Friday, December 31, 2010

Game Blog

I run a kids D&D game which I wanted to set up an information site online for. So I've started a blog for all things Rathbone. I will focus on the quirks of my fantasy world, with a focus on the material for the kids game.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Chirstmas Aftermath

I'm trying my best to veg over Christmas, but it is a balancing act. My special gift for my youngest (7) was a starter stamp album (very basic one made by Harris) and we've been working at filling in the holes. I had some common Canadian stamps that belonged to her grandfather - he gave it to me to go through before he went into the hospital and there isn't really anything of value in there but I wanted to look for varieties - so it was nice to go through that with her and talk about her grandfather as a collector. Hopefully she'll see that page and maybe think of him. Over the course of the week I've been working on some South American material - Brazil actually - sorting out stamps by watermarks and perforations. I find it relaxing. She would come down and sit with me, she even spotted a few that she needs to fill in pictures in her album.

The other thing we've done together is play Killer Bunnies. The end determination of who wins is a bit strange (it is a lot of work for a random finish) but the game play is fun. Even my youngest gets the game and has won at least two of our games.

With my older daughter we got her a pile of hamster tubes for Gracey. Right now we have an awesome configuration which enters the cage three different ways. Gracey seems to think she can find the weak spot and escape! She might just do it too, she is pretty smart.

I've even had a bit of time to work. Sharon took the girls snowboarding and plans on going again tomorrow. We have friends coming over all day tomorrow to play games and hang out. It has been a nice break overall. However, I've also felt fairly down emotionally, which is not uncommon for this time of the year. Part of it is the realization of how much work I have ahead of me, but it is also being frustrated with not keeping the balance well. For all this hanging out with my family I do find myself craving solitude - especially towards the end of the day.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Evangelicals

Just finished James Hunter's American Evangelicalism. A bit dated but an excellent reflection on the sociology of evangelicalism. He follows a common delineation for evangelicals: Reformed-Calvinist, Anabaptist (I often call these Communitarians), Pentecostal-Holiness (which includes Methodism), an Baptists. I wonder how such a typology holds in the post-modern blurring that seems to be occurring within evangelicalism today? I wanted to read this one before I dug into his To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Frustration and ADHD

One of the realities I've been trying to work through concerns my working memory and inability to sustain concentration for long periods of time. Although it seems late, after about 10 years of higher education (BATh, MATh, and finally finishing my residency for a PhD in Theology), I am trying to figure out if treatment that might help me. Two things sent me in this direction, a documentary on adults with ADHD by Patrick McKenna and working with ADHD experts for my oldest daughter. I am on my third medication, and this one is not going as well as I would like. However, it is hard to look at it objectively, so I rely on the observations of others as well, especially my wife. She's definitely seen an improvement.

I've noticed a few good things during this experiment. First off I am finding that when the meds function well I am not feeling so driven and I am able to enjoy my family in a way that I did not expect. I always wondered why that was such as struggle, but when you spend so much time frustrated at yourself it is hard to enjoy the people around you as much as you should. I am also finding that my productivity is better during the afternoons, which is when I was having the most trouble. For those who don't know, working memory is what we use to organize immediate tasks - kinda like a scratch pad for the mind. Afternoons I would most often find myself heading to start a task and getting sidetracked, often repeatedly. It can be very frustrating and it was helpful to learn that this is one of the things that finding the right meds can help with. If you see me writing out a list to know what to do - that is because I have to.

Unfortunately the drugs also do some bad things. When the dosage is too high then, for me at least, waves of irrational depression overtake me. Also my productivity grinds to a halt. It is simply not pleasant. The other thing that is troubling is that when I change the dosage (I decided to take a break this weekend and it is not going so well) I get moody, clumsy and easily frustrated. I don't feel myself at all. But on the weekends I'm hesitant to take anything if I sleep in - the other bad effect is that the meds I'm on make it hard to settle at night. So I've been getting to sleep around 1AM (earlier if I use melatonin but that seems to have another unpleasant effect - exhausting dreams).

The goal with meds is not to stay on them forever, but to get some of the symptoms under control long enough to work out some new strategies with a cognitive therapist. Having lived this long with ADHD I do have some strategies in place - but not all of them good. I am quite capable as a student - I think I had one B+ (lowest course mark) throughout my undergrad and masters degrees. But I did most of my work only after the deadlines were pressing so hard on me that I needed to stay up into the wee hours to get anything done. That was hard on everything in life and that strategy will not work to complete a PhD thesis.

I'll likely switch to a different med, probably something short acting. I've seen glimpses of what good can come of this. I think it will be great for my work and marriage. But it sure is a pain getting it worked out. Anyone else here gone through this? I'm hoping to work this out as quickly as possible - so it will not impede my work progress.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Taking Ourselves Seriously

I love to joke about my job, in some ways it is how I keep my sanity in a culture where there are serious questions about the legitimacy of professional clergy let alone professional theology. But all joking aside I think that both of those jobs are very important. Over on the Regional ThoughtWorks Blog I pointed out an article by Vineyard USA director Bert Waggoner on the importance of theology. He begins that article begins with something I've been saying over and over - we are all theologians but the choice is whether we will be good or bad theologians. For me the choice to do academic theology has a very pastoral concern at heart: I think we can do theology, and by logical extension church and the Christian life, much better than we are. I say this as a committed evangelical in a neo-pentecostal movement who sees similar issues throughout the whole of the Church. I do it because I care and hope.

My pastoral work at Freedom Vineyard comes from a similar core value. I love the people God has privileged me to walk with. And I count myself right in there with them as a person who can always do better. But rather than getting hung up on what any of us is not doing as well as we would like - I try to find ways to engage with a life of faith and faithfulness that is both a model and an encouragement for those in my care. And for those in my care, or even just those I care about cause I am not the most formal guy, I try to make this central to our relationship. In a real sense it is how I am wired. Even in the IT workplace, I would look for opportunities to live out this part of my being.

So you might hear me joking around, poking fun even at my own chosen professions. But one thing I take very serious is that these are real vocations and I am honoured to feel chosen by God to take them on.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Most Embarrassing Book on my Shelf Meme

Been following the links on this meme. Delightful stuff really. So a quick look to my right and there is a section I call General Spiritual, lots of choice books in there to be embarrassed about (I like that word, it evokes the image that your ass is hanging out!). Two jump out, books with stories.

First up is this little, uh "gem" by Canada's own embarrassment to Christians everywhere - Todd Bentley. I've suffered bits of this steaming piece of... uh literature. But let me assure you I never purchased this book. How it came to be in my possession, and remains, is a matter of another con artist (not Bentley) that I met. This con artist contacted our church for help. I detailed the ordeal here, complete with a picture! When we took him in he tried to establish his credibility by dropping this book and a Spiritual Warfare Reference Library CD as a gift. I'm not sure who he stole them from, but if you want them back I'd be happy to oblige. At the time I didn't have the heart to tell him what I thought of this material - and have kept them as a sort of reminder of the whole event. But seriously, if you want this stuff back just let me know.

The second was not a purchase either. Honest. They came from the Living Waters Canada (Caustic Evangelism organization that is) rep as I told everyone here. He sent me about three books. One I reviewed and got rid of, one I just got rid of and the last one I kept just in case, I don't know, I wanted to feel what it is like to be kicked in the nuts intellectually. The ironically named Ray Comfort represents much of what I think is wrong with fundamentalism. I just flipped it open and there is a chapter entitled Ten Steps to Conviction - seriously what the hell is wrong with him? Oh yeah, he thinks the Law is your bestest friend ever and would like to firmly embed that Law up your backside too. Ok, before I start popping blood vessels I'm going to put these two... uh 'books' back on my shelf.

I think step one to conviction was to admit I had them at all. Excuse me while I try my hardest to forget them again.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Scheduling Content for the Thoughtworks Blog

I mentioned the new blog I started as part of my work for the Ontario Vineyards. I wanted to make sure it as up and off to a great start before I spent a bit more time here continuing my swim through political theologies and all things interesting to me. I am one post shy of having something ready to come one every Monday morning (8AM EST). I have a few requests for content outstanding (specific people I've tagged) and am hoping that by then I will get a suggestions for content. Add in announcements for things like the Vineyard Webinars and it looks like a good rate of 1-2 posts/week. Already it is getting daily hits, although it is nothing like I see here at Freedom Log despite my slow post rate here.

The kids are off on their Christmas break week after next. So this week is the last reading push I have. Monday is a write off already too. That is a bit frustrating as I've been trying out some medication as a way of improving my working memory and concentration - but the process of finding the right meds is making me wonder if this was such a good idea. I've lost more than a few days to the ill effects of incorrect dosage - and I now have a new appreciation of my friends who deal with depression (one of the indications that the dosage is too high for you to tolerate).

Once the kids are off there are a few things I'd like to post about here. I want to reflect a bit on the course I taught recently on Adult Spirituality. What a great group of students (teachers actually) I had the honour of working with. Also I have made quite a bit of progress shaping my thesis in terms of what needs to be there and what I'm going to drop. As I start honing in on the last of the broad readings and begin writing chapter one in earnest I will probably be quiet here. And finally I want to tell you about a game module I put together for one of my D&D campaigns, and how it ran.

I also have a few other projects in the pipes. I am possibly speaking at a local Presbyterian church that brings in a theologian each year to spend some time exploring a topic in depth. I proposed to do some sessions on the relationship we have with Scripture. Looking at how this has changed since the 19th century and some of what I find helpful today: namely narrative readings and the notion of an interpretive community. I think it will be two Sundays, back to back, in the new year. We'll see if they like my proposal (I was invited to offer a proposed topic) and bring me in. When it is confirmed I'll post some details. The other project is I have a formal book review to write - so I won't be posting the book review here but I will give you more details on how to find it.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Teaser Trailer for Freedom Vineyard

This past year has been really busy with folks at Freedom Vineyard. One of the really cool things about pastoring a small church is that you really get in each others' lives. But when folks are busy, like from the two weddings we did last year, a lot of stuff you want to do get put on hold. Last night I was talking with Christine, she helps me coordinate the theology pubs at Freedom, and looks like we have a few topics for the new year! Book club has been going well, but a lot more sporadic than in the past. I think we are going to be doing Naturally Supernatural next. I can't wait. I think this is an excellent book, but also an essential one for getting a sense of what really is at the heart of the Vineyard - fully embracing the tension of the now-not yet Kingdom that is a reality which breaks into our lives. We are still working through Scot McKnight's Blue Parakeet, which is getting a mixed reaction in the group. What I love about our book club is that they really love to go deep and explore not just what a book says, but what the author is trying to do and how that challenges us. I couldn't ask for a better group to do this project with. The other perk is that both Blue Parakeet and Naturally Supernatural are part of the ThoughtWorks programme - so many of our folks will be doing the assignments that the ThoughtWorks team has put together. This is a great way to implement ThoughtWorks in a local congregation.

We are still struggling with the shape of church, right now we have kinship in two homes (switching each week), and have a third backup home available. I'd like to see the groups growing a bit more numerically, but our strength has always been to build into what God brings and not worry about trying to make Freedom into something other than that. In fact whenever we've tried to push it it seems to not go very well. But as we have tried to be faithful with what we have, God seems to be doing amazing things in peoples lives. And the best part is that I've gotten to be part of that for about ten years now!

If any of this sounds like stuff that you would like to connect with then let me know. We often have people crash what we are doing. Our passion is to build up anyone God sends our way - with no expectations. A big part of this comes from the Vineyard that welcomed me when I couldn't be part of their main congregation (I was on staff at another church) but was hurting from my experience in my home church. They loved me, prayed for me, equipped me (I was a worship leader in the church I was on staff with and the Vineyard folk continually modeled generosity with all that God had blessed them with!), and when it was time for me to move back to Ottawa they blessed my going as if I were completely their own. I think that is why I love the Vineyard so much. But it also is why we really believe in the philosophy of building up the whole body, wherever and however we can, and leave the rest to God.

I'm excited about the new year. Hope that me and my Freedom Vineyard family can be a blessing to you in it.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Worldviews

I'm a bit of a Dilbert fan, so click on the picture to get to the comic I wanted to use with this post (I didn't want to pay the licensing fees). What I thought was interesting about this comic is that it shows how worldviews clash in most of our minds. Worldviews are comprehensive systems of understanding about the world, ourselves and our role(s) in the world. They are very much the metanarratives by which we navigate our world. They are also fairly fluid constructs unique to the individual (for example, there is no such thing as a Christian worldview, but there are Christian worldviews). But they are often unexamined. Here Dogbert challenges the basis for Dilbert's claim, because that claim is integral to Dilbert's own worldview, the claim functions as a belief rather than a hypothesis, and our first response when a belief is challenged is to defend it. What is hilarious, to me, is that when Dilbert goes to defend his belief he appeals to a pre-modern epistemology! The modern turn was a shift away from understanding conveyed through authority - people realized that they didn't need to let the institutions think for them but could use the might power of human reason to emancipate themselves from authority. This only proves that his claim comes from an unexamined worldview that is striving for internal coherence. Of course I'm not commenting on the content of his worldview - I actually think he has the claim formulated a bit wrong. He should say that evolution is the best explanation for he data we have at hand, which is how a theory rightly functions within the scientific method.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Party

My wife has added another decade to her years revolving around the sun. She makes any age look great! So we needed to mark the occasion. She had asked for a mystery menu party (search for mystery food dinner on the web and ignore the ones about dinner theatre). Our friends Mari and John introduced us to the format - the diners are given a menu of 20+ cryptic items (usually based on a theme) from which they pick 3. Once all the orders are in the menus disappear and they are served. They then get to try two more times - usually when they figure out which is the wine/beer that gets ordered again. It is a real hoot - but it takes a lot of prep. And my sweetie is gluten free so that makes it a bit more work.

I set up the Pinetrail Apothecary and Fine Dinery. Three intimate tables (4 people at a table) with the birthday girl in the middle. The hardest part was deciding on which friends to invite - I so wish we could have had a few more folks. I blocked off the kitchen with sheets and spent two days preparing all the food! Yeah, it was that much work. I had my oldest daughter and my nephew to help serve - but I ended up plating most of the dishes. It was easier that way but it took a long time. One of our requirements was that people had to show up on time and had to let us know early enough if they were to back out - the party doesn't work as well unless you fill all the seats. Actually we had someone back out and so we got to invite another long time friend of Sharon's - which was great.

I set up our dining-living room with candles. Me and the helpers wore borrowed pharmacist lab coats. I started with a bit of an intro, telling people the format and saying that the pharmacy theme is because Sharon has been everything I want in a drugstore for many years now (we just had our 15th anniversary!). It was so much fun.

Here is the list of items - want to take a crack at what each one turned out to be? One hint, in this format you need to order your cutlery, otherwise you have to get creative with how you eat.

1 Cold Medicine - Yes we have the cure for the common cold.

2 Chemical Solvent - Useful for making problems go away.

3 Laudanum - Are you sure it is just a headache? Try this it ought to help.

4 Mild Amphetamine - A house specialty.

5 Antidepressant - Turn that frown, upside down.

6 General Prescription - Beat your doctor to the punch. Our head pharmacist prescribed this one.

7 Little Blue Pill - We make a killing selling these things.

8 Multivitamin - Our own special blend. You will not be disappointed.

9 Herbal Mixture - Made fresh daily.

10 Melatonin - When you need a little help getting to sleep.

11 Ocular Medicine - A real sight for sore eyes.

12 Pens -This is the write choice for you.

13 Mild Laxative - We don’t really want to see you go. But if we can help, you know we will. Try this.

14 Antioxidant Preparation - Only the best ingredients are part of the healthiest meals.

15 Protein Preparation - It has been ready for you, are you ready for it?

16 Spatulas - We know that you were counting on this item. Can we count on you to order it?

17 Bowl and Pestle - Imagine the possibilities. This is the perfect companion for any pharmacist.

18 Mexican Drug Lord - For a limited time only, shhhhhhh.

19 Fibre and Ointment - This is a regular item on our menu.

20 ADHD Medicine - When you need a little help to stay in your seat, try an order of this.

21 Suspension - One of these days we will take this off the menu. When? Well, we will just have to keep you in suspense.

I'm thinking this would make a great format for a bunch of guys to shower their affection on their wives at Valentines. Any takers? It has been quite a few years since I've done the crazy Valentines meal for my love with a bunch of friend.

Friday, December 03, 2010

D&D 4E Skill System


It took a long time for D&D to make skills actually an integral part of the game. I remember back in AD&D days how there was really a strange disconnect between skills and game play - but then again we were more about the combat back then. I'm actually really impressed with a number of things about the way skills work in 4E.

1) The set number of skills means no skill creep. Skill creep is when you have an ever expanding list of skills to choose from. Basically they have distilled them into a set that you can peg just about anything into. Some of the connections seem a bit forced, like stonework under dungeoneering, but all in all it is nice to have a small set list to work with. This actually encourages me to use skills more in designing adventures.

2) Skill challenges are also a great addition to the game mechanics. What skill challenges do is give a progression in which skills are applied to a task to complete it. You need x successes before x failures. You can do other things like tie pieces of information to certain numbers and kinds of successes. Also you can set a maximum number of times any one skill can be applied to the challenge - this is really good for getting players to think creatively about what they are doing. I make them justify their skill picks and assist skill picks (and award role playing XP for such things).

3) Passive insight and passive perception are great as well. They represent how intuitive and attentive the character is. It is neat for them to automatically detect that someone is trying to scam them in some way. Just make sure that if you want to make secret doors a challenge, make them higher than the highest passive perception.

4) The last thing I like is that it actually forces the party to balance out their ability scores. By balancing out ability scores and skills they cover over a larger range of possibilities - it means they play more creative characters and make sure that we do not have an all striker party.

The new skill system is a big hit in my book.