Welcome to my new column!
I have a few favorite corners where I “hide” to study or write. Sometimes, partway through my day, a friend will join me, and all the thoughts I’ve built up in my corner will suddenly flow out of my mouth and into their ears. This is my corner of Beneath the Tangles. As I watch anime and study throughout the week, thoughts will inevitably build up. I’ll straighten them out into some kind of order and choose a few to share here. Sometimes, like today, the topic will get deep and long. Often, it won’t. And I promise not to write about Kuroko’s Basketball in every post. I do enjoy other anime, really!
Last Saturday, I wrote about how Kise from Kuroko’s Basketball inspired me to imitate Christ. Since then, I’ve continued reflecting on the topic. Two things stick out to me: First, Kise aimed high. Second, he had the discipline to follow through. I realize that aim and follow-through are basic concepts. Shounen heroes, athletes, writers, entrepreneurs—millions of people, fictional and non-fictional, demonstrate what happens when you combine passion and daily discipline. I’ve heard their stories, seen their successes… and pretty much given up on being like them.
I can’t be the only one who gets discouraged. So I’m using this post to examine where I’ve gone wrong and consider what it truly means to aim high as a Christian. I’ll reference Kuroko’s Basketball and other anime, because I think they help illustrate what the Bible says about aiming high. I have been encouraged as I work through this topic, and I pray that this post can encourage you, too.
Where did I go wrong this time?
I have plenty of goals (pray and read the Bible more, complete homework on time, become a professional writer), and sometimes, I make and stick to plans to work toward these goals… for a few weeks, at least. Then I fail. I oversleep. Holidays interrupt my schedule. I waste hours on Tumblr. I don’t focus. Eventually I ask, “How the blazes am I supposed to be a faithful, disciplined anything when the only thing I manage to do consistently is be late?”
I lean heavily on the promise that life in Christ is not about what I do, but about what Christ does—what he has already done. Getting up every morning to pray wouldn’t increase my “Good Christian” standing at all. Showing up to Theology class on time doesn’t ultimately matter, either. I know this, but I get discouraged. My heart must not be in the right place, I think. If it was, if I truly treasured and prioritized serving God, loving him and loving others, I’d do better. I’d keep a healthier, more productive schedule. I’d be as dedicated and motivated as Kise and Kuroko, or Ei-chan, or Sawamura Eijun, or an Olympic athlete. My life would be focused and organized.
Oh. I found my problems.
First, I’ve been comparing myself to people who have “normal” brains, or at least have the kind of training schedule and accountability they need to focus. I have diagnosable focus problems, so the comparison isn’t fair. To make things worse, I’ve compared myself to a warped view of these “successful focused people,” as if passion is the only thing they need to keep them on track. I’ve watched enough sports anime and heard enough true stories to know there’s more depth to their discipline than that.
Second, I’m so wrapped up in finding a routine, I’ve lost sight of my original purpose. For example, lately, I’ve admired Kise’s dedication and the discipline that went into his training to copy the Generation of Miracles. But I forgot that Kise didn’t start with discipline. The other characters didn’t, either. They started with a goal, and they keep returning to that goal when they get discouraged.
Aim high, both as an individual and as part of the team.
At the beginning of Kuroko’s Basketball, Seirin’s coach, Riko, brings all the new basketball club members to the school’s roof. She refuses to accept their applications until they shout their goals over the school grounds, where the their schoolmates gather for an assembly. As Riko explains, “I promised to focus solely on pushing the team toward the national championship.” That’s the team’s goal, and she expects the individuals’ goals to line up. She emphasizes: “I’m looking for something concrete and reasonably ambitious. You’ll have to do better than ‘play my first game’ or ‘do my best.'” Seirin’s basketball club isn’t for people who just want to putter around and do the best they can at their current level.
Paul wrote something similar about the Christian “race”: “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win” (1 Cor 9:24).
So, what’s my goal? What’s my aim? The Westminster Catechism puts it aptly: “The chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.” Looking at Scripture, I agree: Like all of creation, we are meant to glorify God. We were made by and for him. We’re meant to worship, honor, obey, and enjoy God. But that, I believe, is just the basic reason for humanity’s existence. It’s what it means to do well on Team Human, and it applied to people long before Jesus died and rose again. What about Team Christ? Then it becomes a little more specific: we’re called to partake in the gospel, the good news that Jesus Christ has provided the way to reconciliation with God. We’re to live out this good news, as the Scripture explains, and to tell about what God has done.
So what is my goal as a member of this team, the body of Christians? To know God better, to support fellow believers as I am able, and to spread the gospel. How? That comes under the “personalized training” part of this post.
Life is a team sport. Especially Christian life.
As a human, I’m made to live in community. Even independent or introverted folks can only get so far on their own. As a Christian, I’m in a special community. The population of believers, both here and in heaven, is described as the body of Christ. Body. As in, we’re all one big organism—a team, but more initmate and more permanent. You can’t be a Christian and not be a part of this team. Now, this has a lot of implications, some of which should be developed in a separate post. But here’s the big one: I don’t need to strive for my goals by myself. And while God does help me and mold me—the Holy Spirit is always with me—he designed body of believers to help one another and strive together.
Think about Kuroko. He understands team play. His goal is to help make Kagami and the team the best in Japan. Kuroko himself has no chance of getting there without them. He supports the team with his passes, his “Misdirection,” and a few other skills—none of which would work if his team didn’t support and include him. He practices hard, both during team practice and on his own. But even when he practices on his own, he seeks help, like when he asks Aomine to teach him how to shoot.
Let’s leave Kuroko’s Basketball for a moment and think of Daiya no Ace (Ace of the Diamond). The main character, first-year pitcher Sawamura Eijun, has personal goals, sure—but he makes progress with the advice and inspiration of his senpai. And he, in turn, supports them, both on the mound and in the dugout. The Seido baseball players have forged a team where everyone strives for the championship together, where they encourage and learn from one another, always aiming high, always batting for the team.
That’s what it’s supposed to be like in the Church: believers seeking each other out, learning, imitating, instructing, confiding, encouraging… Honestly, I’ve spent too much time trying to work out a plan for success by myself. I tell fellow believers a little about my trouble, but I don’t think I ask for enough help.
Personalized training is key.
Back to Kuroko’s Basketball: each member of the Seirin basketball team is unique. Kuroko doesn’t try to learn to dunk—that’s not his role on the team. Instead, he helps get Kagami into a position where he can dunk. Kuroko knows he is weak compared to the others, but he doesn’t get discouraged. Nor does he try to become a type of player he is not.
Kise, who I wrote about before, is a skilled imitator. He can copy a lot of moves… but that’s just part of his style. He copies specific moves from Aomine, for example, but he is still a unique player, and has to practice with that in mind. In fact, when he pushes himself too hard to imitate Aomine, his body can’t keep up, and he ends up injuring himself.
When I take mental and spiritual stock of myself, I see a lot of weaknesses. I can’t expect myself to practice my faith the same way as someone else. We’re too unique for that. But I can imitate attitudes, espeically with God’s help. I can imitate certain habits or choices and incorporate them into my personalized gameplay.
When I look at my personal skill set, I see subgoals to work toward: improving my writing, studying God’s Word, loving my professors and classmates by doing better in school. I accept that regular progress is going to be difficult, and that I need to enlist more help to refine my plans and keep me focussed. I know that I need to find a way to better prioritize prayer because, like I elaborated in my last post, it’s a vital part of how I relate with God and focus on my mission.
Get up and try again.
Seirin doesn’t make it to the InterHigh finals. They lose too early. But their goal remains: to make it to the national championship, win, and become the best in Japan. Their goal is bigger than a single game or even a single tournament. So they regroup. They train. They keep their eyes on the same goal, just on a different stage: the Winter Cup.
Another, older example comes from Eyeshield 21: the main character, a small running back named Sena, keeps getting tackled by an opponent. Sena deals with a lot of pain and discouragement, and he almost runs off the field—but then he gets up and tries again, and again, and again, until he evades the tackle.
We’re going to fail often. I fail often. I get distracted for hours or even days. I oversleep. I neglect my Bible-reading, I act selfishly, and I procrastinate on responsibilities. Sometimes, it feels like my faults rule me, like I can’t break from my attention deficit and/or sin. I feel like I’m going against Kuroko’s former captain, the hypnotic, alpha-dragon-like Akashi, and I will never be able to win. When that happens, I can’t be afraid to get up and try again. I might have to live with certain deficits until I die, but sin doesn’t rule me. Christ set me free from that. I’m weak, but he more than makes up for that. So when I stumble, I’ll get back up. I’ll turn to God, repent, accept his forgiveness, and ask for help. I’ll thank him for the teammates he’s given me, and I’ll lean on them, because we’re in this together. And I will remember the goal (until the next time I forget).
I have high aims: honor God with my actions and attitudes, enjoy him, and spread the gospel. I want to imitate Christ, who is perfect in every way. I want to be faithful with my time and gifts, even though I struggle with consistency. I know my follow-through is terrible, and I would make an awful sports anime hero. I’m not making excuses. I have a lot of work ahead. Still, I aim for the championship—not because of my strengths, but because Jesus’ strengths make up for my weaknesses.
Thank you for sticking with me through this long post. I needed to work through this before I could write anything else. I think God’s used a combination of sports anime, sermons, and Bible-reading to encourage me in this direction of thought. I hope you find some encouragement in it, too. I’d love to hear how you aim high, and what helps you as you work toward your goals.