LIFE LESSONS: JASON’S GREATEST HITS

As I’m preparing to begin the adventure that is becoming Dwellings Church, a new church community forming in Flint, Michigan, I am wrapping up my work at Wildwind Community Church. This month, I will be teaching the teens at Wildwind for the last time as their youth pastor.

My life with these kids has been so formative for me I wanted to make sure I could say thanks and leave them with a piece of me that will last. The best way I could think to do that was to present them with “Jason’s Greatest Hits”. I decided that for my last month of teaching I would revisit and present some of the biggest lessons I’ve come to learn on my own journey as a way to encourage them in theirs.

 

I thought I’d like to share those lessons here as well, just in a different way. Here are some brief thoughts that I’d to share with you:

1. You are more than what you do.

When meeting new people, the first thing I usually ask is “What do you do?” I think this is the case because our identities are wrapped up in our jobs, our interests, and our various affiliations…this is all stuff we “do”. Beyond the things  that we “do” we find that deep down, at our core, we are more than what we do. We are humans; loving, feeling, being. We are innately valuable with, and even without, all the stuff we usually define ourselves by. If my identity is wrapped up in my job and I fail, I will feel like a loser, or worthless. But if I know I am more than my mistakes and the things I do, I will see an opportunity to grow and learn. In knowing that we are loved by God for who we are, his beloved children, we find that our value isn’t reliant on what we do. Then, we’ll be free to do what we do from the knowledge that we are truly valuable and loved…no matter what.

Psalms 139:13-14 (NIV)
13 For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.

2. Things in this world will try to steal your attention from celebrating the things that really matter. Don’t miss the party!

There is a lot going on in our busy world. And we all have our issues. For some it could be jealousy; for others it may be pride. In general, whenever we are too focused on ourselves we miss opportunities to celebrate the good taking place all around us.  If we learn to look at the world in a different way we’ll be able to see that God’s goodness is everywhere. And maybe when we start to see it “out there” it will be easier to see it “in here”.

John 9:39 (MSG)
39 Jesus then said, “I came into the world to bring everything into the clear light of day, making all the distinctions clear, so that those who have never seen will see, and those who have made a great pretense of seeing will be exposed as blind.”

3. God is love. But we have our own ideas about what that kind of love looks like.

Out of all of Creation, God chose us as the focus of his love. In a world where statements like “I love Doritos” and “I love my family”  are built around the same key word, it can be easy to misunderstand the “love of God.”  I believe that God’s love is best represented in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. God’s son demonstrates his love through selflessness and sacrifice; presence and persistence. God’s love is a gift; something given, not forced. This gift of love when received calls for a response…my response is to reciprocate love in the best way I can. My truest self, yearns to know and love God, even despite my best efforts to get in my own way. This love is deep and lasting. I’m not always aware of it but I’m reminded often through the goodness surrounding me. I see this love in relationships; in the quiet spaces of life; in the beauty all around me.  I’m grateful to have begun the journey of recognizing this love that is deep and wide.

Ephesians 1:4 (MSG)
4 Long before he laid down earth’s foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love.

4. Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone. When you do, you might just find out something about who you are!

I’ve written about this elsewhere but it bears repeating. We have a lot to learn about ourselves from places we might not expect. As John Ortberg says “If you want to walk on water, you’ve got to get out of the boat.” There are adventures to be had! You can handle more than you know! But if you don’t take that first step into the unknown you’ll miss the chance to find out what’s out there for you. I’m learning to trust that I’ll be okay if I just take that first step “out of the boat”. I hope you can learn that, too.

Matthew 14:29 (NIV)
29 “Come,” he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus.

 What lessons have you learned in your life that might help others?

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PATHAGON: ABSTRACT FUN WITH A CLASSIC FEEL

Last November, during my annual trek to Chicago with my wife for the Chicago Toy and Game Fair, Lisa and I came across a booth that really grabbed our attention. Tucked away in the back corner of the exhibit hall, my wife was drawn to the Maranda Enterprises booth like a magnet. And, you know, I’m happy to go where she wants to go, especially when something gaming related peaks her interest, so I followed along.

The Maranda Enterprises booth displayed 6 wooden, bookshelf/heirloom quality abstract games that were designed by Mark Fuchs. Fuchs and his company are known mostly for introducing the world to Ladderball, the popular yard game involving a PVC pipe target and two golf balls connected by a string and flung through the air toward said target. In 2011, he expanded the company to include a unique line of board games that deserve some attention, especially for fans of abstract games.

After talking to Mark’s wife for a few minutes, she told us that his true passion was classic strategy games. She told us that he spent a lot of his free-time in his workshop, lovingly crafting his own wooden games. When you see these games, you can see Mark’s passion shining through. After trying out most of the games, we wished our budget would have allowed us to take home all 6 games but we settled on Pathagon.

To be honest, I’m generally not a huge fan of abstract strategy games (maybe because I rarely win!) but there is something about the visual appeal and big chunky octagonal pieces that draw me to the game. The simple rules help, too.

In the game, each player takes turns placing one of his pieces on the board trying to complete a connected line of his color from one end to the other. Once all of the pieces have been placed, players take turns moving one piece at a time. If your opponent happens to capture one of your pieces between two of her own, that piece gets removed from the board. It’s quick to play, easy to learn, and nice to look at.

From my experience, Mark’s games stand up to many to the classics. Fans of Corridor, Othello, and Cathedral will find themselves on familiar ground while gaining a unique and challenging game experience. I know I enjoyed the experience enough to share it with you guys more than a half year later. I hope that Maranda Enterprises’ line of strategy games, stick around for a while as they scratch a unique itch in the gaming world.

What’s your favorite classic board game?

ORIGINS 2012 HIGHLIGHTS

This past weekend I was able to get away to Columbus, Ohio to spend a few days at Origins Game Fair. Origins is one of the biggest tabletop gaming conventions in the United States featuring a slew of special events, a large exhibit hall, and a gigantic open gaming area.

I attended the convention, along with a handful of friends from Ann Arbor, on behalf of Cambridge Games Factory to demo and peddle their games in the exhibit hall. CGF had a slew of new releases available at the convention this year, including a few advanced copies of Glory To Rome: Black Box Edition, Montana, Pala, and my personal favoriteof the bunch Plato 3000, a rummy game where each meld gives players a special ability.

It’s always a blast demoing new games to people and getting to share a little love for my favorite hobby. Cambridge Games Factory has really turned a corner visually this year so it was neat to see people’s reactions to some of the new games and more specifically the art and design.

Aside from my time working the CGF booth here are a few more highlights:

Pirate Dice

On the first night we ran into some friends we met last year at Origins. One of these friends, Clint Herron, was rooming just across the hall from us in our hotel and getting things finalized to launch his Kickstarter campaign for Pirate Dice: Voyage on the Rolling Seas on Thursday morning. It was super excited to have a friend getting ready to take such a big step with one of his game designs. I was able to test the game last year and was stoked to hear that the game had since been picked up by Gryphon Games. The game is a neat race for treasure with, well…dice and pre-programmed movement that leads to a lot of chaos and fun. The Kickstarter for the game was fully funded before the close of Origins on Sunday! What a cool thing to watch unfolding for one of my new friends.

My First Math Trade

One of the cool things going on in the gaming scene for me has been trading. On Boardgamegeek.com you can post a trade list and a want list and let a program match them up so you can strike up deals for games from gamers all over the world. I have had some fun trading away nice thrift store games for other games on my wishlist. A cheap way, to feed the hobby hunger, to be sure. But what’s cooler than trading your games with someone?

Math Trade!

Someone way smarter than me developed a computer program to connect people’s trade lists and want lists to maximize trades between a larger group of people. You might not even give anything to the person who is giving you a game because you gave a game to someone else who gave a game to someone else who is giving another game to you. See, it’s math…I don’t get it either, it’s just cool. And cheap since we had a big meetup at Origins to avoid the shipping costs normally associated with trading games. I ended up trading away 10 games I didn’t really care for to get 12 or 14 new games to try.  Sounds sweet, eh? My wife is stoked that I spent less money at this convention than the others I’ve been to. Thank you math trade for keeping my family happy!

Gaming with New Friends

One of the best part of gaming conventions, for me, is getting to meet new people. I played some late night Werwolves with a big group of folks one night. We all went out to dinner together the next night where we all talked about relationships and the things about ourselves that annoy our significant others. It was nice, un-game related, and made me feel all fuzzy inside.

I also got to hang out for a bit in the Cartrunk Entertainment UNPUB area where folks were testing our unpublished and/or not-yet-published games. It was awesome feeling the energy surrounding all these new ideas. I even had the chance to sit down with the Dice Hate Me crew to show them one of my games. Cherilyn was flowing with creative ideas and Chris’ accent was contagious. I’ve been pretending to be from the South for days.

Wil Wheaton Got Knighted

They also occasionally have celebreties at these sorts of things. Wil Wheaton, of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Big Bang Theory, and the Geek and Sundry Network’s new gaming show on youtube called Tabletop, was one the special guests. He’s a big gamer and fellow nerd so it was cool to see him roaming around the exhibit halls when he wasn’t signing autographs in the lobby.

When I stopped by the Mayfair Games booth to pick up a present for my daughter (I’m working on a complete set of Catanimals for her by purchasing one at each convention I attend), some of the Mayfair bigwigs pulled out a big wooden sword and dubbed Wil Wheaton a Knight of Catan. It was super nerdy…and awesome.

It was a great weekend getaway for me. It was filled with lots of fun games and friends, new and old. There is something special about connecting with real people around something you love. It doesn’t take long to find out that it’s the people, as much as the thing that brought you together in the first place, that makes anything really worthwhile. I am grateful for the opportunity and especially my wife for taking on the task of single motherhood for a few days to allow me to get away. Can’t wait to drag them along to Origins someday.

What do you love to do that brings you closer to people that you care about?

WE TALK OCCASIONALLY: AN INTERVIEW WITH DESTROY NATE ALLEN

My friends Nate and Tessa are at it again! Today marks the release of their new full length records, “With Our Powers Combined“. For this release they have taken their unique brand of “interactive sing-a-long fun punk” to a new level by enlisting the help of Asian Man Records’ Gnarboots to serve as their back-up band. Usually performing as a two-piece, Destroy Nate Allen has evolved from a solo act to a husband/wife team constantly putting out new records and travelling the country. They are one of the sweetest/hardest working couples I know. I love them and you might, too.

Check out what Nate had to say about the new record, the importance of community, and their upcoming plans.

1. Tell me a little bit about your journey from being a show promoter to a nearly full-time touring musician.

Haha. I liked that you used the word nearly. There is too much truth in that. I started promoting shows when I was 17. It quickly became a passion and something I very much enjoy to this day. For many years I was mainly a promoter and thus I grew to approach music from a very business-y standpoint. I never thought I’d be touring musician in fact I don’t even really remember it being a pipe dream. From 2002-2004, I ran non-profit just focusing on all-ages events and I thought I would do it forever, and then I decided to move to San Francisco.

Over the course of my first few months there I plunged into a severe depression and playing music took on a new role in my life. I stopped playing music as a hobby and started playing it for survival. After a while I had a sort of light bulb moment, I realized through prayer and circumstance that I’d built my life’s foundation on bitterness, fear, and reaction… and that bad fuel was running out. I was challenged by a friend to stop performing music for a season and focus on personal growth. I took his advice. Looking back it was one of the best decisions of my life.

Not playing shows for a year allowed me to focus on deeper core issues… and in a strange twist when I started playing guitar again everything was different. Before my songs just sounded like crappy Johnny Cash rip offs… now people sang-a-long. It was weird. I decided to add Destroy (in front of my current performing name of Nate Allen) and recorded an album.

As fate would have it I decided to get in a van and try my hand at touring… I tend to be an all-or-nothing sort of guy so my first US tour was 6 months long. I was alone for most of it. I came back a different person and nearly full-time touring musician.

2. You started out doing Destroy Nate Allen as a solo act and later, after you got married, added your wife Tessa to the act. Can you tell me a little bit about that evolution? What have you learned from collaborating with your wife in music and on the road?

To be quite honest you are partly to blame for me adding Tessa to the act. I’m not sure she would have ever been allowed in the band if we hadn’t spent a week playing shows together. During that week, I witnessed your evolution of allowing Lisa to play music with you. I don’t remember if you actually said the words but I recall some sort of dialogue along the lines of you realizing you were just having fun in a crappy little band, and there was no good reason Lisa couldn’t have fun right along side you.

That made an impact and when we got married I invited Tessa to join the band. We figured we’d just learn to make it work for our crappy little band. She likes to say that the first year she learned to play tambourine and the next year she learned to sing, but the important part was we were living out our adventures together. It has been priceless.

We like to say that being in band is harder than being married. Having to learn how to construct art together has been difficult. We are very different people. We’ve spent nearly half our marriage together in a van and working in very close quarters… I think that can be exhausting to Tessa because I have a pretty big appetite for conversation. I can confidently say though that the process has been well worth it. We are a stronger couple because of the decision to travel together. I wouldn’t recommend it for everyone but more artists should be traveling with there partners and not leaving the people they love most behind.

3. What is it that keeps pushing you along making music and touring? Why do you do what you do? Continue reading

A 3-YEAR-OLD, CURIOUS GEORGE, AND CHURCH PLANTING

This morning on the way to drop my 3-year-old daughter Claire off at day care we had a great conversation. While we have great conversations regularly, this time Claire was a source of wisdom and encouragement for me. She was pretty stinkin’ cute, too! I thought I would share this moment of greatness with you folks. Here’s how it all when down:

Claire: “Are we going to church on Sunday?”

Daddy: “Yep, we always go to church on Sunday. But pretty soon we’re going to start going to a new church.”

Claire: “Oh, where is the new church?”

Daddy: “Well, our family is going to make a new church, sweetie.”

Claire: “Oh, you mean like Curious George makes lemonade?”

Daddy: “Yes, dear, just like that.”

I smiled and began to chuckle to myself in the front seat when the truth and grace of what she said started to sink in.

I hope our church planting journey is a little bit like making lemonade. Not in the sense of the old cliche “when life gives you lemons make lemonade” though. I don’t see my job as having to make the best out of a tough situation and I certainly don’t think of the people coming along with us on the journey and supporting us as lemons. When I thought about Curious George making lemonade the idea of adventure came to mind.

George is always having fun trying to figure stuff out in the moment. In one episode of my little girl’s favorite cartoon, George thinks making a lemonade stand sounds like a good idea so he dives in to the process trying to figure it out as he goes along.

He knows what supplies he need to start with and works with what he’s got to get it right.

Once he gets everything together he decides he’s ready to go set up his lemonade stand and share it with the public. Once he gets all situated he waits…and waits…and waits some more. No one comes to his lemonade stand. I wonder if George had an existential crisis during this time. Imagine the thoughts in his little monkey brain;

“Maybe I wasn’t meant to make a lemonade stand.”

“Maybe there’s a better lemonade stand down the street.”

“Maybe I should have used pink lemonade instead. I think people probably like pink lemonade better these days.”

“What a waste of time this has been.”

“Doesn’t anybody like me?’

“What does it all mean?”

But before long, George overhears a conversation about a water truck that broke down on its way to a local construction site. It was an extremely hot day. Those workers must be thirsty.

George had an idea.

He packed up his lemonade supplies and took his lemonade stand to the thirsty construction workers. The workers were hot and thirsty and once they figured out what George was up to, a line began to form.

George didn’t seem to have enough lemonade at first but one of the construction workers shared some of his to make sure there was enough to go around.

So, yes. Claire, I think…no I hope that church planting can be a little bit like making lemonade.

I hope we aren’t so concerned about being right that we miss out on the opportunity to enjoy the process and learn something along the way.

I hope we remember what brought us here in the first place whenever we get discouraged.

I hope we remember that church is more than the place that we “set up shop” and that we are willing to be the church wherever we find ourselves, and wherever we see a need that we can help meet.

I hope we can remember that God works through other people as much as he works through us so we remain open the gifts that others have to offer.

I hope we learn to trust that God provides enough for all our needs.

I hope we can enjoy the adventure as much as a beautiful 3-year-old and her favorite cartoon monkey.

Alright, now I’m getting thirsty. Let’s make some lemonade.

THE OAK STREET CHRONICLES: MY FIRST TIME (A Flint Local 432 Story)

The Oak Street Chronicles tell the stories of my time in Downtown Flint, learning to live and learning to love.

I moved to Oak Street to help out a friend who was going travelling. He wanted me to keep an eye on his house while he was away. I wanted a chance to live closer to the heart of the music scene that I was becoming more and more immersed in with each passing year. The Flint Local 432 was a hub for this vibrant and diverse music community. It’s the kind of thing that leads a suburban, white kid to relocate to the hood.
I had gotten involved in the music scene in a participatory way when I was 14. I remember my first time like it was yesterday…

My best friend Mike and I had just joined our first band (technically, Mike played in a Metallica cover band first but let’s not count that) after replying to a sort of help wanted article in a teen-written section of the Flint Journal called Word Up. Mike was a drummer and I wanted to sing. I liked singing. That’s all you really need, right? Passion and desire. Nevermind that whole talent thing.

We connected with Phil, a Grand Blanc kid who actually took guitar lessons and liked a lot of the same alternative and grunge bands that Mike and I were getting into. After reading his article we were sure that we were soul-mates so we started “jamming” in Mike’s Grandmother’s garage.

One time Phil showed up with an article from the newspaper about a new all ages music club that was opening. The article advertised a show with the Rubgy Mothers and Offense A.D., I think. It was two bands I had seen before; one at the Capitol Theater and the other at the Capitol Lobby. A friend’s older brother had taken us to some shows Downtown a year or so earlier. We all decided we needed to check out the show and see if we could try to book our first real gig!

We arrived a Kinelo’s Cafe and the room was pretty full. I felt like one of the youngest kids there but I didn’t care. When the bands started playing I had found a new home.

Mike came up to me later in the evening and told me had just met the guy who managed the Rugby Mothers gigs and asked him how we could get a show of our own. Mike rounded up the rest of us and introduced us to a guy named Joel.

I had actually met Joel earlier in the evening. I had twisted my ankle pretty bad bouncing around in the “pit” during Offense A.D.’s set and Joel found me a chair so I could sit down for a while.

When Mike took us to talk to Joel about booking a show, Joel pulled out a paper schedule and offered us a spot on a show right there on the spot. It was that easy. He hadn’t even heard us. That probably was a good thing.

The next time we had a rehearsal we played with more purpose than ever before. We put together a set of 8 songs including 7 originals and a Lemonheads cover. We practiced every week getting the set ready for our show. It was about a month away so we kept going down to shows every weekend until then.

One night when we showed up to see Rats of Unusual Size (a band all the way from New York!), and Matt Ratza (the original bass player from Burnt Toast!), we arrived at Kinelo’s and it was pretty empty. The stage wasn’t set up and the table hadn’t been moved out of the way. We were a little confused but we saw some lights coming from another building down the otherwise empty street.  We heard some music coming from the building, too. Sound check! We made our way down to 432 S. Saginaw Street. The space wasn’t as nice as the cafe but it was awesome to know that Joel had gotten his own building. The Flint Local 432 seemed like it was something that was going to be around for a while.

We saw bands like Melange, Day 28, Beatnik Mecca, and my personal favorite Burnt Toast, who I had convinced to let me sing one of my favorite songs with them on stage one time. What a rush! I was learning that I could be a part of something that I loved in a personal way.

When our first gig came, I was super nervous so when we got on stage I did my best Eddie Vedder impression, holding on to the mic stand with both hands, not letting go for our entire 30 minute set. I swayed back and forth a little, too. The coolest part of that show wasn’t the performance itself. It was seeing the guys from Burnt Toast and Melange had come to see us play. My new heroes were becoming my new friends.

In my school, I didn’t really feel comfortable. I wasn’t that cool. I had friends but still didn’t feel like I really fit in. Flint Local 432 fixed that for me. It gave me a place. It gave me direction. It gave me experiences that have shaped my life. And it gave me a really cool collection of cassette tapes from local bands.

The Flint Local 432 is reopening soon! Get more info here!

BROKENNESS AND HOPE BOOK PROJECT

Instagram is fun, eh? Here’s a description of a little photo book project I released on Blurb.com:

I spent a not-so-gray-day in February walking around my neighborhood trying to catch some glimpses of beauty and hope. I live in Flint, Michigan, a city known by headlines that read “most dangerous city” and “miserable place to live” but where outsiders see only brokenness, I choose to seek out the beauty of hope.

Ladies and gentlmen, I give you Brokenness and Hope.

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