Tuesday, January 30, 2018

In Defense of Gaming

And if I might for a moment trumpet! How much better is this amiable miniature than the Real Thing! Here is a homeopathic remedy for the imaginative strategist. Here is the premeditation, the thrill, the strain of accumulating victory or disaster—and no smashed nor sanguinary bodies, no shattered fine buildings nor devastated country sides, no petty cruelties, none of that awful universal boredom and embitterment, that tiresome delay or stoppage or embarrassment of every gracious, bold, sweet, and charming thing, that we who are old enough to remember a real modern war know to be the reality of belligerence. This world is for ample living; we want security and freedom; all of us in every country, except a few dull-witted, energetic bores, want to see the manhood of the world at something better than apeing the little lead toys our children buy in boxes. We want fine things made for mankind—splendid cities, open ways, more knowledge and power, and more and more and more—and so I offer my game, for a particular as well as a general end; and let us put this prancing monarch and that silly scare-monger, and these excitable "patriots," and those adventurers, and all the practitioners of Welt Politik, into one vast Temple of War, with cork carpets everywhere, and plenty of little trees and little houses to knock down, and cities and fortresses, and unlimited soldiers—tons, cellars-full—and let them lead their own lives there away from us.

My game is just as good as their game, and saner by reason of its size. Here is War, done down to rational proportions, and yet out of the way of mankind, even as our fathers turned human sacrifices into the eating of little images and symbolic mouthfuls. For my own part, I am prepared. I have nearly five hundred men, more than a score of guns, and I twirl my moustache and hurl defiance eastward from my home in Essex across the narrow seas. Not only eastward. I would conclude this little discourse with one other disconcerting and exasperating sentence for the admirers and practitioners of Big War. I have never yet met in little battle any military gentleman, any captain, major, colonel, general, or eminent commander, who did not presently get into difficulties and confusions among even the elementary rules of the Battle. You have only to play at Little Wars three or four times to realise just what a blundering thing Great War must be.

Great War is at present, I am convinced, not only the most expensive game in the universe, but it is a game out of all proportion. Not only are the masses of men and material and suffering and inconvenience too monstrously big for reason, but—the available heads we have for it, are too small. That, I think, is the most pacific realisation conceivable, and Little War brings you to it as nothing else but Great War can do.

- H.G. Wells, from the rulebook for "Little Wars," a game he designed.

Of Church and Security

I get the mailings, regularly, being that I'm the pastor and all.  New organizations, part of the economy of AmeriChrist, Inc., offering up trainings and consulting support for a question of key significance to American Jesus folk:

Church security.

Because the stories come in, month after month.  Crazed gunmen, entering sanctuaries, opening fire.  Usually, the deaths come in their twos or threes.  An estranged spouse, and the pastor.  A church employee, and the pastor.  Half of the congregation, and the pastor.

Pastors, being up front and all, tend to go down when "the shooter" comes a-calling.  Yay.

So there's a cottage industry now, businesses specializing in finding a plan for securing your religious facility.  Do you need an armed guard?  Should it be an off duty officer?  If it's a congregant, what are the liability issues?  What are your policies about concealed-carrying congregants?  How will this effect your insurance rates, particularly if one of your armed congregants mistakes another of your armed congregants for a threat?

And so on, and so forth.

I read these missives.  Then, I discard them. 

Because here's what disciples of Jesus Christ do when confronted with gun wielding psychopaths.  We try to talk them down.  Or we seek safety if able.  If that doesn't work?

We die.

That is not the answer that we want to hear.  But it is the only answer that isn't a carefully constructed rationalization for our sinfulness.

The first church knew this.  The apostles knew this.  The church that spread throughout the world knew this, as the first and most fundamental evangelical principle.  It is what marks us as different from faiths that are just another mask for imperial power.

The peculiar Christian relationship with coercive power is one of the primary sub-themes in my recent novel, and while the characters who struggle with it are Amish, it's something that every person who claims to follow Jesus needs to take seriously.

Jesus makes us different.  It is that difference...that radical, terrifying refusal to take up the sword in the face of the sword...that defined the unique witness of the early Christian church.  For all the talk about the early church, and how pure it was, the response of those first faithful souls in the face of violence and brutal oppression was consistent and indelibly marked into history.  They didn't take up the sword, even if the refusal to do so cost them their lives.

But we American "Christians" have forgotten this.  It's much, much easier to turn to power for our defense, to indulge ourselves in the cult of violence and self-seeking that has left its bloody prints on all of human history. 

So we do, conveniently forgetting who Jesus was, what he did for us, and what he asks us to do for the world.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Taking The Reading Challenge

There it was, set out before me again by some persistent bot.  A "Reading Challenge."  The goal of said challenge, pitched out by the book-network-thingy Goodreads?

To establish a book reading goal for 2018.   I really enjoy and regularly use Goodreads.  It's a wonderful way to keep track of what you've read, and can surface some equally wonderful new books to add to your to-read stack.

The goal is simple.  Just drop in the number, and then you've got a metric against which to measure your book reading for this year.  Am I meeting my goal?  Am I on track?  Am I really the bookish person I have always claimed to be, or not?

Setting this goal permits charts and graphs.  It permits competition, against oneself, and with others.  It creates that sort of energy, and applies it to the act reading.  Should I read a book a week?  A book a day?  How much should I push myself to beat my number from last year?

I know this works for some people.  Particularly people who like quantitative measures, who like to know where they stand, and who are motivated by the goad of success or failure.  I'm like that myself, in some ways.  When I'm working on a writing project, having a clear daily word-count goal makes a difference.

For those people who enjoy that sort of challenge, hey, more power to you.  Enjoy! And if you're looking for a well-reviewed, thought-provoking, and relatively short book, my last novel can be read in a sitting or two.

But I don't want to read that way.  I want to read when I want to read.  Some months, I'm plowing through nearly a book a day.  Other months, it's less.  Perhaps I'm writing.  Or perhaps I'm gaming.  Or watching something.  And that's just fine, because reading is a pleasure and a joy.  It's not a thing I want to turn into an anxiety-driven compulsion.

And I don't just read when I want.  I also read how and what I want.  Some books, particularly collections of essays or short stories, demand that you slow down and approach them in a more intentional way.  Short stories in particular require this.  You can't just blaze through an anthology and simultaneously honor each of the tales you've encountered.  Good short fiction requires your attention, and then your reflection.  It needs time to breathe in your soul, time to ferment and mature.

So there, at the top of the page, is my reading challenge goal for 2018. 

"I want to read books in 2018."

It's so nice to be able to meet your goals.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Resolutions and Intentions

As the cosmic odometer rolled over to two thousand and eighteen, it was time again for the great tide of humanity to flow into local gyms.  It was resolution time, as we commit ourselves again to doing the things we know we really should already have been doing in the first place.  This is the year, we tell ourselves.

I'd thought a little bit about that, back in early November, as I wrestled with two things that really did require my attention.  They were stock-standard self-care.  First, I needed to get back into the habit of doing weight-bearing exercise.  I'm great at nice long leisurely contemplative walks, and fine at puttering about on a bicycle on a lovely day.  But grunting away with weights?  Not so much.  So that I wanted to do.

Second, I'd started to chafe at my evening pattern of having a couple or three nice india pale ales/glasses of an inexpensive cabernet.  It was a habit, sure, and nothing more than a pleasant thing to go with whatever book I might be reading.  But I realized, at some point in early November, that I couldn't remember the last evening when that hadn't happened.  It seemed too rote, too deeply ingrained.  I committed to significantly reducing my intake.

So there, in November, I had made my decision about resolutions.  I'd do one of these things, come the New Year.  But which one?

After a little prayerful contemplation, I came to the conclusion.  I would do both.  And I would do them immediately.

I wouldn't wait for the new year, because why wait?  Here, two things that I knew I needed to do, two areas of my existence that required some intentionality.  I had already come to the conclusion that I'd like to make the effort, and that the effort was worthy.  Why postpone the good?  There's no good reason to wait to do the right thing.

Not "intend" the right thing.  Intention alone is meaningless.  Sometimes worse than meaningless.

But to actualize that intention, to make it part of the warp and woof of time and space.

That, I think, is the challenge of faith.  It's easy to settle back and wait for precisely the right moment, for the "right time" to act.  It's equally easy to just putter about and wait for the Good Lord to move.  In some things, that's a perfectly fine approach, particularly those things over which we have no agency.

But in so far as the good relies on our hope-fueled intention, there is never any point in waiting.  We need to act, not the day after tomorrow or at some arbitrary moment in our planet's orbit around our G-type star.

Once we have determine what we need to do, the time to do it is now.