Kingdoms come: The search for worlds beyond

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A couple of weeks ago, I was one of the leaders of a Creativity Conference held in Orlando, a bit of which I talked about in last week’s column. My main workshop was one that combined my professional leaning toward the Bible and theology with my leisure fascination with the realms of sci-fi and fantasy. The title of my workshop was: “Elseworlds: The Kingdom of God and our Draw to Alt-Realities.”

The premise was to draw a connection between my professional and leisure interests in a substantial way that would explain a bit of what we experience in the world today.

The description for the workshop said the following: “The landscape of entertainment today seems rarely based in the world as we know it. Across multiple platforms, be they television, books, gaming, movies or the like, there is a cultural quest to be immersed in ‘other worlds.’ Sometimes those worlds are some post-apocalyptic future where human survival is at risk. Sometimes those worlds are ones as detailed as Tolkein’s Middle-Earth. Sometimes they are simply populated by ‘meta-humans’ who super-heroically steward the realms of the DC and Marvel universes. And sometimes, concepts such a physics are overruled by the laws of magic anywhere from stories inspired by fairy tales such as “Once Upon a Time” to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Could the quest for these other realities actually be the underlying human need for the Kingdom of God? Come explore how the Christian Hope may actually be the REAL answer to this human quest, and how we as Christian leaders might use these other worlds as a doorway to conversations of faith!”

Now, hidden within this discussion starter are two underlying premises that may be disputed. Indeed, I could be wrong on both — but I don’t think so. The first is an observation that church life as the center of family life, for the most part, has culturally just ceased to be beyond the time I grew up. For my family it was an EXPECTATION that kids would go to church and Sunday school, and whatever faith the family touted would be one of those priority legacies to be passed on. But my generation took a more wait-and-see approach to this prior mandate: “you decide for yourself when you get old enough.”

And then, the following generation essentially grew up without church even being an option on the table, let alone an expectation or even any kind of priority for life (and to be fair, though I am using the word “church,” I think the same is true of any faith in general, so the loss is probably a universal phenomenon). So that, for many today, church is something you deal with in history books or background in fiction, but not as an active part of reality.

My second premise is that there actually is a real and good reason to have a faith as a priority in life’s mix in that there is an innate human craving for something beyond this world and its brokenness, powerlessness and finitude. That craving, I believe, is natural draw to what Jesus called “the Kingdom of God” which he proclaimed “has come near” in his very ministry on earth.

So put those two together, and you have a human need (which the Church would say is for the Kingdom of God) with an apparent vacuum. And so we have a culture filled with many other kingdoms and worlds where the disenfranchised can enter the game, enter the movie, literally enter the theme park, and become part of a story that fills the need and offers wholeness, power, and infinite possibilities!

I was amazed at the energy and interest in my workshops on this topic. The details of those discussions are way too in-depth to relay here, but there were observations that ranged from the simply obvious parallel that the fictional post-apocalyptic worlds such as “The Walking Dead” and so many others are directly relatable to the Christian fiction of the Left Behind series and the whole rapture-based fiction created by John Darby in the 1830s.

Another vein of discussion that totally fascinated me was one that was brought on by a side comment I made about the inherent religion in the Star Wars franchise. I joked that you can always tell the Lutherans at a Star Wars movie because whenever a character says,“The Force be with you,” the Lutheran will respond, “And also with you.” To which I simply added, “In fact, I bet there are people who actually make the Force their REAL religion!”

After which, I was corrected by one of the pastors in attendance who informed me that he had actual friends who indeed DID use Star Wars, the Jedi and the Force as their “church” and their religious basis in life! Though my premise seemed to be verified at least in one instance, I still found it a bit unnerving.

It is the perfect cultural storm for a lost generation to seek meaning in manmade alternate realms with all kinds of variations rather than hearing the promises of various faiths in the world, or even THE Gospel as presented by Jesus.

There is a unique time in the church year that starts this Wednesday. The season of Lent begins with Ash Wednesday services this week (ironically on Valentine’s Day) and goes until Easter Sunday (another irony, on April 1, April Fools Day), with a six-week emphasis for churches on just what Jesus was about in bringing that first message of an alt-world called the Kingdom of God.

So, if you or someone you know might be interested in an alternative reality that has a little more history than the last release date, and a little more “real” in the reality part of that phrase “alt-reality,” you might want to check out all the extra services and events by area churches and community religious groups between Valentine’s Day and April Fools.

After all, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that you just might find the real truth between love and foolishness. I do it every day!

Pastor Zach Harris has been an ordained minister for 26 years and currently serves Ascension Lutheran Church in Wilson. His column, “Through a Lutheran Lens: A Pastor’s Perspective,” will appear regularly in The Wilson Times. Previous columns are available at WilsonTimes.com.