LARP and Ministry (part 3)

So, now I’ve racked up two posts about playing a priest character in a LARP for over a decade, and how that affected my this-world ministerial and devotional practice.  The first post was about spiritual counseling, the second about exegesis.  This third, (probably) last but (I hope) not least post will be about creating and performing prayers and ritual.

One can gather from prior posts that I didn’t create this religion for the game, nor was I the first to craft rituals and devotional practices for it.  There was already an established outline for the standard religious service, with prayers and invocations for various occasions.  There was, as well, a funeral service and blessings for the dead (important indeed in a world where combat against monsters and dark forces was a common occurrence).  The writers introduced new rituals and prayers occasionally, on at least one occasion having me hurry about to collect certain items and set a specific stage without letting me know what it was for until just before the ritual was about to commence.

But I was also allowed a great deal of creativity.  In some cases, I was creating something that already “existed ” in the game, but had never come into play- there had never been an in-game wedding in our faith, and so it was my pleasure to write the outline for one.  For another example, the ecclesiastical letters that I mentioned in post 2 always contained an appropriate prayer or invocation written by or revealed to the founder of the faith.

On the other hand, I had established my character as having some interest in and skill at poetry.  I wrote a number of prayers completely, and adapted several others (from sources including St. Francis as well as Kipling).  I also brought a devotional dimension into the ritual of making someone aware of magic by adding a guided meditation that used an appropriate story from the founding of the religion.

The most obvious benefit to my this-world practice was in making my public performance more confident.  I’m an introvert with some social anxiety and shyness; having a “playground” in which to practice being a celebrant helped me when I was doing the real thing outside of the game.  And the creativity involved in crafting in-game ritual and writing in-game religious poetry also resonated with my general creative life; more concretely, the in-game prayers I was writing were generally rhymed and metered, which challenged me usefully (as readers of my poetry here may notice, I work in free verse most of the time).  And all of my creative work is dedicated to my Patroness first, though I think She’s amused and bemused by my LARP work…

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LARP and Ministry (part 2)

So, in an earlier post I started musing about what benefit came from my playing a priest for over ten years in a live action roleplaying game (aka LARP).  It certainly honed my spiritual counseling skills, but that wasn’t the only thing.  It also gave me some useful experience with theological exegesis.

Let me give a little background here, without (hopefully) getting too deep into the nerdy details.  My character was a priest of a functionally henotheistic religion dedicated to the worship of the goddess who had created humanity.  The prime tenet of the faith was “Harm None”.  Sound familiar?  This made being an adherent of the faith somewhat… challenging, especially since the LARP setting was a dangerous, D&D like world full of monsters, evil cultists, lunatic wizards, demons, etc.  Obviously, a “turn the other cheek” or complete pacifist approach to this commandment would be ludicrous (and suicidal).

But one of the head writers for the LARP worked with me, and we turned this problem into an opportunity.  One obvious thing that I could say as my character was that the prime tenet applied only to fellow humans- monsters and other sentient races were not the concern of the goddess, so it was all right to fight them (and in fact encouraged in the case of those who were inimical to humanity).

But of course there were also brigands, thieves, and just generally nasty folk.  For this, the head writer and I resorted to a a more cunning plan- we created a series of letters that the human founder of the faith had written, explaining important matters to the first priests he had ordained.  And the very first one was about the “Harm None” commandment.

The founder wrote that the goddess preferred her folk to be peaceful, and to stop wrongdoers without violence, but when that failed, then she did not forbid violence.  It was incumbent upon people of faith to act in order to prevent harm- even if that meant causing smaller harm in order to prevent greater harm.  To fight bandits to stop them from murdering, to fight invaders to stop them from raping and plundering, to fight thieves to stop them from stealing from the weak- this was allowable.

But the goddess’s folk also had to judge- were they acting to cause the least harm?  Were they keeping violence as a last resort and not a ready tool?  And did they always remember that even a justifiable use of violence was in some way a failure, one that the user would have to explain during their post-death judgment?

The letter went on from there to explore topics such as reparations, forgiveness (both divine and human), even suicide. I did most of the heavy theological lifting on this, with the head writer providing important guidance, historical context, and suggestions.  It was challenging and fascinating, and it worked– I know for a fact that it restored the faith of one of the other characters who was a follower of the goddess- and blew the mind of the player as well.

The head writer and I went on to write (by current count) six more letters, dealing with matters such as free will, love and marriage, birth and death, etc.  Just to make things a bit meta, I got to read theses letters in character and do a further level of exegesis on them in explaining them to other characters.  The whole experience worked to greatly improve my theological thinking.  It was also a lot of fun.

LARP and Minstry (part 1)

So, one of my hobbies is live action roleplaying (or LARP).  I used to do it a lot more, but I still have a significant interest in it.  Most of my LARP time these days is taken up by a live-combat medieval fantasy game called Xanodria.  I’ve been playing various roles since 1995, and I recently retired a priest character who I’d played for over ten years.

Yes, there is a point to this (other than proving that I’m a huge nerd).  I learned a lot from this experience, about being a minister in particular.  As well as spending a lot of time just being this character- holding weddings and funerals, counseling the faithful, etc.- I got to get deeply involved in the theology of his fictional religion, fleshing out details and working on some knotty problems.

It’s the counseling I want to touch on first.  My character did a lot of it- he was spiritual advisor to an order of warriors dedicated to protect the light and fight the shadow (think the Rangers from LOTR with even more weapons training) as well as to members of his faith.  He spent so much time talking to troubled adventurers that he joked that he should have regular office hours.

This was a great gift for me in my real life.  It helped me hone my skills in the same way that class simulations do, and allowed me to experiment and fine-tune my methods without worrying about real-world consequences… no matter how badly I screwed up, the game session would be over at the end of the weekend and everyone would go back home.  Sure, mistakes could impact the player’s happiness as well as the character’s well-being, but it still wasn’t critical.

In some ways, it was better than a classroom simulation.  The games run for a whole weekend, so my character could have repeated sessions with another, including time for both to reflect and adjust.  And the players of these games tend to invest in their characters, putting a lot of time and emotion into them, giving them detailed backstories and spending hours or days simply being them.

I was enrolled at Cherry Hill Seminary for much of the time I played this character, and what I learned there informed how I acted in the game as well.  It created a beneficial feedback loop that I’m still reaping benefits from.

Interfaith Challenges – “Common Ground” Isn’t

An excellent discussion of interfaith in Pagan contexts. Hospitality is a much better basis than “common ground”.

EmberVoices: Listening for the Vanir

Much of my work is interfaith either deliberately or incidentally. Representing small, mostly-modern, polytheistic, animistic, sex-positive, radically inclusive faith traditions in a context where most folks are at best quietly politically moderate, and almost entirely monotheistic, presents a number of challenges.

You’d think the biggest would be the polytheist vs. monotheist gap, and I suppose it could be if I pushed the polytheism more in those contexts, but mostly I don’t. I’m well aware that it takes more than explanations to get someone’s brain to flip that particular switch, and I don’t see any reason why they should be obliged to understand, as long as they aren’t rude when they don’t. Most aren’t rude – or are least not intentionally.

What I find to be the biggest conflict is actually the constant push to find “Common Ground”. It’s pretty easy for Christians to find common ground amongst themselves, and not…

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The Art of Presence

The Art of Presence

Wow.  This piece has so much value.  I’m posting it here to share it, but also to bookmark it for myself.