Maybe A Pause

Written a week ago, but here in case it’s a lasting pause…

Hello. This post is just me.

It’s 4 in the morning and I can’t sleep. It’s almost exactly 11 hours and 30 minutes before our appointment to have our dog, Po, euthanized. He’s 16 and has obviously been a huge part of our lives.

It’s time, but such a hard decision. You always second-guess when you have to decide when a friend dies, I imagine. This friend can’t do the things he enjoyed any longer, is in pain every day, and his life is just diminished to the point where…well. We made the decision.

I’m devastated, and am going to be devastated for a while. I don’t know how long. Every time I think I’m about to be able to sleep I’m crying again.

I only mention this because currently there is only one blog post scheduled on Friday, and then I have to build up a back-log once again. But I don’t know how grief will go, and it might be a while before I write anything again.

So, probably not an end here (I do want to reach a thousand posts if nothing else) but very likely a pause, because a part of our lives is ending and it hurts.

Po rtrait

A young Po, 2005-ish

Saga of Recluse RPG Ideas

I’ve been testing some of the books that I enjoyed as an adolescent, and I’ve gotten to re-reading some of L.E. Modesitt’s Saga of Recluse. I read a few forum comments by the author himself, though from 17 years ago, about how he has approached more than one RPG publishing company about a Recluse game, but that they gave up at some point because of the complexity and difficulty. Now, I can see this happening, talking to an author about their 19-novel series that spans 1900 years of history, but I don’t think an encyclopedic style game would make sense for recluse. I think a Recluse game would have to mirror the kinds of stories that the novels are – first-person narratives from the point of view of a nascent order-master or, sometimes, chaos-master, and then more broadly about how the repercussions of actions ripple through time.

So, what would a Recluse RPG need?

  • A system for chaos and order magic, including the interactions between the two, the balance in a given place or person, etc.
    • Also how chaos and order magic can be used to augment or even replicate skills
  • Tools for running single-player RPG sessions. There aren’t a ton of those out there, but I think there is a lot of potential here. Maybe you and your spouse want to game. Maybe you only have one friend who wants to play a RPG. I ran single-player games for my best friend for a few years in Middle and High School.
  • A system for playing out the repercussions of the character’s actions over time, affecting other stories
    • Maybe even taking Modesitt’s approach and placing the stories at different points along the timeline, with later events asking the question – how did things get this way. Something Microscope-ish
  • This could also be a GM-less/GM-full game, with one protagonist and then the surrounding characters in each scene played by the other players at the table. Maybe one handles order-chaos interactions, and one handles history and culture and call-backs to other events, one handles opposition, etc. Your standard GM-less/GM-full fare

Pastorful: Don’t Just Fill Seats

I once served a church that was very interesting – they had somehow partitioned themselves, unconsciously, so that some of the lowest-functioning people were serving on the governing board (for the PCUSA, the Session). I came to see it as a kind of quarantine, and the church functioned in such a way that the Session was called upon to do as little as possible so that the rest of the congregation could get on with things.

This led to a couple of disasters, as one might expect.

One vivid one involved a member of the board climbing onto the table to scream threats at another board member, saying they would strangle them. In the wake of that disastrous meeting, four of the twelve board members resigned. They had seen how the sausage was made, and wanted no part of it. I couldn’t blame them, and realized we had a lot of work to do.

What fueled this recipe for disaster, in part, was the idea that they had to find people to fill the seats on the board. There were twelve seats and so they had to find twelve people, and what resulted in this particular church was that there were a number of people who were serving on the board not because they felt called to do so, but because they were pursued and even guilt-tripped until they capitulated and served their time.

So you had a room full of leaders who didn’t want to lead, who didn’t want to make difficult decisions, who didn’t want to learn how to lead, and who wanted to find the easiest way to relieve any problems that came up.

The principle that I drew from this experience was to always remind churches that their job is not to fill seats on the board. Let’s say we have twelve seats on the church board – I would rather have seven or eight people who want to be there and feel called to be there. I tell nominating committees again and again, until they tell it back to me, that their job is not to fill seats. Their job is to discern who is called to leadership at this time, period. If zero people are called, then we add zero people to the board. If one or two, then one or two are added, even if each year we are ‘supposed’ to find four.

I really can’t stress this enough. Never just fill seats. You never want more people there than have been called to be there.

Pastorful: The Karl Shadley Method

I had an idea for a series of posts I’m calling “pastorful”, which lay out some things I’ve learned in the last 10 years of being a pastor. I’m not sure this is actually of any value, but maybe I have helpful ideas to add, not only to pastors but to similar folks – nonprofit directors and so on. So here we go…

As an intern in my last two years of Seminary, my mentor and the pastor of the church where I served was named Karl Shadley. I learned a lot from him, and I think I did a decent job as intern, making the usual number of dumb mistakes in a gracious, forgiving multicultural and multi-lingual context.

One way that Karl and I were (and likely still are) opposites is the degree to which we experience anxiety. I experience it a lot – Karl not nearly so much. Being a “non-anxious presence” for me is often a professional performance, like being polite and gracious to a rude customer in retail, but for Karl I think it came more naturally. He was often entertained by how upset I got about things before they happened, or after, or during.

Without going into detail, there is one situation that stuck with me at the church. The Session, or governing board, felt that something needed to happen, and they believed that it was Karl’s job to make it happen. Karl disagreed. So what he did, for months (I remember maybe six), was just sit calmly in Session meetings while people expressed their anxiety and frustration. Most people would have caved and just done the thing – but not Karl.

Here was the theory – if people truly cared about what they wanted to happen, they would come together and find a way to make it happen themselves. In the meantime, if Karl took it up, it would just become another thing he had to do that he didn’t want to and that he didn’t see as part of his job as pastor. Over time, it’s likely that bitterness might creep in, and having someone grudgingly do the work would lead to the work not being done as well as it could.

Finally, people came together and did whatever it is they were demanding themselves. I remember Karl’s calm smile. The Session moved on to the next issues.

I took this to heart, and have tried to build myself up to where I can reflect this kind of patience. I’ve definitely been tested, but in situations where I am being pushed to do something to alleviate other people’s anxiety, which I don’t think is part of my job as pastor, I remember this story and try to be patient.

What I took away from this experience, and have seen reinforced since then many times, is this idea that it doesn’t do anyone favors to take on their anxiety and do their work for them. If members of the community truly want something to happen, they’ll find a way – but sometimes they are just anxious and want to relieve that anxiety by seeing something happen, but they don’t want it enough to put any effort into it.

And it’s OK if people don’t get what they’re not willing to work for.