Unless you live under a rock—or just somewhere far removed from kids—you’ve probably been hearing a lot about the new craze called “Pokemon Go.” I know I’m young (-ish), but I’m just a notch or two too old to have grown up during the height of Pokemon’s initial popularity, so I actually had to have someone explain what “Pokemon Go” is all about. It’s actually all in the name: a “Pokemon” is a magical creature popularized by a card game (and related products) in Japan. The “Go” part is where things get interesting. You start by downloading the app to your phone or mobile device. The app coordinates with GPS, so when you use the app you have a map of your neighborhood. The map features markers in random locations that indicate where you find a Pokemon. So while most games are played just by sitting still and using your thumbs, Pokemon Go requires you to physically travel to those locations. So if my map shows a Pokemon over by the City Park, then I have to physically travel to the City Park. Once I arrive at the location, the app allows me to find the Pokemon using the phone’s camera feature. Looking at the screen, I can locate the Pokemon, at which point I am able to “catch” it.
You have to give the designers credit: here’s a game that’s actually getting people off the sofa and moving, and certainly blurring the usual boundaries that exist in neighborhoods as people share a love for a common quest.
On the other hand, I can’t help but laugh at the obvious modern parable: legions of people motivated to chase after things that aren’t real. If that’s not a metaphor for the human condition, I don’t know what is.
We are, indeed, “prone to wander,” as the old hymn writer intoned. Whether chasing Pokemon, chasing a fantasy relationship, wealth, career, what have you. All the same, it seems that human beings were never meant to stand still. Jesus himself describes faith as something of a journey, and those who take the narrow road find life.
In John, Jesus tells his followers that there is a new relationship that comes from “abiding.” Staying close to Jesus changes our status before God:
12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you.15 No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. 17 These things I command you, so that you will love one another. (John 15:12-17)
The contemporary world has reduced humans to mere consumers, or at least it tries to. The modern world brought us from God’s image-bearers to mere homo sapiens, the latest model in a blind, evolutionary process. The postmodern world has reduced us still further to homo ludens, “humans at play.”
The gospel restores our dignity by positioning us as agents of God’s kingdom, friends who are granted the privilege of sharing in the work that God is performing in the world around us. It’s not for nothing that Adam’s original task was to tend the garden. Now, the body of Christ is likewise called to “bear fruit.” Pay very attention to this latter part of the text: verse 16 says that the Christian’s purpose is to “go and bear fruit.” Go. This is John’s version of the Great Commission. Jesus came so that we may have “life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). Now, Jesus tells his followers (tells us) that our mission is to cultivate that life in others.
To abide is to go. To abide is to become a missional cultivator who connects others to the life-giving “Vine” of Christ. Do we not believe that there is great joy to be found in that—perhaps even greater joy than a smart-phone game can produce?
A few years ago I found myself in the City Park here in Hagerstown. It was a Saturday in the Springtime, and therefore slightly more crowded than usual. On the sidewalk was a little girl riding her bicycle, and in her front basket she had a large pile of freshly-picked yellow dandelions. She paused in front of me to hand me one, for which I thanked her. She grinned excitedly and turned to her nearby parents, shouting: “Mommy! Mommy! I gave the man a flower!” There’s joy in going. There’s joy in giving. And there’s a difference, I think, between our childish pursuit of selfish fantasies, and a childlike capacity for wonder, and for grace.