Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

About a week ago flatmate Dave’s modem of three years standing suddenly blew-out. The same evening the toilet got blocked. Coincidence?

Last night the heater for flatmate Nicola’s fish-tank mysteriously went down. Cold fish. An hour or so later, the mains lead for Dave’s new modem gave up, just as I was attempting to do some work on a highly important letter.

Electrical things go wrong for someone somewhere in the world nearly every second, including the one in which you're reading this now. So statistically speaking, there are probably going to be times in your life when several things go wrong at once. That’s just the law of probability.

Of course "probability" could equally just be the word that we use to describe whatever God (or whoever) does, and always has done. I mean if God silently intervened in our lives several times a day, every day, we would have to call those unexplained things "normal". Or even "probable". What other normality, or probability, could we compare them with?

So how can we possibly detect if God’s actually done something? If you believe that God made you bump into an old friend in the street, doesn’t that take away both your and their free will to choose whether or not to walk down that street? At that exact moment? What about your free will leading up to that moment – all your choices about whether to dawdle in a shop beforehand? Whether to walk or take the bus? Whether to go out at all? If we’ve got free will, surely that must mean that God hasn’t got our will. If we’re talking in terms of 100% anyway.

But then, God would only need 51%…

Today, 10 minutes before the end of my lesson, my mobile rang – and it was Nigel.

So I told him to ring back in 10 minutes.

10 minutes later he didn’t, so I extended the lesson by another 10 minutes, because we’d already started 10 minutes late.

After that, I went into Food Town to do my shopping, and emerged just too late to catch my bus. Dang, if only I’d been a moment quicker.

It would be a while until the next bus, so I decided to return to the school and use the toilet. Then I remembered that there was a nearer one in Highland Park shopping centre, so I used that instead. Now I would get to the bus stop earlier.

Except I didn’t, as Nigel chose that moment to ring back again. Talking to him whilst doing everything else slowed me down again, and accidentally setting-off the automatic hand-drier so that I couldn’t hear him just made matters worse.

He was in the City, and wanted me to come join him. After all, I still had his shades to give back from Johnny B’s wedding.

I declined. The shades were at home, I had all this frozen food I’d just bought, and he was disrupting my plans to go home, do a work-out and prepare this important letter. I invited him to drive out my way, but I could tell he wasn’t interested.

Hanging-up, I went to cross the road to the bus-stop. Before I could however, a bus going the other way to the city pulled-up right in front of me.

…and the expresses don’t run on Saturdays anyway
Fig.1: Not the actual bus, but pretty close.

It was sunny. People were taking forever to get on. I had no cash on me, but a massive $20.00 on my bus-pass – easily enough to get to the city and back. But did God want me to go to the city today? No, I had all this frozen food with me now, which would surely defrost. Mind you, I could always stash that safely in the freezer at ACB…

I looked at the bus. I imagined all the great things that might happen if I got on it and went to the city. Maybe God needed me to go.

I turned and walked away down the road to the crossing. I was running my life. Sure I follow God, but that’s hardly the same thing as following easy circumstances. I wanted to go home.

At the crossing, the bus again pulled-up at the lights and taunted me, its folding doors a mere foot or so away for the achingly-long minutes that it took for both of us to get our signal.

Still I declined. Eventually it got its green light and I watched it sheepishly haul itself away from me towards the city, the same way a sad bloodhound gives up on convincing his owner to come outside and play ball.

Home. Freezer. Change shoes for workout. Phone warbles that there’s a text message from Nigel.

From: Nigel
Sent: 19-May-2007
we r at bk in syvia pk. What is yr address?

Still the veiled belly-dancer of fate boogied in front of me with her translucent scarves of destiny.

From: Steve Goble
43 Uxbridge Road, Howick. Just starting my workout. Any chance we can get together 4pm? If it needs to be earlier, that’s okay.

So I did the workout, and Nigel showed up with his mate Paul a whole half-an-hour early just as I was getting in the shower. Still I made them wait, while I showered, treated my feet for athlete’s foot and read my Bible.

Finally I gave Nigel his shades back and hit it off with Paul reasonably well.

Paul’s from Canada, and has had his own important letters to write of late, mainly because he broke his foot recently.

After looking through photos, they both seemed quite keen that I should come back to the North Shore (on the far side of the city) with them to play a board game. Well, I had been going to get on with this rather important letter, but by this stage I was easily won over. I still stalled that I wanted to eat first (they’d both had a BK meal after all) but after that we were on our way.

Arriving at the Catholic Discipleship College (where Nigel lives) we briefly met the Bishop of Auckland before heading upstairs for Paul to proudly unpack his favourite game in the world - The Settlers Of Catan.

He explained the rules, thinking that they were all very complicated. I smiled inwardly – he had obviously never played The Star Wars Interactive Video Game.

In Settlers Of Catan, players have to build settlements and towns on an island, by throwing dice and playing various combinations of ore, wheat, brick, wood and sheep cards. (yes, sheep) The winner is the first player to successfully complete a city.

Paul’s move first – and here’s the thing. For a seasoned player, he just sat there for minutes figuring out where on the board to lay his first settlement and road. I didn’t get that, and challenged him on it. Surely he should have worked-out the most advantageous first move years ago, and now always open with this?

And then I realised – the whole game was scramblable.

Picture: Thanks to Andreas Steinhoff
The board was made up of about 50 hexagonal tesellating cards, arranged in a random order. Most cards had a small disc on them containing a different dice-total – these had been positioned randomly too. And then there was the random throw of the dice, and our individual decisions. Every game truly was different, balanced by both randomness and the free-will of the players.

I had to wonder if this was how God saw the world – forever rearranging the apparently random (to us) circumstances in order to coax us into making any of the right choices. If we planned something that he disagreed with, then he could make us throw only a 2, or maybe a 12 if he preferred to confront us with the results of our decision. Either way, we’d still have a choice about whether to continue or not.

Hey, if I set my camera up on my mini-tripod on top of a chair up on top of a TABLE, everything'll be okay!
After our second game, I set-up the camera to take a photo of us on timer, immediately following which it fell off its stand and crashed onto the floor. The flashbulb appeared to be broken, but turned out to be okay.

Faced with driving both of us home, Nigel first tried to drop me off at Newmarket, where another set of traffic-lights caused us to watch my bus fly by and away from us, well out of sight. We made chase and eventually I caught it at Greenlane.

Once back home I wondered what the whole day had been about. If God had been trying to get me together with those guys for the evening, what on Earth had it been for? To give me a break from my stressful life? To show me a game that would fire my imagination by breaking my preconceptions of board-games? Or to teach me something about the universe? Or for all of these?

Or just because?

I didn’t know why. As I went to bed tonight, without having written my letter, all I knew was that my battery-operated toothbrush was mysteriously drained of all power.

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2 comment(s):

At 2:52 pm, Anonymous Rhett said...

"Still the veiled belly-dancer of fate boogied in front of me with her translucent scarves of destiny."


I like Settlers... it's a fun game.

At 2:08 am, Blogger Steve Goble said...

Thanks Rhett - I like your sentences too!


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