This past weekend, I chanted Akathist with a science officer from Starfleet. She was mixing her voice with the lovely baritone of Dr. Who. Near the famous time-traveling doctor was a Greek Orthodox priest in a cassock, and to his left, Wonder Woman was caught up in the ancient hymn with her bracelets of submission resting comfortably at her side. After a whiplash-inducing news cycle of racism and political scandal, morning prayer with a Time Lord, an Amazonian princess and a member of Starfleet seemed like the most normal thing I had experienced in a while.
Doxacon Prime’s planners bill the event as “The Geek Orthodox Convention.” Groan-worthy, yes, but even so, unless you have completely extinguished your inner child, it should bring a smile to your face. I told my friends that as far as I could tell, I was going to a Christian Comic Con, and I had no idea what to expect, but if God were truly good, there would at least be some cosplay. The chanted Akathist prayer, a tradition in Eastern churches, reminded me that God is indeed good.
After a whiplash-inducing news cycle of racism and political scandal, morning prayer with a Time Lord, an Amazonian princess and a member of Starfleet seemed like the most normal thing I had experienced in a while.
I have always resisted the view that comic books and fairy tales are most proper to childhood. I value mystery and imagination too much to leave the goblins, aliens and dragons behind. In the past few decades, geek culture and genre fiction have gained mainstream attention. With shows like “The Big Bang Theory” and the popularity of “Game of Thrones,” the geeks are certainly hitting their stride. Our stories matter, and no one takes their stories as seriously as the geeks. Make those geeks Christian, and you are dealing with a very committed bunch of people.
Committed to Christ, sure, but also to Dr. Who or the Marvel Comic Universe, to Narnia or to Middle Earth, or even to creating Shakespearian-based board games. At one point we reviewed the best ways to survive a horror film: Do not trust the scientists or government officials. Generally, trust small children, ethnic minorities and, where possible, people from ancient religious traditions. You can certainly find worse advice than that in the current political climate.
As I wandered out of that talk repeating the keys to surviving a zombie apocalypse in my head, I saw an attendee wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with “Ask me about Space Catholics.” I thought to myself, “It can’t hurt, right?” There are committed Catholics preparing for the colonization of Mars. They are working out the details for assembling churches in the Martian environment and finding the microorganisms we will need to produce edible material that is suitable for consecration at Mass. They have also begun work on rules to coordinate liturgical calendars for a planet that has seasons about twice as long as those on Earth.
As much as I try to celebrate the childhood imagination, the Martian liturgical calendar triggered an instinct to question all of this fanciful wondering. After a morning of blissful escape, reality was back. When neo-Nazis are making a comeback in Virginia, we have more pressing issues than evangelizing Mars, I said to myself. And yet, that is one of the great things about these types of conventions. It helps expand your imagination, and that is a key ingredient for finding the hope needed to imagine a way out of this darkness. There are hopeful, crazy people with tenacious imaginations that won’t let go; they play these things out as far as their minds will take them. Even at its extremes, there is something of beauty in that tenacity.
Daniel Silver, one of Doxacon’s founders, told me that most attendees go to the much larger conferences, like Comic-Con in San Diego or New York City. But this core group of just under 100 people comes back year after year because they want to talk about sci-fi, fantasy and Christianity. Robert Bogley of New Market, Md., has been going to various conventions since the age of 10. He noted that at most “geek gatherings” there is a premium placed on being the smartest one in the room. He also felt that at too many conferences being smart is equated with being antagonistic toward Christianity. I find that disturbing, given the obvious Christian roots of J.R.R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis and much of the fantasy genre, but I have heard it many times before.
None of the speakers at the conference were baptizing the sci-fi or fantasy worlds wholesale. There are plenty of issues and complications. There are many fictional worlds that are downright antithetical to the Christian worldview. But what the attendees were taking very seriously is the power and importance of imagination and storytelling. Over and over I heard it in different formulations, but perhaps that chanted prayer of the Akathist put it best:
“The breath of Thine Holy Spirit inspires artists, poets and scientists.... Their works speak unwittingly of Thee. How great Thou are in Thy creation!”
I needed hope, and I need to have my imagination stretched. I doubt that I am alone. Chanting an ancient Christian prayer with a Starfleet officer, Wonder Woman, an Orthodox priest and a whole lot of geeks is just what The Doctor ordered.
Thanks to the good people at Doxacon I have compiled a short list to help me through the coming months of insanity. I am going to start reading So You Want to Be a Wizard, and I’ve added Shop Class as Soulcraft to my reading queue. It is certainly time to rewatch “Gremlins,” and if I am feeling brave, I will check out the 1943 classic “I Walked with a Zombie.” Feel free to put in a plug for your favorites in the comments below.