Sunday, July 25, 2004

I've been doing a lot of Phoenix Earth stuff lately, updating the Modern period to the advanced 3rd edition rules.  Even though I'm not writing down very many new rules, it's a fairly large undertaking.  The design ethos of Phoenix Earth demands that every weapon have a reason for existing other than style, and yet the conventions of the fantasy and sci-fi genres demand that the game feature a bewildering variety of equipment.  At the same time, all of this new equipment must be properly scaled, not only internally but with older and newer technologies.  All of this works out to dozens of man-hours of number crunching and roleplaying math.

This sort of work is something that not every roleplayer enjoys (witness The DM), but I like it a lot.  It is one of the reasons I like Phoenix Earth so much: it gives me a chance to explore parts of the art of roleplaying that the player's role doesn't afford me.  Not only do I get to plunge headlong into the very different art of DMing, I get to play around even further behind the scenes with the mathematics and conventions that underpin the entire art form.  It is sort of like what the Dance Master sometimes says about role-reversal: some people have an urge to learn the whole dance, not just their side.  Well, roleplaying is an art that I want to understand all of.

At the same time, recent events have made me acutely aware of the fact that there is not really any satisfaction to be had in these mere artistic pursuits.  In fact, recent events have really brought home to me afresh the fact that there is not really any satisfaction to be had anywhere but Jesus.  Let me clarify by putting it another way: satisfaction can be had anywhere, but only if Jesus is there.  Take the Jesus factor out of it and the satisfaction really goes away.

When I say "satisfaction" in this context I am not talking about a temporary sense of pleasant satiation.  That of course is something that an infinite variety of activities can supply.  What I mean is the kind of satisfaction that sticks to your bones, the kind of thing that allows you to look in the mirror and say, "I am satisfied with my life" (or, to borrow a phrase from the hymn, "It is well with my soul").

I realize that I am a very young man, but I think I can say this with some degree of certainty based on my experiences thus far.  Academically, I have performed to basically the highest degree of expectations my socioeconomic context can set for me.  Intellectually, I have enjoyed the company of some of the world's greatest minds in my chosen field, and they have enjoyed mine.  I know many people whom I am proud to call my friend, and the evidence is that most of them are proud to call me their friend as well.  I am reasonably accomplished in many forms of art (oral, literate, vocal, dramatic, dance, roleplaying), and I have fairly ample time to practice the various arts that I practice.  Romantically, my life has been rich and satisfying, and I am intensely, fiercely proud to be the ex-boyfriend of the two young ladies whose ex-boyfriend I am.

And the thing of it is that I have, at one time or another, had ample opportunity to examine each of these life traits in either my life or the life of someone close to me, but absent the Jesus factor - and in every case the satisfaction has been simultaneously absent.  That list of life traits is long enough for me.  If fulfillment is not found in academic, intellectual, romantic, social, or even creative activity by itself - but if fulfillment\\satisfaction is found in academic, intellectual, romantic, social, or creative activity in the presence and under the auspices of Jesus, then what is the conclusion to be?  That fulfillment is to be found in some other activity I haven't tried yet (e.g., non-academic career, life-long social work)?  Or that fulfillment is found in the common factor?

Sunday, July 11, 2004

Before I begin, if Esther Selene reads this (or if somebody with the relevant contact information does) please let me know how I can get in touch with her. I don't even know if she's checking her alumna e-mail account, and I made a promise which is difficult to keep if I don't know how to get in touch with her.

In other news, I had a really good time at church today. Blogging about the whole experience would probably take up too much time, so let me concentrate on half of the service: the worship.

Being a charismatic and going to the church that I do, worship obviously plays an important part in my church experience. But today as I was in worship I got to thinking some more about why. This is something that I have been thinking about since Blue Rose's paper for her music history class on the CCM and worship phenomenon, and today as I heard that the high school group would be going off to camp I was thinking about it some more.

The reason I was thinking about it is because I've been to those summer camps, and I know what's in store for those kids. Now don't get me wrong, they're great. But looked at from a certain point of view, the things that go on at those things look pretty illegitimate: there will be kids prophesying, speaking in tongues, interpreting tongues, and worshipping Jesus until their voices are hoarse and their hands just can't clap any more because they've been singing and clapping and shouting and dancing for hours every day by the score, all in this out-in-the-woods, high energy, emotionally charged sort of atmosphere.

Depending on what side of the tracks you come from that probably either sounds fantastic or really creepy. I personally come down on the side of fantastic, but I think I have a certain amount of sympathy for the other perspective too. The question that inevitably arises in any sort of connection with charismatic worship, I think, is whether or not this isn't all basically a product of emotional energy and groupthink rather than a legitimate activity of the Holy Spirit.

Of course whether or not it is inherently plausible that in the 21st century the Holy Spirit is interested in doing things like empowering his church with miraculous healing and prophecy is a philosophical\\theological question that has to be answered first. Obviously as a charismatic it is my opinion that the text supports that view, and it is also my opinion that the experiential evidence supports incontrovertibly the idea that in fact those things do happen. As to whether or not any given instance of something strange happening is a coincidence of psychology or the result of a believer responding in faith to the activity of a personal Spirit is something that has to be answered on a case-by-case basis. For myself, I will readily admit that there are times when charismatics let their imaginations and emotions run wild, and I will also readily admit that there are times when the Lord will show up and do something productive if the church will let him.

And that is the reason I love worship in the charismatic tradition, and why church today was so good. One of the ideas I was exposed to during Rose's research was the idea that the music of the charismatic praise-and-worship tradition (and whether or not you're charismatic, the praise-and-worship phenomenon has its roots in charismaticism) is actually fitted to the theology of the tradition. And the thing I love about this tradition of worship is that it is more than a time to prepare the congregation's heart to enter the throne room of God, and it is more than a time to respond to the fact that God's Word has just been preached. Those are, of course, important functions that any church service ought to incorporate. To these functions, the charismatic tradition adds the idea that worship is the time of the service where the congregation eases off its control of things and responds to what the Lord wants to do right then, right there.

This is a phenomenon that I think most people who have gone to a decent church are familiar with, at least on the personal level. You go to church, God shows up, you find that he's speaking to your heart and you're primed to listen. It's even something that shows up on the level of leadership at some churches - The River, for instance, is not a charismatic congregation, but its leaders behave in sort of charismatic ways. You can't tell your congregation that you as a pastoral staff feel very strongly that the Lord is calling your church to San Jose specifically without admitting to prophecy. That's an example of what prophecy is. Charismatic worship takes that to the congregational level, and it's so good to be at a church where the worship leader is empowered to lead the congregation down those paths of response if the situation calls for it. Mmmm, so good.