“Geek, preacher, gamer, technophile, practical theologian, husband & father” is the way the Derek “GeekPreacher” White identifies himself on his Twitter page. I know Derek from GaryCon, a tabletop gaming convention with a strong family vibe: sometimes bittersweet (it was founded by Gary Gygax’s children to celebrate their dad’s legacy after the Father of RPGs passed away in 2008), sometimes just plain sweet (the D&D games I ran at the show often had gamer-parents playing alongside their kids). You might know the GeekPreacher from the worship services he conducts at GenCon, or from his webpage which promises:
Here you’ll find the ramblings of a man who has been a geek most of his life and a person of faith for about half that time. The melding of geekiness and spirituality and what that means for me and the communities in which I live and move.
Don’t know Derek yet? The barrier to entry is low! He’s nothing if not approachable, friendly, and willing to share his perspective, as he demonstrated in his generous and thoughtful responses to my questions about parenting, Christianity and grognard geekiness.
Tavis: Tell me about your kids — how old are they, what are they into, what’s it like to be the son/daughter of a geek-preacher man?
Derek: I have a daughter and a son. My daughter just turned 12 years old and my son will be two in May. I have to say that being the child of a preacher isn’t always the easiest. Your dad may be home for a while and then suddenly… BAM! He has to run out of the house at the oddest hours because someone is ill, needs counseling or a family member may have passed away. You also get to hear the ramblings of a theology geek. Some of the best conversations with my daughter have centered around Greco-Roman mythology and its comparisons to early Christianity. Yes, we are that geeky! She may only be 12 but I was younger than that when I first started reading those heroic stories from another age.
As to being the child of a geek, some of the most fun memories are of taking my daughter (and then my son) to gaming conventions while they were still in a stroller. The first Con I took my daughter to was MidSouth Con in Memphis, Tennesee, in 2001 and the first one I took my son to was TrollCon in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 2010. There is a joy to gaming and all the fun that can be had. For my wife and me, it is very important to make it a family activity.
Of course, as a geekpreacher, my family sometimes sees me called away at gaming conventions because people want to discuss a variety of topics. For many geeks, it is a surprise to find a Christian minister who enjoys the same things they do. My wife and children have learned (and are learning) that this is just part of my life. They smile with loving support while I walk away from a game because someone wants to talk to me about how they can talk to their very devout spouse or family members about their hobby. Some have even asked me how to approach their pastor or priest. It’s very rewarding but, I think, at times a little frustrating for the family because I’m always “on.” To quote the old computer phrase, I’m a WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) so they pretty much (God bless them!) have to live with this 24/7!
It also has its joys for them. My daughter has discovered the Nintendo Wii and DS. She enjoys playing them and, as a geek dad, it’s pretty hard to say no. However, I’ve learned from experience that just like when I was a kid she enjoys the games more when she earns the money to pay for them. She receives an allowance for her chores around the house and it is very reminiscent of my own childhood to watch her saving up for a particular game. It reminds me of those days when I would squirrel away a few dollars so I could pick up another D&D module or the latest issue of Savage Sword of Conan. It is important as geek dads to make sure that our children aren’t just handed these things but work for them. I’ve found that my daughter tends to hold onto those games much longer. (Of course, she has something nice we didn’t have back in our youth. You can trade in those video games and get credit for a new one. I have to say that boggles my mind because when I was a kid you kept every game you got! Get rid of it? Trade it? Have you lost your mind? That might be worth something some day!)
How do you bridge the generation gap as a parent and a preacher?
This is an interesting question. On the geek end of things, I don’t think there is a generation gap for me. I’m able to straddle the worlds of Old School gaming and the newer RPG’s as well as computer gaming. We came up in a time when all of these things were hitting the market during our adolescent years so I think we have a better understanding of our children’s geekiness than prior generations. The other advantage we have is that geeks seem to control a lot of the industry. When we were children, you might wait five years for a new superhero or comic book movie to hit the big screen but today’s children have one every summer. (I’m drooling thinking about Thor and Captain America both coming out this summer. I’m a bit nervous about Green Lantern. Too much CGI could ruin it.)
So, I think the biggest generation gap I see is as a preacher. More and more of my daughter’s classmates (even though we live in the South) don’t attend church regularly. Many gamers I meet from the “old school” felt ostracized by churches in the ’80s and still have not returned. They found their spirituality could be lived outside of a traditional church and see no real need for it.
As a preacher and a pastor, this is an obstacle I often have to overcome. I’ve said this many times and will continue to say it in the future. The church should look like a gaming convention! That’s the best way to bridge the gap. People of all ages, social status, economic backgrounds, sexes and races attend gaming conventions. When a person within our community is hurting or in need, we rally around them. We stand together. We take care of our own. The best way this gap can be bridged is when Christians begin to mirror that concept.
Don’t misunderstand me. Local churches take care of their members and often help other people around the world but often they look very homogeneous. Everyone has a similar background or social status. It is only when the church starts looking like “freaks and geeks” that we will be able to authentically speak into the lives of those generations coming after us.
You and I both have a great time at Gary Con where the median age is balding and there’s some “get off my lawn” attitude about the roleplaying games designed for a new audience; what’s this divisiveness about and how do you find common ground?
<expletive deleted> 😉 The divisiveness is about tradition. I wrote about this on my blog a while back but it is the simple fact that people want their traditions to be kept intact. This is the faith I was brought up with and I’ve always experienced God this way so don’t you dare touch it! This is the way I have always played D&D and it worked just fine for me so it has got to be good for those kids!
The only way to overcome it is for both sides to learn to respect the other and enjoy themselves. (Yes, I’m speaking about church and gaming.) The old school traditions are a blast and should be enjoyed by all ages but there are some great things happening in new games as well. Mutants & Masterminds has brought superhero RPG’s, in my opinion, to a new level. As Frank Mentzer has said to gamers numerous times, it is all about enjoying yourself with your friends. The only way we can move past the RPG wars and the Church wars is to realize we are meant to enjoy these things together. Gaming and faith are no fun alone and they’re both no fun when you’re always arguing about the “rules.” Sit down and enjoy your time together.
I’m totally with you on edition and sectarian wars — I often see it as asserting superiority (we’re better than you because we identify with this and you don’t), but that boils down to a failure to respect one another, and you’re right that tradition is a big part of it I’d overlooked.
What resources are there for Christian geeks? Your site links to Hacking Christianity, is that the tip of an iceberg or a one-of-a-kind thing?
Actually, Hacking Christianity is a way of approaching theology. It comes from a geek mindset and approaches it that way. It’s interesting and brings up lots of interesting topics. However, since you contacted me I’ve posted a few other links as well. The Christian Gamers Guild has one of the oldest online presence among Christian Gamers. It was a great resource for me when I got back into gaming in the mid-90s. The Chaplains Corner has quite a few interesting articles and the author, MJ Young, is a game designer. Another interesting source is Fans for Christ. They have an online forum with quite a few interesting resources as well.
Of course, there is also my YouTube channel and website where you will find some worship services that have been held at GenCon. I try and put up as many resources as I can but with my schedule it is not always easy.
I think as you see time go on you will continue to find more resources available. There are a variety on the web and sometimes it takes a bit of looking to weed out the good from the bad but there are plenty of resources that anyone will find helpful.
Please feel free to contact me for any clarification or if there is anything else you would like to ask!