Faith and Fantasy: Exploring Doxacon Seattle 2016

Faith and Fantasy: Exploring Doxacon Seattle 2016

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If I asked you what Vespers and Harry Potter have in common, you might wonder if that isn’t a “Why is a raven like a writing desk?” kind of question. Why would the Orthodox faith have anything at all in common with speculative fiction?

In a word: Doxacon. It’s the first faith-based speculative fiction convention where you can attend an Orthodox service and then hear a talk about how the language of the fantastic becomes a movement of grace toward truth or how Harry Dresden, a fictional wizard in an urban fantasy novel, can act as a Starets to an Orthodox Christian layman. It’s where people can speak openly and listen with enjoyment about both their love of their faith and their love of science fiction and fantasy and the intersection of the two worlds. It’s where you can experience how fantasy role-playing games can highlight a journey in faith or discover an atheistic, humanist writer who teaches us about the dangers of pride and the rewards of humility.

Doxacon began as a conversation in 2011 between Father David Subu and Daniel Silver after hearing a podcast about the spiritual life, which used zombies as a metaphor. Both men are SF fans and neither of them are impressed with the depth of analysis. They talked about the possibility of a retreat led by people who were believers and knew speculative fiction. David explains, “A big part of Doxacon is showing people we can engage positively with these genres.” Like the popular “Pop Culture Coffee Hour” podcasts, the organizers felt that engaging secular culture and finding in it nuggets of wisdom and teaching for the faith could be a good thing.

What started as an idea for a retreat soon grew—thanks to Father David’s wife, Presbytera Stephanie—into plans for a convention (or “con”). Because this was seen as a ministry of the Church, the planners received a blessing from Archbishop Nathaniel of the Romanian Episcopate of the OCA. Says Daniel, “Getting that blessing means that our examination of these genres falls within the tradition of Orthodoxy and is a fruitful pursuit.” Slightly less than two years later, what came to be known as Doxacon Prime was held in Washington, D.C., and had about one hundred people attending.

Just before the con was held, they got a message from Tanya Keenan in Seattle, who lamented the fact that Orthodox on the West Coast were missing out.

“Not everyone can fly into D.C. for the convention, and it generated a lot of interest here on the West Coast. Between Seattle and Silicon Valley, there are plenty of geeks here, and I found that some of them are also Orthodox Christians. It just seemed like a good fit,” explained Tanya.

Thus was born Doxacon Seattle, which was blessed by His Eminence Archbishop Benjamin of the OCA Diocese of the West. Tanya underlined Doxacon Prime’s concern, “We want to make sure that we are working with the Church and not in spite of it.”

Seattle’s first convention was held in 2014.

Both conventions focus on the spiritual riches to be found in science fiction and fantasy, and they have explored not just books, TV shows and movies, but graphic novels and fantasy role-playing games, as well. The fictional universes discussed range from the standard Star Wars, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and C.S. Lewis’s works to the lesser-known, but no less beloved, worlds of Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly; Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden and Hollywood’s horror films.

Topics covered range from overviews of the genre and the crafts, as Fr. Seraphim’s presentation in 2014 on conflict in Fantasy, and Matushka Donna Farely’s discussion of crafting good fantasy literature using C.S. Lewis’s Voyage of the Dawn Treader and panels on the ethics in comics demonstrate. But the presentations can be as specific as how a fictional character in Sir Terry Pratchett’s Discworld can teach us about becoming Equal to the Apostles and a wonderworker, or an examination of the mystery of personhood as in Fr. David Lowell’s examination of Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings villain, Saurman at this year’s Doxacon Seattle have done.

While smaller than the previous western events, this year’s Seattle con was notable for its intimacy, as well as for the quality of the presentations. For the first time, everyone got to hear all the talks, instead of, as usual, having to make choices between topics offered at the same time. Additionally, this year was the first year the con was dominated by a theme and each talk was able to illuminate the Orthodox concepts of darkness and light. Several of the talks, notably the first evening’s talk by Reader Gregory Monson’s on “The Quest for Mount Tabor: Yoda, Galadriel, Leloo and Spike Encounter the Divine Light” and Fr. Iranaeus Williams’s talk on moving from darkness into light in Watership Down and the talk on Pratchett’s Sir Samuel Vimes were able to not only discuss darkness as evil and ignorance, but also touched on the parallels between darkness, light and apophatic theology, in which our understanding and experience of God moves into a place where intellect and reason cannot convey the immediate experience of an encounter with the living God, which both the scriptures and the fathers liken to an illuminated darkness.

There are more conventions planned. Doxacon Prime will be hosting their next gathering on August 18 and 19 in 2017 and will include a talk on authority in the Marvel universe by Alexi Sargeant, as well talks by Leah Libresco Sargeant and Professor Alf Siewers of Bucknell University. Doxacon Seattle’s next event will be in the winter of 2018, although plans are still very tentative as to exact dates and speakers. Will there be Doxacons in other places? Possibly. There were discussions for one to be held in Toronto, which may yet happen, and there’s no reason others can’t be held in other parts of North America, especially if the faithful and the fans support it.

As to the appropriateness of using secular culture, or bluesky speculation on the nature of God, the universe and our places in it, perhaps the Cappadocian Fathers put it best. St. Basil the Great had this to say about secular culture to Christian youth:

“Consequently we must be conversant with . . . all men who may further our soul’s salvation…such heathen learning is not unprofitable for the soul.”

And St. Gregory the Theologian had this to say: “Speculate if you will about the universe, or universes, about matter, about the soul, about nature’s good and evil endowed with reason, about the resurrection, the judgment, reward and punishment or about the sufferings of Christ on other planets…in these questions, to hit the mark is not useless, to miss it is not dangerous…”

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Bev Cooke

Bev. Cooke has been writing for publication since 1989. Her first love is writing for young adults, and she has three YA books on the market: Keeper of the Light, a historical fiction about St. Macrina the Elder in 2006. Royal Monastic, a biography of Mother Alexander (Princess Ileana of Romania), also published by Conciliar came out in 2008. Feral, an edgy mainstream novel was released by Orca Book Publishers in 2008. Her latest publication is a departure from her regular work - an Akathist to St. Mary of Egypt, published by Alexander Press in 2010, which was written partly as a response to the seventy missing women from downtown Vancouver's east side, and as a plea to St. Mary of Egypt to pray for those women, and the men and women who live on the streets.

Bev. and her husband live in Victoria, BC where they enjoy two seasons: wet and road construction. They have two adult children, two cats and attend All Saints of Alaska parish.

Bev's very out of date webpage is bevcooke.ca and her blog is http://bevnalabbeyscriptorium.wordpress.com/. It's a little more up to date than the webpage. Bev is planning to blog more and update her webpage very soon, so keep checking back to them and be sure to "Like" her FB page: Bev. Cooke, writer.