Recently, I had the opportunity to attend the inaugural Nerdcon: Stories, a convention organized by brothers John and Hank Green around the subject of “Why Stories Matter.” Around three thousand people showed up at the Minneapolis Convention Center for two days of panels, signings, and storytelling, along with an all-star cast of guest speakers. The guests ran the gamut from published authors to professional musicians, successful actors and actresses, and respected social media gurus. The attendees themselves proclaimed their allegiance to specific fandoms (such as Harry Potter or Star Wars) with buttons, bags, and graphic tees.
Many conventions have reputations of exclusivity. Perhaps it is a result of being the ‘uncool’ kids in high school, and a life-time of being labeled a nerd; perhaps it is because many fans have a developed identity of being the expert on a particular subject in their friend group. Whatever the case, many people in fandoms have ridiculously high standards of what it takes to be a ‘true’ fan. It is a constant battle of who knows the most, whose interpretation is the wildest, who is the most passionate. Fans can become vicious in their pursuit of weeding out the unworthy from their midst. All it takes for expulsion is a missed fact or an incorrect opinion.
Nerdcon was different. One thing joined all together, varied attendees and honored guests alike; a passion for the institution of the story. The group that gathered in the Convention Center was not shy about expressing their enthusiasm and they did so without exclusivity. We sat down at tables with each other, strangers but that we knew that we all loved storytelling.
Each conversation was an exploration, an acknowledgement that said, “I love this with all the force of my being, so much that I can barely contain myself—and you also love something with all the force of your being! How amazing! We both love stuff!” It did not matter the medium of the storytelling, only that we loved the craft.
What made this group of people so different than the stereotypical convention-goers? Maybe the relative smallness of the convention; maybe the maturity of the attendees; maybe even the location in a good, ‘nice’ Midwestern state. Whatever it was, it baffled the guest stars, who remarked repeatedly on the openness and kindness of the crowd. There was a real feeling of humanity and of respect which resonated throughout panel discussions, from diversity in storytelling to storytellers as activists to the portrayal of sex and sexuality in our books.
Everywhere, hundreds to thousands of people at a time were speaking and listening to frank conversations on supposedly antagonistic subjects, and the feeling of mutuality and eagerness for intelligent discussion was overwhelming. There was no awkwardness or embarrassment. No one was shamed for what they did or did not know.
Near the end of the first day, I was struck by the difference between what I was experiencing at Nerdcon and what I have experienced in interfaith work. Why is it so easy to get caught up in the nuances, in an effort to be recognized as the most holy (or even, sometimes, the most sinful), to the point where we easily shame not only those of other faiths, but those of our own traditions? How often have we had the conversation about those in our Church who are not progressive enough, not traditional enough, too whiny or too quiet or too wishy-washy? In other words, how have we been caught up in the effort to prove that another is not a member of our exclusive inner circle of ‘true’ fans?
I challenge us all, whether we are interacting with those of a different faith or simply those with a different interpretation of our own precious beliefs, to walk into every conversation with the attitude that says, “I love this, my faith, with all the force of my being—and you also are living your faith with all the force of your being! How amazing! We both love!”
May we be joined together in our passion for the greatness of God.