The “Simply Creative” Prophets

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Banksy, on Widewalls

I started getting more invested in Twitter this month, and as such, I’ve been following a bunch of my favorite celebrities and fangirling like crazy.

While going through the tweets of one actor I crush real hard on (not to be confused with stalking the guy…), I found a tweet he shared on election night which was very encouraging and resonated with most of his followers. Most of them thanked him for sharing his kind thoughts and also shared their own lamentations and fears. I found the fact that he said something very uplifting to me and was thankful I had come across it.

One person, however, didn’t seem to share our sentiments. Instead, she had this to say:

“Actors and simply creative people should be out of Politics.”

And this comment threw this passionate writer into a huge tizzy.

There is nothing simple or plain about being creative.

No one writes, photographs, acts, directs, or makes anything simply or idly, nor do they create art intended to be dismissed with the wave of a hand or consumed without a second thought.

I learned this first and foremost during my time in college theater. My theater director taught me how art, specifically in the form of theater, can change people when he had 20-year old, very conservative me play the role of a young woman who’d just had an abortion. By taking on this, for me, very controversial character, I found myself embodying a scenario that turned an issue into a human being. By taking on that persona, however briefly, my perspective shifted in significant ways, and how I deal with the topic forever changed.

This is what good art does, and there is nothing simple about it. Making art calls the creator to make something that won’t regurgitate but talk back and then ask the audience to do the same. To be creative is to touch life in intimate ways. It is to free a story from the mind and make it alive and active in the world, and it calls the maker to wear someone else’s skin like it’s their own, even when it’s the most uncomfortable thing in the world.

During Advent, we remember the prophets who called Israel to repent from their evil ways and corrupt systems of worship and politics, and we remember how Israel ignored them and fell. We remember how the prophets looked at their fallen land and proclaimed the coming of a future Messiah who would make all things new, and we remember how hopeless such an idea seemed then and seems today. At Christmas, we will celebrate the fulfillment of those prophecies in the Incarnation, when God our immortal, powerful Creator took on fallible, mortal flesh to live among us, to hear our stories, to tell them back to us, and then challenge us to live in new ways.

Our “simply creative” people are not mere entertainers. They, too, are prophets.

They, too, call us to repent from our evil ways through film, theater, song, written word, poetry, and pictures. They present stories to us to remind us of our common, brutal, and beautiful humanity, and then ask that we reimagine what life could be like. They take on our flesh, however foreign it may be to them, in order to tell our stories. They make connections, patterns, and purpose where there seems to be only chaos, confusion, and disconnect. They wake people up, push them into action, give them comfort, and help them face the day.

They are political, because they care about people. To be political is to be involved in the “affairs of the city,” that is, to be involved with our fellow human beings. In the midst of societal difficulties, we need the artists’ voices now more than ever. We need them to make art which calls us to repentance lest we continue to hurt each other in the same ways. We need to remember we are made for more than destroying and cutting down. We need to remember the importance of storytelling and the beauty all around us.

That’s why we mourn people like Robin Williams, Prince, and David Bowie. We miss their talent, but more than that, we miss what they had to teach us. We miss the new perspectives they gave us through a lyric or a line. We miss the beauty they asked us to notice and the hope and joy they gave us when everything was dark and dismal. We wonder what else they could have showed and taught us when their voices are snatched away. We remember the truths they uncovered and revealed to us.

We both see the world for what it is and what it could be because of them, and this is what makes them prophets.

So if you’re one of those “simply creative people,” don’t let others tell you this means you have less of a voice.

Speak louder, and keep creating.

Keep putting yourself out there in all of your vulnerable, beautiful talent and humanity. Keep making the world uncomfortable, because the only way things will change is when people finally deal with that discomfort. Keep uniting people around your art and reminding them that we are human, we are fallible, and we are better than our worst bullshit.

Keep getting mad when we treat each other like crap. Keep rallying behind your causes. Keep encouraging us to be kind and loving. Keep telling us about your passions, creative, political, and otherwise.

We need your voices.

Because they are what keep us going and changing.

The books, movies, songs, plays, paintings, photographs, all of the art you make reminds us there is beauty, there is hope, there is a way to make sense of all this and move forward, making it all into something new and beautiful.

So don’t be silenced.

Be bold. Be brave.

Be prophets.

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Fangirl Theology: What Harry Potter Taught Me About Social Justice

I’ve been thinking a lot about social justice.

I’ve also been thinking a lot about Harry Potter.

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NPR

After election season, so many people found solace in these stories, a peace they first experienced in their youth.

I’m also caught up in this phenomenon. I want to go home and dig my books out again and lose myself in them like I once did. I want to go Hogwarts and have adventures with Harry, Ron, and Hermione. I want to learn spells and play Quidditch. I want to devour those pages for hours and not realize any time has gone by.

I want to feel the excitement and wonder I always encounter when I return to those pages. I miss sympathizing with these layered characters in their struggles, from teenage angst and stress to losing loved ones and resisting evil.

But now, more than ever, I feel like I need these stories again. Actually, I think we all do.

I believe the reason so many people are returning to these stories and are quoting, tweeting, and even shouting them, online and at protests, is because they know how necessary Harry’s story is for us now.

Why?

Because this story taught us about seeking justice and loving mercy.

It’s a message we heard loud and clear when we were young. It is a message we remember. It is one we see the need to proclaim now, to our nation and our world.

This story taught us to care for the orphans, like Harry himself and his godson, Teddy Lupin. It taught us to protect and stand up for the marginalized, for Muggleborns like Hermione and Colin Creevey, for house elves and centaurs, and for outsiders like Hagrid and Neville. It taught us that when the Voldemorts and Umbridges of the world begin to rise, we join Dumbledore’s Army and resist supremacy, censorship, and corrupt power. With Harry, we learned how good education teaches us to love and empower others instead of hoard all the good information for ourselves.

We learned that there are forces which, like dementors, threaten to consume our joy and peace, but we also learned we have the strength within ourselves to cast them out. We learned that we all have evil within us. Some, like Voldemort and Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, keep their hearts closed off from love and change, and it is their downfall. But there are some very imperfect people, like Draco Malfoy, Snape, Dudley, and even Dumbledore himself, who realize the errors of their ways and find redemption.

These stories are part of the reason why so many millenials are passionate about social justice. When we find ourselves face to face with white, male, heterosexual, cis-gender supremacy, we do not remain silent, because J.K. Rowling’s characters were anything but that. When we seem to be dominated by those who would harm the marginalized, we counter those systems, because her stories gave us the means to notice and challenge them.

We saw Harry fight Voldemort’s killing curses with disarming spells. We saw Hermione, a “Mudblood,” perform magic and spout wisdom beyond the skills of her “pureblood” peers. We saw Ron confront his demons when destroying a Horcrux and Dumbledore confront his past failures while teaching Harry the importance of love and compassion. We saw Hagrid’s unconditional love for and acceptance of all manner of creatures and Snape’s imperfect loyalty to Dumbledore.

We come by this passion honestly. We don’t run after these stories for the sole purpose of their fantasy and inspiration. We love Harry Potter, because these stories speak to what’s already within us. These are stories which call to the desire for justice which is in our DNA. It is the DNA we carry as image-bearers of the One who loves and judges out of mercy, who cares for the orphan, the widow, and the foreigner among us, and whose heart breaks when we do not do the same. These stories resonate so well with us, because they draws on God’s story, written throughout history and evident in all those tales which teach us to do justice and love mercy.

When we return to the Harry Potter stories, we are not returning to a childhood nostalgia or an escapist fantasy.

We are returning to a story of God’s love and redemption in and through God’s people, a story in which the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it.

It is a story we need this Advent, maybe this year more than ever.

“Dark and difficult times lie ahead. Soon we must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy.” – Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

How will we be the light in this darkness? What will keep us burning? How will we resist the evil before us? What “Dumbledore’s Army” movements call to you?

Let’s Share Our Stories: Post-Election Reflections

Hands

Kathleen Ann Thompson

I’ve been thinking a lot this past week.

I’ve thought about the students I see each Sunday at Sunday School and their fears and dreams. I’ve thought about the protests around the country and the pride I feel in their taking action when others chastise them for their youth and for acting like “sore losers.”

I’ve thought about my parents and how these election results affect them both so differently. I’ve thought about my Arab-American, Muslim siblings and their fears. I’ve thought about my conservative friends and their defenses and the misunderstandings I’ve had with them.

I’ve thought about the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart and whether or not they really are acceptable in God’s sight. I’ve thought about the words of our bishop on Sunday: “Never waste a crisis.” I’ve thought about my calling and how it pisses me off.

And as always, I’ve thought about stories.

Stories in the Bible of light not being overcome by darkness. Stories of exile and homecoming and the pains and traumas of each. Stories of praising God for mercy and crying out against God for not issuing justice. Stories of the Church at its greatest and the Church at its most divided.

I’ve thought about my other favorite stories.

Stories of Time Lords saving planets and losing companions. Stories of Slayers defeating the powers of darkness and struggling with the darkness within themselves. Stories of witches and wizards battling a seemingly endless battle against bigotry and oppression. Stories of superheroes being created and enemies being made.

And I’ve thought about the painful stories.

Stories of deliberate racist attacks and slurs. Stories of fear about tomorrow. Stories of frustration between generations. Stories of apathy.

These stories have given me resolve and fanned the flames of my own anger. They have helped me be merciful and turned my heart to stone. They have walked with me throughout the day when I try to walk away from them.

I have felt hopeful resolve, tremendous anger, and deep sorrow. Right now, I can only hold onto these stories, the painful and the joyful, and hope the very act of holding them will be enough for now.

So as I hold these stories, please know I am willing to hold yours. Know I am your friend and ally, and my heart and prayers are with you, wherever and whoever you are. Know we are stronger together, and our stories are our saving graces.

Let’s keep moving, but first, let’s start sharing.

*****

What stories of pain and frustration do you have from last week? What stories of hope and transformation do you have from last week? If you are grieving, where are you in the process?