Jul 21, 2007

there's something about harry

Last night / this morning I hit the local Borders store and was a spectator of the local Harry Potter spectatular. I did this purely and intentionally to put myself in an environment I'm not used to nor "get" - which I think is a good way to remind me of how people often feel when they walk in the door of a church for the first time. It was more than enlightening, and not the first time I've done it.

The parking lot was so full that I had to park by the local pet store (which is a good hike several lots away). The walk gave me some solid prayer time to open up my spirit to God. I often found myself saying, "Lord - I don't get this, and I know it is an awkward issue for many people to not take the time to discern what's right and wrong about a lot of things. So through my faith in you, will you help me understand a group of people who are passionate about something I am not?"

Thankfully, He did.

I got there shortly before midnight, just in time to hear who was randomly picked to purchase their books as the first customers of the night. Two teenage sisters won (pictured here), buying a total of four copies right after the crowd counted down to midnight.

Yes... the crowd counted down until midnight. Out loud. All we needed was Dick Clark and the shiny ball to drop (which, as a side note, I still don't get why it's such a big deal for us to watch a shiny ball drop on New Year's eve, but I digress).

I had the chance to talk with these girls and ask them about their experience and affection for Harry Potter. Honestly, for them it was all about "the writing." I even asked them directly about the witchcraft issue to which they said "We don't think much about it. It could've been about anything. We were more interested in the story of 'good versus evil' than some of the other stuff."

It seemed like that theme was the consistent thread in every conversation I struck up.

I talked with a group of teenagers who said the same thing, explaining that it was all about the adventure seeing "who'd win."  I asked them about the spells and such, too, to which they said, "A lot of our friends' parents wouldn't let them read the books when they first came out but did let them read Chronicles of Narnia and Lord of the Rings... which I think is kind of weird because those books have witchcraft, too, but are supposed to talk about more biblical things... but I never saw that in them so whatever."

That's a direct quote, by the way.

What an interesting world we live in... many seem to be in tune with the concept of "good versus evil" through Harry Potter, and yet they unintentionally/intentionally stop short at investigating what's beneath that. Maybe because it's safer to explore that soul desire when it's something you believe isn't real... like a story or a movie. Perhaps this is why Jesus often used the metaphors of His day (farming, government, money) to talk about the things that really matter.

Yet there's this issue of tension I still can't shake with all of this...
When you enter the land the LORD your God is giving you, do not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there. Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead.(Deuteronomy 18:9-11)

The Harry Potter books and movies have stirred up quite a debate among Christians for a long time. If associating with witchcraft is forbidden by God, and He takes objection to us tolerating and defending it becoming a popular conscious or unconscious theme culturally, do fictional stories about magic that we spend lots of money on fit into that?

Before you keep reading, would you please hang out in that tension for a moment? I know of many people who claim to be Christians and yet don't do a lot of "exposing" of darkness... rather, the dominant approach seems to be "It's not big deal, because it's fiction."

Again - please don't move on. If you're a Christian, wrestle with that passage above as well as this one:

"Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them." (Ephesians 5:11)
Did you do that? Because I'm going to guess you want to keep reading or form a defense instead of truly wrestling with that. I know that's my temptation.

Now, let's assume you just did. Let's go the other way.

How does God feel about people who are into it and dress up at the stores like warlocks/wizards/witches? And likewise, how does God feel about people who judge those who dress up like warlocks/wizards/witches?

That's the other tension...
Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: "Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you. (Acts 17:22-23)
So obviously Paul believed entering the world of the Greeks (who worshipped many different things/gods) was a good idea in order to gain insight and credibility to speak to them. But somehow he didn't pull back his punches... he didn't study the idols and say, "Nice statue? Where can I pick one up? I'd like to use this as an illustration with my kids."  He studied culture and spoke through it (not around it or at it) in an attempt to point people to Jesus Christ.

That's why I went to the bookstore, by the way. Not because I want to engage in a debate about Harry Potter but because as a Christian my top purpose on this earth is to lead others to Jesus Christ, demolish any foothold satan has in their lives that would keep them from taking that step, and not put another one in their way that I mean for a good intention but gets used to create a tolerance to something God makes some very strong statements about all throughout the Bible.

I guess my prayer in all of this is that I/we would know how to live in that tension... which is a lot more difficult to do than to draw a box around me and live in it... or get rid of the idea of biblical boundaries altogether. It's funny how quickly people who don't like being labeled pull out their own label guns.

Instead, I somehow have to figure out what it means to be separate from the practices of the world while still living in the world enough to know its language... in order to share the Good News.

"In the world, not of the world," so to speak. (Hey - someone should copyright that concept.)

So the bottom line I've learned in this journey of the books and movies (including my first accidental stumble into it all in 2005 at a Barnes and Noble in Chicago) is that there's something about Harry... what that is, I'm not sure we can all be clear on. Because on one hand it is an open door for God's church to walk through and share then we should most certainly do so. And on the other hand, it's unnecessary and fruitless in itself.

Somehow we need to figure out how to build bridges and land on Jesus instead of Harry Potter, be it to defend or to promote.


CarolAnn said...

Great post. I've struggled through much of this as well, and 2 of my 3 daughters are HUGE Harry Potter fans and were very excited for the final book last night. I do think we must be careful, but I do think that we can also use this bit of culture to share Christ. (http://www.christianpost.com/article/20070709/28373.htm OR http://www.dare2share.org/culturecommission/the-deathly-hallows)

The hardest part for me is where to draw the line. If no Harry Potter, than no Lord of the Rings, Narnia, etc? Or, do we continue to rely on the Holy Spirit to remind us individually what is profitable for us?

It is good that it causes enough stir for people to realize the need to be on their toes spiritually and to most of all know how to respond with the questions that might come up from reading the Harry Potter books, or seeing the latest movie.

Anyway, I appreciate your thoughts.

Tony Myles said...

What an amazing tension, Carolann... I think the hard part is walking with the questions

Todd Porter said...

I personally am a big fan of the series, but I used to be in the camp that it was bad and Christians should have no part in it. But then I decided to listen to the first book on CD and was pleasantly surprised that it was not as evil has I had thought.

Then I read a book by Connie Neal callled What's a Christian to Do with Harry Potter? It is probably one of the best and most balanced books written on the subject (I have read several). Connie does a really good job of looking at the subject very objectively. It caused me to realize that there is a difference between practicing witchcraft and using it as a literary device as Tolkien and Lewis have.

But I do like how you decided to go and be a part of it to see how people would feel when they go to visit a church. That is a cool idea. Of course I was at my local Borders store getting my book, but I was one of those geeks! LOL

Milton Stanley said...

It seems the main issue Christians ought to be concerned about in HP is not the witchcraft, which is presented as a sort of genetic quirk rather than occult practice, but rather that the books are yet another example of popular entertaining putting forth an essentially godless worldview. In the HP books the magic is presented as simply a stand-in for technology, but even on the "good" side of the good-v-evil conflict, no one acknowledges or worships God beyond an occasional comment of "Thank God." In essence, the danger of the HP series is that it's yet one more example in the mass of popular entertainment--movies, books, and teevee--in which faith or religious obedience simply doesn't exist.

Todd Porter said...


You really don't find much of that in "The Lord of the Rings" or "The Chronicles of Narnia" series, but the church has praised those and they were both written by Christians and one of them is considered one of the greatest theologians.