Newman’s Nook: Welcoming as Straw Hats

A few weeks back, I was looking through my Twitter analytics and something hit me: I realized that I’d been losing followers pretty much all year. It was to be expected—I had a modestly-sized Twitter account that had grown initially based on my political tweets (my politics have since changed) and from parenting tweets. My growing passion and discussion of manga/anime on Twitter had definitely turned off some followers.

So I decided I was going to stop the bleeding. I called upon my Twitter followers with a call to action. Help me get back above 3,000 followers and I would start the One Piece manga.

I’ll be honest: I didn’t think much of it. I had been interested in One Piece in general and knew I was going to eventually read it. However, what I did not expect was the response to this silly tweet.

It began with an explosion of followers. Well, explosion for me—a gain of over 200 new followers over a few days. What also followed were tons of encouraging words.

A Sea of Encouragement

Just the idea of reading the manga mobilized the One Piece fandom to support me. Then I announced I was reading it:

This is one of my most reached tweets and it was so encouraging!

The One Piece fandom filled my replies with joyful tweets and words of encouragement. The One Piece fans on Twitter reacted with genuine excitement that a new person was joining. They were excited that I was excited to learn more about this long-running manga series about pirates!

As I learned about Luffy’s origins and met Zoro, the fandom continued to support me and shared some of their own experiences. As I learned about Buggy and more powers of the Demon Fruit, I was inundated with messages of those envious that I was exploring this world setting for the first time. I felt so welcomed as the fandom embrace this newbie. They were happy for me and it did not matter that I was new to the crew—I was one of them now.

The Gatekeepers

This is a very different experience from what I have seen in other fandoms. I’ve seen Star Wars fans, for instance, explode on those who grew up on and love the prequel trilogy. I’ve seen a certain segment of anime fans who look down upon those whose favorite anime series happen to also be popular. I’ve seen people say that you can’t truly appreciate or enjoy certain series until you’ve reached a certain point. These conceits are wildly preposterous and turn new people away from their fandoms.

I have seen these types of gatekeepers especially attacking female fans of geek culture. In a 2018 article, Kate Gardner at The Mary Sue wrote:

Gatekeeping…will drive people away from things they love. Because they are told they have to prove themselves and that they don’t really like what they like, and that they’re just fakes. This is a toxic mentality that has cost us countless voices in countless spheres because they were told they were not wanted there.

People who have freshly arrived at a new fandom are excited and filled with wonder at the new thing they “discovered.” Gatekeepers come along and crush that excitement by forcing their views upon or trying to get them to prove they have the knowledge that someone else with years within the fandom has acquired.

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I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: Liking a medium makes you fan. It doesn’t matter if you have the depth of knowledge of certain members; merely the fact that you enjoy it makes you a fan.

Church Visitors

Ask yourself a question—how do you respond to visitors at your church? A follow up question—how does the rest of your church family respond to visitors at your church?

Do you welcome them openly?

Do you encourage them to learn more about the church and the Lord?

Do you tell them about the different activities your church is having?

I am hoping the answer is yes to those three questions, but it is a question we need to ask ourselves. How open and inviting are we being to new believers or visitors in the church?

I have been to churches where I did not feel welcome. I have witnessed pastors preaching from the pulpit about how you should dress, calling out those who did not have expensive suits. I have seen pastors belittle meager financial givings from congregants. I have seen Christians who belittled those who did not have a deep understanding of the Word. I have seen Christians dismiss new believers because of their youth or their lack of knowledge of church history.

Yet, none of that squares up with the Bible.

The Bible calls us to come to the Lord exactly where we are. Whether we are wealthy or not, the Lord wants us to come to Him. In the Gospels, Christ talks about a poor woman giving a single mite after a rich man gave a ton to the Temple and about how her meager gift was worth far more than his (Mark 12:41–44Luke 21:1–4). Paul informed Timothy that he should not let older believer belittle him because of his newness to the faith or his youth, but to stand firm in the Word of the Lord.

And even if we’re not gatekeeping in such an apparent way, a subtle lack of hospitality or an ignoring of newcomers can have similar effects.

Encourage like the Straw Hats

My very first article here at Beneath the Tangles was entitled, “Faithful Encouragers.” In this piece, I spoke to how in Haikyuu, Hinata is always encouraging people even when they fail. We need encouragement. In my first piece, I wrote:

In life, we need encouragement. We see many examples of encouragement in the Bible. One of the first that always sticks with me is the encouragement of Joshua. Joshua son of Nun becomes the leader of the Israelites right after Moses. He is the one who will lead them into the Promised Land. Big shoes to fill and armies of enemies lie before them. What does the Lord say to him over and over again? Be strong and courageous (Deuteronomy 31:6Joshua 1:6-7, Joshua 1:9Joshua 1:18). The Lord encourages Joshua to lead the people. And, frankly, it is a mighty task Joshua has before him. The land the Israelites were to reclaim for the Lord was filled with many people who were ready to slaughter them. They could never return to Egypt. Failure was not an option for Joshua. So, he did not fail – with the Lord’s support, protection, guidance, and encouragement Joshua prevailed. Over and over again.

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What we need is encouragement in the church!

When a new believer comes to the faith, we should be excited for them.

When someone is learning about the Bible for the first time, believers should be excited and jealous of their excitement in the faith.

We need to be encouraging new believers because we love them and want them to share in the joy we feel in the great gift of salvation we received from the Lord through His sacrificial death on the cross.

We need to be our church’s Straw Hats.


One Piece can be read at Shonen Jump or purchased through Viz.

mdmrn

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