“Everyone is hurt and separated…
Inexperienced and incomplete…
However, by living as such, we may change for the better into something bigger…
— Riddel, “Chrono Cross”
I have a lot I want to say about all the things I observe in the church that distress and demoralize me, but the emotional (and largely fruitless) labor of having to explain past wounds and construct arguments for change saps my time, my energy and my psychological integrity.
The church’s problems go so much deeper than intellectual disputes about theology. Propositional arguments in a vacuum won’t solve the problems. We all bring our own history with wounds that no one but ourselves — and, we believe, the Lord, who is not “unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15) — quite understands. There are no easy answers to fix it all. We can and should address areas of weakness that need improvement, but there’s still some level of brokenness we have to live with until the kingdom’s consummation.
I plan to write more about my concerns, but for this post, I want to do something different.
When I was about 15, John Eldredge published the book Epic. It’s short and easy to read, but surprisingly difficult to summarize well. It’s one of the most influential books on my worldview. It filled me with a passion for the gospel by pointing out the similarities between it and the fictional stories we enjoy. It’s a short and easy read, and I highly recommend it.
Ever since reading Epic, I pick up on parallels between the gospel and the fictional stories. The more parallels I can draw, the more compelling I’ll find the story.
A story containing a stunning amount of parallels to the Bible’s story of salvation is the story found in the video games Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross. I’m not going to write about all of them here, but I want to talk about the character of Kid, and how she’s a literary type of the church.
(Even though the games have been around for several years, I feel compelled to note the following analysis DOES contain major end-game spoilers for their shared story. If you haven’t played or watched a play-through of both games, this post won’t mean as much to you. I can understand why you wouldn’t want to spend hours consuming this story — it’s not going to speak to everyone the same way. For me, it’s a spiritually nourishing activity.)
If you know Kid, comparing her to the church might strike you as offensive at first. She can be likable at times, but she’s tough, scrappy, quick to toss insults, scantily clad, and out for vengeance. She is said to be part of a gang of thieves called the Radical Dreamers, and while no other evidence of this group is found, she is skilled at thievery. She takes a liking to Serge (the player’s character and protagonist) and allies with him, but routinely treats him with disrespect. She seems sure of herself most of the time, but as the story progresses, we learn that she’s plagued by cynicism and loneliness. “I’ve wandered the world and experienced so much pain just to get by…” she tells Serge. “No one was there to help me. I was always alone. If you ask me, the idea of guardian angels watching over us all the time… that’s a load of rubbish.”
And that’s not even counting about half the game, when she’s not even there because she’s out of commission for one reason or another. Kid is repeatedly assaulted by Lynx, the game’s antagonist who is always haunting Serge but going after her. First she is poisoned by Lynx’s knife. Though she recovers, it’s not long until Lynx tricks her, wounds her again (somehow she’s healed again) and then deceives her into siding with him against Serge. At one point, the misguided Kid and Lynx attack Serge and his followers, forcing them to retreat. When Serge finally faces Lynx, Lynx has rendered Kid unconscious. She briefly awakens after Serge defeats Lynx, but she’s filled with incredible pain and a desire to destroy everything with the dark power of the Frozen Flame, which she has been seeking and which now is within her grasp. Another character takes the Frozen Flame from her, and her soul withdraws into her past, unable to reawaken.
Here it is that we finally see the beginning (she does reveal some of this story in an earlier scene, depending on a choice you make in the game) of Lynx’s assaults on her, and why it is that she’s such a rough character. Kid is a child with no known family. She lives with several orphaned children under the guardianship of Lucca, a time-traveling hero who helped save the future in Chrono Trigger. Lynx is after the Frozen Flame for malevolent purposes, and he believes Lucca can break the lock currently making the Flame inaccessible. Lucca steadfastly refuses to do this, so Lynx burns Lucca’s home with her adopted children inside. Serge comes upon this point in Kid’s past and rescues her, though Lucca is killed. This is when Kid seeks revenge.
In a heartbreaking scene that makes me cry every time I watch it, Kid, as a child, weeps aloud to Serge while they watch her home burn. “Why…? Why did this happen!? … I’m going to be left all on my own again, aren’t I? Everybody I have ever loved has gone far, far away…” Serge is then pulled back to the present, leaving little Kid alone. “No! Come back!!! Don’t leave me… Please, no! Don’t leave me all alone!”
Then we see Kid awaken in the present, finally reunited with Serge. She explains that whenever she is in life-threatening danger, she loses consciousness and wakes up somewhere safe and unharmed, with no memory of what happened. “It’s happened to me plenty o’ times in the past, so it’s nothin’ to worry about,” she tells Serge nonchalantly. So Kid has been in life-threatening danger several times, yet she somehow manages to survive.
For being one of the “good guys,” Kid is kind of a failure. She’s tough and smart, but more often than not, she’s behaving badly, almost dead, or fighting for the wrong side. Some partner!
But despite all this — Kid is the one chosen to join Serge to help save the world. Belthasar, who (we later find out) organized the mission, names his objective “Project Kid” after her. It is Kid who is tasked with traveling back in time to save the young Serge from drowning. And it is Kid who is meant to fight alongside Serge and, ultimately, be saved by him.
At the very end of the game, Kid finally gets answers to the questions of who she truly is, why she’s always being assaulted, and why she’s always been alone. She is hurt, separated, inexperienced and incomplete. It’s true that Project Kid is about saving the world, but it’s also about her own liberation and restoration.
Kid is the “daughter-clone” of Schala, a long-ago princess of history’s greatest kingdom who had fallen into the darkness beyond time and a fate worse than death. It is Schala — as she was before she fell — who Kid is truly meant to be. Lynx wants to hurt Kid as Belthasar wants to restore Schala.
How can these parallels NOT jump out at me?
I am reminded of the image in Revelation 12: “a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.” Depending on your interpretation, this woman could refer to the church or to Mary, the mother of Jesus. Since Mary is part of the church and can be used to represent the church, both interpretations work for our purpose here.
This woman gives birth.
Kid saves Serge from drowning as a child. Mary doesn’t save Jesus’ life, but she does give birth to him and protects him in his childhood, which is a life-preserving activity. Kid isn’t Serge’s mother, but she’s his main partner in the mission. Because of Mary’s close connection with Jesus, and the necessity of her work for his early life as a human, she can be thought of as a partner with him in mission. Indeed, many Christians accord Mary a kind of foremost position among the followers of Jesus throughout history because of her partnership with him in this way. Following Mary’s example, the rest of the church partners with Christ by accepting his commission.
This woman’s child is opposed by a dragon, but because her child is protected, the dragon goes after her.
Lynx seems to have it out for Kid, but it’s really Serge he wants to confront. He goes after Kid because she’s Serge’s partner. Sometimes Lynx just wants her out of the way because she’s helping Serge; other times Lynx purposely hurts Kid because he wants to hurt Serge. Similarly, the church is an entity that is continually “by schisms rent asunder, by heresies distressed” — not to mention repeatedly straight-up assaulted. Following this pattern, many Christians believe Mary suffered in a particular way because of her partnership with Jesus.
This woman is repeatedly attacked, but she survives. The dragon continues to make war on her children.
Some power comes to Kid’s aid every time she’s near death, preserving her life. And despite some terrible odds (from a human point of view), the church has survived to this day. Many Christians think of Mary as the mother of the church, who continues to suffer assaults around the world.
By now, you can see where I’m going with this.
The church has many shining moments, but more often we’re pretty much a hot mess.
I don’t have to spend much time on Facebook until I see reports of some horrific persecution of Christians in some place like North Korea, India or Nigeria. Much closer to home, it seems like the majority of my Christian friends are running after some heresy or another (that is, if they’re not downright flouting the instruction given to us by God), or they’re just behaving badly and slinging some ugliness. We keep repeating our horrid history of infidelity, tearing each other apart, and being a stain on Jesus’ name. It all just makes me wanna walk away from my computer (or smartphone) and scream.
Why did this happen? Why don’t you come back now, God? Why don’t you fix it all? How are we supposed to live like this?
In the final moment before Serge and Kid enter the darkness beyond time to free Schala, Kid gives a passionate speech that sounds vaguely like a remixed version of Mary’s magnificat in Luke 1.
“C’mon, Serge, me mate! You don’t wanna keep the girl waiting any longer… She’s been waitin’ for you, and only you! And for over ten thousand years, I might add! If the world’s gonna be destroyed, then let it be destroyed! If history is gonna be changed, then let it bloody well be changed! I’ll show you what Radical Dreamers really dream about!”
Kid now has the radical dream of her own salvation. Of course, “the girl” is Schala, but she’s also Kid. And her liberation is glorious.
I keep coming back to the Chrono Trigger/Chrono Cross story because I need to keep being reminded of the redemption waiting for us. These days I look around at the church, and much of what I see leaves me thinking it’s a radical dream indeed to believe our redemption is even possible. Can the blood of our incarnate God have — as we claim — such stain-removing power to clean this mess? Can we, in fact, be preserved alive through its full effects?
Our radical dream, our passionate hope is that yes, we can be salvaged through Jesus’ victory over death. Right now it feels to me more like a dream and a hope than a certain confession.
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. (Romans 8:18-24)
Even we who have the firstfruits of the Spirit are groaning and hoping for redemption, Paul writes. We cycle through confessing our faith and marveling at our own confession. I love the song “Redemption, Passion, Glory” by Dizmas, how it represents this cycle:
This is redemption
This is salvation
This is our mission
This is our passion
What love is this, that you would die for me?
What love is this, that you would die for me?
Let’s start this over and we’ll see just where this love will take us
Your presence shows us grace right here in our own meditation
Creation finds your mercy
Redemption, passion, glory
Creation finds salvation
Redemption, passion, glory
I confess “one holy, catholic, apostolic church,” but I’m having a hard time finding my place in it. People like Kid don’t seem like good partners. What love is this, indeed?
In Mystics and Misfits, Christiana N. Peterson features this quote:
The Church is the cross on which Christ was crucified; one could not separate Christ from His Cross, and one must live in a state of permanent dissatisfaction with the Church. — Dorothy Day quoting Romano Guardini, The Long Loneliness
These days, I’m taking a very hard look at how to distinguish between this dissatisfaction that is meant to be momentarily endured and legitimate objections of conscience that warrant the self-imposed excommunication I’m currently living with. How do I reconcile Jesus’ parable of the good seed and the weeds (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43) with Paul’s admonition to “purge the evil person from among you” (1 Corinthians 5:9-13)? Have I made my conscience into a god I cannot appease?
Meanwhile, I take some comfort in thinking that if human game writers can figure out a way to redeem Kid, God knows how to redeem me. All I can do is to be as faithful as I know how to be right now, and trust in his mercy to make up the deficit.