Faith lessons from Comic Con
Faith lessons from Comic Con

Comic Con photo by jerekeys via Flickr

If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, you probably heard a lot about what I was up to this past weekend. That is, unless you blocked me due to fatigue from hearing about ultra-rare comic books, mysterious hooded figures, and podcast after podcast after podcast. If so, you’re probably safe to un-mute me—for the time being.

Yes, it was a nerd-tastic weekend. I hopped on a coach bus from DC to New York, met with some communicators at the Episcopal Church Center (this trip: business and pleasure), stayed two short nights in a cousin’s college dorm room in Brooklyn, and attended my first New York Comic Con (and assorted convention-related activities).

In the process, I picked up a few lessons about faith, lessons my exuberant co-conventioneers helped me see. And because this is Key Resources, I’ve added some faith formation recommendations to match.

My takeaways aren’t exactly rocket science, but they’re good reminders from another world that knows a little something about fellowship and devotion.

Passion is contagious

Night Vale cosplayers

Image: Cosplayers celebrating Welcome to Night Vale, the most popular podcast on iTunes.

Even if comics aren’t your thing, I bet you’d have a pretty hard time not finding something to smile about at an event like this. Cosplay is one such source of delight. Although not a majority, a substantial proportion of those in attendance come in costume. Some of them are laughably simple, others incredibly elaborate.

But you cannot question the love and dedication that go into the best of them. On more than one occasion, I thought, “I must be missing something about X, if this person is willing to go to these pains to dress like them.” Here X variously equaled a giant cardboard Transformer, something called a Baroque Harpy, and, yes, assorted X-Men and -Women.

In Episcopal Churches, we have our own kinds of cosplay. But do they, and our other expressions of passion and dedication, come across to those who visit our churches? If not, we’re missing opportunities for witness to the transforming power of the Spirit.

Quiet dignity in worship or programs is certainly no vice, but neither is a little holy exuberance. Those who join us in church will notice if it looks like we actually want to be there.

In other words, we do well to remember that “faith is caught more than it is taught.”

If you’re looking to have some fun gathering members and newcomers, young and old, consider a celebration of a secular or sacred holiday. Growing Together is a fantastic series of inter-generational event planning materials for congregations. And if you want to get in on the costumed fun, check out the All Hallow’s Eve lesson in Volume 3. This resource is available for review in our Key Hall Resource Center.

Immersion experiences are transformative

Comic Con is a feast for the senses, albeit a sometimes over-rich one. It seems to me that part of why conventions are so important to the business of comics-related entertainment is that they give fans an opportunity to be immersed. I consider it a good day when I get to engage my comics-reading hobby for 20–30 minutes before bed. What a luxury it was, then, to get to spend a whole day geeking out.

Faith traditions understand the power of immersion. It’s part of what gives Holy Week its particular forcefulness, and why we need camping ministries, Vacation Bible School, spiritual retreats, and Bible challenges. We live lives of faith, not Sunday mornings of faith. Just ask Scott Gunn.

If spiritual nourishment comes mostly in small portions in your congregation, be sure to host a banquet every now and then.

Advent retreats or quiet days are a great way to immerse members of your congregation in the life of prayer. For quiet days in particular, simpler is better. The Retreat Association and the Contemplative Society have both produced simple one-page guides to planning quiet days. If you’re looking for a retreat center in your area, start with the interactive map produced by Episcopal Camps and Conference Centers.

We all long for connection

I spent much of my day on the convention floor (i.e., where you buy and try stuff), because I’d heard that the lines for creator panels, artist sketches, and autographs were interminable. I heard right.

When I did poke my head downstairs into that particular parallel universe, I was at first puzzled at why people were willing to spend so much time in lines when there was more instant gratification available upstairs. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that this was where community and connection were to be found.

If you’re waiting in line for a panel discussion or writer autograph, then you’re with people who share your passion for the very particular show or book in question. And you (eventually) get to see, in person, the people behind this thing you love.

So it was, in the end, encouraging to see so many people opt-out of the big-media consumerism fest for the chance to have a great conversation with a like-minded fan.

Real community with people who share our joys and struggles—it’s one of the most precious gifts we offer to each person who comes through our doors. Quite aside from whether our gadgets or other patterns of life are isolating us from it, it’s a gift we’ve always needed and always will.

And time spent together in the flesh will always be the most precious. (Just ask St. Paul, who nurtured communities from a distance but always longed for another chance to visit.) I’ll try to remember than next time my Sunday morning gets too full of the business of church.

Want to bring greater intentionality to your ministries of invitation, welcome, and connection? Open Doors from LeaderResources can help your congregation “build relationships, invite, engage and follow up with those who come to visit.” This program is available for free download, and you can read our review of it here.

Gratitude is always appropriate

Kyle and Marc Evan Jackson

Image: Me and the incredibly gracious Marc Evan Jackson, aka Sparks Nevada, Marshall on Mars.

In those moments when I did meet some of my heroes, I was at first puzzled about what to say. I was sure I didn’t have any particularly original insights into their creations, and I was keen not to veer too far over the edge that separates fan from fanatic (this was, I admit, perhaps a lost cause).

Again and again, the answer came to me in the moment: thank you. “Thanks for doing what you do.” “Thanks for being here.” “Thanks for all the joy you all bring into my life.” Sometimes a thank you led to some fascinating conversations. Sometimes it stood for itself. But it was always reciprocated, and I think honestly.

I am convinced that there is no better way for us to step into God’s economy of grace than to practice gratitude. We do it every time we break bread together, but that is the beginning, not the end.

When we are lost for a word to speak to God or to our neighbor, thanks is the best choice: at all times, in all places, in all things.

Gratitude practice is just one of twenty spiritual practices described in book chapters and podcast episodes by Renée Miller in Strength for the Journey: A Guide to Spiritual Practice. This multimedia resource caught our eye recently, and we reviewed it here.

So thanks for the memories, New York Comic Con. And the reminders of what it’s like to be a disciple.

Kyle Matthew Oliver (@kmoliver) is the digital missioner and learning lab coordinator in the Center for the Ministry of Teaching. And a turbo-nerd.

Banner image by jerekeys (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr.

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