A Fallen Ranger

Some may read this and scoff. How can people mourn the death of someone they never met?

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On Saturday February 17, 194 people gathered to remember a friend who died. Almost none of them had met the man. Some only knew his name. Others were there to support their friends.

And it all happened through the Internet.


Fourteen years ago, in 2004, I started playing Until Uru. UU was the bones of what was supposed to be Uru Live, a multiplayer Myst game. It never got off the ground, but the company behind it released the code for others to run their own servers, and the game took the name Until Uru.

I’d never played an online game before. But I got connected to the Guild of Greeters, a group of players who’d taken it upon themselves to welcome new people to the game. I started hanging out with them whenever I logged in, and eventually joined their group. For years I helped new players to the game and enjoyed every minute of it. Unlike other online games, in UU, you didn’t play a character, you played yourself (“you are you”, or “URU”, as the community would say, though that isn’t what the word actually means). Eventually, when more funding became available, UU became Myst Online: Uru Live. When that was canceled, it returned as Myst Online: Uru Live Again. And the community still struggles on.

Members of the Guild of Greeters when we met at Mysterium 2006. CAGrayWolf (David) is on the bottom left.

In 2006, I had the opportunity to go to Spokane, Washington, with my cousin Max to visit the game company’s headquarters for a fan gathering. There, I finally got to meet in person many of the people I “knew” in the game. And I did know them. Online communities do connect people. We talked about life and got to know each other pretty well. I finally had faces to connect with names like Ayli, Allmyst, Devonette, Rex Havoc, Ja’de, Tyion, SuperGram, AnnaKat, Goldenwedge, Papa_Smurf, Tomala, CAGrayWolf (some I’d met earlier when the fan gathering was held in Chicago). We ate together, saw the city together, went geocaching and got lost together. It was like meeting up with friends you haven’t seen in forever, and it was an experience I’ll never forget.

And then CAGrayWolf died.

I’d only met him once in person, at that gathering. David had been sick for a long time, and we all knew it. But it’s hard to see that stuff when you only communicate in text. David had been planning the next fan gathering up until just a few days before he died. A fund was set up with a wolf rescue organization he loved so those of us who wanted to show our love and support.

Even though it was a friendship cultivated over text and the Internet, for many, the death of CAGrayWolf was difficult. Some knew him much, much better than I did. They were good, personal friends. Everyone knows what it feels like to have a friend die. It was the same way when Shadowcats died a couple years later. Richard had also been sick for a long time, and his illness finally overtook him. Their names, along with the names of other players who have died, are listed on a memorial that still stands in the Kahlo Pub in MO:ULa. People still visit that memorial to see the names of their friends they’ve lost.

This is not a phenomenon restricted to MO:ULa of course. In college I began playing a game called Lusternia. There are memorials to the players Visaeris, Vathael, and Rhaffe, who all died after I started playing. And, in Lord of the Rings Online, 194 people just gathered last week to remember Sevak, Ken, who loved his game and the community in it.

Some may read this and scoff. How can people mourn the death of someone they never met? We don’t question this when it’s a national hero or celebrity we’ve never met–everyone mourns when they die. But for some, the idea of cultivating a friendship or relationship online is ridiculous. It can’t be done. It’s not a “real” friendship, relationship, or community.

They’re wrong.

Community takes many forms. I’m thankful for the communities I’ve been lucky to be a part of–especially the online communities that connect people from all over the world. They’ve helped me through hard times, opened me up to different view points, cultures, and ideas, and challenged me. They’ve provided places to celebrate and places to mourn in ways the church has yet to fully realize in its own communities. I wouldn’t be who I am today with them and the people in them. And I’ll miss them all when they’re gone.

Rest in peace, Ken. Say hi to Richard and David for me.

Dedicated to: Sevak, Rhaffe, Vathael, Visaeris, Pehpsee, CAgraywolf, Shadowcats, Aquila, Grassie73, Sil-Oh-Wet, Myst’Aken, Terra, Ron Hayter, GLO, Jahuti, Wamduskasapa, Perlenstern, Mo’zie, jmb30321, Zardoz, JDrake, Katzi, oldmanjob, Ramsine, Cindy Farrar, Dust’ei, Gandhar, Flyboy, and Josef Riedl.

I Will Rise

I had work to do: Bible study was in three hours, I had places to go, prayers needed to be written and I had to get going.

But for about fifteen minutes, all I wanted to do was sit and try not to cry.

Last weekend, we received news that an eighteen year old boy, one who had worked many days at our church through a school program, had drowned in nearby Duck Lake. He wasn’t a member of our church (or any church), but his presence made a difference in our community.

I’ve never been to a funeral for an eighteen year old before.

Underneath that reality was the daily struggle one of our members goes through with her son who suffers from a serious medical condition–and now her Dad is in critical condition in the hospital.

And to top it off, I opened an email from my home church in Chicago to learn that the woman who had lived across the street from us for almost my entire life, who grew up with my parents and was always around, died suddenly from a massive heart attack last night.

So instead of diving into Ezekiel, Paul, and Mark, I sat in my chair, closed my eyes, and tried not to cry.

A few weeks ago, I sent an email to a friend and mentor after I had a conversation with a young man about losing one’s faith. They tell us that Pastoral care isn’t easy, but it doesn’t hit home until you start walking with people in their lives. It’s what we do, but it’s hard.

I could fight it. I could try to bottle it up, or only get just as involved as I need to keep from feeling it all. Instead, I listened to music. I pulled up my Peter Hollens, Lindsey Stirling, The Backbeats, Jetty Rae, and just listened. Using music helps me to express my emotions, even if it’s just listening. And it helps me to rediscover the soul of the world, why we do all this, and why it is all worth it, every day, every time.

When I got home, I found another artist, Alex Boye, and this video:

I first heard this song a year ago in seminary when my very talented friend Sarah arranged an a capella version of it for the choir to sing at worship. I’m not usually a fan of Christian Contemporary Music–so much of it is just plain bad–but this one stuck with me. And this performance blows me away.

This funeral tomorrow may be the hardest thing I’ll do on internship. The weight of the tragedy hangs heavily on everyone’s shoulders. But I know that at the end, I, JD, Tammy, and everyone else will rise to the sound of choirs singing, drums playing, and people dancing (yes, even me).

The Solemnity of Death

It’s been a few days now, but I wanted to express my utter surprise at the responses to the death of Osama bin Laden I have seen in the last few days.

When I heard the news, my first thought was, “Well… now what?” I didn’t feel any different. I’m sure the soldiers in the operation felt different, but I wonder how that long that lasted until they went to sleep and woke up the next day, still in a war zone, still fighting the same battles they’ve been fighting for the past ten years. Did anything really change?

It was inevitable that celebrations would rise in the streets. We Americans are nothing if not fanatics when we put our mind to something, and this is something we have put our minds to for the last decade. Politics were abuzz with statements from Sarah Palin, Donald Trump, Rush Limbaugh, and everyone in between trying to get into the spotlight.

What surprised me, however, was the Christian response. I woke the next morning to find Facebook inundated with quotes from the “Prayer for Our Enemies” in Evangelical Lutheran Worship and the Book of Common Prayer. In case you are unfamiliar with it, it goes like this:

Gracious God, your Son called on you to Forgive his enemies while he was suffering shame and death. Lead our enemies and us from prejudice to truth; deliver them and us from hatred, cruelty, and revenge; and in your good time enable us all to stand reconciled before you; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

It was quite the shock indeed. My friends and colleagues all had the same thought. I used this prayer in Morning Prayer on Monday. Dr. Feyerherm preached its idea at Tuesday night’s Anglican Eucharist; which, to my surprise (and hers) elicited a cry of AMEN! from the assembly. Dr. Schroeder mentioned it again today.

Today, I checked the websites of the ELCA and its full communion partners. The ELCA, ECUSA, and UCC had all released official statements calling for the same sense of solemnity around the occasion (links below). Others had links to blog posts with the same message. The Vatican released a similar statement.

For comparison, I attempted to find statements from well-known right-wing evangelical leaders, such as Joel Osteen, Pat Robertson, John Hagee, Billy Graham, etc. If they are talking, they aren’t doing it in a place where I can find it.

Can it really be that the dominant American Christian response to this event is a call for reflection, contemplation, and love? It may be too good to be true–there will be plenty of people “on the ground” who will disagree with their church’s position, perhaps even more than agree. But on a church level, Christians have stood up and denounced the celebrations of human death. I find this extraordinary.

Maybe there is hope in this world after all.

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Bin Laden death calls for ‘solemn remembrance,’ says ELCA presiding bishop
Episcopalians contemplate implications of Osama bin Laden’s death
Celebrating the Death of Osama bin Laden?
A call to prayer for the pathways to peace
Vatican Statement on Bin Laden’s Death