Tag Archives: Pokemon

I Can Do That

Some may recall the unexpected sight of a Pokémon advertisement during the 2016 Super Bowl as part of the 20 year anniversary of the franchise.  (Which can be seen here on the official Pokémon Youtube channel:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2F46tGehnfo)  The theme running through the ad is people seeing other trainers and saying to themselves or others “I can do that,” or “We can do this,” or “You can do that,” respectively, and, in turn, becoming the inspiration for the next person shown in the commercial.  In each case, their journey begins with the declaration, “I can do that.”  The same holds true outside of the Pokémon context.  When we set out to accomplish something or achieve some goal, it very often begins with us telling ourselves something similar.

This process is not unprecedented in the spiritual arena:  Ignatius of Loyola had just such an experience.  Once a man consumed by desire for the sort of fame, fortune, and perks that come with being a romantic knight, he is best known for founding the Jesuit religious order and authoring The Spiritual Exercises, a widely influential book concerned with the spiritual life.  This change in his life’s trajectory came after he was gravely wounded by a cannon ball in battle.  The projectile broke one of his legs and horribly mangled the other, leaving him bedridden and subject to what had to have been excruciating surgeries aimed at preserving his life and ability to walk.  During his recovery, there was little for the injured Ignatius to do but read.  Fortunately, there were many a book on courtly love and knightly exploits to be had.  Unfortunately, none of these titles were available to him.  Instead, the only books he could get his hands on were a commentary on the life of Christ and a compendium of the lives of various saints.  Despite it not being his first choice, Ignatius took what he could get.  Then something unexpected happened:  as he read, he found himself drawn towards and fired up to serve God with his life.  As he read about the lives of saints such as St. Francis of Assisi, Ignatius found himself thinking, “I can do that.”  So it was that, after completing his recovery, Ignatius of Loyola set out to commit his life to God’s service.

In the Christian landscape today, we often perceive examples taken from the Bible or the lives of other Christians, not as inspiration, but as either “filler” for our spiritual lives or, perhaps more disheartening, examples dangled before us of what we ought and fail to be.  Neither really fans the spiritual flame or moves us to action.  However, this is precisely what these examples are there to do.  Consider the eleventh chapter of the book of Hebrews:  in it the author enumerates the many people of faith we find in the Old Testament such as Abraham, Moses, and David.  If there were ever a list to make us feel inadequate and insignificant, this would be it.  However, as he begins the next chapter, the author writes something that abruptly changes our perspective:

“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run  with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

-Hebrews 12:1-2

Rather than feeling sorry for ourselves because we don’t think we measure up, we are called to take heart and persevere on account of these people who have gone before us.  These examples are given to us to help get us fired up.  We look at how they lived their lives in faith and say to ourselves, “I can do that.”  We may not have the same spiritual experiences they had, but that is neither the measure nor the goal that is set before us.  They were imperfect people just as we are imperfect, but they held fast to their faith in God and made that the cornerstone of their lives.  We too, setting our eyes on Christ, through whom we are and continue to be saved, aspire to live our lives in faith.  We pursue God in all we do and seek to draw ever nearer to Him as we cooperate with his formative work in our lives.  The effects of doing so are greater than we can imagine, both in our own lives and the lives of others.  As we live our lives with God, others, seeing our life and example, may in turn say to themselves, “I can do that.”

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The Value of Effort

In the world of Pokémon, you will find that Pokémon raised by trainers are consistently stronger than wild Pokémon, even those of the same species and level.  They will have higher stats (attack, defense, special attack, special defense, and speed), making them more effective and more capable than their wild counterparts.  If we take a peek behind the scenes, we see that the reason for this is a system based on effort values (EVs).  When a Pokémon is victorious in battle, it gains a certain number of EVs based on the Pokémon it defeated.  These EVs come into play when the Pokémon levels up.  Each time a Pokémon increases in level, its stats increase, making it progressively stronger.  (Hence why a level 65 Charizard is significantly scarier than a level 36 Charizard.)  EVs add a bonus increase to stats on top of the increase that comes with the level-up.  Therefore, a Pokémon who works with a trainer will be stronger than a wild Pokémon of the same level.

There is something to be gleaned from this game mechanic to illustrate a mechanic of our spiritual walk.  Our faith is often tested as we proceed through life:  it is challenged by tragic experiences, tough questions, and valleys of uncertainty.  We have a vibrant relationship with God, so why did our loved one die so early?  We serve an all-powerful, all-good God, so why is there so much evil in the world?  Things have been so dry and empty in our spiritual life lately, was there anything to it to begin with?  It is not a question of if, but when we will be confronted with questions like these that upset our applecart and force us to critically think about our faith.  As disheartening as these struggles are, we grow and come to better understand our faith as we work through them.

These struggles make us look under the hood of what we believe and force us to answer the question of why we believe.  This does not mean that we will have a perfectly packaged answer for every question.  What it does mean is that we have tempered our faith with these questions.  We can learn a stupendous amount of information about the world around us through the many sciences and disciplines that have blossomed from the collective human psyche.  However, there still remain questions that stubbornly evade the reach of these tools.  These are questions addressed by faith and religion.  They persist because they cannot be answered purely through logic and reason, we simply do not have the information at our disposal to do that.  Thus, we find ourselves coming to grips with these problems, and, sometimes, God Himself, in a much more personal way.  We come to God without pretense and with our hearts open to Him.

Of course, it is certainly easier to simply regurgitate a stock answer (a Sunday School answer, as they’re sometimes called) and thereby avoid engaging God or those things which question our faith.  It is functionally little different than pulling the covers up over our heads.  Sure, they let us move along, but we do not grow.  Interestingly, there is another parallel we may draw from Pokémon.  There is an item in the games called “Rare Candy.”  Giving a Pokémon a Rare Candy makes it automatically level up using the minimum amount of experience needed.  They can be useful if one needs to level up immediately, but there is a profound catch:  levelling up with Rare Candy does not earn EVs which means that the bonuses they provide to stats will not be applied.  The result is that a Pokémon levelled up using primarily Rare Candy will be weaker than a Pokémon who levels up by earning experience in battle.  Likewise, if we constantly feed ourselves platitudes, we may be able to maintain our faith and say that we have been a Christian for years, but we will find that our relationship with God comes up woefully shallow when we need to draw from it.

Putting in the time and effort to train Pokémon with EVs yields stronger, more capable Pokémon.  Similarly, when we put in the time and effort to think about and better understand our faith, it strengthens our relationship with God.  In fact, it is not merely a matter of applying our faith but of letting our faith permeate the entirety of our lives.  We do not withhold anything from God as if He were ineffective, but trust and lean fully on Him to help us and guide us through life’s challenges.


The Grind

Pokémon has been on my mind as of late, with the release of the 7th generation on the horizon and having recently completed a playthrough, myself, on my old blue version cartridge.  It is mind-boggling to reflect on how far the series has come since its initial release in the United States 18 years ago.  At the hazard of seeming old, I recall coming home from school one day to find that a VHS tape had arrived in the mail informing us that a new game called Pokémon was coming to America.  I cannot begin to guess how many hours since then I’ve passed playing it.  For those who may be unfamiliar with the franchise, Pokémon is a game in which you collect, train, and battle creatures called pocket monsters (Pokémon for short).  Along the way you earn badges by defeating the leaders of eight Pokémon gyms, thwart the plans of the nefarious Pokémon gangsters known as Team Rocket, encounter one-of-a-kind legendary Pokémon, and ultimately face off against the most powerful trainers in the land, the Elite Four, in order to claim the title of the Pokémon League Champion.

As might be expected, the more memorable parts of this experience are things like encountering new Pokémon and putting it all on the line in battles against strong trainers.  However, between these portions, there are stretches of time spent making your own Pokémon stronger by repeatedly battling wild Pokémon to gain experience and reach higher levels.  This is easily the most monotonous part of the experience and is often referred to in this and other games with similar mechanics as “grinding.”  Tedious or not, grinding is vital to continued progress through the game:  walking into a gym under-leveled will result in a bad time being had.

In our spiritual lives, as with Pokémon, grinding is a necessary part of our journey.  It is not exciting and it is not glamourous, but it is essential to our continued progress.  Sometimes we get the impression that a successful Christian life consists of transitioning from one glorious mountaintop experience to the next, and anything else means that we aren’t doing something right.  Such a perspective of Christianity, though, is simply incorrect.  Giving our lives to Christ entails a shift in our perspective that changes how we see ourselves, others, and the world.  Accordingly, our faith comes to permeate every aspect of our lives, even the mundane.  For a Christian, even the routine of the daily grind plays a role in our spiritual growth and development.  For it is primarily in this setting that we live out our faith and make good on the proclamations we make during Sunday worship.

Our set times of devotion are also subject to the experience of grinding.  As we navigate the hills and valleys of our spiritual lives, we will inevitably find that, during some periods, reading Scripture is less invigorating than before or that our prayer time seems dry.  However, this does not mean that they are no longer profitable for us to practice.  As a matter of fact, it is at such times that our commitment to spending time with God is of the utmost importance.  Consider the parable of the sower (Matt 13:1-9).  In it, Jesus speaks of seed that falls in four different places and the results from each.  One of these places is referred to as “stony” (having little soil) and the seed that falls here springs up quickly because the soil is not deep.  However, these plants are just as quickly scorched by the sun and wither because they have no roots.  Later, Jesus explains the meaning behind the parable of the sower and says the following:

“But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a little while.  For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles.”

-Matthew 13:20-21

What this gets at is the question of what we do when things are suddenly no longer all sunshine and lollipops.  How deep do our roots go?  Are we in it for the experience or are we committed to something that goes beyond our daily feel-good barometer?

It may not seem like we are accomplishing much when it is all we can do to still sit down to read our Bibles and pray each day.  However, in so doing, we are practicing obedience and patience, among other things.  We are coming to relate to God as being worthy of our devotion, not because of what we get out of it, but because of Who He is.  As we remain faithful, our faith continues to mature and be further grown.  While it may seem pointless and maybe even miserable at the time, when we have the chance to look back with the benefit of hindsight, we can see just how far we’ve come and how much we’ve grown through that time.

Grinding is a part of our spiritual growth, plain and simple.  There will be times when it will be required of us in order to progress as Christians just as we must put in time grinding in order to progress in Pokémon.  In both cases, we persist in spite of the monotony because we are pursuing something greater.  We keep our eyes set on the goal ahead and keep going so that we may finish well.