This time of year it’s all go! Sunday evening it’s our church carol service and I’m just settling down to do some video editing and talk crafting with Miles Davis’ ‘Kind of Blue’ smoothly spinning from the record player. Seems the right vinyl of choice having sneaked in a chapter or two over breakfast of Andrew Cartmel’s second Vinyl Detective book, The Run Out Groove. Hopefully it will keep me mellow whilst I try and work out why my video editing software on my Chromebook which uses the new Linux app facility, doesn’t have any sound in previews despite the fact that rendered videos do – not so helpful for getting the edit just right.
Tonight, it looks like we’ll get to squeeze in a fourth session of Mutant Year Zero (if you include character generation). Probably shouldn’t – don’t really have the time and am fighting a cold which needs to be gone ahead of the relay of talks and services in the week ahead – but really want to keep some sort of momentum, having stumbled a bit recently. Which reminds me, I must try and write up some reflections soon on the previous session which took the PCs out into the Zone for the first time.
Boy that trumpet sounds good…
Just realised that I haven’t posted here at all this year! Useless. Must get back to it.
Much of my posting this year has been on our church website: www.wormleyfreechurch.org.uk This has been significantly redeveloped over the year and now features much of my faith based online writing. It seems pointless to copy it here – hence some of the silence.
I’ve also been beavering away on the DMin. This consumed much of the period between Easter and the summer holidays as I carried out the practical research – preaching a series of nine sermons back to back prepared with Anna Carter Florence’s approach to preaching – accompanied by a questionnaires, interviews and focus groups. I’m now diving into the long process of transcribing everything and writing it up. Whilst transcribing the interviews reveals all sorts of fascinating thoughts and trends, it is also a slow boring process!
Gaming-wise, the highlights this year so far have been:
- Glorantha. My regular group have been playing a Runequest/Heroquest hybrid game set in Glorantha. We’ve come back to this a few times over the last few years, and it’s been a real blast! Gundrig Gorpslayer, the Mostali, has become a river-voice and dreams of collapsing tunnels on trolls. Quite a contrast to the online forum based RQ game I’m in where Grundar the Praxian Rhino Rider trades with trolls and worships Argan Argar as well as Orlanth and the Raven Spirit.
- Running Pendragon at Continuum. Recent years I’ve run a variety of games, but this year, other than a Torchwood Heroquest game, I majored on Pendragon, finally finishing off a Fen-based campaign which I have run over all my Continuum visits (although only really I have known the games have been connected) leading up to the defeat of Hereward the Wake by Arthur’s men. The final game saw him finally defeated, slain by the PCs in a confrontation that saw their heroic deaths too. A totally majestic and fitting climax. A wonderful experience and my first TPK. Having been out of Pendragon for a little while, this really ignited my passion for it again.
- Running Mutant Year Zero. For a long time I’ve had a hankering to run a proper campaign again for my regular group after finishing the Great Pendragon Campaign with my more sporadic group, for now any way. I backed MY0 in the Kickstarter and was hooked immediately, subsequently backing all their other games. This is the first chance I’ve had, however, to get a game going. We’ve had three sessions so far, character/Ark generation and two sessions of actual play, the first Ark based, the second in the Zone. It has proved to be worthy of the expectation, and I’m absolutely loving it. I’ll blog some ‘actual play’ notes soon.
But I can’t finish this blog without a tribute to Greg Stafford, the man behind both Glorantha and Pendragon. Here’s what I’ve written elsewhere:
The King has set sail over the lake to Avalon.
I got to know Greg through Pendragon. I’d just got back into gaming after a break of too many years, and discovering Pendragon, lapped it up. Greg emailed the Yahoo Pendragon group saying he was looking for someone to help him put together a website. No one else offered and so I found myself tentatively saying I knew a little bit of html and could give it ago if no one else came forward. And so it was that I found myself working with my gaming hero for many years on his original weareallus.com website and then gspendragon.com along with the original Round Table forum before it moved across to its current home with Nocturnal. Through this, I also got to work on a few projects with him, which was a privilege, wonderful watching this creative genius at work. Greg also supported a group of us who set out to run Pendragon scenarios at Continuum and a few other cons, ‘The Pendragon Eschille’, and regularly dropped in for a Skype chat, battling mightily with the many tech issues we encountered on the way. It was great getting to know him – he was always generous, patient and passionate.
Although good ‘virtual friends’ we only met once, at the last Continuum he came over for. He had long promised to run a game for me if our paths crossed, and so I seized the opportunity. A group of us rolled up characters. Mine was Sir Dafyd. We rode out on a quest from the GPC. The quest opened with a quick encounter. Dice were rolled. Possibly the first were by Greg against Sir Dafyd. In full view, as is traditional in Pendragon. Rolled up, dismounted, unconscious, out of the game, all within five minutes. Still, I got the pleasure of watching the rest of the game unfold, the only standard game I’ve ever played in rather than run. A treasured memory, along with my copies of KAP & the GPC, which he signed afterwards.
Thanks Greg, proud to have been one of your household knights!
Church newsletter article 10.12.17
This will be one of the last newsletters of the year, a year in which the news has been dominated by borders and boundaries: Trump’s promised wall between the US and Mexico and the banning of visitors from Muslim countries, missiles fired across the border from North Korea, the Brexit debate and questions of the nature and location of the border between the UK and the EU, especially the thorny question of the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. This week the nature of borders and capitals reared its problematic head in the Holy Land too, with the proposed move of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and the recognition of that as being Israel’s capital city. What does this mean for the Palestinians who find their boundaries being squeezed? It has been a year of us vs. them and who’s in and who’s out. So often the divisions have seemed stark and irreconcilable and the debates and discussions impossible.
Advent seems a good time to reflect on these stories and situations in light of the Christmas Story. This story is all about such questions and debates. Today the Palestinians might feel they are living in an occupied land, then it was the Jews under the Romans. Mary and Joseph go to Bethlehem because of the census, a count of the people to see who was in, and by implication who was out. Wisemen come following a star, crossing borders of geography, ethnicity and religion to visit a new king. Can you imagine the response from Herod (picture Trump receiving them…)? The next scene makes it clear, Mary, Joseph and Jesus are fleeing across the border to Egypt to escape the threat of murder.
Who is in and who is out? Who belongs? And who does not? Place the past and the present on top of each other, do they sound that different?
There is another story of boundaries, the boundary between God and us, the wall erected between us and Eden comprised not of brick but our anger, selfishness and suspicion that says we’re doing life our way not yours. This story doesn’t end in firm positions, hard ball negotiation or red lines draw in the ground, but through God sending his son to cross the boundary, to see through our eyes, to walk in our shoes, becoming one of us, entering our world and speaking our lingo, so that in turn we could see and hear and understand his. This is not ultimately a story of us and them or in and out, but a story of reconciliation. My hope and prayer is that next year our story might begin to reflect this story instead…
Having got my research application sent off for ethical approval, it was good today to be able to turn once more from form filling to reading and thinking. Started to read through The Mission of Preaching: Equipping the Community for Faithful Witness by Patrick Johnson. Very promising start, looking forward to working through the rest of it.
The DMin thesis I’m working on, arose out of the impact London Institute for Contemporary Christianity’s (LICC) Life on the Frontline had on me and our church. At the course’s heart is a very simple thesis, how can we resource the church to fulfill its every day mission serving God where each person spends most of their time, which for many who be at work. What does it mean to be a teacher for God, a rubbish collector for God, a parent, accountant, volunteer or friend? As they neatly put it, don’t ask what new members of the congregation can do for the church, but what the church can do to resource them.
On the back of that, I started looking around for homiletical approaches that specifically seek to support that view of frontline mission. I quickly discovered Anna Carter Florence’s Testimony Preaching, which claims to equip congregations to share their experiences of God in their daily lives by the preacher modelling this through sharing their experiences of God in the text and life. My research question is simple, does it work?
In light of this, I was delighted to be at the launch of LICC’s new resource, a suite of videos and handouts entitled Whole Life Preaching. I’ve not had time to work through all of them yet, but the taste I have had suggests they will be really useful for me as a preacher, and hopefully for my research too! Based on previous experience with their materials, I recommend then to you.
I was brought up on vinyl. As a teenager there was nothing better than flicking through shelves of new or second hand records. Cassettes were of no interest to me, they sounded dull and had a habit of getting chewed up, besides, the artwork was so small it was almost pointless.
Then came the CD. I was a late adopter. In fact it was not until I got married that I made the switch, my wife had a CD-player and it seemed daft not to. Besides, soon after I did much of my work on the computer, and soon these were able to play CDs as well; strangely they never did make the leap to playing LPs!
Before long, vinyl was declared dead.
This was premature. Checking out HMV in Oxford Street the other day it had shelves of good old fashioned vinyl LPs. It was wonderful! They might crackle and get scratched, but they have soul. I might have to start buying them again, not just using my old collection. Perhaps a new stylus is in order too.
Funnily enough, I’ve found my sermon preparation method has changed too. Having been digital for so long, writing them on the PC and then preaching from a tablet, I’ve found myself going back to pen and paper, scrawling notes and ideas everywhere. I’m finding that this is a much more creative and organic process that is both liberating and perhaps also has more soul too. There’s something about the freedom to express ideas all over the page as they come to you, and something about the physical link between the heart/brain – hand – pen and paper that is more intimate than fingers on a keyboard.
There are of course drawbacks. My writing can boarder on the illegible, and storing old notes is not so viable (especially those literally written on the back of an envelope)! But at this moment in time, this going analogue seems to be suiting me, scratches and all. Hopefully, like with vinyl, my sermons now have a little more soul!
Judas: The Biography of an Idea by Peter Stanford
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A fascinating read, sifting through the Biblical references to try and gain a picture of Judas and then tracing through popular thought through the ages to see how this enigmatic figure had been seen in the public imagination. Whilst I have a more evangelical view of scripture than Stanford and so differ a little in my treatment of the Biblical texts, I was drawn into this work; for me too, Judas has long been a figure of intrigue. Stanford’s biography bright to my attention the sorry history of anti-Semitism that although I was aware of it, I hadn’t quite grasped it’s extent and the connection to portrayals of the disciple, Judas. Evil betrayer, innocent part in God’s plan, Satan’s agent or revolutionary whose plans backfire? Stanford’s picture is more nuanced than these simple clichés, and tinged in the epilogue with a surprising touch of grace.
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According to Oxford University’s online dictionaries, the phrase to ‘read someone like a book’ means to be able to ‘understand someone’s thoughts and motives clearly or easily’. This saying took on an interesting twist for me today when I stumbled across the Human Library™ on the internet today. In this unusual library, you withdraw not the latest novels or timeless classics, but a person who will share their life story with you.
So where did this unusual twist on a library come from? It started in Denmark after the stabbing of a youth in 1993. Friends of this teenager, who fortunately survived, started a group called ‘Stop the Violence’. Asked to provide an activity for the Roskilde Festival, they brought together 75 human books, who could be taken out so that ‘readers’ could find out about the person behind the stereotypes and ask awkward questions – and hear possibly honest and challenging responses. Apparently before the first book was withdrawn, the hall was full of conversation between the books themselves as they listened to each other’s stories, the policeman sitting down with the graffiti writer, the politician with the youth activist and the football fan with the feminist. Since this first event, the Human Library has taken off with similar presentations taking place in more than 70 countries around the world. You can even go to their website and get a taste of some of the books you might get to read, the soldier with post-traumatic-stress-disorder, the convert to Islam, the brain-damaged, young single mother, the unemployed, the body mod extreme and the refugee amongst others.
Personally, I think this is a wonderful idea. We’re all too quick to judge others simply by the tags we put on them, failing to think beyond these simple labels to the complex human being beneath them with their mix of emotions, pressures and insights. Perhaps it’s important to remember that to others we are tags as well. Don’t forget, to some we are ‘Christians’. Colossians 1:19-20 describes God’s mission as reconciling the world to himself through Christ. I can’t help but feel that this Library could be part of that process, enabling people to come together and begin to appreciate other’s stories and the people behind them. Got me wondering how we can help others hear our story, but perhaps more importantly, how can we begin to hear the stories of those around us.
I remember as a child entering into a competition held by Radio Four in which people were invited to enter mini-sagas, 50 word stories. Fifty words doesn’t sound like many does it, anyone can come up with fifty words (to give you a sense of scale, the newsletter front page article is usually 4-500 words). It might be easy enough to come up with fifty words, but coming up with a gripping yarn in only fifty words is a totally different matter – I see that Radio Two has taken pity on current children and asks for five hundred word stories instead!
Here’s a challenge for you – can you encapsulate in some way your experiences of God in fifty words? Answers in an email, a couple of texts or a scrap of paper please! You could write about your story of coming to faith, your ongoing questions about him, or a particular experience. It could be a straight account, or a story or even a poem. I’d love to turn next week’s front page into a collection of them.
Of course, the master of the really-short-story was Jesus with his parables. Can you name anyone else who has come up with such enduring, captivating and surprising tales as his? Many of these are fifty words as well, or even less. It’s amazing that even now, some two thousand years after they were first told, that they still have the power to shock and transform, or to make us face up to who we really are. I’ve spent much of the last few years thinking about them and reading about them partly because of various bits of course work and sermons I’ve had the joy of preaching, but mainly because I find that I can’t get away from them, there’s something about them that teases and keeps calling me back to them. What did Jesus mean by that? If he told them today, how would he change them? What is Jesus saying to me through them now? And how about to us, his church?
There is a downside to their popularity. Sometimes we can become deaf to them, we’ve heard it all before. Or we come up with ways to make them comfortable to listen to or to explain away the awkward bits and make them suitable for church consumption. Symon Hill has come up with a great way to listen to them afresh and cut through the traditions we’ve built up around them in his book The Upside-Down Bible. Rather than turn to scholars and commentaries to get answers to these questions, he took a novel approach. If the parable was about crops or sheep or soil, he’d go and tell the story to a group of farmers and see what their reactions were. A story about workers and their treatment? He asked a group of trade unionists for their views. The Good Samaritan? He asked some Jews for their thoughts. He also made a point of asking non-Christians, those who hadn’t really thought about or heard the stories before. Sometimes their answers were what he expected. Often they were not, and jolted him into seeing them in new ways. Got me wondering who to talk to next time I get stuck in sermon prep, or for that matter, who might be interested in hearing these stories if we got them outside the church and into our communities…