Coming to you, live from my iPhone, it’s a quick blog thought!
In times past, the transcendence of God has been a major theme of the Church. God is high and lifted up above us. And, hey, that’s certainly true. Increasingly, though, I see God’s immanence being the theme of modern Christianity. And I think this is a good thing. In our day, we are tired and lonely and broken and scattered. So often, we feel so far from those with whom we feel we should be close. The pace of modern life makes it easy to lose those vital connections. Unless we are vigilant, we can find ourselves split from the herd, left alone to face the cold, the dark, the slowly growing certainty that our lives are a waste, the gnawing doubt that questions the value of our own existences.
Loneliness is our epidemic.
Is it any wonder then that the nearness of God is so precious in these lonely, scattered days?
A few weeks ago, I finally watched The Mission. Yep, my parents told me years ago that I’d like this movie, and they were right. Though, in a way, I feel like I needed to be at this place in my life to truly appreciate the power of this film.
So, spoilers, right? But, given that the movie came out in 1986, well, you should just deal, you know?
The two main characters are Father Gabriel, a Jesuit missionary to the primitives of South America, and Rodrigo, a mercenary/slaver turned Jesuit novice. (As an aside, seeing Rodrigo’s conversion experience is a big deal in the movie and a major part of the film.)
Politics has moved against the mission to the Indians headed up by Father Gabriel, and soldiers are coming to “liquidate” the mission. Rodridgo sees the injustice and renounces his vows of obedience to take up the sword once again to defend the Indians. This brings him into conflict with Father Gabriel, who is a pacifist.
One of the many powerful scenes of the movie is set on the eve of battle. The soldiers will arrive the next day, and Rodrigo comes to Father Gabriel to seek his blessing. Now, you need to understand that Gabriel and Rodrigo have argued bitterly over this issue, and we know what Father Gabriel thinks of what Rodrigo is doing.
And yet, Rodrigo seeks Gabriel’s blessing.
And here, Father Gabriel demonstrates his wisdom.
He rises and refuses to bless Rodrigo. His conscience will not permit it. And yet, he tells Rodrigo that, if he is in the right, that God will bless Rodrigo.
Did you catch that?
On the eve of battle, on the last night of their lives, Gabriel stands by his pacifism, but he is still humble enough to admit that he may be wrong and appeals to God on behalf of Rodrigo. That night, they part as friends. Their disagreement is not enough to divide them. They each go their own ways to their own methods of resistance (and they both die), yet they die reconciled and at peace with each other.
I wish that more Christians would comprehend and embrace this understanding of Christian brotherhood.
O Sun of Righteousness,
The lifter of my head and lover of my soul,
Shine on me today through the shadows that surround me,
That I may come, in the end, to see Your deliverance.
I got lost in the woods today.
The fact that I’m typing this from the comfort of my office should let you know that this story has a happy ending.
The day got off to a stumbling start. Nothing really bad happened, you understand. It was just not coming together well. I was feeling tired and a bit overwhelmed by the work in front of me. Then I blinked, and it was lunchtime.
So, I decided to go for a walk.
My workplace is embedded in the Forest Park Nature Preserve. We are surrounded by beautiful woods, traversed by twisting trails. So, I put my new earbuds in, started up some music, and headed out.
I started out following a trail that I knew, but when I came to a fork, I decided to take the right-hand path, which I hadn’t walked before. But, really, what could go wrong? As long as I stayed on the path and walked carefully, the trail would bring me back home.
And so I kept walking. And walking. And walking. It was beautiful. The leaves are changing colors and beginning to fall to the ground, and the rain pattered gently on me as I kept moving. I still wasn’t concerned. All I had to do was stay on the path and walk carefully.
And so I kept walking. I climbed a hillside on wooden stairs and walked along a ridge line. The path twisted and turned and grew rough with exposed roots. Some places I had to watch carefully, because the path was almost obscured by leaves and debris, making it hard to determine where the path had gone. And I began to grow a little concerned that, maybe, I was lost.
By this point, it was too late to retrace my steps. Going back wasn’t any better. Really, the best, safest, and most sensible approach was to push ahead. All I had to do was stay on the path and walk carefully, and the trail would bring me back home.
And so I kept walking. But I was smiling and even laughing a bit to myself. Because I understood what was going on, and it pleased me. I embraced the metaphor that was being handed to me and lived in the moment.
I’m back. All is well, though I was gone longer than I had originally planned. And I get it now. In this moment, at least, it’s all so clear.
Stay on the path.
Trust the trail.
He who has ears to hear, let him hear.
I went for a walk earlier today.
Yeah, that’s the kind of gripping social commentary that you’ve come to expect from this blog. But, hang on a moment and let me explain.
Work has been hectic recently, and today was no exception. Wall-to-wall meetings, a fairly important presentation, and a high intensity level left me feeling tired around 3:30. Don’t get me wrong; it’s been a good day. But, I don’t do well being on a constant adrenaline rush. I need time for calm, for peace, to embrace silence.
Which is why I went for a walk.
Now, you need to understand that I have a hard time getting my brain to stop thinking. There’s a constant stream of thinking, mulling, or analyzing running in my head. I can’t stop it. Often, I’ll use that tendency to poke at game design or the book I’m reading or something like that. However, I haven’t really had a lot of energy to go into those things, so, when my brain goes to chew on something, it chews on…work.
That’s no good for someone who is trying to balance his life.
But today I realized, as I was walking, that I had actually managed to slow my mind. I think that it may have been the fact that I was playing music. But, as I walked through the woods around my workplace, I found myself able to simply walk, to live in the moment.
It was good for me, and I returned to the office refreshed.
Zen has the practice of walking meditation, of learning to “just walk”. I think that this bears further investigation. Right now, I need to be able to produce high levels of energy for extended periods of time in order to bring my A-game at work. But I also need to seek those moments of solitude and silence, where I can simply rest and be renewed.
Also, I think I need better earbuds.
Tonight we gathered for a meal and then a prayer service at Imago Dei Church. The meal was a typical potluck meal, which worked out quite well. And then, we all headed off to the chapel for prayer. We were all a little late, but whatever, right? We were going to have our prayer service.
Except we couldn’t. Because it was occupied.
Looking in the windows in the doors, we could see two members of the Imago prayer team praying with someone.
So they moved the prayer service. You know, because the chapel was being used to pray.
It turns out that the man they were praying with lives across the street from the church. In fact, Crystal actually saw him this morning when she was at the church for Bible study and prayed for him. Apparently his need drove him to come seek help. And he found love and care, and he was ushered into the presence of the Father in prayer.
That’s tremendous. That’s wonderful. That’s a worthy reason to move the prayer service.
And it made me glad to be part of a church that has been positioned to be able to be available to the lost and needy, like our neighbor.
Hi, SEO guys! How’s it going?
Over the years of conducting my research, I’ve been a leadership skeptic, influenced by the evidence that complex organizations achieve greatness through the efforts of more than one exceptional individual. The best leaders we’ve studied had a peculiar genius for seeing themselves as not all that important, recognizing the need to build an executive team and to craft a culture based on core values that do not depend upon a single heroic leader. But in cases of decline, we find a more pronounced role for the powerful individual, and not for the better. So, even though I remain a leadership skeptic, the evidence leads me to this sobering conclusion: while no leader can single-handedly build an enduring great company, the wrong leader vested with power can almost single-handedly bring a company down.
–Jim Collins, How the Mighty Fall, p.61-62
I was talking to my father yesterday about my ambitions. I’ve realized that my ambitions have changed.
Once, I would have wanted to write a book or plant a church or build something great to change the world. Or, maybe, I would make some amazing principled stand, like Martin Luther, that would go down in history.
But no more. My ambitions are much smaller now.
I’d like to sit on my porch with a beer and watch my neighbors walking by and be able to greet them by name, because I know them, and they know me.
That’s it, really. That’s my ambition right now. But, as I sit on my porch right now and write, I find that I’m already on my way towards that ambition. I’m starting to know my neighbors, and they’re starting to know me.
And, honestly, I do think that, somehow, God uses such small ambitions to change the world.
From Reluctant Pilgrim by Enuma Okoro (p. 133):
“I’m starting to wonder if part of the miracle of going to church, even when I’m terribly dissatisfied with most of what goes on in certain churches, even when the church has no walls and meets in a gym, is that God will still show up there because God has promised to do so. The church will always be poked through with human sin, and some churches will do a worse job than others, but that doesn’t change the miracle of Christ choosing to wed himself to the church. She is still the bride of Christ, sullied and all. And I have to believe God takes the ‘for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health’ stuff pretty seriously.”
From Reluctant Pilgrim by Enuma Okoro (p.18-19):
[I] am just a regular person trying to live my regular life. Except that my regular life largely includes being a Christian who doesn’t really like church or many of the people I find in church. The even tricker part is I’m also a Christian who believes that Christ calls us to live in the community of the church and to love our neighbors. So things have been kind of sticky most of my adult life….
The worst, and possibly scariest, thing about all this is that, like I said earlier, before I had any say in it, I was claimed as a Christian. Whether or not others might call me a Christian is up for grabs, but I belong to a faith tradition formed and steeped in the idea of self-denial for love of the neighbor and rooted in community. Just by the nature of my baptism I am part of a distinct and storied community whether I like it or not, whether I acknowledge it or not. I belong to a tradition that tells me my life is not really my own but rather is caught up in the divine and communal life of something much bigger than myself. I am a character in a story I did not write, and there are many other characters in addition to myself who are equally important. But these are all tenes I find hard to swallow on a daily basis. I prefer the parts of the tradition that talk about grace and God’s forgiveness of us and the fact that none of us can ever really measure up to perfection. These parts offer me the illusion that I am off the hook from striving to be something I obviously was not cut out to be–holy.
The Prayer of St. Francis
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.
(This is where I’ve been for the last few weeks. Seems like a good place to be.)
At last, C.J. Summers of the Peoria Chronicle announces his candidacy for Peoria City Council.
It’s late and I’m tired. Otherwise, I’d have some glowing words here about C.J. When he announces more details on his candidacy, I’ll say more about why I think voting for him is a no-brainer. But for now, I’ll just say that I’m really excited to have a candidate on a ballot that I can actually be excited about voting for.
I don’t think that I’ve mentioned that I’m not working in IT anymore. Instead, since last December, I’ve been heading up the Systems Department at my workplace. Being in Systems is like being an on-site business consultant…or a game designer. So, yeah. All the books I’ve been reading on design, psychology, sociology, and the like…now all work-related.
I love my job.
Okay, yeah, it’s been cutting into my game design, because I’m solving design problems at work. I haven’t had the mental bandwidth to do much more. (Well, that’s some of it, at least.) But, on the other hand, I get to apply my game design lessons to business issues.
Here’s an example of what I mean. At GenCon 2008, in a late-night conversation with some other designers, I uttered a phrase that had been kicking around in my head for a while: “players are more than just emitters of moves”. A system–be it a game system or a business system– is composed of people, and people do more than just emit moves…or perform tasks. They are each one a complex individual, and a designer who fails to take that into account is being foolish.
(As an aside, I consider that to be the point that I diverged a bit from my strict interest in Eurogames and found myself giving Fantasy Flight Games a lot of money for games like Cosmic Encounter and Battlestar Galactica, which both require that you play the players, not just their mechanical positions.)
I’ve heard a related sentiment echoed by Mark Rosewater, Head Designer for Magic: The Gathering. He has said on several occasions that “you can’t fight human nature”. Sometimes, design simply needs to bow to the reality that people are a certain way, and, even though the designed method might be superior in the abstract, it fails because it runs counter to human nature.
But this cuts against the personality that I’ve seen present in designers (including myself). I mean, if it was written in the rules (or the SOP), shouldn’t people do it? I mean, it’s right there, right? And who cares if the method doesn’t make sense to the people who are using it? If the outcome is superior, that’s all that is important, right?
And then, today, at staff prayer, I had a sudden thought. God designed the universe, right? That means all the intricate order of physics and astronomy and chemistry was all originally orchestrated and designed by Him. So, when we look at nature, what do we see? Certainly, we see order. We see repeatable behavior and consistency. As an example, consider the states of matter: solid, liquid, gas (and plasma, right?). The solid form of a substance is more dense than its liquid form, which is in turn more dense than its gaseous form. Right?
But what about water? Ice, the solid form of water, is actually less dense than water, which is why ice floats in water.
That doesn’t make any sense at all! Except, if ice sank in water, it would kill all the fish, who would not be sheltered from the cold winter air by the protective layer of ice that forms on top of the water.
A human designer might have applied the rule with a broad stroke, making ice sink in water. It would have been elegant, simple, even aesthetically pleasing to consider rationally.
It also would have been wrong.
God knows the value of the well-crafted exception in design. Because simplicity isn’t the goal.
I think I need to consider this further.
As I write, I’m sitting at my dining room table. Yep, the one that’s in my house. We’ve been back for about 24 hours. Last night, I slept in my own bed. We’re still unpacking, and there are still issues to be addressed, but we are home!
God has been good to us.
One of the ways that He has blessed us is with the people of Providence Church. Over the last month, we have been overwhelmed by the love and assistance they have provided us. I’d write everything down, but there’s just so much that it would take too long, and then I’d still be afraid that I’d forget something. Some helped us understand how to work with the insurance company. Others offered expert advice on the electrical work that had to be done. Still others opened their homes to us so that we could have some time away from the cramped quarters of the hotel. And, of course, when it was time, people showed up to help us move back in.
And then there was the financial assistance. Some of the electrical work that the city inspector required was not covered by the insurance company. So, the deacons of Providence Church organized a special collection, and the people of our church raised enough money to pay for all the additional electrical work. And, I was informed, if we had further unexpected expenses, there was more available. Several times Deacon Sanford urged me to keep him informed of our needs so that the deacons could coordinate the church’s assistance.
This continues to be a difficult and emotional time. But, through it, God has brought good. Because, through it, He has shown us how much our church loves us.
According to Professor Robert Greenberg of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, the Benedictine monks arranged these antiphons with a definite purpose. If one starts with the last title and takes the first letter of each one – Emmanuel, Rex, Oriens, Clavis, Radix, Adonai, Sapientia – the Latin words ero cras are formed, meaning, “Tomorrow, I will come.” Therefore, the Lord Jesus, whose coming we have prepared for in Advent and whom we have addressed in these seven Messianic titles, now speaks to us, “Tomorrow, I will come.”? So the “O Antiphons”? not only bring intensity to our Advent preparation, but bring it to a joyful conclusion.
But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. (2 Peter 3:8-9)
Even so, come Lord Jesus.