I Once Tried to Buy This Picture
It’s gorgeous. I wanted it printed on canvas, as large as I could get it, in order to enshrine it on the main wall of our family room.
It’s from Bioshock: Infinite (minor spoiler incoming.) Aside from not making complete sense at the end, it’s a darned good game. It’s about a man named Booker who has lost his memory, but is nonetheless being hunted as an infamous traitor throughout a civilization built in the clouds. In his attempts to escape, he haphazardly winds up protecting a young woman, who is herself mysteriously wrapped up in the schemes of the civilization’s cultish, wicked founder. Unbeknownst to either of them, she is Booker’s own daughter, whom he long ago lost through an accident of time, and whom he can now only save by offering up the ultimate sacrifice: his own life.
There is quite a bit more. Like I said, the final twist doesn’t quite cut it for my taste. But the experience of first-person-shooting your way through a steam-punked Americana city built in the sky, all stylized with graphics at the pinnacle of their gaming era, makes for quite a ride. I’m a fantasy/sci-fi geek at heart (as I soon hope to share with you in a much more substantial way,) and steampunk manages to capture both styles in one lovely mix.
But there is more than just steampunk FPSing here. The reason I wanted to put this image on my wall is because it represents the entirety of every human experience, so such so that I desperately wanted to never forget about its message.
It Turned Out, Copyright
I won’t lie: I can’t stand American copyright law. I understand its placein the paper-only world. I’m an author after all. I like to be paid for my work. But the digital era has radically altered the ways this happens. Far from diminishing the possibilities, it has radically expanded them. Yet many corporations, built on the old model, are struggling to understand this and embrace the new model.
As a result, the reason I couldn’t buy any version of the picture at all was that it had already been printed, once, in a limited run edition, sold to in-the-know prospectors: only 200 or so copies, each originally a few hundred bucks. Too late to the party, the only way to get one now would be to magically find one (google was no help,) and then fork over a successful margin of profit to the owner (note: at no profit whatsoever to the original publisher.) All of this while I would have gladly forked over $50, $100, or that much again simply for digital rights to take the data and pay another on-demand company even more to print a copy onto canvas.
But in the scenario of the old model, the only one who really benefits isthe speculator. Not the publisher, who sold out cheap. Not the on-demand printing company, who never knew I existed. And, not me, the fan who is now slightly embittered toward the company I would rather love. Meanwhile, there sits a small pile of gold right under old-copyright thinking’s nose.
(For more positive example, have you noticed how Marvel Comics have figured it out and licensed their endless horde of old comic book covers and characters to, well, everybody? That’s a company who gets it: free mass marketing undertaken by your users, who themselves pay you for the privilege to show off your mass-licensed profits to even more would-be fans. That is a very long tail.)
But poor little me had to settle for a desktop screenshot, onto which I then took the pirating liberty of pasting two crimson words that bring us back to the main point.
That was it. Those were the words I photoshopped on the picture, right into the gorgeous skyline beside plummeting Booker and Elizabeth.
Interestingly enough, after I posted it to my facebook profile, excited to share my joy in it, I ran into another hurdle: a WEtv fan took small issue with my words and challenged me on their theological merit.
“Conquer today? How is that the Gospel? Isn’t Conquer Today all about you?”
Why, yes. Sometimes. But mostly, no.
The real reason the picture strikes me so deeply is because it is part of the best story ever, and I don’t mean the story of Booker Dewitt and his daughter. I’m talking about the eternal, all-thematic story underlying the rest of our favorite stories, the one about the man who sacrifices everything to save the one he loves. It’s the story of David and Goliath. The story of Sydney and Lucie. The story of Clark and Lois. All of them are inspirational because they are the reality of Jesus of Nazareth.
Every story. Every book. Every game. Every movie. Jesus is shining behind it all in the glimmer of our love for the idea of a hero. Change it as much as you like. Make it a lesbian cat-person saving a cyborg dog. It won’t matter. As long as the heroic deed is done, it remains the long tail of a shadow cast by Jesus. It’s still the story of a savior saving the one who needs to be saved.
Without that story behind all other stories, there simply aren’t any stories worth telling. Redemption. Sacrifice. True love. The King returning to deliver his people. These are all the real story, the Second Adam saving his Eve.
But Jesus’ Conquering Doesn’t Stop There
The saving work of Jesus doesn’t just save you and leave you alone. He saves you and binds you to himself. He makes you one with him. Part of him. Sooner or later, that means you will become an edge of his reflection. Being saved, you can’t help yourself. You will also want to save. You will want to help. You will want to be a true hero, someone willing to do the right thing, even if it means sacrificing yourself.
This is what the Augsburg Confession calls the New Obedience. It is what happens when faith boils over in eternal aliveness. Even in the shadows of this veil of tears, where we are each so consistently compelled by our selfishnesses, Christianity expresses itself in you by compelling you through his love for you to also want to love others, instead of just yourself.
So, in one sense, it’s ok to want to be the man in the picture. It doesn’t have to be only about you. It can actually be about the one your reaching out to save from their own embattled life of suffering.
But Conquer Today is Deeper Still
Marvelous as this intersection of faith and love are, this battle to love others still takes place here on fallen earth, where the good that you want to do is not always what you actually do. Too often, you find yourself feeling more like a plant struggling to breath among the weeds than a ripe stalk of wheat planted in good soil. Or, you feel like the man who dives off a floating city to catch a falling woman, who then catches her…and then… now what?
But that is the wonderful paradox of Conquer Today. Conquering today for the Christian is finally about believing that as often as you might get to be the man in the picture, you never stop being the girl. This is the marvelous freedom of being entirely helpless, the omnipotent faith of knowing you are a lost child, falling out of time and space to your doom, but a child with a Father who (even when you don’t recognize him!) is skydiving in a death-defying spin, relentlessly committed to stopping your plunge at any cost.
To truly Conquer Today is not to stop yourself from this fall. It is to believe that the fall will soon be over, and it will end with you being saved after all. As deep and dark as the weeds might feel, there is a dawn coming at which all the things which now inhibit you from loving your neighbor as yourself will be gathered into bundles to be burned. But on that day you will find yourself grasped by the hand of the man who, more than willing to cast aside his life in order to catch you, also has a plan for what to do once he does.
With that firmly in mind, Conquering Today, while on the one hand is ever the epic battle we face moment by moment in this life of vocation mixed with sin, it is also the faith alone freedom falling through it all gladly, eyes firmly fixed on the man who is chasing recklessly, hands outstretched to save you.
Jonathan Fisk is Creative Director at Worldview Everlasting. He is a Lutheran pastor and on-air personality at KFUO, and Producer at RevFisk Raw. You can follow him on Twitter @RevFisk. (This post was re-published by permission of Rev Fisk, from his e-newsletter, which you can subscribe to here.)