Faith & Fandom
Ninja Turtles: Forgetting Your First Love
If you know me or read these books, you have probably picked up that my primary fandoms for years now have been Batman & Doctor Who. While Batman has been holding his own in my geeky affection for a while, Doctor Who is a bit more recent with me jumping on somewhere during season 6 of the modern era. But before I ever bought a utility belt or a sonic screwdriver, I was a Ninja Turtle.
I remember sitting on the floor in front of my giant boxy wooden framed tv at my house in St. Pauls, North Carolina. I remember the first time I ever saw it. For whatever reason, it was dark, and I still remember the way the light looked in my living room as the vivid colors poured from the screen. I watched with my jaw open in wide-eyed wonder. From that point, on I was hooked. My escalation of Turtle love only amplified. Not only was my watching of every episode mandatory, but it shaped the schedule of my family. I would tear apart countless shirts, sheets, towels, and other assorted linens to make masks. I remember breaking my grandma's broom just to make nunchucks. I got kicked out of a coliseum during the musical "Ninja Turtles: Coming Out Of Their Shells" tour because I literally tried to bum’s rush the stage when Shredder came out with his "I Hate Music" song. I remember being 9 when the first movie came out and walking into a movie theatre in Puerto Rico with a neon pink Ninja Turtle hat, a Ninja Turtle shirt, action figures tucked into my belt, and a makeshift cane consisting of some PVC pipe and the top of a Ninja Turtle bottle of shampoo in the shape of Raphael's head. I just loved them.
Maybe it was the cool concept of the ninja, or the brothers and father figure that supplemented the missing parts of my family. Whatever it was, they were my fandom. Toys, video games, soundtracks, tours, movies, costumes — the list goes on. But then one day. It just kind of died out for me. I still love the characters. They are still special to me, but they aren't as important to my life as they used to be. When I think about that it really does amaze me that something you were once so passionate about can one day just fade away. This reminds me of something we see in the book of Revelation. In Revelation we see a message to the Church of Ephesus.
"I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. Yet I hold this against you: You have forgotten your first love. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place." (Revelation 2:2-5)
Now I'm in no way comparing the admiration of four fictional turtles to the importance of the body of Christ fulfilling its purpose, but it does strike some similarities. We see in this scripture that the church of Ephesus had been doing so many goods things, yet their love had dwindled. They had lost sight of what truly mattered and we see God pleading with them to return to the way they lived prior. Even beyond Revelation and Ephesus though, I think we can all agree that sometimes it's easy to let our love dwindle for God. We get hyped up when we first come to Him. When we are young in our faith and everything is new and exciting, it's easy to pour our love out to Him. When He does amazing things for us, it's easy to make our love a priority. Sadly, as we grow older, more distracted, more doubtful, and more discouraged, we can easily find that our love for God has gone the way of my youthful passion for the heroes in a half shell.
I really don't know when my turtle devotion faded. I'm assuming it was sometime in my twenties, but it's hard to pinpoint. I never really gave up on the turtles though. I continued sporadic attempts at involving them in my life. I purchased the entire collection of the original animated series for my daughters. I had plans to watch the whole thing with them in the same way that we watched Batman, the Animated Series every three years, but it didn’t go as planned. When I sat down with my girls to watch the show that I had loved so passionately, I came to realize it’s not what I remembered. It was bad. Like, not the worst thing in the world, but I couldn't do it. I gave my daughters full permission to continue watching the series without me, but it wasn’t something I wanted to do.
This really struck me to as how we treat God and the Church so often in our culture. We have love for Him when we are younger, but we adopt this mindset that faith, church, and God is something out of which we grow. When I was a college/youth pastor, there was a study that concluded that only 17% of people that loved God and attended church as teenagers would remain faithful after they reached adulthood. We also see the cultural mindset that a majority of parents that don't attend church would still want their children to attend church, because it's good for them. But just like my daughters can see that I'm not really invested in the turtles, kids can see that their parents don't really put much stock in God and, in turn don’t invest in Him themselves. Sincerity is clear. You can't fool people into thinking you love something, especially not the ones who know you the most. Not your family, and definitely not God. "These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” (Matthew 15:8)
I enjoyed the recent theatrical releases, but not enough to buy them. Megan Fox and Amell's terrible Casey Jones ruined that chance for me. While I know the old cartoons wouldn't work for me now, I actually think I would really like the Nickelodeon series and love watching it with my kids, but I haven't gotten around to it. I don't have cable, and I've kinda just been hoping it will hit Netflix soon, but not so much. So is this where I am? Have I truly abandoned the turtles? Are they officially just something I loved when I was younger, but have since then grown cold to? It's not like I don’t invest myself heavily in other fictional mediums. It's not like I don't totally geek out on stuff while maintaining my clever disguise as a functional adult, but maybe my time with the turtles really has past. If that's really the case, it truly makes me sad.
What's so much worse is when we truly resign within ourselves that God is a thing of our past. Many people's love and devotion to God will fade for various reasons. Jesus foretold about the conditions of our hearts in Matthew 24:10-12 when he says, "At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold.” Jesus also explained how the conditions of our hearts and circumstances can kill our love as well.
"When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful.” (Matthew 13:19-22)
Regardless of what it is that causes our love to fade for God, it is a sad situation because we are missing out on more than just an aspect of life, but we are missing life itself.
On my bedside table, I keep a stuffed animal of Raphael. It's not super old or anything. In fact, I got it probably less than 2 years ago. He sits on my nightstand and reminds me that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were once something I loved more fiercely than anything else in this world, yet not anymore. It reminds me that my first love faded. This also reminds me not to let my true first love in God fade away and too not become what the church of Ephesus had become, but to keep my love for God strong, focused, and growing. God commands us to love Him. We are never commanded to do things that are natural. We aren't commanded to do things that we don't have to make a conscious effort to do. If I want my love in God to continue to remain strong, I'm going to have to make my focus and effort on making that happen. Don't forget your first love.
"Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment." (Matthew 22:37-38)