From Across the Net – “Untangling the theology of Star Wars”

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Photo by James Pond on Unsplash

Not sure I ever noticed the destiny vs. free will difference between the older and newer movies.

Lucas sold his production company and the franchise to Disney for $4.05 billion in 2012. But he continued to work as a consultant to the producers who created the third and supposedly final trilogy in the Skywalker saga. Those movies depart from Master Yoda’s obsession with destiny and focus on free will. The heroes strive to break free of their circumstances and discover their true selves: An Imperial Stormtrooper becomes a rebel leader, Luke’s Jedi apprentice turns evil, and the orphan Rey must decide whether to follow the path carved by her dark ancestry. The characters use the force mainly to communicate with one another, like an innate cellular network to which some people have stronger connections.

You can read more here

The Halls Head West – Part Three

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The Mission San Luis Rey grounds feature an area that the friars used to bathe and to wash their clothes.

First, the brothers would descend this expansive stairway.

This would lead them to a aqueduct-fed bathing area. Yes, those are goldfish crackers in the bottom left of the photo (historic/beloved food of kids ministries everywhere).

Water would pour out of the gargoyle’s mouth. Mmm, tasty!

Another view of the area.

Heading back towards the Mission, we saw:

The oldest pepper tree in California.

The pepper tree is through the archway, to the right.

We then walked through the graveyard.

The Franciscan Burial Crypt. Let’s get closer!

Locked and barred to keep Lara Croft from doing any tomb raiding.

Loved the metal work on the crypt gate.

Our trip to Mission San Luis Rey was amazing. I enjoyed how peaceful the Mission and the grounds were. Also love that this is still a working Mission used for theological studies.

King of the Missions, indeed.

From Across the Net – “Video games studied in new theological framework”

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Via the Baptist Press:

So what’s the point? Millsap is not saying that mashing buttons is a path to a deeper understanding of God or defeating the next game’s challenge is a discipleship tool. The idea is just that it’s worth considering the stories and scenarios that gamers encounter from a theological perspective.

“But because so many video games now go in a narrative direction and tell a story, it makes sense that we would want to consider them from that perspective. I need to ask myself important questions, and think about whether I believe what it’s saying is true. If a video game is intending to tell a serious narrative and I don’t approach it seriously, thoughtfully and from a Christian perspective, then I’m not doing it justice.”

You can read more here

Kickstarting ReElise

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Justin Fox is a longtime friend I met through Theology Gaming University (TGU). He just launched a Kickstarter for his game, ReElise, a Hip-Hop RPG. Justin hopes to not only fund his dream but start a movement.

How did your values influence your game, ReElise?

The game started out about race. Mostly a coming of age story. Just exploring culture and how people deal with them. When I got saved (gave my life to Christ) the story completely changed. It became a story about how God can make dry bones live again. However the theme of race still plays a role in that it serves no real role in the story. The main character is a black female…. that is all. Sometimes, it’s just not important in contrast to the big plot, and it shouldn’t always be a plot to insert a person’s views on an almost ageless problem so they can be the guy who “figured out how we can get along”. It’s a problem of classifying people as ” those people ” and that’s not going away. Ever.

ReElise

What exactly is a Hip-Hop RPG?

There’s a lot more to the culture of Hip-Hop than violence, money and abuse of women. There’s dancing, style, language, AMAZING art, and some would even say theology that’s not focused on quite as much. It was supposed to be fun in the early days. I like fun things. A Hip-Hop RPG is a game that  leans into the dopeness that is Hip-Hop. I love it. I wanted it in there. I’m indie… so I do what I want I’m grown and sexy.

How long have you been working on the game and what have you learned?

Steadily for 4 years. I’ve been tinkering with it for roughly 7, but those were entirely different builds.

For me, it’s been the power of belief. Believing that something good can come out of an idea that’s not really been done before, and seeing how the power of that belief carried me through for 4 years. It’s a crazy thing. Not to mention how drastically my belief in Jesus changed the core of the game. Belief is really something else.

ReElise-Hip-Hop-Battles

Engage in epic rap battles.

What would you like to say to anybody thinking about backing ReElise on Kickstarter?

This is more of a movement than it is about just one game. Traditional gameplay but with very non-traditional stories as well as concepts (I mean this is a 2D, hand-animated, Hip-Hop, turned-based, Mature Christian RPG… with sprinkles… definitely unconventional). I’d like to subtly offer deeper things to my audience. I’m giving my audience the chance to simply play a great game, and offer them a deeper story that I truly hope will be beneficial to their lives if they care to look. We’ve just gotta get the colorists, programmers, editors, travel expenses, and advertisements out of the way for this project first. That way we can make this first project everything it needs to be!  There’ll be much much more to come with the support of backers.

Thanks, Justin, for giving us a slice of ReElise pie. We can’t wait to get a taste of your Hip-Hop RPG goodness.

If you’d like to back Justin’s work, check out his Kickstarter page.

Off Campus: Best Theology Video Games of 2015

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tgu-hex

Helped work on a Best Theology Video Games of 2015 list with the guys over at Theology Gaming. Want to invite you to check it out. It’s good. Made me want to play Metal Gear Solid V.

I even make the bold claim that Destiny: Taken King is the Best Mirror Of Our Faith Journey. Read to the end.

Not Alone

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For years I thought I was alone in writing about videogames from a Christian perspective. I was wrong. On January 23, 2013, Zachery Oliver contacted me. His initial correspondence sparked what has become a collaborative friendship. Zach and I have since launched Theology Gaming University (TGU). A Facebook group dedicated to open discussions on faith, life, and videogames.

I want to take a moment to invite you to join our growing community. Come ready to be challenged in your faith and your perspective on gaming. 2015 is going to be a great year for TGU, so come join us!

Tempus Fugit Thursday – Preoccupation

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Bryan Note: Sometimes I just need to follow my own advice and also remember what God has taught me/ is continuing to teach me. 

During my morning devotional I read this:

 1 After these events, King Xerxes honored Haman son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, elevating him and giving him a seat of honor higher than that of all the other nobles. 2 All the royal officials at the king’s gate knelt down and paid honor to Haman, for the king had commanded this concerning him. But Mordecai would not kneel down or pay him honor.

3 Then the royal officials at the king’s gate asked Mordecai, “Why do you disobey the king’s command?” 4 Day after day they spoke to him but he refused to comply. Therefore they told Haman about it to see whether Mordecai’s behavior would be tolerated, for he had told them he was a Jew.

5 When Haman saw that Mordecai would not kneel down or pay him honor, he was enraged. 6 Yet having learned who Mordecai’s people were, he scorned the idea of killing only Mordecai. Instead Haman looked for a way to destroy all Mordecai’s people, the Jews, throughout the whole kingdom of Xerxes. – Esther 3: 1-6 (NIV)

Notice how distracted Haman is with Mordecai. Instead of focusing on what he had been given, Haman became preoccupied with a single man. This preoccupation with Mordecai and the annihilation of the Jews would eventually lead to Haman’s downfall.

In the age of social media and instant/constant communication, I find it easy to get preoccupied with other peoples lives. I end up wondering why I can’t:

  • Buy a new house, car, toy, etc.
  • Travel with all expenses paid by parents or relatives
  • Eat out five times a week (not that I’d want to)
In looking at everyone else, I fail to realize that God created something special in me. I am not like everyone else nor meant to be.
—————-
Interesting thought: The word preoccupation has the word “occupation” in it. Now, we all work different occupations, there is certainly that definition of the word. But the use of occupation related to Haman’s preoccupation makes me think of this dictionary definition:
possession, settlement, or use of land or property.

When we become preoccupied with something not of God (like lust or greed), we are giving up pieces of our very hearts and souls to things that shouldn’t be entrenched in our lives. We end up becoming occupied territory; slaves to our conquerors.

Morning Reading: Judges 17-21

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“In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.” – Judges 21:25

The last few chapters of the Book of Judges show the nation of Israel relying on instinct and their own personal morals rather than following God. Sin has heavily infected their worship and everyday life. The end of chapter 19 even has an incident that is similar to that of Lot in Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19. Homosexuality and rape are a societal norm. Everyone did as he saw fit.

This mornings reading has me questioning if I am doing as I see fit; if I am walking alone in this world versus walking with God. This morning I have prayed that I would be obedient and follow God, not doing as I see fit but as He sees fit. Think of it as a realignment of the heart.

Where are you today?

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.

Off Campus: Bryan is over at Theology Gaming today. Come visit!

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Theology Gaming

Tried my hand at an interview. Special thanks to Mr. Josh Cauller for being a great sport. You’ll have to let me know what you think. Don’t be cruel.

The Theology Gaming Sessions: M. Joshua Cauller

My goal in these sessions is for you, the reader, to become better acquainted with the writers of Theology Gaming. So, without further ado, this week we have an interview with Mr. M. Joshua Cauller.

Q: Tell us about yourself and how you were first introduced to video games.

Josh: Christmas 1989, my cousins got a Nintendo Entertainment System with two controllers, the gray light gun, and Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt. Suddenly, the Nintendo officially became the coolest thing in the universe. I mean that thing even beat Transformers. And nothing was cooler than Transformers in first grade. Instantly, I learned what the word jealousy meant. My family certainly wasn’t the poorest in West Philly. But a $100 game system was an unheard of luxury at the time. Plus, my mom was pretty opposed to me owning something I could get addicted to. She said she heard stories of kids at the handicapped kids’ school who literally couldn’t do life without those things. So for most of my childhood, video games represented envy. .: Continue :. 

Thinking Aloud: Growing Closer to Christ

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Note: I could write an entire series on what it means to grow closer to Christ. I realize that I barely scratch the surface of this subject and wanted to recognize that. You are now free to read.

Last year, I read an article on a Christian video game site that extolled the virtues of Telltale’s The Walking Dead series. The article talked about how the game’s protagonist, Lee, was a Christ-like figure due to his sacrificial death at the end of the game. Spoiler. All I could think was that Lee was a murderer, Christ wasn’t.

As a Christian, I should be constantly growing closer to Christ. What does growing closer to Christ look like? Is it a combo of:

  • Giving up/walking away from things that are shrouded in helpless darkness? Perhaps coming to the realization that The Walking Dead, with its unimaginative curse-filled vocabulary, just isn’t for me?

OR

  • Embracing the darkness and trying to find Christ’s redemptive story/ God’s redemptive plan in everything? An effort of trying to find the good, the light, that exists within the darkness we often consume?

Phillippians 4:8 comes to mind:

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

I want to be willing to give anything up for Christ. Even if this means walking away from a gaming series that I really enjoyed, like The Walking Dead or even God of War. I want to be careful with the games that I endorse because my endorsement, as a Christian, is like saying Jesus approves of this. I do not want to lead anyone away from Christ. A difficult road to trot down.

Thinking Aloud: Why We Don’t Need Another Christian Video Game Site

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9 years ago I noticed that the Christian worldview was sadly lacking in the mainstream video game press. I wanted to find a web site that discussed the theological impact of the games that I played. A web site written by actual gamers that attempted to go beyond discussing the surface elements of video games (violence, language, etc.). My questions all revolved around:

  • What thoughts, ideas, and experiences am I being exposed to by video game developers?
  • How do these worldviews differ from my own?
  • As a Christian, what should my response be?

I envisioned a web site that could compete with the big boys at the time, Gamespot and Gamespy. So I created JohnnyBGamer.com to go against the best. Quite quickly I learned that a large amount of time, talent, and money are needed to compete in any real way. In short, I couldn’t compete. Eventually I relaunched JBG as the personal blog it is today. I wasn’t defeated, just confronted with reality.

Almost a decade has gone by, and I now find myself questioning the need for a Christian video game web site. Why do we, as Christians, have to segregate ourselves from the world and form our own personal ghettos? Instead of having a Christian video game site, why can’t we have writers writing for major publications that are Christians?

The digital landscape has changed a lot since 2003. Sites such as GameChurch and The Cross and the Controller (which seems to have gone missing) now exist to plumb the depths of video games and the Christian worldview. I am in no way against such ministries, but I openly wonder at the audiences they reach. Would it not be better to influence the gaming culture from inside a major web site versus from outside in the ghetto?

What do you think?

Basic.Fellowship – Francis Chan

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As part of his Basic.series of films, Francis Chan tackles the topic of fellowship in his Basic.Fellowship short. After watching the quick fifteen minute video, I was left with the following question:

  • Beyond potlucks, going to out to eat in large groups, and having large get-togethers that leave homes in shambles, what does fellowship look like for the modern Christian?

To answer my question, I immediately thought of where Acts 2 talks about what fellowship looked like for Biblical Christians:

42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. – Acts 2: 42-47 (NIV)

Notice that they simply got together and took care of one another as one body of believers.  Those that needed help were helped; those that gave did so with sincerity. So again, what does fellowship look like for us?

Fellowship looks like:

  • Calling a brother in Christ during the week, randomly, and seeing how they are doing
  • Meeting up for lunch, sharing life together
  • Playing a game of softball with some of the guys from church
  • Serving at the local rescue mission
  • Passing on clothes that are no longer needed (like kids clothing)
  • Making the most of every opportunity to grow closer together in Christ (our glue)

Verses of the Day: 2 Timothy 3:1-7

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But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. 2 People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, 4 treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them.

6 They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over weak-willed women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, 7 always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth.

– 2 Timothy 3:1-7 (NIV)

GO: The Groundwork

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19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” – Matthew 28:19-20

Jesus commanded his disciples to tell others about what they had seen, learned, and experienced during their time with him. They were to go and tell others about the Good News, that the Son of God had come and paid the price for all sin; that Jesus had lived, died, and had been resurrected on the third day.

In Acts 1, we find the disciples waiting in Jerusalem as they were instructed by Jesus:

On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with[a] water, but in a few days you will be baptized with[b] the Holy Spirit.” – Acts 1:4-5

The Holy Spirit soon comes, Peter preaches/confirms that Jesus was the Son of God, and the body of believers grows in numbers. One will notice, however, that no one is “going”. Instead, the believers begin to form a tight knit community, sharing everything they had with one another. Little did they know that a storm was coming.

The storm begins with small clouds (Ananias and Sapphira holding back part of their money in Acts 5:1-11) and slowly darkens as the Apostles are persecuted (Acts 5:17-42). Some of the religious leaders of the day write off the growing number of believers as simply a craze:

34 But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honored by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered that the men be put outside for a little while. 35 Then he addressed the Sanhedrin: “Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men. 36 Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing. 37 After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered. 38 Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. 39 But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.” – Acts 5:34-39

Note: The key verse here is verse 39 – “…But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.” Who could argue with that?

Lightening appears on the horizon amongst the darkening clouds as one of the believers, Stephen, is killed for his faith. The storm has now hit. In Acts 8, the new believers who have failed so far to heed Christ’s words and “go”, are forced to move due to persecution:

On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. – Acts 8:1

Something odd began to happen as a result of this:

Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. Acts 8:4

Christ’s command was finally being obeyed, His word was being preached. God was using a potentially evil situation for His good. But how does all of this apply to Christians today? Check-in tomorrow to find out.

Our Actions Impact Others

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Our actions impact others. Period. 

Recently I was reading about a guy named Jonah. Jonah was told to go to a city that was known to support terrorism. Being that the city of Nineveh’s reputation that wasn’t all that positive, Jonah decided not to go. In the process of running from his mission, Jonah ends up putting the men on the boat he escapes on, and all their cargo, in jeopardy. Jonah’s selfish actions not only almost cost the sailor’s livelihoods but their very lives as well. All of this could had been avoided had Jonah been obedient to God telling him to go to Nineveh and speak His word to the people.

Our actions carry life and death consequences. Period.

When Achan heard the news that that the battle hadn’t gone well, he must have known deep within his soul that it was his fault. 36 people had died. The battle of Ai was supposed to have been easy. Something was wrong and Israel’s leader, Joshua, knew it. After some heavy sifting of thousands of people, Achan stood at the forefront. He confessed that he had been disobedient and had gone against what God had said about taking things from Jericho. Achan had disobeyed and had stolen from what was to be devoted to God. Because of his actions, Achan, his family and all of his possessions were destroyed by rock and flame.

Bible stories are easy to gloss over, especially after you have heard the same stories repeatedly. I personally find that it is easy to miss the bigger narrative that God is writing. In the above two examples of Jonah and Achan, both men did not take into consideration the consequences of their actions on others. In Jonah’s case, the men and their cargo could have perished in the storm; In Achan’s case, Achan and his family suffered due to his disobedience. Both stories have gotten me thinking about the ramifications of my own actions. How will my daily actions impact my:

  • Family
  • Friends
  • Workplace, etc.

I want to encourage you today to look at the bigger picture.

How have your actions impacted those around you?