You Must Be This Tall

Jesus v. Paul: Round 2 (Round 1 here)

Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. — Jesus Christ (Matt 5:20 NASB)

Justin, my seven-year-old son, is often frustrated by the freedom his older siblings enjoy. Being the middle child is notoriously difficult. He wants to know why Deborah (13) and Jonathan (11) get to go outside by themselves, or stay home by themselves. He wants to know why Deborah can have a cell-phone.  Why does she get to go to a special weekly church activity for girls her age, but he has to stay home? (That one’s easy. There’s no activity for his age group that night.)

No ride for you!

He’s like the kid at the carnival who’s too short for the biggest ride. It’s easy to look at that roller coaster you can’t ride and forget all the other activities you’re free to enjoy.

I try to remind him that he has far more freedom than Judah (1.5 years old). Judah has to be watched constantly. Judah needs a car seat. Judah has to hold our hands while walking just about anywhere. Judah doesn’t get to go play outside with his friends unless we go with him.

The rules change depending on the both the situation and the child in said situation.

The question was raised: Do Paul’s statements about the Law conflict with Jesus’ teachings?

The verse at the top is early on in the most famous sermon Jesus ever preached, the “Sermon on the Mount” found in Matthew 5-7.

Jesus is preaching to His disciples, but there are multitudes of listeners present, and these listeners are Jews. They’ve been brought up to follow the Law of Moses. They’ve been instructed in the Law by the scribes and the Pharisees. Their entire culture was based on their status as God’s special chosen people, and part of that deal was that they were given 613 commandments to follow. These ranged from the common no-brainers we often hear today:

(Do not murder, do not steal, do not commit adultery)

to some stranger rules for obscure situations that seem like nit-picking to modern eyes:

(Do not sew clothes with two kinds of fabrics, do not mix crops in your field, do not permit people with a wide range of physical conditions into the place of worship)

Remember that the Law was given to Moses, thousands of years prior to Christ’s birth. People were to be cast out from the community or even killed for breaking a variety of commandments. This was serious business, and the rest of the Old Testament shows a people who go back and forth, straying from God’s commandments, then repenting and returning to obedience, lather, rinse, repeat.

Along the way, the religious leaders developed interpretations of exactly how the Law applied. They turned these into traditions and created additional standards that weren’t “God’s Word” per se, but were treated as authoritative. The traditions as taught by the religious leaders became a sort of cushion… as long as you didn’t break the tradition, you weren’t breaking the Law, and you’d be considered “righteous” or right with God.

The Pharisees and scribes were quite good at “righteous” living, and they didn’t mind letting you know where you were going wrong.

They set up a sign: “You must be this obedient to be righteous.”

So along comes Jesus, and He tells this audience that He’s not getting rid of the Law. Instead, He’s there to fulfill it. And not one tiny letter will change in the Law until the end of the world. Oh, and by the way, you need to do better than those Pharisees, or you’re screwed.

Yet the Old Testament makes it clear that “no one is righteous, not even one.”  The Prophets remind us that “we all have gone astray like sheep, each of us going our own way.” Even the good deeds we do are considered like “filthy rags” compared to the righteous standard God expects.

But by the time Jesus was preaching, the people were being told that yes, you actually COULD be righteous, and not everyone goes astray, and some people’s good deeds were good enough to earn them God’s acceptance. If you followed the strict tradition and the standards of the scribes and Pharisees, then you’re deemed pure and righteous… at least by the scribes and Pharisees.

Paul says this about his early life as a Pharisee.

4 If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh (in the good deeds he or she has done), I far more: 5 circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless.  (Philippians 3:4-6 NASB)

By all religious accounts, Paul had it all together.

But he says he equates all of that to poop compared to knowing Christ and being found ” in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith.” (v. 9)

The religious righteousness of the Pharisees, the right-standing with God based on following the Law–that meant nothing. It was of no value.

So, wait, is Jesus wrong?

No, not at all. Jesus said pretty much the same thing Himself.

How did Jesus define the righteousness of the Pharisees?

In Matthew 23, Jesus points out that “The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; 3 therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them.” (v.2-3 NASB)

They’ve taken a position of authority, so they have to be obeyed. But Jesus hardly points to them as an example of righteousness. Note what He says about them immediately after this:

They do not enter the kingdom of God, and they keep others out.

They make new converts “sons of hell” just like they are themselves.

They make traditions more important than the sacred.

They focus on the letter of the law (tithing even their herbs and spices) instead of the spirit (justice, mercy, faithfulness) –straining a gnat and swallowing a camel.

They are clean on the outside and full of selfishness on the inside.

On the outside they look righteous. On the inside they are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

He ends by saying to them that they are serpents, a brood of vipers, and He asks how they think they will escape judgment.

Hardly the picture of “perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect.”

Jesus confronted the religious leaders before, and challenged their understanding and passion for the Law. He told them they missed the point. “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; 40 and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life.” (John 5:39-40 NASB)

Life and righteousness don’t come from following the Law. That wasn’t the point of the Law. The point of it was to testify about Christ.

Paul agrees with this and expounds on it. “For if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law…  24 Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.” (Galatians 3:21, 24-25 NASB)

Jesus, speaking to a Jewish audience under the authority of the Law of Moses, told His listeners that no part of the Law was going away. He also told them that He had come to fulfill or complete that Law.

When He died on the cross, His final cry was “tetelestai” in Greek — “It is finished!”

“The debt is paid.”

“It is fulfilled.”

Paul, with the benefit of hindsight, looks at what Christ accomplished and thus is able to explain more clearly the point of the Law. The Law was not given as a system by which we could attain righteousness. It was given to point us to our inability, so that we would be willing to come to Christ and find life.

Our righteousness is not based on the deeds we do. Our righteousness is Christ’s righteousness imparted to us. Paul explains to us that Jesus doesn’t hold up a new sign with a much higher arrow for us to measure up to. “No really, you must be THIS obedient to be righteous.”

That’s what the Law did. That’s what the Pharisees tried to do.

That’s not what Jesus does.

He smashes the sign and extends the offer to “whosoever will come.”

Next: The MSNBC Bible

Round 1… FIGHT

Jesus vs. Paul (see the intro here)

Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.

When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

So begins the Declaration of Independence.

Declaration of Independence

On July 4th, 1776, the document was signed by 56 representatives from the American colonies, to explain to the King of England and indeed the world why exactly English rule was no longer acceptable.The Declaration lists all the grievances of the Colonists with their government, and tells the reader why independence from England was the chosen course of action. While this might be informative for the people living in the colonies, the intended audience is the rest of the world.

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

The U.S. Constitution is a much different document. Written to delineate the powers and roles of the new government, it starts out with “We the People” and speaks of “ourselves and our Posterity.” Although it might be informative for the rest of the world, the intended audience is the populace of the United States.

The intended audience matters, and changes how we talk about a given subject.

The question was raised: Did Jesus change or get rid of the Law of Moses?

Are Christians free from following all 613 of its commandments?

Doesn’t Jesus clearly command obedience of the Law?

17 “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. 18 For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:17-20 NASB)

First, consider the audience and the timing here. Jesus is speaking to a crowd of Jews who have been taught the Law all their lives. He is talking to people who live under the authority of the Law. And He is talking prior to finishing the work He came to do–fulfilling the Law.

This is very different from Paul addressing Gentiles and Jewish believers after the cross and the resurrection of Christ. Just like the Declaration and the Constitution are written to address different groups of people for very different reasons, Jesus and Paul are addressing people in very different conditions.

Early on in His most famous message, the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus seems to make it very clear that the Law is meant for us to follow. It has a purpose, and not a single bit of that Law is going away until the purpose is accomplished.

But then Jesus goes on to explain what that means. He begins a series of statements in this formula:

“You’ve heard that it is written  X,  but I say to you  Y.”

And Y is always more stringent than X. And Y is always an internal issue of the heart, not just an external action.

“Do not commit murder” becomes do not be angry or hate your brother because that will send you to hell.

“Do not commit adultery” becomes do not lust, because lust will send you to hell.

“A certificate of divorce makes divorce ok” changes so that it’s only acceptable if a spouse commits adultery–not just for any reason, like tradition had taught.

“Make no false vows, and fulfill your oaths to the Lord” becomes “don’t make oaths; tell the truth all the time.”

The “Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” standard of justice and repayment becomes “accept harm and allow yourself to be wronged; be generous.”

“Love your neighbor and hate your enemy” changes to “love your enemy.”

And at the end of this, Jesus tells them, “Be perfect as your Father is perfect.”

It’s a tall order. It’s impossible, in fact.

And that’s the point.

Several times, we see Jesus ignoring the mandate of the Law and instead preaching something different.

For example, He encounters a woman in John 4 and engages in a religious discussion. That in itself is a violation of social norms, and given the sort of woman she is, she is unclean under the Law.

She is a Samaritan, and they believe that a particular mountain is the “right” place of worship instead of the Temple in Jerusalem. Note that the Temple is a necessary location for the Jews, as many of the mandated sacrifices and ceremonies in the Law can only be conducted by having either the Temple or the Tabernacle available.

It’s the center of worship under the Law.

And Jesus doesn’t seem to care.

21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers.”

Not worshiping in Jerusalem at the Temple means not fulfilling the Law. Yet that’s what Jesus says here.

Elsewhere, a “sinful” woman comes to Jesus weeping.  She washes His feet with tears and dries them with her hair. The religious leaders present judge Him for allowing an unclean woman to touch Him in such an unacceptable manner. And He praises her act of worship instead.

Later, in Matthew 12, Jesus’ disciples are strolling along behind him on the Sabbath day of rest, and they decide to grab some grain to eat as they walk. The religious leaders jump on this as a violation of God’s Law, and Jesus confronts them about the purpose of the Sabbath. “Was the Sabbath made for man, or man for the Sabbath?” He asks. He also points out violations of the Law in the Old Testament and shows that God was less concerned about the rule and more concerned about the heart.

Immediately after this, He finds a man who has a deformed hand, and He pushes the issue again. “It’s unlawful to work on the Sabbath,” the Pharisees would say. And yet Jesus heals the man, in defiance of the religious anger of the Pharisees.

Jesus went about preaching that His followers should eat His flesh and drink His blood in John 6. Of course, most Protestants call this symbolic, and Catholics believe it is literal, and this leads to debate about the Eucharist. But that’s beside the point of this discussion. The key point right now is to note that cannibalism is portrayed in the Law as a horrible barbarism, a potential consequence of disobedience.

The story at the beginning of John 8 is not found in the earliest New Testament manuscripts available, but it matches up with the compassion and grace Jesus becomes known for. When a woman is caught in the act of adultery, the religious leaders know that the penalty under the Law is death. But they hope to trap Jesus, and so they ask, “What do you think we should do?”

“Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.”

In spite of what the Law clearly stipulated, Jesus chose to focus on forgiveness and mercy.

He did not strictly follow the Law, so it’s hard to believe that His intention was to teach that we should strictly follow the Law.

We see a few places where He distills the message of the Law and the Prophets into vague but powerful standards:

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. (Matthew 7:12)

Love God with all you’ve got, and love your neighbor as yourself. (Matthew 22:36-40)

He says that these “fulfill the Law and Prophets.”

That’s a lot different than a list of 613 rules.

And Jesus’ disciples bear witness to this lack of emphasis on the Law. In Acts 10 and 11, we see the Apostle Peter experiencing a vision from God, in which Peter is told that all manner of creatures are acceptable as food. Peter counters, “No, I’ve never eaten anything unclean.” In other words, I haven’t violated the Law.

And he is told, “Do not call unclean what I have made clean.”

Shortly after that, Peter finds himself sharing the message of Jesus with a bunch of Gentiles–pretty much all those NOT-Jews in the world. And not long after that, Paul goes out preaching to the Gentiles throughout the known world.

After Paul’s first missionary journey, a dispute comes up in the early church about just how much of the Law should the Gentiles follow:

Acts 15:5 But some of the sect of the Pharisees who had believed stood up, saying, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to direct them to observe the Law of Moses.”

The apostles go off to discuss this. Keep in mind that this is the collection of guys who walked with Jesus and learned directly from Him for three years. One might hope that they would know pretty well what Jesus meant by some of His comments about the Law.

Peter concludes that enforcing the Law of Moses on the Gentiles is a mistake:

10 Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? 11 But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are.”

Discussion continues, and instead of 613 rules, the apostles come up with a few essentials to pass on to the Gentile believers:

28 “For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these essentials: 29 that you abstain from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication; [p]if you keep yourselves free from such things, you will do well. Farewell.”

The guys who lived night-and-day with Jesus somehow got the point that Jesus was not requiring absolute obedience to every stipulation of the Law of Moses. It’s hard to believe that we have a better insight into what Jesus taught than they had.

Not surprisingly, Paul agrees that the focus needs to be taken off of external actions like circumcision and obedience to the Law.

6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love… 14 For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “ You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:6, 14 NASB)

10 For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, “ Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, to perform them.” 11 Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, “The righteous man shall live by faith.” 12 However, the Law is not of faith; on the contrary, “ He who practices them shall live by them.” 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, “ Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”— 14 in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.

Just as the Constitution lays out powers and responsibilities of government, the Law of Moses lays out a list of commands and expectations placed upon God’s people, the Jews. Jesus naturally referred to this often while addressing the Jews who were under that system.

And just as the Declaration of Independence served to point out to the world everything that was wrong with England’s governance over the colonies, Paul’s epistles go into great detail explaining the role of the Law- especially everything the Law couldn’t do – in order to express our liberty and freedom from the Law as a result of all Christ accomplished.

The two documents in American history do not contradict each other; they just serve different purposes. Likewise, the two perspectives presented by Jesus and Paul are complementary even if they appear quite different at a glance.

Peanut butter is different from jelly, too. But no one complains.

You put them together, make a sandwich, and are satisfied.

Next: “You must be THIS righteous…”

Jesus vs. Paul

Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to His disciples, 2 saying: “ The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; 3 therefore all that they tell you, do and observe. (Matt 23:1-3 NASB)

One of the challenges of military life is that you must follow those in positions of authority over you, whether they are great leaders, horrible tyrants, or complete incompetents.

Naturally, following a good leader is easy.

Less so in dealing with the power-hungry or the clueless imbeciles.

For the Air Force, the rank of Chief Master Sergeant is a good example of this (and I expect the same is true in other service branches).

Chief stripes

A “Chief” usually earns that rank through years of dedication, service, and commitment not just to the Air Force but to the people under the Chief’s command. Usually, a Chief Master Sergeant has earned a great deal of honor; even if you don’t get along with the individual on a personal level, you can respect what they have achieved to reach that rank.

But there are a few who are so incompetent, abrasive, or self-serving that use of the term “Chief” pays disrespect to all those others who have earned that position. For these select few, many enlisted simply refer to their pay grade. “I work for E-9 So-and-so, and I can’t wait to get out of the service.”

Still, E-9 So-and-so wears the rank insignia of Chief Master Sergeant on his or her sleeve, and so the rest of us have to follow the lawful orders we’re given, regardless of how ridiculous they seem. All they tell you, do and observe.

Christians often point to various Bible verses as an explanation for why we hold particular moral stances. Our opponents (rightly) wonder why we might quote one verse and say it applies, then declare that another verse is “not for today.”

A perfect example of this is the question of the Bible’s stance on homosexuality. Some Christians quote Leviticus or other passages to say that homosexuality is a sin. People on the other side of that debate then look at everything else that Leviticus instructs its audience to follow, and rightly ask why in the world we ignore so many other commandments.

What commandments apply?

What commandments don’t?

What commandments are Christians supposed to follow?

(Note that “commandments” does not refer to a nice list of ten of them. It refers to the whole Law of Moses, the 613 rules given to Israel to follow in the first five books of the Bible.)

Maybe Jesus has something to say about this. The religion is named after His title as “the Anointed One,” so we probably should pay attention to Him.

17 “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. 18 For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

20 “For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”  Matt 5:17-20 NASB

Ouch.

This passage, the quoted passage from Matthew 23 above, and several others raise a series of compelling questions for modern Christianity.

First and foremost, does the Law of Moses apply to Christians today? Are we expected to follow all those commandments? This overarching question leads to others, which are the point of this series.

Did Jesus tell us to keep all of the Law? Did His teaching and ministry do nothing to change it?

We often look at Paul’s epistles and the other books of the New Testament to justify our position on this matter, so another question is raised:

Does Paul’s “gospel” conflict with what Jesus taught? Is Paul mistaken?

And some ask, aren’t we simply picking and choosing what parts of the Bible we want to follow and ignoring the parts we don’t?

Doesn’t that make us terrible Christians who don’t even follow the faith we claim? Doesn’t that failure to obey the commandments mean we’re condemned to the same hell and damnation we preach?

Answering may take a while, but these questions do deserve answers.

Because if the answers are “yes,” then Christians really need to course-correct our faith and shut our mouths until we get our story straight.

So… on the one side we have Jesus, ostensibly the Messiah, the promised Savior of the world, the Son of God revealed to mankind. And He says:

Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.

On the other side we have Paul, one of those oft-maligned Pharisees, a shining star among the religious leaders of his day, a learned teacher of the Law of Moses and an unlikely follower of Jesus Christ. And Paul says:

But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter.

Round one… FIGHT!

Flip-Flops and Soccer Balls

“What are we supposed to do with a thousand pairs of flip-flops?”

I imagine this was the question for a pastor at BCC a few weeks or months ago. A local school had a fund raiser for a missions trip to Kenya, and they chose to collect flip-flops for the African children the team would meet.

They weren’t expecting a thousand pairs, and getting that many shoes from Nebraska to Kenya no doubt meant logistics and expenses and effort.

They get to the city and meet the couple who are running a ministry to children orphaned by AIDS and other diseases, and they find out that–oddly enough–the wife has been specifically praying for flip-flops for the 700+ kids she cares for.

On top of that, the team brought clothing and sundry goods, stuff we don’t even stop to think about like toothpaste and soap. It was like they were handing out treasure.

The team built two church buildings, visited with orphans, provided for needs, and even supplied joy in the form of soccer uniforms and balls. They saw returns on work they’ve been doing for over ten years, contradicting the thought that missions teams just show up for a week or two, then never come back to build relationships or follow up.

Teams I’ve supported or even traveled with have brought cases of medical and dental supplies, pulling rotted teeth and distributing basic vitamins and medicine. They have brought basic food, meeting the practical and real-life needs of the people.

Back on Okinawa, that one church partnered with several others to perform medical missions twice a year, to the Philippines and then Cambodia.

I know from a trip to the rural parts of the Philippines how much I take for granted.

A woman brought her infant to me and asked for prayer for his fever. I felt the baby’s head and ulled my hand away shocked. I thought about if it had been me with one of my kids. Jonathan was about four months old at the time, and so I thought of him. I would have been flying down the highway to the emergency room. My baby would have been full of Infant Motrin and Infant Tylenol and any other thing I thought might help.

This woman didn’t have any of that.

She and her child stand out as the memory of that trip for me. Her desperation and need for something we could meet with no real great expense or thought still haunts me. The unwillingness or apathy of Christians regarding meeting these needs… That frightens me.

Despite it being generally understood that Jesus’ last order to His people was to go into all the world and make disciples, we don’t always see a church that looks out past its building, past its community, past even the borders of its country.

In spite of common sense telling us that people need more than Bibles and “decisions for Christ,” that sometimes turns into the image we have of “reaching out to the world” with the love of God.

More than all of the above, we provide ministry to churches and we preach the Gospel to those who have not heard… Or who have seen no reason to believe before.

There are stories of missionaries handing out Bibles and being rejected. “Do you think I want your book? Will this feed my children? Will it keep them warm? Can your book be a roof or a bed? I don’t need this.”

We come not just with a Bible and a sermon, but with aid for real needs because our sermons based on the Bible tell us to do more than just give out a book or a tract. Sometimes we need flip-flops to deliver our message.

Some of my agnostic and atheist friends would say to deliver the latter, the real needs, while leaving the former at home in church.

They would ask, shouldn’t we do this practical ministry just for the sake of doing it? Should the goodness of the deed be enough to motivate the deed? Should we do this without such an obvious emphasis on Christ?

Ok, maybe.

Maybe it’s not enough to clarify that the response to evangelism is not connected in any way to the services received. But we’re out doing something about the suffering and tremendous need in the world, and we’re putting every cent and every bit of the supplies and support we raise into the people we encounter.

If you can find a better organization that does what you want more effectively, great. Support them. But if not, consider partnering with those who are meeting practical needs in the lives of others.

Goblins Asplode

It’s that time of the week when my wife and I try to get the kids to help get the house in order, so that we can relax and play some D&D. As usual, this is always more challenging than we anticipate, but we succeeded and sat down around the table.

Along the way, I start setting up, the kids work to finish their part of the chores, and Jami is keeping on them because they stop working every time “ooh shiny!”

I lurrve me some Dire Bear

And Judah escapes with a Dire Bear miniature that apparently he now loves.

He flips out when we try to take his new teddy bear, and immediately calms down once we return it to him. He doesn’t put it in his mouth, it’s too big to swallow, it doesn’t have any small parts, and we’ve got an eye on him. So he hangs onto the bear for a minute.

The kids and I take some time to review what powers their characters have… so far it’s been too easy to fall into “I stab him with my sword, I shoot him with my crossbow, I hit him with the one magic spell I know my character has.”

Every. Single. Round.

Since it was a long time ago that we made the characters, I think the kids forgot what awesome stuff they could do. Now they know, and I see their eyes light up. Deborah is happy to know Beastly Tiger has “powers other than asking everyone if they’re a hobo.”

Jonathan has other plans, too. He eyes the collection of miniatures I have on the shelf, and asks,

“Next time can we fight an elite?”

I laugh. He’s always been the one who wants to help DM. One of these days, I’m going to have to let him.

“Let me know what you want to fight, and I’ll see if I can work it in.”

But for now, it’s just a bunch of goblins. The heroes bust through the gate of the goblin-occupied town and begin the assault to return it to the townsfolk.

Deborah’s character, the acrobatic Beastly Tiger rushes to the first house and tries to spring up and pull himself onto the roof to engage the goblin archer up there. Deb rolls a 1, and I tell her she hit the overhanging rooftop with her head.

Jonathan’s wizard, Killbot creates a massive ball of fire that he moves around in order to burn his enemies. Justin tries to shoot through it at a goblin mage, and Jonathan and Jami both start asking if shooting through the flaming sphere will light the bolt on fire give any bonus to the attack. I want to encourage this kind of creativity, so YES. Yes of course it does.

Next we’ll get a Wall-Nut and a Chomper…

I think Jonathan has been playing too much Plants Vs. Zombies and was thinking of the Torchwood.

I’m ok with that.

Beastly Tiger gets up on the roof and smashes his foe with that massive hammer. It’s a one-shot kill, and Deborah is satisfied at having gotten past that initial fumble roll.

Another wave of goblins rush to the fray, and the heroes slowly whittle them down. Jonathan declares an attack with his flaming sphere against a goblin, and he asks a great question:

“What does the roll have to be above in order for it to count as a hit?”

I don’t really feel like explaining attack bonuses plus roll versus whichever defense is applicable to the attack power, and-like I’ve said before in these posts-I’m trying to get more game than math going on for right now. So I dismiss the question with, “Just roll and I’ll figure it out in my head.”

He rolls a 20. 

Unfortunately for my monsters, that’s how I rolled tonight.

Math completed. The goblin is consumed in the flames.

Justin’s character, Clayface has a crossbow, the special item card he got from the NPC challenge last session. The card describes a stock carved and stylized to look like a dragon, with the bolt flying out of the dragon’s maw. So I figure this has some flame power that the characters haven’t identified yet, but I haven’t decided exactly what, other than a +1 to damage.

He attacks a goblin and kills it, and I decide that the magic power is that if a bolt from the crossbow kills a target, the bolt explodes and damages anyone next to the target. No one is around the goblin that Clayface kills, but I describe this nonetheless and the children decide that’s pretty cool.

Sure enough, my plans come back to bite me later.

Toward the end of the fight, three goblins remain. Justin shoots one and kills it. And of course it’s next to one of the other remaining goblins. Faithful to my word, the dead goblin explodes, and I roll an attack against the other goblin.

I roll a 20 against my own monster. 

We’re using the Critical Hit deck, so I pick a card. The goblin is deafened by the explosion and takes double the damage I’d originally planned. He’s barely hanging on to life and his ears are ringing.

Now it’s my half-orc sorceror’s turn. As always, I try to leave him in the background. He’s there for comic relief or as a handy tool for explaining a concept by example if needed. So he casts a basic spell on the mostly-dead goblin, because certainly he can’t steal the spotlight with that.

I roll a 20 again.

The kids cackle with glee, knowing something horrible has happened to this goblin.

Double damage and knockback of 5 squares (25 feet). This guy would’ve been killed instantly by the spell if he was fine, but he was already down to almost no health. That and the knockback meant “explosion” in my mind.

I describe the devastation, and I lay out some gobs of meat–little red rocks I use to mark “bloodied” when a PC or monster has lost half its health.

“I cast Conjure Meat,    level 2.”

Deborah quotes Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs: “You’ve probably seen a meteor shower…

“…but you’ve never seen a meatier shower than this!”

Zing!

Well played, Beastly Tiger… touché.

One of Them

Humanity is never so beautiful as when praying for forgiveness, or else forgiving another. – Jean Paul

“I got a way out, I got an idea — I figured out a way to get ridda all the lesbians ‘n’ queers. Ya build an electric fence…”

You’ve probably heard this quote in the last few weeks, or perhaps you’ve seen a video of a sermon posted to YouTube. It’s a bit old by now… ancient, really, by modern standards. But this topic has been bouncing around in my head and on my computer screen for a while now.

A North Carolina pastor decided to “solve” the “problem” of homosexuals through what amounts to concentration camps. In the firestorm of protest and controversy, he is (as of this writing) holding to his guns about what he has said on the subject of homosexuality. From the sermon video, “The Bible’s agin’ it, God’s agin’ it, I’m agin’ it, and if ya got any sense, you’re agin’ it too.”

A noted theologian and leader in arguably the most dominant Christian denomination in America expressed his concerns on this pastor’s frightening “solution,” yet also felt the need to state that homosexuality is the key moral issue facing America at this time.

Notable media attention has shown us kids who commit suicide rather than deal with the bullying and mockery they face when their sexual preference is made public. We read about school districts whose vague policies on bullying and sexual preference instill fear in the teachers and staff instead of providing healthy avenues of correction and discipline. We see that even though homosexuals are now permitted to serve openly, part of the “deal” that enabled that policy change was a less-publicized agreement to prevent these servicemembers, once married, from enjoying the housing benefits that heterosexual couples (and even single military members) are afforded without a second thought. And a few weeks prior to the “electric fence solution” grabbing the spotlight, we had another pastor talking about physically knocking sense into a child that acts outside normal cultural and societal standards, gay or straight.

And if that all wasn’t enough, we have Westboro Baptist Church running around letting everyone know that “God hates fags.” Even though we might try to distance ourselves from Westboro, or claim that they’re not really “true Christians,” the rmajority of the world will see their signs and hear “Baptist Church” instead of “fringe element.” Clearly homosexuality is the bright blip on the Christian moral radar lately.

Like anything else, there are debates about the Bible and more importantly the New Testament being against homosexuality and to what degree. That’s not my point here.

My point is that when the Christian community focuses so strongly on one particular issue, we make a tremendous tactical blunder. We try to win one battle, and risk losing the war.

In fact, we forget exactly what war we’re supposed to be fighting.

In the movie, “We Were Soldiers,” a young lieutenant is leading his patrol through a patch of jungle in Vietnam, when his men come under fire from the enemy. Brash and hungry for glory, he tells his men to charge the enemy position. Then suddenly, his men realize that they are cut off from their allies and surrounded on all sides. Memory fails me, but I believe in the end only a couple of members of the lieutenant’s unit survive the difficult night.

It seems to me that the Church often charges hills, ready to “really impact society for Christ.” If we don’t anticipate some triumphant “victory” over the cultural “evil” in our crosshairs, we at least seem convinced we can snatch a few souls from the jaws of hell if only we tell everyone how horrible ________ (fill in the blank) is.

Years ago, it was heavy metal, and Dungeons and Dragons, and MTV. Then it was Harry Potter and Pokemon and video games. Somewhere in there, I remember ouija boards and Magic the Gathering cards. All along the way, abortion has been a key issue. And for almost as long as I can recall, anything to do with homosexuals was on or near the top of the list of spiritual dangers.

Every time, the Christian community (at least what I was familiar with) would get up in arms over the wicked nature and powerful influence of these various subjects. We would talk about how evil they were, and how misguided or intentionally evil those were who got involved in these different activities.

Look back over the list; how many of these controversies were dramatically affected by Christian protests and warnings to anyone willing to listen?

It’s wasted effort that misses the point of the Gospel.

I get the point many of my fellow believers are making: we cannot simply ignore sin. Jesus didn’t do that. He didn’t say to the woman caught in adultery, “Hey, no big deal, I know your heart, go on, keep living this way, I love you.”

He said, “Go and sin no more.” We can’t ignore that.

But I think some of my fellow believers forget where we came from. Growing up in church or in a “Christian” environment, growing up without doing any of the “really bad” sins, maybe it’s easy to look at other people and say, “Wow, you are LOST.” Maybe it seems right to look at them as dirty rotten sinners or something.

It’s not right. We can’t look at others that way. Or at least, we can’t look at the rest of the world as anything other than what we ourselves were before Christ changed us.

All of us are in the same category, according to the Bible. Nobody gets by on their good deeds and winning personality. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. All can be justified freely by grace through faith in Christ.

It doesn’t really matter what I did or who I was.

The focus is on who God is and what He’s done.

And when I become a Christian, it still isn’t about who I am now and what I’m doing now. It’s still about who He is and what He’s doing.

So instead of seeing me and mine as “us” in a battle against “them,” whoever “they” may be this year…

How about starting to see myself as “one of them” instead?

Because even though the pastor in North Carolina forgets this, when we start building electric fences for sinners, he and I are going to belong inside one too.

Father

“Mom, Dad, I really want to thank you for spanking me when I was little…”

Actual quote, from… I’m guessing… it’s been a bit… I’ll just say early 90s.

I was out with my parents, and we witnessed a toddler throwing a fit and actually going so far as to hit his mom because she wouldn’t let him have his way. Her response? “Now, now! (hit) Mommy doesn’t like that. (hit) Please don’t do that. (scream) Now now, son… (swing and a miss) don’t– (hit) don’t– (hit)”

I am pretty sure I never even thought of taking a swing at my father, out of a healthy respect for the permanence of death. I never thought of taking a swing at my mother either, because my father taught me to respect his wife.

I am one of the lucky ones. When I was young, “deadbeat dads” and single-parent homes were not nearly as prevalent as they are today. There were some, of course. But most of the kids in the neighborhood had both parents at home.

Not all those parents were winners, sure. But at least they were present, and at least they seemed to be trying.

From a very young age, my brother and I would go with my Dad on his weekend errands (which almost always involved a stop at one or more of the local coin shops) or on long walks around the neighborhood. He would hide coins and gemstones and little odds and ends in various places along our usual routes, often in the bowl of a tree trunk where the thick branches separate and stretch to the sky. And we would check those trees — the ones we could easily reach, at least.

I wonder if that was a way of seeing just how much we were growing, or if it was just a silly game. Either way, that was part of our relationship for years.

My Dad also loves trains, and our walk would inevitably lead up the hill near our house to the train tracks that bordered the golf course. We would walk along the tracks (my brother and I trying to see how long we could stay balanced on a rail) until a train sounded its horn. Then we would plant a penny or nickel on the tracks and step off to the other side of the road to watch it go by.

Dad recognized all the names of all the railway companies, and he would always look for the uncommon emblems, like a kid with a pack of baseball cards hoping to find a rare star player. “Such-and-such Pacific… I’m surprised that made it all the way from California. And the old BS&P… and then there’s the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe” (and he’d sing it as a little jingle, even though we’d never heard the commercial).

The train would pass, and we’d get back on the tracks or head down the hill, always looking out for those special trees along the way.

We would hold hands fairly often, too. Eventually my brother stopped doing that, and I didn’t know why, but it didn’t matter. Then I stopped doing that, because who goes for long walks holding hands with their Dad? So not cool. (This might have been around the heady days of “rad.” Holding hands was not “rad.”)

But we would walk and talk. That was alright. You could still do that with your Dad, and if anyone picked on you about it, it’s probably because they don’t have a Dad like yours to go walk and talk with.

Eventually, Saturday morning errands and weekend walks became a “take it or leave it” kind of thing for my brother and me. We had video games, or toys, or, you know, cool stuff to do.

But I think I was always the one worried about feelings. And I would picture my Dad going off by himself on errands or sitting around in his workshop instead of going on the walk he had in mind, and then I’d get this horrible sense of something between guilt at my selfishness and abandoned loyalty to my Dad, and I’d say, “You know, I’ll go with you, sure.”

I thought I was doing him a favor.

Looking back, I know I got the better deal. Hands down, by far, without a doubt.

I had a Dad who wanted to be with me, who liked me the way I was, who was interested in what interested me, and who was eager to share with me all the things that interested him.

Even back then, that was something special.

Dad would build Lego forts for my brother and I to use in our epic wars… my brother with his toys lined up and organized in tight formations, his war strategies all laid out based on whatever historic battle he’d most recently read about. My army was a pile of all the toys, with maybe four or five of my favorites off to the side in some soap opera relationship squabbles. (This was also done out of necessity. My brother was fond of kamikaze attacks with his expendable first wave. He taught me the definition of “fodder.”)

I never really thought too much about sleeping arrangements in our house. Essentially, I didn’t have my own room for a long while. I would sleep on an air mattress, or on the floor in my brother’s room. I slept on a spare bed for a few years, but I never really had a room that was mine to occupy (and trash).

One summer, probably just before or early on in high school, my Dad said we were going to build me a room. We went to a lumber yard and bought all kinds of 2x4s and some paneling sheets. And then my Dad laid out this plan and basically built this wall in the basement so that I had my own room. I would help him hold planks in place or hold up sheets so they could get nailed down, but really, the work was all his and the benefit was all mine.

And I never heard him complain about it. He wanted to do it.

I like to claim that I have no regrets, no “what ifs” that I would love to go back in time and change. But in my relationship with my Dad, I do have a few.

I remember how disappointed and hurt he seemed when he found out that my brother and I, wrestling and fighting, had put a huge hole in the fragile paneling of the wall he’d built to make me a room. I recall being really mad at my Dad during an argument on a different occasion, and just because I knew it might hurt him, I punched another hole in that wall while he was standing there watching.

And then there’s the alcohol.

I like the occasional drink. I set a limit of one or two, and I rarely drink anywhere but home because I’ve seen how drinking can destroy careers and lives in the military.

My Dad has a very different opinion about alcohol, based on his experiences growing up with an alcoholic father. Dad hates alcohol so much that I recall him yelling at TV beer commercials for painting such a false image of the life you’ll have when enjoying their products. He can’t stand alcohol, not one bit.

I came home on leave, and I had turned 21. We went out for Chinese food, and I decided, “Hey, I’m not driving, and I’m old enough, and I can do this. I’m ordering a drink, right here, right now, at the dinner table with my Dad.”

This started quite the discussion, and I grew more and more defensive. “I’m old enough, I’m an adult, I’m mature. I’m allowed to do this, and you can’t stop me.”

Hint: Maturity is just like leadership or authority; if you have to remind people that you have it, you don’t.

Seriously, as far as the offensive effect it has, I think drinking in front of my Dad is like saying the N word to an African-American, or making a Holocaust joke to a concentration camp survivor. My wife reminds me often that there are terms we can say which mean little for us, but bring up incredibly painful memories for others. Certainly actions can have the same disparate impact on different individuals.

And if I know that already, what kind of person do I have to be to intentionally push that shiny red button?

Yes, that’s something I would go back and change.

My Dad has regrets, too. As he considered how our relationship as a family has developed over the years, he has said things like, “I can’t claim we’ve done perfect. I know we’ve messed up a lot.” (He’d list specific examples, but the details aren’t important right now.)

I grew up healthy. I was educated at school and then those lessons were reemphasized at home by my Mom and Dad. I had my medical needs met. I had more than plenty of material possessions. More importantly by far, I not once ever had to doubt whether my parents loved me or cared about me.

When we conduct evaluations in the Air Force, part of the brief that we are required to give the examinee is to not let a mistake become a distraction. It’s easy to spot when we screw up, and it’s easy to get caught up in all the reasons why we screwed up, and how we could have done better, and what we shouldn’t have done, and so on. Examinees sometimes do this. They know they said something wrong or did something stupid, and it becomes a fixation that causes more mistakes.

I wonder sometimes if my Dad’s assessment that he’d “messed up a lot” is something similar. When I evaluate my life and think about the influence he’s had on me, I am so grateful to have had such a father.

This Father’s Day, I wanted to give my Dad some of the attention and praise he is due.

If you have an awesome Dad, I’d love to hear about it. Please comment and tell me (and anyone else reading) a little more about what a great Dad looks like. If your father is no longer with us, I’d still love to hear about what made him special.

And maybe you unfortunately didn’t have a father around. Sometimes, single moms or extended family or step-parents come in to fill that critical role in a life, and they’re just as worthy of praise. If you have someone who chose to be a father to you (yes, single moms included) and you’d like to share, please do.

Seven is Right Out

Yum!

“How many shots are we allowed to put in the cup?” the Starbucks barista asked her manager. “Six, right?”

I wasn’t sure whether this question really did have the legal and liability overtones I thought I was picking up, but then the manager confirmed it.

“Yes, six is the limit. But really, someone could just buy another cup with six shots if they wanted more. But at that point, it’s on them, not us.”

Clearly, there’s a line Starbucks draws so that they don’t get blamed for your heart exploding.

I almost hear Monty Python’s Quest for the Holy Grail. “Six shall be the number of the count, and the number of the count shall be six. SEVEN IS RIGHT OUT.”

NO.

I’m reminded of New York City’s plan for the 16-ounce limit on sugared pop (or soda, or soft drinks, or Coke, depending on where you’re from). I’m also reminded of a blog post by one of my friends from work, and since he has a lot of strong opinions on a variety of subjects, I’m going to throw his link in here.

The fact is, stupid people are going to keep being stupid, even if we legislate the wear of rubber helmets and the installation of padding on all sharp corners. I’m not interested in a nanny state holding my hand everywhere I go.

Politics and cultural observation aside, I’m thinking instead of my love affair with coffee.

My wife says I’m an addict, and I hold to the adage that “you’re only an addict if you want to stop but cannot do so.” I have no desire to stop drinking coffee, so by default it cannot be proven that I have a lack of willpower regarding coffee. So there.

We’ll leave the “addict vs. afficionado” argument aside for now too.

“Everything in moderation,” my wife would say. Indeed.

Given the six shot conversation, maybe I’m the wrong one to bring up this subject.

Coffee at one point had such a hold on me that I would need to make a pot of it when I got home from work–this after drinking a pot or more at the office. If I didn’t, I would fall asleep on the couch at 5 PM. This condition made me quit for a while, until I could get to a relatively normal response and desire for caffeine (as opposed to a driving need).

“Everything is permissible,” the Apostle Paul wrote, quoting prevailing wisdom. Then he countered by adding, “but not everything is beneficial, and I will not be mastered by anything.”

We have freedom that permits us to do all sorts of things, but that doesn’t mean we should do everything we’re permitted to do. Just because something is legal or possible, that doesn’t mean it’s right.

And yet, righteousness can be its own destructive influence:

What came to mind in this experience is a verse in Ecclesiastes that has always interested me, in the realm of “too much of a good thing.”

15-17I’ve seen it all in my brief and pointless life—here a good person cut down in the middle of doing good, there a bad person living a long life of sheer evil. So don’t knock yourself out being good, and don’t go overboard being wise. Believe me, you won’t get anything out of it. But don’t press your luck by being bad, either. And don’t be reckless. Why die needlessly?

18 It’s best to stay in touch with both sides of an issue. A person who fears God deals responsibly with all of reality, not just a piece of it.

Of course the Bible tells you that being wicked is going to get you trouble. I find it interesting that the Bible also tells you being overly good can also lead to trouble. More formal translations suggest that you will “ruin yourself” by being overly righteous.

The very thing I want to do is put at risk from trying too hard to make it happen.

I come across “affected” (thanks, Simon Cowell) rather than “authentic.” Most of us can probably think of that acquaintance who tries too hard to be accepted, and never really is–not because they’re a bad person, but because they’re frustrating in this respect.

Back when I had to quit caffeine, the coffee I relied on to give me energy became a crutch–without it, I had no energy.

Likewise, in the Christian community, surrounding ourselves with “good” things and staying away from “worldly” influences makes sense, to a point. We’re called to be “in the world but not of it,” so we can’t let our actions and decisions mirror the culture around us.

However, we also need to make sure we’re “in the world, and not out of it.” Just like I can order another cup with more espresso, I can also fill every minute of every day and every conversation or interaction with other people with Christian this and Christian that.  But that becomes far too much of an arguably good thing.

We’re not Amway… we shouldn’t need to act like a pyramid scheme.

We can’t let our church walls become a fortress to keep the big, bad, eeeeevil World out. Otherwise we risk failing at the very purpose behind the lifestyle we’re called to live out.

Live “out” like out in the open, where other people are, the ones that don’t already agree with everything I believe.

Here’s hoping for authentic living and honest interaction with the world around us.

Pride

PRIDE

Disclaimer: This is a *fictional* story, not an actual personal experience. I hope to do something like this some day, and to live out love like this every day. But this is just a short story.

It’s common knowledge that “God goes against the willful proud; God gives grace to the willing humble.” – James 4:6 MSG

I step out of the van and ignore the immediate hostility of passers-by.

Two cross-dressers glare at me as they head toward the parade route. A man is crawling on the pavement in leather chaps; he has a leash around his neck, and another man is ‘walking’ him. He barks at me.

These are among the more tame participants. It strikes me as odd that in such a crowd, I am the one who gets strange looks.

If I am embarrassed at all now, well… it’s going to get a lot worse.

I make my way to the edge of the crowd and try to squeeze through to the front. I need to be visible if this is going to be of any value. When people turn and see me, they assume they know what I’m here to do. I get jostled and shoved a few times as I gently push my way through. “Bigot,” one person says. “Homophobe! Go home!”

“Get out of the closet already, Bible-thumper.”

The police are out in force. Pride parades often get a lot of attention, not all of it good. That one church from Kansas is lined up farther down the street. Some local churches have put up their own signs, not willing to be outdone by these famous out-of-towners with the “God hates fags” posters.

The cops are busy keeping people marching in the parade from getting into fights with the various protest groups. None of them notice when I finally reach the rope that marks the edge of the parade route.

I stand at the edge and lean out, a Jesus in Teva sandals, a wig, and a polyester white robe with a red sash I borrowed from our church drama team. The beard is mine, scraggly but full enough after two months of growth.

The first few people to see me react in anger, swearing, shaking fists. “You don’t belong here,” they yell, along with some other choice words. People in the crowd throw half-empty Starbucks cups and large sodas and McDonald’s cheeseburgers. Ketchup and mustard splatter across my white sleeve.

No one throws rotten fruit any more. It’s not readily available, and it’s too expensive.

The folks marching in the parade are not happy to see me, either. Rainbow signs with witty slogans are shoved in my face. I don’t know if they’re meant to block my view with their message, or block the view of the other marchers so that no one else has to see another religious jerk condemning everyone in sight.

“What’s another name for the Crucifixion?” one guy asks the girl next to him, loud enough for me to overhear. She shrugs.

“A good start,” he says.

She laughs, and glances my way, her smile turning into a sneer.

I reach out a hand to those marching, and someone spits at it. The next person ignores me, stepping away.

“I am sorry,” I say, and he looks back, brow furrowed. But he’s too far past me now.

Mostly all I get from the faces in the crowd is the strong sense that I am unwelcome–a defensive posture and wounded expression that demands to know, “What are you doing here? You don’t belong here. This is ours… go away.”

I catch another guy’s hand, someone in a leather jacket, boots, and briefs. He recoils in disgust, but then I say, “I am sorry for how we have hurt you,” and he pauses.

Someone else spits on me. “Go back to the tomb, Jeebus.” His partner winks at me and says, “Hey, baby, I’ll nail ya.” They walk away laughing.

The man in the leather jacket, whose hand I grabbed–he simply nods to me, and I think I see his eyes glisten as he turns and continues in the parade.

A thin guy explodes into a rant with more f-bombs than actual words, arms waving, fists clenched. “What the f’ing f are you f’ing trying to do, f’er? You f’ing f’s think you’re f’ing doing any good with your f’ing ‘God hates fags’ signs and your f’ed up little white dress? Do you really f’ing think I give one good f’ing G-D what the f you f’ing have to say to me? F!!! I f’ing hate you, I f’ing hate your f’ing book that does f-all to teach love and tolerance, and I f’ing hate the f out of the f’ing God you represent! What now?”

He gets in my face.

“I’m sorry,” I say, and a tear runs down my cheek. “I’m sorry for how we have hurt you.”

He opens his mouth to speak, but nothing comes out.

I think of the recent news stories I’ve heard, the angry sermons on the Internet, the callous defenses of indefensible statements.

“I’m sorry for how we’ve let people say we should ‘smack the gay out of children,’ or put them behind electric fences.”

He says nothing now, but he continues staring at me.

“I’m sorry for how we’ve pointed the finger at all of you, instead of preaching against our own arrogance, our own pride, our own prejudice and hatred. I’m sorry for how we act like you are less than human.”

“I came to say I’m sorry for my people and what we have done.”

His friend grabs his arm and pulls him away. “Come on, man.” But he keeps looking back, and I see him mouth the words, “Thank you.”

Another person spits on me, and a big guy just happens to hit me with his elbow. “Bigot,” he mutters.

This pattern repeats itself for an hour and a half, some people accepting my hand in friendship, many slapping it aside at first, some of them turning back to acknowledge the apologies I offer.

One of the people in the crowd behind me tugs at my shoulder. He’s holding a black leather Bible, with the gold edges on the pages and a little fish over a monogram in the corner of the cover. “You’re in the wrong place, brother. We’re all protesting at the other end of this block.” He points to where the angry people are waving their signs and shouting Scripture like a battle cry.

I nod and remain in my spot on the street.

Two women walk by, arm-in-arm. The blonde says, “You want us to confess our sins, pervert? We’ve been verrry naughty.”

They giggle as they approach. Out of the corner of my eye, I see Bible Guy watching.

“I would like to confess my sins to you,” I say.

“Ooooh,” the other coos. “Kinky. Yeah, do it.”

“I am sorry for the double standards we use to judge you,” I begin, and the smiles disappear.

“I am sorry for acting like one sin is worse than any other, for acting like our sins don’t matter to God as much as yours. I’m sorry for behaving like we’re better than you.”

They are quiet, holding hands, waiting as I continue. Bible Guy storms off to rejoin his protest.

“I am sorry for treating you like you don’t deserve our love–like you don’t deserve God’s love.”

The parade marches on behind them. I look at them through tear-clouded vision.

“I love you. We love you. I am sorry for how often we fail to show it. We shouldn’t see you as what you do, but I know we also do that. Please accept my apology on behalf of my people.””

I extend a hand after wiping it off on a clean spot of my robe. They hug me instead, ignoring the chopped onions and ketchup and diet Dr. Pepper.

We stand there, hugging, for about a minute before they thank me and move on.

Bible Guy is back with friends, and they’re not happy. “Don’t you know Leviticus says homosexuals are an abomination and the Bible says it’s a sin?”

“I know,” I reply.

“Yeah, well, maybe you need to get your Gospel straight before you come out here supporting all these queers.”

“I know what the Bible says about homosexuality, and so does the rest of the world,” I fire back. “What they don’t know, what they aren’t seeing, is what the Bible says about loving others!”

“Hey Jimmy,” Bible Guy says to one of his friends, “What do you think we should do with false Christs?”

It takes a couple minutes for the police to respond to the situation and break up the fight. I’m the freak in an offensive costume, so I end up in the handcuffs. “For your protection, bud,” one of the cops tells me as he drags me away from the parade.

Sitting in the back of the paddy wagon, I pull off the wig and rub a bloody jaw.

“Not the smartest move ever for the Son of God, eh, bud?”

“Yeah, I guess not.” I answer. I don’t believe that, though. I felt the hugs, I spotted tears, I saw the faces change from rage to respect. “Then again, things didn’t go so well for Him either, so it’s nothing new.”

The cop laughs. “I thought I saw those punks head back over to the protest after we grabbed you. You sure got them riled.”

“They’re mad because I used to be one of the ones holding signs.”

“Oh… yeah, I used to hate dealing with this parade each year, too. And then my son started marching in them.”

He offers me a cup of water. “Take it you get beat up by Christians a lot?”

“You’d be surprised.” I take a drink. “It was the religious leaders that wanted Jesus dead, not the so-called sinners.”

“Feh.” The cop looks back out to the crowd. “I just wish those guys would go back to their caves sometimes.”

“They can’t help it,” I reply. “They kind of belong here. The event is all about celebrating pride. They’re just full of a different kind.”

Tree-trunk Diplomacy

NPC [1]
(en’ – pee – see

1. noun. (archaic) an acronym for Non-Player Character, commonly used in Role-Playing Games. This character is one with whom the Player Characters (PCs) can interact in order to gain information, accept goals or objectives, or conduct business.
2. noun. (modern) A target or prop upon which the PCs attempt to unleash all manner of pain, suffering, and torture, without expecting any consequences.

The session in which the children accidentally all the NPCs.

(Grammar Nazi disclaimer: it’s a meme. The mistake is intentional.)

So, in session 2, the intrepid heroes created and controlled by my wife and children have successfully defeated a two-prong attack by goblins and a host of icky natural critters. As is always my fear and always the custom of seemingly all D&D players everywhere, regardless of what they face, the heroes attempt to capture the last surviving enemy in order to interrogate it.

One goblin remains and is questioned. He reveals that hordes of goblins are en route to the nearby town, bent on recapturing a jewel that was stolen from them. The heroes take their prisoner along in the hopes of using him as a bargaining chip.

Inwardly I laugh at the thought of goblins caring about one of their number held as a prisoner.

But that’s a surprise for a later session.

The plan for session 3 is mostly role-playing and interacting with NPCs.

The hero meets his nemesis, the NPC.

This is one of the most fun parts of the game for me, because you never know what a player is going to decide to do to your NPCs. It’s usually good.

Usually.

Session 3 begins with a recap, and then I describe the scene as the heroes return to their town (the supposed target of the goblin hordes). The townsfolk are camped out in makeshift tents like refugees, cast out from their own walls. The goblins have already struck.

I pick out one of the official-looking faces from the Urban NPCs deck, and now he’s the guard captain who meets the heroes and briefs them on the situation. He’s gathering together all able-bodied townsfolk for a counter-attack in the morning, and he needs the heroes to assist in the raid.

However, the rest of the people are giving the party the stink-eye.

And so I take a moment to describe skill challenges to my kids. “Now’s your chance to use some of these skills your characters are good at in order to figure out what’s going on, why the town is mad at you, and maybe get some info that will help you beat the goblins the next day.”

A host of thousands! Or eleven.

I also had a stack of those face cards ready for them to randomly choose, with a rough idea of who each NPC might be. They rolled initiative, but I had my half-orc barely-functional comic-relief character go first to show how an interaction with an NPC might go. He talks like Hulk, if Hulk was stupid. Or more stupid than whatever version of Hulk you might be familiar with.

I lucked out and got the crazy-looking guy. The conversation was devoid of anything useful, other than serving as an example of picking a skill to use to interact with an NPC, rolling a check, and seeing what happens.

Justin’s character, Clayface the rogue, was up next, and he got the innkeeper. Since the innkeeper was fairly friendly, all went well, and Justin used Streetwise to get some gossip about what took place.

Then my wife’s warlord, Bethrynivere interacted with a politician from the big city. The NPC was a total witch–no, not a magic-using witch, the other kind–and blamed the incompetent “countryside buffoons” for the failed defense of the town. But Bethrynivere was able to use History (her character’s primary hobby) to point out the unique and abnormal nature of the goblin attack in order to persuade the politician to help the party rather than hinder them.

She makes the guards bring out some of the salvaged supplies that have been gathered for the assault. I just let the players pick a total of five random cards from a Dragon Trove deck (or whatever it’s properly called… I’ll probably write a “Paizo is Eevil” post about it and offer a picture and link).

The warlord ended up with a special suit of armor. The rogue got a new crossbow. The hunter picked a heavy hammer. The wizard got a mysterious magic potion. And my “special” half-orc got a chainmail shirt he intends to sell for some extra gold.

So far, all has gone pretty well.

Jonathan’s wizard, Killbot encountered another wizard, a supermodel-perfect blonde-haired fellow who boasted proudly of all his awesomeness and ridiculed the so-called heroes for letting this calamity happen while they were out camping in the woods. I really tried to push Jonathan’s buttons by being as annoying as possible, but he calmly made a Diplomacy check to defuse the situation. Then the two wizards discussed the magic energy in the area, and Jonathan’s Arcana check helped confirm what this wizard suspected. The jewel the goblins were after was a powerful artifact that was changing the flow of magic around the town.

I was pleasantly surprised thus far. The kids were taking this pretty seriously, and kind of thinking about what their characters might do instead of how they personally would like to respond.

Then it was Deborah’s turn.

Actually, I’m pretty sure.

Deborah is smart, and she has a concept of what Beastly Tiger is like and how he interacts with people.

For one, he calls everyone a hobo. Sometimes he politely asks them if they are a hobo.

Why?

Because apparently old people are hobos, as a general rule.

Turns out Beastly Tiger is also a hobo.

Oh, now we’re getting some backstory here.

So Beastly Tiger encounters a monk, a servant of the Divine Aspect of Strength. And this fellow suggests that he is willing to offer a supernatural blessing to people of proven strength so that they might better defeat the goblins who have taken over the town.

“Show me your strength,” the monk says in my best Ian McKellen Gandalf impression, “and I will bless you.”

Deborah looks at the card for the hammer her character received, and grins.

I could make you fly.

“I could make you fly,” she threatens.

At this point, we have a conversation about consequences in-game, and how the townspeople might react to an attack on their number.

We also revisit the definition of Diplomacy.

Beastly Tiger re-thinks his plan, and the suggestion is that he can show off some martial skill with throwing knives.

Deb rolls low, and I describe the monk’s eyebrow raise in a question as Tiger’s knife nicks the side of a tree.

I almost went with the Miyagi line, “Wood not hit back.”

The monk is not satisfied and demands that Beastly Tiger try again.

So then Tiger decides perhaps a good demonstration would be to throw the monk into the tree.

Poor NPCs, objects of wrath and torment.

I roll a Diplomacy check using Strength.

We discuss again the wisdom of such a decision.

Tiger finally decides to pound the tree with his hammer, sending splinters flying in all directions with the force of his mighty strike.

And that finally works.

Thank goodness, because I thought I’d hear the fateful words, “I attack the monk,” any minute now.

One “round” of NPC interactions has finished, and so I ask the kids if they want to do another round.

They’re loving it. “Yes!” they cry.

Again, my orc-sorc goes first. But DM PCs are notoriously horrible for stealing the spotlight, and I have eleven characters to play in this session already. So I want this out of the way quick.

I pick a random card and get a poor waif’s face.

I can picture her begging, “Please, sire, just a crust of bread to get me through the week…”

But Burak the sorceror is… sorely lacking in the People Skills department. It goes a little something like this:

“Please, sir, can you–“
“NO!!!!!”

My shout of “NO” is so loud and unexpected that my wife practically jumps and the kids’ eyes go wide. But then they start cackling, because once again it is proven that Burak is a moron.

“Surely no hero really acts that way,” you may think.

Yes, but players do it all the time.

I had a player show up impaired, we’ll say.

The session turned out to be quite odd, but never more so than when the heroes saved a villager from ruffians on his farm.

The Halfling comes running out the door of his farmhouse crying for help. The ruffians chase him, clearly intent on bodily harm if not bloodshed.

The heroes intervene and defeat the ruffians.

Then the player immediately says, “I INTERROGATE THE HALFLING!”

WAT.

“Interrogate” is a word with connotations. It’s not just “ask how he’s doing” or “try to find out why the ruffians were after him.”

I questioned his chosen course of action at  least three times, explaining, “That’s the Halfling you just rescued. You really want to interrogate him?”

“Shhh…” he whispered with a dismissive hand-wave. “It happened. It happened.”

Yes. Players do interesting and horrible things to NPCs.

So back to the game…

Now it’s Clayface’s turn, and he gets some beggarly-looking fellow with obvious fright on his face. I figure this is a contact of Clayface’s, someone with minor ties to criminal elements, someone who knows what happens in the back alleys of town. And Clayface wants to know what this guy knows, so Justin goes with Intimidation checks.

Last time, Justin’s character was represented by a “Human Bandit” miniature, with a big sack like Santa Claus slung over one shoulder. Thus, when it came time to question the goblin they captured, Justin’s plan was “I hit him with my sack.”

It’s a *diplomatic* sack.

No questions, no demands. Just start beating the goblin until answers fall out, I guess.

This time, I gave him a miniature that looked a little more roguish. It’s an assassin with a flowing black cloak, jumping back as if parrying an attack with his shortsword.

Now Clayface’s intimidating plan is, “I whap him with my cape.”

Roll for a Humiliation check, maybe.

Naturally, he rolls a 20. (Pun intended.)

Capes can be pretty scary, I guess.

Soon, they’ve finished another round of chats with the friendly folk of the town.

They’ve learned about secret tunnels they can use to get the drop on the goblins.

They’ve learned about the jewel the goblins are after–that it’s probably an artifact of some magic power, that it’s affecting the area around the town in a bad way, and that it was seen in the hands of the merchant they rescued in the first session long ago.

They’ve gained some material and supernatural aid to help them own some goblins.

And they’ve been offered a few side quests from concerned citizens with interests in town.

It seems a good place to stop, and I’m left hoping that the players learned a little more about how the game works.

But I suspect that we’re going to have to talk about not beating on the NPCs again soon.

And I’ll be okay with that as long as I don’t hear “Shhhh… it happened.”