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Tongues of Fire, Disquiet, and Joy

Hey, folks—Grant here. I’m taking over the blog post from Peter this week, but I’m sure he’ll be back in two weeks with more of his usual good stuff.

I have a small admission to make: I’ve been feeling frustrated and dissatisfied lately. Some of this stems from ongoing anxiety issues I’ve got, and some stems from everyday life: Work, family, costs of living, and so forth. Some of it stems from producing a podcast—not that I mind, obviously, but scheduling guests and editing shows eats up time. All that said, though, the source of much of this pervasive dissatisfaction has been very hard to pin down.

Yeah, I wanted to be Bob Ross. Who wouldn’t?

A few of you may remember that I tried picking up oil painting last year. I’d been looking for some time for a creative outlet, because I was feeling stifled and frustrated by a lack of creative production (I thought.) That … did not work out. I still love the idea of painting, but with two young children who need lots of attention in my life right now I don’t have the time to teach myself something that uses up expensive supplies whether you paint well or paint poorly. Oil painting was only one attempt, though. I tried writing poetry. I looked very seriously into setting up a pottery studio. I’d previously mentioned learning how to make stained glass, and my wife and I bandied that around a bit. I’d been weighing buying a Wacom tablet to try digital painting (thinking that easy access to an undo button would relieve a lot of the pressure and stress of painting with actual paint.) None of these were feasible, and those that were didn’t really seem to ‘click’ when I tried them. The struggle to find “the right outlet” to dispel this vague sense of creative stagnation, and the broad sense that things should somehow be better, only added to my frustration!

About two weeks ago, though, I had a small epiphany while doing the dishes and talking with my wife Krissi. I realized that I wasn’t looking to learn something creative. I was looking to learn something—to re-engage the love of learning I still identified with, but had let fall dormant over the past few years. I’d originally defined the problem, and thus the set of potential solutions, incorrectly from the moment I started looking at it; and I’d spent over a year frustrated because the solutions weren’t right for the actual problem.

This sort of error is pretty common, to be fair. Introspection is difficult for most of us at the best of times. When we’re unhappy, frustrated, and dissatisfied with our current condition, we’re even less likely to be able to clearly analyze our situation and correctly define the problems facing us. And when we’re dealing with other people—say, in a regular gaming group, or at church and in church groups—our relationships with people in those groups complicate this sort of analysis even further.

My gaming groups have historically been excellent. Aside from my very, very first campaign (which I think was some weird Palladium game with a college gaming club? There’s a half-remembered story for an episode someday…) every group I’ve joined was mostly made up of my good friends—even the avowedly terrible games. I’ve never had to resort to pick-up games with strangers, whether on forums or that ancient, arcane rite of posting a flyer on my FLGS’s bulletin board. And the ties between us as friends have stayed much stronger than the tie to any one specific game or campaign.

That’s not to say I haven’t been frustrated by our group’s games, though. Good GMing is an art form which requires practice, but the same is true of being a good player. Some games were atrociously bad for obvious reasons. Others had subtler weaknesses—a strong concept but weak collective execution, or a mismatch between player goals and GM goals that went unstated and unaddressed. One of the things we stress on Saving the Game is clear, healthy communication between game participants as people at (and away from) the table. If I learned anything from those struggling games (and some went on for several years) it’s just how important that is. Our Fellowship game has been particularly good for this lately, perhaps because the Overlord’s player has never GM’d before and actively asks for help and feedback.

That’s the thing: Right now, there are people playing games they don’t enjoy because they can’t or won’t open up to the other players and tell them that something’s frustrating them. Even some who will do that won’t then ask the group to help pin down what the real problem is. Without support, they’ll misidentify the problem, and either take drastic action which breaks an otherwise fixable game (or group), or create a cycle of frustration as solution after solution fails.

If only this were limited to games.

My wife’s much wiser than I am, of course. That’s why she’s been teaching herself Japanese in her limited spare time these past few months.

Krissi’s been a full-time mom for five years, with one brief stint of employment before Kid #2 came along. We have great kids, and watching children grow up and be awesome is incredibly rewarding, but it’s also sort of a trap. Aside from going to the gym, grocery shopping, and taking the kids to school and such, she rarely gets to leave the house. She gets no time for herself during the day, because everything really does revolve around the kids. Diapers, meal times, naps, constant noise and demands for attention … it’s exhausting. (Don’t think I don’t know what you do for us, dear. You’re fantastic.) Going to the gym is fine physically, but she’s needed to do something for her mind for a while now.

Why Japanese? A few reasons: A love for anime; a long-standing desire to travel to Japan; and deep curiosity about a language far removed from the Romance languages we’re more familiar with, especially her high-school Spanish. Perhaps some other reasons as well. Regardless, she’s buckled down and learned a great deal in a short amount of time. And I can tell you that she’s been much happier with herself. Our five-year-old daughter noticed, too. She asked to learn a language, without any prompting from us other than a conversation we had about language families. (She thought the idea that languages could have families was hilarious when she overheard Krissi and me discussing them.)

After sampling a few languages at a very basic level (thanks to the magic of YouTube), and probably watching one too many episodes of Dora the Explorer, she selected Spanish. She loved it, and has since stuck with it far longer than I ever expected. Her pride in learning something was palpable, and infectious. Our house had suddenly turned multi-lingual, with everyone learning a new language (even the one-year-old.) Except me, because I hadn’t rediscovered that learning is fun yet.

It wasn’t until Krissi asked me, not what creative hobby I might want to try, but what I wanted to learn that everything clicked into place. And then I couldn’t shut up about it.

I’ve never been the sort to bounce from congregation to congregation, looking for “the right church”. I’ve seen plenty of people do so, however. Too many of those give up on going to church altogether. Most can’t explain even to themselves what they’re really hoping to find at “the right church,” and so their reasons for quitting particular churches and moving on often seem trivial. Their excuses typically mask a more difficult-to-explain disquiet: If you can’t clearly and correctly explain what you’re looking for, you’ll almost always end up looking for the wrong thing.

Often, these people are scratching around the edges of deeper questions about God and Christ and His relationship to them that they’re uncomfortable openly scrutinizing. Too many Christians shame those struggling with their faith into covering up their doubts, rather than acknowledging those questions and seeking to help the doubtful find answers and strengthen their faith. “Believe” and “have faith” are twisted into “don’t question” and “say the right things.” The full richness of God is emptied of meaning. Is it any wonder that the hurting and the doubting struggle to find what they really seek, when they cannot?

If we can’t help each other ask questions, can we ever hope to help each other find answers? If we can’t ask the most important questions about God, engaging our intellects and opening up our hearts, can we ever hope to hear or understand His answers?

I started teaching myself Korean the weekend before last—한글, or Hangul.

Why Korean? A few reasons: I knew the script was well-designed, which would make learning easier. I knew nothing else about it, which made me very curious indeed. I watch a lot of professional esports, which Korean players often dominate; and while I don’t want to come across as the worst sort of Korean fanboy (much as Krissi doesn’t want to come across as a weeaboo), the possibility of reading Korean esports news did intrigue me. Perhaps some other reasons as well.

I debated several different languages, bouncing ideas off my wife and weighing my options. The finalists were Korean, Chinese (of some variety), Greek, Hebrew, and Arabic. (A fun, if not exactly complimentary, fact about myself: If I’d picked Japanese too, I’d immediately have started competing with Krissi in my head and ruined the joy of learning for its own sake—for both of us.) Perhaps one day I’ll come back to those; they all have their own appeal.

So far, it’s been a delightful process. I can’t say I’ve learned much Korean in a week and a half, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how much I have learned in that time. I can feel old mental muscles limbering up, stagnant rot washed away by clear water. My wife and I excitedly compare Japanese and Korean grammar (and Android keyboards for our respective languages.) I have something new to look forward to every day—something fulfilling. Something that reminds me of one of the most wondrous passages in all of Scripture, which gives me shivers every time I read it:

When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.


Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?”


Acts 2:1-12

It seems I needed to be reminded of what that does mean: “I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken; therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; my flesh also will dwell in hope.” (Acts 2:25-26) Very likely, I’m not alone in that.

So speak up. Ask questions without assumption, and do so together in trust and fellowship. Most of all, be ready to hear hard questions rather than to silence them—and to each other help find answers. The Lord has given us tongues with which to share them.

The image featured in this post is “Pentecost” by Jean Restout II, 1732.

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