Category Archives: life
I had another tough question come in from a friend and spent some time turning it over this morning. I figure if he’s asking, the answer might be useful to someone else too, so to you, dear reader, I offer my response as well:
Your question was, “Can you explain ‘He gives and takes away?’ Since God doesn’t punish, what might he take away?”
That’s a heavy question. It hits a lot of people on a very personal level. It’s also not one that I can give a short, pithy answer to. Although I’m not sure I’ve ever given a short, pithy answer to a theological question. They’re usually wrong.
So, rather than give an answer, I’ll share a bit of thought process.
First, there’s an assumption in the question that God doesn’t punish. There are definitely times in the Bible that God does actively punish, although it’s usually on a national level rather than an individual level. There are some times that God does actively give or bless people in scripture. Let’s hold that in an open hand for a minute.
Second, “The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away,” is from Job 1:21. The context of Job is a drama that teaches Jewish people how to respond to struggle and pain. As Job says this, he’s just had three servants come and tell him that he’s lost everything he owns and his family is dead. Job’s response is to acknowledge that he didn’t come into the world with anything, he won’t leave with anything, and God is sovereign over all. He’s saying, “It wasn’t really mine anyway.” This is true. When he says that God took it away, though, he’s wrong. According to the narrative he’s not aware of (irony), Satan took it away with God’s permission as a test – some sort of celestial bet, although God gives permission. So within the immediate context, the statement, “The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away,” was wrong, and basing theology off of it is dangerous – as dangerous as basing theology off his friends’ statements that what was happening was his fault and God was punishing him (which was still a very common belief in Jesus’ time).
Third, people want to reduce theology to the simplest possible, most easily digestible form. They want black and white; always and never. What we see in the whole of scripture, though, is “sometimes.” For those who want consistency and certainty, it’s easiest to say “consistently, certainly sometimes.” God is God, and he’s allowed that. What we see is that sometimes God does give. Sometimes God does take away. Most of the time, he lets stuff happen and leaves his justice for later.
So the statement he gives and takes away is accurate. Sort of. Sometimes.
The greater truth is in the heart attitude behind it, though. We remember that God is sovereign. Everything that we have, whether given actively or inherently is from him. I tremendously enjoy the air he gave me to breathe this morning. Someday I’m going to stop breathing it. I go. Everything I have goes. God remains. God is greater than me. God is greater than my stuff. The mini-lesson found in the following verse, what the audience is supposed to get, is that even though Job thinks God is actively responsible (he’s not) is: “In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.”
It’s a statement of peace. It means that whatever our circumstances are, God remains, and we find our worth and being in him. Growing resentful or angry at him for our circumstances is sinful. Worshiping him in the midst of pain is glorifying.
What we should be saying as we echo that statement is that it doesn’t matter who’s fault it is. God is God and God is Good. He doesn’t stop being God in hard times. It’s what Paul echoes in Phillipians 4:11-13 – “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
So maybe it’s God’s fault and maybe it isn’t. Maybe stuff just happened and he didn’t stop it. We still worship, though, because worship isn’t about us and what we have. It’s not transactional. It’s conversational. It’s relational. It’s about who he is and who we are in him.
I hope that answers your question. If not, bug me more. I’m cool with that.
I haven’t been feeling particularly moved to “blog” lately, but if anyone has any honest questions – not “heh-heh what about this” questions with the intent of trying to trip me up, but honest questions seeking answers, head over to the contact page. I’ll be happy to make posts from them and leave your name out of it.
I haven’t written for a while. Excuse me while I ramble for a bit.
Each morning (well, most mornings… sometimes afternoons… sometimes I skip it because I’m busy or lazy or in a mood or whatever), I dig into JD Walt’s Seedbed Daily Text. I highly recommend it as a Biblically rich devotional written by a servant of God with a broad intellectual skillset and the heart of a poet.
We’re in the Gospel of Matthew right now, as John the Baptist cries out, “Repent, for the kingdom of Heaven is near!” As I process some of my thoughts on his thoughts on God’s thoughts, I’m going to piggyback on some of what he said this morning. I’m just saying that this is mostly me, but he deserves credit (or blame, if you disagree) for the direction and it’s only fair that he get it. If you want to catch up, this particular devo is permalinked here.
Way back in the day (colloquially speaking – it was actually an evening), my youth pastor taught one of many lessons on repentance. This one stuck with me for a number of reasons. First, because it was a time in my life that I was in a weird tension that a lot of Christian teens go through… I had “given my life to Christ,” but had developed excellent compartmentalization skills. I’d given the part of my life that went to church and youth group to Christ, but the part of my life that smoked pot and was committed enough to take the time to download porn on a 28.8k modem and other bad stuff remained firmly separate. The tug of war that ebbs and flows and never seems to quite stop completely was at a high point, and I knew that I needed to “repent.”
I mean, I’d pented at least a few times before, and it obviously hadn’t stuck, so I apparently had to do it again.
Repent is a powerful word. It’s explosive, just in terms of its sound. It gains momentum coming off the lips, pulsing out in a way that leaves an impact. It hangs in the air waiting for a response. Even if you’ve heard it a million times, it sits there, slapping at your conscience, demanding acknowledgement, even it it’s just to turn it away again.
It’s also foreign to our modern language. It’s become the exclusive domain of religiousity, and so, while demanding, its also somewhat amorphous and confusing.
The second reason that his lesson sticks in my memory is that he gave a pithy, one sentence definition of repentance that was easy to grasp. He said that, “Repentance is a 180 degree turn from where you’ve been going,” and had kids demonstrate in an object lesson by walking in a straight line across the room and when he yelled, “Repent!” they’d have to turn around and go back in the other direction. It was a good lesson. It was simple and to the point and something a teenager could understand. And so I repented.
And no matter how many times I did that about-face and turned 180 degrees from where I was going, my course would slowly wander and I’d find myself heading back exactly the way I had been.
Because he was wrong.
And I was wrong when I taught the same thing.
The problem with viewing repentance as a 180 degree turn from the way you were going is that it still focuses on you and the way you were going. It’s like trying to drive by looking in the rearview mirror. It’s appealing to a self-absorbed, self-addicted people because it maintains our self direction – even if we’re directing ourselves by not going somewhere. It’s our direction – anchored by our former direction – dependent on our vision and our conscience and our experience. Our new direction is entirely dependent on our old direction. That doesn’t work well.
The whole idea of trying to navigate by going away from something is just profoundly stupid. And that’s kind of what John is saying.
The good news is that the true point of navigation is near. It’s not ephemeral. It’s not abstract. It’s among us now.
Yes, repentance is a firm re-orientation, but it’s not reorienting away from something, it’s changing direction to move towards something. As long as we’re moving towards it, it doesn’t matter what we’re moving away from. It doesn’t matter what we’ve done. It doesn’t matter what we’re inclined to drift towards. It doesn’t matter what we… what we… what we… what I.
It matters what God.
Repentance isn’t about us. It’s about him. It’s about Emmanuel. It’s about God With Us. JD says it better than I can:
To be clear, behaviors will change but that change will come from a far deeper place than mere compliance with the rules. It will come from the deep wells of our transformed dispositions, affections, desires and from the Holy Spirit inspired dreams of the beautiful, good and powerfully loving lives we were created to live. To repent means to realign our entire lives to become the remarkable kind of people Jesus would be if he were you and me. Repentance does not start with a stinging self examination of our shame-filled selves. No, it begins by beholding the face of God in Jesus Christ, inhaling the Holy Spirit breathed Word of our own beloved-ness and exhaling the breathtaking beauty of the now-appearing-all-things-are-possible Kingdom of Heaven.
That’s probably enough for today. I’m not done thinking about it. It feels important.
Because there’s something in me that needs to be pent. It needs to be contained and constrained and confined because it has its way with me in a way I don’t like and I don’t like myself when it does. I’ve pent it. I’ve repented it. I’ve repented it again. The only way it’s going to stay pent-up is if God does it. To stop moving away and move towards. To stop being defined by it and get a new definition.
So that’s my prayer for me this morning. It’s my prayer for you. That we be defined not by our failing, but by our calling – by the one who succeeded on our behalf. That we be defined not by what we don’t want to be, but by what we were made to be, and the one who made us. That we be moving towards the Kingdom of Heaven on earth.
Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
“Mercy triumphs over judgement,” says James. This is not to say that mercy eliminates judgement, or that which is to be judged is no longer worthy of judgement, but that after judgement comes mercy.
Judge. Judge rightly, and with justice. Know the difference between right and wrong — righteousness and disregard. Dig a deep hole, and pour that judgement into it. Dig it deep enough to fill it to the brim! Once you’ve poured it all out, look at that pool of judgement and admire the rightness of it. Feel confident in it.
Then cover it with mercy.
Spread the mercy on thick. If you don’t have any of your own to put on there, pray for it. It should come from the same place your judgement does, or else your judgement isn’t righteous; it’s self-righteous. Keep adding mercy until the judgement stops seeping through. Keep tending it until something new starts to grow from its fertile soil.
In the end, the judgement is still there, but all anyone should see is mercy.
Put in another way, “Love covers over a multitude of sins.”
Publishing The Art of Being Broken (coming June 15th, 2015) has been a very different experience than publishing Worshipping Through John. It’s not even out yet and I’m seeing a huge difference. One of the biggest is in my level of attachment to it. WTJ is a devotional book. It’s relatively short, very linear, and wrapped around the simple and specific application of scripture. TAOBB took so much more out of me. It’s my experiences, my (hopefully inspired) thoughts, my prose. It’s felt intimidating to start putting out advance copies to reviewers that don’t have any stock in making me feel good about myself and wait for their unbiased reviews.
Each time that one comes in, posted to Goodreads or Amazon or a blog, I’m unhealthily fixated on the resulting opinion. It can be hard to separate criticism of the book from criticism of myself. It’s not that they’ve been bad. In fact, the worst review to come in is 3 stars out of 5. I still took that hard, but I’m also very aware that I’m finding myself looking at the 5 star reviews for personal affirmation, and that’s not healthy either. I think that a piece of it is that I feel like these reviews are saying whether the past year that I’ve put into this book has been worth it or a waste of time. Even though I say (and believe) that the early readers and editors that have benefited from it make it worth it on their own, and the way I’ve grown through the whole process has been worth it on it’s own, there’s still a piece of me that is looking for outside validation.
So there’s that.
Really, though, this has been a long-winded and roundabout way of saying that reviews are starting to come in. Hopefully as the book launches in mid-June, there will be a solid body of positive reviews and people will buy it and read it and grow closer to God and embrace their brokenness and give me money because of them. So far, it seems that if the reviewers are right, that could well happen.
One thing that’s been made clear already is that some people aren’t going to “get it,” and I need to be okay with that. One review called it “rambling” and questioned my application of scripture. Another, more positive, one said that they had a bit of trouble understanding it because it lacks thesis statements and conclusions to each chapter with application points. Both of those things might be true, depending on your perspective. The Art of Being Broken is intentionally written conversationally and anecdotally, partly because I’m a person that doesn’t really like being told what to do, but if you walk me to it, I can appreciate truth and I think other people are often like that, too. It’s not that it doesn’t have purpose or flow, but that it’s slightly non-linear and doesn’t have point by point application. Every person that reads it is going to pull something a little bit different, and hopefully non-heretical, out of it. They already have. I love to hear about that.
Pastor Floyd Johnson posted a review on his book review blog today that I wanted to share, both because he put an exceptional amount of thought into the review and because it makes the book sound exceptionally good. He says things like:
Even as I read, I found myself recommending the book as I borrowed illustrations included therein.
The book should be required collateral reading for the college or seminary course in pastoral counseling.
the book offers valuable insight into the broken souls we all bring to the cross.
So I wanted to give a link to it and say a public “thank you” for the work he put into the review. I appreciated what he shared of himself, and it gave me some good things to consider as I move toward the launch.
In the past few years, I’ve had the opportunity to watch a debate that was happening in schools and bars and social media move into governments and courts. Right now, the Supreme Court of the United States is hearing arguments about whether or not individual states should have a right to legislate whether they will allow same-sex couples to get married, or whether it should be a federally protected right. You may have heard about it. Some people have opinions. Many of them are loud.
The popular perception is that Christians want to keep the world firmly ensconced in an idealized version of the 1950s by keeping all the marriage for themselves, while people with functioning brains want to be nice to people. The other (somewhat less popular) popular perception is that Christians want to save the world from a toboggan ride to hell, while sweaty heathens want to steal marriage so that they can have sex with everything and not pay taxes. The unpopular perception is that even within the Christian community, there’s a pretty sharp split between those in support and those against, and they might be even angrier with each other than the rest of the internet is.
My name is Aaron, and I’m a Christian moderate. That’s not an easy thing to be, especially when debates get heated. There’s a lot of hurt flying around on all sides, particularly from people who seem to think there’s only two of them. Once again, as a Christian moderate, I’m catching my fair share because—
1. Some people believe there’s no such thing
In Revelation 3:16, God says that, “because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth,” and a lot of people seem to think that means that if your theology doesn’t go to the logical extreme, you don’t care about God. They see moderate Christians as being wishy-washy or apathetic. They think that if you aren’t at one end of the spectrum or another, you just haven’t bothered to think through your faith. Most of the time, though, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Most Christian moderates and moderate denominations place a very high priority on scripture and applying it passionately to life. The difference is that they see that application in the middle of the two extremes. I am a passionately hot and cold middle-ground believer, because that’s where I see the Bible leading. I have very strong opinions on it, and right now it leads to arguments because—
2. Liberals think that that you hate gay people
I can’t do the exegetical (critical interpretation of religious text) and hermeneutical (art and science that shapes biblical interpretation) back-flips that let them say that God is giving a thumbs-up to same-gender sexual relationships. I’ve dug in and tried, because I want to and it would be much easier for me to hold that position in so many ways, but I can’t. That conviction means that when I’m asked, I have to say that I believe that homosexual practice is sinful. I can’t endorse it because I don’t believe that the creator of sexuality endorses it. As a pastor, I can’t conduct a wedding of a same-sex couple. I also don’t believe that people should be forced to participate in the event under threat of losing their business, either, through everything from flowers to food to photography. If they believe that their participation amounts to support and/or endorsement of something they believe is wrong, they should have the right not to. This position has led to a lot of people on the internet being very angry with me. Despite that—
3. Conservatives think that you throw out the Bible
I believe that same-sex couples should receive equal treatment under secular law, and when I say that, conservative Christians seem to think I’m possessed by the devil. They see it as a betrayal as scripture and a governmental endorsement of sin. The problem is that they can’t separate the moral/religious implications from the legal/secular ones. They also can’t seem to see the way the argument demeans and belittles real people with real feelings who don’t share their beliefs. I’ll talk to Christians about God’s intent for human sexuality, but applying that to people who don’t believe in God is ridiculous. I can’t make a religious argument in a legal debate, and I don’t believe that the state has any compelling interest in discriminating against homosexuals. I’m honestly not sure that Christians have any place entering into the conversation and saying so. When I make that argument—
4. You realize that half the problem is that everyone is speaking different languages with the same words
Everyone looks at me like I have two heads. I feel like whenever I’m talking to someone about it, I’m arguing someone else’s position. I think that it would be a lot easier to come together on this if we could just replace the word marriage with the word sandwich. It’s probably descriptive enough, and is far enough outside the norm that people would actually have to think about what each other was saying rather than slapping their own interpretation on it. Using the word marriage means carrying very different assumptions into the conversation. When a Christian says marriage, they usually mean Holy Matrimony. Christianity is unique (to the best of my knowledge) among the major religions, as it views marriage as a sacramental union, through which God binds a man and a woman together in reflection of his relationship with humanity and not a civil process. When someone outside the church says marriage, they usually mean a legally formalized permanent romantic relationship between two people. Given that, it makes perfect sense that conservative Christians would be utterly confused when someone says that homosexuals can have a marriage and secularists would be baffled by anyone who says they can’t. Sometimes I feel like if everyone could understand that, we could all stop ALL CAPSing at each other, but—
5. You know that’s not the half that matters
It’s really less about faith than it is about fear. I get that. I’m afraid too. Not the way some conservatives seem to be—that everything will turn into a slippery slope that’s slippery because of all the sweaty, hedonistic sex people are having on it, and not in the way that liberals seem to be—that people will be ground beneath the pointy boot of conservative discrimination, but that people are going to come after me and the church I love. I’m afraid that I will be legally penalized for believing what I believe. More than that, though, it’s about pain. Pain and deprecation. On one side, you have people who passionately love God and love the Bible and people are telling them that they’re stupid and ignorant and bigoted—the God they love doesn’t exist and the Bible they love is a fabrication. Of course they’re going to come out with guns blazing. On the other side, you have people who believe their sexual identity is intrinsic to who they are and people are telling them that who they are is evil and they should be relegated to second-class citizenry. Very few people make the arguments in those extreme words, but those are the words that are heard. Most of the arguments on both sides have gone well beyond reason and into stupid, illogical, personal attack, and I’m not sure there’s any coming back from that.
Anyone who’s actually made it this far without jumping straight to the comment section might be wondering what my moderate position is. Here you go: To be honest, I think that the church has absolutely no business legally solemnizing any union, heterosexual or otherwise. Let us handle unions spiritually according to our own beliefs and let the government handle legal unions secularly. If someone wants both, they should do both. My moderate opinion is that same sex couples should absolutely be afforded the same rights under the law as opposite gender couples. Under God is a different story. Nothing the church says is going to change the one, and nothing the court says is going to change the other.
You’re free to disagree.
It’s been a long time coming, but The Art of Being Broken will be available for purchase June 15, 2015.
Four years ago when I started writing it, this was a different book. I was a different person. In a way, I’m grateful for the 3 year hiatus my writing took while I was at Cornerstone Wesleyan. During that time, I published a book of devotionals for worship teams, which led praise teams together through the Gospel of John, prompting them to take a deeper look at their ministry together. That process gave me confidence in my writing, and helped me learn a lot about putting a book together for publishing. The experience was invaluable as I prepared The Art of Being Broken for print.
More than that, though, I grew as a person and a pastor. When I started writing this book four years ago, it had a very different focus. Really, it boiled down almost entirely to “Don’t be fake. If you’re messed up, be authentically messed up so that people can know the real you.” There is definitely still an element of that, but it evolved so much. Part of that was becoming convinced that God wants more for us than authentic brokenness. He wants to take our brokenness and turn it into holiness. He wants to take our wounds and mess and broken pieces and turn it into art that shows his grace and love to the world in a real, authentic way.
I’m not great at self-promotion. Most of the time, I have trouble seeing what I do as really good or valuable. This book though, I believe is excellent. That feels really weird to say, but I think that if you sit down to read it, you’ll find that it speaks to your heart. Maybe you’ll find God speaking to your heart through it.
What if everything isn’t fine?
What if there is life outside of our shells?
What if there is beauty under our masks?
What if there is healing beyond brokenness?
What if we could see the image of God in ourselves?
What if God’s art is made from our broken pieces?
In The Art of Being Broken, Aaron Mark Reimer opens up an authentic, sometimes awkward, occasionally hilarious, one-way conversation about our brokenness, the things we use to cover it, and the healing that can come through exposing it.
Last night a few guys from Cornerstone headed over to the theatre to check out the new blockbuster movie Noah and sat down over some (really excellent) food to talk about it afterwards. It was an interesting discussion. Now that I’ve had a bit of time to process, I’d like to take a minute to share a few thoughts on the movie and provide you with a couple of links if you’d like to dig in deeper.
Thar be spoilers ahead!
Some of the movie was strange and fantastical. The presence of “zohar” as some sort of spiritual mineral. The “watchers,” who are portrayed as angels that came to help mankind but were punished by being trapped in rock-bodies played a much larger role in the movie than I was expecting. Some of the pre-flood animals are just weird.
There are a lot of people out there that are very upset that Noah seems to diverge from or fill in what is given in the Genesis 6-9 account. They feel like the trailer gave a bit of a bait and switch. Where the trailer heavily implies Noah relying on God for help and protection, what he really has is an army of Rock Ents. They feel like there is radical and unjustified departures from the text for the sake of Hollywood film making. The issue is that the Bible’s Genesis account of the Flood isn’t the source material behind the movie.
This movie, for the most part, bypasses Genesis and goes to sources that the Early Church branded Gnostic heresies, or special mystical knowledge from Secret Religions like Kabalah (who’s primary text is called the Zohar, by the way). It reaches into the book of 1st Enoch for information about The Watchers, and even then takes them from being fallen angels who brought war to mankind and are awaiting due punishment to misunderstood benevolent martyrs who long to go back to heaven.
In short, the film makers did everything they could to take a story that Christians would be drawn to and make it about how human will triumphs over everything, and God, if he’s there at all, is silent. God is a monster. The snake is a hero that brings the blessing of wisdom and special knowledge to humanity. It’s a hot mess. The thing is, if you’re not looking for it, it’s easy to miss or dismiss. It’s relatively subtle compared to how BIG the action is.
After having watched it, I can say that I wholeheartedly do not recommend it. If you want to see it as a movie for its own merits, go ahead, but don’t go with any expectation that it’s about the Noah or the God of the Bible.
Every so often there is a thing or a thought or something hilarious that makes me wonder if I might be a terrible person. I mean, the things I find funny are probably proof enough that I’m less than entirely sanctified. In case you haven’t noticed the sea of pink we’re floating in right now (or you’re reading this in the archives… HI FUTURE PERSON!!), October is breast cancer awareness month. Here’s where the terrible person part comes in: Is there really anyone left that isn’t aware of breast cancer? I know that I’m too cynical sometimes, but it seems like by now there’s not anyone left that would be like, “Breast cancer? What’s that? Is that a kind of candy? It sounds delicious!”
We know breast cancer is terrible. For the vast majority of people, we either know someone that has had breast cancer or know someone that has been affected by it. I think the awareness ship has sailed. Call it Support Month, or Fundraising Month, or More Important Than Other Kinds of Cancer Month, but let’s not fuzz this – we do not need an Awareness Month for breast cancer. To be perfectly honest I’ve got a little bit of bitterness when I see the pink ribbon everywhere. The reason is that October is “awareness month” for a host of other things that no one talks about – things that awareness really does need to be raised for. The pink ribbon has wound through my life, but nearer to my heart is the pink and blue. When I’m talking about the questionable nature of pink awareness ribbons, I mean that if you see a pink ribbon, you know what it’s for. That means it’s done its job. Time to move on. Are you aware of the pink and blue? You don’t see them around much. A number of issues fall under their purview, but for October they symbolise pregnancy and infant loss. Are you aware of that? Do you actually know the number of people in your life who have had their hearts hammered by a miscarriage? Do you know the extent of the damage it does to relationships? Do you know how it can cause a woman to mistrust or hate her own body? Are you aware that it’s a BIG FREAKING DEAL?
Today, October 15th, as I’m writing this, is the specific day held out for remembering those children whose lives were far too short, many of them never seeing the light of day or having the opportunity to breathe air before passing on. I’m aware that in the eyes of many people, they weren’t really people, or not even considered “life” to lose their lives. Most often, I just have to ragequit conversations with them, because nothing I say is going to make them understand that a miscarriage is more than just a loss of hope, or a shift in plans, but losing a child who was part of our life for way, way too short a time. Six times we’ve had early miscarriages, my wife and I. One of those times I got to hold my… I don’t even know how to date it… 7 weeks from conception daughter in my hands and look into her eyes and touch her tiny, tiny fingers. When I see people posting or saying or picketing to say that she didn’t matter, it makes me want to throw things at them. Or throw them at things. But this was never intended to be a pro-life-centric post, so I’m going to take a deep breath and move on.
I don’t want to belittle the pain of those who have lost children to SIDS or post-birth complications, but I’m not going to be talking about them. There are two reasons for this: the first is that I’ve never experienced that, and as much as it pisses me off when people spout off about things they don’t understand, I don’t want to be hypocritical. The second is that it seems from the outside that people in general have a better understanding of the grief of that loss. It’s real to them. They don’t really understand the fullness of the impact of it, but neither do I, and there’s a lot of posts today from people that do and I’ll leave it to them to explain it. It’s loud.
Miscarriage is quiet.
There is often shame associated with it. Self doubt and recrimination follow along. It strikes at the core of a person’s self-esteem. The inability to form and/or carry a child to term strikes at the core of gender identity and personhood. That’s one of the many reasons that people don’t talk about it. We don’t talk about the things that shame us. We shove them into dark corners to fester, then pull them out late at night and pick at them, alone. In the midst of this, we feel like maybe we shouldn’t feel that way. We don’t talk to people about it for fear that they’ll judge our feelings as much as the circumstances. Like it shouldn’t be as big a deal as it is.
With miscarriage, we’re afraid they won’t understand. They’ll offer pointless platitudes like “you’re still young,” or “at least you weren’t that far along,” as if that’s a great big wondrous silver lining and we’ll go “yeah, I never considered that. I shouldn’t be sad about what I went through because it could have been worse. At least I don’t have breast cancer.”
The fact is that people don’t understand. It’s hard to explain unless you’ve been there. It’s hard to see that the silence of the many, many women – couples – that have miscarried, isn’t because it’s too small to mention, but because it’s far too big. We don’t talk about it. We suffer alone, and our suffering is made worse by the feeling that we are alone in it. I look across my facebook feed today, though, and I’m not alone. I see that the things my wife has shared from her experience are giving voice to many women that feel the same but don’t have the words to express. I’m so proud of her. I’m proud of her strength, while I watch her still carrying the pain, sometimes walking along the edge of breaking from the loss of JJ, Anastasios, Sayuri, Aliento, Tacey, and Nima. It’s a big deal. We don’t just grieve the loss of a future, we grieve the loss of people – children that were part of both of us.
Be aware of that.
[EDIT FOR THE BENEFIT OF THOSE WHO CONTINUE TO FIND THIS REVIEW: This review is somewhat out of date, and pertains to the original Zombies Run Season 1, and has had significant changes since the 2.0 update. I still love it. I still use it. It still feels very similar, but this review is no longer accurate in many particulars.]
And now for something completely different… I haven’t written anything in a very long time. Not because I didn’t have anything to say, but because my motivation has been lacking and I’ve had other stuff to do. I’m going to try something new: a review. I’m not planning on doing this often, but I thought this was worth sharing.
A little background, since I haven’t really talked about my fitness much. I’m about 5’8″ on a good day, and currently sitting at about 195 lbs. Last summer, I started running. Jogging really. Well, not even jogging when I started, more heaving along at a shambling lope until I wanted to pass out (roughly 2 blocks). From June to September I worked up to a 29 minute (level) 5km. I was pretty proud of myself. I’d gotten down to about 175 lbs. I still wasn’t super happy with the extraneous chunk I was carrying, but it was progress. Then a move came, and November rain, and Winter, and like crap I was going to go out and run in that… Christmas food and all the leftovers… you get the picture. I tried going out to run a couple of times in the early summer, but it was discouraging to be back to only running 2-3 km again, and some mild injuries combined with that made it easy to put running on the back burner.
Enter: Zombies, Run!
Zombies, Run! is an app available for iOS, Windows Mobile, and AndroidOS. It’s billed as an ultra-immersive running game that provides a compelling story, rpg-style advancement, and in-run motivation. Being a fan of all three of those things, I decided to bite the bullet on the $7.99 price tag and download it from Android Market for my HTC Incredible S, running Android 2.3. For reference, the version I have is the current Andriod 1.01 update. I had a brief difficulty getting it installed, because the mission audio download (~200 mb) requires you to be on wifi rather than a mobile internet connection. That’s probably a good thing for a lot of people, but given that I use about 5% of my 2 gb monthly allotment, I would have been happy to be able to do it at my convenience.
The user interface is pretty basic. The home screen is nearly useless for providing anything but atmosphere, as all the options are laid out as permanent tabs on the top of the screen (Home, Missions, Supplies, Codex, and Settings). It does keep a count of your town (Abel Township, a walled shanty-town of survivors as the story begins) population, though. Sliding the door open gets you to the missions tab, which gives you a scrolling list of story instalments that have been unlocked. That’s where the supplies tab comes in: as you run/walk/shamble/whatever through the mission, your character, who will be known as Runner 5, randomly picks up supplies ranging from radios to underwear. When your run is completed you can use the supplies tab to distribute them through the buildings in Abel. This levels up the buildings, increasing the population and making more missions available for you. The codex keeps track of the different types of supplies you’ve discovered and the mission related artefacts you’ve found, as well as a dramatis personae of the characters you have encountered during the story development as you run. The supplies and codex tabs are also available online if you sync an account with zombiesrungame.com. That account also gives you the ability to share to your Facebook timeline and Twitter feed, which is something that I think is a lot of fun, the developers think is good advertising, and makes lazy friends feel guilty and hate you. The final tab is for settings, which contains a tutorial (which I’ll get to), metric/imperial selection, credits, synchronisation options, and the choice of whether or not you want “Zombie chases” added into your workouts.
Getting running with Zombies, Run! is fairly intuitive, which is a good thing because the tutorial really doesn’t adequately explain how everything works [UPDATE: After 4 missions and a bunch of googling, I found the Runners’ Field Guide, which makes for some fun and helpful reading]. After reading through some other reviews and doing a run with it myself, I’m still not entirely sure how everything works. The support page online didn’t really live up to what I’d like to see in terms of documentation for the game. It gives you enough to make things work, but not why or how they work. By clicking on the mission tab and selecting a mission (I started at Mission 1: “Jolly Alpha Five Niner”) you bring up another screen with options to play music from one of the playlists you’ve made on your phone, whether or not to shuffle the songs, whether to enable GPS tracking, and whether you want Zombie chases to happen during the mission (seeming to duplicate/override the global option). Zombies, Run! audio integrated flawlessly with the stock Android 2.3 music player, but as of the current revision, Android 4 requires you to use the WinAmp app to provide the music for your run. GPS tracking is needed to have the Zombie Chase option active, and also allows for some pretty decent tracking of your run. I’m given to understand that until recently, Zombies, Run! didn’t provide much information on your run but now has full RunKeeper integration if you’re into that, calculates calories burned, and keeps track of your speed, pace, and location throughout the run, synced with what song your were listening to and what mission details were given. It actually reminds me a lot of the free version of Endomondo that I had previously been using to track my runs. If you’d like to see the tracking screen following a run, the following is a link to my first mission. SPOILER ALERT: the timeline for the run contains story information for that instalment.
So, speaking of my first mission…
I think this is what you’re going to want to hear more about, because it’s the thing that makes this app both unique and worth getting. The fact is there are better run tracking apps that you can get for free. If you’re looking at Zombies, Run!, it’s probably because the idea of having the story and incentives making it more fun to get out and exercise. Does it do that? It did for me. Before I tell you about it, I’m going to quickly repeat some useful advice that I read in another review, because it saved me some trouble: The gameplay elements have nothing to do with the story bits. When they’re yelling at you to run, it doesn’t matter if you run. When they’re telling you you’re going fast, that doesn’t mean you’re going fast. It’s pre-recorded, and does not integrate with the GPS tracking. I do think that if you want to honour the story it will help increase the power of the experience, though.
I selected my running playlist (mostly moderately up tempo rock: bands like Needtobreathe, The Afters, Havenstance, Boys Like Girls, and Switchfoot), shuffled it, turned GPS and Zombie Chases on (because hey, that’s the point, right?) and stepped out the door. I walked through the first story instalment to warm up, and as the well voice-acted communications controller called for it, began to run. Jog, really, but I’m out of shape. I already said that. As Thunder played, I was soon informed that I’d picked up a power cable… Okay, cool, I guess… the music volume dipped enough for me to hear the notification, which, unfortunately, was not voice acted. I’m pretty sure it’s the same text to speech as Emily, the polite British lady in my Garmin GPS that tells me how to get less lost. That pickup was quickly followed by a radio and a cell phone. At later points during my run I picked up underwear and a sports bra. It gave me a bit of a chuckle, at least. I also got crutches, which brings me to my first semi-real negative: As immersive as this is supposed to be, the liberal application of hammerspace made me shake my head a bit. Really? I’m supposed to pretend I’m carrying all this stuff while I’m running? [I got 16 items during the run, ranging in size from a USB key to the crutches… also, sometimes I overthink things.]
As each song ended, an audio clip would play, advancing the story and encouraging me to keep going. Sometimes this threw me a bit, because (as you’ll see if you look at my mission log) I was liberally interspersing walking with my jogging and there were times when the audio inappropriately lauded my pace. At times, it would contain story-based information about zombies approaching and call for me to pick up my speed. If I hadn’t known that it had nothing to do with the Zombie chases, that might have thrown me. During the songs, with the same volume dip, sometimes I’d get a “Warning, Zombies, 100 Meters” (Ahead? Behind? Who knows…). Once again, I was grateful to an earlier reviewer who wrote that this meant that you needed to increase your speed for a set distance. The tutorial says that if zombies chase you to run faster. I understand that if you don’t, you drop some of your supplies in order to get away, and if you’re “caught” without supplies, it results in your death and the failure of the mission. I might be wrong in that; it’s not documented in any way by the developer, and I don’t really want to find out the hard way. That happened four times during the mission. It appeared to update me on the distance the Zombies were behind me while I tried to reach the unspecified marker ahead of them, but that’s just my best guess. It seems like you “evade” the zombies if you reach the end of that unspecified stretch ahead of the zombies, whether you’re five meters ahead or 170. There was one time that they apparently got close enough to be a worry, since I started hearing shuffling and panting overtop of the music. It was a cool effect, and definitely motivated me to kick up my speed as much as I could. The timing and number of the chases seemed random. In a future revision, I think it might be useful to have an option to include them at fixed times for interval training.
I had some excellent grin-moments as my randomized playlists dropped songs that fit perfectly with the story clips, such as OneRepublic’s Everybody Loves Me after having been greeted and welcomed into Abel township at the end of the mission, and the DJ dedicating The Afters’ Light Up The Sky to our communications officer, Sam Yao (When I’m feeling all alone/with so far to go/the signs are nowhere on this road/guiding me home … you light up the sky to show me you are with me/I can’t deny that you are right here with me). Some people might find that less amusing than I do. Phaw on them.
Oh, that’s right, I said DJ. That was a really neat little Easter Egg! When I finished the mission (about half an hour including music), I was introduced to a post-apocolyptic DJ team for the base with an old MP3 player and broadcast tower. They interspersed my playlist with survior related banter that kept the experience going really nicely. This brings me to my other experiential negative: Zombies are apparently very rude. While I was doing my cool-down walk, another Zombie Chase activated! It frustrated me quite a bit, because I was afraid if I didn’t kick back into a run, I’d lose the progress even with the mission done. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but it left me sucking wind and bile. I stopped the app after I outran them, but that left me without music for the last few minutes of my cool down. Apparently Zombie chases are all or nothing. I can understand that still being a good feature for 10kers that want to keep going well after the mission is done, but for me the timing was very unfortunate. I’d really like to have the option to only have zombie chases for the duration of the “mission” portion of the run, but I’m not sure that’s actually possible to program.
When I arrived back home, pretty wiped, my four year old son ran out of the house to greet me and join in on my end of run stretching. I had a bizarrely warm sense of accomplishment and purpose; like I had just gone out running into danger to bring supplies back for my family behind the safety of the walls. Then I felt a little crazy. It was a good kind of crazy, though.
Back on the computer, I took the chance to see the post-run breakdown, and as I mentioned before was surprisingly pleased and impressed. I set out to distribute the supplies around the town. I think this is an area that could use some future attention to up the fun factor, because it doesn’t seem like it matters what kind of supply you put in any part of the base to improve it. There’s also no stated rhyme or reason for which part of the base you chose to upgrade. My personal feeling is that it’s an opportunity for future social integration, especially if they gave a reason for you to upgrade, say, the armoury over the hospital. By making supplies building specific, and allowing networked people to provide supplies to each others’ bases, it would add a sense of the cooperation that we’ll need to survive the zombie apocalypse.
On the whole, one mission in, I feel like this app is going to be well worth the eight dollars spent. It’s worth noting that the number of missions is currently limited to what they’ve been able to script and record so far. They’ve called it season one, though, so I have hope that as more people buy the app, they’ll be able to fund further seasons. I’d also hope that it would be free content, but I think that those who have followed the story through would be willing to put some more money forward to continue it. If the rest of the missions are of the quality that the first one was, I can see myself getting a lot of enjoyment from this.
The good: Compelling and well voiced story, excellent integration with the music, and all the tracking features that a recreational runner would need
The bad: Lack of documentation and rationale for RPG elements
The ugly: The user interface is functional, but could stand to improve for the sake of immersiveness
If you’d like to know anything more, feel free to ask.