By Lois Rogers | Correspondent
For adults who see superheroes and the comic books, movies and television shows they inspire as works that can inform our faith, “Comic Con Christianity” by Jen Schlameuss-Perry, published Aug. 7 from Paulist Press, will come as welcome affirmation.
And for countless young people interested in building a vocabulary of faith, Schlameuss-Perry, pastoral associate in St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral, Freehold, hopes the book will become a gateway to Catholic Christian thought.
She’s aimed the book at both of these demographics, and her solidly sourced, 193-page innovative work should have wide appeal. It touches all the bases where heroes are concerned, from Jesus, the most singular and profound hero of all time, to Superman – so solidly in the heroic mainstream – to Batgirl.
“This book can be an introduction to Catholic Christian thought using media that already speaks to them,” she said.
Plus, Schlameuss-Perry pointed out, if ever the world needed heroes, it is now. For heroes, as she writes, “challenge us to access the truth in stories – justice is more important than fear, more honorable than protecting your own life, that our human values are worth defending even against insurmountable odds and we can win.”
Because heroes “deal with the struggle between good and evil, they resound with us,” she writes. And, when all is said and done, as we “battle boredom and irrelevance,” wouldn’t it be “cool to have an adventure. To make a radical difference.”
Ever the catechist, the book comes complete with chapter-by-chapter questions aimed at sparking discussions in religion classes, workshops and youth groups. After all, her sons are among those she had in mind as she wrote the book during the course of two years. “The book was 90 percent written in the living room while the TV was on” because she didn’t want to deprive her husband, Ken, and teenage sons, Benjamin and Nathaniel, of family time.
“Whenever I write, I try to do it with the family around,” she said.
Schlameuss-Perry, who grew up in Lakewood as a self-described “Sci-Fi and fantasy nerd,” said the book reverberates with the same vocabulary that appears in most superhero, science fiction and fantasy media, one that has “permeated the storytelling of every culture for at least as long as” as stories about heroes have been recorded.
The heroes – “The Lord of the Ring’s” Aragorn, for example – face inner struggles and outward battles on their way to overcoming evil. Schlameuss-Perry, so at ease with her subject matter, deftly links Aragon and his struggle to accept his destiny as the savior of Middle-earth with that of Jesus, who “rebuilt God’s people into a new Church, bringing unity where there was division and a sense of mission where it had been lost to complacency.”
Ask her how she came by such mastery of the subject matter and the ability to present it in such a fine package, and Schlameuss-Perry has a ready answer, one that has everything to do with family and schooling.
A graduate of Lakewood’s Holy Family School and Lakewood High School, she said she encountered excellent English teachers who gave her a foundation in writing. A bachelor’s degree in religious studies from Lakewood’s Georgian Court University and a master’s in pastoral ministry from Boston College added substantially to the foundation already underway.
Growing up, her own family gave her the gift of recognizing and appreciating heroic figures.
“I was brought up on a steady diet of superheroes,” ranging from science fiction icons to those who made brief appearances in television shows such as the “The Twilight Zone.”
Most importantly, her father, William, had the ability to draw her into stories, setting aside an hour a night to read aloud the books that would inspire her including “The Lord of the Rings,” “The Chronicles of Narnia” and “Little House on the Prairie,” with its pioneer heroes.
“I’m a poor reader, but I love stories,” she said. “Stories are the best way to learn.”
“Jesus used stories, and the Bible is rich in stories,” she continued. “Being brought up in a Catholic school, you were always taught through stories to see God everywhere in every subject.”
It is this gift she aims to pass on in “Comic Con Christianity.” The stories may not be there in their entirety, but the book certainly serves as an admirable guidepost.