Thank You, Harry Potter.


As evidenced by the fact that I did indeed show up to worship on Halloween Sunday in full costume, I am a Halloween Junkie.    I have said numerous times that it is a day I look forward to with boyish jubilance.   I don’t know if there is something broken in me, but the thought of dressing up like a zombie boogieman and scaring the lunch out of some little kid looking for candy, fills me with great joy.   

At the same time, I know that just because something makes me smile, doesn’t mean that it is necessarily a good thing

(i.e.: The sheer side splitting laughter at America’s Funniest Home Video and the Karmic expense made in those moments is certainly a prime example of this)  

I worry that in my eagerness to enjoy this night to its fullest, I might be sending a message that hurts more than it helps.   You cannot argue that there are many of my pastoral colleagues who want absolutely nothing to do with this night, and look at me from the corner of their eyes for not being of the same mindset.

Churches all over our community are handling this season differently.   The UCC church at central square, charged people to enter their house of horrors during the pumpkin festival.   A  church just down the road, believes that it celebrates Satan and will be shutting off lights and locking doors.   There is a church in Quincy, Mass that takes their giant cathedral and transforms it into Hogwarts for a giant community celebration. As with any issue in the church there is no consensus, and little hope that there ever will be.

This year we stretched our observance as a church more than we usually do.  We planned a spooky and fun, family celebration for Saturday, and invited all to come in on Sunday in costume.   We planned our events and in the end, created what almost amounts to a Halloween weekend.  Believe me when I tell you that I did it with all those other “right minded clergy” voices telling me that what I am doing is wrong, bouncing around in my head.

I have told you all a hundred times over that I do not have all the answers.   I have to ask with all I do and say from this pulpit; What if I am wrong?   In Philippians 2 we are told to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, and I do.   I don’t want to spend the rest of my life preaching, teaching and following only to have Jesus one day meet me in person and say “How could you have missed the boat so badly, Scott?”   As such I refuse to enter the mix assuming that I know everything, that I have all the answers, and that there is only one right way of thinking, acting and living, and that is mine.

All that said, I found myself wondering how I should position myself in regards to Halloween.  Are the zombies, boogiemen, and scary music that find its way to my front yard during trick and treating the right thing?.   So, this year I did so more research.    I looked around, and I asked questions.  

First off the United Methodist Church has an official statement on Halloween, and it reads:

“The United Methodist Church does not have an official statement or position regarding Halloween.  Church members are free to make their own decisions about their participation in Halloween activities.  Local churches can decide if they wish to offer traditional or alternative activities for children at Halloween.”  (from Archives.umc.org)

Obviously, that statement is clear.   We can do what we chose.   Yet, I still need to understand what I am choosing don’t I?   So, I posted on clergy sites, and read what everyone had to say.

As I did, I came to a conclusion that is a bit heart breaking.   Even though we are a people whose faith tells us that we should never approach things with fear, too many of our clergy, churches and laity are just…well… timid.  We are so afraid of the world that it changes who we are, and what we are supposed to be.   As we approach the world with fear and trembling, we present a faith that is small.   The grandness and overpowering glory of our faith is lost in the timidity of those who chose to follow it.  

I have come to the conclusion that Halloween is not about bringing Satan into your home, and celebrating demons and evil as some told me in response to my posts.  That’s just not what it’s about.   Instead, I look out my window and I see a community that opens their doors and takes a step out.  

For a world not stuck in the forever fear of receiving God’s judgment for the slightest of missteps, Halloween has evolved into something different.   In a world chock full of monsters, evil, and pain that take the form of terrorists, shadows in the night, and radio talk show hosts, Halloween allows you to put on a mask and be reminded that despite of the presence of those things there is a way to say that the darkness doesn’t win.

Every other day of the year we are afraid to head out into the shadows, dark alleys, and even darker corners, and we hide.   On Halloween we find ourselves running from one to the next.    There is a lesson in that.

When you are spooked from your shoes by some 14 year old, middle aged man, and when he is done he takes off his mask, and you see a friend and a neighbor…   There is a reminder that there are some things we don’t need to fear.   We are reminded that the greatest fears we have to deal with are the fears that we create for ourselves.

I read a sad article just recently that said the only times we knock on a stranger’s door is when we are politicking or during trick or treat.   In politicking most will not answer the bell, during trick or treat, they will.  Instead of being afraid of black cats and Frankenstein’s, maybe we should be eager to meet our neighbors where they are at.

How does it make us look as a people of faith, when we refuse to reach out to our community during this time as well?    By closing our doors are we telling the world that we need to be afraid of Little Suzy in the Harry Potter costume?   

Are we saying that our faith is not strong enough to see the Christ in this moment too?  I say, that we are people who follow a God that is bigger than any boogie monster, or 8 year old dressed as one, and we need to continue to find ways that are innovative, bold, and risky to reach our neighbors.   Even if it means showing them that we are not afraid to dress up on Sunday. Our faith demands that we find Christ in all things.   That means Halloween, Jack O’ Lanterns, and Harry Potter too. 

I showed up to church in what I have to say is one of the best costumes I have had in years;  Harry Potter himself.   My girls were speechless by the costume.   Slowly… and with a bit of marvel tinting her voice, my youngest declared:  “Daddy,…I never realized how much you look like Harry Potter….   I mean old and all…   Like a real old Harry Potter.”   

As I digest her “compliment”, it seems like she provided me the perfect lead in to this message.   You do not need me to tell you that Harry Potter is the most attacked character of recent decades.   He is said to be the reason for everything up to and including the full downfall and decay of our American youth and by extension Western Civilization..

Let me tell you how I see him.    I see him as a character of a book.    I see him as a character of a book that my youngest absolutely loves.    When I was a boy and I closed my eyes and imagined that imaginary place of fantasy it was some faraway star wars themed planet.   For Sophie, when she closes her eyes she sees Harry’s World.  

Am I afraid of that?  My answer is a full and unconditional no.   For Sophie, reading didn’t come as naturally as it did for Annie, but she will pick up that book, and struggle through it word for word, paragraph by paragraph, oftentimes at a painfully slow pace, because she wants to be a part of that world.  At the same time, she has a innocence and a purity to her character that envelopes everything including her faith.   I wish I could find a way to grow my faith into something that she shows naturally and without hesitation.

Yet there are clergy and religious folk who believe that this is the epitome of evil as well as bad parenting.  Listen to just a couple of the quotes.   The Jeremiah Films project, which creates Christian media for children, stated that the “Potter books and film openly promote Satanism.”  Christiananswers.net, an online site which claims to help others understand our faith, says that Harry Potter is against God because the Bible says “any practice of magic is an ‘abomination’.”

We cannot forget fundamentalist Christian film reviewer Phil Boatwright who argues that the films and books are part of a Satanic plot, and perhaps removing them from shelves and even burning them, might be justified.    Burning Books?   I gave my thanks each and every day to God that my faith is bigger than that.

For those of you who have no interaction with the story, it is something else.

The story begins as all good fantasies do: with magic, wonder and mystery. We meet harry as he is left on a doorstep.  The child is ordinary in all ways, save for a scar just above his eyes shaped like a bolt of lightning, and his forever crazy mop of black hair.  We soon learn that his parents have died offering their bodies as the small child’s protection against an evil and dark wizard.   Dropped at the doorway, he is now forced to live a harsh and abused childhood as the unwelcome guest of nasty non magical family, or “muggles” as they are called in the book.   As he reaches his twelfth birthday everything changes, as he is brought back into the world of wizarding, and trained to one day battle that evil wizard for good.

There is no way that I could explain the story of Harry Potter, which spans close to 5,000 pages, or almost a full 24 hours of film, but if you had a few days to spare, Sophie would gladly walk you through every minute aspect.  She would tell you not only of the clothes that they wore, but she would weave a story that talked about family, school, classrooms, bullies, and doing the right thing.   

She would mention odd things like a school named Hogwarts, the screaming mandrake plants, sorting hats, or jelly beans that taste like earwax.  After seeing both Annie and Sophie’s reaction to this wonderful bizarre world, I have decided, even though I have no time, that it’s now time for me to read the books.   As I move through book one, I am happy that they are there to explain the confusing parts.

In the end to consider this as broken, evil, or dark seems so far from reality.  These books are not that different from the C.S. Lewis, Lion, Witch and Wardrobe books of my youth.  Yet, Reverends and Pastors are declaring them the worst thing since credit cards and internet porn.   As they do, they miss the point.

J.K. Rowling has been peppered with questions and requests to defend her book since it was published in 1997.   Now that it is a billion dollar industry the questions come more frequently.   Throughout the decade that she was writing these books her response was always the same;   wait.   She told people that they would see in the end.  

When the last book was published and people were still confused she pointed to one moment in the books that she said explained everything.  If anyone, advocate or opponent wanted to understand the Harry Potter adventures, they merely needed to find one moment in all the books.   That moment is referred to as the grave yard scene.

In this scene, Harry and one of his best friends Hermione, stumble upon the grave of a mother and daughter.   It is the mom and sister of Albus Dumbledore, the much revered and respected headmaster of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.   There is an inscription on that grave that confuses the pair.   It reads “Where your treasure is there your heart will be also”

In case you don’t know it, that’s from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.   Consider that for just a moment.   The most Satanic and evil writings of our time, and in what the author considers the most important moment, we discover the words of Christ.

In the way of some back story we need to understand the death of Dumbledore’s sister.   Dumbledore, in what started with the best of intentions, was obsessed with finding and obtaining one of the world’s most powerful items, something called the Deathly Hallows.    His quest ended up costing him everything.

His sister Ariana was a troubled soul who struggled with mental illness.  She lived in and with an unimaginable level of hurt.   All his young sister needed was a fulfillment of a simple need:  to be loved.   She needed to be loved and protected and treasured.  Sadly, Dumbledore this great wizard and role model got lost in his obsession and failed her.   In the end, he discovered a truth about himself;   that “he was not to be trusted with power”.  Dumbledore’s greatest treasure was already in his possession and he didn’t realize it; it was Love.

In that same scene, Harry and Hermione, also discover the graves of Harry’s parents, also provided by Dumbledore.   His parents were killed by the evil wizard Voldermort when Harry was a baby. 

(Here is a bit of trivia for you; most people pronounce his name wrong, it appears to be wrong even in the movies.   The author states that the evil wizard’s name is actually Voldemort – with a silent “T”.  His name is literally the latin phrase Vol de Mort, meaning to “flee from death”.)

There is another inscription on the stone of his parents.   This time from 1st Corinthians 15:16;   “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death”.  

This passage in Corinthians is about the resurrection and Jesus’ victory over death.   Compare that story to Harry’s.  Harry’s parents chose to surrender their power, their treasures, and their life itself for the love of their child.   In our faith it is all about the same.   We are called to surrender our pursuit of power, riches, fame, and all our worldly possessions – as well as those things the world tells us matter – in order to experience the victory of Christ, and the Kingdom that is both in the here and now, and is to come.  By realizing that we are people who greatest treasure is an all encompassing, sacrificial, James and Lily Potter kind of love, do we overcome and beat all enemies, including death itself.   In love, we “vol de mort”, or we flee from death.

As I consider this one passage, this whole point of the book, I smile.   

I smile because 400 million books have been sold.  I smile because billions of dollars have been spent on Harry Potter movies and merchandise.    I smile because a generation of children have fallen in love with reading.   I smile because millions of children have learnt through Harry Potter that choices matter, that love matters, and in the end love trumps everything.    I also smile because they have done so, through the story of Jesus Christ.

On Halloween, and in relation to Harry Potter and those things just like it, I say let our faith be bold enough, let it be strong enough, let it big enough, let it be innovative enough to find the hope, the joy, and the promise in everything.  

Let our faith be strong enough and pure enough to find the Christ in all things; be they jack o lanterns or the trick or treater who shows up at our door.    I know that my faith is enough of these things to do just that.

(Pic by Shekya, 2007)
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