Friday, July 12, 2013

Put a Wizard in Your Party

Put a Wizard in your Party

(This is my August article for the newsletter of the church where I serve, Zion Lutheran:
One of the really helpful articles Pastor Dave gave me when I arrived at Zion was a National Geographic article from a few years back on “Teenage Brains.” ( )

It’s a good read, and it sums up recent research into how the brains of adolescents function differently than the brains of older adults.  As I understand it, adolescent brains are better at learning, better at making new connections, and less risk-adverse than other (older) brains.  Which, of course, made me think of Dungeons & Dragons.  

As I’ve mentioned to some of you, I play Dungeons & Dragons whenever I can.  D&D (as we call it for short) is a great opportunity to goof off with friends, to do collaborative improv storytelling, and have wacky cooperative fun.  But for the sake of today’s column, you just need to know that most D&D parties (teams, groups) try to be balanced: you want a fighter, you want some other folks, and you want a wizard.  The fighter is hard to kill, so the goblins can beat on her for a bit while the rest of your team gets ready to respond.  The cleric heals your party and keeps them in the game.  The rogue sneaks around and disarms traps.  And the wizard?  The wizard does everything else.  

When it’s time for somebody to hit the troll with a stick, wizards are not where you look.  But when you come across something you’ve never seen before, some situation that seems impossible, some massive horde of enemies or some unsolvable riddle- then you want a wizard in your party.  Wizards bring unmatched versatility to the table: maybe they’ll throw a wall of fire up to protect your party, maybe they'll turn the evil dragon into a caterpillar, or maybe they’ll just grant everyone flight to escape a threat.  They can discern lies, find the right direction, summon angels, and conjure up a magical platform to carry your stuff for you.  In short, they are the Swiss Army knife of Dungeons and Dragons: don’t leave the tavern without one. 
But there’s a problem with wizards.  The game tries to have the various roles be balanced, so wizards are “squishy.”  If one gets too close to a horde of orcs, they’ll fall quicker than any of the other characters.  They can’t stand up to damage, and so they need the rest of the party to protect them- to keep them alive so that they can fall back and do their awesome, versatile, magical thing.

Maybe you see where I’m going with this.  Adolescents are just better than we are when it comes to thinking!  They see new solutions more quickly, they make more graceful connections between disparate parts of a question, and they will keep coming up with things to try until something works.  That’s why, throughout human history, adolescents have been the ones to push on boundaries, to try new things, to question established orders.  But the flip side of that is a decreased attention to risk, a mind that is less willing to account for possible negative outcomes- that’s neurologically one of the reasons adolescents engage in various risk behaviors.  So, I think it’s up to the rest of us: the clerics and the fighters and the rogues, the ones among us who can hold the line, the ones among us who can heal wounds, the ones among us who can get rid of traps before they hurt somebody- (the non-adolescents who love and support adolescents)- to step up.  

Which leads me to my invitation: given my premise that one should never leave the tavern without a wizard in one’s party, I also want to say that one shouldn’t try to do the work of the church without an adolescent in the room.  I am so excited to have teenagers helping on the Evangelism Team and on the team of older folks supporting confirmands this year.  But I think there are a lot of other opportunities to invite young people into ministry at Zion.  We have many awesome, wizardly young people at Zion, and I think we miss out by not learning more from them, by not inviting them to participate more actively in God’s work at Zion.  

So: the next time you’re sitting in a committee meeting, or at a service project, or even in worship, and you start to think about why things aren’t going quite right: things could be faster, things could be more innovative, things could be wackier or more fun, things could be riskier- consider whether the Spirit might be calling you to invite a young person into the collaboration.  

We are blessed with wizards among us.  May we remember to invite them into the work, may we help to keep them safe and thriving, may we learn to follow their lead.  It will be like magic.