Why I Enjoy Stephen King Novels (Even Though They Keep Me Up at Night)

ItPoster

For most of my life, I avoided the horror genre.

If I saw a poster with Freddy Krueger on the front, I struggled to sleep for a week. Classic horror monsters like the Creature from the Black Lagoon and Nosferatu gave me the heebie-jeebies. The giggling of the Green Ghosts from Scooby Doo could make my hair stand on end as a teenager (and even as an adult, if I’m completely honest). I couldn’t even be in the same room as my mom when she watched CSI or Law and Order, because I found those horrifying incidents as terrifying as any otherworldly creature.

I couldn’t handle these scary things. With anxiety, life itself is already plenty frightful. Give me a horror flick or book, and my overactive imagination would take those freaky scenarios, make me the main character, and turn the terror dial up to 11.

But this week, I am going into a crowded movie theater (with a friend) to see the latest adaptation of Stephen King’s It.

When the first trailer dropped, I watched it three times in one day. I followed all the news about its release, checked out all the behind the scenes and teaser photos, listened to cast interviews, and even watched a few leaked scenes online.

When something scares me, I research it like crazy. Spoilers have always been acceptable when it comes to scary things. I don’t want to be surprised. I don’t want to be a victim of “jump scares.” I want to know when every monster appearance will occur, when any victim breathes their last, when any twist comes out of no where.

But I never had a reason to research horror movies before. I just avoided them like the plague. Somehow, I found It’s premise and story fascinating enough to want to engage with it, despite (and even because of) my fear.

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It all began in 2016 as I was finishing up my final year of seminary. In an effort to really hone my craft, I read Stephen King’s On Writing. His tips were helpful, but more importantly, I fell in love with his writing style and storytelling voice. I wanted to keep hearing what that voice had to say.

I knew horror and I had an all but absent relationship, so before I went to the library, I set up a boundary: I would not read any of his books in my bed, in order to keep a bit of distance from me and the horrors. This often meant I would read on a mattress pad in my room below my bed, giving me at least one degree of separation, but eventually, I became so engrossed with the stories that I broke the boundary and read them until I fitfully fell asleep.

One of the first King books I read was ‘Salem’s Lot. It seemed like a safe choice. King’s monster in this one is vampires, and I figured an upbringing of Twilight and Buffy made me immune to vampire terror.

I slept with a cross by my bed for a week after I finished the book.

And yet, ‘Salem’s Lot, a story about “a vampire’s attempt to colonize a modern-day New England town,” is one of my favorite books.

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To pacify my fears, regarding the horror genre and my own anxieties, people often tell me they are “made up” and the products of a “dark imagination.” While I understand this to be true, I continue to believe in the scary things. That’s why I find them so damn scary.

I believe the darkest parts of our human brokenness can be made manifest physically, in everything from racist microaggressions to lynching, from “harmless” sexist jokes to rape and victim blaming, from “hating the sin but loving the sinner” to traumatizing LGBTQ+ people by putting them through “therapy.”

Because I believe in these very real horrors, I believe in the power of horrific symbols to help us better grapple with the ones we encounter everyday.

And that’s why I embraced Stephen King’s storytelling, not in spite of how much his writing haunts me, but because of how it does.

From shape-shifting clowns and colonizing vampires to abusive husbands and high school bullies, King confronts evil, both supernatural and terrestrial, head on.

King gives us the scary monsters to teach us how to deal with the real ones. He teaches us how to look the things that terrify us right in the eye, even if our bodies tremble as we do.

The scary stories, even more than the Church of my youth and beyond, taught me how to look evil in the eye and fight it.

‘Salem’s Lot taught me about the importance of forces of good combating against evil, even if that doesn’t necessarily mean an easy or immediate victory. The Stand helped me make peace with a chaotic world and an equally chaotic but just God. Revival kept me thinking about unbound science and untested religion long after my final seminary course. 11/22/63 reminded me of the dangers we inflict when we act on our own Messiah complexes.

And collectively, King’s stories taught me how to look white supremacists in the eye as I defended my friends of color from them, to know they were scary, but we were stronger than the fear they induced.

The Church of my youth taught me to avoid anything evil and monstrous, to put my hands over my ears when hell whispered at me. King taught me how to be bold and brave when the monsters broke loose and threatened to take over the world, and how to look into the depths of hell while pushing it back from whence it came.

So even though I’m freaking out about going to see It, I’m also encouraged that I will walk away not only with an adrenaline rush and a good story, but more strength and ability to deal with the world around me.

It will haunt me, and It will embolden me to keep showing up against evil in this world.

Thanks be to God.

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An Open Letter to Fanboys

Dear Fanboys,

I know you’re upset over the apparent “robbery” of “your” characters: the loss of your Doctors and Thors to women, your white Peter Parker “usurped” by Afro-Hispanic Miles Morales, your straight Hal Jordan “taken over” by queer Alan Parker, your blonde Captain Marvel flying out so Pakistani Muslim Khamala Khan can soar in.

How dare they touch your precious characters, you cry. And all in the name of something as ridiculous as “politically correct” culture.

You cry out to the geekdom gods: “Why have you forsaken me?”

Oh, my dears.

Just stop.

Seriously.

 

This is exactly what you sound like. Do you really want to be Dudley Dursley?

 

Enough with the cries of “P.C. culture is ruining geekdom” and “the canon says this character has to be THIS way,” as if those characters don’t already break accepted laws of physics and science.

 

If a time-traveling, regenerating alien hanging out with their past form makes more sense to you than that same alien regenerating into a woman, you’re being a little choosy with how you apply your logic.

You’re not being persecuted. You’re not losing your stories.

What you’re experiencing is a thing called “change.”

The world and culture are shifting around you. And as such, the representation of that world is going to change.

Straight, cis, able-bodied, white men aren’t the only people calling all of the shots anymore. Not only are more women, people of color, LGBTQ+, and disabled people finally getting the right to tell their stories; they have also been reading, watching, and loving the same characters and worlds you have.

All we are asking is that those heroes look like us once in a while.

But why not make an original character, though, you ask. Why must you “steal” one of ours? Go get your own, you demand!

Ah, yes, why didn’t we think of that? It’s easy, right? After all, your characters seemed to spring up out of nowhere with such frequency, we should be able to do the same.

If only it were the case that movies and shows with diverse casts of characters made by people who aren’t straight, male, or white didn’t take longer to make because producers don’t trust the characters will be likeable or even “articulate.” If only these projects weren’t desperately underfunded to the point that the production companies attempt to bribe their creators with more money if they just cast a white lead. 

Not to mention the frequency with which these beloved, well-rounded shows with this type of casting are dropped.

 

I guess they gotta make way for more episodes of Iron Fist, The Ranch, and whatever else Adam Sandler can cough up.

 

Why aren’t more women and people of color trying to tell their own stories, you ask. Why aren’t they working hard to get in the director’s seat or behind the writing desk?

Here’s the short answer: They are.

They’re working their asses off.

They’re also being met with microagressions like “I’m pleasantly surprised you knew what you were doing,” are blamed for a variety of minor issues for the sake of being a “minority,” and fearing that if they drop any “ethnic” dialogue or bring up too many “issues,” they’ll lose the project for good.

 

Not to mention the legitimate and very threatening harassment they receive online for critiquing video games while having vaginas and posting selfies with their fellow artists. 

These add up real quick and make pursuing a passion that much more exhausting and even dangerous. And it takes a special kind of strength to be willing to pursue what you love when all of that is coming at you every day.

When we get excited over a female Doctor, a woman of color being the main character in the new Star Trek, and actual Muslim women writing the story of an actual Muslim superhero, it’s not because we want to “steal” your characters for the sake of being “P.C.” We are excited, because just like you got David Tennant and 11 other men as the Doctor, and you had Captains Kirk and Picard (take your pick), we get Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor and First Officer Burnham. We get people who are like us telling stories about heroes who are like us. We have icons to admire and exonerate, whom we aspire to be one day, just as you always have.

 

It looks like a sun is collapsing behind her, and she’s still taking time to pose all stoically for the camera. How badass is that?!

 

When only one-third of speaking characters are female, despite the fact that women represent just over half the population in America, when just 28.3 percent of characters with dialogue are from non-white racial/ethnic groups, though such groups are nearly 40 percent of the U.S. population, and when only two percent of speaking characters are identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transsexual, we will line up in huge numbers for Wonder Woman’s release and binge watch The Handmaid’s Tale, American Gods, and Transparent.

When negative mass media portrayals of black men shape public views of and attitudes toward men of color, which can result in self-demoralization and a reduction of self-esteem for people of color and enable judges to hand out harsher sentences and the police to shoot indiscriminately, we will rejoice when Idris Elba heads The Dark Tower, John Boyega is a lead in Star Wars, and A Wrinkle in Time is driven by Storm Reid with Ava Duvernay at the helm.

So instead of complaining, please support us. We have good stories to tell. Heck, we even have universal stories to share, believe it or not.

Support us because you want more people to love fandom and geek culture.

Support us because stories are sacred and affect all of us in sacred ways.

Support us because we’re all a bunch of geeks who are into some crazy, weird, phenomenal stories, so we might as well enjoy them together while the rest of the world casts their judgmental looks upon our weirdness.

Bridal Showers and Tesseracts and Female Doctors, Oh My! (Or: SWEET BABY JESUS, THINGS ARE LOOKING UP!)

A WRINKLE IN TIME13

Bleeding Cool

ComingSoon.net

Y’all.

This has been one hell of a weekend.

I got to attend a bridal shower thrown by two beloved cousins, with whom I spent some of the best moments of my childhood. My future mother-in-law and her sister met my extended family for the first time, and to my great relief, everyone got along famously.

Not to mention, my fiance and I received a vacuum, a Crock Pot, ceramic pots and pans, and other amazing gifts.

That evening, I went to my cousin Megan’s house, where we sat around a roaring fire in the fire pit, and I played with her adorable, headbutting little girl and traded silly stories and political tirades with my aunts and mother.

On Sunday, I went to my aunt Leslie’s pool, where I squeezed some swimming time in between my younger cousins’ attempts to treat me like the human equivalent of a jungle gym.

The family time and bridal celebration alone made it an incredible weekend.

The geeky celebrations that occurred alongside them made everything ten times sweeter.

The Wrinkle in Time trailer dropped and blew the world away, highlighting its beautiful cast and phenomenal story of a young girl on a journey to save her father and the universe from an evil darkness.

After several fan campaigns, the 13th Doctor is officially going to be a woman, much to the joy of many young women, the necessary feedback and critiques of women of color, and the chagrin of silly “fanboys.”

Y’all, this is an amazing week to not only be a geek, but to be a female geek.

Women of color, both young and old, dominate Madeline L’Engle’s beloved sci-fi story, which is also directed by a woman of color, the amazing Ava Duvernay, and released by Disney, which practically owns the realm of imagination right now.

An intelligent and talented woman (albeit a white, blonde, and thin one, which carries its own issues) will be embodying an immortal Time Lord/Lady who carries wisdom and knowledge of all of time and space.

After months of news stories that would tell women, people of color, LGBTQ+ people, and other marginalized people that there is no hope, fantasy kicked down the door, grabbed us by the hand, and took us away to worlds into which we are not only allowed to enter, but into which we are called to lead the rest of the world.

For once, I don’t care what the “haters” have to say.

The joys of being with family, of celebrating my fiance and I and our love and life together, of being a fangirl, an activist, and a seeker of the Kingdom of God broke through the despair of my anxiety, stress, and skepticism. The joy of these beautiful works of art reminded me that if neither the world nor the Church will lead us into the Kingdom of God, then maybe the imagination of sci-fi and fantasy will.

This weekend, for the first time in a long time, joy won.

 

For the Literal Love of Christ, Stop Making Jesus White

 

Superstar

Ted Neeley in Jesus Christ Superstar

I was browsing Buzzfeed the other day when I found an article about the Mary Magdalene film starring Rooney Mara (as Mary) and Joaquin Phoenix (as Jesus).

To be honest, at first I thought it was great that a film about Mary Magdalene would be coming to theaters soon, especially because of the issues many in the Church might have with her story being portrayed well on screen (she wasn’t a prostitute?!).

Then I saw the casting, and I got frustrated at the fact that once again, two white actors are portraying religious and historical figures of color.

MaryMovie

Daily Mail

I quickly went to IMBD to check out the rest of the cast, and I discovered that black, Israeli, and Algerian actors will be playing Jesus’ disciples.

Which is…better than having them all be white, too, I suppose. At least this casting is a bit more accurate.

Starting from top left: Australian actor Ryan Corr as Joseph, Israeli actor Tawfeek Barhom as James, Matthew Moshonov as Matthew, British actor Chiwetel Ejiofor as Peter, and French actor Tahar Rahim

This being said, Hollywood is not off the hook. The fact that in most biblical films, Jesus is cast as a white man while the people of color are relegated to the supporting cast is a greater symptom of the American white savior complex.

 

The simplest way to define the white savior as an entertainment trope is a white character rescuing people of color from their plight. While many well-meaning people defend these characters as benign and even admirable (perhaps citing that they learn a lesson about themselves and “those people” and become “better” in the end), they are actually rather harmful.

The danger of the white savior mentality is that it enables the savior to look down on the ones they try to “save.” It allows the savior to say, “You are only worthy of my time, attention, and compassion as long as you are beneath me. Never equal to me, and definitely not above me.”

The white savior complex “racializes morality by making us consistently identify with the good white person saving the non-white people who are given much less of an identity in these plot lines. It also frames people of color as being unable to solve their own problems.”

This racialization of morality frames white people as the good guys, and the people of color as either the bad guys or the ones needing saved.

White savior mentality does not embolden people on the “receiving” end to take agency over their own lives.

One of the primary results of the white savior/one needing saved relationship is enmeshment, which can occur “in any relationship where there is a power imbalance due to structural inequality, and ensures that the power imbalance stays firmly in place, resulting in frustration and resentment for the oppressed group.” This ensures that the person or people being saved become fully dependent on their saviors to survive and thrive, while the saviors get a nice dose of purpose and goodwill from having saved someone. They are dependent on each other for the wrong reasons.

The white savior mentality does not allow people of color, or those being “rescued” or “saved,” to voice their own concerns or opinions about their own lives. Instead, the saved remain subservient to their saviors, who tell them to trust in the savior’s goodness and logic above their own needs.

This is prevalent in reality, as seen in the accusations of TV personalities and news anchors concerning black culture and black individuals. There seem to be zero forms of protest that a person of color can participate in which white leaders will not criticize. This is why Black Lives Matter can be deemed “the new KKK” with little to no mainstream backlash. It’s why any criticism about white supremacy and privilege is clapped back against with cries of “reverse racism” and accusations of “not letting the past be past.”

Feminists are not exempt from this.

Rafia Zakaria writes in Al Jazeera, “Nonwhites are expected to approbate and modify their own lives or positions to participate in this [white feminist] narrative. The parameters of this paradigm ignore differences in privilege that separate the white and nonwhite feminisms. White women dominate the mainstream American feminism because they can still draw on white privilege and occupy the entire category.”

If left ignored, women of color will continue to be ostracized by a movement which claims to seek liberation for all.

This is why, for the literal love of Jesus, we need to drop the white savior complex, from our media and from our lives.

Jesus regarded everyone with whom he interacted as inherently worthy of his love and attention. But white savior mentality does not acknowledge the inherent dignity within every human being as a child of God.

If we continue to call ourselves the Body of Christ on earth, yet continue to ignore our siblings’ cries for justice, then we are attempting to cast off our hands and feet, destroying the Body from the inside out.

We will also damage our testimony as Christ’s body on earth to those who are not in the Church.

A personal case in point: I have a Middle Eastern, Muslim father, but I did not grow up with him. I grew up with my white mother and white family, so I learned about Arabic culture from them and the media.

And they didn’t exactly paint the best picture. Especially post 9-11.

Post 9/11, I thought all Arabs were terrorists, because that’s all I saw in the news, in TV shows, and in movies. I thought they were oppressive to women and democracy and all the other things Americans claim to hold dear (but they really don’t).

I know how this affected me, and I know how it could affect my younger siblings, and the people with whom they interact, especially in an era of proposed “Muslim bans” and chants to “Build the Wall.”

I worry about representation because of what it will tell the world about my family.

So what do we, the white Americans wrestling with our white savior complexes, need to do?

A small way to break this oppressive cycle is to consume more media with better representations of people of color, in which they, not us, are the predominant actors, writers, producers, and directors.

Love comics? Check out Black Panther, Ms. Marvel, and America Chavez.

Looking for a new show to binge-watch on Netflix? Check out Luke Cage, The Get Down, or 3%.

Want a Redbox night? Rent Moonlight or Get Out.

If you don’t consume media with predominantly POC casts and production because you think it’s “too harsh” on white people, or you wonder why you’re not in the lead role like you’re used to, you might be feeling a trace of what black, Latinx, Arab, and other “minority” communities have felt for years.

We often have the audacity to ask, in a culture we dominate, “What about me?”

I asked that question as a four year old when I was dyeing Easter eggs with my cousins because I didn’t want to share the Easter egg dye with them. As a child, I acted like a child, as do we all. Now, it’s time to leave our childish ways behind.

Will watching and reading more stories in which people of color are the heroes and heroines change the world overnight?

Of course not.

It can, however, begin to change our mentality, break stereotypes, and empower people of color.

And for the literal love of Christ, we can do that much.

Fangirl Theology: What Harry Potter Taught Me About Social Justice

I’ve been thinking a lot about social justice.

I’ve also been thinking a lot about Harry Potter.

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NPR

After election season, so many people found solace in these stories, a peace they first experienced in their youth.

I’m also caught up in this phenomenon. I want to go home and dig my books out again and lose myself in them like I once did. I want to go Hogwarts and have adventures with Harry, Ron, and Hermione. I want to learn spells and play Quidditch. I want to devour those pages for hours and not realize any time has gone by.

I want to feel the excitement and wonder I always encounter when I return to those pages. I miss sympathizing with these layered characters in their struggles, from teenage angst and stress to losing loved ones and resisting evil.

But now, more than ever, I feel like I need these stories again. Actually, I think we all do.

I believe the reason so many people are returning to these stories and are quoting, tweeting, and even shouting them, online and at protests, is because they know how necessary Harry’s story is for us now.

Why?

Because this story taught us about seeking justice and loving mercy.

It’s a message we heard loud and clear when we were young. It is a message we remember. It is one we see the need to proclaim now, to our nation and our world.

This story taught us to care for the orphans, like Harry himself and his godson, Teddy Lupin. It taught us to protect and stand up for the marginalized, for Muggleborns like Hermione and Colin Creevey, for house elves and centaurs, and for outsiders like Hagrid and Neville. It taught us that when the Voldemorts and Umbridges of the world begin to rise, we join Dumbledore’s Army and resist supremacy, censorship, and corrupt power. With Harry, we learned how good education teaches us to love and empower others instead of hoard all the good information for ourselves.

We learned that there are forces which, like dementors, threaten to consume our joy and peace, but we also learned we have the strength within ourselves to cast them out. We learned that we all have evil within us. Some, like Voldemort and Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, keep their hearts closed off from love and change, and it is their downfall. But there are some very imperfect people, like Draco Malfoy, Snape, Dudley, and even Dumbledore himself, who realize the errors of their ways and find redemption.

These stories are part of the reason why so many millenials are passionate about social justice. When we find ourselves face to face with white, male, heterosexual, cis-gender supremacy, we do not remain silent, because J.K. Rowling’s characters were anything but that. When we seem to be dominated by those who would harm the marginalized, we counter those systems, because her stories gave us the means to notice and challenge them.

We saw Harry fight Voldemort’s killing curses with disarming spells. We saw Hermione, a “Mudblood,” perform magic and spout wisdom beyond the skills of her “pureblood” peers. We saw Ron confront his demons when destroying a Horcrux and Dumbledore confront his past failures while teaching Harry the importance of love and compassion. We saw Hagrid’s unconditional love for and acceptance of all manner of creatures and Snape’s imperfect loyalty to Dumbledore.

We come by this passion honestly. We don’t run after these stories for the sole purpose of their fantasy and inspiration. We love Harry Potter, because these stories speak to what’s already within us. These are stories which call to the desire for justice which is in our DNA. It is the DNA we carry as image-bearers of the One who loves and judges out of mercy, who cares for the orphan, the widow, and the foreigner among us, and whose heart breaks when we do not do the same. These stories resonate so well with us, because they draws on God’s story, written throughout history and evident in all those tales which teach us to do justice and love mercy.

When we return to the Harry Potter stories, we are not returning to a childhood nostalgia or an escapist fantasy.

We are returning to a story of God’s love and redemption in and through God’s people, a story in which the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it.

It is a story we need this Advent, maybe this year more than ever.

“Dark and difficult times lie ahead. Soon we must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy.” – Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

How will we be the light in this darkness? What will keep us burning? How will we resist the evil before us? What “Dumbledore’s Army” movements call to you?

Now What?

SPOILERS for anyone who somehow hasn’t finished the entire Harry Potter series yet. If you haven’t, please get on that. You’re missing out.

Harry Potter was my gateway drug to geekdom. Before I knew what fandom was and before I could even admit that I liked fantasy, I fell head over heels for JK Rowling’s Wizarding World.

I can’t remember exactly when I started reading the books or from whom I got the first one. I do know that when the first movie was announced, I was 4 books in and madly in love with Daniel Radcliffe.

And I definitely remember attending the midnight release of the very last movie: Deathly Hallows Part 2.

I went with Bryce and my college friend Betty. We stood in line, me with my Dumbledore’s Army T-shirt, Betty in her plain white T with a Hogwarts crest stitched on, and Bryce with his wizard’s hat. A photographer snapped a photo of us in the long line from the theater balcony, and we made it in the local newspaper.

Movie

I remember the excitement and dread at the thought of this being the end. I remember cheering when Ron and Hermione kissed and when Neville killed Nagini the snake. I remember being disappointed in the portrayal of the final battle between Harry and Voldemort and the lack of Dumbledore’s story. I remember smiling through (possibly) teary eyes when grown up Harry, Ron, and Hermione watched their own children roll away from them on the Hogwarts Express. But most of all, I remember the film ending, holding Bryce’s hand in the stillness that comes with the blank screen just before the credits begin to roll, and thinking to myself, “Now what?”

HP

moviemansguide.com

After spending so much time with Harry and his friends, in their lives and adventures, I felt a jolt as the screen went blank and the lights came up, blinding in their harsh reminder that story time was over, and the world was waiting for me to go back.

And from the blank screen through the car ride home and even while I drifted off to sleep that same evening, I asked myself a number of questions:

What happens next? Do the characters really live happily ever after? Will more troubles befall them? How do I go back to reality? What did this story teach me about life and the world around me?

Isn’t this what stories are supposed to do? Not simply entertain and remove us from the world, but to put us back into reality with a new perspective and lots of questions? Isn’t that what good stories do to us?

The Old and New Testaments have similar endings which, if read well, simultaneously unsettle and excite us. 2 Chronicles, the last book in the Hebrew Bible, ends with King Cyrus’ cliffhanger order for the Jews to return home to Israel. John’s Revelation at the end of the New Testament offers us a vision of the future, in which the powers of darkness are defeated, and we are invited into the new kingdom to dwell with God.

Both endings inspire hope and wonder in their readers. What will happen when the Jews return from exile? Will they renew the covenant with God only to break it again, or will they remain faithful? Are a new heaven and a new earth really possible, and when will they happen?

Then when we look at the world as it is, and we feel another jolt.

After we close our Bibles, we see that heaven and earth are as separate as ever, and we are still in exile. 

After we close Deathly Hallows when Harry says, “All was well,” we return to the world around us, where things may or may not all be well. 

We finish hearing or watching the story, but the story is not finished with us. And we may ask, “Now what?”

What do we do with a proclamation of returning home when we are still in exile? What do we do with the promise of a new heaven and new earth in a broken, bleeding world? What do we do after the evil lord is defeated in one story but others loom large in the lives of others?

Sometimes, these questions push me to love God and others with a renewed fervor, hoping that through these efforts, the exile will end, and the world will get better. Other days, these questions overwhelm me and make me want to retreat or join the “bad guys,” who seems to have more efficient ways of getting things done. Either way, the stories are not finished with me, nor am I finished with them. 

Maybe that’s how it’s supposed to be for now.

Why I Spend More Time on Netflix than in Bible Study

I give more time to my Netflix queue than to Bible study. My comic book collection has exceeded my devotional one. I still tear through Harry Potter books with an appetite that I’ve never had for the Bible.

Even though I attend a local congregation and am in seminary to become a pastor, I still struggle to practice spiritual disciplines and read my Bible regularly. When I open my Bible, I still think of the past Bible studies I attended in which everyone arrived at the same neat, non-debatable answers. When I sit down to meditate, my brain races with thoughts I think I “should” be thinking and ones I actually am thinking.

But I don’t feel this conflict when reading my books and comics or watching my favorite TV shows. Instead, I feel free to imagine, interpret, and enjoy the story in front of me, free from the boundaries of doctrine, theology, and orthodoxy. These stories don’t demand that I come to a certain conclusion; instead, they invite me along with the characters to see something new.

I don’t feel the same way about the Bible, or at least how I’ve been taught how to read it. For so long, Bible study has contained a number of unspoken rules: Don’t stray from orthodoxy or the theology of our group. Any new insight must conform to what we already believe. Use your imagination, but don’t be too imaginative. This is what the text definitely means, and this is what it will never mean.

This type of reading drives me nuts. I love a good story. A good story allows for plenty of different interpretations. A good story doesn’t settle for a comfortable ending, but challenges the reader to look at the world in a completely different way than they did before. I want to find something in the story I didn’t notice before, like seeing a part in a movie I’ve seen several times but didn’t notice until this particular viewing. If I can read the Bible like that, it will seem bigger and less safe, but it will keep me coming back to it instead of repelling me.

This is why, while I love tradition, I find it problematic when we use this same gift t0 ignore storytelling. And I get very worried about the future of the Church every time I hear someone say or imply, “We’ve always done/thought of things this way, and therefore it is always right.”

The stories I’ve loved, from Harry Potter to Doctor Who, from Ms. Marvel to Sandman, have taken me to a world I never knew existed. They taught me about the pain and beauty of this world in a way more honest than I’d ever heard it described in the Church. When the Church insisted on teaching me about a dreamworld of black-and-white perfection, these stories put me face-to-face with complicated, colorful reality. When the Church only seemed to offer hope in a “world to come,” these stories gave me hope that was tangible and present in the world today. These stories both took me away from my world and kept my feet grounded in reality.

I love The Sandman comic series by Neil Gaiman. I love mythological tales of beings with a lot of power who sometimes look out for humanity yet also make some less than right choices. But more importantly, these comics showed me how to have hope in life when all hope seems lost. When I couldn’t see that hope in the biblical story, Neil Gaiman showed it to me in a whole new context that resonated powerfully with me.

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I love Fahrenheit 451, not only because I love dystopian novels that end with revolution, but because I love hearing about truth that will not be kept in the dark. The prophets proclaimed a word that was fire in their bones and couldn’t be kept shut up. Jesus came proclaiming a truth that couldn’t be killed. Guy Montag risked his life to read more books instead of burn them. This is the Gospel to me.

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I love Harry Potter, because I would love it if I lived in a world where Hogwarts was I real school, but only if I wasn’t a Muggle. More importantly even than that, though, I love the story of a child who is both a very human friend and the savior of his people. It is a tale of sacrifice, love, community, and resurrection.

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I love my favorite books, movies, and shows, not in spite of my love of the Bible, but because of it. The messages from the stories of the Bible are alive and present to me in the stories I love today.

The Church needs to remember that this collection of stories which we call the Bible is extremely powerful and more full of color and paradox than we will ever realize. The Bible cannot be completely bound by tradition, doctrine, or anyone’s theology; it is both too big and too small for that. It is the Word of God but not God. It is inspired yet very, very human. It offers guidance, but the Spirit makes this Word alive.

And for that, I am thankful, because its origins remind me of my own humanity. The Bible, and the stories it has inspired, remind me of the truth that, as a human, I am both very significant and very small. Everything in God’s Creation can testify to that truth, so why should we stand in its way? Why should we say that it is only present in one medium, and how can we say that the truth we find in the Bible can’t be found in other tales?

Someday soon, I hope I find that life, not just in the Bible, and not just outside of the Bible, but in the eyes of the God who looks at me and reminds me, through these and other stories, that I am both so significant and so small.