Monday, November 15, 2004

Tropico and the Church

I must confess that I stumbled across a puter game that I'm somewhat addicted to; Tropico. The artwork is not very sophisticated in comparison to the popular games, and some of the themes are rather corny, but the complexity is amazing. Rather than try to explain it to you, here's how the developers describe it;

As the newly installed dictator of an obscure Caribbean island, build a path of progress for a nation mired in poverty, civil unrest and infighting. Oh, and uhh… stash a few million in your Swiss bank account just in case you need to take early retirement.

Tropico takes the addictive building-oriented gameplay of hits such as SimCity 3000 and Railroad Tycoon 2, combined with a healthy dose of Latin American political intrigue, and bundles it up in an easy-to-learn, hard to master, utterly addictive package.

Tropico is first and foremost a builder. Tropico provides over 100 structures to build, from hotels and spas for tourists to banana groves, sugar plantations and copper mines for food and basic exports, to rum distilleries and cigar factories for basic industry. Industry, mining,
agriculture, or tourism, you choose to shape the economy to your vision. And don’t let your lust for Yanqui dollars overcome your concern for the plight of your people. (or they’ll overcome your palace guards and teach you a lesson in mob justice) As a precaution against such unpleasantness, may we suggest building the secret police headquarters for ferreting out and re-educating your misinformed dissidents?

Your island’s inhabitants are fleshed out individuals, most of whom support you as their leader (at least initially). They go about their daily business striving for happiness under your enlightened rule. They have homes, jobs and identities, and they like being safe, well-fed, employed and spiritually enriched. Plan your growth well, and you’ll have plenty of money to buy your people’s favor. Plan your growth poorly, and, well, there’s always martial law…
I haven't mastered some of the more difficult scenarios yet, which usally set as goals amassing large amounts of money, or a gambling empire, or a military stronghold. But, I have been pretty successful in winning elections and keeping the people happy.

It took me awhile to learn some of the more subtle "rules" of the game. The more industry, the more polution; the more polution, the more unhappy the people. If a factory is required, build it downwind from the homes. The more soldiers you hire, the more you increase the possibility of a rebellion or a military coup. I've found that simple is best. Lots of farms, maybe a couple of mines, a fishing dock, a clinic, a church, and decent housing keeps most of the folks happy. Giving everyone a raise each election year is usually all that's required to win the election. Building an electric power plant is more trouble than its worth (the expensive engineers keep running off), although working without power limits your options.

It's a silly, addictive game. I play it a few times each week for about an hour. Complete escapism. But it has caused me to reflect a bit about building communities. Specifically, about the community we call church.

The larger Church is a bigger subject than I'm willing to tackle right now. I'm thinking of the local church. What will these households of God look like in the future?

What I've learned from life, and has been pointed out to me again by this silly game, is that sometimes, if the goal is happiness, simpler is better. I suspect that in the future, local churches will get out of the real estate business. We have enough shrines, which are often, in my opinion, nothing but money pits. I also suspect that in the future there will be fewer full time staff. I think more and more clergy will be tent makers; earning an income outside of the Church, and serving on a part time basis, as needed, within the local congregation.

I believe there will always be a need for professionally trained clergy, if not as leaders, at least as resource persons. I've seen what happens in congregations led by those who lack such training, and overall I think it is a mistake. But, I also see many congregations, and clergy, who fall into the mindset that the clergy are hired to do the ministry for the members, who are too busy doing other things. That kind of thinking can be as damaging as hiring a spiritual leader without the proper training.

Robert Capon suggests that the future local church will be modeled much more after AA; not owning any real estate, and having few identifiable leaders. I think he's right. Many of the difficulties I encounter in local congregations are about things that are quite nonessential. In some places, a major amount of the congregation's energy, time and money is spent on trying to prop up a crumbling shrine. Let it go. Simplify. I think it might be a blessing for some congregations to shut down their building, gather in each other's homes, and ask one another, "What now?" For some places, I think it will take that drastic of an event for them to stop thinking about maintenance long enough to finally begin to think about mission once again.

Since today is my day off, I had the opportunity to play Tropico this morning. I "won," meaning I accomplished the goals of the scenario I created, which identified winning as a certain level of happiness maintained among the people after forty years of being their el Presidente. The theme was simplicity, and meeting the real needs of the members of the community, while not allowing their felt needs to become the final definition of those real needs.

I'm convinced that for many folks, and many communities, simplicity is a component of happiness and healthiness. Consider these thoughts from Lama Surya Das;

Rather than the way many of us are brought up to hold on, gather riches, stuff, and information, as if more is always better, there is the middle way that means not throwing it all away, but also not falling into the fallacy that more is always better, bigger, faster. We start instead to live in a more moderate, balanced, harmonious, simple kind of life...
He goes on to describe the deeper understanding of the nature of attachments which came to him shortly after leaving the monastery;

...I had no appointments and no disappointments. I had few material possessions to relinquish because I had no property, no car, no computer, no credit cards, no health plan, and nobody was in any way dependent on me. I had no financial worries because there were no finances to speak of. I only started to have financial issues in my mid-forties when I started to have income and assets. I was a living example of the teaching that possessions are like baggage and only weigh you down. When we start accumulating things, we can easily get out of balance. Instead of having just enough ballast to keep our little personal ships upright, we end up having so much in the cargo hold that our ship can hardly maneuver on the seas of life even if it doesn't quite sink.

P.S. Just thought I'd mention that my DW has written some intriguing pieces on breasts, sex and ritual. She also exposes a nature based fertility religion. You can stop snickering now, and go check it out!

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