I’m still working up to the point where I’m ready to write regularly here, but part of what I’ve been doing in the meantime is finishing the Hoard of House Rules. It’s…52 pages of stuff for D&D 5E ranging from new spells to new monsters, a psionic class with three subclasses, and a bunch of optional ways to handle treasure, combat, backgrounds and so on. OK sales pitch over.
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.
A young Po, 2005-ish
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.
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.
The Trope: War Against Evil
A common fantasy trope is a great war of good versus evil, and we cheer the forces of good onward to victory over the forces of evil. In essence, war is neutral, non-moral, and the moral conflict is between those who fight for good and those who fight for evil. There are many versions of this trope, including the few powerful heroes against the armies of evil – very common in D&D and similar games, which is to say, about 95% of TRPGs played in hours.
Tolkien: War Is Evil
How do we know that Sauron is evil? It isn’t because he lives in a huge dark tower, actually. That is a means to an end. Same with the orcs – they are an expression of Sauron’s intent, not the culmination of it.
The reason we know that Sauron is evil is that he brings war. He is one of two things – quietly building strength in preparation for war, or waging war against any neighbors who won’t submit to his will. That is why he is evil.
Sauron becomes a caricature of himself, twisted and writhing with hatred, looming in his dark tower surrounded by sulfurous fumes and browbeaten slave-troops, because he is ceaselessly bringing war.
Sauron is Ronald Reagan. Sauron is George W Bush. Sauron is American foreign policy since the Second World War. Sauron is drone strikes. Sauron is the War on Terror. Sauron is the police. Sauron is the War on Drugs. Sauron is ICE.
When characters in Tolkien’s works are good and end up fighting evil, they are like Faramir – they do not love battle, but only what they fight to protect. And this is what we tell ourselves as Americans, but this is definitely not what our behavior shows. Minas Tirith guarded their eastern border for a couple thousand years without invading eastward at all. Left to their own devices, they would have stayed that way indefinitely, it seems. The Shire never expands. Nor do the towns of Breeland, nor the elves of Lothlorien. Fifty years pass and Erebor, Dale and Lake Town don’t send colonists east and south to conquer new lands.
Tolkien has a lot of issues, but the default setting of ‘good’ for him is peaceful stasis. War comes when Sauron, the expansionist, comes marching to someone’s door.
Is this a distinction without a difference? Maybe. But for me this makes a big difference – the presumption of war, versus the acknowledgement that war is always evil, and that perpetually bringing war to others is what makes one evil in the first place.