Boasts and Boosts
By Anthony Casperson
Looking at an older RPG for the first time, I came across something that intrigued me. Part of the mechanics of the game called for players to create “Aspects” for the character they’d be controlling. These short phrases or small sentences about specific facets of the character could essentially be used to give a quick snapshot to explain who they are.
The general high concept for the character is the overarching idea for them. On top of that, there’s also the ideas of where they came from, what shaped them, what was their first adventure, how have their stories interacted with the other players’ characters, and what motivates them to continue on the adventure.
For many role-playing games, these character aspects might just be window dressing to flesh them out. It’s a thing that might come up for a side quest, or maybe give the player access to a skill or two. The background tends to stay there. Not really thought of that much past character creation.
However in this game, there’s a mechanical reason to use these Aspects. The GM and sometimes other players are able to call upon the Aspects to bring difficulties into the lives of the characters. Particularly when that Aspect would leave the character at a disadvantage in the given situation. Sometimes we call this drama. (And if performed too often or too harshly, we call it just plain mean.)
For instance, if a character had the Aspect of “I Do This for My Family,” then the welfare of that relationship might just be pushed when the opportunity rises. Will they continue to chase this dangerous enemy when their child has a ball game in ten minutes? Things like that.
But the Aspects’ uses don’t end there. It’s not all bad. The player can use the Aspects to boost their dice rolls when the situation is apt. The character that people tend to ignore whenever they’re around can have an Aspect of “Always Invisible.” But the player can use it to add to their Stealth roll when sneaking in places.
And this is what intrigued me about the system. The things that happened in the character’s past might seem negative in many places. After all, adversity tends to be a key dimension of storytelling. But even the worst events in their lives can aid them in their present circumstances.
They can boast in their weaknesses.
That one sounds biblical. And actually it is. When Paul wrote his second letter to the church in Corinth, he mentions some people (whom he sarcastically called “super-apostles”) who boasted in the many great things they could do. But Paul boasted in the things that made him sound foolish to human ears. He called upon the moments of his life where adversity met him as he joined in God’s work of salvation.
From the end of chapter 11 and into the beginning of chapter 12, the Apostle boasts in events that most would wish to forget about. The disasters of life that we all desire to avoid.
The Apostle labored day and night. He had been imprisoned multiple times. Beatings so numerous he’d lost track. And often was at the brink of death.
Though, some of the beatings he could remember their number. Five times he’d been whipped according to the Jewish tradition of 40 minus 1 lashes. Those life-long scars on his back could be counted: 195. Three times he’d been beaten by rods. And once he’d been thought dead by having stones heaved upon him by an angry mob. The book of Acts records that event and shows they left his supposedly dead body outside the city gates, but he walked back in the next day.
Always on the move, Paul experienced nearly every ancient travel woe. Shipwrecked 3 times. One of those occasions left him adrift at sea for a whole day. And the danger of travel continued no matter where he went. At sea, in the rivers, in the wilderness, and even in the cities, danger found its way to him. And when nature didn’t seem to be out for him, people were. His fellow Jews hated him. Many Gentiles despised him. And even some who called themselves his brothers and sister in Jesus worked against him. (The super-apostles were a case in point.)
Paul reminded the Corinthians of his toil and hardship. Numerous sleepless nights, days without food, unquenched thirst, out in the cold night air. And on top of all that, the Apostle experienced daily anxiety for all of the churches around the world.
Let’s not water down this anxiety here. It’s the same word used in the gospels concerning the seed that fell among the thorns, which represented the anxieties/worries of the world. It means anxiety. But because Paul’s experience with it is not a selfish worry for all of the terrible things in his life, but rather a worry for others and their continued growth, that is why it’s a good and godly type of anxiety. One in which he could boast.
And boast he does. In all the things that show his weakness. And after a moment of this boasting, he adds the memory of an event where he’d been smuggled out of a city in a basket lowered down the walls because a governor had set a trap for his seizure.
Eventually, in all the discussion of events that almost seem too much for a single life to experience, Paul comes to his “thorn in the flesh.” A trouble meant to keep him humble. Something that’s not named, but caused him to beg God to take it away multiple times. And that’s even after having been told by God that his grace is sufficient as his power is brought to maturity through weakness.
This is why Paul is so ready to boast in his weaknesses. It’s why he’s content to suffer weakness, insult, hardship, persecution, and calamity. God is bringing mature power into Paul’s life. These struggles build him up to be used by God in his work of salvation.
They help him level up as he interacts with the story of the world that God is telling.
And we should have the same kind of perspective. The difficulties in our lives might seem like terrible things that add endless drama. Events we wish we could just deny happening. But they can be used by God to build up his power within us. Spiritual maturity that he can use when his story needs it.
Far too often we look at the difficulties as only negative. We don’t see God’s perspective. His good that can aid us in later events of life. It won’t be as trite as “Well, everybody else ignores me, so I can sneak through this area easily undetected.”
But it might just be that only someone who grew up in this location could bring the truth of God to those people. Maybe being “someone like us” is the only way certain people will listen. Or someone has to dwell in the Depths and experience God’s call to thrive there so that comfort could be brought to the multitude of others who suffer there. (Paul’s not the only one who can boast in weakness.)
Don’t avoid and forget the difficult events of life, the aspects of your experiences that made their mark on you. Boast in them. Call them out. Because God can lead those weaknesses into becoming his mature power.
Boast in his power.