With the blockbusters “Wonder Woman,” “Spider-Man: Homecoming” and “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” topping box offices this summer, there’s no question of the popularity of mythic stories of good versus evil.
Definition: Fandom refers to a subculture of like-minded individuals that spend a significant amount of time on one particular subject, such as Batman or Dr. Who. It could refer to an individual, a show or a genre. A fandom could also include a hobby, like certain crafts or cars.
Hector Miray, a Lumberton, N.C., pastor, uses his love of Batman and Dr. Who (his personal fandom) to reach the geek culture at conventions geared toward fans of superheroes, comic books, anime, video games and more. “I feel like our entertainment – what we connect with – says a lot about who we are,” Miray told participants of a session at Raleigh Supercon in July. “What you’re entertained by kind of reflects your heart, to some extent.”
Miray, who serves as the Lumberton campus pastor of Vertical Church, is the co-author of four books of devotionals using video games, comics, TV shows and other forms of entertainment to relay biblical truths. His first book, Faith & Fandom: Finding God in Sci-Fi, Superheroes & Video Games, was written after he attended Heroes Convention in Charlotte for three years and saw little Christian presence. The book was released in 2014 and has been followed by three more books in the series. That first book resulted in a job writing scripts for an online network called ClevverMovies. A producer at Clevver read Miray’s first book and hired him to write for “Fanboy Faceoff,” a show pitting characters against one another (ex. Batman vs. Captain America or Quicksilver vs. The Flash). “I was the nerd behind the curtain,” Miray joked.
Writing scripts provided the means to support Miray’s presence in exhibit halls at various conventions for the second and third year of touring the shows. No one had to buy anything at his booth, but being in the exhibit hall opened conversations he would not have been able to have.
Love of comics
Miray found Christ at age 12 and discovered comic books as a youth.
BR photo by Dianna L. Cagle
Hector Miray, a pastor in Lumberton, N.C., leads a session to help find God in the geek culture at the recent Raleigh Supercon.
“There’s usually something within our entertainment that connects with us … characters [or] stories,” he said. “There are things in [it] that you connect with, that speak to you. That’s why you watch them. That’s why you read them. I believe personally that what we involve ourselves in can kind of help shape us, or it can be something that helps guide us in where we are going in life.”
Miray’s youth pastor introduced him to Children’s Bible Ministries (CBM), a national ministry working with children and youth. In N.C., CBM (childrensbibleministries.net) runs Camp Grace in Fairmont and New Life Camp in Raleigh. He attended Carolina Bible College in Fayetteville before finishing his bachelor’s degree online at Master’s International in Indiana. He started working full time at Camp Grace his sophomore year and was there nine years directing teen outreach and discipleship programs. He even taught Bible classes in public schools. He also worked with the University of North Carolina – Pembroke for more than 11 years reaching college students. He started a campus church with Vertical Church and the No Campus Left movement with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina before moving to the main church campus in Lumberton. This summer, the church went through five weeks of a blockbuster sermon series, which Miray helped develop.
They started Father’s Day with “The Fast and the Furious” and included Wonder Woman, “Captain America,” “The Princess Bride” and “Back to the Future.”
Miray serves on CBM’s board.
His wife, Danielle, works as a respiratory therapist and director of clinical education for Robeson Community College. The couple has three girls, ages four to seven.
Searching for truth
Looking at Deuteronomy 4:29 and Proverbs 8:17, Miray said people who are searching for truth will find it.
Hector Miray meets favorite Dr. Who Character River Song, A.K.A. Alex Kingston.
“I don’t ever think [there] should [be] a point where you feel like you have to keep a part of what you’re passionate about separate or hidden from the spiritual,” Miray said. “For me, I think there are a lot of lessons, a lot of truths, that we can learn in the entertainment that we see.”
He encourages fans to be part of a church too because he believes being part of a healthy body of believers “is essential to growth” and extends their family.
At conventions, he either does a full chapel service with a geek theme or just hosts a discussion, like at the Raleigh Supercon. He usually has a booth that has art, T-shirts and books. Having the booth allows him to talk to people about their fandoms and hopefully steer them closer to God.
In his books, he writes about some controversial things. He has devotionals that use “Deadpool,” “Breaking Bad” and “Grand Theft Auto.”
“There’s never going to be anything that’s going to fit completely to standards of holiness or standards of righteousness that is in this world on its own,” he said. Even in the Bible, there are many stories of violence.
“I’d rather look for the good in the broken to help draw back to that,” Miray said.
Miray encourages fans to find things in their entertainment that are encouraging. Look for truth, beauty, etc., but also be cautious that our entertainment might also lead to division. He references Romans 14 about being a stumbling block.
“We live in a world where if we’re going to ignore everything that disagrees with where we stand and believe, we’re going to ignore the whole world,” he said. “If it causes you to stumble, you need to step back and be cautious. I don’t ever want to feel like I need to hide anything I’m doing.”
Instead, Miray would rather discuss why he watches something. “Sometimes I’m wrong,” he admits. “In all reality, we are all struggling. We’re all trying to connect with each other.”
Miray’s plan includes attending 28 conventions this year to spread seeds of the gospel among as many fans as possible.
It was common for Jesus to share stories to relay His messages. The Bible is full of stories and proverbs to illustrate points of a message.
“I think that if you go into the stories and the fandoms that you are involved in looking for spiritual connection, I think you’ll find it,” said Miray, but people shouldn’t force those ideas on a story.
In the “Matrix” stories, Miray said the authors wrote the movies to be a biblical allegory. With Superman, Miray said there are many similarities between the Man of Steel and the Messiah.
In a Batman comic, The Chalice, when Batman finds the holy grail, another character deciphers a message from God in the binary code of the cup. Miray used clips at the Raleigh Supercon from Dr. Who, Guardians of the Galaxy, Firefly and Star Wars to relate story after story that had spiritual elements in them.
Before Raleigh’s Supercon, Miray had spent the week teaching at a science-fiction inspired Bible camp.
As part of one of the lessons, he shared a clip from Guardians of the Galaxy to 9- and 10-year olds and related it to when John said that there was no greater love than to lay down his life for his friends. The children knew who the character Groot was, but the idea of Jesus and His sacrifice was not as well known.
“If you seek God, you will find Him,” Miray repeated. “Don’t be afraid or ashamed to let your fandoms be a gateway to that.”
Even Joss Whedon, a devout atheist known for “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and most recently “The Avengers” and “The Avengers: Age of Ultron,” recognizes people of faith need a connection. It was actually Whedon’s short-lived “Firefly” TV show that was canceled during its first season that inspired Miray’s foray into writing his first devotions, which led to his first book.
“The entertainment that is made is a reflection of people’s hearts,” Miray said. “There are recurring themes of truth and faith that occur through almost every fandom.
“I really feel like whatever’s good in me has come from pursuing God. When I’m left on my own, I make terrible life choices. I don’t want to be that.”