One Piece: A Different Kind
On a One Piece note, this will be primarily dealing with the Netfilx live action series, but with a tiny dab of the anime when it comes to Chopper meeting the crew.
When I was growing up in the youth group era of the mid 90’s, DC Talk had dropped a song that had a surprisingly Nirvana vibe called “Jesus Freak.” It was a hardcore banger for its time and sparked a line of merch and apparel for youth group kids for years. I remember having an “edgy” 90’s dog tag that said “Jesus Freak” that I proudly rocked through middle and high school. It wasn’t until I started getting into adulthood, cultural history, and the “Real World” that I truly understood that many people see the term Jesus Freak as a slur, insult, or demeaning label. Younger me saw it solely as being a faithful, dedicated, punk rock follower of Jesus. Not as many would use it for people they considered hopeless, foolish, or out of touch with reality. What it meant for me in my youthful exuberance just didn’t track with how others would perceive it. While Jesus Freak isn’t a label I use for myself often anymore, it doesn’t change the division in perception between people of faith and people who see believers and Christians as a negative concept.
Luffy faces the same blissful naivety when he is so excited about becoming a pirate. He was surprised by the negativity he faced and often had to make disclaimers for himself and his goal.
When Luffy first meets Koby and drops the “P” word, he is met with;
“Pirates are scum. They’re thieves and murderers.” - Koby
To which Luffy replies;
“Not the pirates I know.” - Luffy
Luffy was blind to the fact that Pirates truly were hated by so many. Just because Luffy had some good experiences with pirates like Shanks, didn’t mean everyone else had them.
When you are young and grow up in church, youth, or camp environments where Christianity is cool and normal, you think loving Jesus is the standard thing to do. The longer you are in the world, the more you realize that in some people groups and cultures, “Christian” has as bad as connotation as pirate with Koby. Even when Luffy meets Zorro in the yard of the Navy base, Zorro tells him;
“I kill your kind for a living. Pirate. Hunter.”
While there is a reason for people to be antagonistic about pirates, there has often been valid reasons for people to be antagonistic about believers, Christians, the religious, and people of faith in general.
Most of Jesus’ opposition in scripture came from religious leaders.
“You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” - Matthew 12:34
“Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The teachers of religious law and the Pharisees are the official interpreters of the law of Moses.So practice and obey whatever they tell you, but don’t follow their example. For they don’t practice what they teach.They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden. “Everything they do is for show. On their arms they wear extra wide prayer boxes with Scripture verses inside, and they wear robes with extra long tassels. And they love to sit at the head table at banquets and in the seats of honor in the synagogues. They love to receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces, and to be called ‘Rabbi.’” - Matthew 23:1-7
““What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you shut the door of the Kingdom of Heaven in people’s faces. You won’t go in yourselves, and you don’t let others enter either. “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you cross land and sea to make one convert, and then you turn that person into twice the child of hell you yourselves are!” - Matthew 23:13-15
Jesus was fighting the uphill battle against the bad name the religious leaders had made for those who were trying to pursue God. Which also meant that Jesus was in their view of opposition as well. When you fight to change perspective, that means you have to take attention away from someone who probably thrives from being in the center of attention.
So often the world believes that the only kinds of Christians are the kind of religious leaders that Jesus stood against. They think that being a believer means you are automatically closed minded, cold hearted, judgmental, critical, and oftentimes hateful. Which is similar to how people viewed pirates, especially Nami. Someone who had had her whole life wrecked by pirates. The fishmen, the crooked Navy, and so many others had robbed her of her family, her community, and so often any hope of a future.
“I’m never joining anything with you. I hate pirates. Hate them.” - Nami “That’s because you don’t know me yet.” Luffy
Luffy later goes on to try convincing Nami that there are different pirates.
“I’m a different kind of pirate.” Luffy
“Pirates are pirates. There’s only one kind.” - Nami
Nami didn’t believe there could be a difference, just like so many people in the world don’t believe there can be any such thing as a kind believer, a loving Christian, a compassionate Christian, etc.
This wasn’t just isolated to Nami and his crew. When they freed Buggy’s prisoners, Luffy had a similar interaction.
“Are you our new captors? Well...you’re a pirate, aren’t you?”
“I’m a different kind of pirate.” - Luffy
When Luffy is laying in the rowboat with Koby, he makes this statement ;
“If there are good pirates and bad pirates, then there are gonna be good marines and bad marines too”
I’ve lived a large portion of my life trying to show people that Christians aren’t all bad, or not bad at all. That the people who are poorly representing God don’t speak for me or most of the faith. It’s an uphill battle. So often at cons, people will ignore my booth because they think I'll attack them, or they will come at me aggressively because they automatically think I'm the enemy. I’m grateful to say that God has provided some amazing opportunities in this area. People that were able to open up to conversation. To share their fears. To hear truth with their walls down a little. People that attend Geek Church at a con, who have been scared to attend a normal church service in years. After talking with a young cosplayer for 30 minutes at the last con I did, they extended their hand for a handshake and said “I’m trusting you to be safe.” The idea that it took 30 minutes of talking about life and anime for that person to even let their guard down to have a real conversation. Recently a close friend who is a non-believer told me “I’m glad I didn’t let Jesus scare me away.” They saw my profile online and enjoyed what they saw of my personality/heart but seeing something indicating that I loved Jesus almost made them run away because of past experiences. It could be easy to take offense at this, but I have to be realistic. Christians have been making Jesus look bad since He died.
We see as early as the book of Romans that we weren’t off the greatest start.
“If you know his will and approve of what is superior because you are instructed by the law; if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of little children, because you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth— you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? As it is written: “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” - Romans 2:18-24
Paul literally tells the Roman church “people curse the name of God because of your actions.” This trend has continued for hundreds of years, because so often people fail to live out the gospel the way God calls us to. But that doesn’t mean we give up just because people see us in a bad light, or people might want to discount us. I’ve missed a lot of opportunities in the arts and social circles in my region because I'm synonymous with Jesus to some people, but I would rather be able to keep doing my best to make His name well represented than to add more credit to my own.
Luffy is less concerned with making the word pirate mean something different, but more so that people will know he is a different kind of pirate. We may not be able to shift the entire name of Christianity to full acceptance, but if we can make strides to let people see that Christ in someone’s life can be a beautiful and powerful thing, that’s a great accomplishment.
Paul gives some great advice to Timothy as well as the Colossian church in making this happen.
“Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.” 2 Timothy 2:23-26
Christians engaging in arguments to be able to prove th eir points, or win arguments can often only further the damage. If we can see clearly that people aren’t in it for genuine understanding or to actively listen and interact, we need to do damage control by not further engaging. God can do more through our silence then our ill-timed arguments.
In Colossians Paul makes it clear that we need to tread wisely to be able to respond well with the opportunities we are given.
“Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” - Colossians 4:4-6
When people see us live out a love of God that results in something different than they’ve seen before in those that have wounded, attacked, and discouraged them, they are able to see there is more out there.
Over to the anime, when Wapol is trying to take back the castle from Chopper and the straw hat crew, Luffy selflessly stands up to preserve Dr. Hiriluk’s flag. When he risks his life for this, it distinguishes him from Wapol.
“You guys weren’t real pirates, you were just fake ones weren’t you? That’s why you don’t what flying a pirate flag means, because you’re just a bunch of fakes that didn’t risk your lives.” - Luffy
Even in the brief moments that followed, it was enough for Chopper to see the difference between two different people who called themselves pirates. As Chopper looks at Luffy unrelentingly taking Wapol’s cannon fire on his behalf,
Chopper makes this statement;
“Incredible... So, this is a pirate!” - Chopper
A single act of heroism was enough for Chopper to truly see the difference.
When it comes to being a Christian, it’s not as simple as proving to people you are a real Christian or not, because Christianity sadly has a lot of branches and nuanced labels based on understanding, convictions, and doctrines. It’s safe to say that no single branch or label has everything right, so it wouldn’t be fair to say to prove that you are a real Christian. But our goal in all things it to prove we are actually Christ like. That we love the way He commands. That we show grace as He commands. Forgiveness, hope, peace, and so much more that far extends beyond being “right.”
When Jesus told His disciples to be an example it wasn’t based on rules, regulations, or religious practices, it was based on love.
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” - John 13:34-35
When we display love that reflects who Jesus is, we become a different kind of Christian, in the same way that Luffy is a different kind of pirate. Ironically though, this is what Christians have supposed to have been the entire time.
Just this past weekend a big comicon happened in my region. I was unable to attend due to prior DJ bookings, but some friends were involved in a faith in geek culture panel. People openly and compassionately having conversations with geeky believers and non-believers alike. My friend Amy Delettre noticed that right outside the window of the room they were in, there was a “street preacher” condemning the people going into the con. This is the difference y’all. Amy shared a picture along with these words;
“There’s always a fire & brimstone pastor at any con I go too or not go to. I took a photo because I was at the last few minutes of a faith based panel so I thought of how funny that this poor guy was missing out. He was literally outside the window.
There’s always faith, love & community at a Con I wish that most churches would get back to.
Even acceptance and discussion occur too. S o many layers happen at a Con happens too that you just feel and experience.
I hope two items happen - first pastors like this go away and actually read the Bible and the second is community flourishes that occur at a Con happens in churches.”
Luffy changed lives and perspectives in every region he sailed to. He surprised people by being different than what they expected from a pirate. We have the ability to encourage, inspire, and lead people to literal life. We can’t accomplish this by ignoring or watering down the truth of God’s Word. We can’t edit truth to make things easier. But when we actually let go of all the things that have gotten attached to people of faith, we can see what Jesus calls us to be. We just need to be a different type of Christian, an authentically Christ like Christian. That when people express anguish or aggression towards believers, that we can respond like Luffy.
“That’s because you don’t know me yet. I’ma different kind of Christian.”