Nerd Pastor Nate
Summer Time Rendering & Defeating Our Darker Selves | Nerdy Sermon
I'm a sucker for many things, but throw together a psychological horror mystery time-loop storyline and make it an anime? I'm all aboard, bb. When I heard about the premise of Summertime Rendering, I needed to binge it all in one sitting, but then I remembered I have a three-year-old and a four-month-old, and I guess I have to actually raise them, so… I'll binge it slightly slower I guess.
As I watched this new anime, I quickly noticed some striking parallels with a familiar lament from the Bible. How well do we know ourselves? While the characters in this show are literally being killed by themselves as ghost-like Shadows… don't we tend to get in our way fairly often? This nerdy sermon will discuss how we can learn to avoid shadow sickness other than just staying off that island. Let's talk about it.
Welcome to Checkpoint Church - where nerds, geeks, and gamers come together to talk about faith, games, and trying to make it through this video without looking over my shoulder for a shadow person. I’m your Nerd Pastor Nate. If you like these weekly deep-dives, be sure to sub and hit that bell to find out when our next one drops.
Romans 7:14-25 (NRSVue)
For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold into slavery under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. But in fact it is no longer I who do it but sin that dwells within me. For I know that the good does not dwell within me, that is, in my flesh. For the desire to do the good lies close at hand, but not the ability. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that, when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched person that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with my mind I am enslaved to the law of God, but with my flesh I am enslaved to the law of sin.
So what is Summer Time Rendering?
Spoilers for just the first episode of this show.
Shinpei is returning to his hometown of Hitogashima, a small island with a population of like 700
It's been two years since he was last there.
Why is he back?
Shinpei returns on July 22nd to attend his childhood friend Ushio's funeral. Kind of a downer of a first episode, yeah?
Stepping on the island, Shinpei is greeted by a speeding Mio on a bike, Ushio's little sister. She is unable to stop and ends up falling into the water. Once she gets back together, the two reconnect as they walk toward the funeral.
Mio reveals that the island now has many people she doesn't know, but lately, even people she knows sometimes seem like strangers. Shinpei guesses it's due to the many tourists around this time of the year. But I don't know…
Once they arrive at the funeral, Shinpei tells the viewer that he lost his parents ten years ago and was taken in by the Kofune family, making Ushio not only a childhood friend but family too.
Another childhood BFF, Sou, hugs Shinpei and cries, explaining that Ushio tried saving a kid but ended up drowning.
Sou points out Shiori Kobayakawa, the little girl that Ushio saved. Apparently, she hasn't spoken since. Hm.
That night, Shinpei prepares curry for Mio, Alain and an honorary plate for Ushio. As they eat, a police officer notices Mio standing outside the house and looking at it. But Mio is inside eating curry… hmmmmm.
After dinner, Sou calls Shinpei and explains that his father didn't perform an autopsy as everyone thinks but was there just for the police's inquest. However, they found marks on Ushio's neck, similar to strangling, making it possible that Ushio was killed.
The next day, Alain reopens his dinner. Shinpei helps out, thinking the best way to distract yourself from a loss is to keep your body moving. A drunk customer, Nakamura, asks Shinpei if he found who he was looking for. But we've been with Shinpei the whole time and have never met this guy. Hmmmmmmmmmmm
The town police officer walks in and explains that all the Kobayakawa family has vanished. In the morning, their Koba Mart wasn't open, so their neighbor, Shiomi's wife, peeked in their house, which was all empty. Tetsu believes they may have a debt and fled during the night.
Upon Hearing this, Mio runs out of the store in a rush.
Shinpei finally catches up to Mio. Mio explains that around a week before the incident, Shiori said she saw a girl who looked just like herself.
We learn that this is a superstition called the shadow sickness, a disease endemic to this island. If the shadow sickness takes you, you start seeing your "shadow," and all those who saw it die, killed by it. The shadow then pretends to be the one it killed and kills the remaining family.
Mio reveals that Three days before Ushio died, Mio saw Ushio's shadow, too.
Shinpei suggests they see Hiruko to get cleansed. Hiruko is the nickname for the Hito shrine in the northern part of the island.
At the shrine, Shinpei tries to open the door, but it's locked. Mio then looks at the forest, and a figure moves and runs.
Mio states she saw Shiori and makes Shinpei run with her after Shiori.
Shinpei finds the woman with glasses he bumped into on the boat at the beginning of the episode that we all thought was just filler, but now she's back bleeding from a gun wound.
The woman, saying she failed, tells Shinpei to listen, but before she can finish, she gets shot right before Shinpeis eyes.
Shinpei then turns to see Mio holding a gun against the temple of… another Mio? She then pulls the trigger and kills Mio. Then she points straight ahead and shoots Shinpei in the head too.
Suddenly, Shinpei awakens on the boat, starting us back from where we started the whole thing.
And I don't know about yall but just saying all of that made me want to go and watch that first episode all over again. It's so good.
I love every minute of the mystery, the setups, and the possibility for huge payoffs… oooh.
And this is just the first episode; there are still 20 more out right now to go binge if you think this sounds curious.
But the critical question we want to ask ourselves is, what could this possibly have to do with our scripture for today?
This passage from Paul is one of the more complicated bits of paradoxical wordplay that Paul is known for. A lot is happening here that we could dive into - Paul is establishing a third-party character in the form of the “I” that he is portraying in this instance, he is also doing work to make the law something passive and spiritual apart from humanity and sin, and he is also discussing the active life of grace in the controversial form of spiritual warfare.
It’s the latter that we’re going to discuss for this one. Primarily focusing on the middle part of the passage - where the character Paul is portraying laments that - I do not understand my own actions.
For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.
Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good.
But in fact it is no longer I who do it but sin that dwells within me.
For I know that the good does not dwell within me, that is, in my flesh.
For the desire to do the good lies close at hand, but not the ability.
For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.
Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it but sin that dwells within me.
So I find it to be a law that, when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand.
For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.
Wretched person that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?
Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with my mind I am enslaved to the law of God, but with my flesh I am enslaved to the law of sin.
Woof. Let’s do some math.
So we have our main person in this situation - we’ll call them Bartholomew or Barty.
Barty knows the law - as in the teachings of God passed from Moses and the Prophets.
Barty also knows Jesus - who made the law fulfilled, not thrown out, but expounded upon
However, Barty still has this thing within them that feeds them temptation; we’ll call this dark side (or shadow side) Bad Barty or Babarty.
Barty knows the good and wants to do the good.
When Barty tries to do the good they want, Babarty notices and gets more involved.
So Barty is in a constant battle of the mind fighting to maintain the focus on the good thing they want to do, but it’s a war of attrition, and the better Barty is, the more brutal Babarty hits.
So it’s a literal battle with what Paul calls the flesh - which we can take to interpret our literal physical body, or we can call it a metaphysical affliction that we can simply call sin.
Who can save us from this body of death, asks Paul?
Well, it’s only through Jesus, of course. And what Paul calls enslavement to the law, which we’ve already determined, is excellent and perfect.
If we aren’t enslaved to it, then we will be enslaved to Babarty - and nobody wants that except Babarty
The critical distinction here is that, unlike in a game like Celeste, the dark version of ourselves in Paul’s narrative is not the imperfections that we need to learn to make friends with… instead, the dark version of ourselves is not us AT ALL. It’s an embodied form of pure evil incarnate wearing our skin.
The flesh, then, isn’t you. It’s something else entirely. It’s evil and sin out to conquer you in the war of the mind.
In Methodism, we have an understanding of grace that’s honestly easier to show than tell, called the works of grace.
We start with prevenient grace before we meet Jesus, then we have justifying grace where we meet Jesus for the first time and accept him as our savior. That’s one interpretation of where Paul starts this passage.
But then there’s this time called sanctifying grace, and a few understandings exist. Some think sanctifying grace is short, and we immediately go into perfecting grace. Others believe that sanctifying grace takes a lifetime, and it may or may not be possible to reach perfecting grace before we pass to the church triumphant in heaven.
But regardless of the path post-accepting Jesus, it would be incorrect to assume the graph is on an upward trajectory. The truth of sanctifying grace is that it’s a battlefield. It goes up, down, and all over the place before we reach whatever we reach.
For this reason, we constantly need to pursue some kind of focus - Paul calls this focus enslavement. We can keep our eyes on the prize and focus on perfection, as Jesus calls us to be perfect, as my father in heaven and I are perfect.
OR we can not do that and be unprepared on the battlefield.
It shouldn’t take too much to see how these two stories relate - the mystery of Summer Time Rendering is an excellent allegory for the one we are enduring after accepting Jesus - it’s kind of like the shadow sickness in the show. Once we see our shadow selves, they will hunt us down. Once we see that who we are meant to be isn’t the dark version of ourselves, it opens up something else entirely; sanctifying grace begins - and it’s a game of cat and mouse.
But the best way to avoid capture in real life is to keep your eyes on the prize. I won’t spoil how best to avoid the shadows in Summer Time Rendering because I want you to watch and find out.
But what does any of this mean for us today?
What can we take away from the conversation?
I know that the conversation of spiritual warfare and grace being a battlefield can quickly be absconded by folks who want to stir up controversy and bad theology. But the truth of spiritual warfare is that it often doesn’t find its focus in one thing or another being sinful; instead, it is a battle within yourself.
Often the best thing we can do personally is to check our situation constantly - know what harms us or distracts us and take every effort to fight against those things. Focus instead on the things that Jesus calls us to do - love your neighbor, love yourself, share extravagantly, and live fully and deeply into the grace offered up.
Don’t believe that the shadow side is you - that’s bad theology. You are not your flesh. If you have accepted Jesus, then you are something new and reborn. You are no longer enslaved to the sin that weighed you down. Don’t let anyone - preacher or not - tell you that you are bad or sin. Sin afflicts you as it afflicts all of us, but YOU are sacred stuff. And YOU matter.
And whether you are just coming home (Shinpei), never left (Mio), or are feeling lost (Ushio), know that you’re always welcome here at Checkpoint Church.