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Pokemon, Liturgy, and Going Home

Liturgy shapes us

In the book of Proverbs, we read the well-known admonition: “Train children in the right way, and when old, they will not stray” (Proverbs 22:6). Contrary to what some may believe, this isn’t an iron-clad, money back guarantee but it is generally true. We are shaped by our upbringing – especially the liturgies of life.

For example, a child who was brought fishing every Saturday afternoon by his father is, more than likely, going to be different – even as an adult – than he would have been without that experience. The rituals of life shape us into the adults that we will become. With that said, there’s no doubt that various other factors work together to make us who we are – but our experiences play a huge part in that development.

I’ve been thinking about all of this as I watched the Pokemon Go phenomenon play out over the past month or so.

Confused? Let me explain.

Shaped by a video game

I was 13 years old when the original Pokemon games were released for the Game Boy. I was the exact demographic that Nintendo was looking to target with these exciting, social games. And I ate it up. I played with my small group of friends – battling and trading all 150 of the ‘pocket monsters’. I even got a little entrepreneurial as a middle school student when I, for a small fee, used a cheat-device to provide specially designed pokemon to friend and foe alike. As a kid, I played the game, I bought the cards, I watched the cartoon. I sometimes wonder if my desire to buy every book in sight was spurred on by the constant ringing in my ears of “Gotta catch ’em all.”

There was a certain ritual to the Pokemon experience: After school I’d come home, watch the cartoon, turn on my game, and run around and around and around, training my Pikachu and Mewtwo through battle after battle. As time went on, I could play the game without even looking down at the screen. I knew what has happening based on the music and sound-effects that beeped their way out of the little speaker on my Game Boy. And though I thought I was training them, in fact, they were training me.

So, when Pokemon Go was released for smartphones a month ago, there was something incredibly alluring about it. It was like stepping back into my childhood – and I’m sure the same could be said for many others who grew up with the original games. The hours of being shaped by the Game Boy game came flooding back in a wave of nostalgia as I was reunited with the ‘pocket monsters’ I had spent so many hours with nearly twenty years ago.

Liturgies that carry us home

Merriam-Webster defines liturgy as, “a fixed set of ceremonies, words, etc., that are used during public worship in a religion.” Now, I don’t believe I ever crossed the line into worship of this game, even in childhood, but there is something liturgical about these games – or any game, really. (In fact, I believe that the same principles could just as easily be applied to sports or other forms of entertainment.)

When I played Pokemon, I entered another world. A world with different words – words like Mount Moon and Hyper Potion and Pokeflute. A world where choices had to be made – would I choose Bulbasaur, Squirtle, or Charmander? In that world, there were ceremonies – the acts of trading and battling pokemon; there were events – going up against the elite four or battling through the Unknown Dungeon in search of Mewtwo. And I didn’t do these things alone – this was a truly social game. My friends and I spent afternoons together, inhabiting and being shaped by this alternate world.

So, when I see thirty-somethings playing Pokemon Go – it’s no surprise to me. Many of us were shaped by the words, rituals, and world of Pokemon long before the smartphone game ever came along. There’s something very nostalgic about this game – in some ways it’s like being transported back in time to our childhoods – it’s like going home.

Practicing intentional liturgies

So, what does this have to do with our faith?

Going back to what I said at the beginning of this, for better or worse, we are shaped by the liturgies of our lives. Knowing this, shouldn’t we be intentional about these liturgies – both in the context of corporate worship and in the context of our individual and family lives?

Just as I entered ‘another world’ when I turned my Game Boy on, the Bible describes God’s people as “aliens and exiles” in this world (1 Peter 2:11). We are no longer native citizens of this world and its kingdoms. God has rescued us “from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son” (Colossians 1:13). Because of this, our words, ceremonies, rituals, and lives should reflect Kingdom values and be imbued with a Kingdom focus. We are being shaped into Kingdom citizens through the liturgies of life.

The time we spend reading scripture corporately, the way that we pray together, the way the scriptures are expounded, the value placed on baptism and communion, even the means of taking up the offering – all of these things are shaping us into the kind of Christians we’ll be next week, two decades from now, and when we breathe our last. If our liturgies reflect a lack of emphasis on baptism, will it be any surprise when we turn out Christians who view baptism as an optional, extra work? If our liturgies reflect little value placed on reading the scriptures together, should we be surprised to find that our churches produce believers who place their own opinions above that of God’s Word?

And likewise, in our own lives, if we don’t live into the habits of study and prayer, should we be surprised when we find ourselves valuing those things less and less? Or think of the family which neglects devotions together until the children are teenagers, should those parents be surprised when their kids have little time for spiritual discipline? Of course not!

We are being formed by the liturgies of life – the words, the rituals, the ceremonies, the experiences. We need to examine these liturgies – as congregations, as families, as individuals – and allow God to realign and reorient them so that they can better shape us into Kingdom citizens.

As Christians, the Kingdom of God is the alternate world that we are being shaped by and preparing to fully enter.

My prayer is that our liturgies will get us ready for that Kingdom and for the moment when we finally do go home.

 

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