Monday, January 31, 2011

Experiments in Prayer

"As a mother comforts her child,
so will I comfort you;
and you will be comforted over Jerusalem.”

Isaiah 66:13

I've heard it said that words define reality, I'm not sure if that's true, but the words that I use do indicate preferences and prejudices. I see this all the time on news reports when different organizations use different terms for the same thing. Illegal Alien or Undocumented Worker, Pro-Life or Pro-Choice, Marriage Equality or Gay Marriage. Each of these terms carry subtly different shades of meaning and weight to different sides of the topic.

When you go to Target you are not a Customer you are a Guest. Disney Theme Parks have Guests that are attended by Cast Members. Different terms create different relationships and expectations.

So what has this to do with prayer? Well I wrote a status update last week on Facebook that said 'All our ways of describing God fall short of who God is, so don't get too attached to them.' It was inspired by a conversation in my Ignatian Spiritual Exercise Group when we talked about 'who' we pray too.

When I was young my prayers were all addressed to 'God', even before I became a Christian I remember praying. After having a standard Evangelical Conversion Experience (walk forward in front of everyone, say a three part prayer and feel a little emotional) my prayers were all addressed to Jesus.

In my mid twenties I went through a very charismatic phase so most of my prayers were addressed to the Holy Spirit (or sometimes just Spirit if I felt informal).

I still address my prayers different ways at different times, but I became aware a few years ago that my default mode was to pray to 'Father God'.

Now by using 'Father' I'm not placing assigning a specific gender onto God, I'm more indicating the intimacy of relationship. Maybe the word 'Papa' would fit more in this regard. I would imagine that some variant of 'Father God' or 'Almighty God' would be the most prevalent term used in prayers.

It really doesn't matter what term I use, but my word choices indicate preferences and prejudices and in some way I believe they help shape the contents of my prayer.

Now I believe that God displays qualities that we traditionally label as masculine and others we label as feminine....

...and so for 1 week I decided to pray to Mother God.

Even though I offered intellectual assent to the phrase, I still found my tongue tripping over the phrase when I prayed out loud. Most of my prayers are not spoken aloud, but I found that the reinforcement of my ears hearing what my mouth prayed was helpful.

And so I prayed to Mother God, mainly in the car or in my office....and I noticed something....the content of my prayers shifted slightly. When I was a child I would ask my Mother and Father the same question, but I would phrase it differently. The way I would talk about a topic with my Dad would be different to Mom....and so it was in my prayers.

I was still praying about the same situations and topics, but the shift in language caused a shift in emphasis and sometimes even a shift in request.

I've heard it said that we become like the God we worship, if we believe in a Judgemental God, then we reflect that in our lives. If we believe in a God who extends grace to us, then we are more likely to extend grace to others.

We love as we are loved.

The term 'Mother' elicits more compassion from me than 'Father', so as this experiment has 'changed God' hopefully it will change me.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Jesus and West Side Story

In West Side Story there is a song called 'Gee Office Krupke' which features a stanza that says:

My father is a bastard,
My ma's an S.O.B.
My grandpa's always plastered,
My grandma pushes tea.
My sister wears a mustache,
My brother wears a dress.
Goodness gracious, that's why I'm a mess!

This is a classic example of a Parallel List Lyric, two lists combined for comic effect. Father, Ma, Grandpa, Grandma, Sister, Brother - all relations, combined with a list of how they are screwed up.

Sondheim the lyricist of West Side Story is famous for this type of verbal word play and it shows throughout his works.

Incidentally when the movie version of West Side Story was released the publishers baulked at the lyrics above (and many other places in the show) so Sondheim rewrote them as:

My daddy beats my mommy,
My mommy clobbers me,
My grandpa is a commie
My Grandma pushes tea!

Which unfortunately weakens the lyric structure and doesn't seem that much 'safer' to me, but I digress.

I was reading Matt 5: 3 - 12 this afternoon and it struck me that the structure of the Beatitudes is very similar to a Parallel List Lyric.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you."

In the past I've found myself focusing on where in my life do I feel poor in spirit, where am I mourning, where am I meek etc. I figured if I could cultivate those characteristics in my life then I would get all the 'rewards' - the kingdom of Heaven, comfort, inherit the earth etc.

Today however, partly because I've been browsing through my notated collection of Sondheim Lyrics in the awesome book 'Finishing the Hat' I encountered the text of the Beatitudes differently.

I don't want to be poor in spirit, mourn, meek etc just to get the accompanying blessings - treating the Beatitudes as if they are some kind of written guarantee: Be 'A' and you will get 'B'. I do think that all of the 'A' statements will happen in a life that is lived honest and authentically, but I don't think we should persue the 'A' side in the hopes of gaining 'B'.

Jesus speaks these words to a hurting people - poor, living under Roman Occupation. He speaks these words of comfort to fulfill his 'mission' from the prophet Isaiah that he quotes in the synagogue in Luke 4.

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

As I've sat with these 2 passages today it has me wondering what the Spirit of the Lord has anointed me for. What is my message of good news, freedom, healing, and release from oppression? What unique voice do I give to the world?

How can I offer the 'B' section of the Beatitudes? How do I live a life that extends the kingdom of God to the poor in spirit? That comforts those who mourn? That gives the earth to the meek, and fills those who hunger and thirst for righteousness? How do I show mercy to the merciful and help the pure in heart see God? How do I extend the kingdom of heaven to God's children who are peacemakers, who are persecuted?

Today instead of focusing on what I can 'get' from the Beatitudes, I'm trying to learn what I can 'give' instead.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Taste of Stale Bread

(random thoughts for the Contemplative Service)

One Sabbath Jesus and his disciples were walking through some wheat fields. His disciples were picking grains of wheat as they went along. Some Pharisees asked Jesus, "Why are your disciples picking grain on the Sabbath? They are not supposed to do that!"
Jesus answered, "Haven't you read what David did when he and his followers were hungry and in need? It was during the time of Abiathar the high priest. David went into the house of God and ate the sacred loaves of bread that only priests are allowed to eat. He also gave some to his followers."

Jesus finished by saying, "People were not made for the good of the Sabbath. The Sabbath was made for the good of people. So the Son of Man is Lord over the Sabbath."
~ Mark 2:23-28 (CEV)

The Pharisees are concerned for Jesus' followers, here they were picking and eating grain on the sabbath. The Jewish scriptures give explicit instructions that you can eat pick grains of wheat and eat them while walking through somebody's field (Deut 23:25) but it also explicitly states that you must not work on the Sabbath even during ploughing and harvesting seasons (Exodus 34:21). Some pharisees felt that the Deuteronomy passage superseded the Exodus passage whereas others felt the reverse.

Jesus refuses to get drawn into which verse is more important, instead he tells the story of David and the Priest from 1 Sam 21: 1-6

Every week the Priests would bake 12 loaves of unleavened bread out of grain that had been offered in worship. They would sit on a special table in the Sanctuary. When the new loaves arrived then the 12 stale loaves would be given to the priests to consume. Leviticus 6:14-18 makes it very clear that only the direct descendants of Aaron (the priests) can consume the bread. The priest specifically disobeys scripture to give the bread to David and his followers.

I wonder how they reacted when they got to taste Holy Bread, the bread of the 'Presence' for the first time.

'But....this is just bread! tastes just like what my wife makes, in fact I think hers is better. I always thought the bread would taste more...more holy. Different somehow. This just tastes stale.'

Something that was holy, set apart, special, is revealed for its ordinariness, and in that revealing is an invitation to step into a new deeper understanding.

In my 20s I had an answer for almost everything ~ 'This is the way it is, and this is the way it shall always be.' When anything came along that would cause me to feel threatened or to question then I built a wall. The harder you pushed the harder I pushed back. Doubts and Questions were not invitations into deeper understanding, instead they were viewed as symptoms of a lack of faith, something to be resisted at all cost.

The walls got higher and what I built as protection become a prison, and the only thing to eat was the stale bread of the presence....and that is more than enough.

Sometimes it takes the realization that the 'Holy' is 'Ordinary' to give us the freedom to examine our walls to see if they are really required. Becoming disenchanted with the way things are is a necessary step in Spiritual Growth, it causes us to question what we have taken for granted, to '...purge naive assumptions, false religious pretensions and unthinking conformity.' ~ Dave Tomlinson, Re-enchanting Christianity.

The people who viewed my walls as required thought I was tumbling away into heresy. The pathway of Spiritual Growth runs parallel to the pathway of Apostasy and to the casual observer the two are easily confused. I heard cries of people echoing the Pharisee in Mark 'You are not supposed to do that!'

Where are you being invited to question, to doubt?
Where are you tempted to build walls?
Where might you need to demolish?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Are You a Problem Thinker?

If I knew who wrote this I would give them credit, but it came to me as anonymous.

It started out innocently enough. I began to think at parties now and then to loosen up. Inevitably though, one thought led to another, and soon I was more than just a social thinker.

I began to think alone - "to relax," I told myself. But I knew it wasn'ttrue. Thinking became more and more important to me, and finally I was thinking all the time.

I began to think on the job. I knew that thinking and employment don't mix, but I couldn't stop myself.

I began to avoid friends at lunchtime so I could read Thoreau and Kafka. I would return to the office dizzied and confused, asking, "What is it exactly we are doing here?"

Things weren't going so great at home either. One evening I had turned off the TV and asked my wife about the meaning of life. She spent that night at her mother's. I soon had a reputation as a heavy thinker. One day the boss called me in. He said, "Skippy, I like you, and it hurts me to say this, but your thinking has become a real problem. If you don't stop thinking on the job, you'll have to find another job." This gave me a lot to think about.

I came home early after my conversation with the boss. "Honey," I confessed, "I've been thinking..."

"I know you've been thinking," she said, "and I want a divorce!"

"But Honey, surely it's not that serious."

"It is serious," she said, lower lip aquiver. "You think as much as college professors, and college professors don't make any money, so if you keep on thinking we won't have any money!"

"That's a faulty syllogism," I said impatiently, and she began to cry. I'd had enough. "I'm going to the library," I snarled as I stomped out the door.

I headed for the library, in the mood for some Nietzsche, with NPR on the radio. I roared into the parking lot and ran up to the big glass doors ... they didn't open. The library was closed.

To this day, I believe that a Higher Power was looking out for me that night.

As I sank to the ground clawing at the unfeeling glass, whimpering for Zarathustra, a poster caught my eye. "Friend, is heavy thinking ruining your life?" it asked. You probably recognize that line. It comes from the standard Thinker's Anonymous poster.

Which is why I am what I am today: a recovering thinker. I never miss a TA meeting. At each meeting we watch a non-educational video. Then we share experiences about how we avoided thinking since the last meeting.

I still have my job, and things are a lot better at home. Life just seemed ... easier, somehow, as soon as I stopped thinking.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Quarters, Fives and Dimes - a Year of Boardgames

Like many of my fellow boardgame geeks I log when I play a game online here so that I can see trends. Now I played a lot of games(!) in 2010. I logged 382 plays of 173 games, so obviously there were some repeats. Games that reach the distinction of being played 5, 10 or 25 times become Quarters, Fives and Dimes. When you have as many different games as I have then each of the games that reach this honor must have something to distinguish them from the herd. Here's my take on the games of 2010. For the games of 2009 click here


Werewolf is my only quarter in 2010 with 27 plays, in fact it is my first quarter ever as no game came close in 2009. In 2009 I only managed 6 plays, so why the jump to 27 last year? The simple answer is Bering UMC game night. They have a once a month game night that some friends who attend that church invited me too. They wanted to introduce people to games outside the usual fare of Mexican Train, Rummikub and Uno. Werewolf is a great large group game - you need at least 8 people to play, and it is easy to learn so long as the Moderator has a good handle on the rules and a flair for drama :) It's become a staple of their game nights since I introduced it.


Hive almost got there with 23 plays. This elegant 2 player game didn't even make it into rotation last year as I did not own a set. The bulk of plays happened in the first 8 months of last year - obviously something came along to remove it from popularity, or someone. Hive only plays 2 people, so whenever a third person appears it is removed from the table.

Dominion had 17 plays last year which is down from 22 in 2009. It's fast, and has enough expansions to keep the game interesting. It may not have been number one in 2010, but the fact that it is still in the top 3 is a sign of a great game.

Animal Upon Animal is a simple children's dexterity game. I played this 13 times in 2010. Seven times on one day!!! It's amazing the things I will do to keep young children entertained.

Fluch de Mumie is another awesome children's game that I managed 10 plays of. This one is fun to play with just adults too as it turns into an intriguing cat and mouse game of deduction as the mummy tries to locate the archaeologists who are stealing treasures from his pyramid.


Sticheln is a trick taking game that is wonderfully painful to play. Trump constantly changes every trick, and with most of the deck giving you negative points a positive score is very difficult to achieve. I managed 9 plays last year.

Ascension is probably the game I am most surprised to see on this list. I managed 8 plays of this game which is surprising as I didn't even learn the game until Nov 19th! It's a cross between Dominion and Magic the Gathering.

Tichu managed 8 plays last year. It's a great 4 player card game that takes a while to get your head around. It's one of the standard late night games at the boardgame convention that I attend every year. Last year I entered the tournament and sucked!!! But it's still great fun.

Pitchcar is a silly game that involves flicking wooden cars around a racetrack. There's really not much else to say, easy to learn, and hilarious to play. I managed 7 plays last year.

The Bucket King is a card game with surprising depth. The different animals on the farm all charge at different colored buckets. Your task is to keep your pyramid of buckets intact for as long as possible. I managed 7 plays of this game, 4 of which took place while on a vacation to Disney World :)

Ta Yu is a nice 2 player game. You take turns laying tiles on a board trying to connect the two sides. The board hit the table 7 times in 2010

Felix the Cat in the Sack is a Texas Hold em Variant transformed under the guise of bidding for a sack of unidentified cats! 5 plays for the curious felines in 2010

Pass the Bomb is a light party game. It's amazing how blank your mind can go when you are trying to name words while holding a ticking bomb. The bomb got passed around 5 times in 2010.

Telestrations is a published version of the Telephone Game. The erasable books make the game easy to play and the fun is often not so much in who wins (indeed it's very difficult to score) but more in the silly progressions of the words. It's more of a fun activity than a game, but the important this is that it is fun - I received the game as a door prize at the Board game Convention in November, so the fact that it has managed 5 plays in a month and a half shows how much fun it is.

Fallen from Grace
-games that had a minimum of 5 plays in 2009 that were not touched at all in 2010

Chains of Fenrir
fell from the table as other games superseded it, but it has been played in 2011 so it's not beyond hope.

Duck Duck Go
also disappeared from view in 2010 with zero plays.

Travel Blokus
had 5 plays in one day in 2009 and has been gathering dust ever since.

received 5 plays in 3 days due to a family vacation in 2009, it also has not hit the table since.

The Top Three

When I combine the data from both years, there are no real surprises.
Dominion has 39 plays.
Werewolf has 33 plays
Hive has 23
Most of these games can be purchased at though a few of them are out of print.
If you're looking for a game suggestion for a group, ask me :)
Tune in next year, for my gaming review!!!!

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Roofless Temples

God is the same everywhere. I'm not. Certain places feel more 'holy' to me. They elicit expectations in me about encountering God that I don't experience in the grocery store.

I was reading Luke 2:41 - 50 as part of my Ignatian Spiritual Exercises last week. Mary, Joseph, Jesus, and his extended family had travelled to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover. Somehow in the chaos of large group travel Mary and Joseph managed to lose the Son of God for a few days. When they eventually locate him he is calmly sitting in the temple courts listening to the teachers, asking questions and offering answers of his own.

In the past when I have read this passage I get caught up in questions regarding how Mary and Joseph could travel for days without realizing Jesus is with them and wondering where Jesus ate and slept in their absence. (We know that some people lived at the temple e.g. Anna in Luke 2:37, and as Men and Women would generally travel separately with the children travelling with the Women it is quite easy to see how Jesus at age 12 could have travelled either with the women or with the men and so each group could assume he is with the other, but I digress.)

This reading I was struck by Jesus' words 'I must be in my Father's house'. I began to think of what geographical locations felt that way to me, if I was to go to my heavenly Father's house, where would I travel too.

Here are the places that came to mind for me:

It's interesting to me that three of these places are seaside towns, and at only one of these places does my Father's House have a roof!

What places come to mind for you when you think of connecting with Father? Are there any characteristics they share? I know I am wired to connect to God when I'm at the seaside, there's something about the vastness of the horizon that helps me to plug in to the Divine - though I'm also aware that I don't enjoy just sitting on the beach, I need to be walking and being active.

What are your places? Leave me comment with their locations :) more thought. At age twelve Jesus refers to the temple as his Father's House. When he is in his thirties he takes a whip to it and calls it a den of thieves. I have to be careful that I don't idealize the places where I connect to God in such a way that I am blind to their flaws.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

The Twelfth Day of Christmas Gaming

On the twelfth day of Christmas: Chains of Fenrir (and Kingsburg again!)
Glass beads in abundance!
Channeling water
Rolling dice and building
Paladins and Castles
8 hours of Gaming
Traitors and Stacking,
Transport goods and oil wells!
Wow, I won!!!
Baltic Sea and Robots,
Miniatures need gluing!
Beautiful Towers,
Be a dinosaur, then go and eat poop!

Wow! I managed it...I should celebrate by playing a board game :)

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

The Eleventh Day of Christmas Gaming

On the eleventh day of Christmas: Tayu got a play.
Channeling water
Rolling dice and building
Paladins and Castles
8 hours of Gaming
Traitors and Stacking,
Transport goods and oil wells!
Wow, I won!!!
Baltic Sea and Robots,
Miniatures need gluing!
Beautiful Towers,
Be a dinosaur, then go and eat poop!

Monday, January 03, 2011

The Tenth Day of Christmas Gaming

On the Tenth Day of Christmas: Kingsburg was the game!
Rolling dice and building
Paladins and Castles
8 hours of Gaming
Traitors and Stacking,
Transport goods and oil wells!
Wow, I won!!!
Baltic Sea and Robots,
Miniatures need gluing!
Beautiful Towers,
Be a dinosaur, then go and eat poop!

Why the other line is likely to move faster

Sunday, January 02, 2011

The Ninth Day of Christmas Gaming

On the Ninth day of Christmas: Carolus Magnus
Paladins and Castles
8 hours of Gaming
Traitors and Stacking,
Transport goods and oil wells!
Wow, I won!!!
Baltic Sea and Robots,
Miniatures need gluing!
Beautiful Towers,
Be a dinosaur, then go and eat poop!

And another homemade pizza for food!!!!

The Eighth Day of Christmas Gaming

On the Eighth Day of Christmas: 'Cant' Stop', 'Turfmaster', 'Dune Diggers', 'The Resistance', 'Power Grid'
8 hours of Gaming*
Traitors and Stacking,
Transport goods and oil wells!
Wow, I won!!!
Baltic Sea and Robots,
Miniatures need gluing!
Beautiful Towers,
Be a dinosaur, then go and eat poop!

*and 2 hours standing in the kitchen coordinating and cooking 8 homemade pizzas!

Saturday, January 01, 2011

The Seventh Day of Christmas Gaming

On the Seventh Day of Christmas: 'Tier auf Tier', 'Werewolf', 'The Resistance'
Traitors and Stacking,
Transport goods and oil wells!
Wow, I won!!!
Baltic Sea and Robots,
Miniatures need gluing!
Beautiful Towers,
Be a dinosaur, then go and eat poop!