What I’m Learning: As A Dad

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Since my son was old enough to hold a controller, I have shared my love of videogames with him.

We started with Super Mario Bros. on the family NES. Since then, we have progressed from him passively watching to now actively participating in playing games such as  Skylanders and Kirby’s Epic Yarn. At four years old, my son loves videogames and is quite good at them–humble dad brag–.

Screen time, which encompasses the iPad, TV shows, and videogames, has become a hot commodity in our house. If my son had his way, he would never unplug and instead become a digital potato. Not just any potato mind you, a stinky potato.

My struggle as a parent is to balance “screen time” with all of the imaginative play that awaits in my son’s toy box. Hot Wheels, super hero masks, and Legos are but simple gateways to pretend worlds of adventure. Sharing my love of videogames, with my son, has caused him to associate “daddy time” with “time to play videogames”. On the deepest, nerdiest level, I should be proud of this but I’m not. I want more for my son than just virtual worlds. On a selfish level, I want more for myself than to have to spend “precious” game time playing in some sort of G-rated world.

Here is what I am learning though: Videogame time with dad has nothing to do with what videogame is being played or whether or not my son has a controller in his hands. All that matters, ALL THAT MATTERS, is that the two of us are spending time together. If that means that he sits on my lap and watches me play, he is fine with that. He just wants to spend some time with his dad.

Even from the beginning, he has always wanted to spend time with me.

Even from the beginning, he has always wanted to spend time with me. I should be honored.

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At Church: Fear and Anxiety

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We all know the story. God compels Moses to go before Pharaoh and ask for the release of the Israelites. Pharaoh resists. Plagues ensue. Pharaoh eventually relents and Moses leads the people out of Egypt.

Once the Israelites left, Pharaoh suddenly has a change of heart:

When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, Pharaoh and his officials changed their minds about them and said, “What have we done? We have let the Israelites go and have lost their services!” So he had his chariot made ready and took his army with him. – Exodus 14:5-6 (NIV)

Notice that the Egyptians are not happy about losing their slave labor. So Pharaoh leads his army forth to recapture what he believes is rightfully his. God has other plans.

10 As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the Lord. 11 They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? – Exodus 14:10-11 (NIV)

God delivers his people from the Egyptians. In the end, Pharaohs army is wiped out in the Red Sea.

Like I was going to have a post about Moses parting the Red Sea and not include Mr. Charlton Heston.

Like I was going to have a post about Moses parting the Red Sea and not include Mr. Charlton Heston.

This morning, my Sunday school class started a new series on fear and anxiety. My teacher pointed out the difference between the Israelites’ response (they thought they were going to be whole sale slaughtered) and the Egyptians’ response (they wanted their slave labor back). Fear often causes us to believe things that are simply not true.

Lately, I have been reading through Jon Acuff’s Start. In the book, Jon suggests writing down our fears when they occur/paralyze us. After writing down the fear, Acuff suggests then writing down the truth beside it. So something like:

Fear: I am going to lose my job and never find one again.

Truth: I have job security due to my position and even if that isn’t true, I will be able to find another job due to my degree and experience.

Just want to encourage you today to kick fear in the face. Start by realizing that sometimes the things that we hear whispered in our heads are lies. So write them down. Capture them. Confront them with the truth. We can do this.

Things I’m Learning: Social Media

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I did something stupid the other day. Radio host, author, and speaker, Dave Ramsey, had posted the following Joel Osteen quote on twitter: “God’s mercy is bigger than any mistake that you’ve made.”

Nothing wrong with the quote. God’s mercy is huge! For some reason though it bugged me that Dave Ramsey was quoting Joel Osteen.

So I replied: This is true, even if, as in Joel’s case, you are leading people to Hell.”

Yeah, I went there. I honestly believe that Joel Osteen leads people to Hell by promoting God as a genie (just pray super hard and God will give you your dreams) and by not talking about “negative” things such as sin.

I didn’t expect Dave to take the bait; I didn’t expect him to reply but had an inkling he might. Replying to me via twitter, in the face of all of his “followers”, he responded, “Struggle with Grace?”

Defensive now, I replied: “Most definitely. I also struggle with those who misrepresent the Bible.”

Dave’s disciples quickly descended upon me. Some offering support and others calling me to the mat for not being loving enough.

.: Social Media Misused :.

I want to admit, here and now, that I was wrong. Irregardless of my thoughts towards the Joel Osteen school of theology, I shouldn’t have ever responded to that original quote. I was baiting/trolling Dave Ramsey, effectively calling him a supporter of a false teacher. So Dave, if you are out there, I’m sorry. I hope you accept my apologies.

I want to intentionally reflect God in all that I do. Fighting a “twitter war” through an innocent man (Dave) is not the best way to do that. So again Dave, I’m sorry.

For The Win: An Interview With Zachery Oliver

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Zachery Oliver is the Agent Paulson/Nick Fury of the video game world. Which is to say that he recruited me for the Avengers Initiative…I mean to TheologyGaming.com. In an effort to pick his brain and figure out exactly where he comes from, I thought it best to interview the recruiter himself. 

Zachery Oliver

Mickey looks angry. Watch out, Zachery!

Q: Tell us more about yourself and the site.

Zachery: I owned and created the site. I’ve got a Master’s of Theological Studies from Boston University’s School of Theology, as well as a BA from Merrimack College in Theological Studies and Philosophy. Did any of this help me in forming the blog? In a way, I suppose.

I’ve been playing video games since I was 3-4 years old, and can’t remember I time I wasn’t playing them. Probably a more formative experience was playing Secret of Mana with my brother and my father over a Christmas break, as the Sprite, without a guide or anything. The game clock on the cartridge (which I still have) is somewhere in the hundreds of hours. There’s just something about video games that works for me, entertains me, and really helped me out in life to sort ideas out (weirdly enough). And there’s so many of them!

But what I really love is that there’s so much theological exploration. I’ve got a wealth of knowledge of Christianity and video games…a weird combo, to say the least. There’s a dearth of substantive content regarding both, and thus we have Theology Gaming. I just started writing stuff that I wanted to read, and so far it’s been going well! Also, I didn’t get into any Ph.D. programs for theology, so probably that too! I needed a change from the rigors of academic study, all said, and I guess it just wasn’t for me (or God’s will).

Bryan: Hold up, your Dad plays/played video games? I’m trying to think if my Dad ever picked up a controller…

Sounds like you were a man of the Super Nintendo. I see now where your loyalties lied…with the Dark Side. While you were playing Secret of Mana, I was over on the USS SEGA Genesis cruising with Sonic, Ecco, and Vectorman. I had no clue of all the awesome RPG’s I was missing out on by not owning a SNES.

Q: What do you hope to accomplish with Theology Gaming? How can you differentiate the site from the thousands of other enthusiast blogs?

Zachery: These are difficult questions to answer for a few reasons.

First, I hadn’t had the intention to compete with anyone; I honestly (and naively) figured that I discovered some untapped area of theological discussion. To my surprise, sites like GameChurch, JohnnyBGamer, and others already existed. Silly me, apparently, for not checking the demographics!

In all seriousness, though, my real goal was simply to express a long-held conviction that Christians can use anything they do for the glory of God. Combining my primary hobby with my God-given talents and developed skills, I decided to start a blog about my sometimes cogent, sometimes rambling thoughts about all things theology and video games.

As you may notice from reading, I focus greatly on the mechanical elements of games and that is where I find the theological exposition in most areas. There’s a reason for this: I don’t think video games differentiate themselves from other forms of entertainment through their story-telling quality. Also, that would be rather droll and place them into undesirable categories. Rather, I see them as a uniquely engaging entertainment form that, in my experience, creates human connections across all kinds of divisions simply through our common experience of playing video games. The same goes for regular games played throughout human history, but video games make it possible to communicate with lots and lots of different people with the power of the Internet – sometimes positively, sometimes negatively, but that’s human nature I suppose.

It’s in making human connections that I find validity, and it gives a common ground for discussion that wouldn’t exist otherwise. Would you and I be talking right now if not for video games? Probably not; we live in disparate places, and find ourselves in completely different age demographics, yet here we are talking about video games and theology. God’s will is a whirlwind sometimes, let me tell you.

For more from Zachery Oliver, head on over to TheologyGaming.com and check out the site.

Surf Report – 5/6/2013

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Surf Report

Welcome to the Monday edition of the Surf Report.

.: God :

Ever since I can remember, my wife has told me that her dream was/is to be a stay-at-home mom. I knew this before I married her. This spring, after 8 years of teaching–I don’t know if she’ll ever know how proud I am of her–, we started praying over whether she should continue teaching or not. A few months later, the deadline for her contract renewal came up. We had to make a decision. Oddly, we both felt like she needed to stay home with our son. Now, what is odd about this is that we both crave comfort; we both crave the security that her job provides. Well, we ended up deciding that she won’t be teaching next year. This means big changes for the Hall household.

Last night, my pastor mentioned the above “balance beam” sermon by Francis Chan. Even though I have peace over the decision my wife and I made, I still feel like I have been desperately clinging to the balance beam of life. Not wanting to let go of the safety and comfort the balance beam provides. Sure, I’ll let go and tell God that he can have my stress, fear, and worry. Almost immediately though, I grab back onto the beam.

Following Christ is all about stepping out of our comfort zones. I know this. I don’t want to live a life of sheltered/calculated risk. I want to go and do what God is calling me to do…even if that means moving forward and letting go.

I don’t want to go where the majority goes…

.: Life :

See above.

.: Gaming :

I went out and bought 3 games on Saturday:

  • Trauma Center: Trauma Team (Wii)
  • Dragon Age 2 (PS3)
  • Metroid: Other M (Wii)

Trauma Center: Trauma Team – My wife and I fired up the Wii and immediately dove into surgery–once we figured out how to set up the controls for co-op–. Overall the game looks and plays like a Trauma Center game, no surprise there. I’ll keep ya’ll posted on this one.

Dragon Age 2

Dragon Age 2 – I am not the biggest fan of Dragon Age Origins. Origins is one of those games that I really want to like but just can’t seem to get into. Dragon Age 2, on the other hand, has been pretty awesome so far. I love the fluid magic system (I’m playing as a mage) and the character interaction. DA2 plays more like an action game with RPG elements versus DA1, which was an RPG with action elements. The $10 price tag makes the game even more awesome.

Metroid: Other M – Universally hated by reviewers due to it’s portrayal of series protagonist, Samus Aran. Metroid: Other M, features tight gameplay mixed with cutscenes that depict Samus as a girl with daddy issues. The disconnect between the Samus portrayed in the cutscenes versus the Samus I’m playing in the game is jarring. We’ll see if I keep going. My Wii’s disc drive was making some pretty crazy sounds while I was playing. If the Wii fails, this will be the second time I’ve had to send it in for repairs. Lame.

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That’s it for this weeks Surf Report. Make sure to comment below and have a good week!