Monday, July 25, 2005

I'm Actually Going To See The Northeast...

...for the first time in my life. Of course, I'll be seeing it with my internal speedometer set on "blur", as I'll be flying in Tuesday night and flying out Friday morning.

I'm headed to Boston, MA, to officiate over Charles & Natalie's wedding. (Yes, the word "officiate" makes it sound like I should be wearing black & white and carrying a yellow flag in my pocket.) The wedding (primarily for financial reasons) is on Thursday night. (Not the weirdest time I've done a wedding - my favorite was in Nashville, when I did a wedding for Iggy & Chelley at 7 am on a Friday morning down by the lake. One of the official photographers from the U2 "Pop" Tour was the wedding photographer.)

On Friday, I'm flying into New Orleans, where I'll meet my nephew William so we can attend the last 3 days of Gulf Games. It's going to be a great chance to hang out with friends I haven't seen in 2+ years as well as play a hecka lot of board games and get some hang time with my nephew. (This trip is his 16th birthday present!)

Anyway, I won't be blogging this week. You kids have fun and I'll see you on the other side with stories from Cambridge "Our Fair City" Mass, Gulf Games, and the overheated swamp that is New Orleans.

Cupcake Goatee

Braeden's trying to look like an emerging church pastor. Next week he'll start drinking coffee and using the word "missional" a lot. Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

From The Balcony

Move over, Ebert & Roeper - I'm holding two fuzzy thumbs up (wocka wocka wocka) for Stadler & Waldorf's From The Balcony, a 6 minute trailer clip show on It's not perfect, but it certainly feels more like classic Muppets humor than other more recent offerings.

And speaking of the Muppets, ABC is working on a 6 episode Muppet REALITY show (wow, talk about your head-warping concepts) entitled "America's Next Muppet." Forget The Amazing Race, I want to be on this one!

Interview #2

This interview was done with Tom Vasel, a fellow gaming fanatic and missionary who lives in Korea. I'm the 56th interview he's done in this series - and I'm just proud to be on the team!

The nice thing about an e-mail interview is you can carefully consider what you want to say... so what you see here is pretty much unadulterated "me". BTW, I wrote the "intro" blurb - it's a trip writing about yourself in the third person... I began to feel a bit like Bob Dole.

Those of you who aren't gamers may want to zip through gamer-ish content of the first part of the interview and get down to my comments on faith & gaming farther down. Or, you could just read the whole thing.

The actual article is on Tom's website, The Dice Tower... along with all the other interviews and tons of game reviews. Thanks to Tom for giving me permission to post it here.

The picture accompanying this review is courtesy of Ray "I've got too much time on my hands" Mulford, who decided that my deep and abiding "love" for Candyland needed to be indulged.... sigh. (See Interview #1 for my true feelings about C-Land.)

Interviews by an Optimist # 56 - Mark Jackson

Mark Jackson is the "Conductor" of Game Central Station - a quirky little gaming website that's been around for 6-7 years now. Started out of his frustration with the rules to Titan: The Arena, the tiny site on Tripod migrated to Geocities, where it garnered positive vibes from gamers everywhere (except for those annoying pop-up ads). When a cross-country move kept him for updating for a substantial length of time, Yahoo deleted the site. This last year, thanks to the generosity of the folks at Game Surplus, Game Central Station was given a new home. Slowly but surely, Mark is putting the pieces back together, as well as adding unusual new content.

Mark is also the self-appointed Keeper Of The Five & Dime Playlists (now archived on Game Central Station) as well as the head honcho behind The Apples Project (on Game Central Station as well), an attempt to compare "apples with apples" when it comes to board & card games.

Mark has been a gamer since elementary school (for those keeping score, that would be the mid-70's). Thanks to a grandmother who would play anything he bought and an aunt who kept all of the old games her sons had owned, Mark had access to an amazing variety of American mass market games: Video Village, Monopoly, Conflict, King Oil, Broadsides, Sinking of the Titanic, Dogfight, etc.

A different aunt bought him his first Avalon Hill game as junior high student (Outdoor Survival), which started a nearly 10 year obsession with AH and SPI wargames. As a charter subscriber to Games Magazine, Mark tried desperately to be the coolest gamer on his block... which led to nearly 4 years of playing D&D, primarily as a DM. (Oddly enough, the map of the D&D world was the board from AH's Outdoor Survival.)

College brought on endless Friday nights of playing Spades, Risk, and penny-a-point backgammon... and through Games Magazine, a growing awareness of games outside the mainstream outlets. It was during this time period that Mark began acquiring Ravensburger games like Hare & Tortoise, Scotland Yard, and Flying Carpet. As well, this was the heyday of MB's Gamemaster series, and these saw a huge amount of playing time with his best friend, Tim, also a gamer. Finally, as he started seminary, Mark & Tim fell in love with the Games Workshop boardgames: Fury of Dracula, Dungeonquest, and Warlock of Firetop Mountain.

It was some years later (the mid-90's) when Mark discovered "the German invasion". Primed by the red Spiel des Jahres pawns on the Ravensburger games he owned, he purchased copies of Line 1 and Manhattan in a game store in Cincinnati, OH (and paid way too much for them)... about the same time that Mayfair began releasing Modern Art and The Settlers of Catan. What had been a lifetime hobby became a major obsession.

Over the past few years, thanks to the magic of the Internet, Mark's collection has grown past 700 games, stretching the gamut from silly American fluff (for example, Small Soldiers Big Battle Game) to obscure German titles (Hui Spinne, anyone?).

Mark has had a hand in starting two gaming clubs: Game Central Station (in Nashville, TN), which is still alive & kicking, even though Mark doesn't live there anymore; and the Fresno Gamers, which meets nearly every Monday night in Mark's gameroom. (Note: the Fresno Gamers is really more of re-start, as the nucleus of the group was actually pulled together by the webmaster of Funagain Games & the Houston Gamers, Ray Mulford.)

Mark currently lives in Fresno, CA, where he is pastor of NewLife Community Church. His wife, Shari, has been beating him at Scrabble a lot lately, while his 4 year old son, Braeden, has turned out to be a wiz at Return of the Heroes. Mark is hoping that his second son, Collin, will take it easy on the old man.

Tom Vasel: Tell us a little more about Game Central Station. What does it have that other sites (i.e. BGG) on the 'net don't have?

Mark Jackson: Well, it's got my personality. I'm not sure if that's a good thing or not.

Seriously, the Station pre-dates the Geek. I was (and still am) attempting to build a site that has stuff on it that is not on other gaming sites. I've tried to create pages about games I enjoy - and resources that make them more enjoyable. Titan: The Arena was the first game... I hated the sloppy presentation of the rules and wanted to pull all of the online clarifications together into one place. Filthy Rich is another game that has received no real online support from Wizards of the Coast, despite it being a very playable little game with a one-of-a-kind mechanism (using card pages as a multi-layered board). So I put together the only full page of clarifications, rulings & variants I know of.

Actually, now that I think about it, maybe I shouldn't have mentioned Filthy Rich. It's one of the pages on the schedule for me to put back up. Oops.

As the Geek grew in popularity (and Borg'd in The Gaming Dumpster), I still felt there was a place for the Station. The Geek is an amazing clearinghouse for information & pictures... and I've now hooked all my pages to the Geek pages because they offer extra information. But it isn't the quirky "hey kids, let's put on a show" place that is Game Central Station.

More recently, I did The Apples Project and the Five & Dime Playlists sections of the site - both of which are peculiar (like me) to Game Central Station. (And I'm putting the finishing touches on a project with Stephen "Balloon Cup" Glenn for a Rolling Stone magazine inspired project called The One Hundred. Just don't hold us to any kind of deadline - we've blown past 2 or 3 of 'em already, what with him opening a game store and me getting ready to be a dad for the second time.)

Tom Vasel: Can you tell us more about this "The One Hundred" project?

Mark Jackson: I'm just the editor/host for The One Hundred... Stephen Glenn is the "brains" behind the operation. He had the bright idea late last November to create a gaming list based on Rolling Stone's Top 100 lists. I just volunteered to host it on Game Central Station...

...but then we've had all the crazy stuff going on in both of our lives, and it's taking a lot longer to finish than either of us thought it would. Still, it's going to be a very interesting read when it's finished. (I don't even agree with all the results!)

Tom Vasel: You're one of the few gaming pastors I know. How does your profession affect your gaming, and vice versa?

Mark Jackson: I'll use one of those "classic stall for time" interview techniques now... "Tom, that's an interesting question." (Oh, dang - that won't work in an e-mail interview, will it?)

How does my gaming hobby affect my profession (as a pastor)? That's the easiest part of the question, so I'll take that first. I use gaming as a way to meet people and build relationships... both inside and outside the church.

It also enters into my sermon illustrations - for example, I've used game translating as a metaphor for getting to know the Bible. (In short: I can read a whole lot more German now than I could 10 years ago, even though I'd had 3 years of German classes in high school & college. Actually having to work with the German language for something I wanted changed the way I learned the language - instead of just learning it for a grade.) In the same vein, I've talked about the language of the gaming subculture (newbie, TGOO, SdJ, DSK, etc.) and compared it to the language of evangelical subculture (born again, walk the aisle, "fellowship", etc.). Both sets of words have valid usage, but they don't adequately speak to the world outside those subcultures. We (speaking both to gamers & Christians) need to use language that communicates truth, rather than using it to build walls that close others out.

As for the other part of the question, there's a difference in how my profession affects my gaming hobby and how my personal commitment of my life to Jesus Christ affects my gaming hobby.

I try very hard (not always successfully) to NOT choose my activities & actions solely based on my job as a "professional Christian." Still, I've made the choice in the past not to play some games more out of a concern for church member's opinions rather than my own personal convictions and tastes. Hopefully, I'm done with that, except where my gaming choices could cause a fellow believer to stumble in their faith. (I'm not getting to the exact details of this Romans 14 based practice in this interview. Anyone interested can contact me personally.)

OTOH, my strongly held beliefs in Jesus Christ and the authority of the Bible obviously play a role in my hobby. (If strongly held beliefs don't play a role in your whole life, then they're not strongly held beliefs.) There are certain games I choose not to play (Hellrail, Lunch Money, etc.) and other games I'm glad they re-themed (Twilight -> Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde) based on what I believe. (The most recent example of this, the new game from 2F shown at the Gathering, managed to cause a bit of a tempest in the teapot of spielfrieks when I expressed my personal non-interest in a game that casually encourages divorce, drug use, and multiple sex partners.)

I'm a little bothered about how "I"-centered the last couple of paragraphs sound. They don't fully indicate my conviction that moral choices are not subjective... but again, that's a conversation for another day.

Tom Vasel: Why do you think there are such a lack of quality Christian-themed games on the market?

Mark Jackson: 1. Theological: if "turn the other cheek" and cultivating "kindness, gentleness, etc." are key parts of your religion, then creating a game that encourages those behaviors while still featuring competition is extremely difficult. I'm surprised that there haven't been more attempts to publish cooperative games (like Knizia's LOTR) in the Christian market.

2. Lack of Originality: the majority of "Christian" games are designed by people who are not game players - rather, they are publishing houses attempting to market to the Christian subculture. That's why you end up with so many roll'n'move games or pale imitations of party games.

I think there's ample room to create meaningful games that reflect Biblical values - but it's not going to be easy to accomplish nor easy to market.

Tom Vasel: Do you think that there are games that are actually a detriment to play? Just how important is philosophy in a game?

Mark Jackson: Hey! How come I'm not getting questions like "What's the best game for 6 players who are willing to 'get fluffy'?!" :-)

OK, so Tom wants to go serious - fine by me. It's actually a very good question.

The first time I remember struggling with this is back in the golden days of D&D... yes, children, back when we oldsters had to walk uphill 5 miles in the snow both ways to the game store to buy The Village of Hommlet module, and then wait forEVER for the The Temple of Elemental Evil to come out. (Still bitter about that one, TSR.)

I grew up in church, and there was a substantial section of folks in the evangelical subculture who felt that D&D was evil and/or dangerous. While their opinions didn't stop me from playing, I did choose to run my 3 year campaign (I was the DM) as a "one God" universe... and didn't allow players to have full-out evil characters. My strong feeling at the time was that I wanted a world that I liked... a world that reflected my values. So, characters got "punished" when they were cruel or rude or unwise – and "rewarded" for altruistic behavior.

I continue to struggle with this: it's easy for me to pick out games that offend me (the aforementioned Hellrail and Lunch Money), but you're actually touching on a bigger question. For years, my response to someone trashing fantasy/magic-based games has been, well, kind of lame. It's consisted of pointing out the logical flaw in the argument: if the objection to playing D&D/Talisman/Magic: the Gathering/etc. is based on the fact that these games encourage anti-Biblical behavior, you've got a problem if you play Monopoly, which clearly "teaches" players to run each other into the ground. Like I said, it's not the world's best argument (negative arguments seldom are), but it's served me well over the years.

But the real question is: what ARE games "teaching" us? When we play Family Business, are we really learning how to "rub out" the competition, Mafia-style? When we engage in the free-wheeling backstabbing of Intrige, will that transfer over to the rest of our lives?

The answer is: it depends. Over time, I've come to believe that someone with a strong belief system can engage cultural items (movies, music, games, tv shows, magazines, etc.) with thoughtful discernment. They can think through the implications of the work/items they're interacting with and discard those assumptions/philosophies that are harmful. To continue my gaming example, I can play Family Business without choosing to actually shoot someone... or, more to the point, without taking that "every man for himself/king of the mountain" philosophy back into my work or family life. Or, frankly, even into the next game.

What concerns me is that there are lots of folks who lack:
  • a. strong belief systems (note: I didn't say Christianity... while I believe that a relationship with Jesus is the best way to live & the only way to die, what I'm talking about here does not require a belief in a Higher Power)
  • b. discernment skills - For them, it's a crapshoot as to how they'll deal with any kind of cultural input. In the same vein, kids don't have these kind of necessary filters in place.
So, I think games (and commercials & movies & newspapers, yadda yadda yadda) have the ability to "teach" us both good & bad behavior choices and systems, if we let them do so without thinking about them. It depends upon our willingness to stay engaged rather than let our brains & hearts pickle in philosophies & ideas unconsidered. (And, since kids have less ability to do that, helping them choose wisely about the games they play - and teaching them those discernment skills.) The line gets fuzzier when you go from playing games which encourage questionable actions (whether it's the bluffing/lying of Liar's Dice or the cutthroat nature of Diplomacy) to games with questionable themes. Can immersing yourself in a particular theme be a problem?

Again, the answer is a squishy "it depends." A non-gaming example: because of my personal beliefs & struggles, I am VERY careful about the films & television shows I watch. A long addiction to viewing pornography (finally broken with God's help) means that I choose not to see films that feature sexually charged scenes and/or nudity... I don't want to start the cycle again. (It's similar to recovering alcoholics choosing not to hang out in bars.) It may seem "prudish" to you, but it's a healthy & wise choice for me.

The same is true in gaming terms. While I never experienced any kind of attraction to occultic practice while playing D&D, I can see where someone who had struggled with this would find D&D (and fantasy fiction & the like) something to avoid.

I'm not sure this is a complete answer - I find myself comfortable & yet uncomfortable with some of the games I play and/or own. While they don't bother me, I'm sure they would be a problem for other people, and so I'm still dealing with the implications of those feelings.

Sheesh. I'm getting pretty long-winded, aren't I?

Tom Vasel: "What's the best game for 6 players who are willing to 'get fluffy'?!"

Mark Jackson: There we go - hey, all of you who've been sleeping through the philosophical stuff, you can wake up now!

I'll pick four that popped into my head immediately - in fact, four games that I've played every year since I first encountered them:
  1. Viva Pamplona... this game of running with the bulls is a lot of fun to play with kids & adults. Closely related to it are two other great "running" games: Midnight Party (which plays well with 2-8 players) and Viva Topo (which only plays 2-4, but is the "prettiest" of the threesome.)
  2. Galopp Royale... a game of sedan chair racing that's really about bluff & auctions, this is great fun to play. Designed by Klaus Teuber (he of Settlers fame), this is a fluffy game that results in much silliness. (Not everyone likes this one, but you must play it in the proper "light-hearted" frame of mind.)
  3. Stimmt So!... the "papa" of the vastly inferior SdJ-winning Alhambra, Stimmt So! is a stock market investment game that plays at a furious pace and provides lots of chances for high & low moments. (By contrast, Alhambra slowed the game down as well as adding a second mechanism - the walls - that actually works contrary to the stock mechanism.)
  4. Entenrallye... this is a "race" game that's all about timing: arrive at the car rallies with the right modifications; make sure you get your car inspected by the right time. I'm the first to admit it's pretty random, but I have a blast every time I play it.
There are others: Ab die Post, Gulo Gulo, Broadway, Canyon (with the Grand Canyon expansion), Quartier Latin... but those are some personal favorites. Tom Vasel: Why do you think we're seeing such a glut of "light" games these days with very few "heavy" strategy games being released?

Mark Jackson: A sudden burst of sanity on the part of the publishers?

No, seriously... I think we in the gaming "glitterati" too easily overestimate the appeal of the (I'll use a capital "H" here) Heavy game. Businesses stay afloat by producing things that sell - and Light sells better than Heavy.

That doesn't mean there isn't a market for Heavy games... it's just not a large enough market to sustain the number of publishers in the market. At least, it's not large enough for them to make a big profit.

I wonder also about the effect of video games on the attention span... but I'm one of those Light gamers, and I don't play much in the way of video or computer games.

Tom Vasel: When at Origins, I was floored by the massive amount of "light" games. Do you think we're reaching critical mass - too many light games in the market?

Mark Jackson: My expertise is NOT economics... but the market will self-correct. 7-8 years ago we were awash in CCG releases - the vast majority of those are gone. If the market leans too heavily into Light games, some of the companies & games will jump back into the heavier side of things.

I think part of what makes it easier for me to take this cavalier attitude to the market is a combination of two elements:
  • my collection has gone over 700 games... I've pretty much got a game for any situation
  • I no longer feel a deep & burning need to play EVERY new game that comes down the pike... I know it's Gamer Heresy, but I've managed to avoid playing Age of Steam, Goa, and any number of other Heavy games that didn't sound particularly interesting to me. In the right situation, I'd be happy to try 'em, but I don't HAVE to play these games to feel complete.
Tom Vasel: Mark, a lot of people often email me for advice in starting a game club at their church. What advice would you give them, tips, etc.?

Mark Jackson: I haven't actually started a game club at my church, so any advice I'm giving is more about using games in ministry. The first thing is to remember your audience... while (as I mentioned above) I'm not bothered by certain games & themes, I realize that some folks in my congregation would have a hard time with them. So I choose not to bring those for our family game nights. (My guess is that some of your readers will want examples: I don't bring Bang! or Family Business due to the violence... and I usually keep the heavily themed fantasy games to a minimum.)

The second thing is to remember your audience. No, I'm not repeating myself. The vast majority of non-gamers are not ready to appreciate longer games, even those we would consider "light". Here in Fresno, Transamerica, Smarty Party, Carabande, Niagara, and Viva Pamplona have all been very successful at our family game nights. So, choose games that fit the gaming "experience" of your crowd.

The third thing is to remember what you want to accomplish. If the point of the evening (be it a club or a game night or whatever) is social interaction, choose games that will help that happen. If you're appealing to a particular demographic, then pick games that fit their interests. (When I had the 4th-6th boys over for an afternoon of gaming, we played Battle Ball, Lord of the Rings, and Star Wars: Epic Duels.)

The fourth thing is to train others to lead & teach games... that way you don't have to carry the whole load. We play a lot of games after our small group on Wednesday nights, and those folks were a great help at our last game night in teaching games. (Yes, I had to help make some rulings and correct a missed rule or two, but that's par for the course.)

Finally, don't count on what you start in a church context to satisfy your gaming/gamer itch. At our last game night, I spent about 50% of my time teaching games & making sure folks got involved. But that's OK - my purpose was not to play games non-stop, but to give people an enjoyable evening together. String a lot of those kind of evenings together, and it makes it much easier to create a loving church community.

Tom Vasel: Well, Mark, before we go, can you give us a date when the Apples project will start again?

Mark Jackson: Based on my life (new baby, lots of stuff happening in the church I pastor, etc.), it will probably be the summer of 2006. Then again, who knows? Right now I'm just hoping that someone can take the gobbledygook on the comparison page and turn it into something I can use. :-)

Tom Vasel: Mark, I appreciate you taking the time to do this interview! Do you have any final words for our readers?

Mark Jackson: Yes... I'm hoping to get some major website updating done in the next few weeks, including FINALLY publishing The One Hundred. Sorry it's taken so long - and thanks to all the folks who've been so supportive.

As well, if you're interested in reading more of my thoughts on gaming (and lots of other stuff), I'd be honored if you checked out my blog, aka pastor guy (

Stop spending all your time in front of the computer & go play some games already! :-)

Monday, July 18, 2005

Interview #1

This interview was done with Don Mayhew of the Fresno Bee - I'm pretty pleased with it, actually. I'm not misquoted and nothing I said is pulled terribly out of context. The pictures aren't terribly dorky either... how'd that happen?!

I know I'm probably violating some kind of copyright thing, but I'm going to quote the article here. The actual article is on the
Fresno Bee website.

Bored with boards? Mark Jackson makes German games accessible to English speakers. By Don Mayhew / The Fresno Bee (Updated Monday, July 18, 2005, 6:12 AM)

[picture caption] Mark Jackson, pastor of NewLife Community Church, is a board-game fan who takes the rules from German games and translates them into English. Jackson owns more than 700 games.

Hate is such a strong word, particularly for a pastor such as Mark Jackson of Fresno's NewLife Community Church.

But when it comes to the children's board games Chutes and Ladders and Candy Land, if what Jackson doesn't feel is hate, it's something pretty close. Disgust? Repulsion? Loathing?

"They're arbitrary," Jackson says of the two games. "They're back-and-forth games that require no strategy. They're for 3- or 4-year-olds to waste 20 to 30 minutes. They're exercises in frustration. It's, 'Here, you guys take this game and stay out of Mom and Dad's hair for 20 minutes.' "

You don't have to tell Jackson -- a father of two sons, ages 4 years and 3 months -- about the vast potential of board games to teach as well as entertain. He's such a fan that he's collected more than 700 games.

Many are from Germany, which has become a hotbed for gamers tired of the same old variations U.S. companies have foisted upon the public the past 50 years. ("Star Wars" Monopoly, anyone?) The problem is that German games, as you might expect, come with German rules.

What separates Jackson from your average gamer is that he's translated about 15 German games' rules into English. He's one of a handful of people nationwide who have made a habit of posting game translations on the Internet.

Not only did Jackson's efforts open the door for fans looking to distant shores for their board-game fix, they encouraged independent companies to reproduce a small number of foreign games in English.

Rick Thornquist, who writes board game news online for in Vancouver, British Columbia, refers to the trend as the German Invasion.

"Without people like [Jackson] and the Internet, I doubt this would have happened at all," Thornquist says. "Once people get a chance to try these games, they love them." For the most part, Jackson translates children's games. He says they have enough variety ("Some are dexterity games; others are memory games or roll-and-move games") to charm adults.

He doesn't get paid, but his passion for board games is such that he really doesn't mind. Jackson and his 4-year-old son, Braeden, don't play them every day, "but dangerously close to it."

"Gaming is tremendous as a cognitive learning tool," he says.

Jackson isn't opposed to video games, but he finds them less interesting than sitting across the table from a human opponent.

"Video games tend to isolate," he says. "You're playing through a screen, even when it's a fighting game. You're staring at that screen, interacting through that, even when the person you're playing is sitting next to you.

"When you play board games, it's there between you, but there's a definite social quality. There's a tactile quality that isn't there when you play video games."

Jackson took three years of German in school, which isn't quite enough expertise to translate rules without help from friends in other parts of North America who understand the language better than he does.

"I don't speak it well," Jackson says. "I don't write it well. But I can read it passably. I'm fine with basic translations. But if the rules are odd or colloquial, then I'm lost. It's tough trying to translate idioms. I have to get help."

He starts by typing the German rules into his computer. Then he runs them through an Internet portal that translates them into literal English. Jackson also uses a German-English dictionary.

"Then I make the literal translations -- which often are gobbledygook -- meaningful," he says. "Sometimes, Germans will run three or four or five words together to make a new word, and you have to separate the words before you can figure out what was meant by them."

Many of his free translations can be found on his Web site, .

Jackson grew up playing Monopoly, Clue and other traditional board games. He was a Dungeons and Dragons fanatic in high school before going off to college and realizing he no longer could devote entire weekends to his hobby.

It was about that time that sites such as and began alerting gamers to strategic foreign games that could be played in an hour or two. The exchange rate in the mid-'90s was decent, so Americans could buy such games for little more than they would for, say, Trivial Pursuit.

Jackson says Games magazine also opened his eyes to the joy of foreign games.

"The children's game market in the United States is all about licenses and tradition," he says. "It's all very sequel-driven or nostalgia buying. ... The German market has a much larger appetite for new games, different games and games of higher quality."

Derk Solko of Dallas, co-creator of, says hundreds of new games are released in Germany each year.

"The culture in Europe, particularly in Germany, is much more game-oriented," he says. "There are a lot more games. There's more passion. They're more artistic and less corporate."

Jackson says German games often have an odd sense of humor. Many are designed to keep all players in the game to very near the end -- unlike American games, Thornquist says.

"That happens a lot in Monopoly," he says. "Everybody's playing for the next four hours, and you're sitting there doing nothing. German games do not have elimination. Everybody has a good chance of winning up until the end."

German game pieces are typically wooden and hand-painted. American game pieces tend to be plastic. The tactile difference is enormous.

Chicken Cha Cha Cha is a perfect example. Jackson opens the box to his German version and produces round 2-inch-tall wooden chicken pieces that are beautifully painted and three- dimensional. Toy giant Hasbro licensed it for the United States and sold a game "with little cardboard standups and plastic pieces," he says.

Jackson understands the economics of scale and doesn't fault Hasbro. He just wishes more people would realize there are other options.

"In Germany, a company sells 30,000 to 40,000 copies of a game and can make a profit," he says. "For Hasbro, that's a drop in the pond."

The reporter can be reached at or (559) 441-6322.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Two Interviews

I'm about to appear in two published interviews:
  • the first is with a reporter from The Fresno Bee, who wanted to do a story about my gaming with a focus on my translating some of the rules of the games I own. I have no idea how this story will turn out, but they even sent a photographer to take pictures, which will be interesting to see.
  • the second is with Tom Vasel for his series of Interviews With An Optimist (archived on his site, The Dice Tower)... it's an online interview about gaming & ministry & theology with a guy who I've never met but consider a friend. I'm much less worried about this one.
Either way, love 'em or hate 'em, I'll post links to both of them here when they appear.

Glory Baby

For more background on this story, see This Post Is Not About Abortion.

Bernhard & Shirley's baby girl, Claire Elizabeth, was born on Tuesday afternoon... she was dead when she was delivered. Thankfully, Shirley did not have any complications from the delivery and is now recovering at home. The memorial service for Claire will be Monday morning.

Here's the deal... I realized Tuesday afternoon on the way to the hospital that I wished I didn't have a great relationship with the Ollech's. It's much easier to be "pastoral" with people you don't know very well - esp. in situations that are as emotionally charged as the imminent death of a newborn. But with this family... folks who we love to hang out with, whose baby we've babysat, who helped us camp last year, who have supported in ministry and in life... it cuts at my heart to see them in pain.

And then I found myself relieved that everything went as smoothly as it did on Tuesday. Shirley & Bernhard had private time with Claire after she was cleaned up, while Shari & I spent time with Shirley's family.

The toughest part right now personally is second-guessing my feelings: Am I too emotional? Am I too distant? Is it wrong to feel relieved that I didn't see Claire? Honestly, all of that stuff is just me staring at my belly-button... instead of growing in compassion & love.

I'm looking forward to the service - though I know it will be very difficult for Shirley & Bernhard. I'm looking foward to being able to speak truth & grace & love - to really be a pastor in this situation.

And then, like I said to them Tuesday night, we're in this for the long haul. Ministry to these folks will not just be doing the funeral & making sure they have meals for a few weeks - part of the joy & pain of being both their friend & their pastor is that we'll be walking through this stuff for a long time.

Glory baby you slipped away as fast as we could say baby…baby..

You were growing, what happened dear? You disappeared on us baby…baby.. Heaven will hold you before we do Heaven will keep you safe until we’re home with you… Until we’re home with you…

Miss you everyday Miss you in every way But we know there’s a
day when we will hold you We will hold you You’ll kiss our tears away When we’re home to stay Can’t wait for the day when we will see you We will see you But baby let sweet Jesus hold you‘till mom and dad can hold you… You’ll just have heaven before we do You’ll just have heaven before we do

Sweet little babies, it’s hard to
understand it ‘cause we’re hurting
We are hurting
But there is healing
And we know we’re stronger people through the growing
And in knowing-
That all things work together for our good
And God works His purposes just like He said He would…
Just like He said He would…

I can’t imagine heaven’s lullabies
and what they must sound like
But I will rest in knowing, heaven is your home
And it’s all you’ll ever know…all you’ll ever know…
"Glory Baby" by Watermark, from their album All Things New

Thursday, July 07, 2005

That's All, Folks

For my birthday, I got the Looney Tunes Golden Collection (Volume One), so I've been introducing the boys to the wonderful world of Bugs Bunny & the Road Runner. (Braeden esp. likes what he calls "Wild E. Coyote.") What you're looking at is the two of them mesmerized by the antics of Daffy Duck. Posted by Picasa

Sleeping Arrangements

I don't remember how it started, but Braeden has grown attached to our old duvet cover as an extra "covering" over his bed. Yes, he has a sheet & quilt under there, but it's important to him that the duvet cover drape over the safety rails and make a tent. Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Seven (part two)

This time around, a listing of games I've played EVERY year since 1998:
  • Liar's Dice (you can even play this with more players by adding more cups & dice)
  • The Settlers of Catan (I own all of the expansions... but not all of the spin-off games)
  • Attacke (I'm still miffed they ruined this game by rereleasing it as the bloated Ivanhoe)
  • Carabande (I have two basic sets & one action set, which makes for very nice layouts)
  • Canasta (Shari & I are partial to the Canasta Caliente set available - it's a great way to learn the game if you've never played before)
  • Medici (the best pure auction game available - and word has it that it's going to be republished next year with artwork that makes the game easier to play - about time!)
  • Entdecker (the original, not the re-do... one of the prettiest games I own to play, as the map of islands grows as the game proceeds)
  • Showmanager (amazingly, I've won nearly 78% of the games I've played of this - which is a stunning record... no wonder I enjoy it so much!)
  • Take 6 (just bought the new anniversary edition and am enjoying it all over again...)
  • Land Unter/Zum Kuckuck (a game that has grown on me - and become a personal favorite)
  • Bohnanza (man, I need to play "the bean game" more... sigh)
  • El Grande (I don't get to play it much, but I make sure I get to play - probably my favorite "deep" game)
And the games I've played every year since 1999:
  • Lost Cities (Shari's good at this, but she's small potatoes compared to Carla Triplett)
  • Fill or Bust (we played last night and I won in near-record time)
  • Loopin Louie (just a little brag: I paid $2 for my copy... he he he)
  • Ra (which is much easier to learn with the player mats available on the 'Geek)
  • Zirkus Flohcati (I'll get at least one game of this in this week, as we're having Family Game Night at church)
  • Time's Up (until Smarty Party was released, my favorite party game)
  • Take It Easy (someone else coined the phrase, but it fits: Bingo for German gamers)
  • Big City (beautifully produced, fun to play - a wonderful game of city-building with amazing pieces)
  • For Sale (a poker-like game of Chicken that plays like a dream.... the new edition is welcome but makes some major rules & component changes)
  • Dschungelrennen (a jungle race dice game that is just plain fun to play)
  • Klunker (I stunk at this for my first few games, but experience has made a better player AND appreciate the tight design of this jewelry sales card game)
  • Union Pacific (takes the good stuff from the classic Acquire and goes it one better... a great stock investment game)
  • High Society (another great auction game... thank goodness it's short, because it's vicious :-) - the new edition from Uberplay is primo)
  • Ausgebremst (Ave Caesar may be prettier, but this is the better game... fast-paced racing fun with some serious chances of hosage)
  • Basari (I still like the original better than the "new & improved" Edel, Stein & Reich... the game is essentially themeless, but still a ton of fun)
  • Galopp Royale (this game of sedan chair racing is more about the auctions than the races)
  • Viva Pamplona (run the bulls - well, bull - in this silly but enjoyable game)
Finally, the games I've played every year since 2000:
  • Carcassonne (and, yes, I'm a Carcassonne expansion junkie - the only thing I don't have the one that was in a German gaming magazine)
  • Web of Power (an area-majority game that moves along at a blistering pace... and it's about monastic orders vying for power in medieval Europe - what's not to like?)
  • Arriba (pattern recognition meets Spoons)
  • Espresso (my nieces & nephew love this game)
  • Split (I hated this the first time I played it, but my wife & sister fell in love with it... and, over time, I've grown to enjoy it a bit)
  • Fast Food Franchise (Monopoly for gamers - this needs a new version to go in print with the production values of Big City!)
  • Exxtra (goofy dice game made even goofier by the folks at Gulf Games)
  • Frank's Zoo (The Great Dalmuti with some interesting tactical/card-counting tricks)
  • Stimmt So! (it cheeses me off that the inferior adaption, Alhambra, won a German Game of the Year award...)
  • Zoff in Buffalo (30 minutes of groupthink with cute cows & tricky decisions)
  • Durch die Wuste (I don't really like the game... but I don't hate it, so I end up playing it about once a year)

This isn't a perfect way to assess the value of a game (there's a couple in the list that I play mainly because of others rather than my own interest), but any game that's been played year after year is certainly worth a bit of your time to try!

To be continued...

Staying Culturally Relevant

Great title, huh? It actually has very little to do with this post - except to explain why I was cruising in the middle of the day. I found this delicious tidbit of writing at the close of his rather sour review of "A Perfect Man":
"The Perfect Man" crawls hand over bloody hand up the stony face of this plot, while we in the audience do not laugh because it is not nice to laugh at those less fortunate than ourselves, and the people in this movie are less fortunate than the people in just about any other movie I can think of, simply because they are in it.
Man, nothing is more fun than Roger when he's ticked off at being forced to watch Hollywood drivel.

Seven (part one)

While I've been playing board & card games all of my life, I've only been obsessed enough to track every game I play for the last seven years. (I started in July of 1998.) Yes, it's kind of geeky (ok, it's a lot geeky) but the results are interesting. The ten games I've played the most (excluding online play at sites like are:
  • The Settlers of Catan (10 years old this year - this is the 900 lb gorilla of German gaming... while it's not everyone's cup of tea - for example, my wife - it has the tendency to suck players in and show them 'a whole new world')
  • Can't Stop (classic press-your-luck dice game from Sid Sackson... still can't believe Parker Brothers stopped producing this to make video games back in the 80's... sigh)
  • Fill or Bust (the old school dice game "5000" with an added deck of cards... Shari & I play this 2 player a lot)
  • Liar's Dice (Richard Borg's nifty redesign of a saloon betting classic - still in print after all these and still worth owning - a great game of bluff & reading your opponents)
  • Loopin' Louie (the best mechanical kid's game ever - absolutely addictive)
  • Smarty Party (see my post on Smarty Party from a few weeks back)
  • Arriba (the best quick reaction game ever - now published in the U.S. as Jungle Speed)
  • Espresso (I learned it as Nertz or Double Sol.... it's currently published in Germany as Ligretto)
  • Skip-Bo (Shari & I have played a bunch of two player games of this)
  • Zirkus Flohcati (my favorite quickie filler game... works great with kids or adults or adults & kids!)
The eight games I've played the most when you add online play in include:
  • Lost Cities (just played again the other night - and, of course, Shari beat me)
  • Carcassonne (I like this Spiel des Jahres winner best with 2-3 players, even though the game has pieces for 6 players)
  • Ticket To Ride (one of my "new" favorites - just wish I got to play it more "live" rather than on the Days of Wonder website)
  • Street Soccer (I haven't played as much recently, but it's a great little soccer/dice game that reminds me a bit of backgammon in your need to play for position)
  • Transamerica (playing online gave me new respect for this light but enjoyable game)
  • Cafe International (the same is true for Cafe International, which I purchased after playing a number of games online)
  • Web of Power (it packs so much game into so little time - again, I wish I got to play it more "live")
  • Ra (a great auction that I didn't like the first time I played it - but subsequent playings helped me fall in love)
The links all connect you to Boardgamegeek - the best website about boardgaming out there. To be continued...

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

And An Extra Helping Of Pretension

For those who like their rock'n'roll with a side of bombast to go with their main dish of overblown production, have I got the 80's album for you: The Very Best of ASIA: Heat of the Moment (1982-1990) Just been listening to it while I'm doing some sermon prep - not doing much for my sermon prep, but I'm definitely getting my 80's groove on.


Got a spot on the top of my head, begging for a new toupee
And a tire on my gut from sitting on my...
But they're never gonna go away
Sometimes I get this crazy dream
That I just drive off in my car
But you can travel on ten thousand miles and still stay where you are
Harry Chapin, "W.O.L.D."

There are probably a number of you reading this blog who've never heard of Harry Chapin... Harry died in a car accident in 1981. Heck, I was just a junior in high school.

Though you may not know Harry, you may well know one of his songs. Ugly Kid Joe covered Harry's "
Cat's In the Cradle", a profoundly moving song about how easy it is to squander your family. Others of you may know of his musical, "Cotton Patch Gospel," which sets the story of Jesus in the Deep South. Me, I'm partial to his odd but affecting folk tragedy, "30,000 Pounds of Bananas".

Anyway, Harry's not the point of the post... just a nice cultural aside for me to springboard into ther real reason for blogging this morning:

I'm getting old.

No, really. I know that 41 isn't exactly "grave-ready", but I'm not feeling like a young turk, either.

And it's not about my birthday last week - this has actually started the day I got the flyer/magazine for the Cornerstone Festival back in the spring. This is THE premier festival for alternative/edge/hard rock Christian music - and I've wanted to go to this for years.

But now I find that I'm no longer a Main Stage guy. Back in the early 90's, the headlining bands were right up my alley: Steve Taylor, the 77's, Resurrection Band, One Bad Pig, etc. Flash forward to 2005, and I realize that I'm now a Coffehouse Stage guy: my favorite albums currently include Derek Webb's "The House Show", Caedmon's Call's "Share The Well", and Ben Harper & The Blind Boys of Alabama's "There Will Be A Light".

Yes, I'm now the guy drinking an espresso and giving polite golf claps - no longer am I in danger of flinging myself off the balcony (Whiteheart "Light A Candle" tour) or standing in the mosh pit to protect a teenager wearing a neck brace (Steve Taylor "Liver" tour) or dancing until I nearly collapse (DC Talk "Jesus Freak" tour). And I don't even drink espresso.

OTOH, I did manage to block a sizzling spike from a 19 year old (hi, Luke!) in a game of volleyball Sunday night - right back across the net for a point. Of course, the fact that I feel compelled to mention this just confirms I'm growing old, right? :-)

Youth Ministry In The Face of Violence

This article was originally published in Youth Ministry Update (a Southern Baptist "journal" for professional youth ministers) in early 1998, less than 6 months after these incidents had occurred. It was only a year or so later when the tragedy at Columbine High School in Colorado happened.

The original title of the article - "Teens Who Kill" - was not picked by me... but that's what happens when someone else edits your stuff. (That someone else was Richard Ross - who I respect the heck out of, btw.) Youth Ministry Update is no longer published - I am unsure of my legal rights to publish this information but am willing to take this down if I have violated my contract with Lifeway in some form or fashion.

What follows is my personal version of the article, including some slight revisions.

Monday, October 20, 1997­ - TIME magazine - "At 8 a.m. on Oct. 1, Luke Woodham, 16, bookish and overweight, drove a white Chevy Corsica up to his high school. That was already a sign of trouble: the young man had poor vision and was driven to school each day by his mother. But three hours earlier that morning, Mary Ann Woodham, 50, had been stabbed to death with a butcher knife in the home she shared with her son. Luke Woodham walked into Pearl High's commons, an enclosure created by the school's buildings. He then took a .30-.30 rifle from beneath his blue trench coat and opened fire, wounding seven schoolmates and killing two, Lydia Kaye Dew, 17, and Christian Menefee, a girl he once dated."

Tuesday, December 2, 1997­ - USA TODAY - "The 35 students who gathered Monday morning for the weekly prayer circle at Heath High School in West Paducah, KY., had just lowered their hands after the last prayer when the shooting began. A 14-year-old freshman stepped out from a group of about a dozen students who routinely heckled the worshipers, put earplugs in, pulled a loaded .22-caliber handgun from his backpack and squeezed the trigger about a dozen times in two minutes, school officials said. Eight students were hit. Three girls died."

This last fall, our nation was rocked by these two tragic incidents. For youth ministries, the occult overtones of the possible conspiracy in Pearl, Mississippi, and the potentially anti-Christian nature of the attack on the prayer group in West Paducah, Kentucky were frightening and overwhelming. "If stuff like that can happen in a suburb of Jackson, MS, and at the closeof a prayer time in Kentucky, it can happen here," was the thought that raced through the minds of many youth workers and parents.

After much prayer and study, this article focuses on interviews with two youth ministers who were involved with these incidents... not because they are somehow "saints of a higher order" (as both of them would quickly tell you), but because they have had an opportunity to experience both the presence and power of God in the midst of tragedy. What they have learned is valuable for youth ministries that deal with violence and it's aftermath, as so many youth groups do. (For example: One year ago, while serving a church in a middle class neighborhood of Nashville, Tennessee, three members of my youth group were held up while hanging out on the church parking lot. One of them was shot twice and miraculously escaped serious injury.) Moreover, the truths that Michael and Roger have learned about youth ministry serve as a challenge to all youth ministers as they seek to reach their communities for Christ.

Michael Pierce - Youth Minister, First Baptist Church, Pearl, Mississippi

Michael never even reached the school the morning Luke Woodham opened fire in the commons at Pearl High School. All of the kids who had witnessed the shooting were brought to City Hall, where officials had sent all of the ministers and counselors. "We were there to greet kids, to minister hugs and counseling... to let them know that it was going to be OK," said Michael. While none of First Baptist's youth had been injured in the shooting, the impact still hit close to home. Both of the girls who were killed had visited the church within the last two weeks.

The shooting occurred on a Wednesday morning. That night, as a part of their weekly youth service, the group took time to share their emotions and to vent their hurts and fears. Although members of the media had asked to film this meeting, Michael felt it that was not an appropriate choice.

Over the next two days, ministers and counselors were available at the school for students who wanted to talk. The pastor of First Baptist was the police chaplain, causing people to lean heavily on the church for counsel and encouragement. Over the following weeks, Michael continued to keep a presence at the school, to help the kids see familiar faces and ease their fears. As well, the counseling extended to parents and other church members. "It wasn¹t just the kid's world that was shaken," said Michael. "It was our world."

Because of the occultic nature of the crime, Jim Furr from the North American Mission Board¹s Interfaith Witness department came to help counsel and lead a seminar for the community on Satanism and the occult. Another resource of great support was the church's prayer ministry, which provided round the clock prayer support for the community. "Even though the situation was tragic," Michael said, "God taught us somuch. He gave us so many opportunities to grow and see Him at work."

Roger Palmer - Youth Minister, First Baptist Church, Paducah, Kentucky

"Several of the kids ran to me when I got to the campus," said Roger, talking about the morning of the shooting. "I didn¹t say a whole lot... I was there for support, to put my arms around them and pray with them." Nor was he alone. Pastors and youth ministers converged on Heath High School as news of the shooting traveled through the community. That night, several prayer services were held in different churches around Paducah. They were times to pray for the families of the victims and for the school and community.

The next day, youth ministers, pastors and counselors were at the school to be available to students. "I have to commend the school board and the principal," said Roger. "They reopened school so that kids could deal with the shooting and receive support from friends, teachers, counselors, pastors... it was real wisdom to get them back there to be with one another rather than off by themselves."

On that first morning back, just 24 hours after the shooting, nearly 3/4 of the student body gathered in the lobby where the prayer group usually met. A long time of stillness was followed by students sharing Scripture, prayer, and closed with the singing of "Amazing Grace". Then the principal released students to follow their normal schedules, or to seek out counseling as they needed. "God opened incredible doors," said Roger. "In groups as small as 2-3 kids to 15-20 at a time, we got to answer the question, 'Where was God in all this?' We could answer from the Scripture: 'God was right here. He¹s still right here.'"

Evidence of that began that day, as Christian students began posting Bible verses up and down the school halls. One of the students shared a message in the prayer group from Missy Jenkins (who was one of the students hit in the shooting): "Missy wanted you guys to know she's forgiven Michael (Carneal, the student who opened fire), and if she's forgiven Michael, you can forgive Michael."

On the Wednesday night following the shooting, the youth service at First Baptist focused on prayer. Following testimony from two students of Heath High School, they divided into groups to pray specifically for the families who were victims (including the Carneal family) and for God to continue to use the media as His instrument to let the world see the love of Jesus Christ. God answered those prayers, as media outlet after media outlet asked the question: "What about this forgiveness thing?"

"These kids are not forgiving too quickly, as some accused," said Roger. "They are not just spouting words. They¹re angry at the action... God is angry at the action. But the reason they can forgive is that Jesus Christ is dwelling in them. The world is not going to understand that kind of forgiveness (1 Cor. 2:14). There is grieving, there is anger, but it's different than for someone who doesn't have Christ."

Lessons We Can Learn

Both Michael and Roger spoke about how important long-term presence on the school campus was to their ministering during these stressful times. "We had the freedom to minister because we¹d been on the campus prior to the shooting," said Roger. "If you have the freedom to be on a campus, there is nothing more important to do with your time. I know what it's like to sit there for 21/2 hours, waiting to eat lunch with each group of kids, wondering if you're wasting your time. But I ministered to kids who weren't a part of my group or church... they¹d seen us there and trusted us enough to ask questions because of our presence."

Scripture was also a key part of ministering in these situations. While the youth in Paducah focused on Romans 8:28 and Psalm 46:1, the students in Pearl were drawn to other places. "Genesis 50:20 was so important," saidMichael. "Even though Satan intended harm in this situation, God can use it to bring good, to grow me in my relationship with Him. The kids also grabbed onto Jeremiah 29:11-13... their eyes would brighten when we¹d repeat that verse." No matter how sophisticated our counseling techniques, we can not forget the power of God¹s Word.

Another element common to both situations was the cooperation between ministries of varying denominations and backgrounds to minister to the pain of each community. "We have to build relationships with other churches and encourage our pastors to do the same," said Roger. "We've got to get our pride out of the way and let God do what He wants to do."

Finally, "Tragedies like this are the perfect opportunity to remind youth of Satan's power and God's control," said Michael. In fact, one of the things that echoed throughout both interviews was the number of occasions God gave for His Truth to be clearly taught and/or proclaimed. To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, pain is God's megaphone. In times of tragedy, it is much easier for people to search for answers, especially the truth about Jesus Christ.

In Closing...

There are some simple reasons that these two ministries were able to minister during these horrific situations... that both Michael & Roger and their churches were able to see the power of God in a mighty way. Both of them spent time with youth, especially on "their turf." Both hold a high view of God¹s word and it's power to teach us and comfort us. Both of them were already working with other churches in the community to minister to their respective towns. Most of all, however, both of them saw God in control. From the spiritual and numerical growth in Michael's group and church this fall to the miracle of CNN broadcasting the Paducah funeral - sermons and all - over nationwide television, God has shown that He is more than willing to fulfill Romans 8:28 and Genesis 50:20. As we minister in our churches, may we live with the same kind of awareness and faith.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

This Post Is Not About Abortion... don't come at me with pro-life or pro-choice arguments. I'm just going to ignore you.

Here's the deal - Bernhard & Shirley Ollech are two of the coolest people on the planet... and one of the amazing miracles of my tenure here at NewLife is how Shirley's pregnancy with their son, Robert, put her lupus into remission.

They found out they were pregnant again early this year - and much like the pregnancy with Robert, it's been difficult. About a month ago, they found out that there were some developmental problems for their little girl - a cleft palate & low weight gain.

But that was nothing compared to the news that their baby girl had some kind of genetic problem that rendered her incapable of life outside the womb. Bernhard came by the house to talk - and as I prayed with him, I could barely hold it together. And if it feels like a sledgehammer to my chest, that's just a taste of what he & Shirley are feeling.

Yesterday, the diagnosis was confirmed - it is a genetic disorder with such severity that the baby will be unable to survive outside the womb for more than a few minutes or hours. On top of that, because of health complications for Shirley (placenta previa, her previous health issues, signs of other problems developing), Shirley is at high risk as well.

Which sent me searching for good spiritual counsel to help them make a decision on what to do next. Shirley is profoundly pro-life (as am I) and wanted to know how best to proceed while staying true to Scripture.

And that search brings me to the point of my post. We Christians (or at least people who claim a relationship with Jesus Christ) can be so incredibly un-gracious in our dealings with difficult situations. I lost count of how many websites I discovered that focused on the political battles over the "mother's health" exceptions in right to life laws... while ignoring that real people live through these kinds of decisions.

No wonder the "secular" world looks at us like we have a third eye in the middle of our foreheads. Sigh.

And it's not that I misunderstand the arguments - like I said earlier, I'm profoundly pro-life. But I'm also profoundly trying to follow the footsteps of Jesus and walking in grace with people in pain is part of that.

Two pleas:
  • Pray for Bernhard, Shirley, Robert & their little girl
  • If you want to argue "culture of life" issues, remember that this is not an abstract discussion. There are real people involved.
All right - I'll climb down off my soapbox now.