Right now you are probably wondering what Star Trek has to do with my Lenten musings. I didn’t intend to include an almost 50 year old television phenomenon in my Lent series. But today Leonard Nimoy died. He was 83 years old. He left behind a family and a long legacy of playing one of the most iconic television roles ever: Mr Spock, the half-Human, half-Vulcan first officer of the starship Enterprise.
In 2015, it’s pretty darn cool to like comic books, sci-fi, and fantasy. You can’t go anywhere without seeing someone wearing a comic book character t-shirt or looking forward to the latest franchise movie. The Marvel’s Avengers Age of Ultron trailer broke all sorts of YouTube records for number of views. ComicCon in San Diego is a media magnet and where stars go to be seen. It’s chic to be geek now.
But it wasn’t always like that. Twenty five years ago, liking sci-fi or comic books got you labeled as a nerd at school and labeled uncool. Joining a Star Trek fan club or attending a science fiction convention was something that was all together brave in one way (knowing the stigma at the time) and destined to raise eyebrows from most people.
Before the internet became what you know it today, those of us with fandom tendencies couldn’t troll Tumblr, Facebook pages, and tons of awesome geek sites for our favorite fandom news fix. We couldn’t find Twitter friends to talk about our obsessions. We actually had to join clubs, get newsletters in the mail, and attend real life meetings.
I had been a fan for a while, but a lady at our church (who later became my aunt) told me about conventions. I begged my mom and dad to take me to one. Fortunately, my dad was a big sci-fi guy, so it was an easy sell. My mom went along for the trip. At this convention, Dixie Trek, I found out about organized fandom. There were clubs out there for people interested in the things I liked. For a 15 year old who kept her geekiness in the closet at the time, this was so amazing. I went home and sent in my application and fees. For the next 15 years or so of my life, I was a card-carrying member of the largest fan-run Star Trek club around.
As in all things in life, there were good things and bad things about this aspect of my life. But the overriding thing I took away from my time in organized fandom was what it was like to have a real sense of community and not fear diversity.
We didn’t just sit around and talk about Star Trek all the time. We didn’t just attend meetings, discuss the latest movie or episode. We didn’t just hang out with our group to figure out the combination to Kirk’s safe (old Star Trek joke, there, sorry).We didn’t get angry with each other when debating which Captain was best – Kirk or Picard. We had our opinions, but we allowed for diversity of thought.
The group I was part of met regularly, sure, but we were active in our community. We adopted a highway, conducted food drives, visited the local orphanage, dressed up for the children’s hospital. We raised money for community outreach groups. We were giving back regularly. I found Star Trek fans were wanting to leave the world a better place. This wasn’t just our group, either. This was the norm for all the chapters in our parent organization.
And this was a caring community. Our local group was there for us when my grandfather passed away. They brought meals, attended the funeral, and checked on us. When another member fell on hard times, we filled their pantry. We helped with medical bills for a member. We helped clean the house of a member who was ill for a long period. You put out a call that someone was in trouble and it wasn’t just the leadership of the group who showed up to help. It was usually all hands on deck.
As I got more involved in the parent organization through all those cool old-school internet forms of communication, like BBS, Chat, and Email, I made friends with people across the country and around the world. As we attended conventions, it was always a reunion of sorts. So, when I traveled for work, I always had a friend in a town I was visiting and never felt lonely. When I injured my knee and was bedridden for several weeks, these people from around the country called me, chatted online with me, and generally made sure I didn’t go stir crazy. They sent get well gifts. When I graduated from college, they sent cards and congratulations. When I got married, they accepted my husband into their group, despite Eric not being a Trekkie. When I was pregnant with my first child, they threw me a virtual baby shower and sent a box of gifts.
Diversity was not something to be eschewed. See, Star Trek – the Vulcans in particular – held to a belief – Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations (IDIC). And really, when it came down to these fellow Trekkies, IDIC was their core tenet – they held to it firmly. I met people from all walks of life and the diversity was educating. This group of people didn’t mind I was young. It didn’t even keep me from volunteering for leadership. One of the coolest people I hung out with at a convention was in her 70’s. It’s not often you see a teenager and a seventy year old able to sit and talk and laugh together. Normal prejudices that we experience in society didn’t really show themselves. Young, old, rich, poor, overweight, skinny, differently-abled, sexual orientation, color, religious preference (or lack of one), politics – it was okay we were all different. What we had was one thing in common – our love of Star Trek.
I remember this one incident in particular when it hit me just how different this group was from other areas of my life. I was in New York City for a few days. Here I was the typical Christian, conservative, girl from the South hanging out with my friends who were liberal, gay New Yorkers. I knew (and still know) so many people that couldn’t even imagine doing that.
Diversity isn’t anything to be afraid of. Differences are often shunned and people run from them. I was exposed to a world outside of my little Christian bubble. And it was good for me. When I hear people, through fear, demonize others because of their politics or lifestyle or religion, I have a name and a face to go with those lifestyles. I learned not to paint a group of people with such a wide brush.
When I think about my experience with organized fandom, I can’t help but compare and contrast with my experiences in faith communities. Do we allow for some diversity on the non-essentials of our faith? Are our doctrines more important than the people we should minister to and love? Do we actively engage our communities to leave them a better place? Do we accept those in our churches, despite their personal messes or secret sins? Do we jump in to help the hurting, the poor, the marginalized? Do we have a diversity in our body of believers or are we cookie cutter Christians? Are we willing to hang out with people so incredibly different than us and build relationships?
I took from my experience with this group of Trekkies this: for a group of people that was mainly non-Christian, they actually knew how to live like Jesus more than most Christians. And that’s sad – and a challenge for us to do better.
Peace and Long Life!