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.

Whatever is True, and Worthy of Belief



                                

The movie, “Secondhand Lions” has been showing on one of the Dish Network movie channels this month.  It’s a coming of age story, told by Walter, a young boy whose uncaring mother drops him off to live with his eccentric great uncles.  The first time I saw the movie, I was pulled into the character Hub, played by Robert Duval.  While both of the uncles had their share of adventure in their youth, it is Hub’s story that is shared in bits and pieces through the movie.  

Robert Duval picks the greatest movie roles.  Or maybe they pick him.  Duval crafts an apparently cynical and discontented old man, but through the storytelling in the movie, we learn of Hub’s true character and passions – the truth he holds dear.  We learn this as he shares his credo with young Walter, at a time when everything appears to be falling apart for Walter:

“Sometimes the things that may or may not be true are the things a man needs to believe in the most. That people are basically good; that honor, courage, and virtue mean everything; that power and money, money and power mean nothing; that good always triumphs over evil; and I want you to remember this, that love… true love never dies. You remember that, boy. You remember that. Doesn’t matter if it’s true or not. You see, a man should believe in those things, because those are the things worth believing in.”   -Hub, “Secondhand Lions” (2003)

How very much like this other man whose lessons I’ve come to admire:  Paul.  Recall that ‘Paul’ is the converted Christian, formerly known as ‘Saul,’ who despised and disciplined disciples of Christ.  He had his share of cynicism and discontent!  Upon his miraculous conversion to Christianity, Paul shared many stories, letters, and credos.  In his letter to the Philippians, Paul sums up for us how we can find peace:

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.  Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”  (Phil 4:8-9, NIV)

In each of these lessons, we hear that love is the answer.  My life is better when I believe in the good.  When I think on these things, I remember that God has made each of his children with a good and loving spirit.  That we are human, and sometimes veer off course – that is a daily challenge: for ourselves and for how we live with others.

At this annual time of renewal, I encourage you to think on these things.  As noted by John Wesley, we hold dear certain duties to ourselves and to each other:

True — In speech
Honest — In action.
Just — With regard to others.
Pure — With regard to yourselves.

When I think on these things, I renew my commitment to love according to the example of Christ.  I renew my hope in humanity:  that we will do what is right, what is true, what is honest, what is just, and what is pure.  For ourselves, and for each other.  And I am at peace.  Because those things are worth believing in.

Happy New Year, to my friends.