While We Were Enemies – How Unconditional Love Ultimately Wins

This post is very last minute and considering I did not write a post for March, so I am trying to make up for it by writing one for this month. Since Easter Sunday has already come and gone, I thought it best to reflect on what I have learned through Lent which I decided take an active part in for the first time. For Lent, I decided to give up binge watching Crunchyroll and Funimation as well Netflix (unless I watching it with my Mom) and in turn would give the time over to developing consistency in reading my Bible or other activities that didn’t involve watching a screen. It worked to a degree, however I ended up substituting my craving for video entertainment with Youtube which did have an impact on my intended purpose for Lent. Regardless it still was step in right direction and I learned a few things as I read through my Lent and Easter Reading Plan that I was able to access via BibleGateway.com.

As I read through various scripture passages about the significance of Jesus’ sacrifice, I could not help but compare what I had seen in My Hero Academia. There was a scene that stood out to me as I was watching the first season back the summer of last year which involved the main character Izuku Midoriya and his classmate Katsuki Bakugou. It’s shown to the audience that Bakugou has been bullying and belittling Midoriya for years nicknaming him Deku, an alternate reading of his first name which literally means “one who can’t do anything.” We see that he puts down Midoriya every chance he gets and mocks the very idea that he could ever become a professional hero.

This builds to the moment in the second episode where Midoriya sees Bakugou in the clutches of the fluid villain that All Might rescued him from earlier. When he recognizes that his classmate is in danger, Midoriya’s first instinct was to run in and try to save him. In that instant the insults did not matter, the vandalism of his hero observation notebook did not matter, even the years of verbal and emotional abuse did not matter. What mattered was that Katsuki Bakugou’s life was in the balance and that he had to do something. Izuku Midoriya best illustrates this when he says, “Kacchan, I couldn’t just stand there and watch you die.”

Even though  he had every right to hate Bakugou for terrible things that he did, Midoriya did not want to see him die. In the same way God couldn’t just stand by and watch us die in permanent separation from Him, even if we are at fault. Romans 5:6-8 describes this best:

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Like Katsuki Bakugou, we think we were powerful and that we can make it on our own. However, the truth is we are powerless because we are trapped by the suffocating power of sin which also makes us enemies with God. Like Izuku Midoriya, Jesus Christ was willing sacrifice himself so we could be saved from the power of sin if we accept the gift of life that He gives us. That is agape, that is unconditional love.

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Love & Protect – Even When It Hurts

Now after much debate about what I should write about in the month of love, I decided on a post that I planned to write during November when Thanksgiving was in full swing. The movie I planned to talk about in this post was Homeward Bound, since it’s ending gives the indiction it was Thanksgiving Day and I thought it would be appropriate to discuss the importance of family given the holiday. As it would turn out, time slipped away that point and I did not finish it then. Upon recent reflection I found the topic of love could also apply and that it would something worth considering Valentine’s Day, which has already come and gone.

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Now while I haven’t watched the film recently, I do remember the basic the premise of two dogs and cat going on a journey through the American wilderness in search of their human family. This was spurred by Shadow the Golden Retriever who’s concerned that something might be wrong with his boy Peter. Chance the American Bulldog who had been stray that was adopted from a pound has a hard time understanding Shadow’s display of love and loyalty since he had been hurt before. Through the course of the movie Chance comes to realize that love and family go hand in hand, and love can be difficult but ultimately worth it. When they believed they lost Sassy the Himalayan Cat over the waterfall, there is a conversation in which Shadow explains to Chance of their responsibility to love and protect:

“I had a responsibility to Sassy, to love her and protect her. The same as I have to you and to Peter. And the same as you have to Jamie.”

 

“But we didn’t ask for this job.”

 

“We didn’t have to.”

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When Shadow was close to giving up when he was stuck in a pit at the railroad yard, it was Chance who steps in and encourages him to keep going, remembering everything they went through to get to that point.  It was also in this moment  that Chance says that he loved Shadow and that he would not allow him to give up. In way I think Chance took Shadow’s words from earlier to heart and decided to accept the responsibility to love and protect just like Shadow did for him.

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This leads to reunion with their human family, each of them going one by one starting with Chance, Sassy and finally Shadow. Given the earlier heartbreaking scene at the railroad yard, it is uncertain at first whether Shadow made it, but when he appears over the ridge and comes running towards Peter, tears of sadness turn to tears of joy. Chance’s last lines of the movie sums up Homeward Bound in a nutshell:

As we turned to go inside the house, a strange new feeling came over me: I had a family. And I found out that sacrifice and friendship and even love were more than just the mushy stuff. At last for the first time in my life I was home.

How easy would it have been for Shadow, Chance and Sassy to forget about returning home and just find a new home accessible to their current circumstances. Chance at the beginning of the movie felt that way, but Shadow showed him there is more to life then just himself and he had a responsibility to love those around him and that he should not be so quick to give up on relationships. In the same way, Christians need to understand not only when to let go, but when to hold on. Our society has a tendency to move so far ahead that it demands we dissolve the bonds we have made with family and friends. Granted there are times where separation cannot be helped, whether by distance or death, but we have the choice to remain connected. Hebrews 10:23-25 presents us with this challenge:

“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up on meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

Let us then take on the responsibility to love and protect the people that God has put in our lives and may we then encourage them to same for others.

Ebenezer Scrooge and the Miracle of Christmas

While Christmas Day has past and the New Year is about to begin, I still wanted to convey my thoughts on the iconic Ebenezer Scrooge in my first ever Content of Character post which I teased at earlier in the year. As I was in process of gathering my thoughts about Scrooge’s evolution as a character, a recent post caught from a blog that I had been following for the past couple of months caught my attention. Entitled “Departing from Stoicism: Allowing Ourselves To Feel” fellow blogger, Lance Price, discusses how people mistakenly cut themselves off from feeling pain. He states that,

Some are convinced they have overcome pain with a numbness of heart, but they live in disillusionment; their attitude towards pain weakens their ability to handle the rest of their life adequately, and consequently, they have not overcome pain, but have been submersed in its misery while trying not to blink an eye or shed a tear.

In many ways this is what Scrooge had done for most of his adult life. Dickens himself described in the opening chapter how he would “…edge his way along the crowded paths of life, warning all human sympathy to keep its distance…” This is displayed in the way he consistently declined the invitation to come have Christmas dinner with his nephew Fred along with his wife and friends.

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A Christmas Carol (1984)

As the first ghost shows Scrooge his past, we are given insight into not only how he came to detest Christmas but also how he came to adopt his own brand of stoicism. Having been left alone at Christmas for most of childhood, his company was limited to books. The closest relationship that young Ebenezer had was his sister Fan (or Fran as she is sometimes known). Not much information is given about his relationship with his father, but there is indication in the Fan’s conversation with Scrooge that the relationship was strained. As to why is up to debate since Dickens never did explain; however, several adaptations take the approach that it was because his father blamed him for the death of his mother, having died as she gave birth to him. While this is speculation and not based on Dickens’ novel it would explain and parallel Scrooge’s disdain for his nephew since Fan died when giving birth to Fred. The next closest relationship he had was with Belle, his betrothed who broke off their engagement after noticing a change in his spirit. In her reproach, she described what she had seen in Scrooge:

“You fear the world too much…All your other hopes have merged into the hope of being beyond the chance of its sordid reproach. I have seen your nobler aspirations fall off one by one, until the master-passion, Gain, engrosses you.”

Now this is me theorizing, but I believe that his changed nature was the result of Fan’s death. In order to keep himself from feeling the pain of the loss of his sister, Scrooge completely absorbed himself in his work and in process made him unwilling to interact with anyone in a meaningful way much less developing closer relationships including with the woman that he intended to marry. Just to be clear I am not blaming Belle for leaving him; she gave him a chance by pointing out the unhealthy behavior that he was allowing fester within him. But he made the choice to stay where he was, which led to his transformation into the cold-hearted and unfeeling man we see at the beginning of the story.

As we have seen with Scrooge, stoicism isn’t always beneficial but it is understandable why people are attracted it. The promise it provides of not allowing pain to hurt you, sounds good; however, this is not truly possible. To take another quote from Price’s post,

Like the way we are designed to have desires (i.e. food, relationship, purpose, etc.), we are also designed to feel, and when we choose to pretend that we don’t have feelings, that doesn’t turn them off—we just live in denial—which contradicts the reality that our feelings are being compartmentalized in a place where they aren’t managed properly, where we don’t learn from them or with them, and where their negligence undermines our innate desire to live passionately; the very opposite of a numbness of heart.

Stocism doesn’t fix the problem; it only masks it. It’s like taking a painkiller without fixing a broken leg. You probably won’t feel the pain so it doesn’t bother you but as a result you can’t walk and go anywhere. There needs to be realization that something is broken before the healing process can begin.

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A Christmas Carol (1999)

Isn’t it interesting that when the Ghost of Christmas Past shows him the painful memories, Scrooge begs for them to be taken away. However it is only by allowing yourself to feel pain that can you truly appreciate joy. Those painful memories served to open Scrooge’s heart so that he could ultimately accept on the love of Christmas and with it the joy of living in the past, the present and the future. In her book Hearing the Gospel through Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol”Rev. Cheryl Anne Kincaid describes Scrooge’s transformation:

Scrooge has learned that his life is not just about himself. His past, present and future have been lived in a community of people. Scrooge had some tough times, but he also had the love of a sister, the encouragement of Mr. Fizzywig and the grace of a fiancé, and the loyalty of his clerk and nephew. (p. 134)

Scrooge was never truly alone. He had support he needed all along the way. All he needed to do was engage.

Stoicism has a tendency to isolate people from the love that family, friends and ultimately God. While stoic philosophy of the ancient Greeks has some merits, the problem is that it places faith in an idea not a relationship. Jules Evans addresses this when he compared Stoicism and Christianity, stating that one of (and I think the most important difference) is that “In Christianity, love is more important than rationality.” He explains,

…this is partly why Christianity is much better at community than Stoicism – because communities need to be grounded in love, not rationality. If a community is grounded in rationality, it immediately leads to a stiff hierarchy of the rational. Love, by contrast, resists hierarchies. Love is gentle, vulnerable, humble, serving.

When Scrooge is free from the burden that he had placed on himself, he was able to demonstrate the love that he had denied to give towards his loyal clerk Bob Cratchit and his faithful nephew Fred.

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A Christmas Carol (1938)

Christmas is a celebration that reminds us of how love led God to take on the form of human baby so that he could restore the broken relationship between humanity and Himself. This makes Fred’s expression of his love for Christmas even more poignant:

“…I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round — apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that — as a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!”

Thankfully Ebenezer Scrooge came to share the same affection for the season has his nephew did and in the process turned his repressed and dreary into an open and joyful one. So as this year draws to a close, remember to keep Christmas like Scrooge did throughout the new years to come.

Sources:

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

“Departing from Stoicism: Allowing Ourselves To Feel” by Lance Price

Hearing the Gospel through Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol” by Reverend Cheryl Anne Kincaid

“Stoicism and Christianity” by Jules Evans