Monday, September 29, 2003

Speaking of decompression, the a cappella auditioning madness has ended and I am once more At School in fact as well as geography. I'm listening to Disney songs, which is all the proof you should need. I have played through Jedi Academy once already, and I have fairly detailed thoughts on it that I might spew forth at a later date, since it's been a while since I've had a game review post here. (I give it about an 87% as an overall gaming experience.) I am seized with a desire to see Beauty and the Beast and Moulin Rouge to celebrate the resumption of school. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I am most assuredly Back To School.

I have now officially become a Testimony alumnus, which is just fine with me. Not that I won't miss the group, of course, and it would have been nice to be in a group with Archimedes too, and besides all of that the new Testimony absolutely rocks and I think they would have been a lot of fun to fellowship and sing with and serve with. Also I perceive that God is moving Testimony into another phase of his plan for the group, and it would have been really nifty to be around for that. But instead of rejoining Testimony I have joined the Stanford Savoyards in their production of Pirates of Penzance as the Pirate King. The show is going to be a lot of fun and stands a very good chance of being an excellent show, plus I love my part.

Of course the real reason I am part of the Savoyards and not part of Testimony is that I feel like God has called me to the one and not the other. I say "feel" because that's the expression, but of course analyzing this sort of thing is rather difficult. I am not part of the play because it makes me happy, although it fills me with an ineffable happiness which kept me awake for at least an hour last night. This is one of the things that makes me trust God - every time I do something because he tells me to, it ends up being the most wonderful thing, in ways that I could not have imagined, even if it was something which by all rights ought not to have been delightful at all.

And I am not a part of the play because of anything written in the word, although there is plenty of logos about the whole thing. I would not precisely call myself a theatre person, but there is something about theatre which thrills me, something about acting which makes sense to me as a way of communication in a way that even writing does not. It does make sense to go back to a place that is a part of me, and which has been neglected for a long time. It also makes sense that I be in a place where ministry would be by contact, as it were, like yeast. Ministry activities which are designed as ministry activities make no sense to me, although I will not deny that there is a place for them in the battle plan of the Kingdom. But ministering to a theatre company, or through a theatre company - that is done primarily by being a person in whom Jesus lives, whom the Spirit is transforming. It is ministry through leadership, both of which are rooted in personal excellence - and that is something which makes sense to me.

It also makes sense to me that I would leave Testimony this year, precisely because it is the start of something new, and the group is growing more and more into its existence as a ministry. The ministry of Testimony is never something I have understood very deeply, although I have done my best to be a part of it. But I can see very clearly how I was part of the work God was doing in Testimony for the past three years, and that work has been established. I daresay that if I were to remain I would stand a very good chance of getting in the way. One has the sense that something big is going down, and I don't think it's something that my gifts are well suited to. So I don't find it surprising that I have been reassigned, as it were - nor do I find it surprising that I love my new post.

Not that I know precisely why I am in the Savoyards, or "what good will come of it." One cannot go around attempting to do good all the time. For one thing there's more good things you (and here I mean "you" generally) ought to be doing than you can be doing, if all you have to go on is your own moral code or the Scriptures or whatever. For another thing you have a comparatively bad idea of what good you actually can do, having no way of knowing if any particular action will ultimately turn out for good or for bad, or how far the ramifications will go and whether or not they will be ultimately good or bad in the end. You would need to be both omniscient and atemporal to have a satisfactorily long view of something like that. And finally, you have a very poor idea of what will actually be good for you - what will give you the requisite experiences, skills, and whatnot to do important work later on in life. This is why it is much better to go around doing what one ought to do rather than go around trying to figure out how you can do the most good, or make the biggest difference in the world: you simply don't have enough information about the plan. The only way one can possibly hope for the church to make a difference in the world is by trusting God to know what he's about, and stick to the plan regardless of how "important" it seems (we cannot all blow up the Death Star. Where would Luke have been if the man in charge of shipping those proton torpedoes to Yavin 4 had decided that logistics wasn't as "important" as flying X-Wings?). The Watchmaker must not only be in the watch (thank you, Alanna); he must be communicating to the cogs what to do - and they have to be used to listening for instructions. If we don't have that, the cosmic Resistance which is the church might as well be Norsemen - fighting on the right side, but doomed to impotence.

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Well, I'm back from the big O-Show, the last big show that I will sing with Testimony for the general Stanford public for the forseeable future. O-Show (Orientation Show) is the biggest a cappella event of the year, actually, with all eight a cappella groups (and, this year, three dance groups) singing their best for the freshman class and whoever else decides to show up (which lots of people do; Memorial Auditorium is not a small place, and it's reduced to standing room only). As I write this, O-Show is still going on, but I (obviously) am not there.

This is not because I didn't want to see the other groups. I'm sure it would have been very entertaining, what with everybody bringing out their best and all. I just needed to decompress after our performance. Some people seem to think that I don't get nervous before a show. That's not true (well, it was true of some Chaminade Players shows ... but with those I had the benefits of a character to get into and hours upon hours to just be still and know). If I seem calm before a show it's probably because I'm channeling all the nervousness into good backstage behavior, with the aid of a naturally placid disposition and lots of practice. But afterwards I need to decompress, and I felt like I would explode if I stayed in a sweltering auditorium (it's been really hot up here) with no time for myself, to reflect on the show and be thankful.

Tuesday, September 09, 2003

For the last several days I've been playing the demo for Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy. Given that the demo contains only two levels and no multiplayer component, this probably strikes some of you as rather strange. If so, believe me: it undoubtedly strikes my family as stranger. I can't help it. I require my lightsaber. If at all possible, I require two lightsabers. I may even require a saber staff. But it's more likely I require two lightsabers, and right now this is the only way I can get them.

Part of the appeal here is, undeniably, that Jedi Academy has been clearly designed to give players (and specifically, Star Wars fans) what they want in a game like this. The saber combat model is better than ever: more special moves (more than triple!), more styles. We've got customizable characters and sabers - all eye candy, of course, with no actual bearing on gameplay. But a game is more than the gameplay (one of my pet peeves in games is when designers forget that). Gameplay is an important aspect of a game, of course, but there are others. If all we cared about was gameplay, graphics would have peaked with chess. But we want more than graphics, too. We want a game to spin a world - or, if the world already exists, we want the game to know about it.

This is not true for all games, of course, but it is true of the design philosophy behind the overwhelming majority of modern computer games, and it is this which has allowed Jedi Academy's demo to enthrall me so: the little things that say, "this is a Star Wars game" (and a good Star Wars game. I do not love all Star Wars products, but there are few things I enjoy more than a good Star Wars products). A few examples: the saber staff is in the game, and therefore we have zabraks as a playable race (Darth Maul's species). The moves are not all from the movies, either; some come from the books (e.g., the introduction of thrusting moves, which come from Mara Jade in the Heir to the Empire trilogy). And then there's the fact that the game is giving us things we want to see: the Stouker concussion rifle returns, we have dual sabers and saber staves, we have really really cool moves, old favorites like Chewbacca and the Falcon, the list goes on and on. I can't wait until I get the full version.

Friday, September 05, 2003

I just finished reading Lady Knight, which is the fourth of Tamora Pierce's Protector of the Small series and the third quartet set in Tortall (well, the fifth if you count the two quartets she wrote for "younger readers"). I have a tradition of only reading Tamora Pierce books when the entire quartet is available in mass market paperback, since I find all other sizes of book annoying to hold. However, I am thinking that I ought to get myself a set of Tortall books in hardcover, for posterity.

I want a copy of these books for two reasons. One, I'd like it if my children could read them. Two, my paperback copies won't last forever in storage, and I want to have a copy of them. I doubt that any other set of books (well, I suppose we can except Scripture) has stuck with me the way these have. Their imprint is on every word of Phoenix Earth (the influences on Phoenix Earth are many and varied, of course, but Pierce's Immortals quartet would be high on a list of influences ranked by level of influence). I can't imagine what Phoenix Earth would look like without the framework laid down by that first campaign - and what would that have looked like with no neomagic, no astral plane, no dragons? It all comes from Tortall.

But more importantly, and dearer to my heart, their imprint is on me. It was from Pierce's books, way back in elementary school, when I got my first glimpse of heroism, and all the things that are important to me - everything, from the fact that I like to dance to the way I process my relationship to Jesus - are ultimately founded on heroism. It was from Pierce's books that I first learned to work hard, whatever the odds - that I learned that a noble (read hero, man, woman, or whatever appellation makes most sense to you, but I meant and mean noble, literally) never complains, never gives up. It was from Pierce's books that I learned that the spirit which will not be conquered cannot be conquered, and that if you throw enough hard work at a situation you will win through. From Pierce's books I learned to despise bullies and cowards, to love courage and hate physical violence. And of course my entire attitude towards women stems from Pierce's books, the result of concluding some time in middle school that most of mankind treated most of womankind neither the way they deserved nor the way they truly wanted, and I was determined to be different.

I say "learned" but that's not quite right. I would have said that from Pierce's books I "vowed," but of course that's not quite right either, because it wasn't that conscious. It was a more unconscious process than that (but not a passive one) as I filtered through the messages that are found in those books - many excellent, some not - and the results of that filtering process sunk deep into my bones. I have, I admit, a certain suspicion that I was intended to find The First Adventure in the Canoga Park public library, that these books were intended to spark in me and provide fodder for the deep-seated (God-seated) love of heroes and adventure that forms such an inextricable part of my academic life, my Christianity, my masculinity, and - I suspect - will form such an inextricable part of my romantic life as well. I would not like to lose these books because they fell apart on me and were out of print. It will be good to pull them out every now and then - and I admit I have hopes that my wife and children will read them one day and go, "ohhhhhhh ... that explains a lot."

Along the same lines, but on a lighter note, I like lightsabers. A lot. I particularly like strong, capable, no-nonsense girls with lightsabers, which means I love Mara Jade (who ought to look more like the art in Mysteries of the Sith and less like Shannon Baksa, no offense to said model). It also means I am really, really looking forward to the release of Jedi Academy and Knights of the Old Republic (for the PC; I know it's out for X-Box) this fall. One of the perks to going back to school is that the start of fall is one of the major game-release seasons, and I am really looking forward to getting my hands on a lightsaber again. For the character interaction in Knights of the Old Republic, which I hear is good. For the chance to go, "I recognize that move!" (I recently watched the lightsaber duel from the end of Phantom Menace. If you look, you really can recognize basically all the stances and moves in the Jedi Knight games from that choreography. Thank you, Ray Park). And of course for all the other things that that lightsabers mean.

Monday, September 01, 2003

So yesterday was the fiftieth anniversary celebration for my Uncle Gilbert and Aunt Eva. Actually they're my great-uncle and great-aunt, but we never call them that. It was about a hundred miles away but it was pretty fun all the same. The room they rented in the hotel was packed with Asian people I didn't know, which was kind of weird. Nobody actually asked me why I was there (which is also funny ... ever thought how easy it would be to crash a big family reunion?) but I kind of felt like if they had the best I would have been able to come up with was "well, the car stopped here, and I got out." Fortunately the adults of my party had some idea of who was related to who, so I was able to find out that I was in fact the grand-nephew of the couple of honor.

Despite being in a room full of unknown relatives, I did have a good time. For one thing, we got to sit next to the minister who administered the renewal of vows and his wife, and they were a lot of fun even though I mostly sat and listened to them talking with my parents. They were interested in what I was doing, and it was nice to be able to talk about that with Christians who I thought would understand the answers. It's hard to talk about big decisions in life to people who don't presuppose that God has a plan for everyone's life and is interested in communicating that plan to them. I also found out that one of my cousins frequents Gaskell's, so perhaps I should get myself out to one of those one of these days. Especially if I could go when a lot of Stanford people were going, or go with Phoebe and Neani and Archimedes. That would probably be fun.

So, back to why I had a good time. Apparently Uncle Gilbert and Auntie Eva have been dancing since the fifties (they met at a dance when they were introduced by Gilbert's date, who was the mother of the minister and his wife at our table ... how cute is that?) and their friends like to dance, too. So during the cake cutting my other aunt Stephanie grabs Auntie Eva and my cousin Denise (whom everyone calls Dee-Dee, but I don't actually know how that's spelled) and tells them that I like to dance and they should dance with me. This was somewhat embarassing but turned out to be a good thing. Said cousin is apparently in her forties but looks and acts (at least on the dance floor) like she's in her mid to late twenties, and she grabbed me as soon as the dancing started (with "In the Mood," hee hee. I love that song). That was fun. It's always fun when a pretty girl (I know she's not really a girl, but you wouldn't say that if you'd seen her) asks you to dance. Anyway, the dance floor needed to be bigger for all the couples out there, but I had a lot of fun dancing with various relatives and impressing them. And I will admit that it makes me smile inside when a pretty girl enjoys dancing with me. I guess a lot of people noticed me because they kept asking Dee-Dee and Eva who I was, and there were things being said like, "that's my grand-nephew!" So that too was a little embarassing but there was no harm done and I was glad that people enjoyed dancing with me. I enjoyed dancing with them. Also, the live music (which was just one middle-aged Chinese guy and a vocalist) was really, really good. I usually don't like live music but these guys were great, especially when you consider there were two of them and only one instrumentalist.

It's ironic that the best time dancing I've had all summer should be with a ballroom crowd, but there you have it. Of course it was mostly so much fun because the crowd was full of fun, friendly people, which is really the most important factor. I even danced a tango with Auntie Eva, which she could follow pretty well - which is impressive when you consider that she had never seen my quasi-20s, quasi-cross-step tango before (and when you consider the level of my tango skill). It was kind of a mess of a dance, but it was a lot of fun anyway. Also, the crowd wasn't strictly ballroom (ha ha) since they also knew swing (east coast and jitterbug only ... it's funny to think that most of my generation's "old people" are too young to have learned eight-count lindy hop when they were teenagers). So they were actually pretty easy-going about style, and that made for a fun time.

This is an application of the dancing skill that I hadn't really considered when I decided to take Social I two years ago. All I was thinking of then was not feelnig left out of the unofficial Testimony activity, and getting to spend time with Blue Rose. But this is the second time I've made a big impression (quite by accident, mind) at a large family-style event just by dancing. Go figure. Still, it will be fun to be back on campus when I can dance with people I feel comfortable with ... where people don't waltz ballroom, and know how to lindy, and care about things like counterbalancing and centripetal force. Seeing Shanah and Rose and Chariessa and Phoebe and Lady and Neani and the Ailouriskai and Tigranassa, and some of the folks from Waltz Week/FNW as well ... I mean, that'll be fun. And all of the guys, too, but it's been a long time since I've held a girl's right hand and had that instant jolt, like I was holding a live wire, or felt my partner waltz me around. I look forward to it.