Kingdom Hearts III and the Body of Christ
The role-playing video game Kingdom Hearts III is set in a universe populated by planets that each represent a Disney franchise. As such, it’s filled with many beloved Disney characters. You play as Sora, a young boy whose island gets invaded by a malevolent darkness. Sora and his friends, Donald Duck and Goofy, join the Guardians of Light under King Mickey and attempt to stop the various villains who would cover the world in endless darkness. The central theme is this: it takes a wide and varied community to uphold the light. If you try to do it alone, you will fail.
As Kingdom Hearts III begins, Sora is weak and has lost much of his power. It quickly becomes clear that this is because Sora’s connection to his friends has waned. He needs to reconnect to others and rebuild the community of his heart, a reality that is exemplified in the gameplay.
Armed with a keyblade and magic skills, you are a formidable force, but the waves of enemies that come at you right from the beginning will quickly overwhelm you if you don’t rely on your friends. The thing that sets Kingdom Hearts III apart is your ability to perform combinations with your various friends, which are significantly more powerful than anything you can do yourself. And the more friends you have, the more powerful and useful these combinations are. At the beginning of the game you have a few things you can do with the help of Donald and Goofy. But each planet has heroes that add their power to yours in surprising new ways. Hercules throws you to new heights or through enemies; Captain Jack Sparrow helps you create a whirlwind of sword-strikes; the monsters of Monstropolis use their roars to line enemies up and bowl them down by tossing Mike Wazowski.
What’s more, “boss battles” take this mechanic to the extreme with terrain you cannot navigate or attacks that are unavoidable without the help of your friends. There are some battles you cannot survive if you don’t rely on the cornucopia of strange and wonderful characters from the extended Disney family.
It takes a wide and varied community to uphold the light.
As I unlocked new worlds and learned more about Sora’s connection to others and their connection to the larger community, I couldn’t help but think about 1 Corinthians 12. Here, Paul talks about followers of Christ all being in one Spirit and each of us being a part of one body, even though those parts are different. Usually when I think about that passage it reminds me that I do have a place in the body even if I don’t look like others, and that others belong to the same body as I do even when they do not look like me. But as I thought about Sora needing some dramatically different people in order to face the darkness with any possibility of success, I realized that I need those other parts of the body of Christ to combat the great darknesses of our world.
I imagine the suffocating darkness that seeks to cover the world of Kingdom Hearts III has its equivalent in poverty, slavery, racism, and other huge systems of oppression and violence here on Earth. And like Sora, when one person stand up to these things alone, they are quickly overcome by the hopelessness of that darkness and lose heart. But there is a body of people—strange, wonderful, dramatically unlike me people—who could stand together if we are willing to open our hearts to each other. From the little house churches to the massive Roman Catholic church, from Baptists to Methodists to Reformed folks and Pentecostals, all who submit to the head that is Christ might together have the power to stand against these overwhelming forces and bring light. Our worlds might be as different as Frozen is from Toy Story, yet our unity in the Light of lights is exactly what Paul was proclaiming.
In the last moments of the battle against the darkness in Kingdom Hearts III, Sora fails to see that he has to rely on others to beat the darkness and runs into danger alone, almost losing his heart forever. You end up in the afterlife and have to gather bits of your body again because you have lost your form. Your heart, however, has been preserved because of its connection to those who care about you. Their connection and commitment to community provides a way for Sora to reunite with his friends. Because they work together, in extremely different capacities, they are able to succeed, and the light overcomes the darkness.
If the great catholic Church around the world is able to come to that realization as well, we too can face the darkness. Not by becoming identical, but by embracing the complex body made up of dramatically different worlds and personalities, yet ultimately united in Christ.