Harry Potter fans got some unexpected news this week when J.K Rowling admitted in an interview with Emma Watson (the actor who played Hermione) that putting Ron and Hermione together was a mistake:
“I wrote the Hermione/Ron relationship as a form of wish fulfillment. That’s how it was conceived, really,” Rowling says in the interview. “For reasons that have very little to do with literature and far more to do with me clinging to the plot as I first imagined it, Hermione ended up with Ron.”
“I know, I’m sorry,” she adds. “I can hear the rage and fury it might cause some fans, but if I’m absolutely honest, distance has given me perspective on that. It was a choice I made for very personal reasons, not for reasons of credibility. Am I breaking people’s hearts by saying this? I hope not.”
And Emma Watson agreed:
“I think there are fans out there who know that too and who wonder whether Ron would have really been able to make her happy,” Watson says in the interview.
I haven’t read a ton of reaction, but what I’ve seen is running about 2/3 for the series as written (Ron and Hermione) and 1/3 in support of Rowling’s “on second thought” (Harry and Hermione). There are some other reactions sprinkled in there, like what about Ron and Luna? Or Harry and Ron, for that matter? (I don’t see that, and it has nothing to do with that being a gay relationship.)
Then there’s this view:
Which I SO get.
I’m in the 2/3. I agree with many of the reasons other people cited:
-Pairing up the chief male protagonist with the chief female protagonist would have been SO cliche. I’d rather nobody end up together than that.
-Ron makes Hermione laugh. That’s big.
-Opposites do attract, and those relationships can thrive if there’s a foundation of respect for one another, which I believe Ron and Hermione had. Ron helps ground Hermione.
Also, I must admit to liking The Trio all ending up in the Weasley family. (For those who don’t know, Harry marries Ginny Weasley.)
But here’s the #1 reason why I like the pairing: Ron would have supported Hermione’s success.
A woman’s choice of life partner is one of the most important career decisions she can make. Sheryl Sandberg said that first, but I can’t agree more strongly on this point. It matters whether your spouse is going to support your career or merely tolerate it. It matters whether he’s going to feel secretly threatened by your success. It matters whether he’s going to give lip service to you having a life apart from home and husband while still secretly expecting you to do all of the child-rearing and household management.
Hermione, it was said again and again, was the smartest witch of her age. She was brilliant. She was ambitious (in a good way, not the Slytherin way). Ron was never her intellectual equal, but he doesn’t need to be. Yes, intellectual compatibility has its place. And Ron was intelligent enough to get her. But she’s the kind of person who will be stimulated by her work: by learning, contributing, excelling at what she does.
And here’s the thing about Ron. Yes, he had some jealousy issues. But they mainly centered around jealousy over what he perceived to be a deeper bond between Harry and Hermione. (He was also 17. Come on, people.)
I don’t remember a lot of deep jealousy over Hermione’s genius and hard work. He seemed happy to be what I perceived to be a solid B student.
But he was completely awed by Hermione—her mind, her wit, and yes, her drive.
So Ron is perfect for Hermione. Ron will be the stay-at-home dad while Hermione works at the Ministry of Magic. Certainly Ron will get up in the middle of the night to change diapers and rock a fussy baby.
Rowling has suggested this about Hermione’s career:
Hermione began her post-Hogwarts career at the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures where she was instrumental in greatly improving life for house-elves and their ilk. She then moved (despite her jibe to Scrimgeour) to the Deptartment of Magical Law Enforcement where she was a progressive voice who ensured the eradication of oppressive, pro-pureblood laws.”
Those are big ambitious plans. Changing the world is exhausting. But in Ron, Hermione will have a cheerleader and a sounding board. Remember, loyalty is Ron’s greatest strength. He will agree with her principles 100%, yet not feel the same passion to make them his life’s work. This will give her perspective.
And he will make sure she gets away on holiday every now and then.
First off: I have several good friends who’ve published books recently, and while I’ve mentioned them around the Internets in a piecemeal way, I wanted to make sure y’all knew about them. In most cases, I’ve read the book and can recommend it; in all cases, I can recommend the writer. These all came out in the last few months:
Last week I linked to an article about Adam Grant and was intrigued by what I called his radical generosity, even as I pointed out the stay-at-home wife who helps make such generosity happen. Here is an article that looks at the book’s findings, apart from the personality of Grant. “If you’re a giver at work, you simply strive to be generous in sharing your time, energy, knowledge, skills, ideas, and connections with other people who can benefit from them.” Takers, by contrast, get more than they give, always trying to find what’s in it for them; matchers try to keep the ledger as even as possible.
It’s not surprising that givers often end up on the bottom of the career ladder. But guess who rises to the top? Read the link to find out.
An excellent resource for those of us who are trying to equip our kids to make good food choices:
Focus on health not weight. And emphasize function over form. Remind your son that a healthy body is what allows you to do all that you do in the world. Think of something your child likes to do – whether that is a sport or otherwise – and point out how it’s his body that does that. If your child is an athlete, he or she probably gets a lot of reinforcement for this idea. But even if what your child most likes to do is to sit quietly and read or draw, you can reinforce the concept. You can say, “Your body is what allows you to do [fill in your child’s favorite activity]” to foster your child feeling good about his body’s capability.
A study by researchers at UNC’s medical school, published in the journal Appetite, showed the kind of choices people make when randomly presented with different types of menus with differing levels of nutritional information: one with no nutritional info, one with calorie info, one with calories plus the minutes of walking required to burn the calories, and a fourth with calories plus the distance required to burn off the calories.
“People who viewed the menu without nutritional information ordered a meal totaling 1,020 calories, on average, significantly more than the average 826 calories ordered by those who viewed menus that included information about walking-distance,” writes Scientific American. People who saw the menu with walking-distance info also ordered less than people who just saw calorie info.
I’m pretty good at the Sabbath thing—setting aside time for rest, play and puttering—but my problem is I absolutely jam-pack the rest of my life. I’m working on this lately. My current tweak is listening to music while running. (I’m usually a podcast runner.)
30 pages is enough. Not enough to grasp the key message, but enough to understand if it’s worth grasping. If by page 30 of a book I’m not hooked, I stop reading. A writer has to hook our imaginations, and 30 pages should be enough to do just that. Need more pages? I say need more editing.
I read so many short things (articles, essays) that when I do pick up a book, I feel like abandoning it is a sign of failure. I stick with books to prove to myself that my attention span can hack it. So this system intrigues me… But I give it 50 pages. I recently abandoned The Casual Vacancy. Broke my heart to do it—I applaud J.K. Rowling for tackling something so radically different—but I just didn’t care about the characters.
Back in 2007 I preached a series on “the gospel and Harry Potter.” This series coincided with a huge cultural moment among HP fans: the release of the seventh book and the fifth film. Before I left for Collegeville, and in honor of the final chapter of the saga hitting theaters, I threw them up here on the blog.
This last sermon was preached just a few days before the last book was released, and contains speculation about Harry’s fate. I guess I was half right.
May God bless you all of your days, Alan Rickman.
“Prayer and Other Defenses against the Dark Arts”
Last week we talked about the nature of sacrificial love and the idea that there are some things that are worth dying for. “No one has greater love than this,” Jesus said, “than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
Whether you’ve read the Harry Potter books or not, you have surely not missed the debate over whether Harry Potter is going to die in his final confrontation with Lord Voldemort. This debate has even filtered into betting pools around the world! Will Harry lay down his life as a sort of martyr against the evils of the Dark Lord?
There is reason to argue that Harry’s death might be required to destroy Voldemort once and for all—the two characters are linked to one another in ways I won’t get into here. However, even though last week was all about love and sacrifice, I am going to go out on a limb and say, Harry is NOT going to die. Harry will live on. You heard it here first!
I have no doubt, however, that Harry will come to the point of being willing to sacrifice his life. Because Harry knows that this is a cosmic struggle between good and evil, and in the midst of such a battle, the stakes are high. The Dark Arts, as they are called, are powerful, and fighting them has grave consequences. We have already lost beloved characters, and J.K. Rowling has admitted that major characters might lose their lives in the final book; in her words, “We are dealing with pure evil here.” (from the Wikipedia entry for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows)
The New Testament writers, too—particularly Paul—saw themselves in a similar conflict: they were the war reporters on a cosmic battlefield. Good locked in a struggle against evil. God’s grace vs. the Powers and Principalities. God’s Holy Underdogs vs. the Big Bad Empire. We know who’s going to win the war, but there’s still a lot of battle to be fought. This was the worldview of the first-century Christian.
We in our day tend to be suspicious of good and evil language, mainly because it has been so misused. Good and evil get reduced to a bumper sticker, a rallying cry. Americans are good; those who oppose us are evil. Or is it we “infidels” that are evil and the Islamic fundamentalists are good? I can’t keep track of whether it’s the Palestinians who are good (after all, they just want peace and a decent pocket of land to live on) and the big hulking Israeli Goliaths who are evil, beating up on those terribly oppressed people. Or is it tiny Israel, surrounded by countries that barely acknowledge its right to exist, who is good, and the big bad Arab nations that are evil? Who can say?
This good and evil business gets murky. And I guess I want to say that if it’s going to be murky anyway, then we might as well wade all the way into the murkiness and admit that there aren’t too many two-dimensional characters in the real world—very few perfectly good sheriffs with the white cowboy hat and the spotless silver badge fighting the perfectly bad outlaw with black hat and the stubbly beard.
No, the forces of good and evil do battle in the hearts of each and every one of us. Even Paul, war reporter on the cosmic battlefield, understood this. The good I want so much to do, I cannot do. And the evil I deplore, I still do.
There’s a fascinating device stored at Hogwarts School called the Mirror of Erised. Erised is “Desire” spelled backwards, and when Harry stumbles upon it, he peers in and sees himself standing with his parents, who died when he was an infant. He returns to the mirror again and again, spending longer and longer in front of it, gazing at the family he never knew. Listen to the warning he receives from Dumbledore about the mirror’s power:
[Play clip in which Dumbledore cautions Harry not to “waste away” in front of the mirror as so many others have, driven mad by their desires.]
There’s nothing wrong with Harry wanting to see his parents again. And not every desire of our heart is evil! But Dumbledore’s warning is Paul’s warning as well. When we let our own desires hold us “captive,” until that is all we can see, then sin has gained a foothold in our lives and, to quote another New Testament writer, “we are strangers to the truth” (I John 1:9).
Our goal is to live a life that is congruent—to align our will with God’s will. Like the man who looks in the mirror and sees only himself, we strive as much as we are able to have our reflection match up with the reflection of the person that God has created us to be. And the way we do that is not to lose ourselves by gazing into the mirror of our own desires, but to spend time losing ourselves in God’s Word, gazing into the face of God in prayer, seeking to see Christ reflected in people we would normally ignore or even despise, and then to be Christ’s hands, feet and hearts in return.
We know, of course, that we will never do this perfectly. This journey toward congruence takes a lifetime of work. But we make the journey. And our choices along the way do matter.
Harry realizes this early on when he struggles with his own abilities. There are four houses at Hogwarts. Most of the wizards who turned to the evil ways were members of Slytherin house. Harry was sorted into Gryffindor, a house known for bravery and valor, but he doubts whether he really belongs in Gryffindor. He can feel the conflict between what is noble in him and what is ambitious, greedy, self-serving. Maybe he should have been sorted into Slytherin, he thinks. The good he wants to do, he often cannot; the evil he wants to avoid, he often does. Dumbledore puts his concerns at ease when he tells him that it is not our abilities that make us who we are; it is our choices.
The cliché goes that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. I disagree. I think intentions matter a great deal. As Thomas Merton says in his classic prayer, “The fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.” Merton makes a choice to strive to please God and to trust that that is enough for this day.
Paul makes a choice too, right here in Romans. It feels very abrupt: “Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
In the midst of this conflict raging within himself, Paul makes a choice to turn toward Christ and acknowledge him Lord and the ultimate victor in this battle. Paul shifts the focus for us. Yes, there is an internal struggle, but, “All praise to God in Jesus Christ!” Paul’s faith in Christ is what saves him from despair and paralysis. In some sense it’s the only viable option—away from despair and towards a grace that surpasses our understanding.
This is the move that we make, by the way, whether we are confronting the evil within or the evil that lurks in the world at large. Because no matter how uncomfortable we might be with good and evil as categories, we cannot ignore that evil exists. We can tiptoe around it like the wizards do, who call Voldemort “You-Know-Who” or “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named,” but such euphemisms do not serve us. Refusing to acknowledge the darkness only increases its power.
But when we face the darkness, we know we are not alone.
Throughout the Harry Potter story, the characters learn tools to defend themselves against the so-called Dark Arts. Two of the most powerful tools are explored in the third book, which also happens to be my favorite of the series (I think it is the most theological!).
One tool is used to defeat the dementors, which are dark ghost-like beings that feed on a person’s joy and happy memories. The dementors’ power lies in their ability to suck all life and happiness out of a person, forcing them to relive their worst memory again and again. (I have friends who have struggled with depression who have resonated very deeply with the image of the dementor.) There is only one defense against a dementor, and that is to conjure a patronus. Watch as Harry does this:
[Clip in which Harry conjures the patronus and the dementors flee]
As you can see, a patronus is a powerful figure made of light, a protector and shield. And though the dementors are absolutely menacing to their human victims, they are no match for the patronus. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness could not overcome it” (John 1).
I think it’s no accident that J.K. Rowling, who is herself a Christian, named these protective beings using the word patronus, whose root in Latin means “Father”… and that she made the incantation “Expecto patronum.”
When we’re faced with the darkness—when we are confronted with evil—do we expect that God (the Father) will be there with us, lighting the way? Isn’t that the nature of faith? To see the darkness swirling about and to still be expectant of the glimpses of grace that will come?
Now notice what Harry does—the patronus goes before him, but he can’t turn his back; he must stand, and stand firm. God gives us the strength to confront the evil, but make no mistake—confront it we must. We must stand firm in the truth of God’s grace and mercy and say to the darkness, “You have no power here.”
The other tool of defense against the dark arts I want to share is a personal favorite. It is a defensive tool against a sort of bogeyman character called a boggart. A boggart is a shape-shifter—it takes the form of whatever the person fears most, which means that the boggart looks different to every person.
The incantation against a boggart is the word “Ridikulus!” But while one is saying Ridikulus, one must imagine something funny, something that makes the person laugh. Watch as a professor teaches a student how to do this and what happens to the boy’s boggart as a result.
[Play clip in which Neville confronts his boggart—the feared Professor Snape advances, but with the word “Ridikulus!” is shown to be wearing Neville’s grandmother’s clothes and carrying her handbag]
What could possibly make someone laugh in the midst of the fear? How can we stare into the face of what terrifies us and see it as something absurd rather than frightening?
We can do this if we know that, while the fear is very real to us, it is not ultimately true. What is true is what Paul will write to the church at Rome just one chapter later: that there is nothing, not death, nor evil, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor dementors, nor boggarts, that will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, who has already and will again declare victory over all the darkness and evil we might experience or concoct.
Just last week I heard a story about the city of Atlanta during the civil rights movement—how the Ku Klux Klan would often march down Auburn Avenue, which was the African-American center of town. Each time the people would see the Klan coming they would draw their shades, lock their doors, and cower in their homes until that parade of evil was over.
Until civil rights started to take hold.
Just when the tide was starting to turn, when people could finally see justice on the horizon, the Klan marched once again down Auburn Avenue. But this time the people lifted their window shades, threw open their doors, stood on the sidewalk and laughed, and laughed, and laughed… and the Klan never marched down Auburn Avenue again. (from a sermon preached by Tom Long at the 2007 Festival of Homiletics)
They looked evil in the face and said, Ridiculous. Because they know what is ultimately true. Evil may be real, and we dare not pretend otherwise.
Back in 2007 I preached a series on “the gospel and Harry Potter.” This series coincided with a huge cultural moment among HP fans: the release of the seventh book and the fifth film. Before I left for Collegeville, and in honor of the final chapter of the saga hitting theaters, I threw them up here on the blog. Enjoy…
“Love Leaves Its Own Mark”
One of the things I am not addressing much in this series is the discomfort that some people have with a series of books that are populated by witches and wizards—stories that are soaked in the language of magic. It bothers some, because aren’t there prohibitions against sorcery and witchcraft in scripture?
Yes, there are. And while it is important for parents to know what their children are reading, and I do hope that parents are circumspect in how they share these stories, especially with young children, there are at least two reasons why I find no major cause for concern.
The first is that the magic employed in these books is totally disconnected with any sense of religion or deity. There are no rituals of magic, no calling forth of satanic spirits or agents of the occult, indeed no mention whatsoever of spirits in the traditional sense. Magic serves a utilitarian purpose; it is not a means of worship or devotion. Magic is simply an aspect of the natural laws governing their universe. Just as we get around by car and bicycle; they get around by Portkeys and Floo Powder. Just as young people in our world might play a prank on a friend by TPing his house, young wizards might, say, turn his pet owl purple. (Not that I am condoning either activity, of course!)
The second reason I see no real concern, however, is much more important. Even with all the clever tricks, charms and potions we find in the Harry Potter books, there is a much deeper and universal force at work in the Potter universe. This idea is expressed well by an inhabitant of a different magical world, Aslan of Narnia, who says of the Witch in that story, “Though she knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know.” (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe)
Just as there is in Narnia, there is a deeper magic in Harry’s world. It is a magic that hums underneath all the comings and goings of the wizarding universe. And as fantastical as certain elements of Harry’s world are to us, this deep magic is instantly recognizable to us as well.
There is a scene toward the end of book 1 in which Harry fights Voldemort by way of one of his followers, who has insinuated his way into Hogwarts in the guise of a teacher. During the battle, every time the man tries to grab Harry, he recoils in terrible pain, and Harry prevails—much to his surprise, I might add.
Dumbledore, the headmaster, later explains to Harry why the evil one was unable to touch him:
Your mother died to save you. If there is one thing Voldemort cannot understand, it is love. He didn’t realize that love as powerful as your mother’s for you leaves its own mark. Not a scar, no visible sign. …To have been loved so deeply, even though the person who loved us is gone, will give us some protection forever. It is in your very skin. Voldemort’s servant, full of hatred, greed, and ambition, could not touch you for this reason. It was agony to touch a person marked by something so good. (Sorcerer’s Stone, p. 299)
“If there is one thing evil cannot understand, it is love…”
—Love that cares nothing for self-preservation;
love that would sacrifice itself for another.
This love trumps everything else in the wizarding world, and that’s a basic theme of the books. So not only is the series not hostile to our faith, it underscores one of the basic principles of it.
Jesus said, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” And we know the long line of people throughout history, including Jesus, though of course not starting with Jesus: people who gave their lives for the life of another… in witness to the kingdom… in sacrificial love. The band U2’s classic song about the death of Martin Luther King sings “In the name of love, what more in the name of love?” It’s about King, but not just King. The lyrics suggest what we know, that it’s an old, old story indeed. One person dies that others might be free.
Just last week at the youth choir concert, the youth sang an anthem that was written in the wake of a plane crash that claimed the lives of several from a college choir who returning from a tour. One of the individuals who died was a young man who survived the crash, but was overcome by smoke inhalation as he led others to safety.
It’s a story that reverberates in our deepest heart of hearts—it appeals to our best hopes for ourselves. If last week’s sermon addressed the question, “Who are you and to whom do you belong?” perhaps today’s central question is, “What story are you in?” Are you in a story where it’s every man for himself, every woman for herself? Or is it a story in which we are powerfully and inevitably marked by the grace and love of God? …a grace and love that calls us to great sacrifice?
This is the story that weaves throughout the wizarding universe as well. Just listen to this exchange between two characters who were both close to Harry’s parents, one of whom betrayed them to Lord Voldemort:
Sirius: You sold Harry’s parents to Voldemort. Do you deny it?
Peter: What could I have done? The Dark Lord… you have no idea… he has weapons you can’t imagine… I was scared, I was never brave like you and the others. I never meant it to happen… He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named forced me.
Sirius: Don’t lie! You’d been passing information to him for a year before Lily and James Potter died! You were his spy!
Peter: He—he was taking over everywhere! Wh-what was there to be gained by refusing him?
Sirius: What was there to be gained by fighting the most evil wizard who has ever existed? Only innocent lives!
Peter: You don’t understand. He would have killed me!
Sirius: THEN YOU SHOULD HAVE DIED! DIED RATHER THAN BETRAY YOUR FRIENDS, AS WE WOULD HAVE DONE FOR YOU! (Prisoner of Azkaban, p. 374-5)
I myself pray that when faced with a life or death decision, to offer my life to save others, that I would make the faithful choice.
Yet I also know that if my past experience is any indication, the opportunities to truly sacrifice one’s life for someone else… well, they don’t come along very often.
What does it mean to lay down one’s life for one’s friends, each and every day? What about the day-in, day-out care for a spouse who has a chronic illness? Or the children with special needs and abundant energy?
“This is my commandment; that you love one another…” Love that isn’t wrapped in gauzy sentimentality, filmed through a soft-filtered lens. Love that is real and transformative, both for the giver and the receiver. I can think of at least three ways that we are called to love sacrificially even in the midst of everyday life.
First: love takes the long view, keeping the big picture in mind. Love values long-term wholeness over present gratification.
Toward the end of book 1, Harry and his friends Ron and Hermione are working through a series of tests and challenges in order to retrieve the so-called sorcerer’s stone from falling into the wrong hands. These challenges include a game of wizard’s chess—not the tabletop version, but a life-size chessboard in which swords are drawn and pieces are smashed to rubble. Listen to what Ron says to Harry as he prepares to make a decisive move:
[Play clip in which Ron says he must be sacrificed in order that Harry can go on]
Sometimes love means knowing what is most important—being able to see the larger picture. Jesus, for example, could have refused to go to the cross. He could have stayed and fed another crowd of 5,000, healed scores of others, preached more sermons. But he had a deeper mission—to feed the whole world, to heal all of creation; and his death and resurrection said more about the grace of God than a lifetime of sermons ever could.
That’s obviously a rather dramatic example. Maybe for us it’s as simple as forgoing a hurtful word or a nagging comment toward a loved one, in service to the larger goal of a harmonious relationship. Or maybe it’s letting a child make her own mistakes, resisting the urge to rescue every time she threatens a misstep, because that’s how children learn. Maybe it’s knowing that real love keeps the end in mind: a time when she will be an independent adult, able to make her own decisions and dust herself off when she falters.
Love takes the long view.
A second aspect of real self-sacrificing love meets people where they are. This is suggested in the experience of another character from the wizarding world, a werewolf. Now werewolves are perfectly safe to be around, except during the full moon, but they are second-class citizens in the society. Listen to a passage in which one of these individuals describes how his friends respond to his condition:
I became a full-fledged monster once a month. My transformations in those days were—were terrible. It is very painful to turn into a werewolf. I was separated from humans to bite, so I bit and scratched myself. But apart from this, I was happier than I had ever been in my life. For the first time ever, I had friends, three great friends. At first I was terrified they would desert me the moment they found out what I was.
But they didn’t desert me at all. Instead, they did something for me that would make my transformations bearable. They became Animagi—[humans who can transform into animals]. They couldn’t keep me company as humans, so they kept me company as animals. A werewolf is only dangerous to people. Under their influence, I became less dangerous. My body was still wolfish, but my mind seemed to become less so while I was with them. (Prisoner of Azkaban, p. 352)
This character’s friends walked alongside him each month, keeping him safe, letting him know that he wasn’t alone.
Sometimes laying down one’s life for one’s friends means meeting them where they are, not where we want them to be.
“Why can’t you just snap out of that depression?”
“Shouldn’t you have dealt with your grief by now?”
“You just need to accept the breakup of your marriage as God’s will.”
…we strive instead to pursue what Paul called “a more excellent way,” the way of love (I Cor. 13).
Remember poor Job? His friends had it right at first. When he’d lost everything and was sitting in the ash heap, they sat in silence with him for seven days. For just a little while, they lay down their lives—their need to fix, to seek explanation, to control the situation by picking it apart and finding someone to blame. (Too bad they don’t quit while they were ahead—they can’t resist jumping in with all sorts of well-meaning but tragically unhelpful theories.)
Love meets others where they are.
Third: love persists in loving, even when it seems foolish, weak, or naïve to do so.
At the end of the second book, Harry is fighting Voldemort (do you sense the trend?), who has taken the form of his younger self. Harry is fighting the good fight, but he is the underdog, and he is all alone. Watch what happens next.
[Show clip in which the gifts arrive to help Harry (phoenix bring the sorting hat) and Voldemort responds with scorn]
Love means that the tools at your disposal are going to seem woefully inadequate. Look at the contempt on young Voldemort’s face. This is what Dumbledore sends to help you? he sneers.
It is ridiculous. Love seems a feeble tool indeed in a world drowning in despair. We tear ourselves apart through a seemingly endless war and ever-more-horrific acts of terror, and the answer is to love one another? No wonder we’ve let marketers co-opt the word love to describe everything from carpet cleaner to sport utility vehicles: We know that any power the word love might have seems ridiculous in the face of real threats, real destruction.
The “old hat” doesn’t look like much, but it brings with it a powerful gift. And the “songbird” is a phoenix, and provides its own gift when Harry is mortally wounded:
[Show clip in which Harry is healed by the phoenix’s tears]
Is it any wonder that the phoenix has been a symbol used in Christian art from the first century? Not just because it rises again from its ashes, but because through its tears—an expression of true vulnerability if there ever was one!—it is able to heal.
Isn’t it Paul who reminds us, “God has chosen what is foolish to shame the wise”?
Christ’s power was in his weakness.
Real love persists in loving even when to do so makes us look foolish, weak, or naïve.
There are many more aspects of love we might mention. Like all great mysteries of life, love has depths and dimensions that will never be fully explored. The question is simply this:
What story are we in?
…The story written by the giants of commerce, empire and advertising, that might makes right, money is power, go along to get along?
…Or the story told in the life of a wandering penniless prophet from Nazareth who commanded us to love, who said to the evils of the world, “You think you’re going to have the last word? Watch what I do next.”
Back in 2007 I preached a series on “the gospel and Harry Potter.” This series coincided with a huge cultural moment among HP fans: the release of the seventh book and the fifth film. Before I left for Collegeville, and in honor of the final chapter of the saga hitting theaters, I threw them up here on the blog. Enjoy…
“Post Comes on Sundays, Too”
A couple of years ago I was walking in our neighborhood with Caroline who was about 3 years old at the time, when a woman on a bicycle rode by and waved, “Hi Caroline!” It’s a friendly neighborhood; nothing unusual about that, except that I had no idea who the woman was.
Who is this? I thought. She knows my daughter, but I don’t recognize her at all!
I turned to Caroline to find out who she was. What I said was, “Caroline, how does she know you?” Which turns out to be a stupid question to ask a toddler who is in that very self-centered stage of development. Toddlers, it seems, go through a period where they think they are the center of the universe. So she looked at me like I was the densest person on earth and didn’t say a word, but her expression said clearly, “Mommy. Everyone knows me.”
(It turned out to be the neighbor of her day-care provider, who also lives down the street from us.)
It’s true! In her world, not just as a toddler but as a preacher’s kid, she is used to people knowing who she is, even if she can’t quite place who they are. Everyone knows Caroline, whether she likes it or not. I think if you shared the words of God to Jeremiah to a toddler, “Before you were even born I knew you… I knew you,” I have a feeling the response would be the toddler equivalent of, “Well, duh.”
Now, for those of us, however, who are at a different stage of development, who know we are not the center of the universe, it is remarkable, isn’t it, that God knows us. God knows each and every one of us. Think about the vastness of the universe, this ever-expanding cosmos, and this tiny planet earth in an obscure corner of a medium-to-large sized galaxy. Now think about the God who made all that, looking at each person who has ever walked this planet and saying, “Knew that one. Yep, knew that one too. And that one.” It’s a remarkable thing, assuming we’re not too old and cynical and enlightened to experience awe. God knows you.
Our protagonist in this series, young Harry Potter, is someone who was going about his life, minding his own business, until one day he came to discover that he was known in a way he could never have imagined. When Harry Potter is found at age 11, living with his relatives the Dursleys, he finds out that not only is he a wizard, which is strange enough, but he is one of the most famous children ever to have lived in the wizarding world—the only one to have survived an attack by the dark wizard Voldemort. Harry is the one they call “The Boy Who Lived.”
And he knows nothing of this. And Hagrid, who has been sent to fetch Harry, is outraged.
How can you not know who you are? he roars. “How can you not know what you are? …Harry Potter, not knowing his own story!” (Sorcerer’s Stone, p. 50 and 53)
He is the boy who lived! He is the one who has given people hope that maybe Voldemort, who has terrorized so many people and spread fear and horror, just might have a weakness. Maybe evil won’t have the last word, they think, because someone lived. Harry Potter lived.
And Harry has no clue of any of this.
And what’s more, he doesn’t want the job. He doesn’t want to be the object of all this attention. It takes him a long time to come to terms with who he is… (six books and counting). When at the age of 15 he is asked to teach some of his fellow students some techniques so that they can defend themselves against Voldemort—which he has done successfully several times over the series—he comes up with every excuse not to do it. We’ll get in trouble, I don’t know enough—I just got lucky, I’m not a good teacher, I’m too young, and so on (from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix).
It’s not so different, is it, from Jeremiah? Jeremiah, who is visited by the spirit of God who says, “I know you. I have always known you, even when you didn’t know me. And you will be a prophet to the nations; I have appointed you.” And Jeremiah says, “Excuse me? A prophet? There must be some mistake.”
And God says, “No mistake. You’re the one.”
We know that the Bible is full of people who reacted as Jeremiah did—as Harry did. “I’m a what? You want me to what?” I was reminded of this just this week at a presbytery meeting where we received candidates for ordination, many of whom said, “Yeah, I heard the call from God, and I ran the other way as long as I could.” I think we tell ourselves it’s modesty. The God of heaven and earth has a job for me to do? The God of the whole universe has appointed me for special work? Little old me?
It looks like modesty, but it can also be woefully faithless. When the God of the universe comes calling, nudging, pleading, saying “You’re my child. I love you. I always have. And I have a call for you. I’ve tailored it just for you.” And then we go about business as usual? Woe to us.
And business as usual doesn’t work anyway, because as Jeremiah will tell you, God can be very persistent and doesn’t easily take no for an answer.
I know of no better illustration of this than a scene from the first Harry Potter movie, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, when Harry first receives his invitation to Hogwarts School of Wizardry (which comes via owl post). His aunt and uncle Dursley, who are vile people who keep Harry in a cupboard underneath the stairs, are resistant to the idea, to say the least. Take a look.
[View movie clip, in which the letters come to Harry faster and faster, despite Uncle Vernon’s best efforts to keep them away from Harry, including burning the letters and sealing the mailbox]
You may have noticed how the invitation is worded:
The Cupboard under the Stairs
4 Privet Drive… etc.
The invitation comes from someone who doesn’t just know Harry, but knows exactly where he is in time and space.
Uncle Vernon tries every trick in the book to keep those letters out, but to no avail. He learns that post does too come on Sunday, and Monday, and Tuesday, and for however long it takes before the message gets through. The letters keep coming and coming and coming, and each is addressed just to Harry, exactly where he is.
I wonder how your letters from God would be addressed to you.
It could be your address is crystal clear to everyone:
But surely there are others who may be living at a different address right now, an address only God knows.
Dead End Job, Feeling Empty But Unable to See a Way Out
Mary Alice Thompson
Being Eaten Alive by Depression but Terrified to Say Anything to Anyone
Wondering Whether God Cares, or Even Exists
Crushed under the Weight of Too Much Busyness
Before we were formed in our mother’s womb, God knew us. God knows where we are. God wants more than anything to transform our lives with the power of Jesus Christ. That’s the message. So why do we let other people nail 2x4s over the mail slot? Why do we believe what the world tells us about ourselves? If you’re pretty, or thin, or white, or rich, or young, or fast, or smart, then you matter.
Why do we resist the truth, that we are precious just as we are? Why do we proclaim in our theology that there is nothing we need to do to deserve God’s love, then work ourselves to the bone to be worthy? Why do we resist grace?
I’ve said it before from this pulpit: “All human nature vigorously resists grace, because grace changes us and change is painful.” (Flannery O’Connor, quoted by Marjorie Thompson, Soul Feast, p. 121)
We resist it.
We are so resistant to grace that we will go so far as to splinch ourselves. (Now here is a great wizarding term! There is a way of getting around in the wizarding world called Apparating, where a person disappears one place and arrives, POP!, in another. The trouble is, if you don’t concentrate while in transit, you might arrive without an eyebrow, or an elbow, or an index finger. That’s splinching.)
I think many of us are victims of our own spiritual splinching. We’re so willing to believe what the world says about us—we’re so eager to get away from God and from our God-given selves—that we will leave pieces of ourselves behind. We want to be liked, we want to get along, we want to feel safe, we want a lot of shiny toys, we want to do things our own way. We want to be free to pursue our goals, our desires, our wants, our needs.
The bumper sticker theology here would be that God is all we need, that if we just give our lives to God that everything will be smooth sailing, tra-la-la. We know that’s not true.
However, a life in God does serve to deepen our goals, transform our desires, clarify our wants, and ground our needs.
Imagine that, roars Hagrid. Harry Potter doesn’t even know his own story. He doesn’t even know who he is, how important he is, how beloved he is.
Do you know your story? Do you know who you really are?
“Before I formed you, I knew you. I have appointed you for nourishing work. And I will provide what you need.” That’s the message.
How many letters will it take for the message to get through?