How Harry Potter Helps Me Understand the Bible

*Note: This post contains mild spoilers for the Harry Potter series.

One Saturday night, I watched the last Harry Potter movie. On Sunday morning, I went to church. These two activities seemingly don’t have much in common, but I was surprised by the way my viewing of Harry Potter informed the way I heard the message in church that day.

King Herod is mentioned numerous times in the Bible, though we never get a lot of background information on him. Other sources have recorded his often-brutal ways, such as killing his wife and two of his sons, and ordering a large group of people to be killed when he died so there would be what he deemed an appropriate level of mourning (his son did not carry out this wish, however). A ruler like him may have instilled fear and worry in people, never knowing what he might do next–or who might find themselves in trouble next. All of this backstory doesn’t come through in the few verses I read about him in the Bible though, so it’s easy for me to skim over it. Sure, King Herod wasn’t great, and then I’m on to the next piece of the story.

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In the Harry Potter series though, there are seven books (or eight movies) detailing the life of Harry and the back-and-forth struggle in the magical world between Harry and the other “good people” and evil Lord Voldemort and his followers. As the series goes on, the worry and fear over Voldemort’s power and sinister ways grow and grow, culminating in book seven, when all hope seems like it may be lost. Society in the magical world is in chaos, with many people on the run for fear of being caught as part of the small remaining group who opposes Voldemort and his tactics.

Comparing King Herod to Voldemort is by no means perfect, but there are certainly similarities. They were both very powerful, had morally questionable methods of getting what they wanted, and squashed those who tried to stand against them. The main difference, of course, is that one is a historical figure who we can verify actually lived in a real time and place, and one is a fictional character who lives in the world of pages and screens.

But their similarities are why stories, even made up ones, matter. At their best, they help us better understand our actual, day-to-day lives in new ways, and give us a deeper grasp of other stories we encounter, be they in the Bible, from a friend, or in a movie. When I experience a story in a long format, getting to know the various characters and their actions, I can develop a fuller understanding of who they are, why they do what they do, and what their world is really like.

When I read the Bible, there are many instances where entire years go by in the matter of a few words or verses. It’s hard for me to fully comprehend what actually took place in that time frame and to put myself in the place of the people who experienced it, because I don’t have very much information. Other stories give me the words and ideas to better understand the fear or joy or despair Bible characters may have felt, even if the text doesn’t directly tell me what it was like for them. As I listened to my pastor talk about what life may have been like for people living under King Herod’s reign, I imagined the same kinds of feelings characters may have felt at the end of the Harry Potter series when Voldemort was in control, and it gave me a new and different view of the story.

While I don’t read and study stories like Harry Potter the same way I read and study the Bible, there’s a beautiful value in being able to take the kind of learning I get from one and letting it inform how I learn from another.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. What are the stories that have helped you understand life differently?

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That Book Won’t Fix You

I got mad at Shauna Niequist once.

I read her book Bittersweet, and I expected it to fix me.

I was so broken, so hurting, so full of bitterness and pain and I didn’t know what to do with any of it.

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And this book called Bittersweet, with its subtitle of “Thoughts on Change, Grace, and Learning the Hard Way,” seemed to be just what I needed. I needed help with all those things.

Yet it did not fix me.

For rational people, this makes sense. They’re words on a page–ink arranged into letters and letters into words and words into sentences–and on their own, they hold no power. But I’m not always a rational person, and I looked to that book for healing like small children look to Band-Aids. To not find it there left me disappointed, saddened, and yes–a little mad.

But of course, it is not a book’s job to fix me.

It would be lovely if they could, though. The problem is, when I find something in myself I know is a little broken, a little jagged-edged, a little not quite right, I want something tangible I can do to make it better, and I want it quickly.

I want to read those pages and feel the edges of my hurt begin to close.

The only real way to fixing is through living, though.

Not that books are bad or that they can’t help in the healing process. It is so, so good to know we are not alone, to find that other people have sat where we have sat and had a hard time getting up too, to see the ways we may begin to put ourselves back together.

In Bittersweet, Shauna writes about her miscarriage and the longing and the sadness of What Might Have Been. While I don’t know the particulars of that kind of grief, I think we all know what it feels like to have things not turn out the way we had hoped, for whatever reason those hopes might have been taken away from us or never given in the first place.

But for today, for a minute, it’s not all right. I understand that God is sovereign, that bodies are fragile and fallible. I understand that grief mellows over time, and that guarantees aren’t part of human life, as much as we’d like them to be. But on this day…I’m crying just a little for what might have been. (page 110)

Those words don’t fix the pain of what might have been, but I’m becoming more okay with that.

Since that time I got mad at Shauna Niequist, I’ve learned I can read and take the stories and words for the gifts they have to offer, without expecting them to hold everything. As much as I’d like them to, these two-dimensional words will not, cannot, mend the very three-dimensional reality of my actual life.

They can help me know I’m not alone, they may point me in a direction that can bring healing—but they cannot heal by themselves. No book can handle that much pressure.

Instead, as I’m learning with many areas of life, sometimes the only way out is through.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. How have books helped you?

All Groan Up (Or, Why I Read)

One of the many reasons I read is to find myself.

It sounds counterintuitive, to read about other people in other places doing other things, to learn about me. But it’s one of the things I find most powerful about writing. I can be reading a blog post by a mother of small children, or a fiction book set in 1743, or a memoir-esque book by a guy and say, “Me too.”

It’s one of the reasons I write here: I believe in the power of the “Me too” moments. All Groan UP

Recently, I received an advance copy of the latest book by Paul Angone, whose book 101 Secrets for Your Twenties I also reviewed. As I read All Groan Up: Searching for Self, Faith, and a Freaking Job, I felt like I was being given permission to feel all of the things I feel about being in my twenties. While the level of uncertainty in my life is not nearly what it was soon after I graduated from college, I still wrestle with feeling like I don’t have everything figured out, with wanting to figure out what I’m really doing with my life, and with trying to make peace with where I am instead of continually longing for where I’m not.

Paul’s specific experiences of being a twentysomething vary from mine, but even those I can learn from. All Groan Up is a refreshing reminder that being a twentysomething doesn’t have to be quite so lonely or quite so scary.

All of this fits in so well with the thread behind this blog: The Art of Becoming. As Paul writes in All Groan Up:

  Yet becoming an adult is not a onetime thing. You grow into growing up, each season bringing with it things you’re going to have to secretly Google to figure out how to do.

I know we have this yearning to “arrive.” To make it. We want to unpack our bags. Paint the house the color we want. Tear down a few needless walls and build a huge custom desk that will never leave the room.

However, every time we think we’ve made it, we look out the window to see a U-Haul truck waiting to take us to the next town.

But maybe not making it is a gift. If you’ve arrived, why bother still exploring?

There are things I still don’t love about the idea of never truly arriving, but I think there’s truth in it. And when I let myself, I can see there’s goodness there as well. All Groan Up was a great reminder of that, and a great reminder of why I keep reading–and keep writing.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. What have you read that’s made you say, “Me too?”

Giving Words Feet

I love to read. If I could count all the blogs and books and magazines I’ve read, the number would astound me. I’ve read some incredible stories, teared up at the heartbreaking and heartwarming, been inspired by hope and joy and love. I’ve had my breath taken away by stunning writing, sat in awe of the emotions evoked by words on a page, been too moved to continue reading. They’ve caused me to think deeply, given me glimpses of ways of life completely different than my own, sparked conversations I never would have otherwise had.

The gift of being able to read other people’s words is a wonderful one.

It takes great courage, dedication, and sheer sweat to write well, and I am so thankful for those who do.

 

Yet in all the goodness of words, I have discovered a danger: Reading about other people’s experiences cannot replace having my own. 

Photo Credit: Flickr User francisco.j.gonzalez, Creative Commons

Photo Credit: Flickr User francisco.j.gonzalez, Creative Commons

 

Reading about food is not the same as cooking dinner.

Reading about travel is not the same as getting on a plane.

Reading about loss is not the same as attending the funeral of a loved one.

Reading about marriage is not the same as walking down the aisle.

Reading about God is not the same as loving him well.

 

Objectively, I know this. But I don’t always think this way. I don’t always want to believe it.

Maybe, if I read enough books and blogs and magazines, it will make it hurt less when something terrible happens to me or someone I love. Maybe, if I read enough, I’ll someday have the perfect marriage. Maybe, if I read enough, I’ll be a really good Christian.

Words, by themselves, cannot do any of these things. They can inspire, teach, compel–but they cannot do. At some point, my actions have to put feet on the ink.

I believe, very strongly, in the value of reading. Reading other people’s stories is an enriching, life-giving, good thing. But reading other people’s stories instead of living my own is a bad thing. Life will be messy and beautiful and painful and joyous, and no amount of words can live that for me. Reading can teach me about these things, but words are not action.

 

It’s up to me to give them feet.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. How have you put feet on what you read?

This Is Why I Read

“The Internet is so much better. You can just Google everything.”

I cringed as I overheard this at a bookstore. Perhaps, given the full context of the conversation, it wasn’t as bad as it sounded; but I wanted to give the small child with this person a book and show him the magic and wonder that lives on the pages.

Photo Credit: Flickr User austinevan, Creative Commons

Photo Credit: Flickr User austinevan, Creative Commons

 

It’s more than just books though–it’s about reading. Not a casual read of a tweet, not a cursory glance of a blog post, not an eye scan over the newspaper.

Deep, soak-it-into-your skin reading. 

 

I read because even I, a nearly-off-the-charts extrovert, have been tempted to use the excuse of, “I’m reading a really good book” to miss or leave social situations.

I read because even as I type this, I’m only half here. Half of me is, and has been for the past couple of days, in the world created by the pages of my book. It is a book I have read before–the ink on the pages has not changed since last time I’ve read it, the plot and outcome will remain the same. But I am not at the end yet; I am right in the thick of things with the characters I have come to know and care about. There is an urgency to get to the end I already know, to make sure that my memory has not failed me and all will be well.

I read because there are stories and ideas I would never come up with on my own, places I will never walk with my own feet, worlds that exist in imagination only that I cannot get to any other way.

I read because a fantastic book doesn’t leave me the same when I close it as when I opened it.

I read because I can, and I can’t imagine not.

Til next time…~Brianna!~

p.s. Why do you read? (or not read?)

To Write

I like writing.

It helps clear my head, allows me to process things as I slow down enough to write them out, and gives me a way to (sometimes) eloquently express thoughts that may not make much sense in my head. Occasionally, I might be able to put into words what others may be thinking or feeling but cannot express, and that’s pretty neat.

With the copious amounts of free time I’ve had this summer, you’d think I would have done a lot of writing.

I tried.

I thought about it.

I checked my Facebook.

I read blogs and articles and books, under the guise of “researching good writing.”

I looked at my computer screen a lot.

But I didn’t actually WRITE much at all.

It’s not that everything I did while trying to write was unproductive; to write well, it’s important to read good writing.

The next step of “actually writing” is just what I didn’t quite get around to.

“Quantity produces quality. If you only write a few things, you’re doomed.” ~Ray   Bradbury

Good words, sir Bradbury.

I’m tempted to make excuses for why I haven’t been writing.

“Inspiration isn’t striking.”

“Other people have taken all the good topics already.” (This is what tends to happen when I read blogs for too long. Not good.)

“I’ll do it tomorrow.”

Which are all lame excuses.

So I should probably stop making them, huh?

Right.

Thanks for reading this pep talk to myself.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~