Anthropologist Studies Gamers

I recall in general terms when I first saw an ad by an auto manufacturer that used a computer theme for selecting the vehicle. I thought at the time that the PC had come of age. A few years before I had been told by a computer dealer that he didn’t advertise on TV because it wasn’t specific enough to the audience he was trying to reach.

During the same period I was involved in playing role-playing games (see the Energion Game, which is largely of historical interest). We occasionally discusses the educational possibilities of role-playing. What I, at least, never thought of, was having an anthropologist study the gamers, and draw thoughts from that study about the value of fear and humiliation as teaching methods.

But anthropologist Alex Golub, who studies World of Warcraft gamers, has done just that, and has written his thoughts up for Inside Higher Ed, under the title Fear and Humiliation as Legitimate Teaching Methods. How the world has changed! Enjoy it! Go read about gaming at Inside Higher Ed.

Book Notes: Cat in a Sapphire Slipper

I’m a sucker for light reading that involves cats and mystery, so how could I possibly not enjoy Carole Nelson Douglas’s Midnight Louie mysteries?

This latest book finds Max Kinsella missing and Temple Barr getting engaged to Matt Devine, while the Fontana brothers are all kidnapped, and generally all hell is breaking loose all over.

The problem is to solve the mystery before everyone’s life is ruined, and this is accomplished in a most amusing manner in the required number of pages (396). This is pure fun, though I must say if you don’t like cats you may not like it all that well. Midnight Louie encounters an old flame, and we end up with four cats working on the mystery at once.

What’s not to like?

TV Series: Ballykissangel

This is another British (at least BBC, set in Ireland) show that I discovered recently and really enjoyed.  It follows the adventures of a young priest from Manchester assigned to a parish in Ireland in the town of Ballykissangel.

His supervisor is somewhat conservative and doesn’t always appreciate his approach to ministry, but the villagers often do, with the frequent exception of one of the largest contributors to the church.  Those who have been involved in ministry will recognize the types of problems he encounters as well as the joys.  The culture may change, but the human equation remains the same.

I’ve put my humor and mystery previews from British sources on this page.  These are also available for viewing on Netflix by subscribers.

Tlisli and the Tlazil – I

Tlisli* struggled to wake up. It felt a little like when she had been a small child and had almost drowned in the river. She had wanted to breathe, but couldn’t. She had struggled toward the surface, but it never seemed be there.

As she struggled, images passed through her mind. She was struggling through the jungle, following the river. She was trying to fish with a rough, hand made spear. She was starving to death, thirsty, realizing the difference between being a young girl trying the things that the men did, and actually living in the wild as a hunter or fisherman. She remembered thinking she was going to die, and wondered if she was dead. Perhaps she was about to enter the afterlife.

With that she awoke fully and found herself staring a nightmare in the face. It started with the long, sharp, pointed teeth which were almost directly in front of her eyes, maybe half a meter away. Her eyes flicked back and forth, taking in the reptilian red skin, the rounded eyes with lids that closed from both sides.+ The hands with their sharp claws were reaching toward her as well. It was a Tlazil, and not only that, a red Tlazil, known mostly for their rarity and poisonous bite.

She seemed to remember waking up to this sight before, but she couldn’t quite get hold of the thought. She couldn’t take her eyes away from the Tlazil’s eyes. She felt herself preparing again for death, with hardly a conscious thought. She completely gave up hope. Truly the world was too much for her.

“Ah, small one,” said a voice. “It appears that you will stay awake this time.” She couldn’t imagine it was the Tlazil. Wasn’t it a known, well-confirmed fact that Tlazil couldn’t speak human languages? Yet the Tlazil’s mouth moved and the voice seemed to be coming from that direction.

Tlisli was naturally curious—too curious, her parents had frequently told her. The fear of death faded into the background.

“You speak my language?” she asked.

“Yes.”

“How did you know?”

“I knew which human language to use because you spoke in your delirium.”

Tlisli thought for a moment. It hadn’t occurred to her to wonder how the Tlazil knew which language to speak. She vaguely knew that there were other languages than the one spoken in her small city, but they weren’t important to her. Even the troops of the god-emperor spoke the same language, though oddly accented. “What I meant was, how is it that you know how to speak human language? I thought that was impossible.”

“Actually, it’s quite common where I come from. Most humans regard your language as very hard to pronounce. That’s because it’s derived from a Tlazil language.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“Believe what you will. Facts don’t care about your beliefs. But consider the sound combination that begins both your name and the name of my species. It is not common in languages not related to Tlazil.”

Tlisli was more relaxed than she should be. She wondered if she was drugged. She still knew she would be eaten, but it didn’t seem very important. “So when do you eat me? Am I lunch, or dinner?”

“Actually, I don’t really like human flesh,” said the Tlazil. “And you are thin and probably stringy. I have this hog roasting. You and I will share it for lunch, and then we will see.”

“But Tlazil eat people.”

“Not quite accurate,” said the Tlazil. “Some Tlazil eat some people. That’s not the same thing.”

“Oh.” Tlisli didn’t know how to respond to that. She also suddenly realized that while the Tlazil had referenced lunch, he really had not promised not to eat her for dinner.

“So Tlisli-human,” it continued, “What are you doing out here alone in the jungle? It seems an odd place to find a young female human.”

“What do I call you?” Tlisli wasn’t even sure if the Tlazil was male or female.

“I doubt you could pronounce my actual name. How about you call me Azzesh? It means ‘I eat girls for dinner’ in my dialect.” Tlisli was unsure if the sounds it made afterward were laughter or if its expression was a smile.

After a moment’s thought she realized that if her language was related to Tlazil, there was no possibility such a short word meant all that. “You’re teasing me,” she said.

“Indeed I am.”

“So what does it mean?”

“Nothing. It’s an abbreviation for my name. Were you to say my whole name, that would mean ‘honorable mother finder of rare divine blessings’. But you would not pronounce it so. And if you mispronounced it, it would mean ‘daughter of mother claimed to result from divine intercourse’ and if you said that, I would have to bite your head off so as to avenge the dishonor.”

“Oh.”

“You use that expression a good deal. One could get the idea that your head was empty.”

“I don’t know what to say.”

“You could ask me who I am, where I’m from, and what I’m doing out here.”

“But Tlazil live in the jungle! Where else would I expect to find you?”

“And doubtless I’m out here looking for girls to eat. Do you have any idea how rare it is to find a human girl wandering about in this part of the jungle? Were you only more tasty, you would be a rare and expensive delicacy.”

Tlisli skipped over the part about eating, which she was beginning to believe was humor anyhow, though why she believed that she could not have said. “Rare in this part of the jungle?”

“Yes. There are other parts of this jungle that are fairly swarming with girls.”

“I don’t understand. Surely their men wouldn’t let them.”

There was that sound again. Was it Tlazil laughter?

“Oh, small human girl, you have truly lived an isolated life. ‘Their men wouldn’t let them?’ I should tell that to the governor of the city where I live. She would find it quite amusing that a man would prevent her from doing what she wished.”

“But that would be a Tlazil. Are all Tlazil ruled by their females?”

Azzesh stared at Tlisli for a moment. “Do you know nothing of the world at all? Your city must be quite isolated.”

“Well, I thought Tlazil were ruled by their men, just as are humans.”

“Not at all, not at all! Tlazil may be ruled by men or women, though thankfully, more by women. But humans may be ruled by either. My queen is human. Well, not precisely. A different subspecies. But she’s so much like a human as makes no difference to me.” She paused. “But enough talking for now. You need to get some food into you. You’re beginning to be ready for it. The poison of the Tlerississ fish is very debilitating.”

“Tlerissis?”

“Yes. The one that is red in the middle, black around the edges and nearly clear between. The Ixstl is red and black in the same way, but between is an off-white rather than clear. Ixstl make good eating.”

Tlisli almost forgot about the prospect of being eaten while she ate. Ever since she could remember she had understood that to be captured by a Tlazil meant one would be eaten. Yet Azzesh showed no sign of hostility, or of culinary interest at all. She roasted fish with a selection of herbs and provided some fruit to go with it. It was, in fact, a delicious meal, every bit as good as anything she had eaten at home.

The next day, when Azzesh pronounced Tlisli ready to travel just a little, they broke camp and started to move downriver. As they traveled, Azzesh pointed out a variety of plants and animals, discussing their value as food, fuel, or building materials, and pointing out ways to hunt or harvest them as appropriate. She was not a particularly good teacher. She never stopped and took questions, and she apparently no longer thought Tisli needed rest. Tlisli, in turn, surprised herself with how quickly she was gaining in strength, despite what seemed to her excessively long days.

Tlisli didn’t really pay attention to how much time was passing, nor did she consider running away. She was learning too much. She kept trying to imitate Azzesh’s work with her hunting bow, but all that got her was a few contemptuous hisses and no kills. She simply couldn’t manage to hit a moving target, and often she missed even those beasts that were standing still. She hit a target a couple of times only to find that she had not hit anything vital and the arrow was not fatal.

She had practically forgotten about her sword. It was not very useful as a knife, and she had yet to find the jungle creature that would allow her to get close enough to allow her to kill it with a sword. She had kept it in her pack because it was clumsy to carry at her belt without a proper scabbard.

As soon as she had it out and was cleaning it, Azzesh reached out and grabbed it. After a few minutes running her hand over the blade, and examining it carefully she said, “It’s bad to be lazy and stupid, and to fail to learn the simplest of lessons, but the only consequences are that you die and your body feeds the jungle creatures who are somewhat more useful than you are. But to take a fine sword and treat it with contempt—that is unforgivable.”

“Fine sword?” asked Tlisli.

“Ah! There is some glimmering of intelligence and discernment in you after all. Perhaps for that I will forgive you the sacrilege, even though it is unforgivable. At times Azzesh accomplishes impossible things, such as restraining herself from running you through with this sword and consuming your flesh for dinner.”

“But the sword,” said Tlisli. “I was unable to discover anything it does.”

“Does? Does?” Azzesh paused. Tlisli still could not read Tlazil facial features, but if she had she would have been frightened. Azzesh radiated astonishment and contempt in equal measures. “What do you suppose a sword is supposed to do?”

Tlisli could recognize the anger in the voice, and so she remained silent, looking for the right words that might redeem her in Azzesh’s eyes.

“A sword,” Azzesh continued in a few moments in a steady and controlled voice, “is supposed to sit there and be sharp, be balanced, be reassuring to its owner because of its characteristics. A sword is not supposed to ‘do’ things. A warrior does things with a sword.”

“But what of magic swords?” asked Tlisli, too curious to restrain herself. “They regularly do things like flame, or put up special defenses, or even pass knowledge on to the swordsman.”

“Pah! A sword that does things like that is really just a magic staff in the shape of a sword. It may be useful in its own way, but it is not really a sword. Now this,” she continued, picking up Tlisli’s sword, “is a sword! It has a powerful lineage. It should be treated with great respect.”

Tlisli was now fascinated. “Did it tell you that when you performed that magical ritual?”

“What magical ritual?” asked Azzesh, again astonished.

“Well, when you ran your hands over the sword and mumbled some sort of magical words.”

“That was the great magical ritual of running your hands over something so you can feel its shape and characteristics more precisely and at the same time of talking to yourself. It’s power is that sometimes you know something about the object you examined that you didn’t before. It’s weakness is that idiots believe you are performing a magical ritual, or alternatively that you are insane.”

“So by feeling the sword you figured out that it had an important ‘lineage’–was that the word you used?”

“No, stupid! I figured that out by reading the inscription on the sword!”

“Oh.” Tlisli paused for a second. “What do you mean by lineage?”

“When I use that with reference to a sword I mean who made it, and who has used it. In this case we can know who made it, because he inscribed his name on it, and we know the general category of people who used it. We also know how ancient it is.”

“Who made it?”

“His name would mean nothing to you.”

“So how do you know he was great?”

“Because he made this sword.”

“Isn’t that circular? He’s great because he made the sword, and the sword is great because he made it?”

“No, no, no! I know the sword is great because it is great. Because it is great, I know it’s maker must be great. I know his name from the inscription. From other factors I know that the sword is old, but not ancient. It’s somewhere between 200 and 250 years old. It probably dates to when your city gained independence from the Tlazil Empire.

“Tlazil Empire?” asked Tlisli, amazed in turn?

This time Azzesh was simply amused. “Of course you learned a rather different history.”

“I learned history! The great mother led the first inhabitants of Sirixistlan to the fertile and safe land on which our city now stands and taught them the various civilized arts, thus distinguishing them from the uncivilized Tlazil. That was many, many generations ago, longer than you can imagine.”

“I can imagine very many generations indeed, and your city is a thing of yesterday, historically.”

Tlisli settled in to listen. She could sense a story coming, and she loved stories. She didn’t care if they were true or not.

“A thousand years ago,” Azzesh started, “This entire continent of Porana was ruled by Tlazil. It is said that even now, on a group of islands in a great inland sea there is still an emperor of all the Tlazil, and there are those of my people who believe that the empire will return and restore Tlazil to their rightful place as rulers with humans as their slaves.

“Five hundred years ago, more or less, nobody knows for sure, the coastal cities began to rebel against the Tlazil rulers. There were many, many humans in those cities and very few Tlazil. The Tlazil of the coast sent messengers to their provincial governors who sent them on to regional princes, who sent them on to the Imperial City, all asking for help.

“But it could take months to travel from the Imperial City to the coast, even if one was hurrying. The imperial bureaucrats didn’t hurry. The governor would take time to discuss the issue, inevitably determining that he had too little resources to help, then he would take time discussing the message that should be added to the packet before it was sent on to the capital.

“When the message reached the capital it was often read by officials who found fault with the message itself, and would reply with a request for more information, for clarification, or might point out that the official who signed the request was not the correct one, and would the originators please pay attention of Section R10765.4.3c of the official code (I made that number up, of course, but you get the idea) which specifies the proper persons to certify need in the case of the request for official support.

“Of course, no imperial official would think of bypassing the chain of command, so the messages would be sent back through the regional princes, the provincial governors, and finally to the city in need. Often that city would no longer have any Tlazil administration by the time the message got back to them. The humans would be fully in charge.

“What made things much worse was that the Tlazil bureaucrats had grown lazy. They had human slaves to read and write for them, and often they trusted the human slaves to think for them as well. As a result, human slaves were often answering messages relating to conflict with their fellow-humans elsewhere in the empire.

“The fact is, that had the Tlazil imperial army been deployed, it would have been impossible for such a rebellion to succeed. As it is, it is quite possible that there still is an imperial army toward the interior of this continent, but in any case, it never got anywhere near the coast. We don’t have any communication or commerce with folks in those parts.

“So, little girl, your ancestors were presumably slaves who rebelled, and you are the descendant of such rebel slaves. The other story does sound much nicer. I understand why they adopted it.”

Tlisli just looked at Azzesh for a long time. On the one hand the idea of a Tlazil empire was preposterous. On the other hand, Azzesh herself was preposterous, and yet here she was telling wild tales. Was it possible that Azzesh’s story was the true history of her city?

To be continued . . .

[Previous episode]  [Next episode]

*This is part of the continuing story of Tlisli. It is obviously a work of fiction, and anything that resembles anything in the real world is purely accidental.

+Earth readers beware—a Tlazil has some reptilian features, but is not a reptile.

Would it Make Me Wrong?

“Daddy!” The boy pulled on his father’s uniform shirt.

“Yes, son?”

“Why are they burning that lady?”

“Because she committed adultery.”

“Oh.”

“Daddy!” The boy pulled on his father’s shirt again.

“Yes?” Less patient this time.

“I thought you testified at the trial that she couldn’t have done it because she wasn’t there.”

“Well, Father William said she was guilty.”

“Did Father William see her do it?”

“No, he didn’t.”

“Then how did he know?”

“God told him.”

“How does he know that?”

“He’s a minister. It’s his job.”

“But then Father William must have lied! You saw her somewhere else.”

“Don’t say that! The devil deceived me and made me see things that weren’t there.”

“How do you know it was the devil?”

“Because Father William said so, and Father William hears from God.”

There was a pause. “I don’t think so. I think you know what you saw. I think God would know what was true. I think Father William lied.”

“Don’t say that! If anyone hears you, they might burn you!”

“If they burned me, would it make me wrong?”

[This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to any real person or place is purely coincidental.]

Tlisli: In the Forbidden Ground

[This is a work of fiction, as should be obvious throughout. Nothing in it resembles anything else enough to be mistaken for reality, but just in case someone disagrees, if you think it represents something in real life, it doesn’t. This is the second installment in the Tlisli Series, and is continued from Tlisli’s Escape.]

Crossing the stream was not difficult, though it had it’s own dangers, and after crawling out on the other side, Tlisli plunged into the jungle on the other side. She hoped that just crossing into the forbidden ground would discourage her pursuers. But it was not to be.

After several minutes of pushing through jungle, she noticed the undergrowth getting thinner, and soon she came out in a clearing. The clearing was occupied by a small hill, and it looked to her like the jungle surrounded the hill, but only grass and small plants grew on the hill itself. To her left, less than 30 meters away, it looked like there had been a recent washout, a gully with mud banks cutting into the hill. What was now a small brook flowed at the bottom of it, and appeared to go toward the stream she had crossed several minutes before.

Tlisli decided that she would be better off passing the hill in this newly opened path than by walking over. There was no cover at all at the top of the hill.

Continue reading “Tlisli: In the Forbidden Ground”

Book: Kirinyaga

I’ve already written about two of the stories that form a part of this book, and I’ve also linked to what I consider an excellent review, except that it gives a bit much of the story away for my taste. But I want to make a couple of additional comments because this book is really exceptional.

I have stated before that I don’t really have standards for some kind of universal “good” or “bad” literature. Rather, there is literature that I like and some that I don’t. I’m quite happy with this being subjective. One of the things I like in literature is engaging characters, folks that you actually care about. If it doesn’t matter when a character dies, or narrowly escapes death, then I’m probably not enjoying the book very much.

There are quite a number of engaging characters in literature, and most of them are characters that I like. There’s something about them that attracts me. But there’s something special about presenting a character that I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t like and making me root for him as the story goes on.

That’s the case with Koriba, the mundumugu (witch doctor) who serves as the repository for tribal knowledge and tradition on the terraformed world of Kirinyaga. He is, in fact, everything I wouldn’t like in reality. I personally embrace the advance of technology, and am at worst amused by the social changes that tend to go with it. I object strongly when someone can’t pursue their goals and dreams because of tradition. I’m ready to toss out the tradition and let people do what they can.

Koriba is in love with a set of traditions, and wants to freeze everything at that point, and yet he is so clear about his desires, and expresses himself so well, that I found myself in great sympathy with him, all the while realizing that if I were encountering him in real life, I would almost certainly be one of his enemies.

I could use every story in this book as the basis for teaching and discussing some concept or another. The story overall points to stress points in the way we handle change and the interaction of very different cultures. The world is full of less extreme examples, but sometimes it takes the extremes to get us thinking.

This book is certainly deserving of all the awards it has received, and I rate it a 5 myself.

Learning from Stories

I’m almost afraid to write about how one can learn and teach from stories, because I think a piece of literature requires only one justification–that somebody wants to read it. Come to think of it, it may need only that someone enjoys writing it.

I’m an extreme anti-snob in literature. I enjoy some very light reading and some very heavy reading. I get a kick out of people’s reaction to my reading. One day friends will be turning up their noses at what I’m carrying because they think it’s too intellectual and boring, and the next they’ll be wondering how I can read something so light.

But literature, particularly stories, can be a very powerful teaching tool. Finding stories that are entertaining is great. Finding stories that are challenging is even better. Both challenging and entertaining–that’s truly special.

But how can one use stories in learning? I start, not surprisingly, from Bible stories. The first barrier to be broken in really starting to get full value out of Bible stories is the respect and reverence barrier. In its most extreme form this results in people trying to justify every action taken by Biblical characters not clearly identified as bad guys “because it’s in the Bible.”

Most people have taken a step beyond that. They look for the people who are identified as heroes and then look for the lesson in the story. The hero’s actions are to be emulated; those of the bad guys are to be avoided. Now there is some small value in this process, though it is still pretty limited.

When you really start getting traction out of a story is when you can use it as a way of seeding thinking. What may grow out of that thinking may move far away from the original story, and that is very valuable. Any story, even the most imaginative, is anchored in some limited set of circumstances. You’re not likely to duplicate those circumstances.

This is directly parallel, I think, to the question of whether parents, teachers, and church leaders teach children and young people how to think and make decisions, or teach them what decisions to make. For a limited period of time, teaching the desired result may keep things under control more effectively. But over time, students are bound to exceed the chart of answers that you have provided.

You may have experienced something much like this in computer customer support. You get on the phone with a support technician, and the answer sounds coherent, but has very little relation to the question you asked. Why? The support technician is working from a script, and you’re not on the script. On the other hand when you get a really good technician, you may get some answers from the script when they fit, but then they can adapt to your more specific problem. Which do you want students to turn out to be?

In pursuit of this goal I suggest retelling Bible stories from different viewpoints. In my essay Interpreting Stories, I use the story of Elijah and Ahab and provide an example of telling the story from Ahab’s point of view. What’s the point of this? In this story we have very clear heroes and villains from the writer’s point of view. Elijah is a good guy, Jezebel is really, really evil, and Ahab is vacillating and mostly evil, though not quite irredeemable. So taking Ahab’s point of view leads us away from this simple “who had it right” view and gets us to relax and start looking at what other characters may have been thinking.

You see, Ahab could have presented substantial justification politically for his actions. It’s easy when you have a story with the good guys and bad guys clearly labeled. But if you’re in the story, it’s a little harder.

Let me touch on another story here, Jeremiah in the city of Jerusalem under siege by the Babylonians. Jeremiah is preaching that the people should surrender to the Babylonians. Other people are preaching that they should hold on, because God will not allow his temple to be destroyed. Now in class after class I’ve heard modern Bible students talk about how obvious this whole thing was and exclaim at how stupid Zedekiah was for wanting to lock him up.

But if you instead put yourself into the situation–a city under siege, the enemy surrounding the city, and someone preaching “Surrender!” at the top of his lungs, what would you do? The critical step here is to break out of a simple dichotomy of good guys right, bad guys wrong, and start to think about the situation reflected in the story.

Telling the story from a different viewpoint than the one reflected by the Bible writer doesn’t mean you have to agree with that viewpoint. It simply means that you have to make a serious effort to understand that viewpoint. In addition, you can often learn as much or more from a story in which you disagree with the viewpoint of the writer or of the lead character.

What about stories that aren’t from the Bible? I think it should be obvious that any story that raises any of the desired issues, such as ethics, philosophy, theology, or social policy, for example, can provide a good basis for discussion.

Why use a story? Why not just stick with the facts? For my Bible students I would point out that much of the Bible itself is story. But on a more general note, we need imagination to see the possible results of our “fact based” decisions. Stories can carry things to their logical conclusions, point out situations under which our simple answers might not work. Often a well-written or well-told story will allow people to seriously consider things they might otherwise dismiss. It’s a sort of half-way point between having a concrete example, and having a mere hypothetical example.

As an example, suppose one starts with the conclusion that abortion is wrong under all circumstances. The discussion can start by proposing hypothetical situations. Supposing a woman has been raped? Now there is no issue of her making a bad choice. She is being forced into this pregnancy. Most people who take an absolute view don’t respond to that point. But consider instead starting the discussion by reading a story that effectively presents the horror of the situation of a woman who is pregnant as the result of rape. While this is not the same as confronting the same situation in one’s own life (a loved one, for example), it puts flesh on the dry bones of the hypothetical.

Now there have been two general approaches to using fiction, especially fantasy and science fiction in religious study, at least amongst those who don’t reject it as dangerous. The first is to hunt down specifically Christian themes in the literature. This results in things like discussions of Christian themes in Lord of the Rings. Though this approach doesn’t excite me personally, it is not entirely fruitless.

The second is to use stories as a challenging source of material for discussion, which has been the theme of this little essay. Let me just suggest a couple of stories I’ve read recently that fit closely with serious themes. Since recently I’ve been reading Mike Resnick’s short stories, I’m going to point to a couple of them for specific themes.

The first is Hothouse Flowers [Amazon Kindle edition] which provides an excellent platform for discussing quality of life and end of life issues. This is one of those topics on which people tend to have pat answers. If you are going to be discussing this in a Sunday School class or a seminar in church, which is usually where I would discuss it, you might need something to stretch people’s thinking.

One standard Christian answer is that God decides how long you’re going to live, and we shouldn’t interfere with it. The interesting thing is that people can say this in reference to someone who has tubes all over and is in a coma. Who is interfering with the natural course of life? Is it the person who put the tubes in, or one who takes them out?

Resnick’s story presents us with a situation that has been carried to an extreme, and will set up a discussion of these more subtle issues. It’s an engaging (and disturbing) story as well, which is just that much better. [Apologies to those who would like a summary of short stories. I really don’t like to read reviews that tell me portions of the story so I try to avoid giving away any key points. You’ll just have to read it!]

The second story is Down Memory Lane (at Asimov’s Science Fiction), which deals with sacrifice. It’s an extremely touching story, and yet it raises questions about self-sacrifice, and who we are doing that sacrifice for. I think it will produce less acrimonious discussions than the previous one is likely to, but they can nonetheless be productive.

Finally, let me point out the novel Kirinyaga (also title of a short story [Kindle]), which examines questions of how we adapt to change, and also how we deal with real diversity. (There’s a good review of Kirinyaga here but I must point out that it tells a bit more about the course of the story than I like before I’ve actually read the book.) One thinks of the Amish, for example, who reject modern society. At the same time many believe that they should be required to give their children a modern education so they can live in the modern world. How far would you take non-interference? How easy would it be to interfere? Besides the issue of change, questions on the limits of tolerance and cultural diversity arise. How do you rank the values? Would valuing cultural diversity lead you to permit infanticide?

I doubt you’ll find any takers on infanticide in your Sunday School classes, but if you back off from that position slowly, you can discover just how far you would go.

Those are just three examples from my current reading. There are many more out there.

The God-Talk Club – Including the Waitress

[This is a work of fiction, and is part of my God-Talk club series. For more information follow the link.]

Ellen McDonald set the extra large Coke on the table in front of Mark Morton and then sat down herself.

“I hope you won’t get fired for sitting down here with us,” said Mark.

“Oh, I’m not on the clock.”

“So what about this?” Mark pointed at the Coke.

“It’s a Coke, just like you like.”

“Why are you working if you’re not on the clock?”

“Well, I’m not really working. I’m just getting you your drink.” Ellen paused. “I listen to bits and pieces of your conversations, but I can’t really join in. I’d like to hear more.”

“You might even say something once in a while,” said Jerry Simonson. The whole group was gathered, though they hadn’t really gotten started on any topic. There was a long pause in the conversation, as though they couldn’t decide what to talk about.

“If you’re not comfortable with me being here, I’ll go,” said Ellen.

“Oh, absolutely not,” said Jerry.

“Well, we have treated her like part of the furniture,” said Justine. “Sorry, Ellen. We know you’re a person, but it’s easy to ignore the waitress.”

Continue reading “The God-Talk Club – Including the Waitress”