“You’re such a nerd.”
I was one of those kids who was bullied from time to time in school, often because I fit the description of a nerd. And although I wish I could say otherwise, sometimes this bullying took place not just “in the world”, but in and among my own Christian friends.
I moved past it long ago. I’m not here to write anything vindictive or accusatory, not even to write anything therapeutic. My purpose is strictly instructive and encouraging. Because I don’t want a single nerd in the Kingdom to shy from the gifts the Spirit has given them, like I almost did in high school.
Among the many reasons my grades dropped in high school—daydreaming, boredom, frustration, public school policy, chasing girls— was a subtle desire to see myself as something other than a nerd. But I was passionate about things. I read, I watched movies, I chatted on the interwebs. I wanted to read and study, often spending my Friday nights playing Jazz and reading books. But a part of me remembered the pain of middle school, of being an outcast for not being passionate about other things that required less intellectual aerobics. Were it not for the encouragement I received to study the Word from my spiritual family, this might have extended into my study of the Word, not to mention cut short my interest in “nerding out” over anything.
What bothers me most about this is that too often some of the bullying took place in “churchy” environments—not just to me, but to others as well. That was a discouragement. Oddly enough, one of the friends I had who let it go by—and sometimes was a part of it—grew up to be just as much of a nerd as I am, and even became a “Bible nerd” preacher.
In general, few people can give as comforting advice to young, vulnerable nerds as Will Wheaton. He’s so nerdy I didn’t even recognize him. But apparently he was child star on Star Trek for several years, and even then he looked pretty dorky.
Pity the ones who call you nerds (as an insult), because they are in an ignorant space where they fail to see one of two sad options: Either they 1) aren’t passionate about anything, and therefore are living empty lives, or 2) fail to realize the connection they have to all other humans beings who are passionate about something just as they are, and are therefore missing out on the universality of humans loving things and wanting to get together and celebrate cool things.
John Green, author of a number of novels for young people, loves being called a nerd. To him, being a nerd means you are passionately interested in something, and that is really what a lot of people are, even those who are into football, or cars, or professional wrestling, or rifles—even those who are into hairstyles, or shoes, or body art, or Taylor Swift.
The only difference with nerds is that often they are singled-out for liking things that aren’t overtly masculine, overtly feminine, or just plain overtly normal, in the rest of culture. They have no reason to prove themselves male or female by their interests.
The man who paints himself blue at a Trekkie convention and the man who paints himself blue at a Colts convention are one in the same—they are passionate about a hobby and are willing to have fun and look silly doing it. Although not a Trekkie, I would be more comfortable at a Trekkie-con than a Colts game. But I understand the guy who paints himself for the enjoyment and expression of any healthy hobby.
In the kingdom of God, one of the worst things you can do is to criticize someone for having a passion for studying the Word. And every time you call someone in the kingdom a “nerd” in a derisive and mocking way—even if its about Star Wars, Discovery Channel, or Stephen Hawking—you are discouraging them from wanting to learn things on the accord of their own will to discover and make sense of things by knowing them inside and out. When you send the message that being passionate about knowing things is bad, this message will also affect their will to study the Word. Intellectual pursuits overlap. Passion overlaps. We cease becoming “nerds” when we merely consume things in the world and stop discussing them, memorizing things about them, and thinking consciously about them.
- First, I have a message for all you Bible nerds out there:
Study like the Bereans. “Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” (Acts 17:11).
However, never let it go to your head. The Bereans were more noble than the Thessalonicans, but they didn’t proclaim themselves to be. I think it just showed, and the reputation spoke for itself. And the Bereans weren’t more noble because they were smarter, but because they were more eager to hear and study. A person of limited intellectual ability who loves the Word is just as much a noble “Bible nerd” as the guy with a PhD in New Testament studies. And being more intellectually gifted than another person doesn’t make you automatically more right. Your many studies could be based on shaky scholarship, or clever wording wrapped around an dumb idea. The Pharisees sure knew a lot of scripture, but Jesus chose fishermen to follow him. (Of course, both those crowds had a lot to learn about the Messiah.)
But when it comes to the scriptures, being “nerdy” about it is noble. Not the memorizing of facts, but the “geeking out” of being so enraptured with the Word that you gobble it up, spend your nights reading it, spend your weekends attending “conventions” and “fairs” over it, spending every day living it out, having confidence in knowing what it says and does not say when discussing it with others.
But above all, be a nerd about the Word above all other things in the world. See, nerd-dom can go too far. We can become so enthused in something that we miss the point of life. You can get so wrapped up in a video game that you’ve lost connection with real goals. You can memorize plenty of information about something cool in the world but not do a thing to help people in the world or make it a better place. You can invest more emotion into fictional characters than you do in the real people you live, work, and interact with.
Be a geek about the Word. Not one who just knows it, but one who lives it. Because if you don’t live it, your knowledge is worthless. And you may even use your knowledge to bully back. You’ll use the ignorance of others as an excuse to call them names and tear them down. And you might think it’s okay, just because you’re doing it from the comfort of your couch, at your computer.
- Secondly, I have a message for those who bully, particularly on the nerds:
God may or may not have blessed you with gifts of intellect, but he has blessed all creatures with an inner yearning for him. This is a natural yearning. Do not stifle it, nor ostracize those who embrace it. If you struggle to understand it, do not take your frustrations out on those who do, but learn from them. If you are tempted to devalue those whose interests you find silly, awkward, or too vast to comprehend, know that they may feel the same way about your interests.
And if you are a brother or sister in the Kingdom, you and that person must share the same passion: Christ. Never rebuke a person for being passionate about studying the Word. But on top of that, never rebuke someone for being passionate about studying anything (unless it’s, like, naked ladies or something). If it is a gift from God, a mind ready to gobble up knowledge, it must be encouraged. When a person does become lofty and conceited, puffed up by their knowledge, even then bullying is not the answer. Rebuke is the answer.
Churches, love your nerds. Not just your people who love the Word. But also your people who study it well and give it thought. Do not fear them. Do not ignore them. Do not put them down. And when they get too puffed up, deal with them appropriately. The Bible is simple, and its message is not beyond intellectual ability, but must also be read in a congregation where the wise are respected and listened to. Even Nichodemus sought help.