Editor’s Note: Bryan Hall (of JohnnyBGamer fame, and Theology Gaming University Community Manager infamy) interviewed Eric Anderson and Nathan Marchand about their recently release book 42: Discovering Faith Through Fandom. Rather than prattle on about how it’s a devotional for the “fandom” demographic or whatnot, I’m going to let Bryan take it away, since he’s actually had time to read it.
Hey guys, I’ve been enjoying your book, 42: Discovering Faith Through Fandom. How did you arrive at making a devotional? Do you really think faith and fandom mix?
Eric: I definitely think they mix. I am constantly finding things in TV, movies, comics, etc. that remind me of Biblical principles or seem to parallel stories from the Bible. One time I even felt like God was really using a scene in a movie to speak to me. I was watching The Amazing Spiderman 2 and it was that scene toward the end where the kid, still in elementary school, runs out into the street in his Spiderman costume all ready to take on this crazy guy in a mechanical Rhino suit. Just at the right time Spiderman comes in and says “thanks kid, I’ll take it from here.” At that moment I felt like God spoke directly to me: “It doesn’t matter what is going on, you step out to face something huge in my Name and I’ll be there! I’ll take on the battle for you.” I even teared up as I was sitting in the theater watching it.
After I started the blog portion of Nerd Chapel, I realized that there was a lack of a daily devotional for nerds/geeks/gamers. You see them out there for hunters, sports enthusiasts and many that are gender-focused, but none for this crowd. I felt like it was something I really wanted to take on and could really fill a notch in our niche community that has not been filled previously. There are more online blogs like mine, but no one had really taken on a planned journey in the form of a book. I asked Nathan to join me because I knew he would be able to figure out things I could not figure out and that he also has a heart for this same audience.
Nathan: It was originally Eric who came to me to write this devotional. He called me and said, “You ever notice how there’s a devotional for just about every subculture you can think of but not one for geeks and nerds?”
“Let’s make one!”
It was as simple as that…initially. We spent many hours figuring out how to structure the book. Eric initially wanted it to be read over the course of 40 days, but when seeking ideas from the Fans For Christ Facebook group, it was suggested we make it 42 days long in reference to Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy since “42” is the “Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything.” It was a great place to start and entrenched the book in geek culture.
Eric and I split the writing duties in half–i.e. we each wrote 21 entries–and made sure we didn’t repeat too many of the illustrations. Eric wanted it structured so readers would progress through the spiritual disciplines without making it obvious they were. While the book was his vision, I did most of the editing and handled the publishing end. We initially tried to submit it to a small Christian publishing house, but they were swamped with submissions, so we decided to go the self-publishing route because we didn’t want to wait. It was smart in the long run because that publisher went out of business.
To answer your second question, I do think faith and fandom can mingle. As I say in the book, God has imprinted Himself in everything, and that includes the stories and activities nerds and geeks love. Superman is a Christ-figure. Jedi live by arguably Christian principles (though their philosophies are bit more Buddhist in nature), and both Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings were written by devout Christians. Not to mention, as humorously pointed out in a College Humor video, religion and nerd-dom have much in common. Perhaps those connections weren’t intended (even by Lewis and Tolkien), but they can nonetheless be mined from those things.
Q: What do you think is the nerdiest story in the Bible?
Eric: The nerdiest story in the Bible….hard question. I think many different stories all have different facets to them that qualify for this thought. David used wit, charm, and physical warfare (even a battle with a great warrior that has been called a giant) throughout his life and yet was an amazing poet. Joseph was very good with facts and figures, interpreted dreams, and faced many forms of rejection. Jesus not only performed miracles and taught amazing life lessons that looked beneath the surface, but dealt with demons both literally and regularly. For some reason, though, I really want to point out the story of Joshua. Joshua had to think strategically just like a gamer when he planned battles. He had adventures that included spying on the land and various battles but he also had an enlightened mage type of mentor in the form of Moses. He also had to work with other leaders to figure out the best way to split up the land they took over which took a lot of planning and thoughtfulness.
Nathan: Dave Mattingly of the Christian Gamers Guild and Fans For Christ once posited that, as Eric alluded to, the story of Joseph in Genesis is the nerdiest character in the Bible. Why? Because he could interpret dreams; because he was good with facts and figures and management; and because he wore colorful, unusual clothes (Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat, anyone?); and because he was mocked for being different. I think that’s a fair assessment. Personally, being a literary guy and a sucker for larger-than-life heroes, I’m partial to David myself since he was a warrior and a poet.
Q: What are some ways that you hope to engage with folks that don’t dig devotionals but really like nerdy stuff?
Eric: Recently I held a cosplay photo contest on the Nerd Chapel FB page that featured 42 as the prize. I hope that they see we are geeks/nerds just like them. That we have handled their well-loved stories in respectful manners and enjoy them ourselves. In one devotional I used phrases from the Jaffa language in Stargate SG-1 that takes a look at their desire for freedom and what it would cost to get freedom from the Goa’uld. We hope to show them that what is seen as escapism can be meaningful. If all we do is break down a piece of the wall that suggests that nerd life and Christian commitment are mutually exclusive than we may be able to help some people take a gander at Jesus. Then we will have succeeded.
Nathan: When I attend cons to sell books, I often cosplay at my table. In fact, one year at Gen Con, I wore a different costume everyday (Capt. Kirk, Superman, Captain America, the 10th Doctor [sorta]). I thought it’d let them know I’m a nerd just like them. I’m also a huge fan of my GameChurch shirt that has Jesus drawn to look like Ryu from Street Fighter. That and my CGG shirts have piqued people’s interests and given me a chance to talk with them. Like Eric did with his cosplay contest, I think I may try a similar contest with my newest novel, Ninjas and Talking Trees, by having people submit “Laws of Hero-dom” to be used in the future books in the series in order to win copies of this one.
Final Question: What sort of response have you received to your book so far?
Eric: The response at Gen Con was amazing! Out of 30 copies of the book, only one was left after the con. We had donated 10 of those 30 copies to the Christian Gamers Guild, but by the middle of the 2nd day (of a 4 day con) they sold out! Then, people would see a booth copy there. Come halfway cross the huge vendor hall to look for one little book table in Author’s row. If that isn’t enough they would then have to get slip from us to take to a combined cashier with a long line and then bring a receipt to us to get the copy. I have posted about the book in a couple non-Christian nerd FB groups and not had any complaint about it yet. In fact, one guy (apparently a pastor in some way) commented that he could get a lot of fun sermon ideas from it.
Nathan: Eric pretty much told all the good parts in answering this question (you punk!) 😛 All I’ll add is that I’ve gotten some…interesting, if not humorous, responses when I explain what it is. The best one was when I gave a free copy to Marina Sirtis—the actress famous for playing Deanna Troi in Star Trek: The Next Generation—as a thank you for coming to Gen Con. When I told her what it was, she was noticeably surprised. I said I wanted her to have a copy because I wrote about Troi in an entry. “Let me read it,” she said. I turned to that page and she read it. “So, you use stories like this to illustrate the Scriptures?” she asked. “Yes,” I replied, simultaneously nervous and excited. “Thank you so much. I’ll read this on the plane back to England.” I walked away a happy fanboy.
Be sure to check out 42: Discovering Faith Through Fandom.