Monday, June 21, 2010

On how Christian life is like DnD

Hello blog readers!

I'd just like to take this opportunity to announce a bit of a shift in the focus of my blog. As much as I love writing about what I've been knitting and showing you all my lovely pictures (which I will still do, don't camera is just out of batteries and I keep forgetting to buy more - I promise there shall be dazzling pictures soon) there are a lot of things on my mind and on my heart that I want to share. I was encouraged this weekend to start writing more often, and what better place to compose my little essays to myself than here on my blog? I know at least God will read them, and maybe a few of you as well might read and be encouraged by the things I have been thinking about.

Today I'd like to talk about how Christian life is like DnD. Now DnD which is of course Dungeons and Dragons might be quite familiar to some of you, but completely foreign to others so I want to begin with a quick explanations of what DnD is, and what it isn't. It is a game where a group of friends will gather together around a table and each role-play a character within a fictional universe, with the core mechanics of the world defined by a set of rules crafted to simulate real life as closely as possible in such a simplified form. The random chance inherent in real life activities is governed by the rolling of various dice. The story is narrated by the Dungeon Master (or Game Master if you use alternate terminology), DM for short. It is a game that is basically a more structured version of improv acting, or a form of group storytelling. The story is guided by the DM, but the choices each character makes can dramatically alter their path at any time. DnD has gotten a lot of bad rap in the past from Christian groups for being 'evil' and 'Satanic', but let me tell you this. The game itself is neither good nor bad in and of itself. By the nature of the way the game is, it is built on imagination and will reflect what is in the hearts and minds of the players. The players decide for themselves what they will do, how they will do it, and what direction the story will take. I believe that not only can this game be a lot of fun, but it also can give you a lot of insight into the lives of different types of people as you branch out and try different characters, and try to imagine how someone different might act and be motivated.

For people just entering relationship with God, they have just become a level 1 Christian. Now, what do people love most in DnD? No, I'm not talking about gold. What do they love more than gold? XP of course! The more experience points you get, the sooner you can move up to the next level. When you move up to the next level, you get new abilities and your character becomes progressively more awesome. From my experience, people will do almost anything for extra xp. This is the heart and soul of the game. If you're not earning xp, you're not really playing at all (or, you have a really stingy DM). The same is true for Christianity. To gain levels, you need xp. What DnD adventurer is content to sit in the village and stay level 1 for the whole campaign? That's not fun at all! And yet many Christians choose to do just that. They're content with level 1 and never seek anything more. People that want to grow in relationship and maturity in their faith, they know they need xp.

The next question is, how do we get xp? In DnD, xp is earned through "encounters", either combats or role-playing encounters. If the players avoid all the encounters the DM brings their way, they won't earn any xp. However, when they face an encounter, even if they're not completely successful, the DM will award each player a designated amount of xp proportional to their level and the difficulty of the encounter. A good DM will tailor the difficulty of the encounters to the level of the party so that they will be challenged, but not overwhelmed. With Jesus as our DM, he does exactly the same thing. So if we're level 1, he brings us level 1 encounters. If we're a higher level, the encounters he brings us are commensurate with our skills and abilities. As the DM, he knows our capabilities exactly, and he also has the story and encounters planned out that will bring us into our destiny. However, we still have the choice to face those encounters or ignore them. The awesome thing about Jesus is that he's a wonderfully generous DM. Even if we feel like we failed an encounter, he will still give us xp for it and bring us that much closer to reaching the next level. Granted, the encounters are more difficult at the next level, but we face them with greater insights, more effective skills, and a greater degree of freedom in how we can come through them.

I can't say enough about what an amazing DM Jesus is. He's always at the table, always attentive to your decisions and moving the story forward. Even if you miss out on encounters maybe because you were afraid or maybe because you simply didn't recognize them, he will always bring more your way. If a certain encounter is getting the better of you, he'll bring in allies to aid you. It's actually really impossible to fail an encounter unless you choose to fail it. Which happens more than you might think. Imagine this scenario:

Player 1: "I walk up to the dragon and let it eat me."
DM: "Wait, what? Why don't you try attacking it?"
Player 1: "I know it's hopeless. I'll never win. So I'm just going to let it eat me now. Here I am, dragon!"
DM: "Ok, well the dragon sees you walking toward it and it grabs you with it's claw. Roll to resist grapple."
Player 1: "I'm not going to roll. I don't resist the grapple."
DM: "Well then you're grappled, and the dragon squeezes you dealing...5 points of damage as he begins to crush you in his claw."
Player 2: "I rush in and pour my potion of Cure Light Wounds down my friend's throat to heal him."
Player 1: "I refuse to drink it. Your potion just spills on my clothes because I keep my mouth tightly shut."

Now, obviously Player 1 is in trouble in this scenario. Is it the DM's fault? Does the DM want to see the player fail? Of course not! The DM wants the player to succeed, but he can't override the will of the player. It's obviously a ridiculous scenario, yet this is exactly what we choose to do in our lives. We are confronted with lies and instead of fighting against them, we choose to believe them and are consumed by them. Then we blame God for all the trouble we're in. One thing I have struggled with for a long time is fear. I believed it so much that I began to think, well this is just who I am, I'll never get rid of it so I'll just avoid those situations that make me afraid. Every encounter where I could have stood up to that fear, I simply gave in to it instead. I believed the lie, and couldn't hear the voice of my DM saying, "Why don't you fight? I have given you everything you need to win this." But now, I'm starting to see the dragon, and my battle cry is, "You are going to add to my xp, jerk! I'll show you what it means to fight, and you will have no more agreement from me, fear!" Is it easy? No, it's challenging. But it's a challenge appropriate to my level, and I'm confident of my success.

So, for those of you who are also adventuring with Jesus as your DM, I encourage you to look for those encounters that he brings your way. It might be anything from writing a note to a friend letting them know how much you care about them, to travelling into the wilds of Africa and raising the dead. Jesus is wonderfully creative and has all manner of exciting fantastic encounters waiting for you and so much xp to give out; all he's waiting for is for you to step out and start running to your encounters instead of away from them. Listen to the whisper of the Holy Spirit that says, "Here, this is your encounter today." Maybe this sounds cliche, but the world needs heroes. There are so many people suffering all around us that we can't afford to stay level 1. You have a destiny. Aren't you excited to level up and see what comes next? I know I am!

(Many thanks to my good friend Rachael, fellow DnDer, who inspired this post by making me a fantastic "Jesus is my DM" button. I love your crafty geekiness Rachael, and miss seeing you around the table every week.)