One Piece & Things Too Big For Us
Just a heads up before proceeding, this is gonna delve into things like death, eternity, existential crises, and not having all the answers. Noted? Here we go.
There are some things that are just too big for us to fully grasp in concept. Things that are so large that when we think of them, they make our brains hurt because we simply cannot comprehend them. In entertainment for the longest time for me it was Clone Wars and Rebels. The two shows combined for a total of 208 episodes of Star Wars animation just seemed too big of a task. During the pandemic I had time with my kids, and so it seemed like a good investment, and I'm 100% glad I did. It took time, but it was still manageable. But always looming in the background of my professional geek life was this juggernaut I avoided at all costs. A piece of fiction that had been going on since I was 16 years old (I’m 42 now) and is still growing. Always lurking, leering, waiting around the corner with a huge grin and a straw hat. One Piece.
Once I got into the professional geek world of cons and artist alley, I learned of it’s existence and was immediately put off by the sheer size of it. 106 volumes of manga. 1075 episodes of anime which would take 22,471 minutes, 374.51 hours, 15.60 days to watch. 8 Episodes of live action on Netflix. And it’s STILL GOING. The manga is speculated to end between 2024 and 2025, but still. Just bananas. I said no to it for the longest time because it’s just too much.
(In a hilariously ironic moment, as I'm writing a portion of this chapter at a Panera bread, a customer comes up asking me about the live action One Piece. I then ask him about the anime, and he says “Man, I tried, but once I got to episode 200, I just couldn’t do it anymore, it’s too big.” I laughingly told him to come here and showed him the title of the chapter.)
With the addition of TikTok, I caught on to the enthusiasm of TikTok’s movie guy Straw Hat Goofy which is quite infectious. Then Sonny Strait, the voice actor for Krillin (my favorite anime character) who also voices Usopp for One Piece was discussing how special it was to him and planted a seed. But finally, I think it boiled down to wanting to spend more time with my daughter. She had been asking if she could watch it, and I straight up told her no for years because of the size and commitment. She had been away working as a camp counselor all summer, and we had a few hours on a weekend, and I suggested let's go ahead and give it a shot. All 3 of my girls are invested now, and we are in about 80 episodes. We are just starting season 3. We also took quick detour to watch the live action version on Netflix. My oldest daughter is 15 and I fully realize I could have grandkids by the time we finish this thing, but I’m glad I started it. Even in starting it though, I legit don’t have a full grasp of how big it is or if we’ll be able to actually make it all the way through, and I don’t like that feeling.
The feeling of something being too big to comprehend generally causes me anxiety if I hold on to it too tightly. Long before One Piece caused me this stress, what takes place after death did. I remember being like 15, a new believer, avidly studying scripture, and wanting so many concrete answers to things that weren’t going to be concrete any time soon. I remember one night I had the thought “What if we’re wrong about all this stuff, and when we die, we just cease to exist?” That was a thought bigger than I could comprehend. None of us have a functional knowledge of not existing because our very memory and core of identity begins with our existence. We know things existed before us, but us no longer existing can be a sharp source of confusion, anxiety, and fear. Admittedly, that was a struggle off and on for years. Late nights, isolation, and other things would cause my mind and heart to shift to that. It was just too big for me to grasp. I wasn’t doubting my faith of who God was, but just that singular idea would cause me to panic. That may not be a source of stress to you at all, and I’m not trying to tell you to find things that scare you either, just sharing my heart.
David has a thought where he alludes to this kind of thinking in Psalm 131
“O Lord, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me.
O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time forth and forevermore.” - Psalm 131.
David makes the point that there are things that are too high, too great, and too marvelous for us. That we have to intentionally quiet and calm our souls before God. But he also makes the point it’s not instantaneous. He compares it to a child weaning. That’s a slow process. It’s a great reminder for us to know that there are things that may be too much, and that learning to trust in God completely with them is a slow process. That in the end of that journey, we can put our hope fully in God.
So often when we are in the process of being overwhelmed by what we think about and dwell in, it’s because we are continually choosing to think and dwell on stuff that is not going to be productive and helpful for us to dwell on. 2 am was not the time that 15-year-old me needed to try and process the concept of nothingness. So often we find something that stirs our hearts and mind like a fear or a frustration and we hyper focus on it to the point that we end up hurting ourselves. One of the first steps in combatting this is choosing what we are going to allow ourselves to focus on. We may have thoughts cross our mind, but we are responsible to choose what we actually entertain. Entertaining thoughts is when we consciously choose “this is what I'm going to focus on.”
The Apostle Paul also makes that similar distinction of David in recognizing that some things don’t need to be our focus, but rather we need to be deliberate/intentional on what we allow to hold place in our hearts.
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” - Philippians 4:6-9
He tells them (and by proxy, us) that we aren’t supposed to let anxiety rule over us, but to bring these things to God. Not only to lift up a prayer, but to choose to focus on the things that will actually give us life and strengthen us, and that the end result will be God’s peace. But like David with the weaning, Paul tells us to put these things into practice. Again, this isn’t instant occurrence but rather discipline and growth.
I didn’t need to let a hypothetical scenario years in the future stop me from living my life, or even have bad night’s sleep. But I did that exact thing many times. I had to learn, to grow, to wean, and to lean. But it is a disciplined process to be able to help your mind make solid choices in its focus.
In Luffy’s world the idea of Gold Roger’s One Piece was bigger than some people could grasp or understand so they wrote it off as fiction, or long gone because it couldn’t fit in with their world view. It was easier for citizens and sailors to think it wasn’t out there, because if they considered it to be real, they were missing out on it. They didn’t have the courage or the drive to pursue it, and rather than hope or believe in something so big or impossible it was easier just to not acknowledge it. It takes a lot of hope to believe in something beyond what you can see and touch.
“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see." - Hebrews 11:1
If you’ve spent much time in the gospels or heard sermons where Jesus faced opposition from religious leaders, then you’ve probably heard of the Pharisees. One of the other groups that usually gets lumped in with them though is the Sadducees. They had some unique distinctions. They believed in the law, the written Word of God, but they tended to ignore or cast of anything that actually required faith or a bigger picture than their own immediate understanding. Even before Jesus was crucified, one of their key beliefs that separated them from other groups was that they denied the concept of resurrection being possible. Rising from the dead wasn’t just a New Testament idea.
“But your dead will live, Lord;
their bodies will rise—
let those who dwell in the dust
wake up and shout for joy—
your dew is like the dew of the morning;
the earth will give birth to her dead.” - Isaiah 26:19
It’s not isolated to Isaiah either. Job 19. Psalm 16,17, 49, and 71. Daniel 12, and many more. Israelites of that time were comfortable and confident that they would be raised. That there was more to life because of the work that God would do through His messiah. But the Sadducees struggled with that idea. It took more faith to believe in a resurrection, than to simply just decide to adhere to the laws they were given. So, they disavowed it. I fully admit that concept isn’t so foreign to me.
In my younger years, the idea of dying or ceasing to exist terrified me. The older I got though, the balance of that shifted. The idea of eternity became more mentally exhausting and almost traumatizing than the idea of nothing. The idea that life would NEVER end?! My brain would literally ache trying to grasp that concept. I would find myself working into a panic over the idea. It wasn’t about a fear of it not being real, it was just simply that I couldn’t fully rationalize it or logically grasp it, so my brain rejected it. Like sticking a Nintendo Switch cartridge in a computer from 1999. It just doesn’t know how to utilize the information before it. I found myself at times identifying and empathizing with the Sadducees. Just not putting emphasis on Heaven, eternity or anything like that, because it was just beyond my understanding. I believed God to be God. Jesus to be Jesus. That He died, rose from the dead, and gives us abundant and eternal life, but I just didn’t entertain the idea of how that all plays out. That it was just easier to follow God, without putting focus on what came next.
I was robbing myself of bigger hopes and faith because it wasn’t easy. I was an anime fan that just couldn’t get past the idea of 1,000 episodes of anything. A believer who was willing to just kind of ignore the whole next portion of the faith I clung to. A pirate who didn’t believe the one piece was real because I didn’t have the hope, faith or vision. I’ve come to realize that a faith you have to fully be able to comprehend and rationalize isn’t really much of a faith. As Luffy states in the live action “If the path to what you want seems too easy, then you’re on the wrong path.”
There’s this verse in Hebrews 12 that talks about Jesus’ motivation for going through with the cross.
“Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” - Hebrews 12:2
Jesus had this huge distant goal before Him that motivated Him through all that He did. He had a joy set before Him, and He accomplished it and took His seat in victory. The problem with a faith like the Sadducees, or even mine at my weaker moments, is that without a joy set before you, it’s hard to move through the harder times. The shame that we should scorn, ends up weighing us down. I don’t have to have Heaven or the New Earth as my motivation to keep moving forward in my walk with God, but when I do, it allows me to have more joy and hope.
One of the most charming and encouraging things about One Piece is Luffy’s joyful confidence in his goal. He knows wholeheartedly that his desire and dream is to be King of the Pirates. Still in the 80’s of the show for me, everyone still laughs or mocks him when he shares his dream, but that doesn’t slow him down. He doesn’t know how he’s going to accomplish it. He doesn’t know any of the logistics, but he believes it, he hopes for it, and he lets that be what guides him through every situation. His focus also causes others to find confidence in their dreams as well. Whether that be to be the greatest swordsman, find the All Blue, to draw a map of the world, or to become a mighty warrior of the sea.
How strong would our walks be if our desire to pursue God was as bold and confident as Luffy’s desire to be King of the Pirates. We can’t live our lives ignoring our current surroundings for the hope of eternity, but in the same breath, we can’t live the abundant and eternal life God calls us to if we ignore it all together.
Luffy was inspired by the story of Gold Roger. His focus on the King of Pirates was enough to send him in full pursuit of a goal he can’t possibly understand or comprehend. For me, I can’t fully grasp the concept of a life that never ends. I don’t have a full understanding of a new Heaven or new earth, but what I can fully understand and comprehend is how good God is and how much a love for Jesus changes my heart and who I am. Jesus says that’s enough.
As Jesus was praying before His arrest, He prayed this statement;
“Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” - John 17: 3.
Jesus said that eternal life truly boils down to knowing God and knowing Jesus. Knowing them personally, intimately, in a familial way. Not just knowing of them, knowing them. There’s a lot I may not be able to fully grasp, but knowing Jesus? Knowing God? I can grasp that. I can make that my goal. I can let that be my One Piece, or for the sake of making the terrible dad/pastor joke, my One Peace.
I don’t need to ignore the hope of something beautiful just because I can’t fully grasp it. The journey through all the episodes and days prepares us to understand the ending. I’m only in the 80’s right now of the One Piece anime, but there are clips all over TikTok of the most current episode where Luffy is in blaring white and has a Super Saiyan vibe going on while fighting a giant blue dragon. I have no freaking clue how to process it. But if I make it through all the episodes, it’ll make perfect sense. I can’t process eternity now, but I'm also not through all the days of my adventure. If I believe what I say I believe, and trust who I say I trust, then there will come a day (probably on the other side of this life) where it all makes perfect sense to me as well.
Like how Revelation 21 describes it.
“Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. ”He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”” - Revelation 21:1-5
We can’t grasp the girth of 1,000 episodes of an anime. We also can’t grasp the girth of eternity. Even when we think we do, we have little more understanding than Luffy did of the adventure that awaited him when he popped out of that barrel. What we can do is know what our heart’s goal is and come aboard and bring along that desire as we take it one episode, one adventure, or one day at a time.
It also probably helps to put your foot on a barrel for dramatic effect every now and then.