A few weeks ago, my community group went on a retreat and as we sat down to lunch that first day, I looked around the table and noticed the variety of t-shirts; the Fantastic Four, Orwell’s 1984, Star Wars and my own Sherlock. I could have just as easily grabbed a Doctor Who shirt (either one of them) or my favourite To Kill A Mockingbird one, (“Atticus Finch is my co-pilot”) that day.
Over the course of that meal (and the many others that weekend, my community group might be a little geeky), our conversations ran over the well-travelled paths of fandom, some Marvel mutterings here, a little John Green there. Throw in some quotes from The Princess Bride, Monty Python and the Search for the Holy Grail and far too much Taylor Swift, and you can quickly set out some pretty serious social demarcation lines. While getting to know people, conversation can often look like the building of a pretty complex Venn Diagram, everyone working out which of our circles of interest overlap.
These fandoms, or collective communities which enthuse together about a particular topic, draw us into to a wondrously intricate and complex world. And we’re often far more ready to enthuse about these interests than we are about our far more foundational beliefs. Why can it be easier to participate in fandom than the Kingdom; what’s going on here?
1. Fandoms allow us find a place of belonging
I think it might be safe to say that I am a bit of a geek, and this geekiness falls along very specific lines. My house and my classroom are brimming with objects that proclaim, “This is what I love! This is where I belong.” I remember a couple of years ago a student walked into my classroom at the beginning of the year, looked around at the Lord of the Rings figurines on the windowsill, the Doctor Who poster on the wall, and the Shakespeare bobblehead on my desk and commented, “we’re going to get along just fine.”
We love that feeling of connection when we encounter someone who checks out our apparel, our decorations, our Netflix queue or even the book we choose to read in public. There is that moment of recognition.
You, too? Me too.
These easy shortcuts for belonging can be far more difficult in the church. While there was a time in the early 90’s that I had at least one cheesy Christian t-shirt, I would venture to say that liberal applications of the Jesus Fish either on a T-shirt or a bumper sticker, are not the most meaningful way of displaying one’s allegiances. The question, however, is a good one. How is that we shout to the world, “This is who we love! See my love and know to whom I belong!” And even more difficult, how do we do this in a way which draws people in, rather than alienating them?
As Christians, we should revel in the chance to talk about story. We’re story people! It’s in our DNA as believers.
2. Fandoms tell stories that speak to us
It is no coincidence that story is at the heart of most fandoms; the child with a destiny, or the misfit who saves society, the community on a journey to a new world. The narratives inherent in most fandoms tackle some big issues. What does it mean to be a just person? What is the role of mercy? What is the purpose in our life and in our suffering? Often, it is story that allows our knowledge to move from our head to heart. It’s how many of us talk about things that are just too important and enormous to discuss within the happenings of our own day-to-day life.
As Christians, we should revel in the chance to talk about story. We’re story people! It’s in our DNA as believers. God’s love and plan is communicated through the grand narrative of Scripture and Jesus himself told great stories. We are called to sit down and tell each other these same stories over and over again. Remember when you were slaves in Egypt; remember the night He was betrayed. We’re meant to inhabit these stories, have them shape our thoughts, our conversation and our habits.
Hopefully, as we learn to live more wholly in God’s story, we will be able to enter into other stories, to see points of truth worth celebrating and pursuing, discussing and enjoying. When we take people’s treasured narratives seriously, whether it is Harry Potter or Battlestar Galactica, we can enter into a dialogue about values with a shared passion and language. We can begin to talk about what matters to us, the longings of our hearts and the ideas that shape how we see the world.
3. Fandoms allow us to be unabashedly enthusiastic (aka “Geek out”)
I’m not sure about you, but I often catch myself being über-enthusiastic about things that I enjoy. You know that moment, when you’re mid-expansive gesture and you suddenly see your friend’s expression. It’s amusement mixed with (mostly) affectionate longsuffering and some confusion. It can be a little embarrassing, but I like what John Green has to say about nerdiness: “Nerds like us are allowed to be unironically enthusiastic about stuff. We … are allowed to love stuff, like jump-up-and-down-in-the-chair-can’t-control-yourself-love it.” This is one of the best things about fandoms. It’s a get out of jail card for irony-and-ennui-free excitement.
My enthusiasms have some strange limits and I have to question why it is that I can gush unreservedly about the awesomeness of the Whedonverse, while being far more reserved and far more circumspect about the saviour of my soul. It is an exponentially more important conversation and it is the nature of the gospel to be offensive. What should remain consistent, however, is the level of my enthusiasm and my desire for others to experience the joy that I do. And I’m not really sure that this comes across in my conversations about faith. The challenge is to be exponentially more enthusiastic about the epic nature of God’s work in my life and in the lives our congregation.
In making these comparisons, I’m not saying that our enthusiasm for the cultural communities that we are a part of is a negative thing. On the contrary, people who are in relationship with the God who loves creation and story should be right in the mix, telling tales and making stuff.
So as we draw the circles of our participation in the fandoms we enjoy and the Kingdom we serve, we have to ask ourselves which of the circles we inhabit more fully? Which do we enjoy more extravagantly and discuss with more joyful enthusiasm? In the complex Venn diagram of our lives, the challenge is to live wholly in the space that overlaps.