Not a Dinner Party


Thoughts, Musings and Opinions about Theology, Politics, and Life in Seminary.

Settlers of Catan Post, Afterward: We took it and Ran With It


Remember the facebook conversation I posted earlier about Settlers of Catan? No? Well, Brian Buell and I each worked on an article for our friend Fitz at Patrol, and it become this fun item:

Here is my original:

Last Saturday night we had our friends Kirk and Rachel over for dessert and drinks (and the Madmen premiere). After looking at our bookshelves for several minutes, Rachel said, “I love The Brothers K!” My husband, George looked at me and smiled. Only weeks before, we had had a spirited disagreement about Sufjan Stevens and Conor Oberst that came to include The Brothers K, a novel by David James Duncan, and encompassed a wide range of artists, musicians, authors and activities. George’s thesis was as follows: Christians in our age group (20s-30s) have predictable tastes, while at the same time often believing that they alone have stumbled upon something unique in secular culture; something that is not stereotypically “Christian”.

For everything that George cited, I had a defense: younger women in general like Conor Oberst and Bright Eyes (though I do not); David James Duncan is not a Christian; Franny and Zooey, by J.D. Salinger has as many Buddhist references as Christian; Sufjan Stevens is critically acclaimed outside of the Christian world, too—he was on NPR! While these things are true—Christians surely are not the only fans of Franny and Zooey, nor the only ones who bought Sufjan Stevens’ albums—it is also true that, since having this conversation, The Brothers K, David Bazan (of Pedro the Lion) Conor Oberst, and John Irving’s Prayer for Owen Meany have all come up organically in conversations with friends at Regent College, in Vancouver, B.C., where I attend seminary. Regent College, much like Gordon College, my alma mater, is made up of young, hip, educated Christians with surprisingly similar “unique” tastes.

And then came the “Settlers of Catan” discussion on facebook: a fellow-Gordon College alumni wrote: “I think someone should write an article about Settler’s of Catan and its role in Christian culture” for his status update, and 19 comments ensued. Scanning my news feed on an overcast Vancouver morning, this made me laugh out loud. Settlers of Catan is a well-designed board game produced by a German company, which has inexplicably caught on like wildfire among young Christians. There were rumblings in my last year at Gordon (2005), where friends would bring the game over to my house, hoping to hook a few new players, but by the following year, it was a bonafide phenomenon. I was serving as a teacher in China, with a Christian organization, where we were placed in teams and sent to schools throughout the country. But there was one thing every far-flung team had in common: they all got together to play “Settlers,” as it was affectionately called. At least one teacher brought the board game to our organization’s annual conference in Thailand, and when we got together with nearby teams in Beijing, there was sure to be a game of Settlers.

Needless to say, the lists of “Stuff ______’s Like” have been done and done again. Not surprisingly, there is already a list of “Stuff Christians Like,” whose creator—also not surprisingly—already has a book deal. However, the great success, the genius of the “Stuff White People Like” website was the nerve it hit: we all thought we were the only ones who liked Mos Def, watched Arrested Development or read the New Yorker. To me, then, an analogous list for Christians would be one that, likewise, hit a nerve: the things in non-Christian or “secular” culture that we think resist stereotyping or pigeon-holing, because they are not overtly Christian, but which, it turns out, are beloved by thousands of other young(er) Christians. Here is my version of this list, which I predict that Patrol Readers will be able to—albeit uncomfortably—identify with:

1.    Settlers of Catan
2.    2. David James Duncan, especially, The Brothers K
3.    John Irving, especially A Prayer for Owen Meany
4.    Social and/or sophisticated or exotic forms of smoking: the occasional American Spirit cigarette, pipes, cloves, cigars or hookahs
5.    U2/Bono (although this may be too obvious)
6.    Franny and Zooey, by J.D. Salinger
7.    Indie singer/songwriters Rosie Thomas, Damien Jurado, David Bazan (of Pedro the Lion), Sufjan Stevens, Conor Oberst
8.    Catholic novelist Flannery O’Connor
9.    Mafia, the game
10.    (Certain) fantasy series: Narnia, Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter
11.    Web comics, especially the philosophical “xkcd
12.    Skilled or learned group dancing: Swing dancing (in the 1990s) and Salsa dancing (2000s)
13.    Paste Magazine
14.    Princess Bride childhood nostalgia

AND, here is Brian’s original, on his blog:

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The Myth of the Edenic 1950s

OR It’s All Connected: Mad Men, Woodstock, John Piper, Baby Boomers, Feminism, Racism, Revisionism

I am going to attempt my mammoth posting on the topic above, if that topic makes any sense to you (or to me, for that madmenmatter). It may be a little muddled and circuitous, but bear with me. As some of you may be aware, George and I have recently gotten into the series: “Mad Men”. If you are aware of this, it is probably because I tend to share at great length about cable shows I am addicted to into (think: The Wire). Anyway, in addition to the wonderful acting, beautiful cinematography and photography, masterfully tight plot, character development and levels of tension unparalleled in a TV show, I have–above all–been struck by one thing: how f’d the 1950s were. Now, before anyone corrects me, I know that the show takes place in the 1960s. However, it takes place (so far) during the early 1960s (1960-1963), and a major focus of the show  is the looming uncertainty and sense of foreboding experienced by characters and institutions that came to maturity, started families, etc. in the 1950s as their world began to undergo a major shift. So, the mentality of the show and its characters is largely one of the 1950s–a mentality that is actually heightened in the face of a perceived threat. This (how totally f’d the 50s seemed in this show) was funny to me, because one is always hearing about how things have essentially gone to shit (why do I bother to censor “f***” but not “shit”? a matter of degree, I guess) in the intervening years, with the social movements of the 1960s fingered as the culprits. Needless to say, I am not the first person to notice this about the show. In Alessandra Stanley’s Review in the Times, she opens with this observation:

Retrospective winks at past ignorance are what makes “Mad Men” so funny and, at times, so chilling.

“Mad Men” mocks and celebrates forbidden vices, the drinking, smoking and promiscuity that in the advertising business of the 1960s flowed heedlessly, without health warnings or the sour taint of political incorrectness. From the start, the show has mined hindsight for wicked humor: a child playing dangerously with a dry-cleaning bag is chided only for messing up the clothes inside; a pastoral family picnic ends with the mom tossing the entire basket of trash onto lush, pristine park grounds; the presidential candidate Richard M. Nixon is marketed as a young, handsome Navy hero.

Even more than in the first two years, this new season, which begins on Sunday on AMC, stresses the less amusing side of that innocence, leading viewers to look back, aghast at, and enthralled by, a world so familiar and so primitive. Characters on “Mad Men” struggle in shame and secrecy with the very things that today are openly, incessantly boasted and blogged about: humble roots, broken homes, homosexuality, unwed motherhood, caring for senile parents. Read the rest of this entry »

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September 2009