Naruto and the Spirit World

narutoI just started watching Naruto this past few weeks. I know I’m a little too late to the party but that’s alright. As of this writing (June 2010), I’ve only watched seven of the current 220 episodes available. That’s not counting the other 166 episodes of Naruto Shippuden. At the rate I am going, I’m guessing I’ll finish the entire series at least before kingdom come. Who knows?

Anyway, while I enjoy the kiddie appeal of the storyline, I have two things to say about the mythology and worldview behind the story. The last item in the list is a rant. Kind of. Here goes:

  1. Access to the spirit world. From Hayao Miyazaki’s movies to the Dragon Ball series to Naruto, I noticed the subtle insinuation in Japanese animé that with disciplined training and concentration, people can access the spirit world and take advantage of its powers. In Biblical worldview, it’s actually called sorcery and it is an abomination to God. Also, the way to spiritual strength is not by getting a sensei and doing some ninja discipline.
  2. Demonology 101. In Naruto, demons are rogue spirits that attack villages and terrorize people. They’re usually portrayed as vicious animals like wolves and other terrifying monsters. In the Biblical worldview, demons are evil spirits who stand in opposition to Christ and the church. They don’t necessarily look monstrous as Satan could even disguise as angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14). Yes they could sometimes oppress people but not without the express permission from God. In other words, they cannot attack at will like some rogue monsters.
  3. The absence of parents. After watching the first few Naruto episodes, I began to notice a recurring pattern in Japanese animé: the narratives revolve around kids whose parents are conspicuously absent from the stories. I’m sure it’s just a plot device to make the narrative more interesting but I’m still questioning the parenting culture of Animéland.

Okay, animé rant ends here. Carry on folks!

The Reasons Why I’m Not Coming

Most of us are familiar with the parable of the banquet in Luke 14: 16- 24.

A wealthy man threw a party and sent out invitations. When everything was ready, he sent out his servants to collect the RSVP cards but was disheartened to know that his esteemed guests were not coming. The reasons they were not coming make for an interesting study of the excuses we often make when we want to wriggle ourselves out of God’s call. One just bought a field, another was going to try out a newly bought oxen while the other one just got married.

Let’s break the story down using our own terminologies and see if we find ourselves in it. One guy bought real estate. This sounds big to me. He must have been a rising entrepreneur or a really dedicated career person and this was his first real possession. All his years of hard work finally paid off and he meant to enjoy it before he goes around rejoicing at other people’s parties.

The second one was tied down by the burdens of work. His oxen (a new-fangled farming technology at that time) represent how he must be on top of things at work. Maybe he just got promoted, he’s got responsibilities to attend to and partying was the last thing on his mind.

The third guy’s concern was his family. I know how we often hear people say that they will never sacrifice their families on the altar of success in the ministry or work or business or anything else. That sounds very reasonable and admirable at the same time. Family comes first, we get that. But this guy has lost all his manners when he got married. Attending a banquet and staying married are NOT conflicting things.

Now we are all aware that this story is a parable of God’s invitation for us to join his banquet in heaven. What’s very interesting about this is the fact that all their alibis were not sinful things. Never. I mean look at them again. There is nothing wrong with buying a piece of land, nothing sinful with being excellent at your job and definitely nothing unholy about keeping your marriage solid. For the record, these are good things, in fact, these are the very things we strongly pray about! Properties, a high paying job and a good marriage- who doesn’t pray for these?

So if that’s the case, what is wrong with this picture then? I guess the answer lies in the fact that they could have all gone to the banquet and still managed to attend to their individual businesses. I mean, whoever told them that obeying God is mutually exclusive with having a good life? Looking closely, you’ll find that their problem is the indifference behind their reasons. They didn’t care about the invitation and by extension, the didn’t care about the person behind the invitation.

You know what’s the most regrettable and heartbreaking part of this whole thing? They got excluded from the glorious banquet of God not because of some grave, despicable sins they did but because they were blessed with answered prayers. For some reasons, they got too caught up with enjoying God’s blessings that they forgot to maintain a right relationship with the blessor.

Interruptions

Story has it that in the middle of working on another masterpiece, Leonardo da Vinci laid down his brushes to answer a knock on his door. Outside was an elderly man who needed help with his water line. Da Vinci dropped what he was doing, picked up his tools and went out the door to help the old man. We don’t know if he made for a good plumber or if he was even able to finish the job. What we know is that the work of art that he started that day remained unfinished till the day he died.

Interruption. Everyone knows what it’s like. You start a personal project that’s very important to you and just out of the blue, some other things scream for attention and before you know it, you’re reduced to responding to the urgent needs around you. Some years later you realized your project remains unfinished. Where have all the hours gone?

Or maybe you set aside a time to read your Bible at a very convenient time but just when you were about to receive a very important revelation from God, your cellular phone started ringing. You dropped your Bible to check the message and realized it was just a funny Facebook update. You check your computer and before you know it, you’ve been surfing the internet for hours. Meanwhile, your Bible sat on the empty table, unread; and the revelation that would have changed your life vanished into thin air.

But not all interruptions are bad. When Jesus was on His way to Jairus’ house to pray for his sick daughter, a woman who’s been bleeding for 12 years interrupted Him. She crawled through the crowd to touch Jesus’ robes and when she did, she was instantly healed. Jesus stopped in His tracks to investigate the power that He felt came out of Him. We know how the story unfolded but what we often forget is that while this exchange was going on, Jairus was anxiously waiting for Jesus to wrap up His investigation and proceed to his house so his daughter can be healed.

I have a feeling that Jairus wished the woman didn’t interrupt them at all. His daughter was on the verge of death and the woman who interrupted them looked like she could survive a few more hours of not getting her miracle. Why Jesus lingered was simply beyond him. Then the news came and shattered his last hope for miracle. His daughter’s dead, he need not bother the Master! I could just imagine the look of accusation in his eyes. If only the woman didn’t interrupt them… If only Jesus hurried a little…

Few verses later, we learned that his daughter was resurrected from the dead, a far more glorious miracle than rising up from the sick bed. The interruption was intentional in the plan of God. Partly, it was meant to teach us that there are times when we have to give in to divine interruptions just so we can allow God to work out something.

But how do we know which interruption is from God and which one is not? Now that’s something that needs a lot of practice and fine tuning in our part. Learning to listen to the voice of God is not something we can learn from a blog or a book. We’ve got to do it, live it, and learn it ourselves.

Disclosure: This post is inspired by Joe McKeever’s “Interruptions: Blessings and Burdens,” posted on October 28, 2003

Help from Unexpected Places

Hagar had a good life. God promised her that her son Ishmael would have descendants that will be too numerous to count. Then a quick turn of events caused her and her son to be kicked out of Abraham’s household, sending them blundering in the wilderness without enough food and water to sustain them. With their supplies running out and the boy getting very weak of the journey, Hagar laid Ishmael under a shrub to die while she went a little farther to give in to her despair.

Who’s gonna hear her there? No one. They were alone in the wilderness, her son was dying and she has resigned herself to the same fate. All she could do was cry. No, it wasn’t a prayer, just plain, hopeless bleating. She was weak, too weak to even see her son draw his last breath. She was waiting for grief and despair to claim her. But she forgot one thing: God’s promise that Ishmael would be great.

In his dying state, Ishmael did something he learned from his father- he prayed to the God of the Hebrews. He prayed hard, in fact, the Bible says he lifted up his voice and cried. I know most translations would say it was Hagar who prayed but in the original Hebrew, the voice that was lifted up was masculine, indicating that it was Ishmael who prayed. Gen. 21: 27 confirms it, it says that the Lord heard the voice of the lad.

Hagar’s deliverance came from an unexpected place. It was brought about by a genuine prayer of a dying boy and the faithfulness of the God who never forgets any of His promises. Just when her last strand of hope was about to snap, God stepped in and by miraculous providence, a spring of water appeared near them and sustained them in the dessert. They were not going to die after all. Even if Ishmael’s posterity would grow to be the fiercest enemy of Isaac’s children for generations, God simply doesn’t abandon those whom a promised is made to.

You might sometimes find yourself in a situation where you are too discouraged to even get up and breath. Don’t despair. Even the castaways are never forsaken. They live on and they find hope in God. They find help even in unexpected places. Yes, even a dying boy’s prayer can be your ticket to deliverance. Just hang on and say a prayer.

Roads

There was only one Road, and it’s like a great river; its springs were at every doorstep, and every path was its tributary. “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door. You step into the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.

Do you realize that this is the very path that goes through Mirkwood, and that if you let it, it might take you to the Lonely Mountain or even further or to worse places?”

Bilbo Baggins, The Fellowship of the Ring

Oswald Chambers

If the Spirit of God detects anything in you that is wrong, He does not ask you to put it right; He asks you to accept the light, and He will put it right. A child of the light confesses instantly and stands bared before God; a child of the darkness says – “Oh, I can explain that away.” When once the light breaks and the conviction of wrong comes, be a child of the light, and confess, and God will deal with what is wrong; if you vindicate yourself, you prove yourself to be a child of the darkness.

In Broad Daylight

God protected the Israelites by foiling Balaam’s sorcery. The Hebrews had no idea that God saved them while they were sleeping. Frustrated, Balaam packed up his stuff and walked away. We thought the story ended there, that he quit his trade and turned over a new leaf after his encounter with God. Not quite.

In the next chapter, we learned of a massive, large scale adultery going on among Hebrew men and Moabite women. At first glance. it would seem like this is a separate story, totally unrelated to what happened in the previous chapter. However, a closer look reveals that it was Balaam who advised the Moabites to send their women to seduce the Hebrews.

The plan worked, the Israelite men committed shameless adultery in broad daylight even in front of the tabernacle. This roused God’s fierce anger that on that same day, 24,000 Hebrew men died. Moab succeeded in inflicting damage to Israel. Their temple prostitutes succeeded where black magic failed. At the end of that grim day, Israel was left weaker and more vulnerable. God’s divine protection upon them came to nothing when they willfully sinned.

The story tells us one very obvious truth: God’s divine protection works best if we stay within it, if we don’t wander away flirting with sin. The moment we venture outside his will, our security is automatically compromised.

In the end, Balaam got his wealth but he didn’t enjoy it. Numbers 31: 8 tells us that he died when Moses sent his troops to battle with the Midians. He got his just deserts. His love of money was his downfall.

Another obvious truth worth mentioning is that when the devil can’t use pain to destroy us, he uses pleasure. Everyone knows this. Everyone, beware of this.

Worn Out Slippers

It was the time for celebration again. Our sisters who were working in Manila came home after a few years of work, brought presents for a family of 10 and shared about their experiences in the big city while we, kids, listened in wonder about stories of big supermalls, elevators, traffic, and the “glitter” of urban life. I was 11, we lived in the mountainous parts of Leyte, I’ve never seen a big bus, never been inside an air conditioned building, no idea what escalators were, and what it was like to speak Tagalog everyday.

My sisters’ vacation that time was different. They brought something new with them, something we never had in the house before: a big red Tagalog New Testament Bible with Psalms and Proverbs. It was the Good News version so there were stick drawings in the pages. Back then, it was easier for me to locate verses by just looking at the drawings.

Continue reading Worn Out Slippers

The Job Interview

Back when the telegraph was the fastest method of long-distance communication, a young man applied for a job as a Morse Code operator. When he came for interview, he noticed that the office was filled with noise and clatter, including the sound of the telegraph in the background. The receptionist instructed him and all the other applicants to wait until they were called to enter the inner office.

After a few minutes, the young man stood up and walked right into the office. The other applicants were confused as they didn’t hear anybody being called. They assumed the young man went in by mistake and that he would be disqualified.

Within a few minutes, however, the employer escorted the young man out of the office and said to the other applicants, “Gentlemen, thank you very much for coming, but the job has just been filled.”

The other applicants grumbled, and one spoke up saying, “Wait a minute, I don’t understand. He was the last to come in, and we never even got a chance to be interviewed. Yet he got the job. That’s not fair!”

The employer said, “I’m sorry, but the last several minutes while you’ve been sitting here, the telegraph has been ticking out the following message in Morse Code: ‘If you understand this message, then come right in. The job is yours.’ None of you heard it or understood it. This young man did. The job is his.”

—Source Unknown

Out of Sync

The clock lied to me this morning. I looked at its hands and I was sure it was 6:09 am. I went outside, switched off the lights, went to the bathroom, almost had a shower but decided against it, went back inside my room, looked at my cellular phone for messages and was confused when I saw the time. It was still 3:09 in my phone. I looked at the clock again, the seconds were moving but the time was different from my digital cellphone clock. Still confused, I looked at the sky outside but the artificial lights weren’t of any help. Then I figured that if all the other clocks failed, there’s only one place to go to find the correct time, the world time server in the internet. Within seconds I realized that my analog  wallclock is malfunctioning, my cellphone was right and the correct time was 3:09. Problem solved, pronto.

Our spiritual lives are somewhat similar to clocks. Our batteries can go weak, we can get busted with the wear and tear of the daily grind, and most importantly, there are times, lots of times in fact, when we are out of synch with the real clock, the Holy Spirit. Then the world sees us, looks at us, tries to “read” us, and walk away confused because we sometimes convey the “wrong time.” Thankfully, we have one standard that will never change- God himself, and we all have the option to align ourselves to his will.

Romans 8: 5-6 says it categorically. “Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires…

Now that’s some serious stuff to swallow. That verse clearly spells two options for us: to be in synch with the Spirit of God or with carnality. No middle ground there, it is a choice that we have to make every single day.

Galatians 5: 16-17 tells us how. “So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature…”

Is your mind in synch with the Holy Spirit? It’s so easy to tell. Just list down the kind of thoughts that consume your mind when you’re not particularly thinking about anything, like when you’re driving alone, or lying on your bed at night, or when you’re riding a bus. Are your thoughts something that you can videotape and show in church on Sunday morning?

Just wondering aloud.