Thursday, September 08, 2022

Reconstructing My Faith: Cheaters, Ice, and Déjà vu


As regular readers of my blog know, I play a lot of board games. (Ok, 800-900 plays per year… “a lot” may not quite cover it.) As far as I can remember, I’ve only cheated twice in my life while playing a game.

The earliest game cheating memory is against my sister during a game of Parker Brothers BILLIONAIRE. It’s a blind bidding game (that’s gamer-speak for “game where everyone makes their bid for something simultaneously”) that used the old school “magic slate” style notepads for writing those sealed bids. I figured out how to write down two bids and pull up the edge of the wax paper to eliminate one of them as we revealed our bids to win. (I have long since apologized to my sister for this underhanded behavior.)

My second cheating memory is a game that my good friend & roommate (Tim) played against our girlfriends (now wives) back in the late 80s. It was the AH classic RAIL BARON (more recently republished as BOXCARS by Rio Grande Games) and Kim & Shari were, not to put too fine a point on it, completely and utterly destroying Tim & I. The two of us decided that the only way we could survive is if we (a) flirted with our then-girlfriends, in order to (b) surreptitiously abscond with some of the piles of money the girls had collected. The plan worked – and after taking large amounts of their cash, we admitted our “plan” and apologized. And flirted some more. (Ah, young love.)

Anyway, I don’t like cheating – and I refuse to continue playing games with someone who ascribes to the “if you’re not cheating, you’re not winning” philosophy.

Moreover, the accusation (even made playfully) that I cheated pierces right to my heart. I can feel the anger rise and I have to fight to control my response to gently ask them not to keep heading down that particular teasing road. (I have some theories about where that particular wound comes from – but I’m going to save that discussion for another day & time.)

Ice in My Carbonated Beverage

I am not a fan of fountain drinks. I like my Coke Zero in a deeply chilled bottle or can. (And, while I prefer Coke Zero over Diet Coke, both are infinitely better than Diet Pepsi. Trust me on this one.)

The reason I don’t like fountain drinks is that you really need to put ice in the cup to cool down the cola to the appropriate temperature… and when you do that, you have to drink it at a decent clip to beat the inevitable watering down of the flavor and carbonation by the melting ice.

What you end up with is a slushy brew of 50% cold-ish tap water & 50% once-delicious cola.


Déjà vu All Over Again

I promise that my wandering stories will eventually pay off in something semi-profound… but you’ll have to keep reading a bit longer for that to happen. (Thank you for your patience.)

I grew up attending Southern Baptist churches on the West Coast… primarily in the suburbs of Los Angeles. (Yes, I lived in “The O.C.” – only we didn’t call it “the O.C.” and I recognized very little of my upbringing in the TV show.)

It was in an SBC church in Anaheim, CA, where I surrendered my life to Jesus… and it was the care and love of my youth leaders at an SBC church in Yorba Linda, CA, that encouraged and nurtured my call into vocational ministry. Both were decent-sized churches (running 250-350 folks each Sunday)

So when I went to Baylor University in Waco, TX, as a college freshman, I was taken aback at my first visit to a truly large SBC church. It really wasn’t the size, though… it was the fact that the bulletin, the structure of the worship service, even the language used from the front was almost identical to the churches I grew up in 2000+ miles away.

I came to realize that many of the folks who made up my home church in suburban Southern California were transplants from Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri (my parents), and the deep South… and so they did church much like the churches they’d grown up in half a country away.

Tying All of this Together

The obvious takeaway is that we’re likely to choose the worship practices that we grew up with – whether that’s a preference for a particular type of music, the use of only 100 or so hymns out of a hymnal with 500 of them, or a reliance on a “set in stone” order of worship.

No one likes to be told they’re simply mimicking their parents or grandparents – which makes it easy to develop “spiritual” reasons for worship structures, denominational polity, certain kinds of songs… the list is endless. Just like I react badly to being accused of cheating, folks inside a church/denomination can often struggle to hear good-natured prodding towards creativity and variety as an affirmation rather than an attack.

A less obvious takeaway was the realization that part of my (mostly) positive experience with the SBC comes from being raised in churches that were Baptist in theology but not falling all over themselves to reproduce the cultural prohibitions and hang-ups that were (and sometimes are) common to SBC churches in the South. We had a band of Jesus People leftovers visit on a regular basis in the late 70s/early 80s that played rock music in the Sunday morning service… and the fact that I played D&D didn’t cause anyone to try to cast demons out of me.

Putting a bunch of southern Southern Baptists into a cultural milieu where Sunday morning church attendance wasn't expected and the surrounding community didn't automatically defer to the churches in the area was, it turns out, a positive influence on focusing on the fundamental truths of Christianity. 

When I went to Baylor and got involved with other SBC churches who were attempting to reach college students in (relatively) innovative ways, I continued to see Baptist life in terms of potential rather than limitations. My spiritual mentor was an assistant director at the Baptist Student Union – and a single woman. (Her wisdom and godliness continue to inspire me.)

As I branched out and experienced other churches in the South, I started to see the problems more clearly – racism, winking at sinful behaviors if the individual was socially or financially connected, bitter infighting and gossip, church splits, etc. – all of which we’ll talk about in the context of this series of posts. But because my early experiences had been positive, it watered down the effect of those problems on me… or at least the way I reacted to them.

That’s not only true for my relationship with the SBC… it’s also true for my experience of large chunks of the evangelical subculture. When we get to my thoughts about the book “Jesus and John Wayne” (an upcoming post in this series), I’ll be struggling with how I managed to survive all the things I took in with my faith intact.

For today, I’ll leave you with a final thought: we can’t leave our past and our experience with church unexamined. It’s playing a role in how we follow Jesus right now. It affects how we worship, how we pray, how we treat each other, and how we do life together.

Socrates is credited with saying “The unexamined life is not worth living” at the trial leading to his death… which puts a very dark spin on his words. I think stating it in the positive – “The examined life is worth living” – isn’t quite as poetic but much more applicable. 

This is the third post in a series... if you'd like to read the first two, here they are:


Daniel Brown said...

I feel like I must cheat in board games because I win too often. Clearly it cannot be skill or intelligence.

I am drinking a warm Coke Zero right now. My preference is cold glass where some carbonation has had a chance to escape. I have found that Pepsi Zero is a tolerable alternative if attending a restaurant of the Pepsi denomination.

I grew up in the SBC in the south (Miami, FL). Most of my life I have tried hard to look objectively at my beliefs. Reading Jesus and John Wayne was shocking as it reveals areas where I was completely blind because of my own hubris. It was like being accused of cheating in a board game when my objective was not to cheat no matter the cost.

It has brought me to a good spot where I am trying to understand what is from God and what is just tradition, culture, and my stubborn will. I recognize that I will never completely remove outside influences, but I will trust God to continue to do his work in me. So I will continue to cheat and settle for warm Coke Zero but my heart is not do these things.

Mark (aka pastor guy) said...

Daniel... warm Coke Zero is a sign of the Apocalypse. One of the Four Horsemen will ride in carrying a warm Coke Zero. :-)

I'm going to borrow the part of your reply about J&JW when I get to writing that particular post.

Thank you again for your wisdom and friendship.

Daniel Brown said...

Please borrow anything you like.