Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Namesake

Photo by Fawkes Winchester
    When I set out to create this blog, I had a hard time coming up with a title for it. I tried to think of clever plays on words that I see many podcasters and bloggers use; 'Bored Again Christian', 'The Way, the Truth, and the Dice Magazine', 'Ears to Hear Radio', but I couldn't think of anything. I prayed for some time, and realized that my goal in creating this blog wasn't to be clever. My goal was to join a community of gamers who also shared a passion for the Word as I do. I didn't want to stray from this purpose, so I began to read the Bible and as I perused the scriptures, I remembered the verse in the book of Acts in which the apostles decided to cast lots to see who would replace Judas. And so it goes, the Casting Lots blog was given its name.

A History Lesson
    For those that are unfamiliar with the term, casting lots was a general method used to determine the will of God by the Jews and by Christians prior to Pentecost. The act of casting lots was used to describe a number of methods, but generally referred to the throwing of dice or engraved sticks as an effort to seek an answer from God regarding an important topic or event.

    The casting of lots was ordained by God under the Old Covenant, and was practiced by the high priests using special devices called Urim and Thummim. Though no physical description of them is given in the Bible, they are generally thought to be a pair of engraved stones. The Urim and the Thummim were kept within the cloth breastplate of a high priest's ephod, an ornate ceremonial robe. Though there is no distinct instruction of their use, the book of 1 Samuel 14:41 gives us some insight as to how they were used.
"Then Saul prayed to Yahweh, the God of Israel, “Why have You not answered Your servant today? If the fault is in me or my son Jonathan, respond with Urim, but if the men of Israel are at fault, respond with Thummim.” Jonathan and Saul were taken by lot, and the men were cleared."

    It should also be noted that this practice was generally to be done for significant measures and God was not obligated to always communicate through them. Anna Diehl of the Christian Post explained it this way: Flip two coins with two different sides: heads and tails. There are three possible outcomes: two heads, two tails, or one head and one tail. We don't know exactly what the Urim and Thummim looked like, but if they were at all like our two-sided coins today, then it would be quite easy for Yahweh to convey answers of "yes", "no", or "silence" through them.

Practice Today
    Being that there is no reference in the Bible regarding Christians casting lots after Pentecost, it is concluded by many that after the arrival of the Holy Spirit, this method was no longer necessary. Instead, we as believers are to rely on the Holy Ghost's guidance and derive ministry from the revelation of the New Testament. Now, this is not to say that the practice of casting lots is condemnable in this day and age. Consider this excerpt from The Tapestry by Edith Schaeffer;
    'It was 5:30 a.m. and Francis Schaeffer had an agonizing decision to make. Before his father walked out the front door to go to work, he wanted to hear what his 19-year-old son was going to do. Francis was a year out of high school and struggling to know God's will. He had put his trust in Christ as savior the year before, and that decision had turned his life upside down. his parents wanted him to stay home and become a mechanical engineer - something Francis had wanted to do as well - but now his heart was pulling him in another direction.
    He sensed God leading him to go away to college to prepare for ministry. He told his father that he needed a few more minutes to think, then he went off to the cellar to pray. He wept as he asked God for help. Finally, in desperation he took out a coin and said, "Heads, I'll go." It was heads. Then he pleaded, "God, be patient with me. If it comes up tails this time, I'll go." It was tails. "Once more, God. Please let it be heads again." It was heads. Francis went back upstairs and told his father, "Dad, I've got to go." Although later he said he would never advise anyone else to use the same method of finding God's will, Francis felt that his decision was right.' 
     So, could I cast lots to seek guidance in a decision? Totally. Would it be a bit nonspiritual? Not if I've acknowledged the Lord, taken council from His principles in the Word, used common logic, and taken advice from my peers. It should be a last resort and more importantly: should only be done when choosing between good options. Flipping a coin for any arbitrary decision is a foolish way to avoid making one's own decisions based on their sensibilities.

    When it is imperative that a decision be made, but you've used all your resources and there is no clear answer, simply make a choice. You were given the freedom to do so. But if you are paralyzed by indecision, go ahead; pray to God and flip a coin. God can be glorified by either decision.

    To paraphrase the venerable Luke Navarro, God is the Gamemaster. He is in control and He works in the lives of those who have the heartfelt desire to please Him.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Long Days and Longer Work Schedules

    And so I've returned from my fourteen hour shift and the brick factory. And now, as I look forward to my next fourteen hour shift in eight hours, I'm left to carefully juggle sleep and blogging. So this week I'll maintain that brevity is the better part of valor, to paraphrase the venerable adage (and to quote a certain favorite pillow-wielding actor at the same time, bonus point if you can guess!). Life is hectic. Theological debates, sporadic-but-heavy-handed work hours, helping out with my roommates adorable children, church, bible study, I could continue ad infinitum.

My point, well, I have no point. I'm simply writing what my fingers choose to articulate on the keyboard. Today, unfortunately, will not be a day of tabletop insight or theological discussion. Instead, I have a silly video to share with you.I believe there is one expletive in the second half of the skit, so for those particularly sensitive to harsh language, be forewarned. But don't worry! It's still relevant.

Even if it is super dorky.


Wednesday, May 27, 2015

A Short History of Dice


Just A Little Something
    So this week's content is going to play out a little differently than our usual weeks. Tonight I have an interesting little video about the history of dice; where they come from, what cultures used them, etc. This abridged bit of content is aimed at accomplishing two things: A.) To segue into my next topic; the use of casting lots (see what I did there?) in the Bible and it's cultural and religious significance, and 2.) To give me time to finish my research on the aforementioned subject. "The History of Dice in Under 6 Minutes" is an interesting little video (albeit the humour is slightly dodgy). Any expletives are edited out if that is something that concerns you. In the mean time, keep an eye out for another, more extensive article, coming later this week!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Mental Health & Gaming

Art by Cynthia Lane Armstrong
My Own Struggles
    So, I've struggled with 'clinical depressive disorder' for as long as I can remember (though admittedly, my memory is terrible). Various abuses (non-familial, mind you. My family is very great) during my childhood lead to low self-image which in turn lead to a self-deprecating attitude. Upon reaching middle school, I had become suicidal and obsessively self-mutilating. It was a dark time in my life; I had isolated myself emotionally, fallen away from my faith in Christ, and reciprocated my hurt by lashing out at others and acting rebelliously.
    By grace of God, I emerged from this dark place thanks to so many blessing He poured into my life all at once, when I needed them the absolute most. Before the day arrived that I would take my own life, the woman who would become my fiance grew to care for me and this relationship that had burgeoned pulled me away from the proverbial ledge. Together, we put my pieces back together and resolved to found our relationship by our faith. To this day, it bewilders me that the young, selfish, ignorant boy that I once was could possibly make such a decision. But again, all by the grace of God.

    Those days, I had very little solidarity with friends or family. Many of them were as troubled as I was in varying degrees, and I was ashamed to reveal my angst lest I be discarded by my peers. So, we would play video games and later, tabletop games as I discovered Dungeons & Dragons. But being the sort of person I was, the games were frivolous; saturated in 'murder-hoboism' and crude humour.
    Today, however, I have learned to use this painful past as a powerful tool in my experience with other people who are hurting. Dozens and dozens of times, I have been stopped and asked about the absonant marring that webs across my forearm. At the store, during my time at college, at friends' houses, people ask me why I would resort to something so drastic, why I choose not to hide the scarring, if I have any regrets. My answer, summarily, is this: With that past behind me, I must live with the repercussions. And in doing so, I have been given the opportunity to help others who hurt the way I did.

Therapeutic Gaming
    Now before I start to ramble, this is not some sob story. My life is grand and I love living it. Rather, I want to signify the importance of building relationships that is oft overlooked (at least to the extent that I have perceived) and how detrimental an absence of them can be. To finish this terrible segue, this is why I fell in love with tabletop games. By living vicariously through a fictional character, I could allow myself to build relationships with the others at the table.

    Thanks to the great guys over at the Saving the Game podcast, I learned clinical therapy had taken a foray into the world of roleplaying games. The Bodhana Group; a non-profit organization that specializes in the holistic treatment of children and adolescence impacted by sexual trauma, uses therapeutic role-playing games as a medium to socialize, build empathy, and provide insight into moral decision making. At the time I had learned about them I thought it was an amazing prospect. Really, it is a very logical strategy and I'm not sure why it was so surprising to me. Roleplay being used for therapy is exceptionally common. Revolving the roleplay around a constructed and ordered game would logically provide further benefit, both for the therapist and the patient.

    So, from the perspective of a naive young man, this 'gaming therapy', if you will, sounded sensational. I'm totally jazzed about the prospect of role-playing and tabletop games being able to provide more than just a source of entertainment and actually help people who are hurting. However, before I jump to any conclusions, the right half of my brain yearns to know if it works. This is difficult to quantify as I am not a therapist, nor do I have any experience in the discipline. So, I thought I'd do some research on the subject and its efficacy.

    I won't bore you by regurgitating the condensed notes of the studies and organizations I found, as I had trouble understanding a portion of it even as I read it (I'm afraid I am unfamiliar, as it seems, with the therapist vernacular). Most prominently, I came across two studies: one was a study conducted in France on the effects of  regular tabletop gaming on cognitive decline and dementia in the elderly. Of the 3675 non-demented patients, 32.2% reported regular play of at least once per week. Of the 3675 participants, 840 developed dementia during the 20 year follow-up. According to their results, the risk of dementia was 15% lower in game players than in non-players.
    Additionally, a study was conducted in Grand Valley State University, Michigan, on the use of tabletop game intervention to reduce mental illness stigma among nursing students. 38 nursing students participated which showed an increase in empathy from the students.

Going Beyond
    So, it would appear that there is evidence to support the efficacy of tabletop games and their uses in mental health. These are excellent steps to take, but it is important for me to reiterate; while playing games and providing therapy for those of us that are hurting and need treatment is certainly an admirable act; it seldom results in a permanent fix to the problem. The emphasis that we should place on this is the relationships we build with each other. As a Christian, I am called to be engaged in others' lives. Sadly, it is easy to disconnect relationships from good deeds and charity and we tend to have difficulties making that distinction as a culture.
    What's important is to build relationships with those who are pushed to the margins. Defend them, be with them, be in solidarity with them. Show them Christ by living like Christ in their lives.

    I would say that someday I hope to build a ministry of games to help those that hurt the way I did those years ago. But far more importantly, I pray that I can step into those peoples' lives and show them the love and caring that they require.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Resolve

    So here we are, 8:30 in the evening and I've made no success in coming up with something to write about. The night hangs in the sky quietly as the colors of the day fade to gray; a quiet reminder that Wednesday is drawing its final waking breath. These last couple weeks have been some of the busiest in my short life, and I'm thankful for all that I've gotten to accomplish and the opportunities I've had to support people. 
    I've resolved to post on Casting Lots every week, no matter the circumstances. So despite the fact that I have no plans or ideas for this article, I sit here before you to write whatever it is that decides to flow from my fingertips onto the keyboard.

InnRoads
    It has been on my heart for some time now; this subtle call that I've felt towards the InnRoads community. If you're reading this blog and are unfamiliar with InnRoads Ministries, I would first ask you how you found me, but I would also ask you to become acquianted with them. They are a ministry of believers (that's churchy-talk for 'Christians') who try to live Christ through their love of games, tabletop or otherwise. 
    Be it the Holy Spirit or simply camaraderie, I've been drawn towards the InnRoads community with the strong desire to support. Sure, I write articles and things and post them to the Tavern (the InnRoads Facebook group), but blogs posts and game advice aren't what strengthen a community. A community is founded on relationships with each other and with God. So little by little, my desire is to build a relationship with the men and women there; a task that is daunting for me, who by nature must exert great effort to socialize with others.

    So, I suppose this is my love letter to the InnRoads community. Maybe that's weird, but I suppose that when you write without an intentional topic, whatever it is that's in the back of your mind comes out to influence it.

Anyway, next week I shall endeavor to find some constructive content for you to enjoy. Until then...


Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Masterwork Theatre: A Tale From the Coast, Part II

Art by Felipe de Barros
    "So, where were we?" I sat down to the table, back from the gas station with Doritos and Full Throttle. "Oh, we're at Port Maverick to talk to our supplies guy, uh..."
    "Edwardo Dundergruff; halfling ex-military," I reminded him,
    "Right, right. And then Guillermo was about to do something stupid," Derby said between handfuls of chips.
    "Don't worry that cute head of yours, baby. I've got this under control." Guillermo took a swig of sodapop and we resumed play.

~
    Fulvar's eyes widened with indignance as they stepped down the gangplank. A beardless Dwarf with a shorn pate stood at the edge of the pier with a clipboard in hand. Fulvar thought to himself, what sort of sick minded Dwarf would shave his beard off? Truly, this must be a base and sordid city with beardless Dwarves tramping about. And in a place of office! Faldun nearly protested aloud, but somehow he held his tongue. It was likely that Jim would get them enough trouble as it is.

    "Names." The dock official spoke curtly. Clearly this duty of his was not pleasing to him (though, by the look of the man, it would be safe to assume that there are very few things that are). Jim Crosby smiled defiantly. He would not let his good mood be spoiled by this stout sourpuss. "Name of Jim, lad; Jim Crosby. This here is my associate Faldun, pleasure to meet you, sir. Might I ask jus-"
    "Yes, very good," the Dwarf interrupted, "And how long do you expect to stay in Port Maverick, sirs?" He scriveled something on his little board, having yet to bother making eye contact with the now very bothered Jim. "Overnight stay," Jim muttered at the bald little man. He handed his clipboard to another official nearby and stepped onto a small crate, giving him the height necessary to open a much larger crate.
    "Now, if you would sir, please remove any weapons, armor, magical apparatus, or symbols of power, religious or otherwise into this crate. We will seal it with the date of your arrival and stamp it with your names and it will be stowed on your returning boat home."

   At this point, Jim decided he'd had quite enough. "Well, being a humble monk of Melora, the only armor I got is my humble garbs," he explained, "but rules are rules I suppose." And with that, Jim turned and dropped his trousers, mooning the discourteous Dwarf. "Now, if you don't feel I've been thorough, feel free to frisk me."

~

    The laughter eventually died down. My palm to my face, I asked Derby what he planned on having Faldun do. "Well, I hate this guy with a burning passion. But I also don't want to go to jail," he pondered his options carefully as I thought to myself whether this particular dock official was the type to rough a guy over before taking him into custody. I decided the Dwarf thought he was above such actions, but explained that a few armed guards have approached at the beardless Dwarf's request.
    "Diplomacy, check!" Derby exclaimed, "We don't need to make things physical, right? We're better than that. How about we pay him, say, a fine for indecent exposure and get this business over with. I'm sure he doesn't want to be around us any more than we want to be around him." I nodded in agreement, musing at the fact that a Dwarf was covering for a Human's social misstep. "Go for it."

"Cool." The die hit the table. "I got a seventeen."

~

"Well we're down a few gold, but at least we're not in jail," Faldun remarked, placing his coin purse back into the folds of his doublet. "Maybe next time take it easy on the nudity, okay?" They headed to the census and excise office to pickup their gear from the ship's cargo. Jim scoffed, "Oh, don't spoil my fun. Didn't you see that guy? He was a putz. I'm not even a Dwarf and I was offended by that ugly naked baby face." Faldun laughed as he opened the door to the building, "Your words are poetry, Jim."

    Now, with neither their gear nor themselves in custody, Jim and Faldun rummaged through the crate of their equipment and found their personal effects. But at the bottom of the box, they saw something else; a small scrap of paper, ornately scrawled on in cursive.

                 "Meet at the Leaning Lady. Midnight.                                  
                                                                                 ~Mister Whispers"

    Jim and Faldun exchanged glances nervously. Port Maverick was seeming more suspicious each minute they spent within it's confines.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

A Thirst for Expansion



    So we celebrated my fiance's birthday yesterday. We invited a few good friends and coworkers over and busted out the board, card, and dice games. We played our usual favorites; Munchkin, Liar's Dice, Boss Monster, et cetera, but a friend of ours came over with a new game for us to play as a birthday gift. It was called Forbidden Desert. We up it over to the table and he began to explain to us how it worked and all the fun he'd had playing it at home.

    He explained to me that essentially, you play as a group of steampunk-esque explorers in search of a lost city hidden by the sands of a desert. A storm picks up and your airship crash lands amidst the dunes, at which point you must survive the storm as you excavate the city in search for ancient technology while you repair your ship and escape. Needless to say, I was instantly intrigued. I love cooperative games like X-Com or Pandemic, and the steampunk aesthetic is just gravy on the cake. So, we cracked the box open, read the rules, and set the game up at the table.

    Sitting down, we were each randomly doled out a sort of class card. I was the miner. Being the only character capable of climbing over tiles that had been buried in sand, I was responsible for bringing my friends through the most treacherous areas that the storm had hit. We began excavating, collecting equipment from the city ruins under the sand. Our archaeologist dug up jet packs, desert-clearing duneblasters, and solar shields as our meteorologist tried his best to keep the sandstorm at bay. 
    But try as we might, the sun beat down on us harder and harder as our cantines grew drier and drier. As we treaded towards our final hope; an oasis, brimming with fresh water. We clambered towards this little paradise in the desert as the storm picked up but it faded away; a mirage in the desert. We were tiles and tiles away from the next closest water source as the sun beat down on us once more. It was over.

     So we died in the desert, but the table didn't erupt with frustrated groans and disappointment. Rather, we cheered at how far we'd gotten on our first go and we were raring to start the next round. The game was challenging, even on the lowest possible difficulty, and challenged you to really strategize as a team (as all good cooperative board games should). For only $20 (depending on where you buy), Forbidden Desert is pretty affordable.

     Of course, as is oft the case with board games the balance of the game is not perfect (is it ever, though?). Even after my first few rounds I could see factors that have the potential to throw off the games balance, but I would argue that it is a negligible level. My only real complaint about this game is that there isn't more of it. I'm thirsty for content that adds new flavor to the game.

    In conclusion, I'm not very good at closing reviews like this, so I'm just sort of going to leave it hanging in the air.
    See you next week!