You Have To Get There

I woke up on the bus, looked out the front window, and jumped when I saw the vehicle careening toward us.

About then I figured we weren’t in Kansas anymore.

When you’re on a mission trip there are two things that are inevitable: crazy food stories and travel adventures. You have to get there, and you have to eat.

Going to Thailand from Lakeside, Montana was an adventure in itself. Kalispell -> Spokane -> Seattle -> Tokyo -> Bangkok. Eleven hours to Tokyo and another nine to Bangkok. That’s some serious seat time.

Too bad Bangkok wasn’t our destination.

We were heading to Chanthaburi, a town about 5 hours away by bus (I’ve heard there’s a new highway and it’s only 3 hours – nice!). When the mission leaders met us at the airport, they talked to us and refreshed us with some fruit (got another food story there, maybe another time). We then loaded the bus around 1 or 2 am local time. The excitement from hitting the ground ended, and we all crashed.

That leads us to my near panic attack.

I was on the very back seat lying down. I had the view straight down the aisle when I awoke. The bus was passing another vehicle, and I was freaked out when I saw another car coming right at us. This wasn’t hundreds of yards away, mind you. We swerved back just before the car sped by.

Remember the line in Pirates of the Carribean (the first one that was really good, not the crappy sequels) when Barbossa tells Elizabeth that the Pirate Code is more like guidelines than actual laws?

Yeah, that’s Thai driving laws too.

I held on for dear life the rest of the way.



Watch out for bumps!

 And this was a nice bus. It wasn’t one of those Asian ones with people hanging out the back or riding on top (been on those too).

I also rode as the third person on a motorcycle built for two, and almost fell out of a Thai version of an El Camino, except the back was the size of a Toyota Corolla. Good times.

I know other missionary friends that have hiked over scary suspension bridges, climbed mountains, and ridden elephants, all in the pursuit of reaching people they want to help. My experiences are tame compared to some stories I’ve heard.

They say life isn’t just a destination, but it’s a journey as well. Sometimes the journey is all the adventure you need!

You Have To Get There

I woke up on the bus, looked out the front window, and jumped when I saw the vehicle careening toward us.

About then I figured we weren’t in Kansas anymore.

When you’re on a mission trip there are two things that are inevitable: crazy food stories and travel adventures. You have to get there, and you have to eat.

Going to Thailand from Lakeside, Montana was an adventure in itself. Kalispell -> Spokane -> Seattle -> Tokyo -> Bangkok. Eleven hours to Tokyo and another nine to Bangkok. That’s some serious seat time.

Too bad Bangkok wasn’t our destination.

We were heading to Chanthaburi, a town about 5 hours away by bus (I’ve heard there’s a new highway and it’s only 3 hours – nice!). When the mission leaders met us at the airport, they talked to us and refreshed us with some fruit (got another food story there, maybe another time). We then loaded the bus around 1 or 2 am local time. The excitement from hitting the ground ended, and we all crashed.

That leads us to my near panic attack.

I was on the very back seat lying down. I had the view straight down the aisle when I awoke. The bus was passing another vehicle, and I was freaked out when I saw another car coming right at us. This wasn’t hundreds of yards away, mind you. We swerved back just before the car sped by.

Remember the line in Pirates of the Carribean (the first one that was really good, not the crappy sequels) when Barbossa tells Elizabeth that the Pirate Code is more like guidelines than actual laws?

Yeah, that’s Thai driving laws too.

I held on for dear life the rest of the way.



Watch out for bumps!

 And this was a nice bus. It wasn’t one of those Asian ones with people hanging out the back or riding on top (been on those too).

I also rode as the third person on a motorcycle built for two, and almost fell out of a Thai version of an El Camino, except the back was the size of a Toyota Corolla. Good times.

I know other missionary friends that have hiked over scary suspension bridges, climbed mountains, and ridden elephants, all in the pursuit of reaching people they want to help. My experiences are tame compared to some stories I’ve heard.

They say life isn’t just a destination, but it’s a journey as well. Sometimes the journey is all the adventure you need!

“Mass”-ive Storytelling

In my last post I gave a couple of highlights from a podcast featuring author Dick Staub and film producer Ralph Winter. They talked about a world shown in film (but applicable to novels) that draws in the viewer so much that they would want to live in and explore it. That was a quality of a great movie.

Storytelling has evolved from fire-side epics, to the written word, to immersive 3-D visual films. But what if you could watch AND interact in the story?

An example of a new possibility in storytelling is in the world of video games. I don’t think Pong had much of a backstory, but all games nowadays do. However, few offer the type of experience that comes from Mass Effect 2, from BioWare.

Obviously video games have an aspect of interactivity, since the gamer controls the main character. There are also limitations, as the gamer can only do things that are within the parameters of programming.

BioWare has been known for producing some of the highest quality role-playing games (RPG’s) in the last decade, including the award-winning Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (KotOR). They have been able to evolve the storytelling mechanism to new heights with Mass Effect 2.

The game is a science fiction story where humanity has just recently joined the galactic community by discovering old technology called Mass Relays created by an ancient race. You control Commander Shepard, a human (either male or female) who is Earth’s finest soldier, and the first human inductee into the special unit of Spectres, a group that is the Galactic Council’s personal force to deal with situations.

The storyline through the first two games is epic, and isn’t necessarily the scope of this post. I also don’t intend this as a review. The game is listed as Mature, and it definitely has areas that people need to use discernment concerning violence, morality, and how it is played.

My point is the excellent use of storytelling to elevate the game from an exciting action-based shooter (which it is) or a standard RPG where one builds a character up throughout the game (which it is as well, perhaps more so in ME1 compared to the second). The point is that the developers have enabled the gamer to feel like they fully own what Shepard does throughout the series.

BioWare has long tried to explore choices and their consequences, back to KotOR where a player’s choices would push the main Jedi character either to the Light or Dark Side of the Force. They’ve managed a new level in Mass Effect. The gamer can choose to have their Shepard to be a Paragon of virtue, a Renegade willing to do whatever it takes to achieve a goal, or somewhere in between.

In the midst of these choices, it drives how the story unfolds. The supporting characters, especially in ME2, are well-written and rounded personalities with their own strengths and hang-ups. Shepard’s interactions drive how they respond, whether they are loyal to the player or not. If a character dies, there are consequences. If you were kind or mean to a secondary character, that can come back to haunt or help. The plot of the game can be altered, up to a certain framework, depending on choices made.

Overall, the settings, missions, and characters make it a unique universe that is immersive and very enjoyable. The alien scientist Mordin became my favorite. He was involved with a very questionable moral decision in his past, and Shepard has to work with him to deal with it. As Shepard I can support it or condemn it, and Mordin wrestles with his decision in such a way that I felt it. He didn’t make a giant, easy flip to my point of view, but there was nuance in how he reacted.

The biggest development can be in how Shepard develops, if the player so chooses (definitely players can be calloused and just be in it for the blasting). It makes the story immersive. It creates an intriguing world. I have always been a Star Wars fan, since my childhood. I think the Mass Effect universe has actually supplanted the galaxy far, far away as my favorite sci-fi destination.

I’m not trying to just blow sunshine and rainbows at BioWare. I have a few issues with how some things are handled. Still, the game is an example of what quality writing can do for any medium, be it film, novels, television, or games.

“Mass”-ive Storytelling

In my last post I gave a couple of highlights from a podcast featuring author Dick Staub and film producer Ralph Winter. They talked about a world shown in film (but applicable to novels) that draws in the viewer so much that they would want to live in and explore it. That was a quality of a great movie.

Storytelling has evolved from fire-side epics, to the written word, to immersive 3-D visual films. But what if you could watch AND interact in the story?

An example of a new possibility in storytelling is in the world of video games. I don’t think Pong had much of a backstory, but all games nowadays do. However, few offer the type of experience that comes from Mass Effect 2, from BioWare.

Obviously video games have an aspect of interactivity, since the gamer controls the main character. There are also limitations, as the gamer can only do things that are within the parameters of programming.

BioWare has been known for producing some of the highest quality role-playing games (RPG’s) in the last decade, including the award-winning Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (KotOR). They have been able to evolve the storytelling mechanism to new heights with Mass Effect 2.

The game is a science fiction story where humanity has just recently joined the galactic community by discovering old technology called Mass Relays created by an ancient race. You control Commander Shepard, a human (either male or female) who is Earth’s finest soldier, and the first human inductee into the special unit of Spectres, a group that is the Galactic Council’s personal force to deal with situations.

The storyline through the first two games is epic, and isn’t necessarily the scope of this post. I also don’t intend this as a review. The game is listed as Mature, and it definitely has areas that people need to use discernment concerning violence, morality, and how it is played.

My point is the excellent use of storytelling to elevate the game from an exciting action-based shooter (which it is) or a standard RPG where one builds a character up throughout the game (which it is as well, perhaps more so in ME1 compared to the second). The point is that the developers have enabled the gamer to feel like they fully own what Shepard does throughout the series.

BioWare has long tried to explore choices and their consequences, back to KotOR where a player’s choices would push the main Jedi character either to the Light or Dark Side of the Force. They’ve managed a new level in Mass Effect. The gamer can choose to have their Shepard to be a Paragon of virtue, a Renegade willing to do whatever it takes to achieve a goal, or somewhere in between.

In the midst of these choices, it drives how the story unfolds. The supporting characters, especially in ME2, are well-written and rounded personalities with their own strengths and hang-ups. Shepard’s interactions drive how they respond, whether they are loyal to the player or not. If a character dies, there are consequences. If you were kind or mean to a secondary character, that can come back to haunt or help. The plot of the game can be altered, up to a certain framework, depending on choices made.

Overall, the settings, missions, and characters make it a unique universe that is immersive and very enjoyable. The alien scientist Mordin became my favorite. He was involved with a very questionable moral decision in his past, and Shepard has to work with him to deal with it. As Shepard I can support it or condemn it, and Mordin wrestles with his decision in such a way that I felt it. He didn’t make a giant, easy flip to my point of view, but there was nuance in how he reacted.

The biggest development can be in how Shepard develops, if the player so chooses (definitely players can be calloused and just be in it for the blasting). It makes the story immersive. It creates an intriguing world. I have always been a Star Wars fan, since my childhood. I think the Mass Effect universe has actually supplanted the galaxy far, far away as my favorite sci-fi destination.

I’m not trying to just blow sunshine and rainbows at BioWare. I have a few issues with how some things are handled. Still, the game is an example of what quality writing can do for any medium, be it film, novels, television, or games.

Art of Storytelling

I’ve mentioned Dick Staub and his podcasts on Kindlings Muse – a discussion of art and faith. He had a recent interview with Ralph Winter, who is a Hollywood producer. He’s worked on several highly successful films, such as X-Men 1 and 2. He is also a Christian who has managed to have a long career in Hollywood though the ups and downs of the “culture war”.

You can listen to the whole interview here. I just wanted to pull out a couple of points they talk about regarding the art of storytelling.

Ralph is talking about screenplays in particular, but he talks about the importance of knowing who the hero is, and how the most powerful moment in the movie is when the main character reveals “something about themselves they didn’t know at the beginning of the journey.” He feels this is when the reader or viewer is going to get emotionally involved.

Staub and Winter go on to discuss C.S. Lewis and his statement about a great book being one you want to read over and over. Winter relates this to movies, and talks about some of his favorites, like Ben Hur and Gladiator. He loves the journey, the choices the leads make, and he ultimately says he wants to live in that world.

So, how do we create a world that is engrossing enough we want to live there? How do we make our protagonists engaging enought that the reader is taken along the journey and experiences something when the protagonist has their “revelation?”

I think these are good points to ponder, but they also help me segue into the next topic I wanted to talk about…next time…

Art of Storytelling

I’ve mentioned Dick Staub and his podcasts on Kindlings Muse – a discussion of art and faith. He had a recent interview with Ralph Winter, who is a Hollywood producer. He’s worked on several highly successful films, such as X-Men 1 and 2. He is also a Christian who has managed to have a long career in Hollywood though the ups and downs of the “culture war”.

You can listen to the whole interview here. I just wanted to pull out a couple of points they talk about regarding the art of storytelling.

Ralph is talking about screenplays in particular, but he talks about the importance of knowing who the hero is, and how the most powerful moment in the movie is when the main character reveals “something about themselves they didn’t know at the beginning of the journey.” He feels this is when the reader or viewer is going to get emotionally involved.

Staub and Winter go on to discuss C.S. Lewis and his statement about a great book being one you want to read over and over. Winter relates this to movies, and talks about some of his favorites, like Ben Hur and Gladiator. He loves the journey, the choices the leads make, and he ultimately says he wants to live in that world.

So, how do we create a world that is engrossing enough we want to live there? How do we make our protagonists engaging enought that the reader is taken along the journey and experiences something when the protagonist has their “revelation?”

I think these are good points to ponder, but they also help me segue into the next topic I wanted to talk about…next time…

Oh! Christmas Tree

Author’s note: Best read while listening to Switchfoot’s song Oh! Gravity, link provided below.

I’ve always enjoyed getting the Christmas tree each year and spending time as a family decorating. The ornaments especially bring out nostalgia – as you dig out boxes of decorations, it is like unpacking memories that have been lost in the clutter of everyday life.

Of course, as the man of the house this means I get to do all the heavy lifting. Hauling the tree in, wrestling it into the stand, pulling out all the boxes from storage. My wife loves snowmen, and our house looks like the Invasion from Winter Wonderland every year. It’s still all fun and good times – I just appreciate things more having to do them myself.

We’ve never had holiday disasters at our house before. This year didn’t seem like a problem either. We found a nice, full tree that even had soft needles. Didn’t end up with a “Charlie Brown” tree. For the money we paid for it, it better not be!

Last Saturday we picked the tree out and got it home on top of our minivan. I scavanged around until I found the stand, and the boys were helpers as I cut a little off the base and brought the evergreen into the living room. Since having kids, we’ve always put the tree up on a little table to keep it a little farther from curious hands, but this year the boys were old enough I kept the stand on the ground. It got late, so we promised that we’d decorate after church.

Sunday afternoon came and the kids were terribly excited to put on their favorite ornaments. Spiderman, Peanuts, Veggietales were objects of coveting. My mom collected decorations each year since the mid-70’s, so the older ones I grew up with were my choice. The lights sparkled from the boughs. We had ourselves a pretty Christmas tree.

Except for the problem with leaning.

As we put on ornaments it liked hanging to one side. I adjusted the screws a little tighter, and it seemed to be stable. Later it tipped a little more, so I backed the screws off and twisted the base to line it up straighter. Problem solved, and we put the finishing touches on.

After dinner I plopped on the couch to watch the last few minutes of America’s Funniest Videos since the football game was a blow-out (in the first quarter). I glanced up at our hard work, only to notice…

The tree was headed right for me.

Cat-like, I sprang from my comfy spot and caught the darn thing before I was picking needles from my nether-regions. The boys squealed and my wife shouted. Disaster averted. Except for the fact that the tree had rebelled, I suppose from too many cutesy decorations, and would not stay put at all. The bark was so soft that it just gave in to the screws. Obviously I would need to make a Wal-Mart run (being Sunday night) to get a new base.

Now the question was how to keep the tree behaving.

We tried tying a rope to it and hooking some hand weights to it, but that wasn’t going to work. My wife took over for me and I ran out to the car. Then I promptly dashed back in to shut the blinds so the whole neighborhood wouldn’t see her holding the tree for 30 minutes as I did my errand.

Thankfully Wally-World had a different type of stand, and after un-decorating a half of the tree, we laid it down and cut a few branches off the bottom so it would fit the new stand. Now, the test: would the rogue conifer stay upright?

It worked.

The boys got to worry if their decorations had suffered in the ordeal, and fight over who put which green ball up again. I had to hurry and clean up the house to be ready for the next day. What… fun.

It looks nice now, and I can laugh about it. I was even inspired by Switchfoot’s song Oh! Gravity.

Oh! Christmas tree
Why can’t we
Seem to keep it upright.
Sons of my wife
This is going to keep us up all night.

Oh! Christmas Tree

Author’s note: Best read while listening to Switchfoot’s song Oh! Gravity, link provided below.

I’ve always enjoyed getting the Christmas tree each year and spending time as a family decorating. The ornaments especially bring out nostalgia – as you dig out boxes of decorations, it is like unpacking memories that have been lost in the clutter of everyday life.

Of course, as the man of the house this means I get to do all the heavy lifting. Hauling the tree in, wrestling it into the stand, pulling out all the boxes from storage. My wife loves snowmen, and our house looks like the Invasion from Winter Wonderland every year. It’s still all fun and good times – I just appreciate things more having to do them myself.

We’ve never had holiday disasters at our house before. This year didn’t seem like a problem either. We found a nice, full tree that even had soft needles. Didn’t end up with a “Charlie Brown” tree. For the money we paid for it, it better not be!

Last Saturday we picked the tree out and got it home on top of our minivan. I scavanged around until I found the stand, and the boys were helpers as I cut a little off the base and brought the evergreen into the living room. Since having kids, we’ve always put the tree up on a little table to keep it a little farther from curious hands, but this year the boys were old enough I kept the stand on the ground. It got late, so we promised that we’d decorate after church.

Sunday afternoon came and the kids were terribly excited to put on their favorite ornaments. Spiderman, Peanuts, Veggietales were objects of coveting. My mom collected decorations each year since the mid-70’s, so the older ones I grew up with were my choice. The lights sparkled from the boughs. We had ourselves a pretty Christmas tree.

Except for the problem with leaning.

As we put on ornaments it liked hanging to one side. I adjusted the screws a little tighter, and it seemed to be stable. Later it tipped a little more, so I backed the screws off and twisted the base to line it up straighter. Problem solved, and we put the finishing touches on.

After dinner I plopped on the couch to watch the last few minutes of America’s Funniest Videos since the football game was a blow-out (in the first quarter). I glanced up at our hard work, only to notice…

The tree was headed right for me.

Cat-like, I sprang from my comfy spot and caught the darn thing before I was picking needles from my nether-regions. The boys squealed and my wife shouted. Disaster averted. Except for the fact that the tree had rebelled, I suppose from too many cutesy decorations, and would not stay put at all. The bark was so soft that it just gave in to the screws. Obviously I would need to make a Wal-Mart run (being Sunday night) to get a new base.

Now the question was how to keep the tree behaving.

We tried tying a rope to it and hooking some hand weights to it, but that wasn’t going to work. My wife took over for me and I ran out to the car. Then I promptly dashed back in to shut the blinds so the whole neighborhood wouldn’t see her holding the tree for 30 minutes as I did my errand.

Thankfully Wally-World had a different type of stand, and after un-decorating a half of the tree, we laid it down and cut a few branches off the bottom so it would fit the new stand. Now, the test: would the rogue conifer stay upright?

It worked.

The boys got to worry if their decorations had suffered in the ordeal, and fight over who put which green ball up again. I had to hurry and clean up the house to be ready for the next day. What… fun.

It looks nice now, and I can laugh about it. I was even inspired by Switchfoot’s song Oh! Gravity.

Oh! Christmas tree
Why can’t we
Seem to keep it upright.
Sons of my wife
This is going to keep us up all night.