Sunday, April 19, 2015

Blessed Are The Geek

I was in Calgary the same weekend the city hosted its annual Comic & Entertainment Expo, or Comic Con. It's an opportunity for those who love role playing games, science fiction, fantasy, horror and comics to come together to celebrate what some call "geek culture." You might think that geek culture has little overlap with religion, but a few Christians are trying to build connections between the two worlds--as I discovered when I met two members of Geekdom House in Winnipeg earlier this year. 

It used to be that geeks were objects of derision, seen as solitary loners (and losers) who were obsessed by fringe subjects like comics, video games, science fiction and fantasy.

Today, those fringe subjects have gone mainstream. What is called "geek culture" is everywhere.

"Never before has the boundary between geek culture and mainstream culture been so porous," wrote Noam Cohen last year in the New York Times in an article titled We're All Nerds Now.

"Whether it is TV series like The Big Bang Theory and Silicon Valley, or comic-book movies such as (2014's) top-grossing title, Guardians of the Galaxy or the runner-up, Captain America: The Winter Soldier or fantasy-based fiction like the Game of Thrones books (and HBO show), once-fringe, nerd-friendly obsessions like gadgets, comic books and fire-breathing dragons are increasingly everyone's obsessions."

That may be true for movies, TV, books and games, but one place you won't find much geek culture is the church. But now a few Winnipeggers are hoping to change that through a new ministry called Geekdom House.

I met two of the founders for coffee recently. Kyle Rudge is the morning show host at Christian radio station CHVN. Allison Barron is a graphic designer.

Rudge, 34, grew up playing video games, while Barron, 25, has loved fantasy, science fiction and board games ever since she was a child. Both are proud members today of the city's nerd and geek community.

But while they love geek culture, they found the church wasn't sure what to do with it -- or them.

"Geeks don't feel welcome in the church," says Rudge, noting that many churchgoers view video games and fantasy as childish or inappropriate for Christians.

They wonder why this is since the Bible itself contains geek-type things like dreams, visions, quests, mysterious appearances, miracles and fantastic stories. And some of the greatest fantasy writers, like C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, were devout Christians, they note.

But when members of a congregation take a deep interest in fantasy, science fiction and video games, "the church doesn't know what to do with us," Rudge says.

That's where Geekdom House, a new website and gathering, comes in.

The idea for the ministry grew up out of a home Bible study that Rudge, Barron and a few others are part of. During weekly meetings, they watch a TV show like Firefly, described as a "space western science fiction," and then discuss the moral, ethical and spiritual questions raised by each episode.

As word got out about the meetings, they met other geeks who indicated interest in combining their love of science fiction, fantasy and video games with their faith -- and the idea for Geekdom House was born.

Through it, they want to "reach out to the Christian nerd and geek community, to share the God we love and the sub-culture we love," says Rudge.

Nerds and geeks who aren't Christians can also participate, Barron says. "We want to invite everyone to be part of the community. Everyone is welcome."

Geekdom House’s website also hosts an online magazine called Area of Effect -- the name comes from a powerful spell in the board game Dungeons and Dragons.

Plans are underway to start holding monthly meetings; next month local pastors who want to know more about geek culture and faith are invited to play various video games, and then discuss the theological concepts that grow out of them.

Geekdom House isn't the only ministry geared for geeks.

In Maryland, Kenwood Presbyterian Church offers a "Geek Church" service where geeks are invited to "come as you are, come with doubts, come with questions, come in cosplay if you'd like. We like pop culture, sci-fi, fantasy, comics, anime, and we like thinking about how our faith intersects with them."

In Australia, Williamstown Uniting Church hosts the Church of the Latter Day Geeks. During services, people attend in sci-fi costumes, and readings from the Bible are interspersed with readings from books like Harry Potter and the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Here In Winnipeg, Rudge and Barron want to "crash the Bible" and geek culture together through Geekdom House "to see what happens."

If you want to see what happens when they do that, visit them at

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