Welcome to BtT’s Summer of Slice of Life! This is the series where we’ll be celebrating all the things we love about SoL and the ways it soothes the soul, deepens our faith, and models for us the beauty of life and community on this planet we call home. And, in keeping with the relaxed, unhurried nature of SoL, this will be a pretty chill series of posts, made up of succinct sketches of our thoughts on faith and the genre as a whole (posting on Mondays), and bite-sized reflections on specific moments and themes from some of our favorite series (posting later in the week). We’ll keep going for as long as we have things to share, and as long as y’all are reading them!
So stay tuned! Or if that sounds too stressful, forget you’ve read this intro and instead stumble across the posts serendipitously in a couple weeks or months (or years??) and enjoy them then at your leisure.
Either way, we hope to bring a smile to your face and a bit of cheer to your hearts, and maybe—just maybe—convince you that God is here in the midst of SoL too.
As we launch this series, let’s start by addressing the elephant in the room: Escapism. Because that’s basically the purpose behind slice of life series, right? They offer us an escape hatch from the conflicts, frustrations, stresses and strains of real life. They create a world where the stakes are always low, the relationships amicable, and the crises minimal. There is no problem so large that it can’t be solved within twenty-two minutes. Possibly with a song and tasty snack.
The world of SoL is, in short, a very different world from our own. (Just consider the ways in which the typical SoL setup—cute girls making friends while doing cute things—contrasts with the norms of the Japanese business world, which is patriarchal, hierarchical, and workaholic in its competitiveness.) And if you’ve ever scrolled through the comments on Crunchyroll or MAL, you’ll know that this is exactly why it appeals to many viewers. We watch these shows because they offer us a departure from a reality that all too often lets us down in some way or asks too much of us.
Is this healthy though? Should we turn to entertainment to make ourselves feel better? And what does scripture have to say about escapism? Surely this is not what a mature believer should do!
The answer may surprise you. You see, scripture doesn’t actually condemn escapism. Quite the opposite, in fact.
Here’s the thing: we have an incredibly compassionate God who is fully aware of the human condition. He understands what it is like to live as a person in this world, with all its pressures, challenges and oppressions too. And what is more, he recognizes that each intimidating, stress-inducing situation has its own particularities. That is to say, although in some instances godly wisdom calls us to stand firm or even take ground in the face of a fearful situation, there are other times when God makes a way of escape.
In fact, there are times when he actually tells us to escape, to turn aside and hide. Unexpected, right?
It all comes down to the concept of refuge, or chasah in Hebrew. Chasah embodies the idea of running in search of safety and protection, and of turning aside and going off the beaten track in order to find it. It is often translated as “seek refuge”, which carries that sense of searching about in pursuit of a place that is safe, possibly hidden or at least well-protected and secure from the onslaughts of a troubled world. I prefer the Passion Translation though, which renders chasah more directly, as “turn aside to hide”. This idea of seeking refuge is woven throughout scripture, particularly Psalms, where it is practically a refrain among the poets. (Check out this list of where it shows up in the Bible.)
In other words, God is fine with escapism.
But he is also very specific about where we escape to: he wants us to escape to him.
This is because the escapism of chasah involves trust and intimacy: the refuge that it evokes is one in which we place our trust and to which we confide our hearts and souls. This is why chasah is at times translated as “put trust in” or “trust one’s soul to”. God wants to be this for us; in fact, he’s the only one who can be. This is why in scripture, chasah doesn’t refer to a mere location but to a person, God himself. As the sons of Korah wrote, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” Chasah involves relationship.
This is where escapism can turn unhealthy: when we choose to form that relationship of trust with, and confide in, something other than God as our refuge. And this is where relying on SoL to temper our mood and soothe our souls can slip into something that actually does us harm, if we rely on it without a thought for God.
But here’s the incredibly unexpected thing: throughout scripture, whenever the heroes flee, it doesn’t really matter what triggers their desire for escapism or even the direction of that desperate initial dash, because God is always waiting along the escape route, ready to order the steps of those in mid-flight toward refuge in himself. He did it with Elijah, who fled in fear so strong that he practically abandoned his faith; and he did it with Jonah, who made like Sinatra and did it his way, grumbling the whole time. God waited and met both with the provision, safety, and heart-to-heart encounter they each needed in the place to which they’d run.
In other words, God is wiling, able and waiting to meet us in the refuge that SoL provides.
Circumstances may push us to run and hide, but it is God who draws us, inviting us to find him in our escaping whether we are afraid, overwhelmed or just plain tired. When the going gets tough, we have a standing invitation to come to his place, to chill in his garden by the streams of clear water, lounging in the green grass or under the shade of a tree or a vine, and to never leave. And miraculously, his place can often look like a certain remote Japanese village named Asahigaoka, or a campground at the foot of Mt. Fuji.
But there’s something we must do to guard our hearts from trusting more in the soothing alternate reality of SoL than we do in God. We need to intentionally tap into God’s nature as our refuge. We need to confide in him as we turn aside from our daily grind and hit that “play” button. We need to place our trust in him: in his ever-presence; in his safety and compassion for the stressed, bruised, and weary; in his love for taking the time to enjoy the beauty of nature and the comforts of community and laughter shared among friends.
And finally, instead of escaping in a panic or with a rebellious or hopeless heart, we need to grab hold of the fact that God actually invites us to escape—but to escape with and to him. We need to accept that invitation, and extend it back to him as well, saving him a seat on the couch as we settle in for some relaxing viewing, and tuning our hearts to listen for his voice on the animated shores to which we escape.
So the next time we settle in for some Non Non Biyori, Laid-Back Camp, or other gems of SoL, let’s pause for a moment and remember that standing invitation. Let’s ponder what it means that we have a God who doesn’t just tolerate it when we take a break to relax, but who actually calls to us to come rest, to come find shelter for our souls with him and in him.
And let’s remember too that he’s there waiting for us as we turn aside to take refuge by the digital stream. You see, God loves SoL too.