Friday, January 3, 2014

2013's Churchiest Geek Stuff... or Geekiest Church Stuff

2013 was a good year for us here at GeekChurch. Here are some of the things that I think were the churchiest geek stuff... or is that the geekiest church stuff? In an effort to appear modest, I will leave out the launch of that excellent podcast Church of the Geek, but we all know where that belongs on this list that is given in no particular order.

Pope Francis
The world's attention turned to the Vatican in March after the almost unheard of resignation of Benedict XVI. Seemingly moments after the election, Pope Francis seemed... how shall we say... different from his predecessor. Whether it was greeting the cardinals on the same level as they, rather than from a balcony, or personally calling the newspaper publisher to cancel his subscription in Argentina, things felt different. It was not clear whether these sort of actions were the pontiff simply being uncomfortable with the new office, or something more foundational. It turns out the latter seems closer to the mark. Along the way, Pope Francis has ruffled feathers of insiders and intrigued and delighted people on the margins of the church. Reforming the incredibly opaque Vatican bureaucracy, washing a Muslim woman's feet on Maundy Thursday, critiquing capitalism, one of the gods in the western world's pantheon, all seem to flow out of an identity deeply rooted in Christ. Someone might want to tell Pope Francis to read up on that Jesus guy though. After all, when Jesus acted that way, he got crucified.

Bishop Elizabeth Eaton
In August, the Evangelical  Lutheran Church in America (full disclosure: both David and I are ordained clergy in that body, hereafter the ELCA) met in Pittsburgh for its Churchwide Assembly. During that week, the voting members had the election of a bishop to tend to. For most people, the election did not gather much attention, since Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson was running for a third term. While he had been the presiding bishop for nearly half of the ELCA's life (twelve years, that's two six-year terms), most were probably thinking that his reelection would be pro forma. The vote however did not go that way. Bishop Eaton (synodical bishop of the Northeast Ohio Synod) soon rose to the top of the names on the ecclesiastical ballot. The motto for the assembly "Always being made new" apparently applied to the election of the presiding bishop. Throughout the conversation leading up to her election the three main candidates were collegial and life in the church seemed very different from elections in the world. A real affection between all three was visible. In the end, Bishop Eaton was elected as Presiding Bishop of the ELCA. Bishop Eaton made plenty of rounds of interviews on many cable news programs. Of course, despite a robust campaign, she has yet to appear on The Colbert Report. It must be true. Stephen Colbert fears Lutherans.

Neil Gaiman
Three things rise to the surface when thinking about Neil this year. In a year when requests to ban books are up over fifty percent, Neil's urban fantasy novel Neverwhere was banned and removed from school library shelves in Alamogordo, NM at the complaint of one parent. It was however quickly returned by order of the school board. Bigger news for Neil though came in the form of The Ocean at the End of the Lane, his most recent novel. The story tells of a man who returns to his childhood home for a funeral. Not only was it well received, but so much so that it was named 2013's Book of the Year from the National Book Award. Those two bits alone would make for an amazing year, but perhaps this final piece alone would make him worthy to end up on this list as numerous geeks are thrilled by this possibility. In 2013, comic book stores all over saw the return of Gaiman's Sandman, a comic he penned for seventy-five issues back in the 1990's. There is where earned his geek cred in detailing the rule of the Sandman over the realm of dreams. Gaiman's agreement with DC Comics allowed no one but him to write for the comic, and when he closed down Sandman, many mourned. Now with the return of Sandman in this six-issue limited series prequel, many of us geeks are free once again to dream.

Marvel Dominance
On top of three films being released (The Wolverine, Thor: The Dark World, Iron Man 3), Marvel returned to the small screen with Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. following Agent Coulson and his small team of agents after his death in the blockbuster film Avengers. Marvel has been on a tear in recent years. What is hard to believe, Marvel was on the verge of bankruptcy nearly a decade ago. The films were the way out of bankruptcy through Marvel Studios. Clearly they created a long term plan. Between the X-Men and the Avengers franchise, Marvel has its own plans for domination. Movies, television.... oh yeah, and comics. They seem to be outperforming DC Comics at every turn. DC has Superman and Batman, and the television series Arrow, which is not bad at all in its second season. The only chink in DC's armor has been Green Lantern. Nonetheless, Marvel has staked out more ground.

New Doctor
Fifty years after it began, Doctor Who celebrated its golden anniversary this year. The good Doctor in his many incarnations has been around for a while, but for the much of that time, he dwelt on late night PBS channels here in the States. But thanks to increased BBC awareness through cable, DVD distribution and finally internet streaming. This year at the fiftieth anniversary, far more of us geeks were able to tune in and watch because Doctor Who has grabbed much of our attention. The big news this year though beyond the fiftieth anniversary was the announcement that the Doctor would be gaining a new persona once again. Peter Capaldi, a Scottish actor, became the twelfth Doctor in the Christmas special. The regeneration to the twelfth doctor might have been the international geek event of the year.

There are many Christian memoirs that are published every year. Few grabbed as much attention as Nadia Bolz-Weber's Pastrix: The Cranky Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint. Many spiritual writings tend to focus on a sanitized life. If there is brokenness, it tends to end once Jesus is accepted. Then everything is peachy keen. That is not the story contained within Pastrix. Yes there is brokenness. Nadia outlines a life that few would covet, but there is the sense in the book that everything that happened in her life brought her to where she is now. Growing up in a conservative, fundamentalist family, living through drugs and alcohol, time as a standup comedian and even becoming a pastor.Throughout the book, amid the brokenness, Nadia makes it clear that Jesus is present in many ways. The grace of Jesus is something palpable and real in Nadia's life. It refuses to leave her alone, and even though she doesn't have it all figured out, that grace continues to bring healing and wholeness. The book drew rave reviews and irate ravings. Just like Jesus' grace, Pastrix ended up being something that could not be ignored... maybe because her writing showed her life to be so reflective of the one she follows.

It is rare that B-movies get much attention. But in 2013 people didn't just pay attention, they went wild over Sharknado, a movie on Syfy that was so incredibly bad it was good, in an entertaining and amusing way. Purposefully reminiscent of those sci-fi films of the '50 and '60s where science mattered little and perhaps acting even less. (Ian Ziering has since admitted that he only took the role because he needed to keep his health insurance through the acting union, not because of the strength of the story) In hearkening back to those movies, people seemed to revel in the fantastical nature of the film. Viewers seemed to watch for precisely how bad could it actually get, which I will call Sharknadenfreude. In an age where production values have risen to incredible heights, Sharknado was a rare event. Social media exploded as people updated and tweeted throughout. It was perhaps more important as a social event to playfully mock and enjoy than anything else. In the end, the movie was a huge ratings boon for Syfy, and despite its quality, it remains popular on internet streaming platforms. On top of it all, a sequel has been planned, the title of which was turned over to the fans to choose. Their choice? Shaknado 2:  The Second One. The movie will even be released in theaters in July 2014... may the Sharknadenfreude never die.

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