works if Messengers are seeking out knowledge of what is taking place, and insisting on mechanisms of accountability and transparency.

Unless and until that happens, history will continue to repeat itself. 

But it can be done better, if you so choose.

---


The church and the individuals in it have been complicit with horrific things that call for sanctuary. We are called to be a sacred place for the vulnerable. We have often chosen to be a safe place for the powerful and have deceived ourselves into believing that God would call that good.

---

Proverbs 21:15 ESV:

When justice is done, it is a joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers.

Isaiah 1:13-17 NLT:

Stop bringing me your meaningless gifts;
    the incense of your offerings disgusts me!
As for your celebrations of the new moon and the Sabbath
    and your special days for fasting—
they are all sinful and false.
    I want no more of your pious meetings.
I hate your new moon celebrations and your annual festivals.
    They are a burden to me. I cannot stand them!
When you lift up your hands in prayer, I will not look.
    Though you offer many prayers, I will not listen,
    for your hands are covered with the blood of innocent victims.
Wash yourselves and be clean!
    Get your sins out of my sight.
    Give up your evil ways.
Learn to do good.
    Seek justice.
Help the oppressed.
    Defend the cause of orphans.
    Fight for the rights of widows.

---


He Has Time

Something’s been stolen
Under the weight of the curse you’ve been broken
You’re not what happened
You’re more than the shame you were recklessly given

You silently scream through the tears you can’t keep from falling
Wishing they poured out enough to break through the hurting

Jesus runs after the broken ones
Weeping with those who weep, crowns them with purity
And years of shame shatter in Jesus name

You can’t shake the feeling
He’s not in a rush he has time for your healing Lean on his shoulder
It’s never too late and, your story’s not over

You wish you could go back in time rewrite your own ending 
Then you find faith to believe it’s just the beginning

He is here and he has time
To take what’s wrong and make it right

Jesus runs after the broken ones
Weeping with those who weep, crowns them with purity
And years of shame shatter in Jesus name




Mark:

Opposition to discussing CRT (critical race theory) is a smokescreen that winks at racism (and doesn’t actually deal with CRT in any meaningful way.) Our brothers and sisters of color deserve better than a half-baked statement cooked up by six white seminary presidents. And if someone needs evidence for systemic racism, just look at the NFL finally backing away from “race norming”.

Our denomination has repented via resolution after resolution of the pro-slavery roots of our founding. Now we must stop taking steps backward in the name of false unity. We must stop pretending that the hard work of fighting for civil rights magically fixed the problem and we can simply rest on singing "Jesus Loves the Little Children" at VBS. 

---

Martin Luther King, Jr.:

In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.

---

Matthew 28:19-20 ESV:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

Revelation 7:9-10 ESV:

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!"

---

Skye Jethani:

I find it helpful to think of institutions as flywheels. A flywheel is a device that stores and dispenses energy. Consider a potter’s wheel. A person puts energy into the wheel by pumping a peddle with her foot. This irregular energy input is then stored in the wheel which dispenses the energy evenly over time by spinning the clay even after the potter stops pumping the peddle. Likewise, when we build organizations, governments, or institutions, they store up our values and dispense them over time—sometimes even over generations.

Consider the U.S. government. The founding generation “pumped” their values into the Constitution and created a system of government that respected individual rights, freedom of speech, religious liberty, and limited government. Over 200 years later, the system they created is still “spinning” and shaping the lives of over 300 million people. Of course, a flywheel can also store and dispense evil values over time which is why the Constitution had to be amended to end slavery, recognize African-Americans as full citizens rather than 3/5ths of a person, and give women the right to vote.

Once we see human institutions as flywheels, we can see why the current debate between personal and systemic evil is misguided. It’s not a matter of either changing hearts or changing systems. It’s entirely possible to have individual hearts healed and transformed by the gospel, and yet still have centuries of evil energy stored up within the systems we’ve created. Left unchanged, these flywheels will continue to dispense evil far into the future and hurt many people. Likewise, only changing evil systems isn’t sufficient if the people overseeing those systems are still pumping the evil and injustice of their hearts into the flywheel. Rather than fighting about hearts or systems, Christians who care about injustice and loving their neighbors should desire to overcome evil with good no matter where it resides.

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The Medicine

There's a sickness here that threatens to divide us 
And we're all afraid to say its name out loud
But, Lord, I know that you can heal us of this virus
So, we need you, we need you right now

There's a darkness here that's dangerous and aggressive
It getting harder every day to shake its power
But, Lord, I know that you can free us from oppression
So, we need you, we need you right now

Cause we don't know what to do
So, we turn our eyes to you
We've run out of words to say
But if you come and have your way
You can save us from ourselves
Before our wounds hurt someone else
We need you now

What does it mean to have compassion for another?
How can I claim to love a God that I can't see?
If I can find the will to harm and kill my brother
Cause he neglected to look like me

I can speak the words of men and songs of angels
I can give all my possessions to the poor
But if your love can't move the mountain of my hatred
Somehow, I missed you, and I need you so much more



Mark:

As for concrete actions at next week’s annual meeting:
  • First and foremost, pass a motion for an independent third-party investigation of the Executive Committee. In particular, how the behavior of leadership and legal counsel impacted the treatment of sexual abuse victims and agency staff (such as Dr. Moore).
  • Elect a president who is not caught up in the continuing power plays of Paige Patterson (Mike Stone) and/or creating division from his current leadership role through mistakes like the CRT statement (Al Mohler).
  • Pass a motion to re-examine the abuser-protecting churches who were much too quickly cleared by the Executive Committee in 2019… and to continue the process moving forward to make clear that harboring sexual predators is not acceptable in SBC life.
  • Reject motions and resolutions that drive away our brothers & sisters in Christ.


Mark:

Any man who would allow a stained glass window created of him to be installed in a seminary chapel should not be taking a role in leading our convention, even if it is from behind the scenes of the CBN.

The issues reported by SWBTS over his departure (with a donor list and other items that belong to the seminary) are just icing on the cake.

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In the aftermath of the Conservative Resurgence, the SBC made a mistake. We spent more time taking victory laps than really leading. We let our history become mythology. We turned men into heroes, and then we turned our heroes into gods... 

What we really needed to do was be about our mission and hold each other accountable.

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1 Corinthians 5:12-13 AMP:

For what business is it of mine to judge outsiders (non-believers)? Do you not judge those who are within the church [to protect the church as the situation requires]? God alone sits in judgment on those who are outside [the faith]. Remove the wicked one from among you [expel him from your church].

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We must be people of Scripture. We must pursue accurate teaching, stand on sound doctrine & walk in obedience to Jesus. But I believe some of the whirlwind we’re reaping is over past sins committed against fellow believers in the name of and behind the guise of doctrinal purity.

Religious conservatism without Christlikeness proves itself no better than religious liberalism because it inevitably results in arrogance and abuses of power, hurting many and causing the enemies of God to blaspheme.

There was sin in the camp of the Conservative Resurgence. That is not my opinion. That has proven to be a fact. A return to the Scriptures is & was vital but it was done without holiness and with what played out as slack jawing hypocrisy. We need to repent & do this differently.



Mark:

My life has been profoundly shaped by my history as a Southern Baptist layperson and pastor. Funding through the Cooperative Program helped create the Centrifuge camp experience where I surrendered to vocational ministry, the two summers I spent with the Home Mission Board doing summer missions, and made my seminary education affordable. So many faithful Southern Baptist ministers and volunteers poured the love of Jesus and the truth of Scripture into my heart and mind... and I was privileged to serve six different SBC churches as pastor or youth pastor over the last 35+ years.

At the same time, Southern Baptist life was my first exposure to virulent racism: the godly Sunday School teacher who sat on her front porch and calmly explained the "curse of Ham" to me, surprised by my rejection of this horrible false doctrine; the church I served that had an "unwritten rule" that the Family Life Center would close if local African-American students came by to play basketball; the fellow youth minister whose incredibly successful 5th quarter events were shut down by the deacons because the wrong color of students were being saved and baptized.

The longer I served as a pastor and church planter, the more I realized how many people have been affected by sexual abuse... and how often those behaviors and choices were swept under the rug. Resignations for "personal reasons"; avoiding asking or answering difficult questions during reference checks; pressuring victims to keep quiet "to protect the church". 

Enough is enough. Our pious political games must end. We must be a people who do justice, and love kindness, and walk humbly with our God. (Micah 6:8) We must be a denomination who "give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute, rescue the weak and the needy; [and] deliver them from the hand of the wicked." (Psalm 82:3-4 ESV)

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The Kingdom is Yours

Blessed are the ones who do not bury
All the broken pieces of their heart
Blessed are the tears of all the weary
Pouring like a sky of falling stars

Blessed are the wounded ones in mourning 
Brave enough to show the Lord their scars 
Blessed are the hurts that are not hidden 
Open to the healing touch of God

The kingdom is yours, the kingdom is yours
Hold on a little more, this is not the end
Hope is in the Lord, keep your eyes on him

Blessed are the ones who walk in kindness 
Even in the face of great abuse
Blessed are the deeds that go unnoticed 
Serving with unguarded gratitude

Blessed are the ones who fight for justice 
Longing for the coming day of peace
Blessed is the soul that thirsts for righteousness 
Welcoming the last, the lost, the least

Blessed are the ones who suffer violence 
And still have strength to love their enemies 
Blessed is the faith of those who persevere 
Though they fall, they'll never know defeat