What IS a Christian to do with Harry Potter? (a reprise)

(Note:  this blog was originally published in the Methodist Reporter, c. summer 2009.  It has been updated to clarify certain points)

I recently read an essay by Jeorg Rieger, professor of Constructive Theology at Perkins School of Theology.  Professor Rieger’s commentary posed an interesting discussion on where Christians are most likely to broaden their understanding of God, and under what circumstances we are most likely to be drawn into a more meaningful relationship with God.  I read this commentary, and found its conclusions to be particularly applicable to this summer’s educational series titled, ‘What’s a Christian to do with Harry Potter?”.

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Part of our challenge as Christians is to step out of our comfort zone and force ourselves to experience life from a different perspective.  Our youth do this every year, by participating in mission trips; sometimes our youth are sent to participate in urban ministry, sometimes in disaster relief.  But always, the youth find themselves drawn closer to God, simply because they committed to learning about new and different things.

Members of Arapaho UMC can see this summer’s lessons from Harry Potter in much the same light.  Believe me, I heard many comments from our members when the class was announced:  “We are not supposed to practice witchcraft as Christians.”  “Harry Potter, at CHURCH?”  “What could Harry Potter books possibly teach me about theology?”  “Hey, that sounds neat, I think that might even get me to come to Sunday School.”  And my personal favorite, “Mom, just because you can find lessons that are similar to the Bible in Harry Potter, that doesn’t mean JK Rowling INTENDED to make the comparison!”

And so we moved forward with the class, knowing that there were as many differing opinions about the appropriateness of the class as there were members in the church.  Some even stepped outside their comfort zone to participate.  And, just as Professor Rieger discussed, those who did participate came to learn more about our role as Christians, as viewed from a different medium.   We learned a lot about literary symbolism in traditional Christian literature.  We discussed prejudice, and the effects of personal choice, and the battle between Good and Evil.  We discussed how we are made in God’s image, as spiritual people; and because of this, we cheer Harry on in his quest to make the right choices.  We compared Harry’s challenges to the letters of Paul.  We reviewed the hero’s journey (thanks to Joseph Campbell), and applauded how Harry was aided in each victory by a Christ like symbol.  Finally, my personal favorite, we discussed the ‘perfect soul,’ the Dream Team, and how we are to love God with all our heart, and with all our mind and with all our soul…..and that we function best, either individually or as a team, when we are led by the Spirit, not by our mind or our will.   We learned how to build our relationship with God, “Spirit side up.” (John Granger, “How Harry Cast His Spell”)

Yes, broadening our perspectives will draw us closer to God.  It is through these new perspectives that God shows us ALL of the people He created in His image.  It is through these new perspectives that we are able to see how God loves every man and woman.    We can find new perspectives in so many places – some of us just happened to find them in a series of books about a young wizard and his challenges to make good choices, no matter what the consequences.

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