Until a few years ago, I hid a shameful secret. I read comic books. Oh, sure, when found out by others I would try to ennoble my guilty pleasure by calling them “graphic novels,” but the honest truth is I love immersing myself in the Marvel and DC universes whenever I can. The reason I am no longer secretive or ashamed is simple: I am not alone. I have been amazed to find out that a large number of clergy and laity leaders in our church are comic book nerds JUST LIKE ME! For many church leaders, Spider-Man, Batman, Wolverine, Spawn, and Wonder Woman provide as much inspiration (if not more) than Wesley, Borg, Wright, and Warren. (Though some seem to think that Rick Warren wears tights, a cape, and can fly…)
At a gathering of young pastors in 2005, I asked over 100 men and women under the age of thirty about their leisure pursuits. Not surprisingly, almost everyone named listening to music as a leisure pursuit, but what I found interesting was the number of pastors who read comics, science fiction, and fantasy (and watch films of the same types). Better than 8-out-of-10 read some form of comic/graphic novel on a regular basis. When I shared this information with a district clergy gathering (of mainly 50+ year-olds) I was surprised to find that about 60% of that crowd indulged in comics or fantasy. Add in the Harry Potter/Twilight phenomena and the number goes even higher. It is surreal to sit at table with a bunch of fellow-greying haired contemporaries talking about Green Lantern, the X-Men, Daredevil and Hellboy. Even darker titles like Preacher, 100 Bullets, Y: The Last Man, and The Walking Dead have a solid audience in religious leaders circles. Like me, most of the other pastors — both male and female — I have spoken with keep comic reading to themselves as a “dirty little secret.” “I would literally die of shame,” shared one woman, “if my parishioners knew I read comics.”
It is amazing how embarrassed we adults are to be engaged in pursuits generally associated with children, however, comics are not the sweet, innocent fare they were forty years ago. The Joker is not a mischief maker, but a homicidal maniac. Bullets don’t just bounce away with a “ping,” but actually kill and maim. Some heroes have no compunction about taking life. There is a serious dark side to today’s “funny books.”
So, what’s the appeal? Why is there an apparent draw for people of the cloth to heroes of the pulp? Why should spiritual and theological leaders waste time reading “junk?” (As my beloved mother used to say…) After a dozen or so conversations, here’s my Top Ten Reasons Pastors Like Comic Books:
10. They’re quick and easy — in a culture that reads less and less, pastors can finish a whole book in a night — beginning, middle, and end.
9. They’re simple — in a world of complexity — including the multi-layered ambiguities of religious faith — comics hold a basic, linear, dichotomous message. Everything is neat and tidy and can be resolved in 20 pages.
8. They’re contained — the world of a comic book has fairly clear and distinct boundaries. The morality — even when it is fundamentally corrupt — is easy to grasp and accept or reject. Crisp, bold lines separate panels; word balloons keep dialogue clear and concise. Would that we could have such order in our daily lives.
7. They’re colorful — there are very few drab comics (except for the black and white ones, and even that is used to graphic advantage). Colorful people in colorful situations making colorful decisions that always produce dramatic (colorful) results.
6. Super-villains — be honest, there is a Joker, a Doctor Octopus, a Magneto, a Doomsday, a Green Goblin, or a Brotherhood of Evil Mutants in your congregation. Pastors often discover they have arch-enemies. Now, if we could only learn to have a few more super-hero team-ups we would all be a bit better off.
5. Secret identities — many pastors feel like they are two people; at home — normal guy, but at church? Super-Pastor! Robes are like costumes, stoles like capes, the Book of Discipline our equivalent of Captain America’s shield. Many of us often think, “If people really knew who I REALLY am…”
4. A deep desire for special powers — any pastor who sits in committee meetings and denies wishing for the power to speed up time is a liar. Many parishioners expect superpowers, pastors naturally wish they had them. (Watch the video at the end of this post.)
3. There is always hope — it does not matter how bad things look, there is always a way out. Perseverance, patience, self-control, faith, and trust lay a foundation upon which every solution might be built. Heroes never give up.
2. Death is an illusion — they killed Superman, but he came back. They killed Captain America, but he came back. Daredevil’s girlfriend? Back. The Flash? Back. They’re in the process of killing Batman and Dr. Strange, but don’t worry. In comic book world, resurrection is normal… just like in Christian world. Death cannot defeat a real hero.
1. Good is good and evil is evil, and ultimately good always wins — no matter how great the challenge, the good guys triumph. The deep desire of most pastors for a just, fair, and logical world is fed by the simplistic good over evil message of most comics and fantasy novels.
As escape, comics still provide an excellent option. When the “real world” calls into question the power of good over evil, it is nice to have an alternative where you can always count on the good guys. And in the end, pastors just want to feel like “good guys,” even when they can’t be heroes.
- Green Lantern
Be honest fellow nerds — who are your favorites?
And just for fun: for those of you who feel like you are expected to be “Super-Pastor”:
Categories: Church Leadership, Pastoral Ministry, Personal Reflection
I googled my name and stumbled upon this site. I find it amazing that there is a really cool Christian pastor whose first and last name are the same as mine. (My middle name is James, so it isn’t an exact match.)
But he is making me feel deprived, as though I might not qualify to be a geek. All my years will go for naught, years of dodging bullies, spinning Rubik’s cubes, walking at a 45 degree angle, glasses taped together with a band-aid. I carried a camera throughout Jr. Hi, was a lead trombone player in the marching band, concert band, and stage band, was 2 years ahead in math, and was a 4-H all-star. But, I had no comic book heroes.
He looks about my age–not sure if he’s younger or older, but he’s better looking. I wonder if his wife is Singaporean like mine, if her name is Eileen like my wife, or if he attends an Indonesian church like me 🙂 And he’s a Christian. Sort of Methodist? My parents are Nazarenes. I’m a bit radical. I preach the love of Christ deeply, but but might be a bit extreme on the hellfire-and-brimstone in some ways.
People might be afraid to sing, “I Surrender All” for the way it beckons memories of Ananias and Sapphira, and people would fear to drop a penny into the offering plate without being right with God given our sacrifices are an abomination to God if we regard iniquity in our hearts. I refuse to speak of the blood of Christ being shed for a license to continue in sin as though Jesus loved sin that much rather than loving us to give us the chance to have sufficient grace to abandon our sin.
Sometimes I write excessively long sentences.
I love John and Charles Wesley, Dwight Moody, Charles Finney, and even some semi-calvinists like Spurgeon and Paul Washer. I’d have a knife set to my throat before I would ever call Holy Matrimony that which Christ calls adultery, and I don’t back down when people appeal to the demands of love that is not love but only a cry for the honor of lust and perversion.
I love the sinner and feel that means I cannot love the sin that threatens the eternal well-being of that person or the honor of God. I feel that to surrender to Christ some and not all is to throw Him our refuse and tell Him He should be satisified as one might throw table scraps to a dog under the table. I feel it is a great dishonor and offense to Christ.
I believe 99% pure is 100% impure, that a drop of deadly poison in a glass of pure water is enough to kill a room full of people and that one drop of sin in a church full of faithful people is enough to poison the entire earth. And yet I believe with all my heart not one of us would get into heaven without the grace of God. Not one of us would be saved without the shed blood of Christ to pay for our sins.
I believe our Lord is the one we trust and obey out of love, and if we love, trust, and obey the cry of sin when it calls us to disobey Christ, then sin is our lord and not Jesus.
I believe God is a jealous God because He is loving and that is the right thing to be. I believe He will not share his throne with another.
When I see people finding convenience leading them to start denying the truth of the Bible when they come into conflict with it, there is a problem because in essence, they are denying the integrity of God and claiming to have more integrity, knowledge, wisdom, and trustworthiness than God. It’s a cry that says, “Don’t worship and trust God–trust me instead”, and that is a very dangerous and deadly thing to do in terms of our eternal purpose and destiny.
I don’t believe hell is there to bully people into compliance, but I believe it is there to give every being an opportunity to hate God with the ultimate hate or love God with the ultimate love. With hell, we can make a declaration that we hate God so deeply we would rather endure infinite, eternal punishment from which there can be no escape than to go to the most loving and happy place in the universe if that requires being with God.
I believe hell gives us a chance to express our love for sin above God, our willing to lead others to hell, our willingness to betray our loved ones and friends into the worst possible eternal destination and lead the way if it will indulge our lusts and cowardice. And we all make this choice. We all choose to indulge ourselves at the cost of Christ.
And yet God created us knowing we would betray Him, that He would have to go to the cross if He wanted us to be saved. God knew from eternity, and continues to remember not only the cross with infinitely keep memory, but also remembers our betrayal in one sense and forgives it in another. He remembers it in that He is never free from the pain of it, but forgets it in the love and happiness knowing we are free, have repented, and love Him in return for His love. That is if our love for Him is sincere.
The problem is many patronize God and play games. Many lie to God. When they say they repent, they don’t. When they say they surrender all, they don’t. One moment, they’re waving their hands in the air speaking in flowery terms of the love of God and the next minute they’re living for Satan with almost as much skill as Satan himself.
Many people think evangelism is a good sales pitch. It isn’t. Faith is “the” evidence of things unseen, “the” substance of things hoped for. We cannot say Jesus is Lord effectively, authentically, legitimately unless He is our Lord. So, evangelism is about becoming that which we should be and reproducing after our own kind. If we are hypocrites, we will reproduce hypocrites. If we’re adulterers or liars, e will reproduce that. Like all living beings, we naturally reproduce after our own kind. If we live in sin but say Jesus is Lord, we will reproduce people who live in sin but say Jesus is Lord. If our realization of the depth of our sin drives us to helpless humility and crying before God what sinners we are, it will affect others likewise.
If we are frustrated we see no revival, revival begins with us.
It is when we surrender. When we become His. When we stop being possessed of the devil and become possessed by Christ instead. It is when we lay down our weapons against God and become that which we may pretend to be, and that is to become Christians.
It is not being a Methodist, Catholic, Baptist, Church of God, Assembly of God, Presbyterian, or whatever. Many times our denomination or church doctrines become our God, our object of trust, love, and obedience.
Too often we feel God’s Word is not good enough and that God has forgotten something along the way, so we need to go fill in the gaps He overlooked with our own doctrines and protections. In truth, many times, what we need is to get to know God.
It doesn’t matter if we’re “enlightened”, if we are “mature” in the eyes of the people, if we’re avant garde, cool, “relevant”, seeker friendly, hellfire-and-brimstone, or whatever. Does God know us? That is the question. Does He matter to us? Or do we forget about Jesus? Is the desire of our hearts that the Lamb of God would receive the reward for His sacrifice?
Are the crowns we hope to lay down before Christ’s feet our loved ones? Or will they perish into hell without a prayer from us? Are we merely religious, or do we love Christ with all our heart, soul, mind, might, everything we are and everything we have or ever will have? Are we abandoned to Christ?
Or do we love another god?
Anyway, I did not plan to preach, but it sort of came out of what’s in my heart at this time. Best wishes for you all and may your walk with Christ be so very deep and all encompassing!!!!!
Daniel James Dick
(not R 🙂
Wow, I totally accidentally ran into this via a google image search, but I’m so glad I did! I’m a huge comic book nerd and a christian in the mid-west and you wouldn’t believe how popular it still is to label anything secular as evil, especially comics and film. Hallelujah, I’m not alone!
I’m a 29 year old Missionary to college students on a secular university campus. I also frequently travel to various youth groups to minister via music and the Word. My dad bought me an issue of Captain America when I was a little kid and I’ve been reading/collecting comics ever since. I’ve never really been a “closet comic fan.” In fact, I have been able to successfully use these stories and various themes from them on numerous occasions to connect to my audiences, regardless of age.
Want to preach on the Shield of Faith? Cap is a great demonstrative example. Talking about Samson and his incredible strength? I like to use the Hulk. Sacrifice? Silver Surfer. In our day and age not every one knows about these timeless biblical stories, but most of the more popular characters from comics are cultural icons. What better way to communicate with a generation than by connecting them with something they already know?
I would also like to say that I do try to filter what books I read. I try to stay clear of books with gratuitous content. I wouldn’t limit this to comics either. My wife and I try to hold ourselves to a certain level of accountability within any form of entertainment we subject ourselves to.
My fav characters:
1. Captain America
2. Spider Man
5. The Hulk
8. Luke Cage
10. Silver Surfer
Thanks for this post! I found this blog linked on my friend Steve Beard’s website (thunderstruck.org). I’m in the entertainment industry (both film and comic book) and I’m always excited to find fellow that share the same passion, especially pastors. Please continue to let every everyone know that comic books are a valid form of literature and one of the great American artforms.
Ok. I am coming out as well!!! I am a pastor and a comic book fanatic too!!!! Boy, that felt good. 😀
My top ten:
1. Sandman (Neil Gaiman)
3. Green Lantern
8. Justice League