I’ve been playing Pokémon Go for a week. I love it. In addition to giving me new motivation to go running—because gotta catch ‘em all!—the game has honestly helped me reclaim part of my conservative evangelical upbringing. That sounds strange, but if you’re an evangelical Millennial like me, chances are you grew up navigating a complicated relationship between faith and culture.
Pokémon first existed as a card game. When I was in middle school, my neighborhood friends and I collected them. The cards were sold in randomly sorted decks and booster packs, which meant that buying and opening a new pack was an extremely exciting event. We bought binders with special cardholder dividers while feverishly comparing collections, and we bet cards on the outcome of neighborhood roller hockey matches and ball games. (There was some official game you were supposed to play with the cards, but nobody I knew actually played it.)
In middle school I began to see groups of Christians call for boycotts of companies for reasons of faith or morality. Around this time I became aware that some also called for a boycott of Pokémon cards, and I vaguely remember that it had something to do with other products the parent-company made, but I don’t know the details.
One night, I dreamed that I woke up chained to a cot in a prison cell. I looked around and gradually realized that my cell was composed of Pokémon cards, and the faces on the cards were laughing at me. The dream then zoomed out, and I saw the whole world encircled in chains made of Pokémon cards. I woke up sweating and scared and convinced God was telling me the Pokémon cards exerted some sort of evil influence over both me and the world, and I knew I needed to get rid of them. I decided, somehow, that the best way to do this would be to burn them. I told my youth pastor, and he agreed. We decided that we needed to film this to show as a testimony to the youth group, and he and I drove to a local park, piled the cards on a public grill, doused them with lighter fluid and dropped a match.
I am not making any of this up. We burned the cards, we filmed it, and I felt great about it.
Finding Grace in the Flames
I should say this before going any further: I am extremely thankful for the overall influence this youth pastor and his wife had on my life. They were selfless and caring, and I believe they, and our church community in general, had nothing but our best interests at heart. My parents supported me in listening to what I thought was the will of God, and through their example I learned how important it is to make local church community a priority in our actual daily and weekly rhythms. This continues to shape me as Heather (my wife) and I establish our own patterns of family and church involvement.
As an adult, I’ve heard many similar stories from Christians who trashed or burned things they came to believe, for one reason or another, were a bad influence. Earlier today I told this story to a friend who then related that his father made him cut the faces off African wooden carvings and burn them. Another told me she burned a whole set of Harry Potter books, bought them again, and then burned that set too. Countless others have told me about throwing away or burning entire CD or DVD collections because they were convicted over their secular nature.
Scripture is clear that God is a holy God. Christians are united to Christ in His death and resurrection, and the Spirit now lives in us, giving us both the motivation and the ability to pursue holiness. There is nothing more important than pressing deeper into the grace God gives us in the gospel, and Scripture explicitly states this sometimes includes making painful sacrifices and choices that may seem silly or unnecessary to some. I would never presume to tell anyone who’s had a similar experience that they acted wrongly or haven’t truly heard from the Lord.
But as I’ve played Pokémon Go over the past week, however, I’ve reflected on growing up. I am grateful for a youth pastor who took me seriously during a formative time in my life, and I’m also grateful God has since shown me a different perspective on what it means to pursue holiness and to pursue His will for my life. I’m convinced if I had decided the dream was just a weird freak occurrence of preteen angst, God wouldn’t have been disappointed or angry with me, and I could’ve kept on happily collecting Pokémon cards until they went the way of Pogs and AOL IM. After years of reflection, I don’t think my dream was a message from God, and from my personal experience, pursuing holiness won’t always demand separating ourselves from (or destroying) cultural artifacts made by unbelievers that probably promote a different worldview.
In the past few weeks I have experienced simple childlike joy in finding Pokémon creatures all around me, and I’m realizing that through this I am, in a strange way, testifying to God’s faithfulness to grow me up in my understanding of His will and purpose. For me, it’s a silly but important reminder of how God has worked with, in and often despite me through various stages of my life. And as an encouragement to me—and hopefully to you—He will keep being faithful.
In the meantime, I’m going to keep catching Pokémon and enduring my wife’s affectionate and well-deserved eye-rolling.
Rory Tyer is Vice President of Marketing with Global Outreach International, an interdenominational mission development organization with missionaries in 47 countries. His background includes New Testament studies, videography, and singing/songwriting. He currently lives in Tupelo, Mississippi with his wife and two 65-pound pit bulls named Norah and Rio.