Somewhere down the road it became rather customary for me to write a MitchWords on my birthday. I suppose I will continue that tradition today and once again talk about life, love, and comic books. With some theology thrown in. Doesn't that all seem just a bit ridiculous?
The Folly of Wednesday Theology
Why is Wednesday Theology folly? Well, I feel there are several layers to an answer for that. At the most basic, I think any sort of theology is rather silly. Seriously, we are mortal, finite beings trying to understand the immortal and the infinite. Then we try to encapsulate that supposed understanding in an imperfect, constantly changing language with constantly changing rules. Further, not only are we mortal, we are also fallen sinners. Consider that absurdity: sinners talking about the divine. Theology may be the greatest juxtaposition of the sacred and the vulgar. No, it doesn't get more absurd than theology.
Well, unless you consider Wednesday Theology. Maybe. See, most theology usually takes the form of established formats recognized as lofty and legitimate, such as prose, scholarly text or proper and professional orations. Graphic literature, or comic books, or whatever you want to call the medium, certainly doesn't fit that common perception.
Every scholarly work I've written so far concerning comics and theology takes the time at the beginning to make the case that the format is, at the very least, acceptable for theological discourse. For the longest time comic books have carried a stigma of being nothing more than "low art" drivel made exclusively for kids to waste their time on. It is only in recent years that comics have made gains in academia as a form of art or literature worthy of serious scholarly study and attention.
So, if the very nature of trying to engage in God-talk is folly, how much more so is it when we try to do it with comic books! This is the realm of Superman, Batman, and Spider-Man, not discussions about serious subjects like God! It is ridiculous, and absurd, and downright stupid. I fully realize this. When writing my thesis I didn't even know if I could find enough decent material to make it work. I felt the great challenge was to answer the question, "What do comic books have to do with theology?" and to answer it in a convincing way. What a bizarre, preposterous task to set before myself. Why would I do such a thing?
Because it is unquestionably what I am meant to do. This folly is my purpose.
Like I said, before writing my thesis I did not even know if it was a feat I could accomplish. But in a seminary course I wrote a paper on postmodernity, Christianity, and how I felt they related to the comic book format. Before receiving a grade on that paper, I ran into my instructor one weekend at the grocery store, where he delightedly informed me that my paper was "empirical evidence" that this is the subject I needed to write my thesis on. That astounded me and was the encouragement I needed to fully dive into this ridiculous task.
Do you want to know what folly is? Folly is standing in front of a room full of professors, theologians, and pastors and presenting a thesis arguing for the legitimacy of comic books for theological discourse. Folly is the fact that this moment was one of the most enjoyable experiences I've ever had. Which, seems weird when you consider I am usually a rather quiet and reserved individual. Someone I had known for years talked to me after they saw my presentation and was just bewildered by it. They had never seen me speak in public before and be so, well, I guess the word they used was charming.
That's right folks, I can be charming. Especially when I talk about comic books. And theology.
Perhaps the ultimate folly of Wednesday Theology is that so far no one has paid me to do it. I have spent a great amount of time and money on this scholarly pursuit. I do believe I have accomplished much with it, but none of those accomplishments come with a dollar amount. But that has not deterred me. Because this folly is my passion, and sometimes it is infectious.
When I presented a paper at an academic conference on religion at Dordt College, my father was able to make the drive down and be in attendance. Now, my wonderful father is not a nerd. He has little to no interest in comic books or even much of pop culture. Instead, I would compare my dad to Red Green. He likes tools, fixing things, and old tractors. So listening to a dry paper presentation about how comic books address theodicy and the problem of evil was probably not very interesting to him.
However, I quickly learned otherwise. After my presentation that morning, we later went out for lunch where we discussed the themes of my paper. We didn't really talk about the specific comic books I cited, but the ideas found in those comics that I used to start a discussion. That discussion over lunch, I believe, is the point of Wednesday Theology. I simply point out that this is what people in the comic book world are talking about when it comes to God and then I wish to expand on that.
Anyway, my dad, who I think still doesn't really care about or understand the world of comic books, told me he could see now just how passionate I was about all this. He further said that this is what I am supposed to do, that this is my purpose. I don't have the words to express how much that confidence in my pursuit of such a ridiculous endeavor means to me. Periodically he will repeat that confidence to me that someway, somehow, this is what I am meant to be doing.
But at the same time there is that voice in the back of my head saying that this is all too absurd and such a complete waste of my life. I could be doing so much more than writing a silly blog about comic books and theology that nobody reads. And then I read from My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers. On the August 10th entry in this devotional, Chambers writes, "Notice God's unutterable waste of saints, according to the judgment of the world. God plants His saints in the most useless ways. We say--God intends me to be here because I am so useful. Jesus never estimated His life along the line of greatest use. God puts His saints where they will glorify Him, and we are no judges at all of where that is."
That may be one of the most encouraging things I have ever read. Yes, Wednesday Theology is folly. God works best with folly. With as much time and money I have spent on this endeavor, Wednesday Theology does seem like an "unutterable waste" of me. And as lost as I feel in that, I also hold the conviction that this is exactly where I am supposed to be. I want "God's unutterable waste of saints" to be the tagline of Wednesday Theology.
So this is what is on my heart today on my birthday. I believe the purpose of my life is folly, and I should pursue it with a relentless passion. I don't know what I'm doing. I don't know where I'm going. And that is exactly where I should be.
An unutterable waste of a saint.