THE BLOG

10 Things Church Can Learn From Geeks

03/11/2013 04:33 pm ET | Updated May 11, 2013
  • Mark Sandlin PC(USA) Minister & co-founder of The Christian Left and owner of TheGodArticle.com.

As the Church continues its slow and laborious downward-turned death spiral, geek culture continues to boom! After just a little thought, it's not hard to see why.

For the sake of transparency, I have a true confessions to make: This minister dabbles in geek culture. "Dabble" may be an understatement. It's more like I bathe in the geeky goodness of the culture -- much like Harry Potter's face in a pensieve. While there's plenty to denounce about geek culture (like sexism, just to name one), there's also plenty the Church can learn from it.

I won't actually go as far as to say that there was a misquote in the Bible, and it should have read, "The geek shall inherit the Earth," but maybe it's something worth looking into? In that same tongue planted firmly in cheek kind of spirit, for your consideration, I give you "10 Things Church Can Learn From Geeks."

1. Include. Don't exclude.

Community matters and the more inclusive the community is the more resourceful and broader reaching it can be. Geeks get this intrinsically. The Church? Not so much. You are sometimes more likely to hear church folk quoting Jesus saying, "I am the way," in order to exclude someone, than you are to hear them quote him saying, "Judge not," in order to include them. We should take a cue from my geek brethren on this one.

2. Other paradigms make the world better not frightening.

Just try telling a "Vampire Diaries" geek that vampires can eat human food. "Um, no they can't." Put them in conversation with a "Twilight" fan and then they are all, "Yeah, I can totally get that." Conversely, tell a Baptist that you can sprinkle water on the head for a baptism, and they'll tell you "Um, no you can't." Put them into a conversation with a Presbyterian and then they are all, "You are so wrong." Geeks get that their fandom matters more than the dogma -- even though the dogma matters. Speaking of which...

3. Dogma is for guidance not final formation.

We church folk sometimes let the dogma get in the way of the destination. It's so easy to get caught up in the rules and regulations to the point that they become the end all be all -- even when they sometimes run counter to key teachings of Jesus. Geeks don't. For them while the dogma is good and even life giving, when it is getting in the way of the bigger story or even the larger community, they have no problem getting a dogma transfusion. Time Lords never break the First Law of Time -- except when they do.

4. Be obsessive -- not obnoxious.

There's nothing wrong with geeking out over something. It's actually really, really good (and a lot of fun to boot), and in some ways church folk have been quite good at this. I mean, just ask a life-long church goer what it means to be "saved." They will go on and on and on about Jesus and the crucifixion and sin and salvation and they won't let up -- even if you ask them to stop. You know, on second thought, don't ask them about it. You see, there is a difference between obsessing over something and being obnoxious about it. No means no. Learn where the line is.

5. New is good.

It's sort of strange. God is frequently found in Scripture doing a new thing and even says it out loud, "Look, I'm about to do a new thing!" OK, we get it already! Except we don't. Frequently, Christians are found resisting change. That's not true with geeks. A new season of our favorite show? Yes! A new take on the intricacies of the space-time continuum? Excellent! New interior of the TARDIS? Well, OK, there are exceptions to every rule. So, it's mostly true with geeks. It is also part of why the culture is going to be around for some time to come. Some would argue it goes back as far as Celtic Druids. Appreciation and even excitement about all things new is part of what gives a movement the ability to adapt to change. (But seriously, Moffat, a new TARDIS interior? I guess it'll grow on me).

6. Celebrate knowledge/learning and not blindly following.

Fascination with new information and the application of that information are core values for fandoms of all sorts. Because of this, openness and transparency are highly valued. Secrecy and concealment prevent access to the desired information, and as a result cause stagnation in the movement. When a movement stagnates it's not exactly a movement anymore, is it? Following for the sake of following makes a lot of space for secrecy and concealment. Geeks have no use for it in the long term -- neither should the Church.

7. Celebrate individualism, not institutionalism.

The stereotype of ComicCon fandom is that of a bunch of nerds playing dress-up, all trying to look like the same characters. How is that individualism? Well, a real geek will tell you exactly how each person put their own unique twist on it and, being a geek, they will completely geek out about it. However, the real individualism shines through when the geeks gather in causal community. From viewing parties to the Wednesday release of new comics, you will see a magnificent variety of people not only gathering but being celebrated, particularly those who are different. You know, kind of like some of the folks Jesus hung out with.

8. Advocate for the outsider/uncool.

Geeks are sort of accustomed to being looked down on, made fun of and pushed to the edges of society. You know, a lot like Christians used to be. Because of it, geeks tend to be amazing advocates for the outsiders and the "uncool." You know, a lot like Christians used to be.

9. Focus on a person's gifts/skills, not their influence.

It's simple for geeks. How much money you have in the bank, how many friends you have and how much influence you have just don't matter. Those things aren't a positive or a negative, good or bad. They just are. What matters is you. Who you are, not what you have.

10. Be prophetic, even if you have to use metaphors.

My first recollection of geeking out about something was Star Trek. Yes, the original series. One of the things I've come to love about it was the way it pushed us into new frontiers without bashing us over the head. Story and metaphor softened the blow of moral imperatives for a more fully functioning society based on equality. The further I went into the geek culture the more of this kind prophetic behavior I noticed. I like to think I'm a better "me" because of it. Come to think of it, Jesus told a lot of parables that did the same thing. I read those too. Once again, I like to think I'm a better "me" because of it.

Sure, some of these points overlap and not all of these are perfect correlations. They're not really meant to be. And sure, in some ways we are comparing reality and make believe, but let's not pretend like some of our Church practices aren't human made constructs. Some church people will be offended. Some geeks will be offended. I imagine portions of each will totally disown and disavow me for even thinking these thoughts, but who knows, maybe there was another misquote in the Bible. Maybe it wasn't the kingdom of God that was at hand, maybe it was the fandom of God.