My first world of church going and teaching is a conservative one. I'll call it Conservo World. Many of the inhabitants of Conservo World hold very traditional beliefs about a wide variety of subjects ranging from race relations to abortion to sexual orientation to gender identity and lots of other topics, and although most hold no animosity toward individuals, they sincerely believe they must do their part to make the world a better place (or at least keep it from becoming a worse place). In that world I have many wonderful friends who are kind, caring, decent people.
World number two is mostly comprised of graduate school friends and academic colleagues outside of religious institutions, who, for the most part, land to the left of liberal on the political front -- it's Libero World, indeed. The folks of Libero World (some religiously oriented, but most not) see themselves as progressives and so believe they must do their part to bring about needed change and make the world a better place (or at least keep it from becoming a worse place). They often see themselves as outside of herteronormativity either by practice or belief. Again, in that world I have many wonderful friends who are kind, caring, decent people. I've been navigating these two worlds somewhat successfully for a very long time.
Something happened the other day, though, that made my usual smooth navigational system blink. I was at an academic conference populated by Libero World folk and the session leader said something that caught my attention. She mentioned, almost in passing, that fantasy and science fiction are mostly liberal spaces -- in others words, produced and consumed by the folks of Libero World. As a tried and true fantansy/scifi nerd, you can bet I shook off the descending conference ennui and sat up straight at that. Many images flooded my mind, including:
- standing in line for an hour at the premiere of every Lord of The Rings movie, next to Conservo World friends
- watching the youth group leader of our conservative church chase my sons across the church lawn, all of them waving lightsabers around
- listening to the rants of conservative friends of all ages when the latest iteration of Star Wars, Harry Potter, the X-Men, etc., didn't come up to their expectations
- giving in to my students' begging to show the latest Marvel trailer on the big screen in our classroom
I could say lots more, but mostly I thought of an organization I joined about a year ago called Realm Makers, populated by Christian writers of speculative fiction. I've been to their conference where hundreds of Conservo World folks dress up quite creatively to attend a banquet as Wolverine, Steam Punk characters, Harry Potter -- you name it. They have a very active Facebook group through which they dissect all kinds of scifi fantasy minutia, along with supporting each others' writing efforts. These are hardcore fans, folks, and I bet they'd be quite surprised to hear that their passion resides in mostly a "liberal space."
What would make this presenter see fantasy and science fiction as a liberal domain? She was kind, professional, brilliant and well educated, but she knew nothing (kind of like Jon Snow) about evangelical pop culture tastes. My guess is that she sees conservative Christians very narrowly, probably buttoned up in straight suits and long skirts and knocking at people's doors with Bibles under their arms.
When the conference was over I went back to the classroom and my content that morning dealt with gender identity. We talked about gender typicality and gender constancy. As I defined these terms, most of my students looked at me blankly. Sadly, a few smirked uncomfortably. But when I described the risk kids who fall outside of traditional gender norms face at school, they became sympathetic and gladly agreed that their role as teachers will be to protect all the children in their classes. Their ethic of care, the same ethic of care I heard over and over at the Libero World conference, was obvious.
What's my point? We have more in common than we think. We may disagree on many issues, and sometimes our beliefs are so polar opposite it's hard to see any common ground. In the media and sometimes on the streets these worlds collide. But if we gave up our assumptions, just for a minute, and took the time to find out a little more about the reality of our lives, if we took the time to touch instead of banging against each other in anger, we might be surprised at how much we are alike.
As for me, I'll keep traveling back and forth between these two worlds, going left to right, depending on the issue. Mostly I land just enough in the middle to make both sides mad at me. So if you felt yourself bristling at this essay, that's fine. I'm right where I'm supposed to be.