Monday, August 11, 2014

Christology, Munchkin and the God-World Relationship

by Kyle Baughman 

“Oh, my God.”

-the doxology of Kyle Baughman whilst playing board games with OPT editor Sebastian Faust

This post is about Christology, Munchkin and why I can’t play games with Sebastian Faust anymore.

[First, a quick primer on the game of Munchkin. It was created by Steve Jackson as a comedic and satirical take on role-playing games such as Dungeons and Dragons and his own creations, Melee and The Fantasy Trip. The result is a tongue-in-cheek dungeon game in which you do everything in your power to screw over all of your fellow dungeoneers (I said it first) and progress to level 10, thereby winning the game. It’s beautifully selfish, terribly greedy and ultimately destructive to any relationships you hold dear (screw off Oxford Comma!)]

“Oh, my God,” I exclaim. The move was so clear; if he’d chosen to go forward he would have won the game. And yet, despite all the petitioning and all the confusion, he refused to make the move that would secure victory. Instead, even when chastised, he insisted he simply didn’t want the game to end yet.

How frustrating it is to watch Sebastian Faust play Munchkin!

In a game premised upon destroying your neighbor and traversing the dungeon before anyone else can, where second place means nothing, it is inconceivable, it is humiliating for another person to sacrifice his turn, for him to desire the game to continue with the chances all but certain that someone else will win. Somewhere, high atop a mountain, Steve Jackson is now tossing sleeplessly on his bed made of literal clouds after hearing of someone incapable of playing a game that aligns so perfectly with our American ethos – a form that demands both a winner and a loser. That one would sacrifice his turn for the exaltation of play is nothing but foolishness, nay, a very insult. I hate these types of players; I despise playing with them. Whenever they arise on the field of play, I find myself wanting to quit before they ruin it, or barring that, to use all my wiles and cunning to crush them completely.

I must stop for a moment; my neurosis is clearly on display when it comes to board games.

I’m a purist. There are proper ways to play the game; they were handed down to us by our ancestors. We did not break from a tyrannical Monarchy all those years ago just to have Sebastian decide he didn’t want to win.

When given the chance, always choose to win! The point of winning is to prove your power, to dominate your foes; and to gloat, always gloat. By divine fiat, we, as a community, had established what it meant to play Munchkin in a way that would honor Sir Steve Jackson (knighthood pending). But here, Sebastian had the nerve, no, the audacity to come into my home and play the game the wrong way.

We decided to crucify Sebastian that day, and rightly so. We channeled our outrage against the one who played by different rules. Our righteous indignation said much about the law we love, and the blasphemer who fell under the weight of that love.

In a culture that demands a winner and a loser, Sebastian found himself caught in the crosshairs of ideology and pragmatism. But by rejecting our form of play, he revealed the motivation behind the form. And what did it reveal about my motivation?

Sure, here I could wax on about capitalism and political ideology at play, but that would be side-stepping the truth; the truth is simply this: I am selfish. My assumption in board games is that everybody is out for blood. My appeal was to my own pride, to prove myself the grand warrior half-elf I knew myself to be. But Sebastian, that lowly, lowly dwarf-wizard, was set ablaze that night as a sign to all others at the table that his form of play shall not be tolerated. I was indeed out for blood, but it wasn’t until I saw somebody play who had no intention of blood-letting that my manner of play was exposed, not in the instant, but only after I had crucified him.

And seeing him hanging there, dead in the balance of my indignation, I felt rebuked. He allowed himself to be crucified, and for what? One more turn.

This is the reason I get so mad at Jesus.

I enjoy hanging out with Jesus; I just can’t play board games with him.

And if it were only Munchkin with Jesus that was problematic, I would be ok. But I look through the stacks of board games we own, and I must admit it’s all of them, even Clue. Even Chutes and Ladders.

I hate playing games with Jesus because playing games with Jesus exposes the way I play the game.

It’s very easy for me to use Jesus to rebuke the systems and powers of ideology that hurt children in Palestine, that allow villages in Asia to become subservient to American enterprises or that promote the exploitation of West Virginian land, where the benefits of their loss never return to the state. But, it is not so easy when I am sitting across a game board from Jesus, and the same Jesus I wield as a sword against my opponents has shown himself to be the double-edged one.

There’s no new Christology here. Jesus has long been the challenge that Paul faced when he said “I am crucified with Christ.” The moment I am most confident to live and call myself a Christian, there is Jesus…sitting across from me. And he plays by a different rule set. He says:

“Do not resist the one who is evil,” and “give to the one who begs from you” and “love your enemies.”

These are less troubling when sitting in a pew. I can generalize these statements, hold them as tenets that the church should embody. And thus, when the church falls short and acts contrary to what it professes, I can denounce the church and repudiate it. But it’s much more difficult when Jesus is sitting across the table from me.

For, much as Sebastian’s joy was in delaying the end, for the sake of the game, for one more turn, so I see in Christ a willingness that the game not be decided by the present paradigm, and the willing of time, the willing of new opportunity.

I do not know what The Eschaton will look like, or when, or if, those things Jesus talked about will occur. But, what I do know from Jesus’ life is that he plays the game with a willingness that time be made for people to change. And here I see Paul’s note that, in God’s forbearance, God left past transgressions unpunished so that now he could demonstrate a righteous form of play. And here I also see that there was so much potential, so much more that could have been done in that game with Sebastian. So much opportunity for us to share joy, and Sebastian gave us the time by playing as he did.

God hasn’t come in trumpet blasts and with angels descending. I’m not here to argue time or dates, mythology and eschatology, or any of the rest. But perhaps in the silence, the non-return, is the answer to where God is. God desires one more turn. Maybe endless turns. Who knows?

What I do know is that I am alive today. And there is still time for yet one more round of play. 

Kyle Baughman is a human. He studied theology at Fuller Seminary and enjoys the attention he receives from flirting with several different theo-camps. He hits things with sticks as the drummer for Coyotes in Boxes. You can find him on Twitter @truekyleb.

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