Pokemon and Intimacy

It was 1998. I was eleven. I liked playing foursquare and eating at Taco Bell. I haven’t let time change who I am very much, have I?

That year, my world was opened to a new found form of glory.

That day changed everything.

It had arrived.

I remember that first day. The greenish white screen flickering in my hands. I may as well been carrying a brick around. This was the original Gameboy. The precursor to the smart phone. Or maybe the precursor to the alarm clock, it wasn’t very advanced. It wasn’t the Gameboy that made history that day, rather in the back of it sat a red cartridge with a giant-dragon lizard. I had Pokemon Red.

I looked at the big dragon thing on the back, he was named Charizard.

An icon almost as well-known as his cousin Pikachu. I didn’t fully know the gravity of what lay in my hands but I was about to go on a deep journey.


If you stop reading now because a video game was mentioned. Congratulations, you are a bigot. Over 50% of people play Video games in the U.S. today, they aren’t going away, keep reading and grow up. It is 2016. I can change my gender and be labeled a national hero. We mention a Video Game and the world loses its mind. This illustration could change your life, keep reading.

Press Start to Continue.

This was the golden age of childhood. I remember the thrill and exhilaration of believing I could catch them all. I could be the very best Pokemon trainer. The Gameboy was the Instagram of 1998. We would gather in little groups on the schoolyard, exploring and searching this vast world, trying to be the strongest and the best. You could trade with friends and battle the little nubile slave creatures that you accumulated.

I would wait for the bell, my feet drumming on the stale classroom carpet, watching the clock roll closer towards freedom with a deep anxious spirit. I lived for Recess time. Before class was over I was already flicking on the little switch and god-willing if I hadn’t drained the batteries, the little light would turn on and a familiar jingle would start. Little sprites would dance back and forth. My palms would sweating as I ran toward the playground, our friends would gather, and we would enter into the world of Kanto for a brief fifteen minutes.

Literally Changed my Life...

And a strange world it was. Competitive birdwatching that ended in a wrestling match would be the most apt description. In Pokemon, you name a character, you get a free animal, and you begin to wander the land using that animal as tool. After leaving the safety of your starting town you are introduced to a strange concept. On the borders of town sit these tufts of Grass. Many different forms of this exist, it’s known as a hazardous environment. The first type you encounter is Tall Grass.

Pokemon like the tall grass.

I used to think only raptors did.

There are areas in the game that are safe, and as you walk, nothing happens. You explore, talk to strangers, eat potions. Whatever a young heart delighted. But walk into a hazardous environment, a cave, the ocean, the beach, or the dreaded tall grass, and everything changed.

As you walked back and forth, at random intervals, the music would change, a big swirl would engulf the screen, battle music chimed in and then you’d throw your poke ball. A Little animal would pop out and challenge whatever creature had the misfortune of jumping you.

Ancient Times, Circa 1998 A.D.

Modern Times, Circa 2014 A.D. Same Problems… Different Day

For lack of creativity, this is called a pokebattle.

Some animals were unique and rare, others appeared regularly and dulled after a time (Here’s looking at you Rattata). Sometimes you caught an animal so rare, the entire schoolyard would be chomping at the bit to trade with you. Some Pokemon arrived and tried to thrash you. Others easily spooked and ran off. The environments changed which Pokemon appeared, some had bizarre uncommon pokemon, other environments seemed to only carry misshapen rats and caterpillars. Sometimes you would take 3 steps. Pokebattle. 3 more steps. Pokebattle. Other times you would walk for a really long time and find nothing. As if you had drank some sort of repel potion that kept encounters from happening. You’d just have to keep walking until it happened. And it would. Keep coming back and you’d find something.

Yet one fact remained. You could not catch Pokemon unless you were in the tall grass. You needed the right environment. Whether a mountain pass or a safari zone, you needed a hazardous environment.

I find this concept profound. I think it applies heavily to intimacy.

First let’s define intimacy. Colloquially in circles today, it refers to mood lighting, saucy music, and behavior uncouth for public eye. Intimacy is actually also another word for closeness. Familiarity. It is a deepening of bonds and relationships. Intimacy can be a great conversation at a coffee shop or an evening laughing and feeling infinite. Intimacy is required of the church. It’s required of our family relationships. It’s required in life.

Maybe, just maybe, you’ve been doing intimacy all wrong.

Have you ever been jealous? Have you ever been longing for intimacy? Have you ever found a friendship falling apart? Have you ever found yourself wanting a deeper relationship with someone and not finding anything happening?

Perhaps intimacy is not produced by our own power, but something that occurs when the hinderances are removed and the environment is right.

I think intimacy is an elusive beast. Much like a Pokemon encounter, It is a strange creature coming at random intervals as we walk through life. It would be so frustrating to play Pokemon and never enter into the tall grass. Nothing would happen. You might as well be simulating a man using a FitBit.

We need the right environment. And then it allows space for encounters to occur. It is critical to understand this. The moments of deep friendship and connection are not forged through intentional manipulation. Rather the environment is set and as we are in the right environment, deepening of bonds occurs. This might take work, it might mean being intentional with what you do, but what you do won’t bring intimacy unless the environmental factors are right.

Intimacy can’t be forced. It can’t be coerced. In fact trying to force intimacy is one of the darkest and most appalling behaviors imaginable. It is repulsive. Forcing intimacy repels us. Is it any wonder why God doesn’t want a forced relationship?

This isn’t so farfetched from how God works. Worship in the bible doesn’t seem to be an event that summons the Lord. We don’t just pop on music and say some magic words and encounter a Yahwehmon. If you recall, Saul attempted to summon Him by disobeying and was rebuked. Rather… Intimacy is something that occurs when the environment is right and the pieces are in order. Think about the closest you have ever been with God. Either the environment was special, music, lights, the Word, and intentional. Or you had every defense broken down and beaten until God got through.

God was near you in the storm. Or you had found Him in the silence.

Things that kill intimacy abound. Emotional blocks and walls, such as not sharing deeply and being ashamed or afraid to feel. False expectations, such as the classic example of a spouse coming home after forgetting an anniversary and the other spouse wound up with anticipation only to be crushed and moody the entire evening because an expectation was not met.

When we get jealous, we say, “I will make intimacy occur!” We pry, we ask questions that are awkward, we try to break down the other persons walls or become needed and wanted. We even chase other people trying to cultivate jealousy in them. Have you ever felt that way? I know I’ve felt as if no one included me and so in my arrogance tried to find a new group of people and heartily laugh while enjoying myself like some especially needy idea from a Sitcom. Then when intimacy doesn’t occur we get angry and upset.

When we are lonely, we sabotage intimacy, sometimes feeling unworthy of any attention. It is as if we are afraid of having value, because it creates a basic expectation that we are worth something and suddenly we have farther to fall.

Intimacy can have so many blocks to it.

If you are in the wrong place and the wrong time with a terrible environment. Intimacy may NEVER occur, no matter how much you try.

I remember a long time ago meeting with a group of men to talk about spiritual things. Talk would always be banal at best. I’d love to equate it to meaningless love for sports but we honestly didn’t care about sports, it was probably talking about Pokemon and the Simpsons. Every week, someone would speak of an unspoken prayer request. We would shift our feet.

“What can we pray for?”

“Uh, my uncle’s best friends Aunt’s cat has cancer.”

Prayer was far removed from our personal life. We prayed to make the world better while living in ivory towers. Everyone had that one guy too, with the real tragic back story, so we would pray for him, “Joseph lost his job.”

“Ok let’s pray he gets a new job!”

Then one day, someone made the bold move…

“I honestly. I struggle with Masturbation.”

It was tense. The tower of silence had been invaded. Someone had breached the intimacy wall. We were all in the tall grass and found a rare and elusive Pokemon had just jumped us. The knee-jerk response among a few lingered on the face. Silently they said “Eww gross, this is too much.” But a spirit of humility began to spread among the group.

Several of us began to talk of our own struggles. Our own demons and issues. Our lies and our dishonesty, our selfishness and pride, our lusts and our failures. All of a sudden, the walls seemed less like they protected us and more as if they had trapped us.

The entire environment shifted because one person decided that being fake wasn’t worth the self-inflicted scars.

We championed him. We spoke of how real he was. It is kind of ridiculous looking back. Failure was honestly admitted out loud and sainthood was granted. Why?

It is here some people confuse thrusting our filth upon people as realness. That can be equally invasive towards intimacy. Rather, it is when we finally start to remove all those blocks and hinderances. When we feel safe in our environment. When it is no longer absolutely terrifying to admit failure. When watching a movie and admitting we like it is fun regardless of whether or not it’s cool to like Twilight or whatever object of hate is the scorn of society at the time.

We are desperate for honesty, We are desperate for relationships that are deeper. I cannot fathom how we got here and in someways that doesn’t matter. How we get back to a place of raw and authentic deepening of bonds is what matters. And something amazing happened when that environment shifted. We began to have real encounters. Our souls deepened. Our conversations became authentic.

Maybe church feels stale to you. Have you been going to every possible event, desperate for encounters? If you aren’t throwing yourself into different groups and inviting people into your life, intimacy will never occur. You need to be in the tall grass.

In the tall grass and not one thing has appeared? Does it feel like a bust? Has your environment felt stale? That environment needs to change, that ivory tower needs to fall. Maybe that group at church will NEVER produce a moment of intimacy. It’s too burdened by the Jericho of emotional blocks. Don’t leave the group. Don’t disband.

Bring it up.

Let everyone know that the group is shallow. Step on some toes. Notify everyone that talking about the weather can only go so far and life has to be deeper then this. Talking about theology is impractical if we can’t talk about our personal lives. Stop praying for things seven steps removed from you and ask for help to stop being selfish, to stop being afraid. Make life personal. Meet one of them for coffee. Share a struggle. Bring honesty to the table before someone is so desperate they have to awkwardly shout a struggle out loud. Listen to music as a group. Watch a sad movie. Do anything to feel instead of engage in a stale and limp manner. Make the journey to the tall grass. Break up the fallowed ground and you’ll be amazed at what can grow.

Mind you, being honest, sharing the heart, asking for help. These don’t guarantee intimacy.

Rather, they destroy the very things that guarantee a lack of intimacy. At some point you find yourself with a great environment, and you just need to keep engaging, moving, walking, living amongst it. Eventually as walls are removed and the environment is cultivated, rare and deeper encounters happen.

Maybe you’ve been waiting for God to appear. Yet been too ashamed of your lack of time in the bible. Maybe you’ve felt so much white noise you can’t hear Jesus. Pump up the tunes, listen to worship music, write your own worship music, write God a letter. You can’t summon God. But you can stop pushing Him away. You can stop making an environment where if He appeared, you’d never know, because the light was covered by sin and shallow worship. We are a people of waiting.

The Israelites would live and observe laws daily in order to be ready for the appearance of God. Jesus promised He is coming back but He asks us to wait. The Disciples, after Jesus left, went and worshipped in a little house everyday. The goal? See what God is going to do. Let Him make the first move. We are a people of waiting, rehearsing the passover for thousands of years. We need to wait faithfully though by walking as God has commanded.

So go. Make a change. Knock down those ivory towers of impersonal protection. Fight to get deeper with friends, in small groups, in the home. If you don’t act first. No one will act for you. So do it.

Even if it’s in a hazardous environment where stark emotional encounters can occur. Even if it is a little terrifying what things we will encounter, what rare moments of deeper connection will happen. Even if the environment is dangerous to your noble and stable identity. Even if it’s in the Tall Grass.

Our God Alone – The Brilliance


Special Thanks to Gian Carlo Photography for the beautiful image header.


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