Monday, December 25, 2006

Christmas 2006

One of my favorite Christmas traditions is caroling on Christmas Eve. Every year for the past several years my family has gathered with Xenophon’s in our living room, and Dad has brought in his keyboard and we’ve sung Christmas carols for an hour or two. My favorites are the religious carols, and not just because I think they tend to be superior musically. I am as much a fan of love and charity and being close to friends and family—in short, the whole Christmas spirit thing—as the next guy. That’s basically what Dickens is all about, and I love Dickens. But Christmas is not about those things. And thank goodness, for Christmas spirit falls flat more often than it soars, and friends and family are rarely all they’re cracked up to be (especially family). A holiday that was founded on love and charity and family togetherness like that would quickly become a tiresome exercise in tradition—as I suppose Christmas is for many people.

No, I love Christmas spirit. But Christmas is about Jesus, and in my opinion all attempts to get around that fact end up tawdry in the end. Which is why I like the religious carols, and especially like caroling them in my living room on Christmas Eve. Oh, we joke around and laugh a lot. We aren’t a bunch of Puritans intoning religious songs because That’s What You Do on a religious holiday. But there is still something powerful about singing those songs with people who really believe the words that they’re singing, and really believe in the person and events they’re singing about.

A lot of carols picture Jesus as king—a metaphor with a pretty good pedigree, as Christians have been talking about him as king pretty much since the beginning, and the entire Messiah complex itself featured heavily the idea of kingship. But what does that mean? “Jesus as king” is a fairly rich theological concept, and while I appreciate the intellectual subtleties, I also want to be able to connect with it on a visceral level. Otherwise it’s like appreciating the richness of a metaphor in a poem without even knowing what the poet’s basic image is.

When I want to think about king in a visceral sense, sometimes I think of the medieval or Renaissance concept of a king—lawgiver, knight, and lover. But while many carols were penned with that image as their background, the first of our people to name Jesus as king obviously were thinking of a different intellectual tradition. I imagine they were mostly thinking (consciously or unconsciously) of the Hellenistic kings that had ruled the Mediterranean for centuries by the time of Jesus. After all, there was as yet no real ideology of the Roman emperor, and the Jews had not had a king for over four centuries. The only kings anybody really knew were the so-called Diadochoi, the Successors—descendants of the generals of Alexander the Great, who divided his empire upon his death.

So what was a Hellenistic king supposed to be? First and foremost, a warlord. Prof. Manning always liked to compare them to mob bosses, and they fought endless wars with each other. Second, and relatedly, a savior. The word “savior” has become a theological term of art, but its meaning as applied to a king was very straightforward and intuitive. A king was supposed to protect his people from wars, from oppressive taxes, from oppressive government—in short, he was to ensure their freedom to live full and peaceful lives. When a king went about with the title “savior” appended to his name, that is what people thought of. Some other Hellenistic kingly (and queenly) titles that I find surprising and instructive when I think of what Scripture probably has in mind when it uses kingly language:

Loves his father
Loves his mother
Loves his siblings

In reality, many kings of that era were little more than glorified thugs. But the idea of a king, that is something worth holding on to. A king is a great warrior. A king liberates his people. A king loves his parents and his brethren. A king builds great things for his people’s benefit and enjoyment. A king is always before his people.

Even the greatest of the Successors fell short of that ideal. Most didn't come close. But at the very end of the period of the Successors, a king was born who would be all those things, and still is.

Merry Christmas

Saturday, December 23, 2006


Personal resolution: dangerous is a moral quality. Any fool with the right tools can put a life in mortal peril, but it takes a real man or woman to be dangerous.

Brave words from someone who hasn't faced a fight since middle school, I know. Possibly naive and arrogant, I know. But I think I am probably in the mental company of most of our species' best and most experienced fighters.

More importantly, I think this is one of those things that has to be true, and if it isn't true then it has to be made true. "Dangerous" is an interesting word to a Christian. In the Kingdom of God, "dangerous" gets redefined. We are challenged, on the one hand, to let people strike us (a challenge I admit I find difficult - my gut instinct is more along the lines of "someone tries to kill you, you try and kill them right back;" points for the reference. But this is not the time to discuss the nuances of physical force in Christian hands). But on the other, we are told that

"From the days of John the Baptist until now the Kingdom of Heaven has suffered violence, and men of force seize it."

There is, I think, an interesting word play going on here. The Kingdom is pictured as under attack - and it is the men of force, the violent, the dangerous if I may, who attain it. I was watching Return of the King today, and I am reminded of Gondor under siege and the hard sons of Rohan who rode to its rescue: it takes a dangerous man to reach the City of the King.

How is a man dangerous who will let himself be struck by another? How is such a man to be described as a man of force? It sounds like a conundrum but I don't think it is. The ability to kill or injure, the ability to destroy - that is not what makes a man dangerous. Any coward who is willing to strike from behind or who can operate a weapon (even if that weapon is his fist) can destroy. The truly dangerous man or woman is he who can face such a one who wields destruction and overcome it by the force of who he is. The dangerous man is the one who can face an identically armed opponent and already have the advantage. The one who refuses to let hardship, however hard; or injury, however debilitating, dictate what he can and cannot do. Dangerous is a girl who can face the blow of a blustering coward without flinching. Dangerous is a Man who can walk through the midst of a murderous crowd untouched. We've all heard of such people, most of us have seen it at least once, and a few of us have been it, at least for a moment.

That is the sort of man, the sort of woman, who is morally dangerous. The sort of person who deserves to be called a man of force. The sort of person who seizes the Kingdom of God.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Warrior Tanking, part II (Why to Spec Prot)

So here I am, once again at home, with a new kind of jury-rigged wireless keypad for my laptop and an extra 512MB of memory for WoW away from my desktop (whose name is Monica, for those of you who are curious, although I rarely refer to her by name or even as a person). The last couple weeks have been crazy. Or felt crazy, anyway. Some highlights:

* Had a friend come up from Santa Barbara and we had a good time, and then we went down to his place in SB and had a good time. We can now add Irish coffee to the list of coffee-based beverages that I actually enjoy (the list previously being limited to Cuban espresso. Perhaps I have a thing for ethnic coffee with lots of additives).

* Saw The Nativity Story with Thayet and said friend. Thayet and I both liked it a lot. We both could have wished that the magi were a little more obviously foreign, but that’s all right. The real strength of the movie is that it plays things completely straight (granted there’s more than a little bit of a Christian slant to things, but that’s kind of inevitable if the magi actually show up and Jesus is actually born). Mary is just Mary, and Joseph is just Joseph, and their characters and relationship (progressing from “why do I have to marry him?” to being partners in a story they know they don’t fully understand) carry the film. Well worth seeing.

* Went to Dickens for the first and only time this season, which was disappointing but had some good parts. Saw some old Fair friends, including Enika and Kalaraen, and got to meet (briefly) some of Thayet’s friends too. Much sighing to be done about Dickens, but that’s for private.

At this point I could recap finals, or Thayet’s and my date to Santa Cruz complete with steam train, but instead I’d like to talk about something that I know you’re all dying to know about, and that’s why a warrior in WoW should and should not put his talent points into the protection tree (“spec protection” for those of you who don’t play).

A brief bit of context for those of you who don’t play but are interested in reading this far anyway. Every character class in WoW has three “talent trees,” which enhance certain class abilities or even grant new ones to allow you to tweak your character according to your playing style. You earn points to invest in these trees (“spec”) by advancing in level. Each tree has an easily identifiable theme: the three warrior trees are Arms, Fury, and Protection. Conventional wisdom says that Arms is the tree for warriors who like big, slow, two-handed weapons (I know that a two-handed sword is faster than a one-handed sword, but WoW is about fantasy conventions and not medieval martial arts), Fury is for warriors who like to wield two weapons at the same time (“dual-wield”), and Protection is for warriors who use shields. Another way to look at the trees is that Arms is for player vs. player combat (“pvp”), because it lets you deal a large amount of damage quickly; Fury is for player vs. environment combat (“pve”) because it maximizes your damage per second (“dps”) over time; and Protection is for tanking (see previous post of 11/3/06).

I am not going to argue with the above characterizations of pve/dps/tanking. What I’d like to talk about is why Protection is good for tanking. If you spend any amount of time talking to warriors in WoW you will find a great many of them under the misapprehension that Protection is good for tanks because it keeps you alive longer. This is a serious mistake. True, there are Protection talents that increase your armor, your defense skill, and make you better at blocking with a shield (yes, I know that you should never block with a shield in the kite, heater, and buckler contexts we’re talking about. See previous comment about verisimillitude). The truth is that all of that will keep you alive for a few extra seconds in any actually life-threatening scenario. What keeps a tank alive is the fact that he has a healer to heal him, and dps classes to kill the target. Protection adds a noticeable amount of durability to a character, but not enough to make a difference of more than a few seconds without support.

And in any case, as we all know by now, tanking is not about staying alive. Victory in combat is about staying alive; tanking is about generating threat. So the question we must ask ourselves is this: how does Protection increase a warrior’s ability to generate threat?

The first and easy answer is that once you have invested 31 talent points in the Protection tree you can gain an ability called Shield Slam. Recall that wielding a shield is actually a concession for a warrior—normally, your left hand should be wielding a weapon, since it is weapons that allow you to generate threat. All a shield does is make you more durable, which has very little to do with how effective a tank you are.* Shield Slam changes all of that, by giving you a shield-based attack that generates a ridiculous amount of threat (although we won’t go into the math of that here). Protection also makes you better at blocking with a shield, as mentioned above, and warriors have an attack called Revenge which also generates a large amount of threat and is only usable after dodging, parrying, or blocking an incoming attack. The more you can block, the more you can use the Revenge attack. The moral of the story is this: Protection lets you use a shield as a source of threat, rather than simply a source of durability.

That is the simple answer. Here’s a more interesting one. First, ask yourself this: how much rage is too much (see footnote for explanation of rage)? No such thing, you say? Not so! Follow me through a little bit of math:

A warrior’s abilities are subject to a 1.5 second “global cooldown” (“global CD”) which prevents any special ability (with certain exceptions we are not concerned with here) from being used for 1.5 seconds after any other ability has been used. This lets us calculate how often a warrior can use his special abilities. These abilities fall into two types: “instant” and “next melee,” and each class has its own independent global CD timer. An instant ability is one that is used as soon as you hit the button. Thanks to the global CD, a warrior can use those with a maximum frequency of once every 1.5 seconds. A “next melee” ability is one that is used the next time the warrior swings his weapon. The fastest weapons in the game swing every 1.3 seconds. Of course, if you were to hit the button for a next melee ability and you were using one of those 1.3 second weapons, the global CD would still be ticking down after you had swung your weapon. So a warrior can use one instant and one next melee ability every 1.5 seconds.

This lets us calculate a warrior’s maximum usable rage per second, which is an interesting number. Let’s take three warrior tanks, for each of the three trees:

Our Arms warrior will be using the following abilities: Mortal Strike (only available to Arms warriors), which is an instant ability with a cooldown of 5 seconds that costs 30 rage; Sunder Armor, which is an instant ability with no separate cooldown that costs 15 rage; and Heroic Strike, which is a next melee ability that costs an Arms warrior 12 rage. What is his maximum usable rage per second? Let’s assume he has a fast enough weapon that he will be using Heroic Strike every 1.5 seconds. That’s 8 rps for his next melee abilities. Every 5 seconds he’ll use the following sequence: Mortal Strike, wait 1.5 seconds; Sunder Armor, wait 1.5 seconds; Sunder Armor, wait 1.5 seconds; wait 0.5 seconds, repeat. That will cost a total of 60 rage for those 5 seconds, or 12 rps. Total usable rps: 20. Total usable rps without Cleave**: 12.

Our Fury warrior does not have access to the Mortal Strike ability but does have access to Bloodthirst, which is an instant ability with a cooldown of 6 seconds that costs 30 rage. His Heroic Strike costs 15 rage, and Sunder Armor still costs 15. His next melee rps is 10. Every six seconds he’ll use the following sequence: Bloodthirst, wait 1.5 seconds; Sunder Armor, wait 1.5 seconds; Sunder Armor, wait 1.5 seconds; Sunder Armor, wait 1.5 seconds; repeat. That will cost a total of 75 rage for those 6 seconds, or 12.5 rps. Total usable rps: 22.5. Total usable rps without Cleave: 12.5

Our Protection warrior has a number of talents that reduce his rage costs, which is where I’ve been going this whole time. He’ll be using Shield Slam, which is an instant ability with a cooldown of 6 seconds that costs 17 rage; Sunder Armor, which only costs him 9 rage; and Heroic Strike, which costs him 12 rage. His Heroic Strike rps is 8. Every six seconds he’ll use the following sequence: Shield Slam, wait 1.5 seconds; Sunder Armor, wait 1.5 seconds; Sunder Armor, wait 1.5 seconds; Sunder Armor, wait 1.5 seconds; repeat. Those 6 seconds cost him 7.3 rps. Total usable rps: 15.3. Total usable rps without Cleave: 7.3.

Arms: 20/12
Fury: 22.5/12.5
Protection: 15.3/7.3

Any rage beyond that (well, perhaps a little to have in reserve just in case) is basically useless from a tanking perspective; any rage less than that is sub-optimal threat generation. Here’s the catch: it’s really hard to get to the optimal Arms and Fury rps values. Presently, for a level 60 character to generate 1 rage from being hit, he has to take 45.6 damage. To generate 1 rage from attacking, he has to deal 17.075 damage (I think – the formula gives is nonsensical). Thus, for truly optimal threat generation, our three warriors must take the following damage:

Arms: 912 dps
Fury: 1026 dps
Protection: 697.68 dps

Keep in mind that an average tank will have perhaps 6000 hit points. Our Arms warrior, in the optimal scenario, will stay alive for 6.6 seconds; our Fury warrior, for 5.8; our Protection warrior, for 8.6. That is how long the healers have to cast a heal before their tank dies, followed shortly thereafter by everybody else. But the real trick is that the lower the optimal dps value, the more often you can reach it.

If our tanks decide not to use Heroic Strike every 1.5 seconds**, they could achieve mostly optimal threat generation by dealing the following damage themselves:

Arms: 204.9
Fury: 213.4
Protection: 124.6

Or those could be exchanged at the rate of 45.6 dps taken for every 17.075 dps inflicted. Once again, Protection’s optimal value is much easier to reach.

So the real trick here is that Protection lowers the optimal rps values to actually achievable levels. That is the second, and more interesting, answer to why Protection is the tree of choice for warrior tanks.

* “Rage” in this context is a term of art that refers to the “substance” that warriors expend to perform their special abilities. All warriors have a “rage bar” which goes from 0 to 100 and starts empty. It fills up as the warrior inflicts damage and takes damage, and once a warrior has accumulated enough rage he can spend it to perform some special ability.

** The reason a warrior might not want to use Heroic Strike is because next melee abilities don’t generate rage, even if they inflict damage (if they did, they would either net out to very little rage expended or else require an impractical activation cost). Thus, a warrior who is never swinging his weapon for a normal attack has to generate all of his rage through taking damage, and it is rather hard to generate usable amounts of rage that way without dying rather immediately.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Lots of stressful stuff has been happening lately, but lots of good stuff too. It's against this blog's charter to talk too much about really personal stuff, but for those of you who have been hiding under a rock somewhere (oh wait ... it was just me that's been under the rock), I am now dating Thayet. Officially and stuff. Most of the good stuff has to do with that, in one way or another. Especially since finals this semester (I almost wrote quarter ... oh for the good old days) are rather tough. There's all manner of stuff to do besides finals (all good, necessary things, mind you - none of that "say yes to it because I can't say no" stuff), and that makes life hard. "Is it always going to be this hard?" asks my twelve-year old self of Mom. Yes, little Natalie, yes it is.

Of course, there's nothing wrong with that. It's really a good thing: if life was easy, it wouldn't be an adventure, and I'll trade an adventure that's hard for Easy Street any day. Well, at the end of any day. It is like the good hross says: "I do not think the forest would be so bright, nor the water so warm, nor love so sweet, if there were no danger in the lakes."

Ah, love being sweet. I will now concede from experience as well as theory that there is something different about romantic love. If the Cardinal reads this, there you are. I will also confess that the hard adventurous road is a lot easier to bear with a warrior princess on your right, walking in the shadow of her shield. But as much as I love Thayet, and as much as she supports me (and, I hope, as much as I support her), I actually want to talk about something that a girlfriend (or really, any non-spouse significant other) is not.

What I want to emphasize is that a girlfriend (or NSSO) is not a measure of success. Sure, it's great to be able to look Thayet in the eye and say, "I love you." Great in that kind of winged, lifty, dizzy sort of way. Fantastic. There is, perhaps inevitably, a measure of relief - and a temptation to say internally, "Made it, at last." Well, we haven't made it - except to another milestone on the road. A significant milestone, to be sure, but there is not (and thank God there is not) a plateau to be reached here. There never will be. A relationship must always be growing, and the sense of contented peacefulness with a partner that we all dream of (or at least I dream of) must come from the inside, or not at all. It is a fine and noble thing to be at peace and at home with a Godly partner at your side. It is a base and terrible thing for the two of you to ever stop growing, to say to yourselves, "Here we are. From here on out, we needn't strive quite so hard."

But it is not just that having a girlfriend is not the sort of thing that you can reach on the scale of success and go, "Behold, I have made it to a Success Marker." Having a girlfriend isn't even on the scale of success. If there is such a thing. Which there probably isn't, because I'm pretty darn sure that the only real measure of success is whether a person is wholly submitted to God. Except that we can't wholly submit ourselves to God without God's help, and God gives his help because he feels like it (what I mean to say is, not because we have obligated him to do so), so it's probably more than a little silly to be talking about "success" at all. But to whatever extent "success" is non-silly, it certainly has nothing to do with a girlfriend.

I say this because it's something good for me to remember (and hopefully edifying for those who read this). So what is a girlfriend? Not a support. Of course Thayet does support me, and I'm very grateful for that, and I hope I support her back - but not in the sense of a spouse, where one of the reasons you become one flesh is for support. We are not boyfriend and girlfriend in order to support one another. That would be twisting the relationship into something it's not - and if I got a girlfriend for the purpose of getting support, I would be using her (credit should go to Thayet for that observation, I think). Of course there's nothing wrong with getting support from an NSSO. I daresay that if you don't get support you should seriously reconsider the relationship. But that's not what an NSSO is.

I think what an NSSO is (I mean the same way a ship is freedom; points for the reference) is a co-adventurer in romantic obedience. It is someone along to walk with you the hard adventurous road of finding out who your spouse is going to be, and all that entails - and it seems to entail quite a lot of growing and learning. There are marriage-like elements to this; spouses are co-adventurers in life, which obviously entails romantic obedience. But it is not marriage. An NSSO can leave - sometimes, helping you down that road means she has to leave. Leaving in those cases is a good thing in a way that leaving in a marriage never is. Esther Selene comes to mind as a good example. There are some stretches of this road that must be walked without a girl at your side, and some that must be walked with a companion. Of course, it may well be easier with someone at your side - and it is almost always harder when someone has just left. And there is always the temptation to walk a little longer than you know you should, just because leaving will make things hard. But that is really a betrayal of your partner, and a deception of yourself.

What the future holds for Thayet and me I cannot say. I hope, of course, that one day we will wear one another's rings on our fingers and accept the call to walk all of our roads side by side, come hell, high water, or even (what is really a much harder adventure to face than hell or high water) the spark going out of our love. But of course I can't know that, not yet. For now, we will walk the road we have been given as best we may.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

One of the things I appreciate about having left LA (and thus The Church on the Way, where I grew up) is that it has introduced me to the wider world of Christendom much moreso than I would have if I had stayed at home and continued going to the church I grew up in (which, for the record, is a fabulous church).

I like being exposed to other traditions, which wasn't always the case. I suppose all of that time spent with Archimedes rubbed off on me some in that respect (well okay, it really starts with Judith Langford). It's really nice to be able to look at another version of Christianity and honestly say, as he did the last time he visited TCOTW, "This is not my tradition and it never will be, but good things happen here." It reminds me how good God really is, and that God is bigger than my religion (which is not to get all universalist on you, dear readers. God is bigger than my religion but he is not the God of all religions). But all this ecumenicalism does have certain dangers.

The other day, in talking with Thayet, I was struck by the realization that in some senses I've been hanging out with Reformed people too much. Let me explain what I mean by that, because what I mean is quite narrow. I have absolutely no beef with the religion of people like Vonsus and Mayxm. I look up to them as believers a great deal; as far as I can tell their tradition has done well by them. But it isn't my tradition, and I wonder if that makes me less able to deal with its particular foibles. Speaking as an outsider, I feel like the Reformed tradition likes to harp an awful lot on two themes: the depravity/inability of man, and the grace of God.

Now, to be sure, these things are true. I agree that every part of our species - every faculty we have - is broken in some way. There is no part of ourselves that we can rely upon absolutely. It is entirely beyond our power to save ourselves. You cannot be Christian and disagree with those statements (unless I've somehow misphrased them, which I don't think I have). And those basic truths highlight, in stark and terrible fashion, just how much man is in need of God's grace to make up his natural deficiencies.

Harping on this theme is, I think, one of the Reformed tradition's strengths. I imagine it is a useful guard against certain tendencies within Christianity and without to say that we as mankind can do it ourselves: to say that we don't need to give God access and sovereignty over every part of ourselves because we can grow on our own through experience, community, moral effort, or whatever; or because God is inside of us and therefore when we say "God" we mean something like "my internal faculties." And of course neither of those things is Christianity. It is true that God is inside of me, but that is not to say that God is me, and one must never lose sight of that (nor is it to say that God is inside everybody). When Christians say (if I can venture to speak for the entire religion) that God is in their hearts, they mean that they have invited God to reform the most private parts of them, that there is no part of themselves they are holding back from him. They don't mean that their internal voices have suddenly become God (I happen to affirm, as not all Christians do, that God does speak to believers in a voice that is more like my own internal voice than anything else, but that does not mean that every time an internal voice says something God is the speaker). Or, on a slightly more nuanced note, God's reform of my life is not some sort of one-time morality transfer - that is, I cannot let God fix me up and then go my merry way without him, keeping my personality upgrades like I would keep a house remodel, so to speak. And as for the idea that we don't need God's grace because of our inherent human faculties, that's just silly. I imagine that the Reformed tradition is a pretty useful guard against these kinds of follies.

But, at least for someone like me who didn't grow up in it, that tradition also presents some very real dangers. That danger is to focus so much on the depravity and inability of mankind that I forget God's grace - or to put in a perhaps more useful way, I forget what God has done. Now of course I must always remember that apart from God, I have nothing worthwhile (I still have lots of very cool stuff - man apart from God is still by far the most ridiculously awesome thing on this planet. But even things like sentience, conscious thought, art, and love are not worth a hill of beans in the ultimate sense, apart from God). But here's the thing: I do have God, and it's important to remember that fact. It's important to remember the fact that God saves, right now, and that that means something (as Lewis points out in Mere Christianity, it's kind of difficult to say what - Christian me may not actually be more admirable than non-Christian X, depending on where I started relative to X on the admirability scale. But the real question is what Christian me looks like relative to non-Christian me). God calls me righteous. God calls me holy. God says that he has placed his Spirit inside of me and that that empowers me beyond what I would otherwise be able to do. And because God says it, it is true. This relates back to my 10/29/05 post about divine legal fictions. It is true that I am in desperate need of God, and I will always be in desperate need of God. But it is also true that God is here, and he will always be here, and (to quote Satine) that is worth everything.

Harping on this theme is one of the particular strengths of my own tradition, which is something I'd kind of forgotten. It's a practical guard against other one of the dangers I feel the Reformed tradition is prone to: that I focus so much on my own depravity that I forget to focus on God. Or perhaps more subtly, that I focus so much on God's grace that I forget what God's grace is. The importance of this (as Thayet pointed out, though not in these words) is that a man who focuses too much on his depravity really isn't good for much. As I said earlier, you can't stay in the fight if you're convinced that you have nothing to fight with.

Now, this is not to say that the Reformed tradition supports anything so silly as encouraging its adherents to focus on their own depravity to the extent of ignoring God's saving grace. Quite the contrary; as a rule I find that real live Reformed Christians are extraordinarily Christ-centered. But I am not a real live Reformed Christian, and I don't always navigate the idiosyncratic hazards of their tradition as well as a native would (essentially, focusing on man to the point of ignoring what God has done). I get the impression the same is true of Reformed believers coming to my own Arminian charismatic tradition - to them, my version of Christianity seems to present a grave danger of focusing on man to the point of ignoring our need for God at all.

And so on and so forth for all the other flavors of Christianity. The funny thing is, I don't find that real live Arminian charismatics are anthrocentric at all, or works-centric, or any of the other things that outsiders seem to worry about (and perhaps fall prey to, as I can fall prey to the dangers in their traditions). Now, am I just blind to the ways in which my Christianity is broken? To some degree, undoubtedly. But I don't think I'm quite that blind. I begin to suspect that one of the good reasons for denominationalism is that all versions of Christianity (probably all versions of all religions, and indeed all world views) have their potential dangers, and growing up in the tradition helps to innoculate against them.

Friday, November 03, 2006

There’s been a lot of good stuff that’s happened lately, mostly involving Thayet in one way or another (e.g., seeing Flyboys with her, even if I did forget to invite the Duelist; Jammix, even if she did get hurt; the Halloween Gaskell’s, even if we didn’t go). I could blog about that, but I’m not going to. Instead I’m going to blog about World of WarCraft. Note how I have cleverly made mention of the topics of more general interest before delving into the topic of specific interest.

I haven’t touched Aya Silkrose in a long time, but I’ve been having a blast playing Jasica with my weekly five-man of myself, the DM, Ayudaren, Twilight, and Kathelia. We have an extraordinarily conventional party build (warrior, priest, rogue, mage, and shaman in that order), but our party is far from conventional. Quite simply, we are the most awesome party I have ever been a part of (no offense to Alexander or my erstwhile crew on Hyjal). To give you an idea of how awesome we are, allow me to adduce two simple facts.

Fact the first: we cleared the entire Scarlet Monastery Armory in thirty-five minutes with a party that ranged from level 36 to 38.

Fact the second: we have engaged and defeated nine (count ‘em, nine) elite mobs in a single engagement, all of whom were our level.

If you aren’t well-versed enough in WoW to tell how awesome that is, take it from me, it’s awesome.

I could go on and on about just why we’re so awesome, but that would feel like bragging, so let me take this opportunity instead to set down on paper a few thoughts about tanking, since that’s my role in the party. “Tanking” is a word that I dislike, since the role of the “tank” in a MMORPG does not remotely resemble the role of an armored fighting vehicle, but it’s the only word there is for the concept, so I’m stuck with it.

All combat in WoW, I believe, boils down to two quantities. The first quantity we will call “party resources.” This is a conglomeration of all the party’s assets, which can in turn be generalized as: how much damage the party can take before it dies, how much damage per second it can project upon the enemy. Party resources are reduced in a number of ways: mana can be expended, consumables can be consumed, abilities on a cooldown timer can be used and made unavailable for a while, somebody can die. The second quantity is the enemy’s resources – how much damage per second they can project, how much damage they can take before they die, etc. Players emerge from combat when they force the enemy to expend his resources faster than they expend theirs; the more party resources left over when the enemy’s have been exhausted, the easier combat will seem.

I’m pretty sure that efficient management of party resources is, on an analytical level, what sets Jasica’s party apart from all the others I’ve played in. We almost never expend resources by forcing somebody to do something that isn’t their job. For instance, if the mage has to cast frost nova and then run a few steps away, the party has expended resources inefficiently. He wasn’t supposed to have to do that. He was supposed to be using that mana to kill things, not keep from dying. And he was supposed to use that time killing things, not keeping himself from dying.

This naturally raises the question of what people are supposed to be doing. This is really a question of how they best contribute to the party’s resources and how they best contribute to diminishing the enemy’s. In MMORPGs there is a classic trichotomy of roles: some classes contribute best through “damage per second,” or DPS – that is, projecting force onto the enemy. Some classes contribute best through healing - extending the life of the party. And some classes contribute best through “tanking.”

But what is tanking? It is often said that a tank’s job is to take hits. This is untrue. It is true that the tank has the responsibility of taking hits – i.e., if somebody is going to be hit, it ought to be him - but that is not his job (unless he’s a druid or a paladin). Taking hits, as anybody who hasn’t been indoctrinated into MMORPG-speak can instantly see, only diminishes the party’s resources. Getting hit is a bad thing. All things being equal, a tank would rather not take hits. In fact, a warrior getting hit is a concession to the fact that he doesn’t do enough damage. (Absent thorns, flame shield, retribution aura, a naglering, or something similar, the only benefit to getting hit is generating rage. And getting hit is a very inefficient way to generate rage. For those of you who care about math, from a rage generation standpoint, every 57 points of damage Jasica takes at level 38 from a level 38 opponent could be replaced by an extra 19 damage she inflicts – and given the choice of inflicting 19 damage or taking 57 damage, obviously a tank would prefer to inflict damage). A tank’s job is to generate threat.*

This simple (but all too little appreciated) fact can be seen from the following observations. A tank contributes to the fight in two ways. One, he stays alive (preserving party resources – he’s useless if he’s dead). This is a benefit because he is the cheapest cost avoider for taking hits, as we might say in the legal world. Given that the party is going to take X amount of damage from the enemy, that damage should fall on the tank rather than anyone else because the tank mitigates it the most (by virtue of having the highest armor in the party). There is a net gain to party resources when X gross damages falls on the tank rather than falling on anybody else, and thus a tank getting hit “contributes” to party resources, which is untrue of every other role (again, if somebody has to get hit). Two, the tank contributes to a fight by defining the maximum safe amount of damage the party can inflict. The amount of damage each party member can inflict (or the amount of health each party member can heal) before drawing the attention of the enemy is a rigid and mechanical function of how much threat the tank has generated. Feint, fade, and even feign death don’t change the fact that the maximum safe threshold depends upon the tank’s ability to project threat. Now here’s the trick: there is one and only one of these functions that only the tank can affect. We identify that function, and we have identified the tank’s job.

The entire party contributes to keeping the tank alive. The damage-dealers contribute by killing the enemy – the faster the enemy dies, the less damage the enemy inflicts. The healer contributes by negating the damage the enemy actually inflicts. The tank contributes through his armor and defensive skills, reducing the amount of damage he takes in the first place. And a deficiency in one of these areas can be made up by a surplus in the others. Even a tank with no armor at all can be kept alive indefinitely if the enemy dies fast enough, or if the healer can heal for long enough.

But only the tank can raise the safe threshold. If the tank is not producing threat, the healer cannot efficiently heal, and the damage dealers cannot efficiently deal damage. The more threat the tank generates, the more force the party can project and the more damage the party can heal. And nobody else can contribute to this threshold.

One of the consequences of this observation is that, in my party at least, it argues against ever having an off-tank. It might be different in a party with a paladin (though I doubt it), but in a party whose off-tank is a shaman it is manifestly inefficient to off-tank. This is not because our shaman is incapable of off-tanking. It is because she has better things to do with her time and mana – namely, kill things (which contributes to my survivability and makes efficient use of her resources, whereas if she was off-tanking she would contribute to my survivability but make inefficient use of her resources). This requires that I routinely tank multiple enemies at once, but that’s really not that hard if my focus is on threat generation and not on staying alive (one reason Jasica always tanks dual-wielding unless we’re fighting something that’s easy to tank and will take a long time to kill, like a boss). Tanks need to learn to think about tanking in terms of multiple enemies. Everyone agrees, I think, that any rogue worth his salt should be able to kill two enemies of his own level. If I may be frank, any tank worth his salt should be able to tank two enemies of his own level—really, he ought to be able to tank three. Beyond three, I’m willing to concede that exogenous crowd control may start becoming necessary. But again, if somebody’s going to be hit, it’s the tank’s responsibility to ensure that it’s him. That is the most efficient use of party resources; it doesn’t change simply because there’s more than one foe.

Group tanking is really not as hard as I feel people often make it out to be. If the party is doing its job, the damage-dealers will be focusing on only one of the multiple enemies. The threat mechanics of WoW will then make the following true: the tank will have to generate more threat than only two of the party’s four other characters. Those two are the leading damage dealer and the healer.

Even if there are three damage dealers, as there are in Jasica’s party, it is obviously true that at any given time one of them will be doing more damage than the other two. That person, then, is the one the tank must out-threat. This should not be especially difficult. If a tank can’t generate more threat than his leading damage dealer, there’s either a great disparity in gear quality or the tank should turn in his sword. This just leaves the healer.

The healer is somewhat trickier because, unlike the damage dealers (who generate threat to their target only), he generates threat to all enemies simultaneously. This will mean that in order to stay ahead of him, the tank will have to occasionally hit the other enemies with a major dose of threat (it’s been my experience that trying to tank with nothing more than area-effect threat generators like a warrior’s shouts is a mistake. Those can be useful, but it’s far more reliable to expend the resources necessary to whack the other enemies with a sunder armor, maul, swipe, cleave, or even just a rend, if you do it early enough). Fortunately this doesn’t have to happen too often thanks to the threat math (even for a healer with no threat reducing effects and a warrior or bear with no threat enhancing effects, each point of damage the tank deals is 3.38 points of health the healer can safely heal. With talents that number goes up to 4.52). This can be somewhat difficult because the need to stay ahead of the healer means the tank must divert some of his available threat pool away from staying ahead of the primary damage dealer – which only emphasizes again why the tank’s job is to generate as much threat as possible, and not to take hits or to have lots of armor.

An interesting efficiency falls out of this, once it falls into place: a tank who tanks multiple enemies in this fashion actually makes the entire fight easier, not only on everybody else but also on himself. This happens in two ways. First, the damage dealers are not expending resources (including time) defending themselves, so the enemies die faster (which contributes to the tank’s survivability). Because the enemies die faster, the healer has to heal less, and so generates less threat, and is so easier for the tank to stay ahead of in terms of threat generation. Second, because only the tank is taking damage, the healer only has to heal one party member. This has numerous benefits from the tank’s standpoint. For one thing, it means the healer’s entire attention is directed at the tank, which increases the tank’s confidence that the heals will come through in time. For another, because the tank is the best damage mitigator in the party, it means that the healer is healing the minimum possible amount of damage – and so generating less threat, and so making it easier for the tank to stay ahead of him, and also expending the minimum possible amount of mana, thus prolonging the party’s resources.

Which is why the tank’s job is not to take hits, and not to have lots of armor or hit points. Those are things the tank may have to have or have to do to fulfill his job, but his job is to produce as much threat as possible. It’s a fairly simple observation, but one that a surprising number of tanks don’t seem know. And while I think I’m a pretty good tank in terms of my situational awareness, reflexes, and ability to estimate multiple threat levels on the fly, to the extent that Jasica’s tanking is exceptional, this is why.

* “Threat” is the intangible substance that determines, in a rigid and mechanical fashion, who the enemy attacks. Tanks have a variety of tricks up their sleeve to generate threat. Damage-dealers generate threat primarily by dealing damage. Healers generate threat primarily by the act of healing. Note that for the other two core roles, threat is generated primarily as a function of doing their jobs. So everybody is constantly generating threat; the trick is for the tank to generate threat faster. The math is slightly more involved than this, but for layman’s purposes it works like this: If the tank generates more threat than anybody else in the party, the enemy attacks him. If somebody else generates more threat, the enemy attacks that person – and that person then has to stop what they’re supposed to be doing to defend themselves.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Comments continue two posts down. Check them out.

Almost a year ago (October 30, 2005) I responded to Kalaraen’s comments about chivalry by trying to define Natalian chivalry. It’s a tricky concept for me, much trickier than adventure or romance. I settled for trying to define chivalry in terms of what I think a woman ought to demand of a man when he pursues her. I came up with three general categories of virtue: wisdom, honor, and valor. Roughly speaking, I process those as what you know about God, how God has changed you as a person, and what you do about it. The trichotomy isn’t perfect. In practice, for one thing, those three things overlap to an enormous degree. For another thing, I make no claim that Natalian wisdom, honor, and valor cover all that a man should be. But I still find them useful categories.

I say this because I think the time has come for me to make some attempt at defining feminine Natalian chivalry, and I want my disclaimers clearly understood up front. So the first disclaimer is this: I am drawing distinctions because I find them useful categories, not because I think they’re really discreet things. The second is like it: I may be leaving things out. Third, I am trying to capture a vision in my head, and my verbal grasp on that vision is not especially clear. This post is one attempt to get at it. But even if I were to perfectly capture that vision, let me admit up front that I don’t understand everything about the spiritual realities of women. So the vision itself is likely incomplete.

Fourth, let me stress that I am not trying to define the term woman. I don’t actually have a definition of woman—or of man, for that matter. I have definitions or pictures (imperfect though they be) of what a man or a woman should be, which is what I am trying to get at by describing the chivalric man and chivalric woman, but the wisp of the gender essence itself—what a good woman shares with a bad woman, or how a bad man is different from a bad boy—is something I have no definition for. The Eldredges’ definitions work fine for me, but I’m not sure they’re as universal as one would like a definition of this kind to be. Piper’s definition I’m a little wary of although it has virtue; Inarra Serra’s I think is correct but incomplete. At some point I may need to define those terms, but for now I think the should be is more important than the is. At any rate, I have already tried to define what a man should be—roughly speaking, a knight and a gentleman. This post is an attempt to evoke on paper my definition of the chivalric woman—a lady knight, to use the Natalian shorthand—and no more.

Fifth and finally, I must beg the indulgence of anybody who reads this, particularly the women in the audience. I have no interest in believing that women should be [insert feminist slogan here]. Nevertheless, I would not have it said that my vision of women is weak or subordinate for the simple reason that it is not true. If the lady knight in my post seems overly subordinate or soft, pray juxtapose it with my goddesses: three are great feudal ladies, two are sovereigns, one holds high command, three are career soldiers, two are great commanders of men, four have changed the course of nations, three have defied their home kingdoms and their sovereigns, four know how to handle a sword, three are highly accomplished martial artists, two are natural killers, one is a natural healer, one is a great sorceress, two own fabulous wealth in their own right, two have volcanic tempers, two are painfully shy, one struggles with self image, none are considered great beauties, three are deeply in love with men (and one woman, non-sexually) of their own choosing, who are likewise devoted to them and every bit their matches. And with that said, what do I think defines a lady knight?

A woman should be wise. Does she see things as they are, and not as she wishes them to be? Can she see clearly even through great emotional turmoil? Does she perceive the heart of the matter? Does she perceive her own heart as it truly is? Has her counsel proven trustworthy in both process and result? Does she know the Lord, and does the Lord know her? Does she love the Lord? Does she delight in obedience? Does she love the Word?

A woman should be magnificent. Is she at peace? Is she patient? Are her principles sound, and soundly grounded in the Word? Are her principles invincible against the pressures of culture but held with humility? Does she live by them? Does she reject falsehood and cowardice uncompromisingly and simultaneously inspire to godliness? Is she unpretentious? Is she radiant? Does her presence point to the Lord? Is her character alluring? Does she love to worship the Lord? Is her presence awesome? Does her character make her wrath terrible? Is she self-controlled, mistress of her own thoughts and feelings? Is she wild? Is she beautiful because God loves her and she knows it? Does she value herself as and because the Lord values her? Is the Lord both the foundation and the great fact of her identity?

A woman should be valiant. Does she protect those around her? Is she tender-hearted? Is she fierce when roused? Does she always believe, always hope? Does she forgive as the Lord forgives? Does she act out of faith, and neither out of fear nor bravado? Is she growing in the Lord? Does she love with vulnerability? Does she hold back when it is time? Does she love to serve others? Is her life always inviting those around her to the Lord? Is she a vessel of the Lord’s healing? Is she chaste and scandalous in romance? Does she love to give in romance? Does she graciously receive? Does she support her boyfriend or husband and yet remain his match?

A lady knight is something like that. It is an imperfect picture, I think, but that is just as well—who would want women to be so simple that a picture could capture them perfectly?

Friday, September 01, 2006

Well, I finally went and read The Da Vinci Code, because on the way back from Chicago there was nothing else to do other than listen to my wonderful iPod, which I mean in total sincerity because a) my iPod is genuinely wonderful, and b) I was way too tired to do any writing. I don't really want to talk about TDC a whole lot more, but I feel that fairness requires me to acknowledge I have read it. Fairness also requires me to admit that I enjoyed it well enough. I'd like to skip over the religious part fairly quickly and just discuss it as a book, or an exercise in world-building.

The Christian critique can be passed over, as Antilles has dealt with all of my thoughts on that subject in more than adequate fashion. As far as the way the book treats paganism ... well, personally I didn't think paganism got any better treatment than Christianity, and for essentially the same reason - lack of research. As near as I can figure, both Teabing and Langdon view paganism as essentially doctrinally monolithic, and that monolith basically looks like some sort of cross between Hellenized Egyptian religion and the new-kid-on-the-block religions of imperial Rome only without the pantheons of either (something tells me Artemis would object to being lumped with Aphrodite into a single entity simply labeled "The Goddess"). They also seem to know an awful lot about the actual theology of "paganism," for which I'd be terribly interested to see their primary sources.

But the truth is that the portrayal of religion in the novel didn't especially bother me. I mean sure, I thought it was childishly researched, and I'd be very sorry if anybody took as fact anything material about Christianity, paganism, or history. But there's nothing wrong with taking the current fad for Magdalene conspiracy theories and making an adventure story out of it. I mean heck, Infernal Gaslamp was really nothing more than twisting real people, organizations, or events according to an author's personal fantasy life and using that raw material to tell a story, which is basically all Brown is doing. Except that where The DM told a coherent story, I didn't feel like Brown did. The question I was asking myself through the whole book was, "What catastrophe are we trying to prevent?" There's a lot of talk about the awful power of the Priory's secret - how valuable it would be, how it could topple the Church, even some talk about how it could bring modern religion back into balance. So clearly this secret is supposed to be important. But I just didn't feel like the book established that. Now, mind you, I try to take books on their own terms. So I'm willing to accept, for purposes of reading, every point at which the world of TDC differs from the real world. Even so, what was the great catastrophe? Arguably, the final twist of the book is that there is no great catastrophe. But clearly the book feels that many, many people thought there was going to be one. And I just couldn't figure out what it was. That the Catholic Church - indeed, the entirety of Christendom - would be shown a fraud because Jesus wasn't divine? Well, maybe that's good, but it's never really very clear. Nor is it clear how proving that Jesus had a child proves that he wasn't divine. I mean, even the deluded Christians of Brown's world think that God the Father had a child, and that doesn't seem to have cast any doubt on his divinity. Maybe it would just topple the Catholic Church, because it would prove that the Catholics had killed in order to protect themselves. But that seems pretty far-fetched, and not even Teabing or Langdon goes that far.

Perhaps, though, TDC thinks that bringing the Priory's secret out into the open would not topple Christianity but rather reform it (and perhaps in time all "modern religions," to use the book's phrase) by bringing it in line with the gender-balanced paganism of our forefathers. I think that's really the most likely consequence the book is asking us to accept. And speaking as a writer, I have two problems with that.

First, the implicit converse of this theory (and the book makes this point explicitly at one point) is that gender-imbalanced "modern religion" is a catastrophe worthy of building a thrilling adventure story around. Essentially, the book is asking me to look around and say, "Behold the world as you know it. Isn't it awful?" And frankly, it isn't. Or rather, it is awful, but I don't know that it's so obviously awful that reforming the world as we know it makes for a good thrilling objective (even if that objective turns out to be a red herring). Especially when what we're reforming it to is:

Second, nobody in the book - not even Teabing and Langdon - ever goes on record as saying pagan antiquity was better than the Christian era, or that the areas of the world where non-modern religions hold sway have it fundamentally better than the areas of the world where modern religions hold sway. Nobody ever says that in gender-balanced pagan antiquity women had more rights than they have today, or that there were fewer wars, or that societies were not dominated by corrupt oligarchies, or even that people were just plain happier. And as everyone knows (even restricting ourselves here to the Greek-influenced Mediterranean, as TDC sort of unconsciously does), gender-balanced pagan antiquity was generally a brutish and nasty time to live when people of power did what they pleased, states were far more frequently at war than they are today, and women had very few rights compared to the rights they have today. So it's not exactly clear what beneficial effects gender-balancing modern religion is supposed to have, and nobody ever makes it clear.

So I felt like the book's biggest failing was that Brown took real people, organizations, and events, twisted them according to his personal fantasy life (so far so good; we have the makings of a good novel) and then didn't use them to tell a very interesting story. For most of the book I was asked to believe that revealing the Priory's secret would have some large, sort of cataclysmic effect. And I was never able to figure out just what that effect would be, or even might be. Which left most of the book feeling sort of meaningless to me. It's not that I thought the premise of the Priory's secret was improbable. Infernal Gaslamp certainly had that problem - I consider it extraordinarily improbable that Cthulhu will ever appear on Earth, for instance. The trouble is that, granting the premise, I thought the cataclysm extraordinarily improbable. If Cthulhu ever were to appear on Earth, it is reasonably clear to me the catastrophic consequences which would follow. If it were to become accepted as fact that Mary Magdalene bore a child by Jesus and was intended to found the church rather than Peter who actually founded the church, it is not at all clear to me what catastrophic consequences (or even which beneficial consequences) would follow.

Which, I don't know, strikes me as kind of a narrative failing. Did I miss something?

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

In a previous post (July 6) I submitted that Scripture says there is a unique headship/submission relationship between husband and wife, and that that relationship is mandatory, but that it does not extend beyond marriage. That is, every husband is the head of his wife, whether the two of them like it or not—that’s inherent in the meaning of husband. But it does not follow that every boyfriend is the miniature head of his girlfriend whether the two of them like it or not; that is not inherent in the meaning of boyfriend (or if it is, Scripture has declined to inform of us this fact). I think you can see added support for this in the Biblical conception of courtship—essentially, there is no Biblical conception of courtship. The Bible seems perfectly okay with total strangers getting married, no evaluation period and no practice for headship/submission. If that’s true, then it seems to me that it must also be true that even though our society has instituted this evaluation and practice period we call dating, it must be okay to have a dating relationship without treating it like a miniature marriage. Dating is not a miniature marriage; that’s the whole point. Let me hasten to add a caveat: I think that a boyfriend and girlfriend can and should covenant to form a miniature headship relationship. I don’t think Scripture commands it, but I still think it’s a good idea. Sure, a man can go from boyfriend to husband and start being head then with no practice. A woman can go from not submitting at all to her boyfriend’s headship and start submitting to her husband’s headship cold turkey. But that just seems like making things a lot harder on both people than it has to be.

Such, at any rate, is my understanding of the Scriptural order of things as it stands right now. But in my last post I glossed over the question of what exactly we mean when we say that a wife should submit to her husband in all things and that a husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church. It is a question I find perplexing despite much modeling and much teaching, but I think it deserves to be addressed.

Let me start by observing (as did Thayet, if you go back and read the comments) that this is a very specific subset of human relationships. The general rule for relating to people, which I think is much more important, is to love your neighbor and be humble. Among Christians specifically, that means submitting to one another (Eph. 5:21). These things are far more important when it comes to how we ought to relate to one another than observations about husbands and wives—and, significantly, they apply to husbands and wives just as much as they apply to total strangers. A Christian husband is the head of his wife, to be sure. But he is still called to submit to her.

So let’s start with husbands. The husband, Paul tells us, is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, and is to relate to her as such. He goes on to discuss Christ’s death on behalf of the church and the fact that the husband and wife are (if I can follow C.S. Lewis in putting it this way) a single organism.

I hope that it is clear from what has been said so far that this is not an authoritarian picture, but in case it isn’t let me say so explicitly: this is not an authoritarian picture. Yes, Christ has complete authority over the church. But the analogy between Christ and husband will break down if we push it too far, just like any analogy, and Paul does not focus on Christ’s authority. He focuses on Christ’s sacrifice. That is the take-home point of the analogy. Husbands sacrifice for their wives. Husbands love their wives—they love their wives so much that they should place their very bodies, if need be, between their wives’ sin and their wives.

At the same time, Scripture commands wives to submit to their husbands “in all things.” Let me be the first to admit that this is a troubling passage. My goddesses are not damsels in distress. They are Alanna the Lioness, Cimorene, Honor Harrington, and Keladry of Mindelan—strong, independent, dangerous women who lead, inspire, kick ass and take names. And I still think that is what a woman should be: valiant, magnificent, and wise (I know I’ve mentioned this before and have still failed to elaborate. Maybe I will at some point in the future). Of course, at the end of the day my concern is not what I think should be. My concern is what Scripture says is.

At the same time, I think my opinion is consistent with the Scriptural picture. So here is what I think is going on here. I do think that Scripture is being literal when it says that a wife submits to her husband in all things. I don’t think we’re talking about submission in merely spiritual things. That would be silly if husband and wife are really as fully joined as Scripture says. If they’re joined for all purposes—and that, I think, is crystal clear—then there’s no basis for not taking Paul at his word when he says “in all things.” But I think translating hupotassô as “submit” may get us into trouble here. It’s not a bad translation, but in the marriage context specifically the English word “submit” carries a lot of baggage. Perhaps it would be helpful if I observed that hupotassô literally means “to arrange under.” And then let us remember that while the wife is to “arrange all things” under her husband, her husband is to sacrifice his last breath for his wife.

To me, this makes things clearer. I do not think the picture here is of a wife asking her husband’s permission every time she wants to go out, or buy gas, or go shopping. Indeed, the very concept of asking permission seems out of place to me. The church does not ask Christ’s permission to do things. Christ liberates the church; he doesn’t restrict it—and so, I submit, it should be between husband and wife. Now of course at the same time the picture is not of a wife doing whatever she pleases without regard to her husband. This too is like the church: Christ liberates us, yes, but the church does what Christ likes because we love Christ (and if you don’t think that’s liberating … well, you’re wrong). The wife is the central [earthly] fact of the husband’s existence just as the husband is the central [earthly] fact of the wife’s existence.

I think this picture also clears up for me the troubling hypotheticals. One might ask, for instance, what a wife is supposed to do if her husband is abusing her—or abusing their children, perhaps. Let’s make the hypothetical even sharper: suppose a husband orders his wife to come over to him so he can abuse her. What then? Is she to obey, on the theory that she is to submit to her husband in all things? Or suppose that a wife is abusing her husband—is he to walk over, on the theory that he is to sacrifice everything for his wife? By no means! Mê genoito!

Now, let me make it clear that I do not think these relationships are conditional. A husband does not stop being the head of his wife because she refuses to arrange all things beneath him. A wife is not freed of that obligation because her husband refuses to sacrifice for her as he should. Scripture does not say that a husband is head of his wife if she submits to him, nor that a wife is to submit to her husband if he is her head. But I do think that what it means to submit—or to be head—changes as the other spouse’s behavior changes.

In the case above, for instance, I think the abused spouse should follow all of the usual procedures. The last thing s/he should do is walk over like a lamb to the slaughter, and I really have no problem with employing physical force in the protection of endangered children, if the situation should call for that. In fact, I would applaud the use of physical force in the protection of endangered children. That’s what physical force is for. But the husband should not give up on his wife, nor the wife on her husband. And (while keeping herself/himself safe, of course, and removing herself/himself from the abusive situation) s/he should do everything in his/her power to bring his/her spouse back. Maybe things are so bad that s/he can’t do anything but pray. The point is, whatever her husband is doing, she finds a way to arrange her life “under” him. Whatever his wife is doing, he finds a way to sacrifice, to interpose. The rebellious spouse remains the central [earthly] fact of the other’s life, even if common sense requires that they be separated.

This “central [earthly] fact of the other’s life” is, I’m pretty sure, the most important thing about how marriage is different from other relationships. As Paul says in 1 Cor. 7:32-33: “The unmarried man is concerned with the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord—but the married man is concerned with the things of the world, how he may please his wife; and he is divided.” And he goes on to say the same thing about the married woman and the unmarried. The centrality of the spouse’s existence in the other’s life can be seen by remembering the unmarried man is called to love all people as Christ loves them and to submit to all believers. And evidently Paul thinks the spousal relationship is significantly stronger than that. So we have centrality. I think that’s the most important thing. But there are two other things that I think deserve to be mentioned: authority and initiative.

First question: leadership. We might well wonder, does the husband have any unique authority in marriage? I don’t mean cultural authority; I mean Scriptural authority. Does the husband have any unique authority over his wife regardless of his culture’s conception of marriage?

I think the answer is a qualified yes. I’m willing to admit that authority is to some extent inherent in the concept of “head.” I mean, after all, it’s a pretty evocative word to use to describe the husband’s role. So yes, I think that at the end of the day the husband’s vote is deciding. But I think it is important to remember that even as the husband has this “authority,” he is first called to serve his wife, and is still called to submit to his wife as his sister in Christ. So the picture I get from that is still not authoritarian. It’s a little bit like a lieutenant who has a very close relationship with his platoon sergeant—sure, technically the LT is in charge, and yes, that does mean something, but a lot less than you might think if you’d never seen them work together. And along the same lines (lest we have any would-be chauvinist dictators out there), there may come a time when the sergeant will refuse a command—not in a spirit of insubordination, but out of love for the lieutenant and respect for the chain of command.

Second question: initiative. Do husbands have a God-given responsibility to take the initiative? I don’t mean occasionally; I think it’s perfectly plain that both spouses (indeed, all people) are going to have to take the initiative at least occasionally. The question is, does the husband have a responsibility to take the initiative most of the time? And if so, in what ways? Praying at dinner? Conversations about the family’s spiritual life? Planning dates? Maintaining the household? Initiating sex?

Again, I think the answer is a qualified yes. It is true, of course, that Christ took the initiative for us spiritually—that he died while we were yet sinners; that he loved us before we loved him. It is also true that in a sense Christ took the initiative for us with respect to our entire lives—because he took the initiative spiritually, our whole lives are changed. And to some extent, as we know, every action we undertake is a spiritual one.

But if you push that line of reasoning too far I think your claims start sounding absurd. Because Christ took the initiative spiritually, a husband must plan most of the dates with his wife? That seems rather silly. Because Christ loved us before we loved him, it is spiritually wrong for a wife to initiate sex most of the time? Come on.

I’m willing to grant you that a husband bears primary responsibility for taking the initiative when it comes to the family’s spiritual life. I think that flows pretty naturally from the analogy between Christ and husband. Most other things (including, in my opinion, who prays most often) are governed by the principle of loving one another. I think who plans what proportion of dates, or who does what proportion of household chores, and all things of that nature, should be determined by what is most loving. If a wife is best loved by her husband planning most of the dates, I think he should do that. If a husband is most loved by her doing most of the household economics, I think she should do that. And if their two preferences conflict, I think they should resolve them in a spirit of love and humility.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

One of the little pleasures I’ve had over the past year has been discovering Ubisoft’s Prince of Persia trilogy. For those of you who are more gaming-literate than I am, this is a new trilogy of games that bears no narrative relation to the original. I suppose if you’re a certain kind of fan that means they’re an abomination. I am not one of those kinds of people, and if you yourself are you’re missing out.

The new Prince of Persia titles (Sands of Time, Warrior Within, and The Two Thrones, in that order) have a number of things to recommend them. At the time Sands of Time came out, I think they were primarily touting the … er, well, the sands of time. You may remember them from the cautionary Penny Arcade comic—not to be abused. The sands give the Prince a number of amusing tricks, which can be categorized as rewinding time, slowing time, and slaying enemies in various ways the specifics of which depend upon the title you’re playing. Do not be fooled. As cool as it is to rewind time in the middle of a fight (and I won’t lie, on occasion that’s ridiculously cool), the sands of time are not the best thing about these games.

The best thing about these games is the movement system. For those of you who were enamored of the Aladdin game for the SNES, I might say it’s like that only better. These games are about running along this wall so you can leap to that column and climb to that pole so you can swing to that ledge so you can run up this wall so you can reach the switch. The movement is fast, fluid, and incredibly fun (nor have I found any problems using WASD and a mouse instead of a joystick, so don’t worry about that even though these were originally console games). There are lots of good things about these games but I think the movement is the most unique.

The other good things these games feature are their character interaction, their fighting system, their aesthetic, and their puzzles (the story is a coming-of-age, so I lump that in with character). You can get them pretty cheap and if you’re the sort of person who takes these kinds of recommendations I recommend you get all three and play through them in order, so as to get the maximum story benefit. If you aren’t, or if you just like reading my game posts, here’s a quick breakdown of the three titles:

Sands of Time is the first of the games and a stand-alone title I’m not sure they ever expected to support a franchise. Sands of Time is heavy on character interaction, aesthetic, movement, and puzzles. Well, none of these games is heavy on puzzles, but Sands of Time is heaviest of the three and its puzzles are most like real puzzles that require spatial visualization and the like. Character is one of the game’s charms, both in the Prince’s voiceover narration (which surprisingly I would rank high on the list of the game’s virtues) and in his Han-and-Leia bickering with his love interest. The love interest is a big part of the story here, and I think they do that whole bit with rather greater skill than video games normally do. The environments are creamy, alabaster-and-sandstone Arabian Nights, which I think works well with the whole tone of the game. The movement system, as noted before, is a lot of fun. It is not a big challenge, which can be both good and bad. On the good side, you don’t have to have mad twitch skillz to make the Prince do cool things; the actual gymnastics are pretty hard to screw up unless you’ve got time pressure or traps to avoid or the like. On the bad side, in my opinion at times the movement puzzles get a little too easy. The worst part of the game, in my opinion, is the fighting system. It’s not that it’s bad; it’s not. It’s just not as clever as the rest of the game, which in my opinion is highly clever. The Prince can use his environment in a fight somewhat (e.g., he can run up an enemy’s face and vault over him to attack from behind) but not as much as you’d expect from the range of movement options he has with his environment.

The Warrior Within is kind of the redheaded stepchild of the series in my opinion. I agree with the Penny Arcade assessment: there’s a good game under there, but it’s obscured by some bad design decisions. For one thing, the aesthetic has gotten much darker and Castlevanian, which they have a good excuse for but can still wear thin after a while. Character is the big weak point in this game, as the Prince has no love interest to have witty banter with and the narration is inexplicably gone. The Prince himself, meanwhile, is either a generic tough guy (“I smolder with generic rage”) or a petulant child with a sword, depending on how you look at it. If you want to see the secret (and most interesting) ending, the one The Two Thrones assumes happened, you have to pick up all nine life upgrades hidden away throughout the game. Personally I had no patience for that, and consulted the internet. On the plus side, the already excellent movement system is essentially the same (with one or two minor upgrades), which is a huge part of the game’s appeal, so I can’t stress that enough. The movement puzzles are significantly more demanding, which I personally think is a good thing given that most of the movement puzzles in Sands of Time looked awesome but were virtually impossible to screw up. And the fighting system has been completely revamped, which is all to the good. Fighting in Warrior Within is much more on par with movement now in terms of fun and is about five times as fun as fighting in the previous title. Largely this stems from the fact that the Prince can interact with his enemies in many more ways. Two flaws in the fighting system remain: the Prince has an “I win now” move in one-on-one duels, and the most efficient way of slaying your foes is frequently dual-wielding. Now, don’t get me wrong, I like dual-wielding as much as the next guy. But given the choice between a six hit handstand combo and manhandling my enemies, my preference is for manhandling every time. One just wishes that hitting a guy six times with a sword wasn’t so darn effective. And then there’s the boss battles. As Archimedes has pungently observed on more than one occasion, giving a boss more hit points does not make it more interesting. Unfortunately, that’s essentially all there is to the boss battles in Warrior Within—more hit points. For a game that’s built on kineticism, you’d think their boss battles would be … I don’t know, clever. But they aren’t, and there’s just no way around that.

The Two Thrones is, in my opinion, the best of the bunch for a number of reasons. The aesthetic isn’t quite back to the dreamland of Sands of Time, but it’s gotten interesting again after the Temple of Doom drear of Warrior Within. And the character interaction is back, in the form of both narration (not as good as in Sands of Time) and banter (better than in Sands of Time). I also admit to being very impressed at the aplomb with which they managed to take the generic rage that suffused Warrior Within and turned it from crass marketing ploy to a genuine step on an integrated coming-of-age story arc that explores the Prince’s descent into and redemption from childish hubris. The fighting has more depth to it, and the automatic win move has been changed so it isn’t an automatic win anymore. In a stand-up fight dual-wielding is still the way to go, but they’ve added a “speed kill” mechanic that allows you to manhandle your enemies in satisfying, highly effective ways if you can sneak up on them. The movement system has been expanded in ways that make it less automatic but not more difficult (translating into more fun), and the lethality of the movement puzzles has been scaled back a bit to what I consider pretty much the optimum level. Spatial reasoning puzzles feature a bit more strongly than in Warrior Within, although I will admit the game could probably do with a bit more of those. Most satisfying from a design standpoint is that they’ve crafted boss battles that actually fit with the game’s overall feel. That is to say, the boss battles are actually interesting, as opposed to requiring mere staying power. While the final boss battle in Warrior Within was the most tedious, the final fight in The Two Thrones is the most satisfying in the game. In fact, it may be the best designed boss battle I’ve ever seen in any game of any genre.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Yesterday I made it to Friday Night Waltz for the first time in almost a month. It was a very happy time. Things that made me particularly happy:

* Thayet (on several levels)
* Infinite pivots with the TD (soooo good!)
* Trying out a new radvin polka variation with Anachoron
* An exhausted but very satisfying last waltz
* The aftermath, even if it wasn't particularly cold

Things that made me not particularly happy:

* Forwardness is appreciated in moderation in the context of a deliberate dating relationship. It is not appreciated otherwise.

The aftermath was particularly good. I don't know what it is about the aftermath of a dance that makes for such good God time. Maybe the utter exhaustion helps to lower some of my natural defenses, so I am less guarded. Maybe it's akin to the closeness that follows a good worship session ... after all, dance and worship aren't that different. Whatever it is, I'm not giving it up if I can help it.

Two of the things that happened on Friday got me thinking. One was trying out the genuflection transition with Anachoron (it almost worked ... I'll get it one of these days). The other was infinite pivots with the TD (by "infinite" I mean that we were canter pivoting a true 180 degrees each time. For those of you who don't know, most of the time even really good pivots don't travel 180 degrees so eventually you have to stop pivoting or you'll curl back into traffic and collide. In theory each pivot should be 180 degrees so you should be able to pivot indefinitely, but that almost never happens.). Anyway, both these events worked up quite a sweat, and made me wonder what I like so much about polka.

Polka is definitely my favorite dance (although if you count "waltz" as a single dance that beats it out). I think the reason for that is that it's ... exuberant is the wrong word. It's like this. The reason I never drive in Meilissa with the windows down is because I like to sing, and I like to sing loudly. I like to roar Disney songs so my stomach muscles quake. I like to let my body go to the limits of what it can do and ride that, like a hang glider riding an updraft or a surfer riding a wave. Or I like to act a song, let it carry me away so my eyes burn or my heart shrinks in sadness. I like to let go, but I like to do it privately. One day I'll find someone I can share that with on a regular basis, perhaps, but for now it's an intensely private thing.

Polka - or any athletic round dance - is kind of like that only less private. The athleticism is a kind of silent roar, the simple joy of stretching my muscles in the same way that singing can be the simple joy of stretching my lungs. There's more to it than that, of course, such as the musical interpretation, and goodness knows I have a fondness for things that are technically difficult, but I think the core of it is the simple joy of letting go. No other dance I know is so unfettered - even lindy hop is too, well, too intricate by comparison. It may be creatively unfettered, but polka is more physically free. It's still a fairly private thing, I suppose, but it's inherently less private. It feels good to share.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything.
- Eph. 5:22-24

But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.
- 1 Cor. 11:3

Man is the head of woman … what does that mean? I don’t mean, “What does the Bible mean by submission?” which is a fairly rich topic in itself and one that perhaps does deserve a blog post at some later time. But that topic has gotten a fair amount of play already in various sources. What I’d like to discuss today is a topic that I feel has gotten significantly less play: when is man the head of woman? Or, more specifically, when should a woman submit to a man?

Hitherto I have generally held a vague and uncritical belief that because a wife should submit to a husband in all things (and, therefore, because a husband should lead a wife in all things), it follows that a boyfriend should lead a girlfriend somewhat less, and that any given adult male should lead any given adult female in lesser degrees according to their specific relational context; I would bear a greater leadership responsibility with respect to Blue Rose than I would with respect to a female attorney at work, to whom I would bear a greater leadership responsibility than I would with respect to a woman I met on the street. There is something kind of pleasingly intuitive to this kind of move, which tends to see male-female relationships on a more or less unbroken continuum of intimacy with “strangers” at one end and “married” at the other.

However, it is a move, an exegetical maneuver. Nowhere does Scripture inform me in so many words that I must lead my girlfriend somewhat less than I must lead my wife, and that I must lead my girl friends somewhat less than that. And while the move is somewhat pleasingly intuitive, it becomes less so if one considers certain scenarios. Rose is dating a man now, for instance – does the Bible envision her submitting somewhat more to him than she does to me, but submitting nonetheless to both of us? What about my own mother? One might suppose she falls closer on the intimacy scale than any of my female friends, but it is not at all intuitive to me that my mother should submit to me more than they should. The move from “wives should submit to their husbands” to “women should submit to men” has a fairly good pedigree, but it’s not the only position out there with a good pedigree, and I’d like to discuss whether that’s what Scripture actually teaches.

To begin with, then, it’s worth pointing out that Koine Greek has no distinct word for husband or wife. Once upon a time Greek did have such words, but by the first century those words had long fallen out of general use and surfaced only occasionally as archaisms in poetry. Koine expresses the concept of husband by using the word man in a way that makes the distinction clear from context, and similarly for the concept of wife being expressed by the word woman.

If you think about it, this is not especially strange unless you live in a culture with an appreciable number of single adults. Unfortunately, since we do live in such a culture, it presents certain interpretive difficulties for us. The key texts to consider, I think, are 1 Cor. 11:3 and Eph. 5:23. If you take a look at the Ephesians verse in context, I think you will agree with me that we are justified in translating the words man and woman in that passage as husband and wife. Without spinning a philological argument here, notice that Paul speaks of a man loving his own woman and a woman loving her own man in verses 22 and 28. He clearly meant husband and wife in those verses, and since he had to rely on context to make the distinction clear in the first place, it seems unlikely that Paul would suddenly switch back to meaning man and woman in verse 23. For the same reason, it seems rather unjustified to translate 1 Cor. 11:3 as meaning husband and wife. If you look at the rest of the passage, Paul doesn’t seem to give any linguistic clues that he means a specific man (i.e., a husband) or a specific woman (i.e., a wife). And the point he’s making is about propriety in worship, which certainly doesn’t seem like the sort of topic that’s unique to the husband-wife relationship.

And there, I think, is the rub: it is in 1 Corinthians that Paul says man, generally, is the head of woman. But he does not go on to elaborate what he means by that, except that it has some sort of implications for modesty. It is in Ephesians where he talks about submission, and he never says that women should submit to men. He only says that women should submit to their own men - and this despite apparently believing that man, generally, is the head of woman, generally. Whatever that means.

I admit the case is not airtight, but I see no explicit Scriptural warrant for the proposition that girlfriends should submit to boyfriends, and so on down the continuum of intimacy. I don’t see any explicit Scriptural rejection of that proposition either, but as Archimedes said, you’ll have to walk me through the argument. So far I can’t think of an argument that is more convincing than the plain reading that the only man a woman must submit to is her own. And since the idea that men should lead woman is implicit in the concept of submission in Ephesians, it follows then that the only woman a man must lead is his own.

This is not, of course, to say that these are the only men and women a man or woman can lead. Principles of leadership and submission are, I think, absolutely inescapable in social groupings. A supervising female attorney does bear a responsibility to lead me, and I do bear a responsibility to submit to her. But I submit that that responsibility is contractual, as it were, and not an ineluctable fact about the universe. If I want that responsibility to terminate, all I have to do is not be under her supervision. Nothing will terminate my responsibility to lead my wife. And when it comes to boyfriends and girlfriends, this isn’t to say that it’s not a good idea for a girlfriend to submit to her boyfriend in some limited capacity, and for a boyfriend to lead his girlfriend in some limited capacity. The entire boyfriend-girlfriend relationship is socially invented, after all, and if we’re going to defend it I think it has to be on the basis of preparing the dating couple for marriage. If that’s our justification, then it certainly makes sense for the two to start practicing leadership and submission to one another while it’s still voluntary. But that’s just good sense. Nor am I proposing that it is bad for people to relate that way if they are inclined to do so and they can do so without causing anybody else to stumble.

Why, then, is this relevant at all? I think it’s a question of expectations and demands. If it’s true that women generally are to submit in all things to men generally, then there’s something wrong when that doesn’t happen. Every woman I know ought to demand that I lead in our relationship; egalitarianism is not an option. And of course since every woman I know ought to demand that every man they know lead in their relationship, we will in all likelihood have to develop an elaborate and extra-Biblical system to govern who submits to whom in what circumstances. Now of course you can do that, and to a certain extent I think people already have. But if women are to submit to men generally, then it’s wrong if we haven’t. I mean, is that really what we’re called to? I’m inclined to think not.

Having left out the discussion of what it means to submit to a husband in all things, I think I have skipped over some of the nuances here – obviously there is a sense in which women are supposed to submit to men, inasmuch as we are called to submit to each other. But I think you get what I mean, and I’m curious as to what you think about the matter. I can’t promise to respond to everything (I’m not necessarily looking to get into a debate here), but I would like your opinions. And more importantly your Scriptural interpretations.

Friday, June 23, 2006

If you read my game posts, you may recall that back when Aya first hit 60 I was kind of disillusioned with the prospect of running instance after instance, which is more or less all that the endgame of World of WarCraft offers. Sure, there are some endgame quests (many of which involve running instance after instance), but the truth is that the MMORPG is a lousy genre for storytelling because, almost uniquely among computer game genres, nothing ever changes. The world is static. Without a leveling mechanism to help ensure you don't go back to an area you've already quested through (which, at best, turns the game into a gigantic dark ride), your ability to tell a convincing story is severely curtailed as compared to other genres.

You will notice that these are basically story-based concerns. Which is probably why my opinion on instances has changed. I now actually enjoy running instance after instance (although the prospect of raid after raid is one I'm still chary of). Last week's Wailing Caverns run is a good example (there have been previous good examples, perhaps better examples; I just don't have blognames for all the key participants). There have been a few fundamental shifts in my outlook to make this possible. One is that I am looking at instances more as familiar and almost cozy places rather than attempts to wow me with grandeur and mystery. I suppose calling the Scholomance "familiar and cozy" may seem a bit strange, but think of it this way: Pirates of the Caribbean is not cheapened if I watch it a thousand times. It's familiar and cozy. The second, and most important shift, has been that I look at instances as chances to work as a team.

Team-based online gameplay has been a holy grail of game developers for close to a decade now, and by and large I'd say that the project has failed thus far. It's not precisely the developers' fault. The critical failing is not a lack of infrastructure - command maps, waypoints, voice over IP, all that jazz. It's that the players themselves don't know how to play as a team. For some reason, it seems to work better in World of WarCraft. Even when I'm playing in a pickup group; some of my most satisfying WoW moments have been taking (or wresting) command of a party of strangers and forging them into a fighting unit using nothing but communication. I mean, come on.

And when I'm playing with people I know ... well, that can be satisfying on a whole different level. When the party is firing on all cylinders and we really are fighting as a single unit, there's a thrill I experience beyond mere competence. It's the thrill of knowing that somebody has my back. Knowing that I can stand there and heal in the direst circumstances, because Alexander will rescue me. Tanking without even looking at my health bar because I know the priest will not let me die. Not giving up even when we're fighting eight mobs, because we trust each other to stay frosty and do our jobs - trust each other that because nobody's going to panic, we will come through alive.

Those instances of teamwork - and they are more frequent than I would ever have expected - are the really satisfying part of WoW for me these days. And the fact is that only instances are challenging enough to really encourage teamwork. So I no longer mind running instances over and over.

I read a number of Christian "men's" books a month or so back, and I noticed that there was a tendency across authors to worry about when a boy becomes a man. One of the things they tended to talk about in the communication of manhood from father to son was whether the father had passed on some manly skill to his son, like fishing or hunting or automobile maintenance. I read that and I thought to myself, "Gosh, what did my father pass on to me?" A few thoughts.

Thought the first. To the extent that we care about actual manly skills, I can name two. Dad taught me to shoot, and he taught me to command men in battle. Now, please understand that I am very well aware of how much I don't know about shooting, and especially how very much I don't know about command (i.e., nearly everything). But for present purposes, what I do know will serve. If command doesn't seem on the same macho par as hunting or fixing a car, I remind you that Geoffroi de Charny considered it the highest form of knightly prowess. That's good enough for me. I'd much rather know about command than about football or hunting, and here's why. To the extent that any of these activities have spiritual value, I think that value lies in training us to see spiritual realities by familiarizing us with visible analogies. Analogies of trust and community and stepping up to the challenge. Learning the joy of sharing adventures with other people. Learning how to encourage your fellow adventurers, and seeing the results that can bring. And above all, I think, learning the relationship between trust and love, and what it means to really lead. Just games, of course. But not devoid of value all the same. And I wonder if many of the most satisfying moments in hunting or sports aren't essentially analogous.

Thought the second. I agree that a man will have a very hard time of it coming of age without a father. But I think it is a mistake to ignore the role of the female in making a man. And I don't mean the role of the female in nurturing a boy to the threshold of manhood. I mean helping him cross it. As Heinlein says, "The last thing a trooper hears before a drop (maybe the last word he ever hears) is a woman's voice, wishing him luck. If you don't think this is important, you've probably resigned from the human race." In Pericles' Athens a boy became enrolled in the militia when his mother or sister passed him his shield over the altar. It was not a Spartan father who so famously exhorted his son. And I think there is a spiritual basis to this. If man is the head of woman, then at some point a woman is going to have to submit to him. Some woman is going to look him square in the eye and say, "I trust you." Aladdin starts to become a man the moment Jasmine steps on that carpet. Now, I know (and hopefully she will know) that even the best man can only be trusted as far as the grace of God can throw him. That's not what I'm talking about. I'm saying that a woman's trust and submission is just as important to establishing masculinity as a father's example and guidance.

Thought the third. Notwithstanding the foregoing, I think it is a mistake to focus too much on when or even whether a boy has become a man (or a girl has become a woman). Yes, there are thresholds in life to cross. They're real. They matter. But they aren't the most important thing. And it absolutely will not do to place your faith, when your masculinity is under assault, in the memory of that one moment when you think you became a man. No matter how much that moment may matter, it can't sustain your faith. No moment, no initiation, can do that. And the thing to do is in any case the same whether one has "become" a man or not: press on. Seek God more.

Thought the fourth. While I certainly agree that gender is part of one's identity as a Christian, it doesn't do to focus on it too much either. To be sure, a person is lacking something important and significant if they don't have ownership of their gender. But gender is not the most important thing we have. And ultimately, I wonder if it isn't like all the other aspects of life in this respect: When I was small, and asked my parents about the horoscope, they explained that whether I was a Taurus or not is insignificant compared to the fact that I am a Christian, because whatever power the stars (or, more precisely, the spiritual forces behind them) have over my life is surpassed by the power that Jesus has over my life. If you want to be provocative and silly about it, I am not a Taurus. I am a Christian. And that point - that the most important thing about your life is Jesus' lordship over it - I have noticed is true in many other areas of life. Even ones that are highly unlikely to be animated by demonic subterfuge. Am I smart? Sure. But the fact that I am Christian far surpasses the fact that I am smart. Or even the fact that I am kind (if I am) or I am loving (if I am). And, I suspect, the fact that I am a man (if I am). If I am not a man, or not much of one ... well, that matters. But not nearly so much as the fact that I am my Beloved's and He is mine. Nothing really matters much compared to that.