Comic-Con International day four: Conversations

God is at work in the popular culture.

By Michael Parnell

One of the things you find at Comic-Con is being in line or on a bus with a total stranger. As I mentioned in an earlier column, people here are generally very kind to each other. But the kind of people who like the kind of things that are at Comic-Con are a bit on the introverted side.

In other words, lots of people just don’t want to be bothered or don’t want to have a conversation.

That said, the conversations I did have in my days there were interesting.

One was with a Brazilian journalist who attended the panel, “God Is Disappointed in You.” After I apologized to the author for what the church had done to him, this journalist wanted to talk. The conversation began with me telling him about myself and my church and why I was at Comic-Con.

Then we began to talk about faith. He told me he was a lapsed Presbyterian. Attending church when he was younger was his story, but he lost interest in church as an adult, for the usual reasons. The church was not relevant to what he saw as being important in life. He said the church in Brazil was always asking for money, but he saw nothing that the church did that was worth giving to.

His faith in God was strong, but his faith in the church was no longer there. The church was something he did not need or want to bother with.

I told him I understood. Some of the same things were happening in the United States. But I told him that if we left the church, where would the hope that the church is supposed to represent go? I encouraged him to get re-engaged in church and raise his voice when things did not go where he thought they should. I also told him that he did not have to go to the church of his childhood. It was OK to find another church that better matched his ideals of what church should be.

Another conversation was with a journalist from Spain I met on the bus back to the hotel. We began talking about our interests and what we were doing at Comic-Con. When I told him I was a pastor, he quickly told me he was an agnostic.

He explained that he could not be an atheist because he felt you had to have faith to be an atheist. He believed that if there is a god, that god is hidden from us and it does not matter to that god how we live our lives.

He said that he had trouble with how the Bible described things; it was clear he did not like the idea of a literal interpretation.

I told him that I felt the Bible was true but not literal. What the Bible reveals is the way we are to live our lives, but if we take it as literal we get hung up on the story and other issues surrounding it.

He told me that was not a good argument. I wanted to hear more from him, but my stop came up and I had to get off the bus.

While standing in line to get “Weird Al” Yankovic’s autograph for my boys, I met a woman from San Diego. She was there working at the convention in one of the booths. We were together in line for over an hour, so we talked about all manner of things.

When she discovered that I was a pastor, she told me she was a believer. Then the conversation turned serious.

Her daughter, who was 28 and battling breast cancer, had begun renouncing God. The daughter’s level of anger was disturbing this mother.

I told the mother her daughter had the right to be upset with God. One of the things I tell people in that circumstance is that God is great and God is good, but God has a lot of explaining to do.

We talked about how this was affecting her as a mother. She confessed she was fearful of what was ahead. She declared her trust in God, yet it was hard. The end result may be the death of her child. One of the great tragedies in life is to have to bury a child. I told her I had compassion for her plight.

Then the conversation stopped. I waited for her to speak. When she did she asked for my prayers. I assured her she had them.

There is a unifying aspect to these conversations and others I had: me being a pastor.

When people found out I was a pastor it opened avenues for conversation. One of the subjects was, why was I at Comic-Con?

My answer was I wanted to see how God was working there. I believe God is at work in what we call “pop culture.” There are themes and opportunities there which intersect with the Almighty. Before I left for San Diego I prayed that God would make me aware of how he was working there.

These three conversations were part of the answer to that prayer. I was able to meet people where they were and dialogue with them about faith. They allowed me to see God working in individual lives. They also allowed me to be pastoral to people who might need a pastor, even for a few brief moments.

Another conversation was with a professor from a seminary in Canada. He told me he was there because he wanted to see what it was in pop culture in which people were involving themselves. He told me he thought it was great to have a pastor there.

I did, too. That’s why I will be back next year.

— Mike Parnell, who writes commentary for ABPnews/Herald, attended Comic-Con International, a multigenre entertainment and comic convention held annually in San Diego. The year’s event, which ran July 24-27, was expected to draw more than 120,000 people.

Previous columns:

Comic-Con International day three: ‘Be excellent to each other’

Comic-Con International day two: ‘God is disappointed in you’

Comic-Con International day one: The day of greed

OPINION: Views expressed in Baptist News Global columns and commentaries are solely those of the authors.