It’s Halloween, and as type this, my daughter (decked out in ballerina gear) is handing out candy. Halloween is greeted with suspicion over here – more on anti-American feelings (we are blamed for bringing it over) and fears of teenagers using the day as an excuse to make trouble. Still, I have fond memories of it from my childhood and in honour of that, I thought I would celebrate it on the blog.
First, a confession of a guilty secret: I am a Harry Potter fan. If you have lived under a rock for the past ten years, Harry Potter is a wizard and attends a school called Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. I watched the movies as they came out, but didn’t get around to reading the books until a year ago (despite encouragement from my sister, a die-hard Slytherin). In the space of two months, I blitzed through all seven books. I couldn’t get enough of them and even missed them once I was finished. I was even silly enough to cry as Dobby, the faithful house-elf, died in Harry’s arms.
So, looking for an outlet from work, I picked up and started them over again. I was a little nervous because I was afraid of ruining them. And I didn’t want to appear like that strange guy who obsessed over them so much he created a website and calls J.K. Rowling ‘Jo’ like they are best friends (which I doubt, since she sued him when tried to make his site a book). Far from ruining them, I realised how much I forgot in them. Not really to the point that I didn’t know what would happen, but I remembered details that made me love them the first time around (and ones that you don’t get from the films).
It’s these details that catch me. While reading book 5 (The Order of the Phoenix), I noticed how she explained Harry’s surroundings as he walked through the Ministry of Magic. Things that really are incidental to the story and if left out, the story would have continued without a hitch (and likely made the book, the longest, much shorter). Yet, as I read the second time around, I felt glad that she didn’t leave it out. It didn’t matter that paper aeroplanes that flew on their own as inter-office memos was a one-sentence throwaway line. It gave you a sense of what Harry experienced walking around. It, and many other details like it, drew me into the world and even gave me the strangest sense that this world could almost exist!
Evidently, I am not alone, and many go much further and wishing this world is out there somewhere. People line up for book releases and book signings dressed up as their favourite characters. As mentioned already, many people devote insane amounts of time to building websites and podcasts. Rowling’s books call us to imagine a different world where in good vs. evil, good wins. Those who are considered strange by most of the ‘normal’ world’s standards excel and are honoured in another world. Those who are lonely in one world find the have friends and family in another.
I have often tried to express this as what God calls us to do when we read then bible; namely, to imagine a different world and be drawn into it. Growing up in a conservative tradition that sees the Bible as a set of truths to be believed and, in some cases, a list of rules to be followed (or at the very least, a book that restricted activity), the story element was downplayed. I don’t mean to say that the stories in the bible weren’t emphasised. They were (often followed by ‘the meaning’). All done with the simple purpose of telling people how to get to heaven. If that’s all the bible was for, then the few verses in Romans would have sufficed. I mean the overall story of God’s love for creation and his plan to rescue it from the sinfulness that invaded.
Here the stories in the bible, left disconnected in the hope they will express the ‘Romans Road’ of salvation, will do more than even Rowling’s paper airplanes. The stories in the bible draw you in and change how you imagine this world – or at least this world how God plans it to be at the final resurrection. It gives us the ability to see ourselves in more than wishful thinking. We don’t dress up as characters in Bible, but somehow carry on their stories. The stories change our mindsets and worldviews, calling us to see hated individuals as potential friends. Rejection of violence and the acceptance of sacrifice. This takes a huge amount of imagination, and if the Bible isn’t doing this, are we reading it right?
I have to admit that actually allowing the Bible to create this different world is one where I struggle in my own prayer life, preaching, and teaching. Perhaps because of my conservative/evangelical tradition, or more likely, my continuing acceptance of this world’s standards rather than allowing myself to be taken away by the details God uses to show his love. This is, of course, much more important than the hope offered by the fictional world of wizards and witches.