Thursday, March 5, 2015

We're All Growing Up

So, one of my best friends is getting married...and I'm still kind of in shock. When I first found out that he had proposed to his girlfriend, I freaked out a little bit. I was utterly ecstatic, dancing around the basement and talking to everyone I knew and mutually being excited with them. The best part is: I get to be in the wedding. I'm not entirely sure what my role will be yet, but I know I'm going to be a part of it, and that truly makes me happy.

And it makes me start thinking about the future. About how this is the beginning of a time in my life and my friends' lives when we'll be growing up, moving away, getting married, buying houses, being grown-ups. That's an exciting, yet nerve-wracking thought. It means that our decisions are going to continue to have more and more weight to them, and there's nothing we can do to stop that.

Things are changing. Luckily, for most of us, they're changing for the better. But that doesn't mean it will always be like that, that we won't run into hard times down the road, or even that tomorrow will be assured. But it does that mean that for right now, we can be content with where and who we are. And the best thing about it all? We all know that God's gonna be with us through it all.

Sometimes I wonder how people who don't have that ultimate hope get through life. I couldn't imagine not having God as a foundation to cling to. I'm so grateful that I do have this life, with these wonderful people in it, and this wonderful God guiding me through it.

We're all growing up. That's pretty darn cool, when you think about it. I'm excited to see where all of our lives are headed. What plans God has for all of us.

Time to turn to the next page. I can't wait to see what happens next.a

Friday, February 27, 2015

Role-Playing Games

So, I have this hobby... It involves rolling dice.

There are some people who believe it is Satanic. Most people think it's incredibly nerdy. But as a person who has played role-playing games for over ten years now, I am standing before you (figuratively, because this is the internet) and saying that both of those views are incredibly wrong and harmful to society. I believe that everyone should be involved in role-playing games (and that parents should really be pushing their kids into it), and I'll show you a few reasons why. But before I do that, I should probably explain what role-playing games (RPGs) are.

I like to explain it to people like this: RPGs are a perfect mix between an interactive storytelling experience and a board game. You want to tell a story with some friends, and the game sets up the rules to make that experience as fun as possible. The rules help you to be creative and come up against interesting challenges to make the game worthwhile. Otherwise the story would be boring, because it would be so easy to win.

Now, there are a lot of different RPGs out there. Hundreds in fact. The classic Dungeons & Dragons, of course, lets you play as warriors, wizards, priests, thieves, and a host of other things in a pseudo-medieval fantasy world in which you fight demons and dragons and go on numerous adventures in an attempt to make your character better and get rich. One of my personal favorites: The Hero System, is an incredibly diverse rule system that allows you to control every facet of character creation through the assignment of points, and as such, allows you to play in any genre imaginable with any sort of weird powers or gadgets imaginable.

Now that you have a basic idea what RPGs are, here are a few of the reasons why I think everyone should play them:

Social Interaction. Role-playing games are an incredibly social experience, and you get to know people really well when you have to work together to defeat that massive dragon that you just stumbled across. You learn social skills playing this game: conversational skills, teamwork, leadership, and so on.

Creativity. If you have ever played a role-playing game, you know what I'm talking about. There is something about the freedoms (coupled with the constraints) of an RPG that gets your mind working. You combine things you didn't think would work together before. You try new things in an attempt to solve your current problem. And that is creativity at its finest. As a player, you learn how to get into the mind of a character and make them unique. As a gamemaster (the storyteller who controls everything except the players' characters), you learn how to build a story, build a world, build an entire universe that you can play with.

Education. You learn so much through playing role-playing games. Most of the big words I know I've learned through reading books (mostly fantasy books) and playing role-playing games. Those game manuals have complicated words, man! And not only that, you learn acting skills, improvisational skills, and a host of other things that are invaluable later in life. RPGs encourage you to be creative, to have fun, and to learn.

And that is why I will always play them, and I will encourage my future kids to play them. They help you. They're fun. They're creative outlets. And I wouldn't be the person I am today without them.

Oh, and to all the people who say D&D is Satanic... Please, do your research. Don't just judge without context. I'm sure there are weird people out there who are already involved in that sort of thing and then put weird mystical stuff into their D&D sessions...but most people don't. And you shouldn't be blaming RPGs anyway, since they aren't responsible for that kind of thing. Satan is.

So, I'll raise a glass of orange juice and toast you, Mr. Gary Gygax (rest in peace), for paving the way for the rest of us to roll dice.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

The People Who Forgive Me

I'd like to acknowledge all of the people who put up with me. The people who have to deal with every stupid mistake I make, and yet continue to love me and cherish me despite my flaws. I love you all so much, and I can't begin to thank you enough for the grace you've shown me. I'm not a good person--I mess up daily, saying things I don't mean, saying things I do mean but that should never have come out of my mouth, doing things that hurt other people deeply--and yet these select few people have decided that I am worth it. They see a potential in me that I have trouble ever seeing in myself, and that, more than anything else, is what keeps me going day after day. I thank God for those people. I don't know what I'd do without them.

And of course, I thank God for His own amazing grace and forgiveness in my life. He, more than anyone else, has such a right to just hate me, to wipe me off the face of the Earth, to want to have nothing to do with me because of my continued disobedience and selfishness in the face of his unending mercy. And yet with every mistake, with every step in the wrong direction, His love is the same for me. He continues to cherish me as an adopted son in His kingdom, and I have no response worthy enough for that kind of great, unfailing love. The best I can do is try as hard as I can to put on my red shoes and walk in the way He has called me to walk, sing in the way He wants to me sing, and live in the way I will honor Him by living.

There is nothing I have ever done to deserve even the slightest bit of grace or mercy in my life, not when you compare it with my ever-present failings. And yet, I am forgiven by those that I love. And I am so grateful. Here's to the people that forgive me. The God that has forgiven me. I hope you know that I will always try to do the very best I can to make up for the love and grace you've shown me. And if any of the people in my life ever fall down, fail in their own way, just know that I will be there to pick you up. I owe you that much at least. I will love you right back, and I'll forgive you like you've forgiven me.

Like He has forgiven us.

Friday, February 6, 2015

The Ways We Experience Music

I find it endlessly interesting the different ways people experience music. We're all just so different. Some people listen to classical music when they want to be de-stressed, others (such as my brother, Connor) listen to hard rock. When I listen to hard rock, I feel determined to accomplish things, but my brother and a lot of my other friends listen to it, as I said above, to calm themselves down. They described it as letting the music be angry and stressed for them so they didn't have to be.

Again, I find this so interesting.

Also, with the way people transition to different types of music: I hop from band to band and go through a phase where that's all I listen to--usually new music that I've found on NoiseTrade or something--and really get to know that music until I find a new artist to love and move on to that. This keeps me feeling refreshed in terms of music, and though I'll always come back and listen to songs from the bands I love (especially in playlists that are themed, like a love song playlist), I often get tired of some artists and can't listen to any of their music for a while. Sometimes the bands I switch to will be old bands I haven't listened to in a while, and then I listen to them almost as if for the first time, because it's been so long and I've been filling my head with so many other songs.

Others that I know find it harder to switch to new music. They'll listen to the same music they've always listened to on shuffle all the time, and they have to be in a certain mood to invest in a new song. Once they do, they'll add it to their list of music they like and shuffle it all together.

This goes into what I just love about living--finding out how people operate, discovering their interests, tastes, how they view the world, how they experience things. It's one of my absolute favorite things to do--get to know people on a personal level. Understand where they're coming from, how they got there, and what they strive for.

And music is such a dynamic thing in most of our lives...you can tell a lot about how a person experiences music. If you want to, leave a comment or two about different ways you experience music! When you're feeling a specific emotion, you listen to ...what? And so on. I'd love to read them :)

Monday, February 2, 2015

The Three Rabbis

This is a fantastic section from the book I'm reading right now by Orson Scott Card, "Speaker For The Dead". It is an epigraph at the beginning of one of the later chapters, a writing by a Christian leader in the far-future science fiction setting Mr. Card has dreamed up. I thought it was rather poignant, so I decided to share it. 

“A Great Rabbi stands, teaching in the marketplace. It happens that a husband finds proof that morning of his wife's adultery, and a mob carries her to the marketplace to stone her to death.

There is a familiar version of this story, but a friend of mine - a Speaker for the Dead - has told me of two other Rabbis that faced the same situation. Those are the ones I'm going to tell you.

The Rabbi walks forward and stands beside the woman. Out of respect for him the mob forbears and waits with the stones heavy in their hands. 'Is there any man here,' he says to them, 'who has not desired another man's wife, another woman's husband?'
They murmur and say, 'We all know the desire, but Rabbi, none of us has acted on it.'

The Rabbi says, 'Then kneel down and give thanks that God has made you strong.' He takes the woman by the hand and leads her out of the market. Just before he lets her go, he whispers to her, 'Tell the Lord Magistrate who saved his mistress, then he'll know I am his loyal servant.'

So the woman lives because the community is too corrupt to protect itself from disorder.

Another Rabbi. Another city. He goes to her and stops the mob as in the other story and says, 'Which of you is without sin? Let him cast the first stone.'

The people are abashed, and they forget their unity of purpose in the memory of their own individual sins. ‘Someday,’ they think, ‘I may be like this woman. And I’ll hope for forgiveness and another chance. I should treat her as I wish to be treated.’

As they opened their hands and let their stones fall to the ground, the Rabbi picks up one of the fallen stones, lifts it high over the woman’s head and throws it straight down with all his might. It crushes her skull and dashes her brain among the cobblestones. ‘Nor am I without sins,’ he says to the people, ‘but if we allow only perfect people to enforce the law, the law will soon be dead – and our city with it.’

So the woman died because her community was too rigid to endure her deviance.

The famous version of this story is noteworthy because it is so startlingly rare in our experience. Most communities lurch between decay and rigor mortis and when they veer too far they die. Only one Rabbi dared to expect of us such a perfect balance that we could preserve the law and still forgive the deviation.

So of course, we killed him."

Monday, January 26, 2015

Not To Be Taken Lightly

I take the Bible seriously. That may step on some toes right there, but I believe wholeheartedly that the Bible is what it says it is: a divine revelation from the Creator of the Universe. And I believe that everything the Bible says is truth. They are not just stories. They are historical narratives that really happened.

Yes, that means that God created the world in six literal twenty-four hour days. And there was a worldwide flood. And there was one language until the Tower of Babel was being built and God confused the tongues of men.

And some people would call me insane for actually believing these things.

But when the Lord of Lords and the King of Kings says something, I'm going to listen.

I will not get into the semantics of proving the authenticity of the Bible. This has been done time and time again by hundreds of different scholars and theologians and ordinary people across the expanse of time. There are no contradictions in the Bible, and there is no part of the Word of God that is not truth to its very core.

What I want to talk about it Christians who decide that they can make the Bible into anything they want it to be. They are wrong, and they are doing something unbelievably dangerous: they are compromising.

This is a shout out to all Christians: read your Bible. Trust your Bible. Do not let people convince you of something unless you check your Bible first. It is God's Word to you and to everyone, and it should not be taken lightly. You should not set aside parts of the Bible that make you uncomfortable or that you don't agree with. That is wrong, and that is dangerous.

You should read the Bible as much as you can and learn as much as you can from it. God has things to say to you. But you should not decide arbitrarily what parts of the Bible you want to believe. Once you do that, you are not a Christian. You have created a god for yourself that is nothing like the God of the Bible.

Genesis is not a myth. Anyone who just reads those words at face value can argue otherwise. It's only when we decide that we want to shove man's opinions into this perfect book that it starts to get fuzzy. God is explicitly clear about what happened and how it happened. Everything in Genesis is historical narrative and that means that the world is six thousand years old and Darwin's ideas are null and void. If you are a Christian and you believe that God used evolution, you are wrong, and you have been influenced by atheists who want to make a world without God and therefore without accountability.

If you are unsure about something that the Bible says, read the Bible. If you find a part of the Bible that you are uncomfortable with, research that using other parts of the Bible, research it using other books, talk to other people, but always come back to the Bible, because that is the only thing that is truth, in the end.

If you aren't a Christian, you're probably screaming at me right now, thinking I'm crazy for basing everything I believe on one book and one book only. But I'm not talking to you. That's a conversation for another day. Christians: if you say you are a follower of God, the Bible is where you should base all of your opinions, all of the things you count as fact, and all of the things that you believe in. Obviously the Bible doesn't touch on a lot of topics in every day life, but if anything you learn in any situation seems to contradict the Bible, read the Bible and you will find a perfect explanation if you let God speak to you.

There are no contradictions in the Bible. Plain and simple. Anyone who thinks otherwise can challenge me, and though I might not know the answer at first to a specific question, I will find it and I will prove the contradiction to be nonexistent. You can count on that. Whether you accept it at that point is irrelevant.

As a last little thing here: you do God a disservice when you spend hours and days and months and years trying to prove a specific theology right or wrong just so you can be right about something or justify your own actions. The Bible is pretty clear, and though you obviously can't know all of the answers just by reading through it once, you can know exactly what it means to be a Christian and what is required of you as a follower of Jesus by simply reading the Word of God with an open heart, willing to be molded and shaped by Jesus Christ.

So, to close: read your Bible. It's the most important book you'll ever open.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

The Girl Who Read My Book

Today I'd like to take a moment to acknowledge a person that made a tremendous influence on my life, despite the fact that I don't really know her that well. When I was first writing my epic fantasy novel, tentatively titled at that point "Incipient", I was just learning the ropes. I really had no idea what I was doing--I had based the book on the D&D campaign I ran for my friends, mostly because of how fun that story was and how much we all loved the characters. I had it in my mind that I would make the best book ever off of these characters' adventures, and then go on to write two more in an epic trilogy with dozens of viewpoint characters spread out across the world all involved in this amazing plot I had dreamed up.

It failed, for obvious reasons. I had too many rookie mistakes--too many viewpoints too quickly, too little really happening to catch interest, and way too many flashbacks interspersed among scenes Lost-style. But the characters, for the most part, were solid, and I do intend to go back and finish that book someday, albeit with a major overhaul.

Despite the book's faults, I attracted a reader on one of the forums I post my work on for critique. Her name was Emily, and one of the first things she commented when she read the prologue to my novel was "*shivers* Wow."

That was the beginning of an amazing journey.

Emily went on to avidly devour every chapter I posted, becoming immersed in my story and my characters and genuinely loving the entire experience. It was the coolest thing. She even made me a stick figure sketch of some of my characters--my first fan art. And best of all, she encouraged me to keep writing. Without her constant encouragement, feedback, and nagging when I didn't have a chapter up, I might not be pursuing a career in writing genre fiction.

She was the first person to see what I was trying to do. To really get it. She took my characters and she made them her own, like any reader of a good book will do. Looking back, there were some things I did right with that book, but for the most part, it was sort of hodge-podge and convoluted. But Emily saw the diamond in the rough. She saw the story that I was trying to tell, and she gave me her honest reaction to each scene, which helped so much to see what I was doing wrong and how I could fix it.

We don't keep in touch anymore, sadly, because of both of our lives being crazy, but someday I hope to get back in contact with her, or maybe even meet her in person and give her a big hug and tell her how much her simple enjoyment of my story meant to me. And you can get bet that when (not if, but when) I start publishing novels, one of them will be dedicated to her.

Here's to you, Emily, wherever you are. Thanks for everything. Thanks for believing in me. And thank you for showing me so much kindness.

EDIT: Oh, and if you want to see the fan art she drew for me... Here you go!

Explanation for what's going on here: I had written a good villain (Vangen), apparently, because Emily hated him (for the right reasons) and all she wanted was for my character Striker (who was working for the bad guys at the time) to save the poor slave girl that was being abused by Vangen. He didn't do so, so she took it into her own hands and created this.