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.”

Paizo is Eevil, pt 3

Paizo continues to get my money, despite all my efforts to resist them.

And they deserve it, because they put out some great stuff.

In part 2 of this topic, I mentioned the value of pictures to communicate an impression and image of a Non-Player Character to your players. Naturally, the same holds true when dealing with description.

You can be an amazing wordsmith, and you can have an impeccable delivery, but my experience is that your players hear “words words words  wall of text  still more words  CASTLE with words words  blah blah Baron von Guy-we’re-gonna-kill okay enough already let’s move on.”

Description problems get compounded when combat ensues.

“I fire my Thundertusk Boar-Strike at the goblin.”

You can’t see the goblin. He’s out of line of sight because he’s in the hall around the corner.”

“You failed to mention that, DM.”

I mentioned it while you were checking Facebook and laughing at a LOLcat.”

And this is why many games use maps. Good use of a map of some kind will get everyone seeing roughly the same thing in the portions of the game where that matters. It quickly answers questions like “Can I target that guy?” and the natural follow-up, “Can I hit that guy with an arrow/a fireball/the wild dog I’m holding by the throat?”

yarp
Please do not throw the dogs IRL.

Because that happens more than I would have guessed.

(Maybe I should choose my players differently.)

Anyway…

Different games use different combat systems, of course. Different groups of players are going to employ combat rules in their own unique ways. So some folks may not even need a map. I’ve heard arguments that in some games, combat — at least the storytelling aspect of it — is enhanced by not having a map.

But I don’t have supreme confidence in my descriptive storytelling or in the attention span of players. And as much as possible, I want them to see the world as I see it in my head.

An easy method that requires very little artistic talent is the plain hexagonal or square grid roll-up playmat. Get wet-erase markers, draw lines for walls and add a few simple features, BAM! Instant dungeon.

Tiles
A slight step up from the playmat

But for some of us, this might not cut it.

So there’s the option of tiles. Wizards of the Coast has put out a whole mess of these sets, with punch-out cardboard map pieces you can mix and match to create any number of settings. They’re generally pretty easy on the eyes, but can be painful to the wallet if you want a good variety.

And my experience has been that I spend more time in preparation looking through a bag or drawer of tile pieces trying to find parts that are “just right,” and then I spend too long during the gaming session trying to recreate the map that I made before.

I don’t want to put together a puzzle in front of my friends, and they don’t want to watch me. They want to own monsters with nat 20s.

I need something faster.

Eevil Paizo strikes again.

How about maps I can just lay down and run with? (To be fair, Wizards also puts out similar products, and I’m sure there are smaller companies doing it too.)

Need urban combat in a city? Who wants to draw every individual building? And if you’re rushing, be honest: all your buildings will end up as little featureless squares. So why not unfold one of these City Streets flip-mats?

Maybe you need more detail. Maybe you’ve got your players clearing out an enemy force by going building-to-building. You can pick up the Shops Map Pack and have interior maps for every building on that flip-mat, including upstairs and downstairs in most cases. Now you have the element of surprise, too. The players only see into buildings as they get inside them–you lay down the individual building map as needed. So you get something like this:

… continue pwnage.
Clear some buildings…
…move to next building…

 

Of course, this plan costs a pretty penny. Or about 2,500 of them. Plus tax. Plus getting to your local game store and hoping they have it, or getting it through the store in the links above… which probably means shipping and handling, too.

If you want to spend the money but don’t have a conveniently located game store–you can get Paizo’s eevil map subscription plan, which gets you each new map and pack as they come out (charged to your credit card at the time, of course). The advantage is that you also get access to a free .pdf of the map or map-pack, in case you want to print your own.

Printing your own… hey, there’s an option! Maybe I don’t want $25 a month going to random map packs I may or may not actually use. What’s stopping me from printing off a map for cheap?

Nothing.

In fact, using that limited artistic talent again, you can print off sheets of 1×1 grid, and then draw whatever you want on them. Like I said, I spend time looking for the “just right” tiles or maps, time I could be spending on any number of other things.

Maybe this is enough.

Quality suffers a bit, of course. It’s not shaded and colorful and pretty. But a quick-drawn map on a sheet of paper or two serves the intended purpose, providing a graphic representation of where all players are in combat, so that your players can develop and execute strategies to kill things and take their stuff.

It all depends on the needs of your group and the needs of your budget.

Heck, if tiles and measuring range and all of that are unnecessary in your system or your group’s playstyle, just sketch out the setting like a football play.

Even this might suffice.

The pic isn’t great, but you can jot down names of PCs and monsters on the page, plus add a little bit of setting detail.

(This is meant to show a couple trees for cover and a line for the trail through the scene).

I threw in lines to show movement and red lines to show ranged attacks, with red circles for the blast radius of spells.

Is this high-quality? No.

Does it work? Possibly.

Does it cost money? About two bucks for paper and a pen. If you’re doing any traditional tabletop RPG, you probably have plenty of both right at your fingertips.

As always, find out what works for your group and what saves you the most time and money, then run with it and have a blast.

For the sake of brevity (relatively speaking), I’m not even going to get into stuff like 3D terrain pieces or the crazy craftsmanship (warning: language) that can go into setting up a particular encounter. That Penny Arcade link just shows some pictures of the ridiculous extent they went to in creating a setting for one session. If you can find the articles where they explain the game mechanics of those settings, it is mind-blowing.

Anyway, you can do that. You can literally create worlds for your players to explore.

And you probably ought to, if you are able. But for most of us, that just doesn’t happen, because life.

Speaking of relevant things that distract from life…

I’ll just leave this roll20 link here. Welcome to the future.

Less is More

How wonderful, how beautiful, when brothers and sisters get along! (Psalm 133:1 MSG)

As a parent of four, I can sure relate. Our soon-to-be thirteen-year-old usually gets along with her eleven-year-old brother. They team up and torment our soon-to-be seven-year-old, who tags along after them constantly, just hoping to be included in whatever they’re doing. And he generally gets along great with our one-year-old, although he’s not really old enough to help take care of him. Helping out generally falls on the older two, who flip-flop between viewing their baby brother as the best plaything in the world…

Mommy, can we take Judah out and set up the kiddie pool and put his swim trunks on and let him play in the backyard?? Pleeeeease??

…to the most frustrating and despised chore ever.

You feed Judah. No, you! No, I’ll go clean up the dog droppings, so you have to take care of Judah.

There are some days that shatter nerves like glass, and then take the nerve stumps and run them over the glass repeatedly. (I take my wife’s word on this, as I miss most of those days by being at work dealing with the Air Force version of the same problems.)

But there are those days when everyone seems to get it… when the kids work together, or play together, or just plain get along nicely. Days when my daughter defers to the little brother she normally ignores, and chooses to play the game he loves. Days when my son offers to clean up a mess without being asked. Days when our ears are filled with the laughter and joy of children instead of the screams and cries of a war-zone.

Days when we’re not six separate people fighting it out in a house, but a family sharing our lives together in a home.

This morning, our worship team gathered together to sing. We got everything plugged in and set up, and then started a song. Suddenly no one could hear the keys, and none of the background vocals had working mics. This led to about an hour of scrambling and searching for the culprit. Our sound techs are awesome servants and were all over it. The rest of the team finally gave in to the delay and began practicing while the audio issues were being fixed.

We got through the first practice run of our set. Problem areas were addressed. Individual parts were discussed. All the timing and solos got worked out. Still no keys or background vocals.

Then keys started working through the house audio, and we practiced a couple of the songs a second time. Soon, the sound tech tested out mics for the background vocalists, and we were all in the system.

We finished a second run through a few songs, but this still seemed more technical preparation than anything else, until we got to the end of the last song we practiced. All the parts came together, and it seemed like we were able to get past the details to really worship Deity.

The song ended, but the music and the singing–more importantly, the worship–continued.

There are few things like that moment when a group of individuals playing or singing at the same time turns into something both less and more.

In an instant, ten separate people become one collective team. That’s the “less.”

The “more” is how those ten individual offerings of talent and heart do not simply add up, but build on each other and multiply.

When we as the lead worshippers on stage are able to get to that place, there’s a much better chance for the several hundred individuals in the sanctuary to likewise become both less and more.

I don’t know if secular bands experience something similar. I assume so. And I imagine there’s something powerful when they hit that sweet spot at a concert, and the audience really connects with the music too.

All I know is that it’s powerful to join together with a single focus and a single purpose.

If it’s been a while, I suggest you find that thing, that single worthy ideal deserving of your attention. Find that connection with like-minded individuals, and together become less so that you also become more.

And if you’re in Omaha, and that worthy thought around which you want to gather is the glory and goodness of God revealed in Jesus Christ, well, I know a place for that.

Maybe Lego is Eevil too

For the sake of writing some blogs related to D&D, I liked the idea of pointing out some of the awesome products Paizo has produced, calling them “eevil” as a joke, because DANG IT STOP TAKING ALL MY MONEY GIVE ME THAT NEW MAP PACK AND THOSE MINIS.

Today, as a favor to my two older boys, we went to www.Lego.com in order to sign them up for a free magazine.

One of them is obsessed with Ninjago — a fighting game with Lego men holding weapons on special bases that spin like tops.

One of them is the true Lego maniac, the boy who grabs me every day and pulls me to his room to show me the new robot / spaceship / pirate / helicopter / Firefly-class playset he’s built.

Yes, really. My son and my daughter cooperated to build themselves a Serenity playset.

Sooner or later, I’ll post about our attempts at Lego D&D, and I have several pictures of some of the pieces we used to make that possible. I’ve included one as an example.

Lego Kaalistera
Lego D&D Assassin

Anyway, I made a horrible discovery on the Lego site.

As if Lord of the Rings sets — with a little Lego Gollum (squeee!) —

Let’s try that again.

The link is worth checking out, if you’re interested in the sets at all. They have videos describing the sets and all the special features meant to match the movies. The designers (some of whom seem hilariously out of their element doing that whole “trying to interact with people” thing) even take some time to play with the sets.

And again, Lego Gollum.

As if those weren’t enough reason to waste all my disposable income for the month, now I find that they’re going to be putting out a line of Lego Monster Hunters.

There are vampires, swamp things, mummies, ghosts, werewolves, mad scientists with stitched-together animated flesh creations (a la Frankenstein)…

And zombies, just in time for the Zombie Apocalypse of 2012. (Lego Bath Salts not included.)

Briiiiiiiicksss….
Briiiiiiiiiiickssss….

And there are of course heroes ready to hunt these monsters and stop their evil plots (hence the name of the line). The heroes struck me as kind of “meh” but their vehicles and gadgets looked pretty sweet.

For the kids, I mean. They looked sweet to the kids.

Think of the children.

So, while tooling around the website, showing my kids all the things they will probably never own, my son points out the word “Video Game.”

ORLY?

Yes. LOTR has a Lego game coming out at some point.

And there’s Lego Batman 2, the mere sight of which was enough to explode my six-year-old’s mind.

And there’s a bunch of others that I won’t get into, because I haven’t looked at them yet and I don’t want to because that leads to using credit cards down at GameStop and children whining at me asking for the 360 controller so they can play while I “check out the game” as a responsible parent should, and then my wife has to intervene because “Why are the children crying and what happened to Justin’s birthday present–are you playing his game?”

Bad all around.

Of course, looking at these amazing sets coming out soon, I asked, “How much does blood plasma sell for and how much can I survive donating?”  And I had the natural “old parent” reaction of, “You kids don’t know how good you have it! Back in my day, we never had stuff like this!”

I actually remember the very first Lego set I ever saw or paid any attention to: it was probably 1983 or so, and as part of some church function, there was a gift exchange. I received a sweet little Lego space set, from the glorious days before Lego even had actual horses with their Castle sets.

Check out the steering wheel!                                  Every spaceship needs one.

 

In my search for a picture of the model, I found Brickipedia, which was a sweet stroll down memory lane.

I spent hours at my friend’s house orchestrating the destruction of Lego City. He had a few of the huge building play sets, like the gas station, police headquarters, fire department, and some kind of house. We got together a bunch of vehicles and began plowing them into the buildings from a distance. The game was that you couldn’t simply smash the vehicle into a building. You had to roll it from a few feet away. Bricks flew everywhere, but those sets were built sturdy. It took quite some time to bring those buildings down.

I remember working really hard to earn a prize from Sunday School in 4th grade. The deal was that the winner would get a $25 gift certificate at Toys’R’Us, and this was when the Lego Castle sets with Robin Hood style minifigures first came out. I ended up getting a camouflaged fortress that looked like a small hill with a tree, but had a secret door and hatch you could open up to reveal the hidden shelter inside.

I recall seeing new Kingdoms sets at the Base Exchange a few years ago, with giant trolls and angry orcs and and skeleton armies arrayed against the forces of good. On top of that, there was a dwarf mine, with a pulley and a forge and a little track for a mine cart to roll on. My wife surprised me by purchasing pretty much every set, and we had them built on the coffee table for a little while until the kids destroyed them.

Lego has been a part of my life almost as long as I can remember.

So if I’m willing to call Paizo “eevil” because I keep buying their products…

Then Lego must be the Devil, sparkling like a vampire from Twilight, with a Hitler mustache and Rick Astley’s red hair, singing “Never Gonna Give You Up” while dancing the Macarena in Nazi jackboots.

And they’ll still get my money.

So how about you? What’s your first experience with those eevil little bricks?

Enough

ENOUGH

I could really use a drink.

Not that kind… I’m just thirsty.

Yes. This.
Steaming hot Sumatra… yes. This.

I’ve been sitting here playing Diablo III long-distance with my brother for a little while. Finally I realize I need to stop, and get started on actual projects instead of pointless video games. I commit to start writing a new blog post, and to start the rewrite of the first chapter of my Kaalistera book.

But first, I want some caffeine and some water.

So I go to the kitchen and find that the coffee pot has shut off. The coffee is room temperature now. I like iced coffee, and I love a steaming cup of hot coffee. But not this.

So I look for the diet Mountain Dew I bought yesterday. Then I see that I forgot to put that in the refrigerator. A cold soda would hit the spot. “Kind of slightly not warm” isn’t really what I’m looking for here.

Cold. Not lukewarm.

“You are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot.” – Jesus.

Revelation 3:14-21 has a challenging letter to one of the early churches, and in that letter, Jesus makes that statement. He also says that “lukewarm” makes Him want to spit, or vomit.

Lukewarm isn’t, “well, I guess this will do.”

Lukewarm is sickening.

So where do I find myself on God’s thermometer?

I mean, I know how I feel about my spirituality. “I’m not Billy Graham or Mother Theresa,” I might say. But I’m not cold.

I suppose I can find an example of a really cold person, someone who is opposed to God or who is completely apathetic about what Christ has done for us. And then I can say “I am hot compared to him.”

Or I can find someone that is certainly “lukewarmer” than me, if I want.

One of the cases where “warm enough” is just right. Good for fish. Not good for souls.

If I can at least stop comparing myself to others, I’ll probably end up deciding that “I am not as hot as I could be or maybe should be, but I’m hot enough.”

Enough is a funny word. Merriam-Webster’s defines it as: “occurring in such quantity, quality, or scope
as to fully meet demands, needs, or expectations.” The definition begs a question:

That question is, “Whose?”

Whose demands are to be met?

Whose needs are to be satisfied? Whose expectations are being used to determine what exactly is “enough” in this case?

I say I’m “hot enough” or maybe “not super hot, but warm enough” in my faith. And Jesus says, “I wish you were hot or cold.”

This is what Jesus Christ wishes.

I can wish for things, and I can talk about what I want things to be like, and what I wish they were like. But God isn’t really asking for my two cents on these subjects.

He says plainly what He desires.

I WISH YOU WERE HOT.

Well, yeah, or cold, but let’s ignore that for a second because I don’t want to be cold.

The problem, the real issue, is that I want to be “warm enough.”

God help me, but that’s it. If I can just be “warm enough” to not make God sick to His stomach… if I can just be “holy enough” so that I don’t have to go confessing to God or feel guilty all the time… if I can just be “committed enough” so that I can say that I am “doing enough” so that I can say no to the really painful duties that I’d rather avoid… if I can just read “enough” of God’s Word, or pray “enough” and so on.

But let’s be clear here.

That is not hot.

There is coffee or tea that is “warm enough” and then there is “hot” and the difference is very clear. There is soup that is warm enough to not make me queasy, warm enough so that the grease doesn’t congeal on the surface, warm enough to be edible… but a hot bowl of soup isn’t just “edible.” It can be “delicious” or “satisfying” or it can “hit the spot,” but it won’t just be “edible enough.”

My daughter likes to help with cooking dinner. She has started making some pasta dishes now and then, and the first few times, I wondered why in the world the noodles tasted so strange. They were soft, but sticky like glue. They mashed together and I thought I was eating paste with pasta sauce. What happened?

I watched her the next time, and found the problem.

Yum!

“Deborah, you have to get the water boiling hot before you put the noodles in. You can’t just toss them in warm water and say that’s good enough.”

Pasta paste is edible. But it’s never a culinary goal to aim for.

Likewise, God doesn’t want His people to aim for “enough.”

What does it matter, though? Maybe being lukewarm was a problem for that particular church, but what threat does it pose for us today? God knows we’re all busy; many of us in the church probably have a schedule completely full of “Christian” activities. When we’re doing all that, maybe we don’t have time to get “boiling hot” anymore. Maybe lukewarm just has to be enough for now.

There’s a problem with that.

It is dangerous to be lukewarm because we think we’re still warm.

(Not that I ever do this… and don’t ask my wife, but)

When you sit in the bath for a long time, the water cools. But it still feels fairly warm, and it feels a lot warmer than getting out of the bath. If we get out for a moment and see how cold it is, it’s easy to get back in and feel a sense of warmth again. We won’t notice that the water is quite a bit colder than it was at first. We just care that it’s not as cold as the air outside.

We get complacent. We sit for a while doing the same thing, trusting–or even overconfidently knowing–that it is hot enough to serve a purpose. We get comfortable, “knowing” God has done a lot of work in our lives, and brought us some distance along this spiritual journey. And so those moments when God knocks on the door of our hearts (or the door of the bathroom), the altar calls that are more about discipleship than salvation, or the messages that address our behavior precisely–those, we think, are for someone else who “really” needs God badly.

We probably know exactly who that person is. In the old days, we’d get a cassette tape of the sermon for them. Now maybe we post a link on their FaceBook wall, or send them a podcast. We might think, “Man, I hope they get what God is saying to them, because He sure hit their nail on the head. Now I’ve done a spiritual good deed. I’ve done enough.”

Are we past-tense or present-tense?

If you walked, that doesn’t mean you’re walk-ING.

If you experienced, that doesn’t prove you’re experienc-ING.

If you did and saw and heard, great. But are you still do-ING, see-ING, and hear-ING?

If you burned for God in the past, that doesn’t mean you’re burn-ING for Him now.

You might have even been hot when you filled up the bathtub. But it’s been a while. What is God accomplishing here and now through your current obedience?

“Well I was X, Y, and Z at my old church. I did my time.”

That’s great. But you’re here now. Don’t look through rose-colored glasses at images of past glory and decide that you have achieved “enough.” God has more.

Way more.

Exceedingly abundantly beyond what you’ve heard, seen, thought, dreamed… beyond what is considered possible or reasonable.

Far beyond any concept of “enough.”

He doesn’t aim for that.

Pastor Gary Hoyt of BCC preached on this passage while I was in Omaha back in 2008. Full disclosure: He probably deserves more credit than that for this blog post, because the notes I took on the passage and the subsequent personal thoughts were inspired by his sermon.

On that day, Pastor Gary talked about how we often deal with situations where some product or business is advertised in glowing terms, promising life-changing amazing results. Then we find the product is mediocre at best.

AMAZING!
“No, really,” they say, “you can trust this offer. It has a gold logo.”

It was perhaps “good enough” for its purpose, but it certainly didn’t live up to the hype.

It’s a shame when something over-promises, but under-delivers.

Pastor Gary offered his standard grin and challenging gaze, the “I really hope you get this point” look, and he asked this question:

“What if maybe God is One who under-promises, but over-delivers?”

What if the hype doesn’t — indeed, CAN’T — live up to God?

Am I too complacent to consider the possibility, the consequences of the “something more” God has?

Should I be content with a “warm enough” relationship with God?

My coffee has been heating up while I type this.

I couldn’t stand the thought of drinking it before, but I’m going to fill my cup now that it’s hot.

Succumb to Relief

When we look around at the world from a Christian perspective, it is difficult to ignore the impression that situations happening around us are not what God has intended. Depression overtakes us; strife and division affect us in–and take us out of–healthy relationships with others.

Stupid pigs!
This is my six-year-old’s biggest problem. I’m a little jealous.

As Christians with the grace of God available to us, we still find ourselves overwhelmed by circumstances and catch ourselves after we succumb to temptation. Seeing the condition of the world is painful. We ache when we see just how messed up everything is. We ache when we see just how messed up our own lives are. Surely there must be something that can deal with this.

When I have a headache, I am quick to reach for the medicine cabinet. I’ve been trained well by the commercials that say, “I’ve got a headache THIS BIG…” I want some pain relieving medicine! In the same way, I am looking for something that will give relief in the midst of the mess in my life. I’ve got problems that are THIS BIG… where’s God’s Excedrin?

When we see this mess, we know: This is not the plan God has for our lives.

But this also does not disqualify us from relationship with Him. In fact, when we see ourselves in such terrible conditions, we are ripe to experience RELIEF !

As I thought about this and jotted down notes, I considered the word I had chosen: “succumb to temptation.” What does it mean when we “succumb” to something?

Succumb- 1    to yield to a superior force or overpowering appeal or desire
2   die

From the perspective of God, we are not capable of yielding to a superior force. No such force exists. A few verses will adequately illustrate this point.

Speaking of ungodly spirits that are active in the world, John writes in 1st John 4:4, “You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” “Having disarmed the powers and authorities, he (Christ) made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Col. 2:15). “He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves” (Col 1:13).

It says something when we are willing to yield to a weaker or inferior force. We could fight and win, but we are choosing not to. Sometimes this is intentional and directed by God. We are taught at times to “turn the other cheek,” “bless those that persecute you, do good to those that hurt you.” These commands are given regarding people.

With our enemy, there is no such commandment. The words used are warfare terminology: resist, stand firm, fight, put on armor, take up the sword, be watchful and alert, pull down strongholds, take captive. Christ was the One who “disarmed,” “made a spectacle out of,” “destroyed the works of,” “triumphed over,” “crushed the head of,” and conquered the enemy. He is our Example.

He is the One who could say, “Be of good cheer; I have overcome the world. All authority in heaven and on earth is now given to me.”

We do not face a superior force, and so we have no reason to succumb to our enemy. We instead have been given the opportunity to overpower and push back our enemy.

“Succumb” also means to yield to an overpowering appeal or desire. From the perspective of God, no such appeal or desire exists. “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (1Co. 10:13).

We are no longer bound to the sinful nature. “If Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you. Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation– but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it” (Romans 8:10-12).

“It is God Who is all the while effectually at work in you [energizing and creating in you the power and desire], both to will and to work for His good pleasure and satisfaction and delight” (Php. 2:13 AMP).

The reason that we can recognize that from God’s perspective there is no such thing as an overpowering desire or appeal is found in the above. He energizes and creates the desire to do His will within us. His power is effectual power– effective in accomplishing what He sets out to do. This is the power that is referred to in Eph. 1:19 (AMP), where Paul asks “that you can know and understand what is the immeasurable and unlimited and surpassing greatness of His power in and for us who believe.” This is the “power that is at work within us,” that “is able to carry out His purpose and do superabundantly, far over and above all that we dare ask or think [infinitely beyond our highest prayers, desires, thoughts, hopes, or dreams]…” (Eph. 3:20 AMP).

The fullness of this is found in the work of Christ Jesus as our Great High Priest. Romans 1:16 tells us that the good news about Christ is God’s power working unto salvation in everyone who believes. This good news is that Christ Jesus came to intercede between God and man, to bring reconciliation and restoration of God’s favor upon mankind.

Hebrews 2:17-18 states that “it is evident that it was essential that He be made like His brothers in every respect, in order that He might become a merciful, sympathetic and faithful High Priest in the things related to God, to make atonement and propitiation for the people’s sins. For because He Himself in His humanity has suffered in being tempted, tested, and tried, He is able immediately to run to the cry of, and assist and relieve, those who are being tempted, tested, and tried, and who therefore are being exposed to suffering.”

Some versions use the term “succor.” This is defined as aid, help, or relief– from Latin roots meaning “to run up, to run to help.”

Physical relief
Spiritually, I need to get some of this!

Relief is an interesting word. It has a number of meanings. Relief is:

1. the removal or lessening of something oppressive, painful, or distressing.

2. aid in the form of money or necessities given for those in need

3. military assistance to an endangered post

4. one who replaces another on duty

5. a legal remedy– something that corrects or counteracts an evil, or compensates for a loss

6. a projection of figures out from the background of an image or elevations from the surface– something that stands up or stands out

Picturing Christ as one who succors or relieves gives us a greater understanding of why God doesn’t see any temptation as overpowering.

Christ removes or lessens the oppressive or distressing nature of the temptation. He may just give us direction to leave the vicinity of it, or He may cause the temptation itself to cease.

Christ gives aid in the form of all that we need in order to remain true to Him. He provides us with the strength to stand — “My strength is perfected in weakness” or “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” are verses that demonstrate this.

Christ literally provides a military assistance when we are in danger of losing our position. He did this by “disarming the powers and authorities, triumphing over them by the Cross.” We are no longer at a military disadvantage because our Savior has over powered the enemy. He can bring military assistance by motivating others to pray for us in our time of need.

Christ is One who takes our position on duty. He fights on our behalf. When we realize that we do not stand on our own strength, it is as if He is taking our place. We are no longer relying on our own abilities to hold the position. We are relieved of our responsibility to hold the ground by our own effort, and we are able to join our effort with His limitless supply of strength.

Christ is One who legally corrects or counteracts evils that we encounter. His shed blood and His priestly mediation have swept away the sin. He is, whether one accepts the gift or not, “Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” He has corrected and counteracted the evil in the world. The reason and purpose of His ministry is defined in 1st John 3:8 as “to destroy the works of the devil.”

Finally, Christ is our relief in the sense that He is the One who stands out. When people see us, they should see a relief image– that of the Savior who has transformed us. 2nd Corinthians 3:18 says, “we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” As we encounter and seek God’s face, we are being made more and more like Christ. We identify with Him and people are able to see Him through our lives. Paul said it was no longer Paul that lived, but Christ, as grace worked in his life. “I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, then Christ died in vain!”

God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble. When we humble ourselves, we receive “the grace of God that brings salvation” that “has appeared to all men.” How can something appear to man except in a physical form? How can an intangible thing like grace “appear to all men?” John 1:14– “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” And verse 17, “grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”

Jesus Christ is our Reliever, and grace is the relief He gives. We can only receive it in the position of humility, because that is the only way we can see His face– with the transforming glory that comes with it.

When we are proud, we will fight and resist showing weakness. When we are humbled, we give in and admit defeat. From God’s perspective, we should never feel like we have to give in to the defeated and overpowered enemy. God provided all we need to deal with that. We do not succumb to our enemy or to our temptations.

The key is to succumb to the grace of God. Yield to His overpowering work in our lives. For there we find all the relief we need.

Jinxie

I had a silly thought today while waiting for our jet to get fixed. I do have the nickname mentioned in this story, and I do love to say the most horrible things about what could go wrong… so I thought of a fun “power” for a fictional character to have, and jotted down a rough idea of his story.

JINXIE

Aircrew are a superstitious lot.

“Don’t eat your lunch during maintenance delays on the ground,” they say, “or else you’re sure to fly your full sortie.”

“Don’t say that equipment, or weather, or the aircraft, or the evaluation, or any blasted thing is ‘good to go,’ because that means it won’t be.”

“If you DO say such a thing, knock on wood, or else you’re jinxing us.”

Well, our Navigator said some things yesterday, and knocked really hard on the plastic top of the mission planning room podium. But here we are, delayed again for… five, six… no, seven different issues with this fifty-year-old plane.

But the pilot says they all check out good now, so we’re ready to press on with our day.

Apparently, plastic lecterns don’t have the same natural anti-Jinx powers of wood. Maybe it’s something like Monty Python and the Holy Grail. “Did you knock on it, and you were not jinxed? Then SHE’S A WITCH! BURN HER!”

I make it a point to jinx us as often as possible. “Well, we know that the mission software will all be accounted for and ready to go when we get to the jet!”

Or, “You know there will be perfect data-link connections with all the other participants.”

“All the radios will be loud and clear all day… of course they will! Why wouldn’t they be?”

Aircrew usually end up with a nickname of some kind, a handle based more often than not on some profound mistake that serves as the basis for a great story. My friends call me Jinxie now. That’s mine. They want me to watch my mouth, and they glare at me when I make an innocent joke about diverting to a different airfield or cancelling a flight because of some catastrophic emergency.

To be fair, both of those events were pure coincidence.

“Be careful what you wish for,” I suppose. My friends would agree with that ubiquitous logic.

That’s when it hit me. I should be careful. Why not use these powers for good?

“We’ll probably find another tanker for air refueling since we can’t meet up with the first one as planned.”

Nope! No tankers available right now; they’ve all given up their fuel loads to other aircraft.

You’re telling me that in the absolutely largest logistic organization of the most powerful, worldwide-capable Air Force, where we provide millions of pounds of JP-8 jet fuel every day, we cannot possibly find one tanker that has just a bit of gas?

Nope. Jinx.

“That convoy is going through the thickest concentration of insurgent positions with snipers, RPGs, IEDs, and every other God-forsaken acronym, all of them looking to spill American blood. Our boys are in for trouble.”

Morbid, maybe. But go with me on this.

Those guys drive right through the hottest part of eastern Afghanistan, where we’ve been seeing troops in contact with enemy forces every single day for the last two months… and today, not a peep.

Maybe the bad guys are busy picking poppies today. Maybe they’re meeting to protest girls attending school in the classrooms the Coalition built. Maybe they’re busy with young Afghan boys. I don’t know or care.

All I know is our guys got through safe, despite me naming every bad situation I could think of.

Or maybe because of it?

Either way, jinx. Insha’Allah.

“You’ve got a gift; use it well.” Of course, my Dad was talking about playing piano, but the meaning still applies. “With great power comes great responsibility.” Yeah, Spider-Man was probably talking about something else too. But you get the point.

We always brief that every crewmember has a voice. if you see something happening that doesn’t look right or safe, speak up about it.

My handle is Jinxie, and I plan to speak up a lot.