A Path Long Lost

I am in the eye of the hurricane. Everything I do, every day is in some way related to a form of Christian ministry. I work as a high school pastor, my wife and I are in seminary (where she also works) and I’m constantly collaborating and cooperating with ministers and ministries thought my home area of Orange County. The Kingdom of God seems to be in a constant,rhythmic motion around us but there is one thing that seems hellbent on stymying its growth: the church.

Once the term church was synonymous with Gods Kingdom. Acts shows us that the people of this church cared for each other with a fierce love. Everyone had equivalent wealth, an equivalent voice, and a shared investment into the causes of Christ. The elderly cared about the youth and spent time with them. The outreach consisted of everyone daily going to the poor and feeding them. Each member of the church poured themselves out in humility so that the Kingdom could prosper and reach further.

But not any longer. Trappings of the true church can be found within the facsimile that exists today but they are quickly being pruned away. Resources now go toward sterile buildings instead of living communities. Red tape has bound the movement of the holy spirit, forcing it to our will lest we reject it all together. Dogmatic tradition has blinded us from the true injustices of society; demanding that we obey it rather than put our energy toward actually serving the worlds needs. And worst of all, our arrogance has kept us from ever admitting that this is true.

Culture at large has tried to cordially assist the church of today by explaining its irrelevance. Yet instead of listening to the needs of the world it should be saving; instead of looking to the foundation of our institution as it was developed by the Holy Spirit; instead of actually being part of the Kingdom of God, the church has stuck its head in the sand. We insist that we need our red tape, dogma, and empty buildings to operate and those be damned who think otherwise. If culture thinks the church is irrelevant than it must be wrong because clearly were doing everything right. The numbers are down cause of culture, our ministries suffer cause of the economy; there always seems to be an excuse that allows the church to escape true self reflection.

But, we don’t need to be this way. The church must stop being so complacent with the ills that exist within itself. When ministries are blossoming we must resource them. When people are hurting we must help them. When the spirit is moving we must be willing to throw our red tape and antiquated procedures to the wind. If we don’t then we are failing God. We have been given a heavy charge to help save a world that is lost and broken. But if we ever hope to take part in this transformative justice then we must become something else. We must become the church we once were. Because as it is now, the church is not the church.

Blessed Are Those Who Mourn…

“God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

We live in a culture that fears pain and death. Now on the surface this may sound a bit silly; who would honestly welcome death with open arms? Yet sometimes our glass is always half full attitudes can make us naively blind to the fact that there is pain and death in our world. There are billions of people right now who are without food or water. People who are dying from cancer and aids, people who are dealing with run away children, the void of a broken marriage or the excruciating evil of sexual abuse. Sometimes this pain is physical and sometimes it’s spiritual. Sometimes it’s inflicted upon us and sometimes we bring it upon ourselves. Irregardless, the fact remains that pain and death are a part of life; a part that we should never have to face alone.

In the context of 1st century Jewish culture almost every faucet of life was communal, including mourning. When a person passed away, became ill or was abused it was felt by the entire community. In many ways this entire concept is well personified in Epic Mickey. As the Blot raged through the Wasteland one of the many casualties was Ortensia, the life-love of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. We see in the game that the end result is that the loss of Ortensia is not Oswald’s pain to bear alone but rather the entire community throughout the wasteland grieves with Oswald. They come along side him in order to pick him up and help him to not suffer alone.

This is what Christ is calling us to: to acknowledge our meekness in pain so that He and the community of the Kingdom may come along side us. Something amazing happens when we do this; Christ becomes central in our pain and thus the light of the world is invited into our darkness. The love, the beauty, the truth and the healing that is embodied in the Lord then enters into our space and allows room for restoration to begin. However, this in only one aspect of the comfort we receive.

When we take this stance we are also allowing the community of the Kingdom to enter into our lives and establish a life-giving resonance of community. Instead of being doomed to the caged isolation of our pain we are set free by the love of the people around us. This allows for a new space of collaboration and reconstruction where our brokenness can be healed by the loving efforts of others in our community. The community through Christ may bring food and water, may counsel our marriage, may hold our hands during chemo, and may help us be restored when others have taken advantage of us.

This is the hope of the Kingdom of God; that together with Christ we may mourn together so that we may be reconciled together and live a life that is full of truth and beauty. Oswald, Mickey and the Wasteland residents grieved together but this communal grief then spurred their action toward a resolution. The Blot and all its wicked ways was defeated when they collaborated together in the midst of their pain and the result was that life and restoration came back to the Wasteland. Granted real life doesn’t always have such a happy ending but if it doesn’t, then at least we don’t ever have to go at it alone.

Blessed Are The Poor…

“God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.”

Let’s start with this: the beatitudes are not meant to make you feel like crap.

They are not some holy benchmark to which you are screwed if you fall short or insta-pious if you don’t. Rather they are a sort of guide which leads us to the revelation and transformation of the beautiful Kingdom of God in the world. 8 principles which show us what a life of joy, justice and reconciliation can begin to look like.

Carrying that, the first beatitude is not saying you are only blessed if you’re poor. Nor is it  placating the needs of the poor by a feigned blessing. Rather, this beatitude is addressing the notion that when we have nothing, we have everything in God. It is stressing the ways that we depend on things in our life (jobs, money, possessions, our abilities, etc.) and that when we strip those away we are left with no choice but to fully rely on God: a position which will always be to our benefit.

In many ways its similar to what we see of Link in nearly every Legend of Zelda game. Link’s heroism is highlighted by the fact that he comes from nothing: he is an orphan who has little more than the clothes on his back. Yet this poverty of possessions and ability allows him to fully give himself over to the power of the Triforce as it is imbedded in the Master Sword. The result is that Link is infused with a power that is far greater than anything he could have ever achieved on his own. Because of this he is continually able to defeat Ganon and the forces of darkness to usher in peace and prosperity to the land of Hyrule.

We are blessed in our poverty not because of some divine pity for our weaknesses, rather we are blessed when we are poor because through God we have more power than we could ever have on our own. We have the power to usher in this great Kingdom of God, to defeat the forces of darkness in our own land, and foster peace in the lives of people everywhere.


Movin On Up

Howdy cow folk!

Sorry the the airwaves have been silent for a bit. We’ve been busy gathering a rag tag team of super heroes to battle the forces of evil… or something like that.

But fear not, we’re back in action and with a whole slew of nifty new endeavors. We’re hard at work developing our premier game for iOS which will debut this spring. On top of that we will be taking an insightful stroll over the next month or so into the beatitudes and how each particular one fits into the narrative of gaming.

Buckle up, this is going to be a blast!

The Weight of the World

Sometimes I feel like the Incredible Hulk. Not the Hulk when he’s an unstoppable pissed off tank but rather something more akin to the Hulk on the cover of Secret Wars #4. I feel like the entire world is pressing down on me and no matter what I’m pretty much screwed. To give up means death and to keep going means pain.

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to seem all emo here. I love my life. I have a beautifully, wonderful wife, I have a great job and I live in a world-renowned paradise of unparalleled culture. I am very happy. But sometimes life can just feel overwhelmingly daunting. The relentless march of schoolwork, the repeated attempts at restoring a relationship with my dad, the agonizing pain of watching my grandpa deteriorate, and the unending frustration of trying to get a business off of the ground. All of these things produce a flood of pressure and sometimes it feels like it’s all a bit too much to bear.

That is why I love games. Video games let me escape to a world where all of the problems have a logical and attainable solution. Characters and worlds challenge my emotion and intellect but not beyond the boundaries of my strength. Rather, they gradually push me along, encouraging my growth and success. The process of play melts the stress away and causes the world to seem bright, airy and attainable again.

God has given us an incredible gift in the form of plasma rifles, blue turtle shells, and ASHPD’s so that when the trials of real life get us down we can be reminded that we indeed can succeed. We just have to take a moment out to play so that we can realize it.

The Success of Excess

This summer was like a video game marking thrill ride for me: E3 in June, Comic-Con in July and PAX in August. Like a hobbit approaching the grandeur of Minas Tirith, Los Angeles, San Diego and Seattle each offered up a convention center which was bubbling over with the hype of fresh games coming out of the oven. Then, like the guards to some geek filled castle, security squads would check my badge before ushering me into a promised land of digitized lights, sounds and swag. And while I loved every new game and nerdgasmic moment of these conventions there was a little ping of discomfort that would run down my spine every time I walked through the convention hall’s front doors.

The reason that this moment so poignantly stood out in my mind is because it was the exact moment when I would leave the world of reality and enter into a marketing driven world of fantasy. In this world everyone could respawn when they died, no one was unclothed because every booth handed out swag shirts, and hunger was defeated by the swath of kiosks in the food court. This may have all been fine and dandy except for the fact that outside of those doors, the real world was a very different place. Homeless men and women rifled through the trash cans outside the convention halls for scraps of food, poverty-stricken kids peddled trinkets to all of the folks from out-of-town, and people who couldn’t afford this months rent quizzically glanced at the gamers who seemed to frivolously heave money into their hobby. Inside, we may have all been brethren, united in the one cause of video games, but outside the divide between the rich gaming crowd and the poor inner city people couldn’t have been more palpable.

This is why that badge scanning moment would haunt me: because it validated the notion that I was there to escape into a rich paradise rather than focus on the issues of the world outside. So what do I do with all of this though? Sure, in an industry that’s wealthier than Hollywood, you would expect a few big bang events throughout the year, even if the money would most definitely be better spent if it went to inner city programs. But the wealth itself is certainly not the problem. We should never look at this excess as a bad thing, we just need to learn to use it responsibly.

Video games are an amazing hobby, career and creative canvass and as such they garner a huge level of respect and power. And while it’s been a blast to see the industry invest that force back into itself to develop into what it is today, it’s time for every gamer to start giving back instead of merely consuming. Every other medium of the 21st century be it paintings, radio, television, movies or the internet have found their own unique ways to call to light the pain of the world and propel a movement to address them. We, as a gaming industry, need to learn to do the same. Obviously a huge part of this will come through the games that are crafted by developers and demanded by the public, but it has to be more than that. The desire to be a force of healing change in the world has to work through our entire industry, from games to marketing to news coverage to retail outlets, if we are ever going to fully mature and be the industry that the world wants and needs us to be.

So like a moth to the flame I’m sure I’ll be drawn again and again to the bombastic festivities of gamedom. I’ll line up for just announced game demos, thrust my hands into the air to catch t-shirts, and stare dumbfounded at the sea of HDTV’s and marketing hoopla. But next time, instead of hoarding my pennies to pre-order one more game, maybe I’ll buy lunch for a few folks outside the convention hall. ‘Cause even though the sights and sounds of the convention can be amazing, it’s these people who are truly real.

(But at least if I still cave and end up buying 7 copies of Arkham City to get all of the Batman skins, there is something productive I can do with them when I’m done.)

Have a Heart

So it’s probably pretty safe to assume that most of us who are sitting in front of computer screens all day aren’t exactly the kind of people who should jump up and run a charity marathon tomorrow. Of course we all want to give but I don’t know if my loved ones will sponsor me to run when there is a 98% chance that my heart will explode just from jogging up to the starting line.

Well don’t sweat it bro, Xbox Live has got your back. Over the weekend of October 1st, gamers can participate in the Gaming and Giving for Good charity event which will be taking place on Xbox Live. Basically, you find folks to sponsor you for every hour of play and the proceeds go toward helping kids throughout the network of hospitals that are connected with Extra Life. Sounds like a win, win, win, and it doesn’t even involve heart explosions!

The Voice

PAX kicked off with a bang a few weeks ago when David Jaffe, the creator of the Twisted Metal and God of War series, led off with the keynote of the conference. Yet instead of feeding accolades into the nerd pride machine, Jaffe instead chose to discourse on the highs and lows of his nearly 20 years in the video game industry. What was most striking about Jaffe’s speech was his honesty on the trials he’s encountered while making games.

The one thing that Jaffe emphasized in this was that these pitfalls were often created by his inability to listen to “the voice.” Having nothing to do with a crappy show starring Cee-lo, “the voice” was a term Jaffe used to depict the inexplicable passions within all of us. Jaffe went on to explain that when we follow these passions before anything else we will always be successful, both personally and possibly even financially. But if we chose to ignore the voice then nothing but ruin awaits us.

Although he never spoke directly about the divine in his talk, I couldn’t help but be reminded of all of the places in scripture where God talks about making each of us with our own unique calling (Psalm 139:13, Romans 9:21). This calling is coupled with a decree by God that we should follow after the things he has created us for because this is how we learn to better understand ourselves and the Lord (Ecc. 11:9-10).

In this, Jaffe was speaking into a universal truth not only of business and artistic creativity, but of all of creation itself.