This morning I read an article, the title of which I have literally said verbatim: Brunch is Better than Church. The author argues that the sense of community and fellowship that we experience over eggs and mimosas with our friends is the depth of relationship that is often missing at church. “We need spaces for fellowship. We need churches in which we can explore our faith as safely and as openly as we can at a table over a meal. Where we don’t have to put on the best version of ourselves because we are already known and loved. In the spirit of this sort of authenticity, church can be a safer space. One that we can return to if it’s burned us, or maybe one we can walk into more confidently if we have no prior experience with it at all”.
Amen! I couldn’t agree more! Where churches so often miss the boat is on the experience of creating meaningful and lasting connections with fellow wanderers. I’m more likely to find that level of connection having beer with my neighbors than I am in most congregations.
And not to kick church while it’s down, and it clearly is, I have to add another to the list of things that is better than church: comic-con.
This past weekend, me, Shannon, and my besties from Pittsburgh went to Baltimore Comic-Con. It may surprise some of you to know that this was my first “con” experience, but I’m fairly sure it won’t be my last. As we walked through the entry way, surrounded by cos-players, geek humored t-shirts, and collectibles of all kinds, I heard a man who entered behind us say to his friend, “Dude! We’re home!”
I’m sure comic book conventions have a different flavor to them now than they did even ten years ago. Geek culture has become far more mainstream. Among the cosplayers were at least a half dozen Deadpools and equally as many Harley Quinns. Blockbuster movies will do that. Still, no matter how mainstream the properties may become, there is still a sense that those fanatically dive into the deep waters of these properties are still outliers. This is a gathering place for nerds and geeks, a giant locker that we’ve all voluntarily stuffed ourselves in. It’s a place for artists, the adult versions of the drama club and marching band. The fact that this place was attracting people who may otherwise be ostracized already gives it the nod over church.
One of the things that really impressed me was the diversity. There was gender diversity and there was racial diversity and it just wasn’t a big deal. Now… I will say that the comic book industry still has a way to go with the extent to which it fetishizes the female body, and both male and female creators seem to fall into that trap (I’d be interested to talk to female creators as to why they feel the need to sexualize their characters)… and I would also say that I couldn’t discern a wide representation of people of color in the panels. Still, both in terms of the convention attendance and the artists represented, comic-con is doing way better than the average mainline church.
We attended the panel for the IDW, the publisher of my beloved Transformers as well as the distributor for John Lewis’ stunning civil rights series “March”. I’ll admit, I have a love/hate relationship with hearing artists talk about their art. Sometimes it can sound incredibly self involved. That is not what was on display during this panel. There was an appreciation for the art form on display and a joy that they got to be a part of the a grand tradition. The comic book industry, like every niche, has its own heroes and legends. I am not nearly initiated enough to know all the names, but hearing the passion for the art made me want to learn more. When they talked about Jack Kirby, a name I do know as the creator of the Fantastic Four and many other iconic characters, the reverence was unmistakable. We were being drawn into a larger story by people who had found love, meaning, and belonging in the midst of story. If that’s not what church is supposed to do then maybe I just don’t get church.
Obviously I don’t actually believe that we should go to comic-con instead of going to church, but in an age of church decline, we should be paying attention to those places where people find meaning, whether that be at brunch with friends or in a convention hall surrounded by women dressed as Squirrel Girl (I saw three). Where church is missing the mark is connecting with the deep longings for community and belonging that are so hard to find in a fractured world. When people find those places to which they can belong without judgment and without having to leave part of themselves at home, they become enthusiastic devotees. I think it’s time for churches to deeply examine whether what they are offering speaks to those deepest needs, because Jesus most certainly did.
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