Friday, February 28, 2014

Survivor: My Momma Taught Me Right

Dear Survivor Producers:

My momma taught me to do a number of things right:
  • don't mix reds & whites in the laundry
  • eat your vegetables
  • send thank you notes
Well, this is a very short "thank you" note after the first episode of the new season. I was skeptical about the whole beauty/brains/brawn tribe division... and yet the first ninety minutes (and two Tribal Councils) were both classic Survivor AND surprising.

Thank you as well for:
  • all-new players (please stop sending old players back into the game)
  • casting interesting people
  • gorgeous challenge designs
  • twists that actually forced players to make interesting decisions

P.S. My pick to win (as of right now) is Sarah.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Best New (to me!) Games of 2013

Top ten lists are difficult – especially when I don’t get to play some of the “big new games” for 6 months to a year after they’re released… so a couple of years ago, I listed my Best New (to me!) Games of 2011. It seems to me like that would be an appropriate way to celebrate 2013 as well.

bbgtr_largeHonorable Mention: Glory to Rome

While I actually played my first game of this in December of 2012, I’m letting this one onto the list because of a couple of technicalities:
  1. I didn’t do a “best new (to me)” list of games in 2012.
  2. I didn’t think I’d ever play it again.
But then, while digging around in a comic book/game store in Ft. Worth, TX in the spring, I found a copy of the Kickstarter “black box” version of Glory of Rome… for $35. (Yes, $35 – when new copies go for $100+. It was my Cheap Game Find of 2013.)

Now, multiple plays in (and without the really awful art of the original game), I’ve found a great game of hand management and resource manipulation. Wrapping your head around the flow of the game is tricky – but once you get how it works, it’s addictive. (Suggestion: the first time you play, try playing two games back-to-back so you can “lock in” the way the game works.)

99fa2-tash#10: Tash-Kalar: Arena of Legends

This just edged out Knizia’s Prosperity for the last spot on my countdown – and it did so by being a weird cross between an abstract game and a thematic battle game. While the rules are simple, “grokking” how to match board play & patterns on your cards can be difficult for some players.
I’m working on a full review of Tash-Kalar for the Opinionated Gamers that should be finished:
  • a. very soon
  • b. tomorrow
  • c. a month ago, like I originally thought
The answer is NOT (c).

3e1fa-box-kwadrat-nowy#9: Legacy: The Testament of Duke de Crecy

Back in the day (and I do mean “back in the day” – we’re talking the mid-1980′s here, folks… back when MTV actually played videos), I owned a copy of Avalon Hill’s Down With the King. It was a sprawling mess of a game with 19 possible actions each turn and holes in the rules big enough to drive a truck through. We managed to play it once – and I loved it for the game it wanted to be, not the game that it was.

So when I first heard about Legacy: The Testament of Duke de Crecy, I had high hopes that it might just be the game that scratched that same itch. Well, it is… and it isn’t.

This is a much more Euro-gamer-friendly take on dynasty-building – “worker” placement is a key mechanic, along with hand management – but the actions are clearly defined and the game flow (esp. compared to Down with the King) rips right along. It is not (for the most part) a game where you mess with each other (unlike DwtK).

A warning (or an invitation, depending on your tastes): this is an experience game – there are wise & stupid plays, but sometimes the game just conspires against you.

like dice#8: Like Dice

Every couple of years, Adlung comes out with one of their small box card games that turns out to be a really wonderful little game. (I’m a big fan of Vom Kap bis Kairo, Zauberschwert & Drachenei & Adlungland.) Like Dice deserves to join that crowd.

Unlike the other games, it’s a real-time speed math game… which – I know! – sounds like a brainiac yawnfest. But it’s not – there’s a great “slow the leader” mechanic that keeps things close (once everyone at the table has some experience with the game) and it’s just a whole lot of fun to play.

maticoro_box_omote#7: Machi Koro

It’s a small city-building game that packs a lot of fun into a small deck of cards & a pair of dice. What’s not small is the amount of fun I had playing it. It’s a filler game where the value of some of the cards changes with the number of players in the game – and where your choice about how many dice to roll can affect not only you but the rest of the players in the game.

There’s an expansion (only in Japanese) that looks nifty – but I haven’t got to try it yet.

Print#6: Suburbia, Inc.

Suburbia was probably my favorite new (to me!) game of 2012… so it’s not completely a surprise that I enjoy the heck out of the expansion. (Note: I was a playtester for both the base game & for the expansion… and our fearless leader here at the OG – Dale Yu – was the developer.)

What I really admire about the expansion is how it opened up more space in the game by creating a new thing to buy (borders) that both reward & constrain players – but without radically changing the very smooth design of Suburbia. The new in-game goals add some variety, as do the new city tiles.

All in all, it’s a great expansion to an already great game.

GAMEWRIGHT-415#5: Forbidden Desert

Matt Leacock has managed to create yet another wonderful cooperative game – and while it shares some similarities to both Pandemic & Forbidden Island, this game stands on its own. There are more balls to juggle here than in Forbidden Island… and coupled with the gorgeous Gamewright production, it makes for a great gamer-friendly family game.

I wrote a review for the Opinionated Gamers which goes into a lot more detail.

SCD-box-front-1024x957#4: Space Cadets: Dice Duel

Another game that I reviewed for the Opinionated Gamers… a real-time dice game in the Space Cadets universe that has been a hit with everyone who has tried it. Once you know what you’re doing (your first game will be a fumble-fest, I promise), it’s 20-30 minutes of non-stop fun.

Another nice thing: much like the original Space Cadets game, it works great with big crowds.

There is an expansion coming for this – Space Cadets: Die Fighter. (Fans of the game will be pleased, I assure you. I’ve seen it.)

Box-Top-not-final#3: Core Worlds + Galactic Orders

I bought Core Worlds on a whim – I’d always liked the ideas behind Andrew Parks’ Ideology: War of Ideas game and was drawn to the design of a deck-builder/tableau-builder cross-breed. (It doesn’t hurt that I like sci-fi & fantasy themes… as you can probably tell from the top 4 games in this list.) So, based on some positive reviews & some good buzz about a potential expansion, I picked up a copy.

While I enjoyed the original game, it felt… incomplete. When I got the expansion last April, it was like someone had plugged in the game and kicked it into overdrive. There were more ways to build a usable deck – and more options (thanks to the factions & faction tokens) to manipulate the games to conquer planets and create synergies.

I think the game is probably at its best with 3 players, using the pre-game draft of the “zero” round cards and the Galactic Orders expansion… but I don’t think that’s the easiest way to learn the game.

septikon#2: Septikon – Uranium Wars

This game wasn’t even on my radar… in fact, if I hadn’t ended up with a review copy, I still might not know about it.
But I did… and I do… and you will soon. This is a very creative two-player resource management/wargame with tower defense elements from Russia that was Kickstarted last fall in order to be printed for release in the European & American markets in 2014. And it’s a great 45 minutes (or so) of fighting to stay in the battle while things blow up around you.

All right, some of you are barely hanging on now – your “but I don’t like wargames!” reflex alarm is blaring. Maybe it would help you to think of Septikon – Uranium Wars as a resource & opportunity management game… albeit with a whole lot of damage & destruction. Or maybe you could think of it as a worker placement game – if your workers were loyal & mindlessly obedient clones whose entire mission was to pummel the opposing space station into submission.

OK, it’s a war game.

My Opinionated Gamers review includes some tactical tips & an imagined call center dialogue. (Yes, one of my many “keep food on the table” jobs was working in a call center.)

#1: Descent: Journeys in the Dark (2nd edition)

In the summer of 2006, I had a really neat opportunity fall into my lap: at KublaCon, I was asked to be an Overlord for the demo of the original Descent: Journeys in the Dark. Scott Alden (Aldie of BGG fame) and I sat back-to-back, each of us of acting as the nemesis Ifor a table of eager heroes. (If you want to hear more of that story, you can read Stay Out Of Range Of The Giant: Descent – Journeys in the Dark.)

The early promise of that first wonderful game withered with repeated plays… it took so long to get the game going, the campaign system was clunky, and an adventure took 4+ hours with a full complement of players. My desire to own a copy myself went the way of the dodo… and about the only reference I made to the game was in reviews of Catacombs. (“Catacombs = Descent + Carabande – 3 hours”)

So when I saw that Fantasy Flight Games was rebooting Descent, I was both intrigued and wary. And, for a variety of reasons, I didn’t choose to pick it up… and I didn’t get an opportunity to play it.

Fast forward to the summer of 2013… and while visiting with friends in Texas (hi, Ed!, hi, Susan!), my boys & I joined them in one of the early Descent 2.0 scenarios just to see how it would compare to the original.

I was blown away… and so were my boys (ages 8 & 12). All of the design ideas I’d loved from the original game were still there – one roll combat, customizable characters, great miniatures & artwork. At the same time, FFG had managed to knock off the “rough edges” – simplifying the Overlord system, losing the silly transport glyphs, etc. Most importantly, they’d broken adventures down into bite-size (read: playable in 60-90 minutes) pieces… and then connected them via a simplified campaign system that works like a charm.

So, I used some of my birthday money and bought the base game & the first expansion in July… and in the intervening 8 months, we’ve played 19 times. With me as the Overlord, one group of friends worked their way through the Lair of the Wyrm mini-campaign. Meanwhile, my boys & I are just about finished with The Shadow Rune (base game) campaign… and then my oldest son has declared that he is ready to be the Overlord and mess with us using our just acquired copy of the Labyrinth of Ruin expansion.

I can’t wait.

This post originally appeared on the Opinionated Gamers website.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Norderwind = Starship Catan?!

Actually, that title should read:

Is Norderwind just a redesign/retheme of Starship Catan?

But, hey, this is the Internet - I had to be both more pithy and more mysterious to attract your eyeballs here to the blog.

Note: what I know about Norderwind comes from watching a German TV news story about the designer, Klaus Teuber (in German - and, no, I didn't understand all of it) as well as the preview video from W. Eric Martin and the good folks at BGN.

That said, it looks to me like Norderwind is a parakeet-friendly multi-player take on the Starship Catan engine.

The similarities:
  • multiple separate exploration decks that are reshuffled after each player turn
  • purchase and sale of commodities
  • each player has a "ship" that is upgraded
  • the memory element in exploration
The differences:
  • multi-player
  • change in theme
  • didn't look like the decks "changed" over time (a nice trick that Starship Catan uses)
Whatever. I'm interested & excited... and wondering if Mayfair will be reprinting this in English.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Late Night Church Leaders

Todd Rhoades published an interesting article yesterday entitled Are you a Jimmy Fallon or a Jay Leno Type of Church Leader? Here's an excerpt:
You would think that Jay Leno had it made. 
He was the King of late night television.  He was (on most nights) crushing the competition.  Letterman and Jimmy Kimmel would have LOVED to have the ratings that Jay Leno enjoyed… right up until his departure last week. 
But Leno was, by most accounts, forced out early by NBC.  A new article/commentary at Mashable tells why:  Jay Leno, while he was doing great in the traditional measures (nationwide TV audience in a given demographic) could not make the switch to the future (which included youtube, vine, twitter, facebook, and all the viral directions that TV and late night was going). 
Enter Jimmy Fallon. Jimmy Fallon can post a self-contained short-form video to youtube and garner a couple of million views in a short period of time. Fallon regularly plays to the younger audience via social media… crowdsourcing many of his gags from the internet itself. 
Leno would never turn the corner with that audience. 
And… NBC needed him to in order to insure the future success of the Tonight Show franchise. 
So… how does this apply to the church; and to you as a leader?
There's more... follow the link and read the rest of it.

(For the record, if you simply measure the "switch to the future" by Twitter & Facebook, my pastor is Jimmy Fallon AND The Roots. Hmmm... would be interesting to see Ed Stetzer with a pick in his hair like Questlove.)

One of the commenters added something both sad & true:
Unfortunately, for some churches, the question needs expanded — Are you a Jimmy Fallon or a Jay Leno type leader, or a Johnny Carson or even Jack Paar type leader because of how far behind culture you are? (Earl Mills)

Monday, February 24, 2014

Classic: Richard Niebuhr, John Travolta & Martin Luther King

Back in the 1950's, Richard Niebuhr wrote a classic book entitled Christ & Culture about how the church (and individual believers) interact with society: government, the arts, pop culture, social structures, etc. I had to read this book back in seminary and while it's an excellent study, it's not going to set the publishing world on fire with its' scintillating prose and/or page-turning storyline. It's a book of theology & philosophy that can, even for the best of scholars, function as a sleeping pill. (I am, of course, the perfect example of this. The falling asleep, that is... not the "best of scholars" part.)

Which is sad, because what Niebuhr has to say is important. So, in the interest of informing you while keeping you awake, I'm going to attempt to summarize some of his major points - the ways in which followers of Jesus can choose to interact with culture. (Note: this will obviously be filtered through my own perceptions & preconceived notions about such things, so don't blame Niebuhr for the stuff that doesn't make sense and/or isn't actually what he wrote.)

The Attack Dog Of Jesus

Niebuhr calls this "Christ Against Culture" - these are the folks who choose to tear up other people in the name of Jesus. It's "us versus them" as far as they are concerned - a godless, reckless & evil world against the church. It's this kind of viewpoint that spawns behavior like the folks from Westboro Baptist Church (not, btw, a Southern Baptist church) in Topeka, KS... picketing the funerals of the Sago Mine disaster victims and U.S. servicemen killed in Iraq, claiming that their deaths are America's punishment for allowing homosexual behavior.

The Church In A Plastic Bubble 

Some of you are too young to remember John Travolta playing a young boy with an immune deficiency disease (this was the 70's, prior to AIDS) in a TV called "The Boy In The Plastic Bubble." That's OK - it's an apt metaphor for an alternate (and all too common) expression of "Christ Against Culture". Rather than rush to battle, these folks flee in retreat... hiding behind a wall of Christian books & CD's & films. While marginally "safer" from theologically difficult questions and/or difficult people, this ostrich-like behavior often ends up with us sheltered by Petra's "rose-colored stained glass windows" watching "while the world goes to hell in a shopping cart." (That lyrical quote is from a long-defunct band, Prodigal. And yes, I realize it is ironic for me to quote CCM bands when I'm castigating folks for living in the church bubble.)

Funhouse Mirrors 

Niebuhr mentions another possible response - "Christ of Culture." This crew of folks reads the Bible (and thinks about Jesus) through the lens of particular cultural expressions... a devotion to the poor & downtrodden leads to interpreting every Biblical passage as if Jesus' primary mission was to end poverty. Political oppression suggests liberation theology (which I'll be happy to discuss with you some other time, but right now it'll just be "rabbit-chasing"); American materialism puts a funhouse mirror up to the Scriptures & ends up as prosperity theology (aka "name it & claim it", aka "health & wealth gospel".)

While the Bible is meant to be read in context of our particular situation, we can do great violence to the truth while dressing our paper doll Jesus in the clothes we've cut out of our cultural background. Bad idea, campers, bad idea.

Hollywood Stuntmen

I'm impressed when someone rides a horse... any horse. (I'm scared to death of them!) So when a stuntman manages to ride standing with his left leg on one horse & his right leg on a second horse, color me blown away. Of course, it's hard for me not to think about what might happen if the horses decided to go opposite directions. Ouch.

Which brings us to "Christ & Culture in Paradox" - Niebuhr's grouping for those who believe that culture (particularly government) and Christianity have separate but equally legitimate spheres of influence. Which, as far as it goes, is all fine & good. It helps make sense of Jesus' admonition for us to "render Caesar what is Caesar's" or Paul's teachings on obeying the government. But what happens when a government (or some cultural entity) campaigns for and/or mandates behavior that is evil?

In the "real world", far from the theoretical land of philosophy, this means we have to pick & choose. So when Martin Luther King decides to march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965, what happens to a number of white clergymen who decided to join him? They lose their jobs. The spheres are not as separate as we'd like to think.

Salt & Light

Salt makes food taste better. Light shows you what's really going on. Excellent images for the final response we're going to look at: "Christ Transforming Culture."

Honestly, this is what I believe we should be doing as followers of Christ. Rather than snarling at the world as if Jesus was holding our leash, or breathing the rarified air of our own alternative culture, we can make a difference, a Kingdom difference, in the world in which God placed us. It doesn't require us to reinterpret Jesus in light of whatever philosophy floats our boat, or to attempt to compartmentalize our lives in order to be "good Christians & good citizens."

What it does require of us is summarized nicely in Romans 12:1-2 (The Message):
So here's what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life-your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life-and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

As we are "changed from the inside out", we can make the same thing happen in the culture around us. Instead of picketing movies we don't like, we can influence the making of films that reflect Scriptural truth. Instead of slavishly buying anything from a Christian publisher/record label, we can reward quality music with our attention & our hard-earned dollars, regardless of who wrote it and/or performed it. Instead of attempting to wall off our beliefs from our politics or our work or our recreation, we can examine our lives & decisions in the light of Jesus Christ - and make sure that our highest loyalty is to Him.

And when we live that way - shot through with the grace & love that He modeled in His life, death & resurrection - we can see the world transforming as His power flows through us.

A couple of notes:
  1. I fully realize that Niebuhr had five "points" - but for my purposes, I'm only treating four of them. Look, this isn't a graduate seminar - if you want the details, go buy the book! :-)
  2. When I enthusiastically call for the transformation of culture ('cuz I think that's in the Bible), I'm not saying that I think mankind can create some kind of heaven on earth. Take a look at the history of utopian societies for a quick lesson in how lousy we are at the whole "perfect life" business. But, as followers of the One who created this earth & these people, I don't think we're supposed to sit around and fiddle while Rome burns, either.
This article originally appeared in the 7/10/06 issue of the Grapevine, the newsletter of NewLife Community Church.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Classic: Will the Vampire People Please Leave the Lobby?

I actually read & reviewed this book back in 2007... and since then a number of things have happened:
  • Thanks to the gazillion dollars that THE AVENGERS movie has made, Joss Whedon is now a really big deal for more than just sci-fi & horror nerds.
  • The job I'm currently working is due to a gamer friend.
  • What I said 7 years ago is still true... and worth repeating.
This really isn't a book review... let's call it a "book reaction". Of course, that doesn't keep me from saying reviewer-ish kinds of things about Will The Vampire People Please Leave The Lobby?: True Adventures in Cult Fandom, but that won't be my focus here.

I personally have a weird relationship with Buffy: The Vampire Slayer - I didn't watch the show while it was being broadcast. I only found it in late 2002, thanks to my buddy (Chris Herndon) loaning me the DVD sets during my 4 month stint as a 3rd shift customer service rep at JC Penney's Nashville call center. (There's another portion of my life that's blog-worthy... if not exactly G-rated. Remind me and someday I'll tell the tales of Panty Man, Lingerie Girl, and the inability of middle management to make up their ever-lovin' minds about darn near anything.)

So, on the nights that I wasn't working 10 pm - 5 am, I stayed up anyway (to keep my internal clock regulated) and watched movies & old TV shows. Thanks to Chris and the Internet, I watched the shows in order - actually watching Buffy/Angel in tandem on the seasons where they overlapped.

I liked the shows - a lot. Yes, I was bothered by the copious amounts of sex & blood, but (as in many other "questionable" shows that I've enjoyed & been moved by) none of their behaviors as characters were consequence-free. Episodic TV is has a huge advantage over film in this - you can take the time to show the fallout of bad and/or sinful decisions in 24 episodes/year.

One last bit of Buffy commentary before I return to the actual topic of the post... sigh. The first three seasons are really, really great (esp. 2 & 3) - and the first part of season 4 has some wonderful moments (including the episode, "Hush", which could be the best episode of the entire series), but when it turns into Frankenstein Meets The X-Files, it really falls apart. There are nice moments & characters for the rest of the run (I actually liked Dawn, if not the story that brought her into play), but seasons 5-7 are, for the most part, watching something wonderful grow less & less enchanting. Angel's first 3 seasons are also very good (again, esp. 2 & 3), but season 4 was a mess. Season 5 came back & reimagined the series in some very funny & interesting ways, but the impending cancellation & the loss of Buffy (the series) made for some pretty dark viewing. Consider yourself warned.

OK, two Joss Whedon notes (wonder if I'm EVER going to get back to the book?!):
  1. Yes, I'm aware of Buffy Season 8 (a comic book series authored by the creator of Buffy) - I just haven't read any of it yet.
  2. Yes, I've seen Firefly - both the series & the film - and it's one of those sad stories of something that was probably too good for television. (Join the club: I'm a fan of Boomtown, Sports Night & Kidnapped as well.)
Alrighty then, back to the point of this now way-too-long post. (Yes, campers, ALL of what proceeded that was geeky introduction. Sheesh.) Allyson Beatrice has written a snarky but enjoyable book about, well, it starts off about Buffy/Angel fandom & actually ends up being an autobiographical trip through Allyson's life.

What really struck a chord with me was not the details of the Buffy online fandom community (I've never even been particularly interested in discussing Buffy online) but the resonance that her experience in that online community had with my experiences in the world of board gaming.

She talks about how she "watched as people got their doctorates, passed the bar exam, got divorced, grappled with the death of a parent, left their homes & countries to start a new life." And then she says something pretty profound:
"Watched" is the wrong verb. I watched Buffy, and I engaged the fandom.
It's that engagement, the stories of how an online message board for the discussion of symbolism in a TV show about vampires & teenagers could turn into a living, breathing community that fascinated me. She talks about conventions & meet-ups, of how virtual connections turned into face-2-face connections...

...and I'm instantly transported back to my days on (anyone else out there remember Usenet?!) and how I hooked up with a gamer across town by the name of Rob Wood. I decided for safety's sake to meet him at the church I worked at, along with my friends Chris & Buster. That was in the spring of 1997... and by the fall of that year, he'd introduced me to Ted Cheatham, another online buddy who came through town on business & was always up for playing games.

Ted was my connection to what was to become Gulf Games, a wonderful twice-a-year invitation only family gaming event - which he started with Greg Schloesser (When they first met after chatting over the Internet, BOTH of their wives were sure they were about to go meet an axe murderer) & Ty Douds.

Over the years, I've conversed with literally hundreds of gamers online - both inside & outside the U.S. Friendships have been formed from the constant communication - as Allyson so beautifully puts it in her book:
It's been three years since the series finale of Buffy aired, and I still have a hard time telling people just how it is that I have a bed in which to sleep in thirty-two states and five countries. 
Someday, it'll be socially acceptable to say, "Oh, we can stop in Des Moines for dinner. I know a couple of Vampire People there."
The next chapter is about her relationship with one of the writers of the show - and the odd blend of friendship & hero worship that can happen online. I've seen the same thing play out with some of the game designers in the board gaming world... again, a familiar resonant chord.

And at that point, the book pretty much takes a dive. (Told you I'd get all reviewer-like.) One really nice chapter about bringing an online friend to visit the U.S. (a cooperative effort by the online community) goes on too long, including pages of e-mails that really only have meaning to those who originally wrote them. (Did the editor fall asleep at the switch here?) There's some interesting bits about "Munchausens By Internet" and trying to save Firefly, but the strongest parts of the book are all up front.

Best part of reading the book: being reminded that I need to thank God for the gift of my internet family. Thank you, Jesus, for using something as mundane as an iMac to draw people into my life to love & be loved by...

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Rules of the Game (Part II)

I don't play Chess very much - I find I like a little more randomness in my games. Also, I'm not very good at it.

But this bit of chess wisdom from José Raul Capablanca (world chess champion back in the 1920's) is good advice for any kind of strategic game, be it Puerto Rico, Clash of Cultures or, well, Chess. (I discovered this quote while working on my post from earlier this week, Rules of the Game.)
In order to improve your game, you must study the endgame before everything else, for whereas the endings can be studied and mastered by themselves, the middle game and the opening must be studied in relation to the endgame.
In other words, you have to know where you want to end up before you can profitably make decisions about your next move.
  • should I buy the Office or the Tobacco Roaster?
  • do I choose Irrigation or Writing as an advancement?
  • which pawn should I push forward to threaten his bishop?
I believe that the same thing is true in life...
If any of you wanted to build a tower, wouldn’t he first sit down and work out the cost of it, to see if he can afford to finish it? Otherwise, when he has laid the foundation and found himself unable to complete the building, everyone who sees it will begin to jeer at him, saying, ‘This is the man who started to build a tower but couldn’t finish it!’ (Luke 14:28-30 PHILLIPS)
What kind of deal is it to get everything you want but lose yourself? What could you ever trade your soul for? (Matthew 16:26, MSG)
Which begs the question: have you looked carefully at the "endgame" of your life?

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Hard to Get

The week before he died in a car accident (in September of 1997), Rich Mullins sat down in an abandoned church with a cassette recorder to make a demo of the nine songs that would eventually become The Jesus Record. The video below is the scratchy unpolished recording of "Hard to Get"... a song that seems especially appropriate in the moment.

I have always appreciated Rich's honesty and faith, his humor mixed with seriousness. This is the guy who walked into the Christian bookstore I worked at looking for Frederick Buechner books... and then told me that he "punished" bad audiences by refusing to play my favorite song of his, "Elijah".

Anyway, this is my song for today - an echo of my heart.

You who live in heaven
Hear the prayers of those of us who live on earth
Who are afraid of being left by those we love
And who get hardened by the hurt

Do you remember when You lived down here where we all scrape
To find the faith to ask for daily bread
Did You forget about us after You had flown away
Well I memorized every word You said

Still I'm so scared, I'm holding my breath
While You're up there just playing hard to get

You who live in radiance
Hear the prayers of those of us who live in skin
We have a love that's not as patient as Yours was
Still we do love now and then

Did You ever know loneliness
Did You ever know need
Do You remember just how long a night can get?
When You were barely holding on
And Your friends fall asleep
And don't see the blood that's running in Your sweat

Will those who mourn be left uncomforted
While You're up there just playing hard to get?

And I know you bore our sorrows
And I know you feel our pain
And I know it would not hurt any less
Even if it could be explained

And I know that I am only lashing out
At the One who loves me most
And after I figured this, somehow
All I really need to know

Is if You who live in eternity
Hear the prayers of those of us who live in time
We can't see what's ahead
And we can not get free of what we've left behind
I'm reeling from these voices that keep screaming in my ears
All the words of shame and doubt, blame and regret

I can't see how You're leading me unless You've led me here
Where I'm lost enough to let myself be led
And so You've been here all along I guess
It's just Your ways and You are just plain hard to get

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Rules of the Game

This blog post is based on some deep thoughts of Marshall Pulliam - who was not only a great worship leader (for the year we served together) but a life-long friend as well. Basically, anything meaningful you read today is because he thought it first... except the "provide" & "protect" thing - that comes from Josh McDowell.

I've read a lot of board game rules in my life. (I've rated 2429 games on BoardGameGeek... and I'd guess I've taught "how to play" the vast majority of those myself.) Some are well-written, some... not so much.

There's a temptation to treat rules in games as if they were written to make games more "fair" - to give each person an equal chance to win the game.

In actuality, rules are put in place to allow the players to enjoy the game - to allow the experience to reach its full potential. Rules help us to play the game the way the designer intended.

Games without rules - or with sloppily written rules - are the very opposite of fun. (The only people who enjoy badly written rules are "rules lawyers"... the legalists of gaming society.)

The boundaries imposed by rules create an environment where players can interact and savor the joy of human community. Though we may want to cheat the system, bend the rules, bypass the boundaries... we actually devalue the game and the experience of the game by doing so.

In the same way, what we may consider the "moral confines" that God bestowed are not done so to restrict our enjoyment of life. The commands from Scripture are there so we may enjoy life to it's full potential. The boundaries are there to protect us from harm and provide for the best possible experience of human community & interaction.

The rules are there to help us live our lives the way the Designer intended.
Life to me is the greatest of all games. The danger lies in treating it as a trivial game, a game to be taken lightly, and a game in which the rules don’t matter much. The rules matter a great deal. The game has to be played fairly or it is no game at all. And even to win the game is not the chief end. The chief end is to win it honorably and splendidly. (Jon M. Huntsman Sr.)

Friday, February 14, 2014

Valentine's Day #26

This is the 26th Valentine's Day for Shari & I... and while I'm pretty sure this picture wasn't taken on our first Valentine's Day, it wasn't very far off. Set the Wayback Machine for 1989, folks.

That lovely little girl in my arms is our niece, Rebecca - who is now "all grown up" and makes more money than I do. (Of course, both of her degrees are from TCU, a vastly inferior university to Baylor.) :-)

I do miss Shari Jo's "big 80s" + "Texas girl" hair... but I'm happy to say that whatever hairstyle she has, this is the woman I've spent more than half of my life with... and the gift from God that I'm thankful for each day.

Happy Valentine's Day to my bride...

Thursday, February 13, 2014

#10 - #1 of Mark's Top 100 Games (2012)

The top ten. Enjoy!

#10 - Zooloretto



#7 - Heroscape







#20 - #11 of Mark's Top 100 Games (2012)

It's done. It only took two years. And I'm only two more posts away from finishing with all the "make a list & check it twice" posts.

#20 - Royal Turf