Friday, November 24, 2006

Virtual Reality

My son tells me that I'd enjoy Second Life, a virtual reality game, a lot more if I had a fancier computer. A member of my congregation tells me that I'd enjoy it more if I was willing to collect and spend the small allowance that any user can have just for the giving up of one's credit card numbers. There's also the possibility of spending one's REAL money in second life, a proposition to which I'm opposed.

I 'd pretty much signed off of second life, much as I loved my animated paper doll who looked just like I fancy I look. But the, wonder of wonders, the UU Church of Second Life met for Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, I was fully engaged in my first life that day and didn't know about the meeting until after it happened.

How's this for a post-modern blurring of the reality/fantasy distinction? Last Summer, in another one of these multi-player world games, but one where fighting gangs are more the normal activity (sex and shopping seem to be the normal activity of Second Life), one of the key players died. In real life. Her Virtual Reality friends were bereaved in reality, however, and decided to have an "in game" memorial service. (Some day, my minister friends, you might be asked to officiate at such a thing...will you be ready?) Since this popular player had friends in several gangs, a neutral territory was selected for the gathering and all players had to leave their weapons at the entrance. Then they were proceeding to have a real virtual memorial service, with the various (virtual) characters extolling the (actual) deceased's character guessed it, one gang attacked and slaughtered the assembled (weaponless) crowd.

This (actually) happened last Summer, and some players have devoted their (virtual) energy ever since to exterminating the offending gang for continuing to play a game when an important piece of real life was going on. (This story courtesy of my son, who always knows what will pique my interest.)

Someday I'll get up early and try Second Life on his computer.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Crazy Chess

One of the best free flash games I've found is Crazy Chess, which you can have for your very own by clicking here .

Enrique has posted a sermon (here, in English) on the spirituality of computer games, and he got me to thinking about how the trick of winning lots of computer games is to figure out what is important at any moment.

In Crazy Chess, for instance, you've got to capture all the relentlessly progressing pawns (using the Knight's L-move) before they get to the bottom of the board and burn down your castle. That's enough of a trick, but in the end, you just can't move fast enough if you just capture pawns. You have to also be focusing on capturing various "power up" pieces which will slow down or freeze the pawns, blow them up, repair your castle, and give you an extra life.

In my first few days of addiction to this game, I focused on the pawns and on getting good at moving that pesky knight around. Eventually, I realized that this was a loosing proposition; I'd have to also work on capturing power ups before they disappeared. This is easy early in the game; later, when the pawns just keep coming, it is surprisingly hard to change one's focus to slowing the onslaught rather than capturing pawns.

In my calm weeks of ministry, I enjoy some quiet time each day, I do a little reading unrelated to the immediate demands of preaching, I have friends, craft projects and -yes- computer games which are a relaxing part of my day, and I therefore pride myself on taking care of myself. But then comes the onslaught; the sermon that takes twice as long to write as I had hoped it would, the memorial service, the computer crash, the staff crisis; then it is surprisingly hard to shift my focus from the immediate tasks and do something that would slow down the onslaught, repair the hurt places, or clear the deck.

That's what, in particular, my daily quiet time does for me, and I've learned over the years not to bow to the false economy of pawn-fighting and skip it. It powers me up.

Sunday, November 19, 2006


This game started as a pencil and paper game, but it's wonderful for computers because the challenging levels of the game require a good deal of erasing. I've been playing GameHouse's version, here. It's the nicest interface; unfortunately the highest level is no longer particularly difficult for me, so I guess I'll have to go hunting again.

I suppose that everyone knows that Suduku requires that you put numbers on a grid such that each row, column, and square have the digits 1-9 in them with no repeats. With a variety of kinds of deductive logic, you can complete almost every grid without guessing.

As long as you don't make a single mistake. Suduku is one strike and you're out. Put the wrong number in a box and continue the puzzle and you'll never figure it out. Nor is it usually possible to figure out where that mistake was without starting over. Suduku teaches a person to be careful. The pencil and paper game teaches a person to be neat with tiny little trial numbers. My son taught me to use one of the nifty new mechanical pencils now on the market; they stay very sharp and come with the most amazing erasers. My, how times do change.

Being a Universalist, I object to "one strike and you're out." The thing that has most puzzled me over the years about Christian orthodoxy is how Christians can talk about God, the loving father in one sentence and "If you don't believe (not to mention, if you commit any number of sins) you're doomed to everlasting punishment." Everlasting! Everlasting is longer than any loving parent I know would punish their child.

But I do like Suduku, which is, after all, just a game.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Second Life

After reading that there's a UU Church in "Second Life" a virtual reality video game which has hundreds of thousands of users who create objects and social relationships in a more or less unfettered way, I decided to give it a try.

I'm clearly not smart enough to play this game, and judging by the folks who appear in the welcome and orientation areas, neither are most other people. However I did manage to make myself an avitar(personal character who moves around and interacts with other virtual users) I could live with and I found the UU church of Second Life. I joined it immediately; it has fifty members. But then I couldn't find any of them, or any indication of what this virtual church does or where it meets.

After trying my hand at creating an object to sell and failing miserably, I returned to the UU church. Still no one there and no indiciation of what this virtual church does or where it meets.

It's totally clear that they need a minister to help them get organized.

Then some little angel whispered in my ear that I hardly needed a second life just like my first one. Right! Got it!

But in this confusing and complex game, I keep drifting back to the only thing I really understand, which is how to do church. It is such a comfort to know that in this strange society where mostly people won't talk to you because they've not yet figured out how, there's a UU church.

The coolest thing about Second Life so far is that it is remarkably easy to make an avitar who looks like you want her to look. The second coolest things is the set of rules of civil behavior in this virtual world. Live and Let Live, keep your hands to yourself, don't harass those who are enjoying their (virtual) lives. Very UU.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Arcade Lines Theology

Continuing my theological reflections on the computer games I 'm addicted to, there's Arcade Lines, which you can preview here

Puzzle games like this one relentlessly load up the board with colored balls, and you have to move them into lines, after which they disappear. The nice thing about these games is that you play at your own pace, so you can play them while, say, while on hold waiting for tech support.

Learning to succeed at these games is a matter of learning to see patterns. Although it is easy at first to see where one can move balls to get four in a row, as the board fills up, it gets much harder.

You have to play this game with a certain flexibility of mind, being ready to change one's strategy as new balls appear. The "right" line of balls to complete on this turn keeps changing.

The spiritual quest is like this. Since that Mystery we call God never "appears", all findings of God are a matter of noticing the patterns of Grace that appear suddenly in one's life and following up on them. No strategy has ever worked for long for me. I found Zen style meditation to be very fruitful for about three years, fought with it another year, and finally gave up after another year. I'm a more flexible player of Arcade Lines than I am a spiritual seeker.

Thursday, November 16, 2006


You can play this game for yourself, for free, here.

The basic deal is that you are presented with colored symbols which have to be placed on a board such that each one is touched only by others which are the same shape or color. It's a cinch at first, and it gets harder. The higher the level, the more symbols, colors, and the fewer erasers and wild cards you get.

Which is so like real life.

1. We're all given the same board, but some seem, from the beginning, to have a much harder time of it. (Skill is important in life, luck is crucial in life, but in many important ways, the game is easier for some than others. This is why compassion for self and others is a part of every spiritual outlook.)

2. "Winning" this game is a matter of thinking ahead and being careful. If you put symbols anywhere they happen to fit, you'll be stuck in the end. (It's hard work to be careful, to think ahead, and to see what needs to be seen. Slow down, reflect, watch the whole board.)

3. Unlike most puzzle games, you don't get to look ahead to see what's coming. You have to play blind. (We're blind to the future in our lives and must simply do the best we can.)

4. One key to managing the end game is to use the erase and wild cards to forgive yourself the plays that either were poor to begin with or turned out to be poor later on. (grace abides. Appreciate and give thanks.)

5. In the end, you have to wait to get the one symbol you need. While you are waiting, you have to manage what comes.

6. The symbols you can get off the board are as important as the ones you have on the board, but if you erase too much, you won't be able to play. (Simplicity is good. Poverty is problematic.)

This is too much fun. I can see that I'm going to soon be addicted to both computer games and reflections on computer games.

Work to do and miles to go....

Theology of Computer Games

I confess. I'm a bit of a computer game addict. No, actualy...

My Name is Christine and I'm addicted to computer games.

I use them to relax after difficult meetings or just hard days. I use them to forget my troubles when I'm troubled, to justify my agressions, and to indulge in the false sense that if I am clever enough I can control my world.

I play computer games when I should be going to the gym, cleaning the iguana cage, working in my yard, or even conversing with my family. ouch!

I hurry to my defense. If I watch a dozen hours of TV in a year, it's unusual. Shopping as a pastime has no appeal to me. My son and I trade games back and forth and talk about them.

I'm a hard core case. I'm such a hard core case that I'm going to shamelessly justify my addiction by reflecting on the theology of a variety of computer games which I enjoy. So there.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Religious Resources

A reader has asked what books of poetry or other readings I would recommend to her as she renews her spiritual life. It's a hard question, as I don't know her, and all of this is so very individual. But I so applaud the impulse! It really is good to have texts at hand to mull over, memorize, and work with so that they can work in us.

I'm the sort of reader who has favorite poems more than favorite books of poetry, although I notice that my personal collection has a lot of Mary Oliver, Hafiz, and Wendell Berry. At one point in my life, I had a dozen poems by Edna St. Vincent Milley memorized; they were a lifeline through my late adolescence. I only remember that because as I walked yesterday, dissolved in sadness over the death of a 25 year old from my congregation, the words leaped on to my lips, "I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground." It's the first line of a poem by Millay, which I memorized, I think, when Robert Kennedy was murdered. I've rarely thought of it since, and there it was, ready for me when I needed it. Amazing. (you can find it and other poems by Millay, here)

Now as to sharing my favorite poems, I feel squeamish about copywrite, just enough that I don't want to copy my texts into this blog, but not so squeamish that I won't point my readers to people less squeamish than I who have. So here are 7 of my cherished poems which I found on line:

Phillip Booth's "First Lessons", which you can find here
Carl Sandburg's "Elephants" which you can find here
The Weighing by Jane Hirshfield, here
e.e.Cumming's i thank you god, here
Alistar Reid's Curiosity, here
martha Courtot's Crossing a Creek, here
and a poem about change and transition by Wendell Berry, here

It seems extremely odd to me, but many of these poems are found on UU sermon websites. Are we all thinking alike, we UU ministers? Probably. But is Google noticing my searches and tailoring it's results to me, or does everyone who searches for poetry keep getting UU ministers' sermons?

Enough for now! Prose tomorrow

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Yesterday and Tomorrow

The American people, born in opposition to absolute power used foolishly, repudiated absolute power used foolishly, in yesterday's election. We're back to a balance of power between the various branches of government, within governing chambers and even within the executive branch, as Republicans make more moderate demands on their president. Our nation has learned in the most embarrassing ways lately that absolute power has a corrupting effect and a detrimental effect on intelligent government. I'm glad that era is over.

Once the majority in the House was established, the world quit paying attention to little New Mexico, which has a hotly contested (less than 1,000 vote margin) race which now, they way, won't be decided for days. But I'm content either way. Our current Rebublican, Heather Wilson, is one of the better Republicans around; honest, helpful, and an independent thinker, something she stressed in her campaign. If she stays in Congress it will be ok.

And I was heartened that the voters of South Dakota, in the privacy of the voting booth, showed that they do understand something of the horror of unwanted pregnancy and moderated their leaders' absolute ban on abortion.

As for those who fought hard against bans on same gender marriage and lost, I salute your work as a foundation laid for the end game of a battle for LGBT rights which is being won in the smoky corners of people's hearts and minds. It takes a long time for the smoke to clear, but clear it finally does.

In my opinion, our nation and our world got a reprieve from unmitigated poor governance. We have an opportunity now to re-direct the nation's energy towards preventing the end of civil life on the planet. The hard work has just begun.