10 Lessons the Church Can Learn From Harry Potter: On the Occasion of His 20th Birthday

I was tragically late to the Potter party. 20 years ago (!) when the first book came out, I was a college sophomore with a few other things on my mind than the newest thing in YA fiction. My brother was the target demographic age (12) and told me (many times) that I HAD to read this book! I picked it up a few times and read a chapter here and there. But I was distracted. I didn’t really get into it.

I know. I know.

I cannot tell you when I made the transformation from oblivous Muggle to devoted Gryffindor–but it happened, and it was magical. I think I picked up the 3rd book shortly before the 4th released. Then Order of the Phoenix came out the same year I was married–and by then, my (new) husband and I were both prepared to fight to the death for the cause.

In honor of the book that changed how a whole generation of kids thought about books–and made several generations of adults question everything we thought we knew about magic– I believe an ode to all things Harry is in order today. Here are 10 lessons the Church can learn from our favorite magical heroes.  

  1. Belief in things unseen. Remember when Hagrid first told Harry he was a wizard? And Harry was like, wut. After that, the whole first book was filled with constantly unfolding wonder as Harry learned about the Wizarding world and found his place there. Who knew he could do these things?? Who knew all this was even possible?? You’d think the sparkle would wear off at some point… that nothing would surprise him any more. But no. He may have gotten cocky and thought he knew it all a few times; but throughout the whole series, he never grew cynical and he never stopped being surprised. The Church would do well to reclaim a similar commitment to mystery. I know that’s in scripture somewhere (Hebrews) but in my book, Dumbledore is a hella better teacher than Paul.
  2. Bring on the weird kids. You know, the Lunas. The Nevilles. The Hufflepuffs-who-are-not-Cedric. The ones who would never exactly be invited to the cool kids’ table but who, in a pinch, have what it takes to ward off the forces of evil. When people with unconventional gifts, wisdom, and/or personalities are included in the life of community, they flourish–and who knows what magic they are capable of then?
  3. Find the Right Wand. The sorting hat; Olivander’s wand selection; discovering your patronus; each exercise amounts to a magical spiritual gift survey, and reveals the witch or wizard’s unique strengths and abilities. Having the right wand in your hand–and being surrounded by the right community of support–makes all the difference in spiritual growth and magical success. Do our churches have adequate systems to help people find their particular gifts and talents? More importantly, can we remember to value the various gifts equally, even with the unfortunate capitalist influence on our religious life? Though some wands look fancier in the shop, each one serves its purpose in a time of crisis.
  4. Unity, not uniformity. As all of the houses (except maybe Slytherin) learned, you do not have to hold everything in common to embody common values. When the going gets tough, we’re all just going to be piled into the Room of Requirement– flying our various freak flags and staging the resistance together.
  5. Find joy in times of darkness… No matter what dark forces might occupy the White House–I mean, the Ministry of Magic–there are still Quidditch games to be played, weddings to dance through, and pranks to pull on unsuspecting professors. Weasley’s Wizarding Wheezes was founded for just such a time as this! The shennanigans must go on. (And so should worship). 
  6. Who run the world? Girls. Let’s face it. Harry and Ron would be long dead by now if not for Hermione. If the Church is indeed dying, as some claim, then it is mostly due to the lack of women’s voices in leadership throughout our complicated history. Equality matters: empower women and change the story.  
  7. Hope never dies. And death is not the end. The power of hope is palpable throughout the series. Even at the end, when they all think Harry is dead, Neville stands up to the Death Eaters and says that Harry will always be with them, as long as they keep fighting. He reminds us–as do Sirius, Dumbledore, and other mentor-types throughout–that death is not the enemy. And that any darkness, once you can say it’s name, loses its power over you. That will preach.  
  8. Resistance is not futile. Even when Death Eaters have infiltrated Washington– I mean Hogwarts, and the Ministry of Magic–and all the institutional structures meant to hold up the wizarding way of life have been compromised, a small band of dissenters will always fight for what is right and good. And though they will lose small and maddening battles along the way, some higher power is always on their side. Call it love, call it Jesus, or call it magic–it will always win in the end. (Studies show that those who have read the Harry Potter series were less likely to vote for Donald Trump than peers who did not read it. Not for nothing, it’s because we know the roots of facsism when we see it. And we say “no”). 
  9. We are never alone. As much as Harry tried to martyr himself, the people he loved would not let him… However he might have been called, gifted, and set apart for an important mission, it took his whole village of support and connection to save the world from the forces of darkness… even Jesus didn’t go it alone, in the end. You know who did? Voldemort. Didn’t go so well.
  10. A good story is magical. Even one you know by heart. Even one that you have heard over and over. And over. Again. In fact, those stories in our collective lexicon are THE most magical of all. They give us a shared narrative, a critical point of identity, and a way forward where there is no way. If we tell it right, the story itself will transform us. And maybe save the world.

Happy birthday, Harry. I know it’s still a few months until “the 7th month dies,” but to us, you’ll always be a June baby.

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