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There is a game which I have never played, but for which I am an excellent cheerleader with approximately two games’ experience. Often I get it confused with Frisbee Golf, which is considerably more difficult. It is called Ultimate Frisbee. Those who practice this game have some nice moves and are excellent athletes. Amateurs can apparently have fun. Rules are not difficult to learn. By the end of the first game I watched, I had grasped the majority.

The object (about now you’re wondering what this has to do with an octopus, but let me tell this in my own good time) of the game is to throw the Frisbee across your goal to a teammate who must catch it behind the goal. In fact catching is pretty important in this game. If you drop the Frisbee, the other team receives possession. In sports this is called a turn over. (If my audience was less male, it would be impressed.) If the other team catches a Frisbee, this interception is also a turn over. When you have the Frisbee, your feet cannot move. You must throw it. The idea is to transfer the Frisbee to one of your teammates, but there is no additional penalty if you fail, beyond a turnover. Defense is to discourage the player with the Frisbee from throwing it to the player nearest you. If they do, make the player fail in his attempt to catch it, or catch it yourself. Remember this.

In Awana there are three or four teams playing the standard games. Teams are laid out on a square or triangle surrounding a circle. As a Game Director for Awana last year, I appreciate the hilarious fun of turning a two-team game into one for three or four teams. Such was also the adventure the Game Directors at Camp undertook with their version of Ultimate Frisbee. At Camp there are three teams (unless Purple wants to play, but they are usually busy photographing, making rules, and tending sprains and scrapes). So the wonderful invention was a triangular field for Ultimate Frisbee, in which each team’s goal was one cut-off corner of the triangle. In case of a dropped “Frisbee,” possession advanced to the next team in a cycle of three, which got a little confusing and I’m not sure – perhaps dishonest. It was definitely a possibility.

As amazing an innovation as turning this simple game into a three-sided carnival was compounded by the substitution of a real dead Octopus for a Frisbee. Let’s review rules. No kicking. No batting. No one person moving the object down the field in their hands. Generally a Frisbee glides gracefully through the air over heads to the next player, occasionally sent off course by a gentle breeze. With an Octopus, its rather different. It is hurled from one player to another, draping tentacles and slimy arms over heads, and covering the face and shoulders of any player unfortunate enough to catch the beast.

I was a junior high counselor at camp. A girl counselor for girl campers. In general girls don’t like dead things, or slimy, or fishy, or smelly. For example, several girls upon finding an Octopus in their hands stood there, staring at the blob, and screaming. They did not throw the mess into the air like a hot potato, or drop it on the ground and run. I think there is a poison in Octopus that takes away rational escape instinct. There was one of my girls who, while she may feel that way, had no trouble setting aside her doubts and attempting to win the game. One of my girls was more hesitant. And the third of my girls did not want to touch the Octopus. A responsibility of being a counselor is to encourage campers to participate in games. Apparently the tactic employed by my male co-counselors was to excel at the game and occasionally allow campers to participate. Don’t get me wrong. To a certain extent this is highly effective. Once proven that Octopus guts do not kill you if you touch them, campers are bolder to try. I had a different gift in encouraging kids to participate. It involved corralling, coaching, and taking them literally by the hand with the reassuring comment, “I don’t want to touch it either. We won’t have to. We’ll play defense.”

Here’s what you do. It is sort of like meeting an angry grizzly bear in a forest. You stand up tall and make yourself as big as possible by waving your arms. In this way you intercept sight lines between team players and you give the impression that whoever is behind you is off limits. An important thing to remember is position. You want to be between the possessor of the *deep breath* Octopus and their teammates or goal. You cannot stand far from the goal. One danger in playing defense is that if the possessor of the Octopus happens to, in spite of all your deterrence, throw the Octopus your way, you might get hit. You might have to move. I recommend moving.

So the game was going great and I had dragged my more reluctant clubbers into a defensive position when the Game Directors changed the rules. Girls got to sit out for a while. Watching, I had to observe that the campers had the hang of the game, and most of them were reluctantly becoming willing to handle the Octopus. But counselors, who in most cases were ten times faster and ten inches taller than campers, were monopolizing the game. Interrupting his enthusiastic refereeing of the game, I pointed this out to a Game Director. At which point the game changed and I rescued myself from further participation. See how smart I am?

By the time only girls were participating in this unique game, all but two or three of those in my charge were eagerly chasing and tossing the Octopus. Still my defensive buddy seemed to have forgotten the importance of position. She wandered in the middle of the field, distant from the action. There’s something to be said for staying far away from the horrible stench of dead Octopus. When you are out of the crowd, though, you are much more vulnerable to detection. In a few years she’ll learn to blend in a little. This year, the Game Director caught her. He had located a wayward bit of Octopus limb, and stuffed it into her hand. Again, the paralyzing of escape instincts took over, and she merely stared at the mushy tissue in her hand. Then she threw it down and ran towards the game, all fear surrendered.

And so my job was accomplished with help from the Game Director, with whom I was prepared to be quite indignant if there were bad results from his tortuous methods. He is a devious man, who will not disappoint in driving you to desperate things. His next move was to call for “only counselors” to play the horrific game, Ultimate Octopus.

You have to understand. There were only four on each team, and the field was huge. We were playing against fast people, real athletes, aggressive people. And I can usually catch, but I can’t throw. Not when surrounded by people. Not some soft, stringy object. But mere defense was no longer an option. Fortunately I’d already mastered a plan for defense when the other team had the Octopus. (Actually to be quite honest, another team, Green, swelled their ranks with high school counselors who were supposed to be elsewhere, and so in the counselor score, Red looked rather bad.) When we had possession, though, we had to score. I postured for the Octopus, trying to communicate that I was open and hesitantly willing. I’m sure my body language was like raising your hand but with a mostly bent elbow, so that if the teacher doesn’t really want to think you have something to say, she doesn’t have to call on you. Then it happened.

My teammates (I did not pay sufficient attention to which teammate that I could futurely attack him/her) threw me the Octopus. And I touched it. I caught it. And I threw it to another teammate, who didn’t catch it because actually I threw it in the direction of all sorts of counselors and caused a turnover in their favor. To be quite honest, at this stage the Octopus had been dropped enough that the only substance actually touching my skin was dirt. But I was brave, and so unsuccessful in my possession that I rid myself of the need to ever touch it again.

The end.

To God be all glory,
Lisa of Longbourn

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My Awana high school team is going (with me) to Jacksonville, Florida this weekend for the national Bible Quiz, Fine Arts, and AwanaGames competition. I’ll be back Tuesday, probably with lots to say. Until then, you could read some old posts, comment (but they won’t appear until I get back to moderate), read a classic book, watch a classic movie, write your own blog, or pray for us.

To God be all glory,
Lisa of Longbourn

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Two Spaniards took a break from the sauna-like heat of the borderlands between Arabic-influenced Moorlands, and fiercely Roman Catholic Spain, to play a game of chess on the shaded veranda.  Both men were enthusiasts for the game that by this time was popular on three continents and most of the classical “known world.”  Time was short this afternoon, with demands of the plantation promising interruption of the historically slow-paced, strategic game.  Rather than pausing their game, both were interested in options to shorten their match. 
 
In other parts of Europe, more liberal rules were proposed as solutions to the same problem.  However, these serious players, comfortable with the legal moves of the present game, had a different idea.  They could introduce dice to the first game in history that was played entirely without chance. 
 
Philosophers and aficionados of the game appreciated the raw intellect of chess.  Human minds and wills warred with each other, ignoring fate, defying the existence of fate, and asserting a freedom.  Unlike other popular games in each country prior to the introduction of chess, there was no element of chance.  The game always began the same way, with the same rules to each player.  Then it proceeded matching man to man, mind to mind. 
 
So why would any serious chess players submit their glorification of the human mind to dice?  The answer may have been that they were not creative enough to try modifying rules to shorten their game.  They may have liked the challenge afforded by the limitation on their control of the game (dice were used to regulate which piece had to be moved each turn).  Or, the first answer that occurred to me, it’s fair.  
 
A skilled player might approve the challenge of thriving under such constraint.  The common man would submit to his lot in the game, as he seemed to do in life.  Do you see the distinction?  We all have the choice between being dominated by the circumstances of our life, and responding to the circumstances in a strategic way.  Profoundly connected to this option is our decision to endure all of life in the sinful nature bestowed upon us as heirs of Adam, and God’s offer to be saved.  God offers the power we were without, to live and to resist sin.  This is relational, the mystery of the Holy Spirit indwelling a disciple of Christ in a way that affects his choices. 
 
But that isn’t what made me stop to write.  A simple solution to a fundamental question about the story The Immortal Game’s historian told of Europe provides an apt illustration of the very God whose sovereign rule of fate has drawn so much attack.  Why would two competitors of chess introduce dice into the game of sublime skill?  I for one hate games that are entirely chance, and am immensely frustrated by those games which are mostly chance.  Take Yahtzee.  The substance of the game is five dice.  I cannot control the outcome of each roll, but I am required to choose after each roll which dice to set aside, for what purpose.  At the end of each turn I make a decision where to fill in points.  With hindsight one sees that any number of decisions could have been wrong.  I had nothing, so I zeroed the coveted 50 point Yahtzee, only to roll five of a kind my succeeding turn.  This is too frustrating for me. 
 
For me, chess is humiliating.  I’m not good at it, and unless my challenger is an amateur, I lose.  But I would rather, if a loss is to be credited to my name, have earned it entirely myself.  So what strange Spaniard (it was a Spaniard quoted explaining the use of dice with chess) pair sat at their board and decided to inflict chance upon themselves?  Even if one man suggested it, why would the other agree? 
 
The answer that struck me was fairness.  Neither player was controlling the dice.  Each submitted equally to the fate of the roll.  Were there other fair rule changes that could have sped up the game?  Yes.  So my answer doesn’t entirely explain the emergence of dice with chess. 
 
However, think about the fairness of dice.  If any of you have played Yahtzee, or some other dice- or card- dependent game, no doubt you sensed at some point that the fair chance of the dice had dealt you an unjust blow.  The outcome of a game did not rest on your choices or your merits.  Winning by chance was occasionally unjust.  The better player could lose.  Do we really want fair?  The same fate to everyone?  Each person equally born, equally bred, equally fed?  Storms of the same number, death at the same age?  
 
See, God isn’t about fairness.  He is about justice.  And justice means when something is earned, it is granted.  The marvel of Christianity is that Jesus became the propitiation, complete substitution, for our sins so that He might be just toward Himself and justifier toward us.  What we earned, death, was executed. 
Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:  Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God;  To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.” – Romans 3:24-26
To God be all glory,
Lisa of Longbourn

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A Gnome!

I was playing Taboo with some friends last night. The player with the card described the word, “It was in the K—–‘s lawn; it was big and huge…”

“A gnome!” was the first guess I heard.

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

PS: The proper answer was a porcupine. My friend’s specimen was 40 pounds.

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