Darth Vader Goes to Walmart: Pandemic Musings

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“Children, ages 2 and older, will be required to wear a mask at school.”

“Parents, whether your student wears a mask or not is up to you.”

“We are not going to require masks.”

“We will only require our teachers to wear masks.”

I was talking to a high school student the other day, she told me:

It is one thing to wear a mask, into a store, for a short amount of time; It is another thing to wear a mask at school all day.

I get it. I never knew that I had issues with claustrophobia. Not being a doctor or someone required to wear a mask for work, I never really thought too much about how wearing a mask would make me feel. That is, until I was required to wear a mask to shop in a store.

I try to play off the mask wearing by making Darth Vader breathing sounds as I wear one. While at the same time, I also try not to think about how we all look like a bunch of poor doctors and bank robbers.

Speaking of bank robbers, I saw a Brink’s armored truck parked the other day. The two armed security guards were wearing bandannas. They looked like armed robbers, as they casually walked back to their truck with cash. This pandemic plays mind games with ya when the good guys look like the bad guys.

For parents having to make the choice as to school their children online or in person at school, you have my sympathy. I can’t imagine having to work around enforcing that my child stays in front of the computer/in their seat, at home, for as long as they would if they were at school; I also can’t imagine sending my child to school and forcing them to wear a mask all day and social distance. Your children’s teachers are not paid enough. But you know that.

I was recently telling Tabitha that our lives, as parents who have chosen to homeschool, do not revolve around a school. No, our son’s education/schooling revolves around us and neatly fits into our day.

  • We decide when school begins and ends.
  • We decide which curriculum to teach from.
  • We decide whether there will be masks or not.

I am thankful that we made the choice to homeschool. I am thankful for my gifted wife who has made the decision to stay at home and teach our son. Homeschooling isn’t for everyone though. Not every kid is built for homeschooling. But for our family, homeschooling works for us.

No masks will be required, in our home, this Fall. We will strive to preserve as much normalcy as we can in our school routine. Wearing a mask, around the house, seems silly. I shouldn’t say that aloud though as home mask wearing could soon be a thing. Stupid 2020.

However, I WILL BE WEARING A MASK if going to the local Walmarts… I mean, if Darth Vader goes to the Walmarts.

>Insert Mechanical Breathing Sound of Doom<

A Walk, A Birthday, And A Few Board Games

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Woke up this morning and went for a walk with Tabitha. My Apple Watch didn’t record any of our walk as exercise. So if an Apple made watch doesn’t record something… did it ever happen? From the picture below, yes, yes it did.

East Texas in July

I turned 39 this week. Spent my birthday working in the office with frequent breaks to text/talk with family and friends. I loved catching up with those who reached out.

The Coronavirus (COVID-19) dominated many of the conversations I had on my birthday. I’m not complaining. But I can tell that the pandemic and the information roller coaster we’ve all boarded because of it, is weighing heavily on us all.

For my birthday, I received a few new board games. My parents bought me Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective – The Thames Murders & Other Cases; Tab and Wyatt bought me Disney Villainous. I’m looking forward to playing and writing on both of these games.

Disney Villainous

As an observation, I was telling Tabitha this morning that I do not play video games like I used to–like, this surprises me–. Board games have become the thing I ask for and play more frequently. There is something about having screens off and being able to gather around the table with family and friends that is special and builds memories.

As a further thought, I am thinking about starting to write board game reviews. Trying to think of an angle that would best serve the JBG Community. All one of us. 🙂

Hope you all are doing well.

The Corona Reset: A Blessing in Disguise

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Before the pandemic, my wife and I were balcony dwellers at church. A throwback to a time when our Sunday school class would all sit together, on high, in the balcony. A great place to watch all the movements below and be hidden from the pastor’s view due to the bright lights.

Unnecessary Explanatory Note: We have stayed in the balcony due to the ease of finding seats. When you serve, easy seat access is a plus.

Since we have returned to church from the dark pandemic times, Tab and I have sat downstairs. Free from Sunday school, serving, and any other positions we may hold, we have been free to just attend… to just be.

Sitting where we have been sitting, I have smiled to myself many a time. You see, church goers joke about members having assigned seating. When I say joke, I speak of a partial truth. One of those things that is awkwardly grinned at but often experienced in the form of a wordless glare. The “Hey, why are you sitting in my seat” glare. But why are you talking about assigned seating and “the glare”, Bryan?

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

On the other side of COVID-19, everything is new at church. Months of not meeting together have erased ingrained habits. We’ve had to figure out what the church looks like when it does not meet; We’ve had to figure out what church looks like when it does meet with a lurking virus.

My key here is that the old is gone. The boardgame has been reset. New habits, even those as small as seating, are allowed to begin anew.

  • I have loved being able to talk with those I didn’t normally see by sitting in the balcony.
  • I have loved feeling more a part of the worship service, not so distant–proximity is huge–.
  • I have loved the feeling of a new beginning.

As we experience a reset of the old norms, I want to encourage you to shake things up. Talk to those you didn’t talk to before. Allow yourself to experience the Body of Christ in a whole new way.

Church Attendance is a Discipline

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The Coronavirus has wounded the American Church in a way that many cannot see yet. As social distancing measures lift and other post-pandemic precautions ease, some Christians are hesitant to return to the Church. Presented with the convenience of watching a worship service on Facebook or YouTube, many believers are making the intentional choice to stay at home. Telling themselves, “The virus is still out there, we still need to protect ourselves for another month or two.” Happy in their newfound sermon consumption that doesn’t require one to ever leave the home. Or better yet, require them to sit with their kids in the worship service due to the church’s children’s program not being up and running.

Photo by Ajeet Mestry on Unsplash

Meanwhile, In Social Media Land…

  • I can see that you recently volunteered on a project.
  • I can see that you went and visited the zoo.
  • I can see that you are hanging out with friends and family.
  • I can see you doing all of these things, and yet, I haven’t seen your happy face at church.

Gathering with fellow believers, attending church, this is a Christian discipline. What I have hated seeing, in these pandemic times, is how quickly that discipline has been let go; convenience and inconvenience pushing against one another.

I am not advocating for fellow believers to come back to church in order to check a box. I am advocating for fellow believers to come, grow, and encourage other believers with your presence.

I keep asking myself, “Is Jesus enough of a commonality to hold believers together in these times?” My answer is of course, Jesus is enough. But, I think these pandemic times are revealing who church attendance is important to.

  • Our Time
  • Our Talents
  • Our Treasures

All of these things communicate to both the world and our fellow believers where our priorities lie.

I want to encourage my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ to push past their preferences and convenience. The withdrawal of your presence is hurting others, silently wounding the Church in the process. Please do not let being in the habit of attending church slip away and become your new normal. Your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ miss you.

I miss you too.

So what if your kids have to sit with you in church?

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Growing up, Sunday mornings could often become tense. While getting ready for church, words would be said and feelings hurt as all six of us hurried to get out the door.

Even with a family of three, there can occasionally be a morning where we pull up into the church parking lot and say, “Everyone smile.”

Tab and I serve in our church’s kids ministry by helping check kids in, Sunday mornings. As parents walk up to the check in desk, they will often look relieved to be dropping off their children. Maybe their morning had been harried/tense while trying to get to church? I am never sure. But I get it. I try and reassure those parents with a sincere smile and a quick, “Hey, ya’ll made it today.” Sometimes merely getting to the destination is the biggest family battle of all.

Photo by Daniel McCullough on Unsplash

In the wake of the pandemic, my church has started meeting once again. This week will be week five of meeting physically, together. We’ve been meeting with some rules/modifications in place:

  • Not shaking hands, although elbows are encouraged
  • A row of spacing, behind and in front of, each occupied row
  • No passing of the offering plate.
  • Masks and gloves offered to those in attendance (not mandatory)
  • And this week, we are beginning to offer an earlier service for those ages 60+/vulnerable

Our small groups have yet to restart and have been meeting online.

One of the bigger changes now is that our children are sitting with us in the service.

Sunday morning, during the worship service, I got looking around. Trying to see if any of my little friends were in attendance; kids I used to check in each week. A few of the kids were there, sitting alongside their parents or even grandparents. For the most part though, the kids from our kids ministry have vanished.

  • I understand the need to practice social distancing.
  • I understand a parents desire to want to keep their children healthy.
  • I understand wanting to protect the vulnerable.

At some point though, I wonder if there is another reason I’m not seeing my little friends anymore. I wonder if their parents do not want to sit with them in the service.

Serving in the kid’s ministry, I have seen how amazing our children’s minister is. I have sat through her teaching time; I have seen the way she handles the kids and the expectations she holds them to. Yes, your child can sit through the service without getting up to pee.

Get’s me thinking about the way we can pass our children along to others, expecting them to teach/raise them. I see this pandemic time as the perfect time to model through action how to sit in big church. Pulling out, if needed, items to help your child:

  • Coloring books
  • Dot-to-dot books
  • Blank pages to draw on
  • And, depending on age, maybe even–gasp!–an iPad (with headphones)

I’m not sure about your church, but our children’s minister offers a kids sheet for sermon notes. Our pastor, each week, provides notes for his sermon. This is a great way to encourage our kids to engage in the service. I’m not interested so much in behavior as I am in teaching our children how to worship God.

I get tired of parents treating their children like they are the plague. Yes, I am a parent of one (and God-willing, more one day) but that doesn’t lessen my experience… nor my overall encouragement to bring your kids to church right now. This is the perfect time to grow spiritually as a family.

In closing, I say this with love: Some of us need to stop hiding behind this virus and using it as an excuse to forgo meeting with fellow believers. So what if your kids have to sit with you in church?

I love ya’ll. Until next time.

From Across the Net – “Navigating Different COVID-19 Recovery Convictions”

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“I believe one of the ways that the enemy will seek to divide our ranks within the church is by tempting us to use our opinions against each other. If the Devil has his way, we’ll be throwing stones of accusation from all sides, calling the cautious people “soft,” labeling the optimists of being “reckless.” More than that, the enemy especially loves when we cement ourselves in political corners; adding opinionated fuel to the already tumultuous fire of conflict.”

Costi Hinn, For The Church – https://ftc.co/resource-library/1/5289?fbclid=IwAR2vq3Xds5JDa-vXtC5pef78_9Gmat9f_KutxW4ZNUNy9FBJEVz5VXsYznQ
Photo by LOGAN WEAVER on Unsplash

For the Love of Cupcakes, Fear is in the Air!

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An invisible enemy is scarier than most enemies. For how does one combat what one cannot see? An invisible enemy could be anywhere. They might even be sitting next to you right now.

Photo by Rae Goldman on Unsplash

A few weeks ago, Wyatt and I walked into a local cupcake shop. We quickly noticed a piece of tape marked out on the ground that read:

“Stop. Stand Here.”

From behind the counter, the shop employee was wearing a mask. She was trying to fight against the invisible enemy. But underneath that mask, Wyatt and I both could read the look on her face. Which screamed in terror (and I’m not trying to be mean):

“Why aren’t you two wearing a mask?”

And even louder:

“Why are you two even here?”

A cupcake for momma; A simple Easter treat. I had wanted to surprise Tabitha, and Wyatt had come along for the ride. But here we were, in the cupcake shop, and feeling like we shouldn’t be in there.

It was in that moment that I discovered that I didn’t have my wallet…

I smiled, “We’ll be back.”

Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

How we respond to the invisible enemy matters. Even weeks later, Wyatt and I can still remember the cupcake employee’s face. I hate the way this pandemic has caused us to view others. To think differently about something as simple as human touch. I want my personal response to be different, but I’m finding it hard to wade through the daily onslaught of online negativity. How about you?

Waiting for the Bomb to Go Off

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Life for me, in this pandemic, hasn’t changed much. I still get up in the morning and drive to work. I spend my day at the office, filled with bosses and coworkers, where we push forward on projects. At home, my wife continues to homeschool our son. His home education hasn’t stopped even due to the Coronavirus/COVID-19. Life hasn’t changed much for the Texas Halls.

And yet life has changed all around us. From the local grocery store being out of such things as rice, yeast, and other baking supplies. To hearing stories about people around us dying, oftentimes alone/separated from their spouses, due to hospital quarantines.

Spring, in the South, is filled with severe weather days. Days where we:

  • See the skies darken
  • Hear the thunder, off in the distance
  • Watch for for rotation in the clouds
  • Find ourselves praying over the weather

Tornadoes are a real threat in the violence of Spring. A time of pollen and a time for death from above. There are days where we feel like we are waiting for the bomb to go off, for the hammer to drop. That feeling of anticipation we experience every Spring is the same feeling I feel, right now, in the midst of this pandemic. Even though my life hasn’t changed one bit, I feel as if I am on edge.

Photo by Siim Lukka on Unsplash

To all my friends and family, who live in places where the weather doesn’t try to kill you, welcome to feeling like you are living in the South. A place founded on sweet tea, sweet people, and the subtle feeling of dread. From experience though, I can tell you, Summer is coming. Threats of rain-soaked death will cease. This pandemic is only for a season, as is the pollen. Soon the sun will come and bake it all away… or try and kill us too.

What do you do when you feel beaten down by a game?

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I kept playing through the same sequence in Ori and the Blind Forest the other night. There were times where I would make significant progress; there were times were I would explode in a ball of light instantly. No matter what though, I couldn’t make it through this particular sequence.

So I did the thing that I had long fought against doing, I lowered the game’s difficulty from normal to easy. Filled with stupid shame, I battered my platforming skills against Mount Horu once more. But changing the difficulty only made the enemies easier! The platforming was still stinking hard! I felt mad. I felt angry. I felt ashamed for lowering the difficulty. Someone with my level of video game experience, at this stage in my life, shouldn’t have issues like this.

In my discouragement, I realized that I was super tired. I could feel the wave of emotions wash over me from the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. So much uncertainty… no one sure of what is going to happen next. I tweeted out asking:

What do you do when you feel beaten down by a game?

No answers. But I know the answer to this question: You Quit. You put the controller down. You try again another day.

I played Ori some more the next night. I breezed through the section that had been giving me trouble. My skills were intact! Weird to have a video game discourage me enough to confront my emotions. Thankful for the reminder that sometimes we need to quit, rest, and tackle things again another day. I will beat this game. We will get through this crazy virus situation, toilet paper shortages and all.

At the Table – Pandemic

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Pandemic is a cooperative board game that requires players to take on different roles/coordinate their moves in an effect to treat infections/find cures for four different viruses. At the end of each player turn, cards are drawn which cause the viruses to spread even further. Will solid teamwork win the day?

Pandemic Cover

Years ago, Tab and I had a bad experience with Pandemic. For an entire game, we were told what to do:

“Use your special move to do this.”

“You should move here to stop the yellow virus from spreading.”

Instead of being allowed to wrap our head around the game’s unique mechanics, we were compelled to be good soldiers and follow orders. This experience made Tab and I never want to play Pandemic again… and so we didn’t. We avoided the game like the plague.

Side Note: Our experience, I later found out, was not unique. In the board game world it even has a term: “Quarterbacking”. Quarterbacking occurs in cooperative board games when one player dominates the group by telling everyone else how to play.

Pandemic
Behold, the board! And the many virus cubes of evil.

Last year, one of my big pushes was to introduce cooperative board gaming to our family. I wanted less of us all working against each other and more of us working together to overcome the board. So we played a bunch of cooperative games such as:

  • Castle Panic
  • Forbidden Island
  • Jaws
  • The Mind
  • The Game Card Game
Jaws
From our recent family playthrough of Jaws.

For Christmas, I decided to ask for Pandemic. I thought maybe playing the game with just Tab and Wyatt might redeem Pandemic in the Hall house. I was right! We had a great time stumbling across the board, as we tried to figure out exactly how everything worked. By the time the world was imploding with viruses, we lost the game. But even in our defeat, we are all eager to play Pandemic again.

Final Thoughts: Castle Panic is our favorite family cooperative game right now. We love the way it plays. However, Pandemic isn’t too shabby. Funny how one bad experience soured the game for us. I am happy to have brought Pandemic back to the table for another go.

Christmas Loot – New Board Games

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Our family is a family of first borns. We are all highly competitive with each other. This past year, I made a concentrated effort to introduce cooperative board games to our family game time. We’ve dove into:

  • Castle Panic
  • Forbidden Island

Both games are built around the idea of playing together, combining tactical decisions/special character moves in order to win. We’ve enjoyed these cooperative experiences, working as a team to beat the board.

For Christmas, I was gifted:

  • Pandemic
  • Jaws
  • The Game

I can’t wait to bring these games to the table. I’ll let ya’ll know how they each play. I’m curious to see if we stay alive going up against Jaws; also curious to see if we, Tabitha and I, can overcome the bad first impression we had of Pandemic (had someone quarterback us through a game).

How about you? Did you get any board games for Christmas?