Posted on August 22nd, 2012 | Filed under Community, Featured, Learning, Popular Culture
Tagged with Comic Books, Creativity, Fantasy, geek culture, Imagination, Introduction, Science Fiction, Vision, Walter Brueggeman
Adina Allen has written a lovely little article here at State of Formation. As a new contributor to State of Formation, I've been unsure of how to get started introducing myself to the community of regular readers and contributors here, but Adina's article is a lovely little entry point into what I do and what I love. One of the article's most compelling parts is here:
The idea of living as though an ideal reality were true is very powerful. Each week as we welcome Shabbat we sing from our liturgy, “sof ma’asei b’machshevah techilah.” Of this line the Hasidic master Rebbe Nachman of Brestlov explains that this verse teaches us that contained within any final action is the original thought. In order to move an idea from a state of potentiality to a state of actualization we must see the end result in our mind and continually work to bring these images to life.
The concept of envisioning is one that I'm most interested in, and one that I feel is done on a regular basis in a community that isn't always associate with formal religious commitments: geek culture. It's a culture experiencing its cultural cachet more strongly than in the past, given blockbuster splashes like The Avengers and The Dark Knight. And it's a culture where envisioning is a basic activity.
Just step into a comic book store and it will leap out at you, with strange comic book villains and sometimes stranger heroes, new art work, interesting uses of color and line. From words to pictures, through movies and books, the culture that produces Batman and Sandman combines much of the raw material which humans use to envision things.
This is not to laud geek culture uncritically, for much can be said about its drawbacks. Its flaws are well-documented: sometimes crass commercialization and the negative way many of its products have depicted women, people of color, and others. But it still retains a certain capacity for imagination, and abundant imagination. And it is a faculty that people with an interest in abundantly imagined religion could do to develop. We simply have to be careful about what we choose to imagine, and what we choose to pursue. Adina's post, I thought, was a wonderful expression of one way of imagining that future, by setting its ideal square in the middle of existing reality.
In Walter Brueggemann's book Spirituality of the Psalms, his preface connects to how religion and geek culture might learn from one another. He writes:
I have been surprised to find that Mowinckel's understanding of the creativity of the cult has been more helpful to me than I had expected. [...] The 'social construction of reality' is an active, creative task. The cult--organized, communal worship (or wherever such social construction happens)--is a setting that forms new worlds for us. And this is not remote from our experience...what goes on in the Psalms is peculiarly in touch with what goes on in our life.
This idea is something I intend to pursue talking about and thinking about here at State of Formation. How worlds are envisioned, how they promote (or detract) from moral and spiritual development, and how the worlds we create in our minds can impact "what goes on in our life" are the things I'm interested in.
On this score, I think geek culture and religious people have a lot to learn from each other. I hope to flesh out this claim in the days to come, and am excited to do so in the context of such a robust group of scholars, colleagues, and readers.
Madison McClendon grew up in Greenville, South Carolina, where he fell in love with the works of J.R.R. Tolkien at a young age. Growing up, he attended First Baptist Church in Greenville, South Carolina, and continues to find his religious home in the Alliance of Baptists and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, though his Chicago context is encouraging him to make connections with the American Baptist Churches. He graduated magna cum laude from Furman University with a degree in Religion and Political Science in 2009, and continued his education by pursuing a Master of Divinity Degree at the University of Chicago. At the University of Chicago, Madison was a Schloerb Fellow and a Fund for Theological Education Congregational Fellow, and he graduated in 2012. Madison pursued academic work in religion and literature, specifically examining how fantasy texts and religious texts might illuminate each other. In addition to these studies, Madison also took classes on preaching and pastoral arts, and is interested in how the fruits of the academy can be applied carefully to the building of productive, healthy religious communities.