While watching episode one of Gamers! one of the first things I thought was, “This feels like Genshiken: High School.” It’s a kinder, softer version of that anime about a club where otaku can share just how otaku they are. On a more specific level, Keita reminds me a bit of Kanji; both are cautious, wanting and even needing community, but unwilling to commit to their respective clubs.
For both Keita, the keep-to-yourself-gamer, and Kanji, the shy and awkward otaku, it’s not easy to put their pasts behind them and leap into a warm future. Later in Genshiken, newcomer Ogiue is the same way, but an even more extreme example of one unwilling to commit to a place that seems to be a perfect fit. Insecurities, scars, introversion, and embarrassment are among the characteristics that run too deep, that make it too hard to simply take what otherwise seems like an easy step.
Oguie also carries this: she’s been burned before, both in the consequences of her yaoi doujishi work in high school and the troubles she caused the manga club in college. With the latter, though she shared similar interests with the members, things didn’t work out. There needed to be more than just shared hobbies to bring Ogiue together in harmony with that group.
Churches also often struggle with the idea of community. We’re supposed to be brought together by a shared interest, our love of Christ, but like Keita’s interest in dating simulations, our specific needs and wants in church may vary. I know for me, I’ve never found an exact right fit – a geek church that focuses culturally on a hapa would be best! But I’ve at least grown up in a church environment. How difficult must it be for someone to find a fit in church when they don’t have such a background, when they may have never stepped through the doors of one before?
One of the things, though, that should bring us together is strangely enough, our sin. We’re all sinners before God. That’s the great equalizer of the gospel message – no matter your age, gender, sex, background, experience, race, we’re all equal among one another and before the LORD. But I can imagine how that similarity wouldn’t exactly drive people to become part of a church community. As with Keita being discouraged by Kase’s obsession with FPS games, church attendees might not share the passion for Christ that its current members do; in fact, it shouldn’t be expected that they do.
So how are newcomers to church expected to become part of the community? Just as with any organization – a gaming or anime club included – thriving communities require genuine relationship. It’s not just about people who are like you; it’s about people that understand you. And you can only get to that level of sincerity if members of the community are willing to become vulnerable, willing to share. Church at its worst becomes like Facebook, where we put on our best face to show how great we’re doing, forgetting that we’re all the same. We are all in need.
When you have that vulnerability and begin to generate genuine relationships, you can move to another step, one that makes your community special. Oguie, when she reveals the depths of her self-loathing and how she doesn’t think she deserves forgiveness, is brought into the group through the members’ grace. They show that Genshiken isn’t just about people who are like you and people who understand you, but also about people who love you anyway.
If the church wants to be as effective as Genshiken (as as I imagine the gaming club will be), we can learn from what they’ve done. No, not necessarily all the yaoi and cosplay, but this: without sincerity, without grace, a church or club or group of friends can’t be all it should be. Without these things, community can’t be built; without it, there is no church at all.