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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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?

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Let’s Share Our Stories: Post-Election Reflections

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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.

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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?

When All Saint’s Day Meets Election Day (and Fandom)

On Sunday, I celebrated All Saint’s Day at my Episcopal Church with our Sunday School students. We played a game called “Musical Saints,” a variation on musical chairs in which each chair is labeled with the name of a saint, and the students pick the chair of the correct saint after receiving a clue.

In my preparation for this game, I discovered that the Episcopalians have a plethora of saints. Everyone from Mary Magdalene to Francis of Assisi is represented, and some modern heroes like Sojourner Truth, Florence Nightingale, Johann Sebastian Bach, and C.S. Lewis also qualify as saints. The ancient, ascetic people were obvious choices to the children and assisting adults, but to the modern, “secular” saints, they asked, “Why are these people included?”

I did not wonder why Bach and Truth were in the same league as Francis and Mary. In social reform, music, literature, education, ministry, and ascetic life, each saint reflected the light of God in the world. They brought to focus something of God’s character previously hidden. They noticed God in places others had looked right through.

Why wouldn’t they be considered saints?

Somehow, we’ve accepted the idea that being a “religious” person, like a minister or an ascetic, is the only worthy vocation to qualify for sainthood.

But some of the saints that have influenced me are not overtly religious.

Some of them are even fictional.

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Between Tuesday and Wednesday, I ended up calling on a few of my favorite fictional saints.

On Tuesday evening, after a long day which involved a doctor’s appointment, working, and voting, I arrived home to watch some Doctor Who (Season Nine) while I ate dinner.

As fate would have it, I found myself on The Zygon Invasion/The Zygon Inversion storyline.

The Doctor made his passionate speech, calling out two rivaling species and begging them to make peace with each other. As he spoke, I thought about my neighbor who strongly supported the candidate I feared. I wondered how radical, and maybe even necessary, it would be to take the Doctor’s words and put them into action.

{Potential spoiler graphic for Season 9 of Doctor Who below}

INVERSION OF THE ZYGONS (By Peter Harness and Steven Moffat)

The election ran its course, but I slept through a good portion of it. After hearing the outcome upon awakening, I got myself out of bed to make my daily cup of tea. This was my mug of choice.

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After finishing my breakfast, I sipped tea out of this mug while my roommate and I talked about this new territory our nation is entering. As I sipped, I remembered Harry Potter’s various interactions with people intolerant of difference, and I reminded myself of the importance of being with people who are afraid.

I got through my commute and spent 6 hours at my secretary job. When I left, I changed into street clothes before heading to choir practice, which included one of my favorite T-shirts.

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I wear this shirt on days I need “Slayer-strength” to get through the day, and on this day, I needed all the strength I could get. So before I put it on, I read the names and remembered the characters who bore them. I reflected on all their beauties, imperfections, strengths, flaws, victories, losses, pains and gains, and I carried them with me throughout the rest of the day.

In those two days, I carried the stories of the Doctor, Harry Potter, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer in my heart and on my body. The tokens I carried did not endow me with powers like super-strength or magical ability, but they reminded me of the adventures the characters went through, the trials they faced, and the friends they found in enemies. In remembering their stories, I found peace that we will work through whatever we face.

I regard these characters as saints, because saints are the ones whose stories we tell to find the strength to keep going.

This is why saints, whether real or fictional, are so important. We need Mary and the disciples, the Doctor and his companions, Francis and Clare, Harry and his friends, Absalom Jones and Sojourner Truth, Buffy and the Scoobies, and many others to remind us of the divine image and humanity we carry.

The Doctor, an alien Time Lord who travels through space and time, acts on his Messiah/God-complex in harmful ways then finds redemption. He is beloved and feared by all who meet him. He’s not sure if he’s a “good man,” and he wonders whether it’s worth winning a battle at the cost of losing a life. He is a man who struggles with the laws he is bound to obey, and every now and then he breaks them. He is a traditionalist who pushes the bar, and sometimes, he pushes a bit too far.

He is a saint to all who have struggled with their own desires to fix and control everything. His story reminds us of the importance of presence, of doing what we can, and knowing how to repent when we have gone too far.

Harry Potter is a moody teenager with a heart of gold, a boy who is loyal to his friends and willing to show compassion and mercy to his enemies. From a young age, he could conjure a Patronus, a charm produced from happy memories, despite all the traumas he faced. He looked at the magical world with fresh and wondrous eyes, and he was absent-minded and easily confused when others seemed to understand everything.

He is the saint to all struggling with deep sadness and pain, and to those whom Death has touched in significant ways. His story reminds us to draw out joy in the midst of pain, to learn to live life in such a way that Death can be greeted like an old friend, and the absolute necessity of never going it alone, even when doing so can keep others safe.

Buffy is a fighter and leader who loves clothes, dancing, make-up, and kicking ass for comfort food. She is an empowered woman who takes crap from no one. She pushes herself away from others, but they bring her back to them. She jumps into the action and asks questions later, but she takes responsibility for her choices when they are less than agreeable. She falls in love, gets hurt, and does it all over again. She listens and learns from and with others, fights to keep her family and friends safe, and is willing to show mercy and compassion when people repent.

She is a saint to all who are seen as less than capable, who have put their trust in others only to be hurt and betrayed, and to those who struggle to let others in. Her story reminds us of the strength and power we carry within us, the need to share that power with all, and the importance of friendship.

Saints are those very human people who teach us to look into life’s darkness and proclaim God’s love triumphant in the end. The Doctor, Harry, Buffy, and many more characters, in their divine humanity, proclaim light in the midst of darkness and show us how to keep seeing this light when everything tries to snuff it out.

I’m thankful that we remembered All Saint’s Day on the Sunday before Election Day. In learning the stories of the saints, we remember the saints in our own lives, both real and imaginary. In turn, those saints empower us to move forward when life as we know it merges into a path of change and uncertainty. If they could do it, so can we.

So in the midst of division, fear, hatred, and confusion, let us look to our saints. Let us embrace their humanity and prophetic witness in difficult times. Let us learn from them, not to become “perfect,” but to become more aware of God’s presence in new ways.

We are all stories in the end. Together, let’s make them good ones for those who come after us.

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Who are your saints? What parts of their stories invite you to make it part of your story? What encouragement do they offer you in times of change?