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February 5, 2014
In honor of the Knights of the Dinner Table: Live Action Series hitting its Kickstarter goal, I thought I’d write a post about its creator, Jolly Blackburn.
My wife and I first met Jolly Blackburn, creator of the gamer comic Knights of the Dinner Table, in 2003 at Midsouth Con in Memphis, TN. This was a time in my life when I had turned my back on ministry because I was tired of the frustration of trying to “sell myself” to churches to get a job doing what I felt called to do. Well, that was a major reason. The other reason was I also had become very tired of the nitpicky doctrines I had to sign off on as well. (Long story short, I was on a journey to realizing this whole Christian thing is about Jesus. He summed it up best when he said, “Love God with all you’ve got and your neighbor as yourself.”)
What’s this got to do with meeting Jolly? Well, Jolly didn’t know when we met that I used to be a preacher and that wasn’t something I was openly sharing with the gaming community. Too often, gamers and geeks had been mistreated by Christians and, at that point in time, the gaming community wasn’t too accepting of people of faith as well. They were, rightly so, a little gun shy. So, I kept things on the “down low.” Besides, I’d turned my back on this ministry thing, right?
Jolly and I met after the opening ceremonies of Midsouth Con. I had been to MidSouth Con a few times by this point in my life but, as a gamer, I never went to the opening ceremonies. Why would I want to go to that? There’s gaming to be done! However, I knew Jolly would be there and I thought it would be a great chance to meet him. I was afraid I’d have to wade through the crowd to meet him but, since that crowd only contained my wife, me, and maybe two others it was pretty easy to meet this guy.
This was our first conversation as I remember it. I walked up to Jolly and said, “Hey, man, I love your comic! I’m glad to finally meet you.” Jolly said, “Oh, wow, there are gamers here? Man, they asked me to come as a comic artist Guest of Honor but I’m just a gamer. Where are all the gamers?” I laughed and said, “They were here hours before the Con started and are already playing games.” He said, “Really? Dude, can you show me around when I’m free? I want to get my game on.” At that point, a friendship began to develop…a good friendship. (I could mention the “Drunken Orcs at the Gates Game” but I think the video is still floating around the InterTubes somewhere and I will let it speak for itself.)
Jolly and I stayed in touch over the years through the KenzerCo forums as well as email and various other social media and we seemed to hit it off. It wasn’t until a few years later I first met his wife Barbara (Barb) and found out what an amazing person she is. Oh, she is a pretty humble lady and, if you don’t know her, may not realize her pure awesomeness. She’s kind, considerate, nurturing and a great human being. I also found out she’s a devout Christian. This meant, wonder of wonders, I could sit down and talk gaming and comics with Jolly and then, in the next breath, look over at Barb and discuss some faith topic we were both interested in.
Truly, I couldn’t have asked for a better friendship to develop. And this friendship has led to some interesting times and places. Because of Jolly and his ability to make friends with almost anybody I found that, when I returned to ministry, knowing him kept others in the gaming community from shying away from me. Come on? A preacher among gamers? That can be scary for some folks if not downright intimidating.
Jolly, in one way or another, has helped introduce me to gamers and geeks from other faiths, people who claim no faith, and people who couldn’t give a rat’s behind about any of this spirituality stuff. Without Jolly as a friend, I don’t think I would have been as welcomed as openly as I’ve been among the gaming community. I mean, come on, this is guy you have to work hard at to dislike!
And why did this happen? I don’t really know. It’s definitely not something I planned or expected. All I know is I was a fan wanting to meet a writer and I was more than willing to help this guy find a game. He was also open to making new friends. In fact, he is so open and nice, those of us who know him get a little protective. In the gaming community there is always someone trying to promote the newest and greatest hit….and all they need is YOU to support them.
It’s tough because being a geek is all about making new friends among those who like strange and wacky things. At least, I like to think so. And Jolly is the type of guy who was willing to make new friends. He is someone who is not afraid to take a chance on people. I think this is a pretty good Christian sentiment and one I’m still working on…making new friends. Even ones who can be a bit frustrating and needy. Or especially ones who are a bit frustrating and needy?
In the end, I’ll sum this whole post up with this: “Go out and make new friends. If you’re a gamer and/or a geek, it’s always nice to have someone else to hang out with and, if you’re a Christian it gives you the opportunity to help someone in need and maybe spread a little bit of this Jesus guy around. If you’re a geek, gamer, and a Christian, well, I think you’ve hit the trifecta and should have the best of all worlds.”
February 2, 2014
I recently received a message about evaluating fruitfulness in one’s ministry and this is an area I’ve thought about over the years. As I thought over it, I realized I could point to some wonderful speaking engagements over the years or drop a name or two of well known people I’ve had the privilege to share with during this time.
However, these aren’t the ones which stand out to me. The three that do are quite different. The first is a young man who contacted me a few years ago whom I youth pastored in my early twenties. He said to me, after describing a number of difficulties he’d faced in his life, one thing had stuck with him during the intervening time that I’d mentioned to him, “God has done some amazing things for me, he will do the same for you.” The young man told me those words had helped him through those days.
The second one I think about was when a lady said to me in a small group and, later, in front of a much larger one “Brother Derek has taught me how to read the Bible through the lens of grace.”
Last, but not least, is my family. Having a wonderful wife and two children. My wife’s steady faith has always been a beacon and guide to me. Her willingness to growth with me on this journey of faith has been quite amazing.
Our daughter’s incessant questions which remind me of my own which I began to ask when I was much older also shows me seeds sprouting which had been planted at her baptism. (Nevermind her willingness to bludgeon me with my own words as a reminder to keep me faithful to my calling.)
And the little boy….the one with the willingness to change a family prayer and add a bit of goofiness and laughter when we all begin to take ourselves too seriously.
Yes, this is the fruit I see. Some of it has grown so nicely and begun dropping seeds of its own while others are beginning to blossom and smell so very sweet.
At the end of the day, may these three be the judge of my life and ministry.
February 1, 2014
I recently posted this on Facebook and my wife said I should post it on my blog so here goes….
Prayers needed. Tomorrow is Sunday and I will be running over all creation today to help a friend. Plus, my daughter turns 15 in just a few days….that’s kinda stressful, eh?
One major thought overwhelms me in all this…the idea of being a vocational pastor. In all of this craziness, I can think of no other job I could have which could afford one the flexibility to be there for those in need.
No matter how often I’ve questioned the concept of “paid clergy” over the years, it comes back to the simple truth this work is meant to allow me the freedom to be there for others I would not normally be free to do so.
This reminds me so much of when my mother was ill before her passing. Prior to returning to vocational ministry it was nigh impossible for me to take the time to run home and be with her. During her last year of life, I went to Louisiana at least 4-5 times. This was more than many years previous added together.
Sadly, mom could not realize this because her bed bound state caused the days to run together. In her mind, she thought I was visiting less and less on my return to ministry. It took me a long time to get over this hurt but, now, I understand it more clearly.
Today, and all days in the future, as I walk this ministry path to which God has called me I realize the key area this geekpreacher has been called to:
It is to be available. To share a ministry of presence and, in doing so, realize I cannot be at all places and all times. In living into this “Jesus life” as a pastor, part of my goal is to lead and guide others into this ministry of presence within their local settings.
I may have the freedom, at times, to run to Memphis or half way around the world which reminds me that, as a pastor, I’m to guide those living within a given area to be Christ present in the lives of those right around the corner to them.
This, for me, is how the beauty of the Methodist system of itinerant preachers can be lived out.
January 26, 2014
The title of today’s blog is based off a question recently asked by our Bishop in the Memphis Annual Conference of the UMC. This is not my usual geeky fair.
The following is a mixture of thoughts I’ve recently put on Facebook and mentioned in my sermon series on 1 Corinthians.
One of the greatest problems facing the United Methodist Church is not Calvinism but, rather, our unwillingness to follow our Wesleyan heritages demand we call all people to experience the life transforming love of God as made real in Jesus Christ and to share that love with our neighbor through both word and deed.
Thanks to my friend Mark L Agee for helping me think this through….
What is often thought of as #Calvinism is a Christian cultural malaise that says “everything happens for a reason” thereby allowing many to ignore their personal responsibility for their own actions as well as their inaction in the lives of the hurting and needy.
While not a Calvinist, I’ve had great friends in the PCUSA who truly understand personal responsibility for their own decisions as well as a call to social and personal care for others.
For the United Methodist, this should be a “no brainer” but, sadly, this malaise has effected the religious affections of Christians of all backgrounds. The key to a #UMC view of this is tied to something Bishop Bill McAlilly has continually tried to reinforce in our conference.
We are called to Matthew 25/28 ministry. This is a ministry that engages a humanity ravaged by sin with the life transforming power of Christ while, at the same time, offering a healing hand of hope.
November 28, 2013
What am I thankful for? I’m thankful I forgot to check the mail yesterday. I walked down to the mailbox before leaving for my mother-in- law’s house for our yearly feast and found an advance copy of The Well-Played Life by my friend and mentor, Leonard Sweet.
I’m also very thankful for our yearly Annual Conference in the #UMC where Len spoke three years ago. I received a message from a mutual friend that Len needed a ride from his hotel to the conference. Since I had heard some good things about him, I decided it would be “the Christian thing” to pick him up. Right, yeah, you get a chance to meet the keynote speaker in advance. How great is that?
Since that time, Len has become a wonderful friend and mentor. I am looking forward to reviewing this book as I’ve had many of the ideas bounced off my cohort by Len. The great thing is that Len sent me this copy knowing quite a few things about me.
One, I am a gamer. I play games.
Two, I am a playful person and am sometimes not taken seriously because of it or, the inverse occurs, people sometimes take my playfulness too seriously.
Three, I don’t pull any punches. I’m not afraid to disagree with you, challenge you, and/or frustrate you.
At the end of the day, though, I will still love you and call you friend. So, I’m thankful for my friend, Leonard Sweet, who has guided, affirmed, and given me a quick kick in the rear over the past few years.
Most of all, though, I am thankful that he has told me it is quite alright to have so much fun at what I do.
Happy Thanksgiving, Len.
November 22, 2013
Today the web is abuzz with articles about a man who died fifty years ago today. His life had a tremendous impact on society and, personally, it has touched me in a number of ways. In fact, my first published article, in the early 1990s, was in my hometown newspaper and in it I quoted one of this man’s most famous sayings:
“A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
Excerpt From: C. S. Lewis. “Mere Christianity.” iBooks. https://itun.es/us/REUFv.l
Yes, Clive Staples Lewis. My story with his writings is long and varied. In brief, when I first came to faith I avoided the Chronicles of Narnia because it was that dreaded “fantasy writing” I associated with my earlier “heathen years.” Thankfully, after coming to faith, I attended a good undergraduate school and found out, wonder of wonders, that Lewis is a Christian and, in fact, the same Lewis who had written Mere Christianity. (My daughter reminds me to use the present tense since I’ve often told her our God is a God of the living, not the dead. So, I try to refer to those gone on before us in the present tense.) For some reason, I had not made the real connect between the CS Lewis who wrote the Chronicles of Narnia and the CS Lewis who wrote Mere Christianity. Weird, eh?
Since those days, I have come back to reading fantasy of all stripes and have enjoy it immensely. The writers don’t have to be Christian and, in fact, I read many who are not people of faith at all. I realize many of these writers are speaking about the journey of faith even when they don’t realize it. (Though I suspect more realize it than are willing to admit it.)
Of course, I attribute this return to reading fantasy to CS Lewis and even though some find his Narnia books a bit childish this is what I enjoy about them the most! It’s a time where I can return to the beauty of childhood where animals talk, there is mystery in the world which cannot always be answered, Father Christmas is roaming about, and there is a Great Lion who will protect, teach, and guide us as we journey with Him through strange and interesting lands.
So, on this day, I am remembering a great writer and a great man. Someone who has, in my opinion, had a greater impact on people of faith in the 20th century than most any other writer. Most of all, though, I am reminded of the above quote which stuck in the heart of a young wannabe preacher over twenty years ago and still speaks to me today.
God’s Best Always and in All Ways,
November 18, 2013
So, it’s almost 2:00 AM on a Sunday and I’m still awake. I’ve been wrestling with sermons over the coming weeks and am a bit frustrated. Normally I try to prepare my sermons some time in advance just in case “things come up.” You see, in the life of a pastor, anything could happen. You never know when someone might become ill (your own children included!), a person may pass on, or what else might come up.
Considering I’m also in the ordination process with the United Methodist Church there are also quite a few extra things on my plate. I have also been trying to work on a doctorate over the last year and that has put a number of extra things on my plate. It also doesn’t help that I’m a voracious read who has let his own reading list pile up as well.
So, needless to say, I’m feeling a bit wrung out. I don’t feel as if I’ve really been seeking God’s help in preparing these upcoming sermons so I have spent the last hour just reading Scripture and trying to find a direction in which to point. You see, I preach mostly from the Revised Common Lectionary and have been doing so for the last five years. Considering the Lectionary is on a three year cycle one might think it would be easy to go back a few years and read over old sermons and possibly reuse them. This isn’t always a bad thing but, in this case, nothing was working out.
So, what have I done? Why am I still up? Have been able to work anything out? The short answer is, “Yes, I think so.” I decided to start reading the Scriptures through the lens of my geeky self. I looked at the Advent texts with geeky eyes and believe I’ve finally come up with something for this coming season and hope it will speak into the life of the church. As the geekpreacher, you’d think this would be fairly easy but it hasn’t. Strangely enough, I don’t normally preach a lot of geeky sermons. Oh, a few have popped up over the years and I make sure I prepare one for GenCon every year but at the churches I serve I tend to not head in that area.
This year will be different and I hope you will be praying for me. I’ve decided to go with the theme of “A Very Sci-Fi Christmas” and hope it will work out alright. The sermons which I will be preaching, yet sadly unable to video, will be:
Advent 1: The Sleeper Must Awaken (Dune)
Advent 2: The Eye of Harmony (Dr. Who)
Advent 3: The Road Warrior (Mad Max)
Advent 4: The Last Starfighter
It’s quite an eclectic bent and I’m still a little unsteady about it all but I think it will go well. The biggest challenge is trying to sum up a variety of movies and TV shows from the 70s and 80s to people who may not have seen them. If you think you can some up any of these movies in two to three short sentences, please feel free to do so in the comments section. If you’re able to help out, so much the better. Crowd sourcing a sermon, which I’ve done in the past, can be quite a bit of fun.
At the very least, this means I’ve got to go back and review a lot of source material. Yes, it’s going to be tough watching all these movies and reading all these biblical texts and see how these stories intertwine. (Unfortunately, you can’t hear the happy sounds I’m making as I type this right now. In reality, I’m hoping this is going to be a lot of fun. So, again, I ask that you say a prayer or two for me and, barring that, please help me find a copy of Mad Max 2 on DVD. It’s the only one I’m missing.)
October 17, 2013
Go. Go. Go.
It’s just too hectic for most folks I know. I’m fortunate that, for the most part, I order my own schedule. I have set things that need to be done but there is a great flexibility to my life that many others do not have.
This often puts me in an awkward place because, as a pastor, it can seem frustrating when other people can’t seem to get their spiritual life on track. Of course, that’s silliness on our part and most ministers eventually realize others life schedules are often more rigid.
How do we handle it? How do guide those who seem so locked into their schedules they can find time for their own seeking of God much more the community of faith?
First, we’ve got to realize Just because our spiritual practices were done in a particular manner years ago does not mean they have to continue that way forever. Yes, I know you’ve been taught otherwise but that’s just not how life works.
If you’re a Tabletop Gamer, I’m pretty sure you play very differently than you did 20 years ago. At least I hope you do or your going to be stuck in such a rut that you’re no longer fun to play with. Hopefully you’ve been learning new strategies over the years and better ways to enjoy the game. I’m sure you’ve even had to learn to reschedule your “play time” around spouse time, kid’s time, and work time.
This is because jobs change, schedules change, homes change, and preferences and attitudes change. At one time in my life, I’d take a five minute break at work and go into the restroom and pray in a corner. (You could lock the door. That helped a lot.) It was the only place I could find to be alone. You often find you do what you can, when you can, and wherever you can to just get through the day. Gaming is the same way and the spiritual life is the same way. You find a way to make room for that which you enjoy.
For me this means after dropping my daughter off at school, I spend many mornings at Sonic. I grab a bite to eat and read my friends prayers and devotionals as they come across Facebook. It’s definitely a change from the way I prayed and read two decades ago. I’m also fortunate because it suits me.
But even this needs changing up. I can’t stay in the same pattern all the time because I tend to stagnate. I feel the need to “flow with the go.” There’s a desire in me to go and be…a desire to move and dance with the Spirit and I have learned this means I must change things up. Flow into different patterns and places so I might be able to see God’s movement in the world around me. It allows me to see Jesus in ways I’ve never seen Him before.
So, are you willing to change the manner of your spiritual practices over the years? Are you willing to let the Spirit’s wind move you into different and exciting places? These are the places where we find God making order out of what appears to be a chaotic life.
At the very least, change up your gaming style. It will make your friends much happier and bring a bit more excitement to the Table.
September 30, 2013
The Core of a Tree
I have come to really enjoy trees over the past few years. My wife has helped me take notice of this beautiful part of creation in its varied forms. As fall approaches, I’m sure most of you will look at the subtle change of colors as they parade across the leaves. Some of you will be excited by these colorful changes while others will dread the leaves and limbs which will need cleaning up. I also think many of you will be like me and look at it as a mixed blessing. Yes, we’ve got leaves and limbs on the ground but we also have this wonderful bit of change coming our way giving us a glimpse into the color filled world around us.
This is the way most of us approach change. Many are excited about change and will embrace it at a moments notice. Others are frightened of change because they’re thinking of all the things that can go wrong. The rest of us are both excited and worried at the same time. Therefore, with change in the air, we will begin a series of messages on “Core Christianity” in October. We will try and live into the old saying, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” It’s my hope and prayer these messages will bring change into lives and place us in some uncomfortable spots. However, I also want us to see and share the joy, which I hope they will also bring.
These messages will center on what I believe is the “heartwood” of Christianity. “What is heartwood,” you ask? Heartwood is, according to www.biology-online.org, “The central wood in a branch or stem characterized by being composed of dead cells, more resistant to decay, generally darker and harder than the outer wood.” There is some debate over whether heartwood is truly dead or not because chemical reactions continue to occur in the wood. The point I find really interesting is the heartwood is the densest part of a tree and is very resistant to decay. It is, in essence, the core of the tree doesn’t rot very easily!
This is what we will be discussing over the next few weeks. What keeps our faith resistant to decay? What keeps it fragrant and as wonderful smelling as heartwood? It’s turning to the CORE: a Caring, Open, Resurrecting, Encounter with Christ.
It is my hope you will join us over the next few weeks and invite your friends as well. We will begin by talking about Faith and Grace as we move on toward The Cross and The Resurrection. Discipleship plays an essential role in this series and we will close with two compelling and interconnected Christian beliefs: Sin and Forgiveness. Please keep these messages in your prayers over the next month as I hope they will transform the heartwood at the core of our being.
God’s Best Always and in All Ways,
Pastor Derek White
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September 4, 2013
Getting Started at GenCon 2013
Sorry I haven’t blogged for some time. Life has been kicking me around with the busyness of everything. Long story short? Moved to a new charge in June of this year (United Methodist speak for moving to a new church and/or churches). Just a few days after the move, I headed to a worship conference in Florida to spend time with my mentor, Leonard Sweet. The folks at the Institute for Worship Studies really know how to blend together those Ancient/Future streams.
After just a few days there, I headed off to Cambridge, England for my Doctoral class. My time was filled with difficulty and joy. My friend’s rental car broke down on the M25 and turned a short trip from London to Cambridge into a seven hour roller coaster ride. This is the difficult part which is now a joy to remember. I also saw beautiful sites, while hanging out with my George Fox cohort, and I also got to know some of the Westcott House students at Cambridge.
I want to take time to thank one of those students, Mae Mouk, for showing me around. It’s quite amazing to end up in Cambridge, England and find someone studying for the ministry who just happens to have grown up in the same area of Louisiana as I did. There’s a certain level of synchronicity in all of this and I found it to be a grand time. (Plus, Westcott House rocks. I’m going to have to find a way to go back there some day and just audit one of their classes. It’s a place that’s filled with an evangelical spirit and a robust love for liturgy.)
I also spent some time in London and was able to visit Wesley Chapel. In fact, this evening at church I will be sharing some more pictures at church and talking a bit about Wesley’s England. It will be a good introduction into a two week discussion I will be doing on “Why I’m a Methodist.” As usual, if you stop by, I don’t think you’re going to get what you might expect. (For example, check out my last post on Celebrationism.)
After returning home from England, I had to prepare for GenCon. Ever since my first GenCon in 2007, where I had the pleasure of meeting E. Gary Gygax, this has become a great time of geekpreaching. I go to other gaming conventions to game but GenCon is the place where I’m truly ministering day in and day out and I love it! (Briefly define ministry…sharing the love of Christ as I see it in the world around me. Praying with those who just need a listening ear in the midst of the fun time of GenCon. Talking with industry folks who are struggling to make ends meet. This is the nuts and bolts.)
Oh, it’s draining on a number of levels and this year was even more so because I spent a great deal of time “manning” the The Christian Gamers Guild and Fans for Christ booth which was sponsored by Gamechurch.com. Yes, three Christian groups with different flavors and backgrounds supporting one another. It’s a novel idea, eh?
I also want to mention Mike Perna. He has a podcast called Gamestore Prophets and we were able to spend some time together. Mike is good people and one of the few I’ve met over the years who have served in active, vocational ministry and seem to “get it” when we talk about the “Geek Gospel.” Oh, I’ve met quite a few other ministers but not all of them are able to fuse those two worlds together. For some, there is the ministry and there is geekiness. They switch one off and switch the other one on. Other ministers show up out of a genuine interest in geek culture and this leads to amazing conversations. Some, I just haven’t figured out yet and that’s okay. Probably means they’re a geek. 😀
Then you’ve got guys like Perna. He gets it. Minister’s like Mike realize we’re geeks at our very core and that’s what makes us love theology, history, gaming, Dr. Who, D&D, and a wide range of other things. There’s something about the geek gospel that draws us to the misfits. Maybe it’s because we’ve been misfits and outsiders ourselves. Maybe it’s because this Jesus guy is still considered a bastard guy by some folks (and from a possible reading of John 8) but, more importantly, he hung out with a lot of misfits as well.
All those levels of cleric are finally working....
Now, back on track. Also at GenCon, I hosted the Christianity and Gaming Panel this year. We had a great time with Dave Mattingly, Jayson Elliott, and Larry Elmore and it generated more discussion than I’ve seen in the past. Hopefully, my friends will have those videos edited and ready to go really soon. I also preached the sermon at the annual GenCon Worship service and Tom Vasel led the worship. I really enjoyed it and thank Dave for giving me that standing invitation.
So, long story short, I got to talk with some great folks, meet with old friends, and pray with more folks than I’ve ever prayed with at GenCon. I like to think this comes from having a relationship of trust that’s built up over the years. For a long time, people would ask me if I was “for real” or just someone who downloaded an ordination certificate off the internet. Quite a few wondered if I was going to pull out a Bible and bang them over the head with it. Some were worried my only goal was to get them into my particular “brand” of religion.
Over the years, it’s taken some time to built up a certain level of trust and a major part of that comes from being authentic. You will find that I’m pretty much the same guy all the time. I might be a bit more intense in some situations but still the same person.
Last, but not least, I couldn’t do this ministry unless I was a pastor. I often feel overwhelmed by wearing so many frakkin’ hats but I’ve found out much of the trust I have in the geek community comes from being connected to a local church. I’m not just someone floating out in the world but a genuine minister with training and experience. The fact I serve churches seems to make people relax because they know I’m connected to people in real time.
While all of this costs me a lot physically, mentally, and financially, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. What kind of geek would I be to give up all these great learning experiences that I get to share with others each and every day?