Wednesday, July 31, 2013

2.1 billion brothers and sisters all at once... what would YOU do?

When I saw Brothers Conflict (which has the rather appropriate shorthand title BroCon), the show about a girl who suddenly finds herself with twelve stepbrothers, among the list of Summer 2013 shows, I knew I had to watch it. Even if it turned out to be incredibly stupid (which it certainly did), I knew I’d still enjoy it in its own way. After all, the show was essentially a gender-flipped version of a show that, despite not being particularly well-received among the anime fandom, remains a personal favorite of mine. That anime, in which a hapless young man finds out he has no fewer than twelve younger sisters, is none other than Sister Princess.
The series that started the imouto craze.
(Note that for this post, I will be referring entirely to the first anime series, not the original light novel-esque serialization, any of the video games, or the second "RePure" anime series.
Sister Princess was one of the first anime I watched, around the time I really started to become an anime fan; it was also the first anime DVD I ever bought, mainly because the premise seemed so off-the-wall to me that I had to see just how it’d play out. After a rough start, I ended up enjoying it a lot; the show did flirt with the “forbidden line” but never did cross it, and overall it’s still very much a show about family, and is the show that is responsible for my love of shows about family. (It, along with some other shows, is also responsible for my love of slow-paced slice-of-life shows.)
One thing that is different between this show and BroCon is that in Sister Princess, we never do learn exactly what relation the sisters are to the male lead Wataru. They’re probably not all full sisters, but we don’t know which of them are (if any), which are half-sisters, and which are adopted or step-sisters.
Or, really, if they have any legal sibling relationship to him at all.
That last possibility was one that I had thought of when doing some “wild mass guessing” on this show, which does have a small mystery element to it. That is, what if none of these girls are actually his sisters in blood, adoption, or marriage by parents, but just unrelated girls that have put it on their hearts to view and treat this guy as a brother? (This is, for the record, excluding the thirteenth “sister”, who is established as having no relation to him, that ends up as part of the sisterhood as well.)
It’s a wild theory, but it’s a theory I have for a particular reason: it is most like what happens when one becomes a Christian. Becoming a Christian—which means being adopted as one of God’s children—means gaining approximately 2.1 billion brothers and sisters from all around the world (according to the CIA World Factbook), since all fellow Christians then become our brothers and sisters in Christ. That said, there’s a much smaller subset of these siblings with whom any given Christian will likely be more familiar with than others. Still, looking at it from this perspective, suddenly finding oneself with a baker’s dozen of brothers or sisters actually does sound just a bit familiar, and while these brothers and sisters likely won’t be as affectionate as the ones in anime are, they could be very friendly simply because you are their brother or sister in Christ.
Moreover, the official tagline from ADV Films, “Twelve sisters all at once... what would YOU do?” is no longer just a weird line of advertising; it becomes a reality.

Adopted, Part 3: Adopted From Solitude, Into Family
For Wataru, gaining all these little sisters is a major life-changer. Before that fateful day, he spent his life among a group of “friends” whose only goal was to achieve the highest possible academics so that they could “change the world together”. It is a very works-driven life… and one that is very lonely. Wataru has no family aside from his butler, Jeeves, and his “friends” only care about him to the extent that they are all achieving together. This solitary, works-based world of his comes crashing down on him when he fails his high school entrance exam (due to his test answers getting shifted out of place). Thankfully, alternate arrangements seem to have been made, and before he knows it, he is sent off to an island to live and attend school there—and it is there that he meets his sisters.
Going along with my “adopted” theme that I first covered in a series of guest posts on Beneath the Tangles, Wataru can be considered to be “adopted from” his very solitary life and “adopted into” a life where he has a multitude of sisters living with him. Perhaps the most interesting part of Sister Princess is watching just how he changes as a result of this “adoption”.
At first, Wataru is very resistant to his new life. Wanting to go back to the life he was familiar with, he seeks a way to get off the island. After finding that to be impossible, and after hearing from one of his sisters about her loneliness and how much she was looking forward to finally having a family, he starts to somewhat grudgingly try to live life with his sisters, planning out a schedule to spend time with them and trying to learn more about them. As time goes on, he starts to genuinely care for them, and starts wanting to find a way to show how much he cares about them. All of this comes to a point where he is offered a chance to go back to the life he had before meeting his sisters… a life which, despite some early confusion, he knows he cannot go back to.
Being adopted into family is life-changing for Wataru, and it results in him growing up and learning what it truly means to “succeed”. A lot of this is thanks to his sisters, who reached out to him first and loved him not for anything he did, but simply because he was their brother—the very picture of gracious love. That said, Wataru’s growth comes about not only because he had family who loved him, but also because he responded to that love. He could have remained in his solitary lifestyle, but he chose not to, and to instead make an effort to be a brother to his newfound sisters.
The current Western culture makes a big deal out of individualism and “making it on my own”. We value being able to do what we want to do and not letting other people dictate our lives for us. While this isn’t all bad—there is worth in having boundaries for ourselves—it unfortunately can lead to a problem for Christians where we think we can carry out God’s work without being in fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Compounding this problem is a particular false teaching that twists the notion that God provides for all our needs and is our ultimate source of relational satisfaction into the belief that God is our only need and the only place we should be looking for relational satisfaction. The false teachers that propagate this belief criticize those who seek fellowship with others as being “humanistic”, saying they just need to depend on the Lord.
The Bible is full of passages that refute this false teaching. Biblical support for fellowship between humans goes as far back as Genesis 2, where God said it was not good for man to be alone (the only time in the Creation account that God considers anything “not good”). A particularly direct rebuke of “individualistic” Christianity can be found in the book of Hebrews:
“Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24-25, ESV, emphasis mine)
And if you want a particularly scathing rebuke, John has the perfect words:
“If anyone says ‘I love God’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” (1 John 4:20, ESV)
If anyone might think that being adopted as a child of God just means being in a family with himself and God, Sister Princess could serve as a reminder that we have siblings that we are to share life with. (Granted, the show is lacking in one particular aspect in this way: being adopted into God’s family means we gain siblings of the same gender as well as of the opposite gender…) It’s not an easy new life to be adopted into; it means we have to take time to spend with our siblings, make an effort to get to know them, and make other personal sacrifices to show our love for them. 
However, the rewards of true fellowship are well more than worth the effort. Wataru himself gains a new sense of fulfillment and purpose in life. Moreover, one of his friends takes notice of the change in him, and he also abandons his old life to seek out what Wataru has found.
Likewise, when we live our lives loving our fellow Christians as brothers and sisters, we have a community providing plenty of gracious love through which we can grow. We have a place to find encouragement when things get tough. Through our bonds with other people, our achievements gain new meaning as we work not just for ourselves, but to touch the lives of others.
Not only that, but the outside world will take notice of the difference in our lives, and perhaps someone will come looking for the life we have. Living a life of fellowship is one major way we can be witnesses of Christ to the world. It's as Jesus himself said in John 13:35: "By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (ESV)
Siblings Related By (the) Blood (of Jesus Christ)
Even if we understand the value of fellowship, we can shortchange ourselves out of true fellowship by not truly seeing fellow Christians as brothers and sisters. This isn’t to say that the relationship we have with another Christian should be exactly the same as that between legal siblings, or that we have to have the same level of attachment for all Christians, or that we shouldn’t care more for our actual, legal brothers and sisters than for those outside our legal families. However, to truly show the love of Christ is something radical—at the very least, as radical as looking at a complete stranger and seeing her as your sister.
The plot of Sister Princess works out the way it does because Wataru views the other girls as his sisters, without questioning (at least outwardly) whether they actually are related to him or not. Had the show discarded the whole “sister” thing, it’d be… well, another harem show. By establishing a more familial relationship, though, Wataru takes on a bolder, more active role towards showing love—a role that would have been hampered had he only saw the girls as strangers.
How would things change for us if we truly saw our fellow Christians as brothers or sisters in Christ?
Would we be willing to love our sister not for what she's done or for what she could do for our church, but simply because she is our sister? Would we not be so quick to withhold love from her when she sins (or when we think she is sinning)? By that same token, if our sister is clearly engaged in something sinful, would we not neglect addressing it out of love?
Would we be willing to go beyond casual conversation to share the deepest, darkest parts of ourselves if it was a brother we were sharing it with? And if a brother were to share that with us, would we listen to him more seriously? (Here I would recommend discretion, in that we don’t go quite as deep with siblings of the opposite gender as we would go with those of the same gender, with the exception of a spouse.)
Regarding our little sister—in other words, a believer that is newer to the faith—would we be willing to walk with her as she learns about Christianity, teaching her the ways of God out of our experience, and being an older sibling as we help raise her into all that God has called them to be? Regarding our big brother—that is, someone who is more experienced in the faith—would we be willing to learn from his experience and let him walk with us so we can grow under their mentorship? (Again, discretion is good here; any particularly close, direct mentorship relationship not between actual family members is best done between two people of the same gender.)
And would we be willing to treat our sister of the opposite gender, as Paul instructs to Timothy, with absolute purity? I mean, one of the weird things about being in God’s family is that marrying a brother or sister in Christ isn’t just allowed; it’s highly recommended! Even so, given that starting a romantic relationship with a sister in Christ does not mean they stop being a sister in Christ, would we approach any possible romance with her, and the issues that come with it, particularly sexuality, with more respect and reverence?
I posed these questions with a singular brother or sister, using only one gender, because I think it would be a good exercise to imagine an actual person for each case. The genders can be changed to fit the situation (the second and third cases work best with someone of the same gender, while the last one obviously requires someone of the opposite gender). The important thing to keep in mind is that the Christian’s love for his brothers and sisters in Christ is not just some nebulous love directed at the Church in general, but is also a very individual, personal love. It is not a love that is dependent on personal achievements. It is a love that comes about through our shared love for our shared Father. It is a love that comes about through shared blood: the blood that Jesus Christ shed on the Cross to cover our sins.
And it is a love that can change our lives, and from there change the world.
All because when we chose to follow God, we suddenly found ourselves with twelve brothers and sisters, and then some.

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