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Harry Potter exemplifies Christian values

I read the first of the Harry Potter series because my grandson was reading it. I wanted to avoid that grandfatherly ignorance I seem to show all too often.

I read the rest of the series for myself.

Rev. John Caldwell
Guest opinion

I know that there are Christians who recoil from Harry in horror, convinced that these books and movies will do grave spiritual damage to all who blunder into the fictional world of wizardry that J.K. Rowling has created. I am not one of them.

So when I arrived in June as the lead pastor of St. Mark's United Methodist Church in Iowa City, I was delighted to discover that Sally Hoelscher, one of our Sunday school teachers, had written a curriculum using characters and situations from Harry Potter. Using the material she wrote, fourth-, fifth- and sixth-grade students ex-plored themes in the series that are also central to the Bible.

Of course, the magic in Rowling's world puts some people off. They are afraid that people, especially children, will imitate Harry's reliance on magic to solve his problems.

Unfounded fear

But there are at least two reasons why that fear is unfounded.

First, the technological reason: wands and other magic paraphernalia are notoriously hard to come by. Where does one get the feather of a phoenix, for example? Go ahead and try, if you'd like, you can't get to Diagon Alley from here. Even with a running start.

Secondly, using magic doesn't really solve any of Harry's problems. Magic doesn't tell him how to use his power responsibly. It doesn't tell him how to overcome his reluctance to trust other people. It doesn't teach him how to tell good from evil. It doesn't give him the moral courage to do the right thing even when it's costly. He has to learn these things himself, sometimes in spite of his magical abilities. All in all, I suspect, magic causes Harry more problems than it solves.

The Harry Potter series is a work of imagination. That devout Christian J.R.R. Tolkien, author of "The Lord of the Rings," called the worlds that we fashion with our imaginations "sub-creations." In creating these imaginary worlds, he arg-ued, we imitate God and participate with God in the joy (and responsibility) of creation.

Rowling's imaginative world (like Tolkien's) does not mention Christianity. But it (again like Tolkien's) is deeply Christian. Harry and his friends make bad moral decisions, and there are consequences. That idea is certainly biblical.

Faithfulness is a central theme of the series. Some characters are faithful and other faithless. Some can be trusted and others cannot. And, as Harry knows, it's not easy to tell which is which. In spite of this, he must learn to trust others (even adults!) for help. He can't go it alone. These, too, are biblical ideas.

Sacrificial love

When Harry was an in-fant, an evil wizard killed his parents. They gave up their lives to preserve his. The power of their love protected Harry and killed the evil wizard. Sacrificial love has an amazing power against the forces of evil. That's no surprise to anyone familiar with the Bible.

Of course, Christianity has no monopoly on these themes, but at St. Mark's, we consider them to be an integral part of our Christian faith tradition.

Perhaps the deeper issue for those who reject Harry is how to deal with our contemporary culture. Human beings are certainly deeply flawed and so are the things that we create. That in-cludes our works of culture - our fiction, our poetry, our music and our movies. But there is also goodness in us, a gift from God. That goodness shows up in what we create.

As Christians, we have a responsibility to see and celebrate that goodness whenever and wherever it can be seen. There is something of the goodness of God in ev-erything in the world. Ev-erything has something to teach us. At St. Mark's, we think that includes Harry Potter. That's why Harry is welcome at our Sunday school.

Reach the Rev. John Caldwell, lead pastor at St. Mark's United Methodist Church in Iowa City, at revjmcaldwell@yahoo.com.

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