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October 31, 2014
I have been asked the question, “Why would you, as a minister, share stories like this? Why tell such things and talk about the theology of Monsters?” One of the reasons to do this is found in these words from noted biblical scholar Phyllis Trible, “To tell and hear tales of terror is to wrestle demons in the night, without a compassionate God to save us. In combat we wonder about the names of demons…We struggle mightily, only to be wounded. But yet we hold on, seeking a blessing: the healing of wounds and the restoration of health.”
Frankenstein: This is, possibly, the first science fiction story ever written. Mary Shelley wrote this story in the early 1800s and was inspired to write it after a night of seeing who could write the best horror story with her then fiancé Percy Bysshe Shelley and Lord Byron. This story has seen numerous books, films, and TV shows done over and over again. Most of us are familiar with, even if we’ve not seen, the 1931 “Frankenstein” starring Boris Karloff.
For those of you not familiar with the story, a quick summation would be to say it’s the story of a scientist who desires to create life. In the book and the movies this occurs for a wide range of reasons but suffice it to say that the creature is made from the various body parts of corpses and then brought to life through some type of scientific experiment.
So, just to prepare for this sermon I had the difficult task of watching three, count them, three Frankenstein movies. I watched the original 1931 version (which I’d seen before), the Bride of Frankenstein, and The Curse of Frankenstein starring legendary actors Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee (both of which I’d not seen before.) I also watched the most recent movie I, Frankenstein a few months back.
Trivia: The monster never has a name in the early movies though, in the book and the newest movie, he is referred to as Adam. So, when you hear me mention Frankenstein today I’m referring to the creator of the monster.
The creator’s first name in the original movie is Henry though in the book and the 1950s “Curse of Frankenstein” he is called Victor which is the same name he had in the book.
There is no assistant named Igor in any of the movies.
Before delving into our Scripture text today, I’d like to talk about some things we can learn directly from the Frankenstein story. At it’s heart, it is a story about humanity’s search for immortality. It delves into our own hubris to seek to create life on our own without the help of God and the dreadful result which ensues. Sinful humanity strives to create like God and the result is often disastrous.
This theme has infused much of science fiction, horror, and fantasy down through the years. People often wrote these stories who may or may not have considered themselves Christians or people of faith yet, at their heart, they seemed to understand that our knowledge is tainted by sin and selfishness. When we try and create something in our own image, it is often shown as broken and incomplete.
Another theme that is seen both in the book and directly stated in the 1950s movie, Curse of Frankenstein, is said by Victor Frankenstein “one’s facial character is built up by what lies behind it…in the brain. A benevolent mind and the face assumes the patterns of benevolence, an evil mind and an evil face.” And this is the #theologyofmonsters. This is how many people view the world…they automatically judge someone or something to be a monster by the exterior. They assume that beauty on the outside must mean beauty on the inside and ugliness on the outside means ugliness on the inside.
Sadly, this is too often true in the church and the Christian faith. We use trite phrase such as “cleanliness is next to godliness” and other such phrases which are never found in the Scriptures. We quickly forget that Jesus reached out and healed lepers through His touch and often spent time with those who were on the margins of his world.
And, in the movie “Curse of Frankenstein” it’s seen that, where Victor Frankenstein’s character is concerned, this does not seem to be true. He looks great for most of the movie until the very end where he is disheveled and filthy. Yet, in reality, we know this isn’t true. Some of the most beautiful looking people have committed the most heinous of acts while those who may not look the best on the outside are some of the kindest and most caring of people you would ever meet.
Now, this is just the introduction! I want us to delve a bit deeper into this story and to do so we need to turn to one of the most difficult biblical stories I’ve ever come across. This story is referred to as a “text of terror” by Phyllis Trible and is found in Judges 19 and 20.
Judges 20: All the people of Israel from Dan to Beersheba, including the people who dwelt beyond the Jordan Riverin Gilead, gathered as one before the Eternal at Mizpah. 2 The leaders of every tribe, of all the tribes of Israel, presented themselves to the assembly, to the 400,000 soldiers armed for war. 3 (And the people of Benjamin heard that the other tribes had gathered at Mizpah.)
Israelites: Tell us, what happened to bring about this criminal act?
Levite (standing in front of the assembly): 4 I arrived in Gibeah in Benjamin with my mistress. We only wanted to spend the night, 5 but the leaders of the city came to the house where we were staying and surrounded it, wanting to attack me. They intended to kill me, but they raped my mistress until she died. 6 So I took her body and cut her into pieces and sent her throughout our land that is Israel’s inheritance so that everyone could know what an outrage the men of Gibeah have committed! 7 So now, you people of Israel, I am looking to you for counsel. What should we do?
Israelites (standing together): 8 We will not return to our tents, and we will not go home to our houses, 9 but this is what we will do to Gibeah: We will cast lots to choose who will go into battle against it. 10 We will also choose 10 men from every 100 throughout Israel, 100 of every 1,000, and 1,000 of every 10,000 to bring provisions for the troops who will go to repay the disgrace done by Gibeah of Benjamin against the rest of Israel.
11 So all the people of Israel gathered against Gibeah, united in their judgment, intent on action.
12 The tribes of Israel sent messengers throughout the land of Benjamin.
Messengers: Do you know what has happened? What about this crime that has been committed among you? 13 Turn over those perverted men from Gibeah so we can put them to death and cleanse this evil from Israel!
But the people of Benjamin would not listen to their kinsmen, the other tribes of Israel. 14 The Benjaminites gathered together, out of their towns, to Gibeah to go to battle against the rest of Israel.
This is a difficult passage to read and if you read the details of this story in Judges 19 and further along in the following chapters it should make you weep. Yet, as Trible says, “If art imitates life, Scripture likewise reflects it in both holiness and horror.”
And this is a horrifying text. It should frighten us, frustrate us, and anger us. To see a woman abused in such a manner should horrify anyone as we see the abuse heaped upon her by the Levite and how her body is used to rally people to war. She is never viewed as a human being…just an object. The story never gives her a name…just like the monster in Frankenstein is never truly given a name.
Isn’t this how we make monsters of people? We leave them nameless? We spoke of this last week. We use phrases such as “those people” or we refuse to give those we dislike a proper name and instead use ethnic and racial slurs to refer to them. We leave them humiliated and dehumanized on the side of the road.
Isn’t it easier to abuse a person when we depersonalize them? And isn’t this what happens in the story of the concubine as well as the story of Frankenstein’s monster? These two beings are easy to dismiss when we don’t give them a name and leave them lying by the side of the road torn and bleeding. And this is the worst sin we can commit…to dehumanize others and not see within them the image of God.
In doing so, we create victims…victims who either intentionally or unintentionally become victimizers themselves. In the story of Frankenstein, we see a creature hurt and shunned by his creator thrown out into the world nameless and alone. This creature then victimizes others time and again because he or she has been cast adrift, nameless, and alone. The only time, in any of the stories that the creature knows a bit of peace and kindness is when, in the movie Bride of Frankenstein, he comes across a blind man in a cabin who recognizes in this creature an opportunity for companionship and friendship. The most touching scene in this movie is when the blind man kneels down and prays. Yes! He prays and thanks God for giving him a companion.
Yet, this reprieve is suddenly taken away when the old blind man, who has not thought to name the creature, finds a new set of visitors at his door who are immediately set to destroy the creature.
Now let us return to the story of the concubine. A woman who has suffered abuse at the hands of the Levite. A man who says he wants to “share his heart” with her but never does so. He doesn’t acknowledge her throughout the story and, instead, sees her as a piece of property. This Levite has no desire to protect her but only to use her as a possession. In fact, to protect himself he throws her out of the house to be abused by a gang of men.
The next morning the woman is returned to him wounded and possibly dying. She is a victim of this man’s selfishness and his inability to recognize her as a human being and then he takes her body, chops it into twelve pieces, and then makes her a victim and a, sadly, an unintentional victimizer. The story, in some versions, doesn’t even tell us if the woman was even dead when this Levite, this so-called priest, does this to her! This man then uses this woman’s body to start a war with the same evil people who had repeatedly raped her.
In the end, this defenseless woman is a victim who is then used to victimize others. Because of her death and the way her body has been abused, if you read the story further, you will find out that 600 more women are then abused and mistreated.
What are we to do with stories such as these? Stories that do not end well. How do we, as Christians, handle them? Trible says that, “to seek redemption in these stories in the resurrection is perverse. Sad stories do not have happy endings.”
Strangely enough, I found myself agreeing with Trible in these words and I was shocked. Shocked because, for the last decade or so, I’ve thought that the resurrection was the one way to make all stories end well. I’d forgotten one simple and important truth of the Christian faith…
In today’s Gospel reading, we find the redemption of ourselves (not the redemption of the stories I’ve shared!), let me read it to you once more:
“Caiaphas, the High Priest that year said, ‘You have no idea what you’re talking about [concerning Jesus]; what you don’t understand is that it’s better for you that one man should die for the people so the whole nation won’t perish.’ His speech was more than it seemed. As high priest that year, Caiaphas prophesied (without knowing it) that Jesus would die on behalf of the entire nation, and not just for the children of Israel—He would die so all God’s children could be gathered from the four corners of the world into one people.” John 11:49-52 The Voice Translation
This is the answer. Jesus has become the victim to end our victimization of others. When we live into Christ Jesus’ death on the cross and see it for what it is, one who willingly became the victim to end our victimization of ourselves and each other, then we can move into something better. We begin to place our desire to victimize others for selfish gain upon Him—Jesus—The Crucified Lord. We lay all of our sinful desire to get over on others, to break them down, to dehumanize them, to make them appear less than ourselves, our desire to abuse and control, our desire for revenge and vengeance, we place these sinful realities on the Cross of Christ and then we begin to move into a new life. In gazing upon the Crucified Lord, we gaze upon our own ability to victimize and, if we are willing, we begin to leave this sinful proclivity there as we move into a new life.
This new life then looks out at a broken, hurting, humanity…the Frankenstein’s Monsters of this world and we see in those hurting and nameless people something better. When we live into the Christ of the Cross, we give the Monsters of this world a new name: Children of God, Friend, Neighbor, Brother, Sister, Tom, Jane, Margaret, Judy, Charles, Jennifer, Amy, Bill….and when we see them as human beings we can no longer stand idly by and see them abused and hurt by a cruel and oppressive world which has not yet learned to live into the Cross of Christ.
Let us pray:
God of endless love,
ever caring, ever strong,
always present, always just:
You gave us your only Son
to save us by the blood of the cross.
Gentle Jesus, shepherd of peace,
join to your own suffering,
the pain of all who have been hurt
in body, mind, and spirit
by those who betrayed the trust placed in them.
Hear our cries as we agonize
over the harm done to our brothers and sisters.
Breathe wisdom into our prayers,
soothe restless hearts with hope,
steady shaken spirits with faith;
Show us the way to justice and wholeness,
enlightened by truth and enfolded in your mercy.
Holy Spirit, comforter of our hearts,
heal your people’s wounds
and transform our brokenness.
Grant us courage and wisdom, humility and grace,
so that we may act with justice
and find peace in you.
We ask this through Christ, our Lord. Amen.
August 27, 2014
I would like to apologize for not having this last blog post in this series up sooner. Unfortunately, life seems to get in the way. Since I’ve arrived back from GenCon, I’ve had church meetings to attend, ministerial alliance meetings, a workshop with my Board of Ordained Ministry, and also having to deal with some difficult situations with my father and his continued battle against cancer. All the kind prayers and wonderful thoughts have been amazing and I would appreciate more of them whenever you have time.
Now, on to my experience of the Dark Dungeons Movie. My friends and I arrived about half an hour early for the movie and line was already rather long. We learned rather quickly that the movie had been sold out so all four of us were very thankful we pre-purchased our tickets. While waiting in line, I also had some fun conversations with a few people and became increasingly aware that many of them were coming to see this movie due to their experiences of the “moral panic” of the 1980s which I described in my first blog post on this topic.
The Movie. The production values were wonderful. Character costumes looked great, special effects used were nice, and the acting did not come across as cheesy. They obviously had actors who knew what they were doing and it was quite a bit of fun.
The movie was as true to the original subject matter as possible. Since it was based off a rather small gospel tract from the 1980s, there did have to be quite a few changes to keep it from being too short. One of the major changes is the main characters are no longer in High School and living at home. Instead, they are two Christians who are starting their first semester in college who come across as rather naïve. There were a few other plot elements dealing with the “coven” that, while not in the original tract, were written in such a way as to be in the spirit of it. Mainly, it seems, the coven of evil is portrayed as being part of a vast, worldwide conspiracy to bring about world domination and the coming of some type of demonic deity, which looks a lot like Cthulhu. Jack Chick is notorious for his conspiracy theories concerning the Roman Catholic Church and Freemasonry so I felt this was very appropriate.
One area that really impressed me was how they took panels from the tract and made them into screens shots within the movie. You could tell the writer, director, and camera people had really done their research. I’d highly recommend stopping by their site and picking up a copy of the movie.
The Q&A. After the movie ended, there was an extended Q&A with the writer, director, and religious advisor to the movie. While all of it was really good, I’d like to discuss the religious advisor. His name is Chris Ode who serves as a pastor within the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Chris was very straight forward in pointing out the movie was not meant to be a satire but did say something along the lines of, “It may not be satire but if you understand the definition of irony you just might get it.”
One of the areas of irony that I noticed rather quickly was how the RPG’ers were portrayed as the “cool kids” in the movie. Anyone who grew up playing these types of games in the 80s and 90s would quickly realize how ironic they were being. Those of us who played these games during those eras know we weren’t considered “cool” by any means.
Chris went on to explain his own background with roleplaying games. He played quite a bit in seminary (which gave him bonus points from my perspective) and even shared how his party once ran a game with nothing but clerics. His description of a warforged cleric who advocated liberation theology caused me to stand up and shout, “Yes!” At that point, I think some people realized another preacher was in the room.
One last note about Chris: When I later spoke with him at the Faith & Gaming panel which with both took part in along with Frank Mentzer (the author of the D&D Red Box set from the 1980s), he mentioned how important it was for the movie to not make fun of Christians. Personally, I believe they did a very fine job.
The Worries. After the movie and over the course of the next few days, I found myself talking with older game designers who expressed worry that this movie might be used by people who wished to once again attack roleplaying games. As I told them, if someone uses this movie to attack RPG’s then they can’t be too bright.
The movie is so over the top that no person in their right mind would think such things are going to happen. If someone watches this movie and believes they’re going to be invited into a coven and find “the real power” then they should seek the help of a mental health professional. However, if you’re a gamer (Christian or note), I think you would have great fun sitting down and watching the movie.
Personally, I’m hoping to have a geek movie night at home where we can watch Zero Charisma and the Dark Dungeons Movie. Afterwards, maybe we can even play a few games while constantly yelling, “Where are the Cheetos?” and using phrases such as “I cast Magic Missile at the darkness.” I believe much laughter will ensue.
Final Thoughts. As someone who has found himself, later in life, catching some flak about my continued love of RPGs, fantasy, and many other facets of geek culture I realized this movie was a very cathartic experience. If something like this had been around during those times when I purged myself of D&D back in the early 90s, I think it would have shown me the ridiculousness of the claims being made during those years.
I also overheard a few conversations from people who had been metaphorically burnt by the church during those years and I think this movie was able to give them a sense of closure. More importantly, it was nice to see a person of faith directly involved in the production of the movie. I believe this is quite helpful for those who are wondering, after all these years, if the church has a place for them. The answer to that is, “Yes, yes we do. There are geeks a-plenty in these churches who would welcome and embrace you with open arms.”
It is my hope you’ve found this series of blogs interesting. Please feel free to let me know your thoughts about the blog, the movie, and anything else in the comments section below or stop by my pages on Facebook and feel free to start up a conversation.
August 21, 2014
In the last installment about Dark Dungeons, you may have found I went into a great deal of my personal story. A few friends were shocked to find out that I burnt my D&D books even though it seems I avoided the moral panic of the 1980s. So, with my mother’s great example and having avoided much of the problems many faced, why did I burn my books?
Two stories lead up to the book burning…a phrase, which still causes me to have butterflies in my stomach. In the first story, I was driving home late one night in probably the nicest car I owned during my teenage years. It was the first car I had ever purchased with my own money. (The others were purchased through indentured servitude to my father over the course of many summers.) On the way home, my car’s slick tires skidded on a wet, narrow bridge throwing me into a railing and totaling it out.
After two truck drivers helped me push my car off the bridge, a police officer showed up and began to give me the once over. After he was convinced I was sober, he began to inspect my car and then told me I would need a ride home. Unfortunately, this was a time before cell phones were normal and I was pretty far from a phone booth. I asked the officer if he could give me a ride home and he told me, “No” several times before he eventually relented and drove me to my Mom’s house. (I found out it was on his way. Still don’t know what the problem was with taking me home. Maybe it was the D&D books in the backseat?)
On the drive to my house, he proceeded to tell me, because of my D&D books in the car, I was “riding with the devil.” This was about all he shared with me. Not a lot of information…. just that I was riding with the devil. “Great,” I thought, “one of those.”
A few years later I was talking to a young man outside a Baptist Student Union where he asked me a simple question, “Have you ever seen the need for forgiveness in your life?” I said, “Yes” and it was at that moment I truly began to understand the forgiving love found in Jesus. As John Wesley would say, “My heart was strangely warmed.” I’d had a few minor religious experiences in previous years but this is the one that took. And it just didn’t take, it took off!
I found myself in church every possible chance I could get and I often stopped by and checked out revivals at various places. It seemed, when I first came to faith, there was a revival almost every week at a different church. There was a Baptist Church close to my mother’s home which seemed to have a LOT of revivals. One night I stopped in to listen to a traveling evangelist who began to talk about the evils of RPG’s and various other “occultic implements” and, being a new Christian, I didn’t have the resources with which to refute him. So, I took this man at his word. After all, I was a new Christian and didn’t know anything, right? I said to myself, “This man is older and much wiser than me so everything he says must be spot on.”
The next day I went home to my dads and loaded up all my RPGs, fantasy books, and porn and took them out into the woods to burn them. (Burning the porn broke my Uncle’s heart. He told me I should have given it all to him. Looking back on it, burning the porn was a pretty good idea.) Yes, I even burnt my first print copy of Deities & Demigods with the Cthulhu Mythos in it.
I spent the next year wandering around in what I now refer to as the “Fundamentalist Fog.” It was foggy because I wasn’t sure where I was going to find my footing. Fortunately, being a geek caused me to question quite a few things. I started looking at historical context, biblical culture, and reading a wide range of authors. About this time, I met a young lady who encouraged me to go to a Christian college. (I later married that beautiful woman. She’s quite amazing.) It was at this Christian college I learned the same CS Lewis who wrote Mere Christianity was also the same CS Lewis who wrote The Chronicles of Narnia.
It was there my journey took a sharp change. I began to realize fantasy, in and of itself, wasn’t necessarily bad. Over the next few years I began to learn and grow. Bible Study became much easier as I processed the historical/grammatical method and certain aspects of higher criticism found their way into my life. Scripture started coming alive to me once more and I saw things in a different way.
In the mid-90s, I had an opportunity to seek a pastorate in Alaska with a different denomination than the one in which I now serve. (I eventually declined.) On my way back from Alaska, I stopped into a bookstore and picked up a copy of Marc Miller’s Traveller. Sci-Fi couldn’t be as bad as D&D, I thought, so it came home with me on the plane.
When I got home, I decided to search this burgeoning technology called the Internet and see if I could find Christian gamers. Low and behold, I found a group called the Christian Gamers Guild and was transformed. I found many Christians who not only played D&D but also found out many of the people involved in its earliest days were people of faith. Reading M. J. Young’s famous, “Confessions of a Dungeons & Dragons Addict” also helped a great deal. (Strangely enough, some people now confuse us. It’s probably because he is the chaplain of the Christian Gamers Guild. I just like to think I’m younger and better looking. )
After that, it wasn’t long before I picked up the dice again and started playing. I haven’t stopped since. Playing D&D has helped me develop many friendships over the years with other Christians, people of different faiths, and people of no faith at all. It has opened doors of laughter, kindness, and care I have not always seen in the church and many of those friendships have lasted for a very long time. I have also introduced my love of gaming to my wife and daughter. We are very fortunate when we are able to have those family game nights.
When I returned to ministry in 2007, I also found my love of D&D and other games has opened up a number of opportunities to minister to people both inside and outside of the church. This journey continues to this day and I look forward to more chances to be “Jesus at the Table” as the years go on.
I know this has been a little long and I haven’t gotten to the Dark Dungeons movie yet but I appreciate those of you who have stayed with me so far. My next blog post will discuss the Dark Dungeons movie, the Faith & Gaming panel from this yar, and my thoughts on it all. Hope to see you there.
August 20, 2014
My GenCon experience this year has been a very tiring one. I spent a great deal of my time in the Christian Gamers Guild/Fans for Christ booth but also had some time to sit outside and talk with many of my friends in the gaming industry. The panel and worship service were both loads of fun and I enjoy participating in them but, I must say, it all really wore me out.
The most interesting experience I had this year was viewing the premier of the movie Dark Dungeons. For those of us who lived through the “moral panic” of the 1980s, we are very familiar with this movie. For those who aren’t, it is based on a Jack Chick gospel tract of the same name, which purported to educate people on the “evils” and “demonic nature” of Roleplaying Games. In short, this gospel tract tells parents this type of gaming is an entryway into the occult and will lead them to joining a witches coven.
I have to say when I first found out about this movie I was Bothered About Dark Dungeons (heh). Why? Well, in looking at the website, I saw that it was meant to be as close to the original gospel tract as possible. The people behind the film were taking it very seriously and I was afraid on two fronts. First, that this film would be used as a way of trying to once again prove the evils of Roleplaying Games and, second, this film would actually be a parody used to make fun of Christians. Either option, for me, would not be a good one. As someone who has tried to build bridges between the geek community and the church, I thought this would tear away at much of the work I’ve been doing for the last seven years.
Before I share my thoughts about the movie, it is necessary for me to talk about my own experiences with the moral panic of the 1980s as well as a part of my Christian journey at that time.
I was raised in what I often refer to as an “occasional Baptist” home. This simply means that when we went to church, occasionally, it happened to be a Baptist one. In the part of the South from which I’m from, most people are culturally Baptist to one degree or another. I say this to let you know I didn’t have a steady diet of Sunday School or preaching which heavily influenced me. Most of my understanding of Christianity came from TV shows such as a Charlie Brown Christmas and various other holiday specials. I thought Easter Sunday had more to do with a bunny and candy than it had to do with the Resurrection of Jesus.
Sometime between 1983 and 1984, I picked up my first copy of Dungeons & Dragons. I was interested in it because I had seen some guys playing it during recess at school and these fellows seemed quite cool to my teenage self. (Yeah, I’m that much of a geek. People playing D&D seemed cool to me.) I really wanted to check this out. Having read quite a bit of fantasy and science fiction by this time, I have to say I was quite intrigued.
When it got close to spring, sometime in 1983 or 1984, we were on Mardi Gras break from school. (Louisiana schools have cool holidays like this one.) My mom and my stepdad decided to take us on a trip to visit my stepdad’s brother in Texas and, while out shopping, my mom and my step-aunt decided to go a HUGE mall. As we were walking around, I noticed something I had never seen before: a game store. This being the 1980s, gamestores such as this one had no video games but they did have lots of miniature games such as Warhammer and various other tabletop wargames. There were also interesting games by companies such as Avalon Hill. It was all quite a new experience for me. I broke away from the party and went in the shop and my life was changed forever. As I walked around looking at the various terrain and painted miniatures, my eyes fell on a shrink-wrapped Dungeons & Dragons booklet. It was the Tom Moldvay Basic D&D book and looked absolutely gorgeous. The image of the dragon on the cover fighting a female magic-user and dwarf will be forever etched in my brain.
I immediately left the shop and began to beg my mother to buy it for me. Like any mother who takes their child to the mall, her response was an emphatic, “No!” I kept pleading with her but since she’d had the experience of raising three other children my cries of despair fell on the deaf ears of a 20th level parent. However, my step-aunt, Gwen, who had less experience with children was found to be more receptive to my charm spell and agreed to purchase this $5 booklet for me. When we got back to her house, I immediately devoured its 64 pages. Sadly, though, I immediately realized I didn’t have any of the interesting dice the game seemed to require.
When I returned home, I showed this book to the guys playing D&D at my school and it seems I was now “in.” The cost of admission to this group of gamers, for me, was having a D&D book, as they were fairly hard to find in our rural area. (I later found out our nearest gamestore was in the neighboring large town in which my father lived.) My gaming with this group of young men was often sporadic and mainly consisted of me running a quick adventure during recess or in the library when we had free time. I was the DM who would give them cool magical items for when they played in the other DM’s game. We Monty Haul’d it like crazy.
Occasionally, I had the opportunity to play with all the guys over at Roger’s house (Roger’s dad was a Baptist Deacon and, I believe, later became a Baptist minister). My gaming with them often turned into my character getting killed rather quickly by another character and then I would help the DM run the game. (Interestingly, I often played the cleric. Who in their right mind kills the cleric? To this day, I play cleric’s rather rarely though am known to play druids occasionally.)
As we played, most of my friends and I were tangentially aware of the moral panic occurring at this time. Rumors would go around of parents burning their children’s D&D books but most of us laughed at it because we all seemed to be fine. Then one day I came home and found all my D&D books spread out on my bed.
(By this time, my collection had grown. I was known for saving my money and being frugal with it. However, I now found that most of my spare money was eaten away by Dragon Magazine, D&D, Savage Sword of Conan comics, and a few computing magazines. )
With fear in my heart, I asked my mom, “What’s up with my books?” She replied, “Nothing to worry about. Just put them back up.” She then took a piece of paper and threw it in the trash. I continued to ask her and she explained to me, “Our neighbor gave me this piece of paper listing all the evil things in those books of yours so I thought I would check it out. It’s all a bunch of **** as I can’t find anything in your books it talks about.”
I want to pause here and give my mom a big KUDOS for checking things out. She was never the type to just take someone at their word but always wanted to find answers for her self. She was pretty much self-taught about many things and had a tremendous love of reading which she passed on to me. As someone with only a high school education, she later began to work for a number of professionals and was known for being an intelligent, no-nonsense, business professional.
Being raised this way still has an influence on my life and who I’ve become. All that said, looking back on it, I realize the pamphlet she was given was one that describes the Little Brown Books which had been published almost a decade prior. I’m pretty certain of this as I remember some of things on the paper and now have a pretty extensive knowledge of the history of Dungeons & Dragons. (It doesn’t hurt that I consider some of the children of Gary Gygax, the co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons, to be personal friends. Shout out to Elise, Ernie, and Luke.)
I will pause the story here and try and return to it tomorrow. In the next post, I will discuss my faith journey and how, in spite of my mother’s excellent example, I burnt all of my Dungeons & Dragons books after coming to faith and how I later returned to gaming. (It seems this blog post is turning into more than I expected.)
July 13, 2014
Jesus said, “Once there was a youtuber who scattered videos across the internet. One day he uploaded quite a few videos. Some of them were watched for a few minutes, and then people were distracted by other items in their news feed and all his hard work was lost amidst the chaos. So, the video blogger decided to specifically target his video to one or two specific social media sites and they were shared very quickly. However, while they received a lot of views early on, within a few weeks they were ignored because there were other, flashier LOL cat videos out now. And, so, the vlogger decided to try some of the more difficult places on the internet. Yes, he would put his videos in places where there was much controversy and see how they would do. Unfortunately, the videos did not do much better in these spots because all the trolls blasted them in the comments section. And so, finally, the blogger decided to specifically target these videos to those he knew would be interested in them. Instead of placing them everywhere, he said to himself, “I know these folks are the ones who are really interested so I am going to share with them.” Eventually, the videos grew over a period of months and years, and he found that he had 10,000 shares, a 1,000,000 shares, and then he realized his videos were going viral all over the world.”
Those who are willing to listen and watch, let them listen and watch.
This is what the story of the youtuber means. It is about God’s Kingdom being a reality hear on earth. When someone hears or sees God’s story and gets distracted by the chaotic noise of everything around them, the evil one has come and distracted them from the good stories which could have been placed in their hearts and minds. We all know people who share and watch videos online, and share them with their friends out of a sense of joy and laughter, but then they get distracted by the newest and best video which has come out and the original story is quickly forgotten. Others have found that when a story gets too controversial or it might identify them with a certain group of people or they just get attacked for sharing it, they decide to disengage very quickly. They’re worried about others opinions of what they say and do. They prefer people’s opinions of them over God’s story changing the lives of those around them. The one’s who hear God’s story and enjoy it are the ones who reshare it until a 10,000 people have seen it, 1,000,000 have viewed it, and then realize God’s story has gone viral all over the world.
June 30, 2014
Today the Supreme Court has ruled that “closely held” companies are able to act as persons in the particular area of birth control. I will not delve into the Affordable Healthcare Act, my views on birth control, or a variety of other areas. Those who know me well know my views and they are summed up in this statement: “Jesus turned no one away, never distinguished between the ‘worthy’ and ‘unworthy’ poor, and always found himself spending time with those cast out on the margins of society.” Take it for what you will.
Still reading? Good. Now, let’s talk about corporations as people and, more specifically, corporations as spiritual beings. Ever since Citizens United ruled corporations could be treated as people for the purpose of political contributions, people have been up in arms left and right about it. People are angry and frustrated. People are mad. Why should corporations get the same rights as citizens? How dare you treat corporations like people?
How dare you not? But I will talk about that a little bit further along.
I was reading an article on the Religious News Service earlier today where Rev. Harry Knox, president of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, said, ““No matter how closely-held, a corporation is still not a spiritual being…” and I couldn’t disagree more.
You see, in a very real way corporations are “people” in the sense they are spiritual beings. Christians, in all their bluster, seem to have forgotten this simple truth. As a geek and a child of the 1970s and 1980s, great movies like Robocop taught us that corporations would be the governing bodies of the future so we should equate corporations with governments. So, how have Christians often viewed governments?
Well, to be honest, I can’t speak for all Christians but I’m just going to be very frank. I see all these groups that dictate their compassionless desires upon others as “powers.” They could be individuals, they could be corporations, and/or they could be governments. As Hendrik Berkhof says in his book, Christ and the Powers, “They are ‘the rulers of this age’ (1 Corinthians 2:6). In their desire to rule they are in enmity toward the Lord of glory, who can suffer them only as instruments, not as lords.”
So, geekpreacher, what does all this rambling have to do with the Supreme Court’s decisions concerning the ACA and Citizens United? It’s rather simple. Both of these cases are about the stronger trying to rule over the weaker. Whether you like the Affordable Healthcare Act or not, it gave power to the weak to make medical decisions for themselves. That’s not something that happens everyday. In Citizens United, suddenly the free speech which has often been a hallmark of American society and a way in which the weakest of people can often have a voice in our society you find it co-opted by powerful lobbying groups and organizations who make more money in the time it takes me to type a sentence than many of us will make in a lifetime.
All of it boils down to control. Who controls you? Who rules over you?
Jesus came to seek and to save that which is lost. He is the one who said take my yoke upon you for my burden is light. Jesus came to rule us by serving us but in a fallen world organizations, even closely held ones, do not see themselves as serving others by allowing them to make their own decisions but, instead, seek to enforce their own desires and designs upon others. Those in positions of power still seek to rule.
As part of the Church, we are to unmask these powers for what they are. I could care less if they go under the label “evangelical Christianity” or conservative politics. It is our calling to see these powers for what they are and expose them. As Berkhof says, “When the Powers are unmasked they lose their dominion over [people’s] souls and the jubilant exclamation arises, ‘Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus!'”
Yes, these Powers flaunt their ability to try and control the lives of people and rule over them but one thing they cannot do when we unmask them for what they are is control the hearts and minds of people. Are you walking in the love of God? Are you seeking to be one with Jesus? This may seem like hollow comfort in the midst of the Supreme Court’s rulings granting these rights to the corporations but when we realize it has been this way for a very long time then suddenly we have much clearer insight.
Too many people are arguing that these corporations are being maneuvered by money and the bottom line while others are arguing it’s the spiritual beliefs of those in control when, in reality, it is the powers guiding them. Sometimes these powers can be redemptive and sometimes these powers can be evil. The best way to distinguish the nature of the powers and to help us see more clearly is to see if these powers are trying to control our lives or grant us freedom.
At the end of the day, can we say, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free” or is some group trying to place us under their own yoke of bondage? You decide. For me the answer is fairly clear.
Here are my final thoughts. Let’s treat corporations like people. If an American individual goes overseas and commits a crime against a child, did you know they can also be prosecuted by the American government? We have great laws like this one. Laws I think are wonderful and are meant to protect all children. So, if say, a corporation sends their manufacturing processes over to China and a child is abused in unsafe working conditions shouldn’t they be prosecuted just like an American individual? Let’s make it happen! I wonder how the boys in prison will treat you.
GP out….hope you still love me.
May 30, 2014
Hi! Your friendly, neighborhood Geekpreacher here. United Methodist Churches around America are about to start meeting for business and, like most business meetings, it can be boring and frustrating. I’m sure there will be arguments about finances, sexuality, and a host of other issues. Honestly, it can sometimes get downright nasty.
Personally, I think a “spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down” so I’ve decided to take matters into my own hands and introduce a bit of levity into these proceedings across the UMC.
A friend recently introduced me to the United Methodist Annual Conference Scorecard and I thought it would be a good idea if we could, like Chris Hardwick of @nerdist and @midnight, have our own #hashtagwars and yell out #points via social media. How does this work? Simple. Stop by the Scorecard website and whenever one of the points happens just post on your various social media #UMACscorecard and tell us what happened.
If you think something is points worthy, just post it and give yourself #points every time it’s retweeted. Personally, I’m looking forward to hearing a variation on the old joke, “How can you tell a Methodist from a Baptist? The Methodists say ‘Hello’ to each other at the liquor store.” Whenever I hear that tired old joke (or tell it myself) I’m posting it to Twitter and giving myself some points. (Okay, I’m also hoping to find a preacher’s kid named Zebediah. I just think that would be awesome.) So, what’s with the points? Well, everything is made up and the points don’t matter and if you get that reference tell Drew Carey I said hello.
Or, I could be like Chris Hardwick and just give out points to the one who makes me laugh the loudest or gets the most retweets.
So, are you in? I hope so. Join me in the #UMACscorecard and I will see you on the Internetz.
March 17, 2014
Here is a portion of “The Breastplate of St. Patrick” for St. Patrick’s Day. Hope you find it as moving as I do.
Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.
I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
of the Creator of creation.
February 18, 2014
Preacher Myth #5: “You don’t pay taxes on your income, right?”
Answer: “Have you lost your frakkin’ mind? Of course I pay taxes. However, some ministers took an option often referred to as “opting out” on social security due to religious reasons. The key is you can only opt out of paying social security tax and it only counts for ministerial income. This means some preachers have ‘double-dipped’ over the years. They did not pay in social security taxes on their ‘preaching money’ but held a secular job on the side and used that to make sure they were able to still draw it.
How do I know this has happened? Please. I’ve had this conversation numerous times with people who have done it. Many of them regretted it because they found themselves retiring from their ‘secular job’ a bit too soon to draw full social security. If you’re interested in finding out how to do this craziness and you’re a minister, then go here and may God have mercy on your foolish soul.”
Preacher Myth #4: “You can get your student loans forgiven under those new fangled loan forgiveness programs like everybody else, right? I read somewhere if you work for a 501(c)3 (nonprofit organization) you can have them forgiven.”
Answer: Ahh, you’re thinking of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. Things get a bit tricky here. You see, technically I do not work for a 501(c)3. While I receive a W-2, no taxes are withheld so I must pay ALL OF them on my own. (Yes, unlike people in “normal” jobs I don’t have an employer pay half my taxes. The full amount comes directly from me.) This means according to the IRS and PSLF folks I’m considered self-employed.
Even if I did happen to work for a religious 501(c)3 where I had taxes withheld from my check, religious workers are held under these guidelines:
“You must meet your employer’s definition of full-time. However, for Public Service Loan Forgiveness purposes, that definition must be at least an annual average of 30 hours per week. For purposes of the full-time requirement, your qualifying employment at a not-for-profit organization does not include time spent participating in religious instruction, worship services, or any form of proselytizing.“
Note the part I emphasized. This could mean that even if I taught a religious course full time at an institution it could be construed that I do not qualify for this type of loan forgiveness. It’s all on my head.
Preacher Myth #3: Preachers and Pastors should visit the sick without being asked.
Answer: Nope. I’ve been in ministry on and off for over twenty years. Some people want you to visit them and some do not. Preachers are NOT psychic (and you ought to be glad about that!) and don’t know who would like a visit and would not like a visit.
The easiest and best way is to let your pastor/preacher know you’d like a visit or have a close family member ask them to visit. Do not be surprised if your pastor is like me and says, “Hey, I don’t know them that well. Would you please come with me? Otherwise, it might feel awkward.”
Yeah, I said it. We’re human. We feel awkward visiting strangers just like the rest of you.
Preacher Myth #2: Preachers should not have doubts or questions about their faith. They should have it all lined out before they get into the pulpit.
Answer: This is a fairly common mistake. In fact, it’s a mistake made by many preachers and pastors. Too often, ministers have walked around in self-assured confidence believing every word they’ve spoken from behind the pulpit was the infallible, inspired word of God. Sorry, to burst any bubbles but preachers get it wrong.
Any good minister should always be growing and learning. Doubt and struggle play an important role in our lives as people of faith and we should always be willing to wrestle with it. Question and grow. That’s the way it works.
One caveat for all of my progressive friends. Please don’t let doubt become your deity. Don’t be willing to wrestle with doubt to the point you’ve forgotten to rest in Christ.
Now, no drum roll for number one. It’s the most obvious one.
Preacher Myth #1:
“Hey, you preachers only work one day a week, right? Oh, wait, two because of those mid-week services?”
Answer: “Do you want me to slap you upside your head?”
Seriously, I said that to a young man when I was in my mid-twenties when he told me he wanted to be a preacher for this very reason. He didn’t realize I was holding down a full-time job and working “part-time” at a local church as an associate pastor while helping my wife finish college. I think this boy was about 18 or 19 and he recoiled at the level of anger and frustration which poured out from me.
That memory still makes me smile.
Now, let’s get serious here. There have always been tremendous demands on a preacher’s time. I’ve seen this demand cause marriages to become cold and stale and/or fall flat apart…and this was before the common usage of the Internet we have today.
Let’s face it, we live in the information age. People who used to expect to get in touch with preachers at a reasonable hour are not afraid to text, call, tweet, IM, Facebook, or contact you in a half-dozen other ways any time day or night. Many expect you to respond immediately. I’ve seen people get downright mean because you didn’t notice their prayer request for that ingrown toenail they posted at 2AM.
So, here is my personal run down. I don’t know about all the preachers out there but I know I spend at least 20-30 hours a week studying for sermons. Now, this studying does include reading normal news and staying up on what’s going on in the world around me. Preachers need to be aware of what’s happening. Now, this may sound like a lot for someone who only preaches 20-30 minutes a week, right? (I generally speak two to three times a week in different contexts so it requires a bit more for me. I want to be able to switch gears well and personalize the message for each group.)
My rule of thumb is one hour of study for one minute of preaching. In a world where anyone can google what you’re preaching on, you must make sure you’ve done your studying and you have correct information. That’s right, no urban myths should be spouted from the pulpit as fact. So, aspiring preacher, don’t quote The Onion as if it were true. Please…don’t. I will hurt you.
It’s also important to get out into the world. Seriously, go out and meet people in general. I’m not talking about evangelism or anything of that nature. Just listen to people’s stories. Make new friends. You’ll find this is an essential part of preaching because, without it, your stories get stale and there is no new life breathed into them. Part of what I do is go out looking for God’s story in the world around me. Sometimes this story makes me happy and allows me to share something beautiful. Sometimes just the opposite happens. There are stories filled with pain and hurt which need to be shared as well. In the end, you may find yourself giving someone Christ or, if you’re really fortunate, find someone giving you a bit of Christ into your own life.
There is also a certain amount of visitation to be done. Continuing Education should occur often. Spiritual disciplines should be practiced. Meeting and getting to know folks in the community should occur. Plus, there is a level of counseling that occurs many don’t realize. You might be surprised at how often people who are not members of a congregation you serve seek you out and ask for guidance. Most of these folks aren’t connected to any church at all and you find yourself the only contact they have. This is a good thing and shouldn’t be avoided but it does take time.
There is also the schmoozing. Pastor/Preachers are expected to schmooze a certain amount in the community. Personally, I don’t mind it. I get to walk in there with my earrings in and clerical collar on. If they can handle that then I’m obviously in the right place. (And, more often than not, I’m in the right place)!
Oh, and please don’t let me get started about the committees, paperwork, planning, and staffing of a local church. You’ll just make me sad.
So, there you go. 5 myths about preaching and preachers your probably didn’t want to know. If you read this far, God bless you and say a prayer for me and all those others out there doing what they love.
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February 10, 2014
Recently, I’ve had a conversation with a colleague on how a minister spends their time. I’ve also had others ask me similar questions. So, how does a geekpreacher spend his week? Let’s take a look at last week and see.
Sunday. Two worship services. Also had some phone calls in the afternoon to make. For a Sunday, I have to say this was not as hectic as it could be.
Monday. I had interview work for my Board of Ministry due. I’d turned it in a week early but double checked it anyway. Also had a meeting at the office. Spent some time looking over mail. The amount of junk mail you receive at a local church is amazing. I sometimes wonder how much these “ministries” would save if they tried another form of marketing.
Tuesday. Brownsville District Clergy Meeting. I always enjoy attending these but sometimes it’s a bit of struggle to get my daughter off to school, come home and walk the dog, and make sure I’m ready to be at the meeting on time.
The meeting went well. Lots of challenges from the District Superintendent as well as the Bishop. Quite a few changes are coming along on how we should be handling things on the local level. There is an increased emphasis on the spiritual life of all of the leaders (not just the pastor!) in the church and I am glad to see it.
After the meeting, a number of us go have lunch together and see how each other is doing. There is some good conversation and it’s always nice to be updated on what is occurring in their lives and ministries. Of course, I end up staying later because one of my colleagues and I need to see about planning a meeting for yet another peer group! These groups are important but we keep finding it more and more difficult to coordinate our schedules. So, we just picked a date and hope our friends can make it. Hopefully we won’t have to reschedule again. These meetings are important for us.
As an aside, I should point out I am involved in three peer groups. One has been assigned by the Board of Ordained Ministry as I work my way through the ordination process. The second is one assigned to me by my District Superintendent. He has asked me to coordinate a study for UMC ministers in my county. (Very thankful one of the members of this group is going to help put together the next meeting.) The third group was one I was invited to by mistake. Yep, a mistake. I needed to speak with a friend one day and he said we could just talk “at the meeting.” I said, “What meeting?” He told me, “Wait, you’re not in the peer group?” I said, “What group?” I think he felt guilty about it so he invited me to the group. I must say it’s been one of the best mistakes ever. I’ve made friends with people I may never have met otherwise. (I’m looking at you, Will Cooper. You’re awesome)
Wednesday. Had an afternoon meeting which was canceled. That turned out to be a good thing since both children were home sick. This, of course, makes study difficult and even though one is fifteen she still wants a bit of attention when she’s not feeling well. I think I ran to the local pharmacy at least twice because I kept forgetting things.
Since it’s Wednesday, I had to make sure I was prepared for our study. We’ve been talking about the previous Sunday’s message and, while it may seem easy to talk about it, it’s not. Being willing to be critiqued for a message you’ve preached is never an easy thing. Also made sure to pick up some chicken since it was a “potluck night.”‘
Thursday. The four year old was still sick. So, I had to bundle him up to take the girl to High School. Somehow I think he wanted even more attention. 😉 Overall, though, it was a good day. It was nice spending time alone with him. He took a nap when we got back from dropping “Sissy” off at school and, I must admit, I napped with him. After he woke up, we ate a snack and about a few hours later he was down for a nap again. I know he must have been feeling bad because he doesn’t normally sleep that much.
We did have a nice time playing some Mario Brothers on the Nintendo emulator I own. It was really nice seeing him develop some hand-eye coordination. (That’s the excuse I’m giving the wife!) Thankfully, I was able to get in some reading time this day. I know I would have been in trouble this week if I had not outlined my sermons a few months in advance.
Since the little boy was feeling better by the end of the day, we picked up his sister from school and then drove over to Brownsville. My wife’s school was having games and snacks for the pre-k and kindergarten children from 5PM-7PM and she was required to attend. (I really get frustrated when people imply teachers only work from 7:30AM to 3:00 PM.) We met mommy and were able to share a meal at the local restaurant with just enough time for her to get back to school. I took the children to the games for a little while and was extremely happy with myself for having given the boy his bath in the afternoon. Plan ahead!
Of course, I did let him stay up a little bit later than normal so he could see his mom before he went to bed.
Friday. Friday is an interesting day for me. Most people look forward to it as the end of their week but I’ve spent years in the ministry as well as in retail and for me this is when things get busy. Instead of winding down, this is when I wind up!
I thought it would be a relaxing day where I could relax and finish my studying for Sunday’s sermon but I was wrong! It seems I’d forgotten I had a meeting with my ministry mentor in Jackson but, thankfully, my iPhone alarm went off 15 minutes before the meeting. The only problem is it is a 25 minute drive to Jackson! Thankfully, I was able to get in touch with my mentor and he wasn’t bothered about me being late. I’m normally pretty punctual and I really appreciate the grace he showed me at this time.
We had a great discussion and I must say he helped make me feel a bit more certain of myself as I will hopefully be called before the Board of Ordained Ministry in March. It’s been a long process in the United Methodist Church. If all goes well, I will have been in the ordination process for seven years and be ordained this June. (Seven is a pretty good number, right?)
Saturday. Snow. Snow. Snow. Plus, now I have “the crud” the children had been suffering with and it seems to have hit me full force. However, I know I’ve got to get out and check the churches. I drive to the “country church” to see how the roads look and I’m a bit worried about what will happen if the roads freeze over. I call my wife and tell her and, in her great wisdom, she calls one of the leaders in the congregation and asks her thoughts about Sunday services. My wife tells me they believe it will be fine and that makes me happy! Hate to have to miss services due to the weather.
I make it to the “city church” and see the sidewalks are covered pretty thickly in snow. I’m a bit worried about this knowing I feel like crud and don’t have any idea where the tools would be to clean it all off. So, I go in my office and look through my desk for a few numbers I might need to call. Before I can call anyone, I am distracted by MORE JUNK MAIL. I really think this stuff is a waste of money and time.
As I’m chunking it all in the trash, one of our great church workers comes in. This lady is awesome. She tells me she’s going to check the sidewalks and see what she can do. I tell her, “Let me know how I can help” and I get lost in sorting through some things on my desk. I eyeball a commentary or two wondering if I should pick them up. Before I know what’s happened, an hour has gone by so I decide to walk outside and see what’s up.
Every sidewalk has been cleaned! Amazing. Awesome. Awe inspiring. It just blows me away.
So, my week was busy and all this went on. I felt a bit overwhelmed at times and in the midst of it all a faithful, caring person comes by and takes care of the sidewalks. I know this may not seem like much but I have come to know this person. She works….she has grandchildren….she stays busy. Yet, when needed, she is always there.
And, suddenly, my week doesn’t seem as busy as it could have been.