psalms


Clean Slate 1

On this New Year’s Day, hear the good news that God allows do-overs. God created do-overs. We get a second chance…or a third, or fourth, or fifth…or seventy times seven. -From the January 1 church bulletin of the Marengo United Methodist Church.

A lot of us make resolutions around this time of year – things we want to do better or stop doing, and therefore be better. This has proven difficult throughout human history – in fact, the Bible itself can be boiled down into “stop doing the things!” It doesn’t typically prove to be any better on an individual level. We start the new year full of life and excitement, determined to take on the world and our own bad habits and then life eventually grinds us down until sometime around August, we either have completely forgotten what our resolutions were, or we’re so dispirited that we have trouble seeing the point.

Some of this is just human nature and even human physiology. There’s some pretty compelling science that habits – never mind actual addictions – are so heard to break because the more we repeat something, the more it physically affects our brains. Common behaviors form what are essentially hard-wired neural pathways. This isn’t always a bad thing, mind you. This is also the reason why things like tying your shoes no longer require conscious thought by the time you’ve reached adulthood. But that also means that bad habits get hard-wired in as well. (So in Psalm 139:14 when the word “fearfully” comes up, it’s not hard to see this powerful double-edged psychological sword as part of the fear.)

So what does that mean for someone trying to change as a Christian? Probably lots and lots of things, but several big ones I want to focus on.

The first is that, as you may suspect, games are actually your friend in this!  One of the ways that works well for some people (me very much included) to form better habits is to game-ify the process. (If you doubt this, you really should take the time to watch Jane McGonigal’s TED talk on the subject.) As some of our listeners may already suspect, this is where I bring up Habitica. If you’ve never looked at it, look at it. If nothing else, it’s a fantastic to-do list app, and the RPG elements are obviously a bonus. The free version is more than adequate, though it’s helped me enough that I decided to subscribe at a small monthly amount ($5). That gets you access to… …snazzy-looking cosmetic stuff, mostly. There are other tools out there as well. This Lifehacker Article covers some of them, including Habitica (called Habit RPG back then).

The second is accountability. I’ve had some fairly poor results sticking with an exercise regimen in the past, and since I’m now no longer getting much exercise at work, this is getting more and more important with every passing day. I asked some members of a small, private Facebook group I’m in to periodically check in with me about how it’s going, and Grant’s wife (who is a member of that group) has been pretty diligent about not letting me forget this is a thing I’m supposed to do. The trick, for me at least, is to not have be a beatdown, just a check-in.

The third is that it can be good to keep your ears open. I had a horrible time keeping up any sort of regular prayer schedule until I heard about this prayer that can be said quickly as I step into my morning shower and learned this method of praying through my day that I can do at night. I tried them and they stuck. Don’t be afraid to grab tools where you can find them.

Finally and most important is grace. God is far, far more patient with us than we are with ourselves. The Bible is a continuous loop of screwing up and being forgiven from Genesis all the way to Revelation. (See the link under “stop doing the things!”) God has forgiven, does forgive, and will continue to forgive, and while none of us will ever reach Christ-like perfection this side of eternity, we can get better. There’s also a nugget of wisdom I’d like to share from a close friend of mine. I came to him feeling guilty about how hard it had been for me to resist a habitual sin. I’d managed not to do it this time, but the amount of effort it had required from me had me down. His response was “Just because there was a struggle doesn’t mean you lost, dude.” Now to some folks, that may seem obvious, but to me, that was profound.

I still have a lot to work on this year, but there is something wonderful and enticing about a clean slate, isn’t there?

 

This week’s image used under Creative Commons comes from Travis Isaacs.


Episode 82 – Diaspora 1


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Not much in the way of news this week, so Grant and Peter get almost straight into the topic: Diaspora, the scattering of a people from a common homeland and their desire to return. We discuss what, exactly makes a diaspora and how it can be used for world and character building.

Links:

Scripture: 2 Chronicles 36:20, Psalm 147:2-4, John 7:33-36, 1 Peter 1:1-2


Episode 76 – Manichaeism (Historical Heresies, Part 3)


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Grant and Peter are back at it with part three of our Historical Heresies series. This time, we introduce a major competitor to Christianity in the Western Roman Empire, and a particularly interesting (read: complex and imaginative) Gnostic tradition: Manichaeism! We also provide one last plug for this year’s fundraiser for The Bodhana Group, and remind everyone to rate and review us on iTunes, Stitcher, and anywhere else you listen to our podcast on.

Scripture: Psalm 119:25-27Matthew 28:19-20


Blog: Pain

“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” -Psalm 147:3

“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” -Revelation 21:4

“Life is pain, highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.” -Wesley, The Princess Bride

It’s often said that the two certainties in life are death and taxes, but I’d humbly suggest that we’ll all become acquainted with pain long before we’re aware of the tax man. Pain is varied, it is all too common, and it is all too often ignored in our gaming experiences.

So much of the pain that colors our lives is relatively undramatic. A stubbed toe, a small disappointment, even the crushing blow of the sudden loss of a loved one or the nagging ache as you realize that your life will never be quite what you’d hoped – very few of these moments turn up in heroic fiction, and when they do, they are often tangential to the plot. This is not, however, true in our lives. A staggering number of us come from broken families,we all have regrets, disappointments, and illnesses. It is a part of the human condition that we will suffer in a multitude of ways, great and small, between the time when we enter this world and the time when we leave it, and often that pain changes us and shapes us in a variety of ways, and as with so many things, what defines us (and our characters) is not so much that we have pain, but what we do with it.

Some folks are crushed by their pain, retreating into bitterness or madness to escape it – in fact, this is a semi-canonical explanation for where The Joker came from. Crushed beneath the weight of “one bad day” he becomes a sadistic, insane madman, anxious and eager to share his pain with others. Others retreat from the world entirely, becoming hermits or even catatonic.

Others deny it or brush it off with exaggerated indifference. “It’s nothing to me.” Oftentimes this is a trap the immature fall into – seeing the very experience of pain as a weakness to be excised, or if that is impossible, at least denied or ignored. The problem with this approach is that pain is very persistent. It will eventually make itself known, and will reach a point where it can no longer be ignored.

Still others wallow in their pain, allowing it to define their experience. A lot of really good art gets made this way (everything from paintings to poetry to music) but being defined by misery and suffering this way robs people of happiness they could otherwise experience and strains relationships.

Finally, there are some who acknowledge their pain, but push through it. This is one of the better responses, and covers everything from working out to the artist pushing through rejection, to forging new relationships after the loss of a loved one. People treating their pain this way will often seek help with it, which is also healthy and can lead to a lot of growth. (For an interesting treatment of this concept, check out this TED Talk by Jane Mcgonigal.) It should probably go without saying that this last approach (and helping others with their pain) is the way we’re ideally expected to behave as Christians. The Apostle Paul tells us to “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep,” in Romans (Romans 12:15) and scripture is thick with admonitions to help the poor, the sick, the needy, and those suffering (and there’s that word again: suffering) from all sorts of trouble.

Narratively, I think we leave a lot on the table when we boil our adventures down to a series of tactical puzzles (and this from somebody who would be unamimously voted “most tactically-minded” by at least his current gaming group and probably several previous ones). One of the things that made Grant’s successful Shadowrun game so great was that the PC group was very empathetic (at least by the standards of shadowrunners) – they were careful about the amount of pain they caused to innocent people, and seeing those same people in bad situations moved them to do something about it. Now in fairness – they also caused a fair amount of pain to those they felt deserved it, which was often the in-game manifestation of one of my real-world character flaws: a streak of viciousness that can pop out when I’ve conned myself into thinking it’s justified.

Pain, and our response to it, defines our character and our stories, and it should define our characters and their stories as well. The next time you sit down to make a character or play one, give some thought to how they respond to the hurt in their life and the lives around them, why they feel and act that way, and how that affects the story. And, if you’re anything like me, it may also be a good idea to repeat that exercise with yourself in the real world from time to time.


Episode 59 – Conspiracies


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Grant and Peter are back to talk about making interesting conspiracies for your players to expose—or participate in! First, we plug the ongoing Fear the Con 8 Kickstarter—if you want to see us there, the con needs to hit its Kickstarter goal, so consider backing it if you haven’t done so yet! Then we get down to business, talking about the elements of a good conspiracy as an entity in your game, and only briefly diverting to talk about conspiracy theories. Like these, which claim the moon isn’t real.

Scripture: Psalm 41:5-9, Matthew 26:1-5


Episode 53 – Humility (Virtues & Vices, Part 14)


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Our Virtues & Vices series concludes with a look at humility! Peter’s published again in Sojourn Volume 2 and our fundraiser for The Bodhana Group is nearly wrapped up, and well past its goal! There’s also an ongoing discussion we’d like you participate in—essentially, we’re looking for suggestions and improvements for the coming year. After all that, we talk over humility in characters and at the gaming table, and conclude with a special thank-you to our listeners and wishes for a merry Christmas and an awesome New Year.

Scripture: Psalm 131, Matthew 11:29-30, Philippians 2:3-11


Episode 49 – Horror Games (with Kenneth Hite)


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Award-winning author and game designer Kenneth Hite joins Grant, Peter and Branden for a discussion of horror games and stories, just in time for Halloween! Check out Ken’s own podcast, Ken And Robin Talk About Stuff, and keep an eye out for The Dracula Dossier, a really neat project he’ll be Kickstarting soon. We also plug our upcoming charity drive for The Bodhana Group and our store.

After our Scripture readings, we talk with Ken about the fun of horror stories; running a good horror game; types of horror; creating the right amount of fear and horror in games; and writing and playing horror as a Christian. Enjoy!

Scripture: Numbers 16:32-34Psalm 91:5Matthew 6:342 Timothy 1:7


Episode 43 – Unity vs. Uniformity (with Ed Healy) 1


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Peter was at Fear the Con 7 when we recorded this one, but that’s okay—Ed Healy, founder of Gamerati and co-host of Atomic Array, joined Grant and Branden as a guest host this episode! After a few preliminaries we got into a fairly broad topic that Ed wanted to talk about: Unity vs. uniformity, or handling a table (and other social groups) full of different people without squashing individuality. It turned into a lot of fun and covered a wide range of examples and issues! We also talked briefly about Stephen Weese’s excellent book God Loves The Freaks. Thanks for joining us, Ed; we appreciate it!

Scripture: Psalm 133John 13:34-35Philippians 4:4-7


Episode 42 – Blessings and Curses


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Grant, Peter, and Branden are back at it! In news: Branden’s read a book, Peter preemptively thanks everyone for an amazing time at Fear the Con, and Grant tries really hard not to make jokes about the episode number (and encourages everyone to read The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy instead.) Then we hit our main topic: Blessings and curses. We talk about what they are (and aren’t); how they appear in Scripture and the history of Christianity; how they’re often used in RPGs; and how to use them in interesting ways. Enjoy!

Scripture: Genesis 12:1-3Deuteronomy 11:26-29Joshua 6:26Psalm 109:6-15Mark 11:12-14, 20-25


Episode 30 – Long Campaigns (with Ben Rome)


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We welcome back guest host Ben Rome, co-author of Games’ Most Wanted and Assistant Line Developer for Catalyst’s Battletech line! We discuss the 2013 RPG Podcasters’ Charity Drive and our own fundraiser for The Bodhana Group – including a rundown of all the latest prize news. Then we dive into a discussion of long campaigns, using a four-year campaign from Ben’s gaming past as a prime example. We go over the advantages and disadvantages of long campaigns compared to one-shots and mini-campaigns; how to make long campaigns work; pitfalls they might present; and problems to overcome.

Scripture: Genesis 45:24Psalm 90:12-15Galatians 4:12-13