Monthly Archives: August 2010

Bullies and Intolerance

August 2010 may go down in history as one of the hottest summers in our lifetime.

It may also be remembered as when American society ratcheted up the rhetoric, intolerance, and hatred. Many have predicted polarizing extremes as being a driving force in the future. The Institute for the Future is one, and we can see how what were once “fringe” groups and opinions have now taken front-and-center. According to IFTF, “strong opinions will meet strong social networks to create intense feedback loops. We can already find, connect with, and collaborate with anyone who shares your beliefs – no matter how extreme you are. Dark innovation will thrive.”

The news services and blogosphere are full of stories of such polarities. And they are bringing out the worst in people:

  • The building of an Islamic Center in New York City (Not a mosque, and not at Ground Zero, but in the vicinity). Bishop Mark Sisk of New York shares his thoughts.
  • Court ruling on whether same gendered couples may marry (All are equal and loved in God’s eyes)
  • President Obama is a Muslim (False)
  • Illegal immigration and whether everyone born in the United States has the rights to be a US citizen (Isn’t that what the 14th Amendment of the Constitution states?)

What is the root of all this? I believe it is the increase of the Rich/Poor Gap as well as the growing diversity of our country. This gap has always been with us, but we are able to see images of each other and the issues that affect us more visibly due to technology and 24/7 news feeds. While new media provides new opportunities to organize for giving (such as the grassroots responses to recent natural disasters), new media also publicize economic differences vividly.  This triggers violence – not only physically, but verbally. And that’s what I believe we are experiencing this summer.

Those who have “power” and were once the dominant force in politics, religion and business (aka – Anglo-European Protestant men) are now seeing themselves as a “minority” which is threatening to their underlying assumptions that God is on their side. I believe it comes down to that – power and authority. Making the other seem less than human, so that one’s self-identity remains intact and in control.

I don’t listen to Glenn Beck, Fox News, or Sarah Palin. And I don’t follow the other extreme on the ‘left.’ I’m an adult – I can weed out the fiction from fact if I do some research. But what about our children? Bullying is at an all-time high in our society – could it be children are learning from our “national leaders”? What kind of role models do they find in sports, entertainment, political and religious leaders today?

Enough of a rant. My body temperature is rising. I’m going to get an iced tea and read Isaiah 1:17: “Cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow” and my Baptismal Covenant: “Seeking and serving Christ in all persons, loving my neighbor as myself” and “Striving for justice and peace among all people, respecting the dignity of every human being.”

Here are some articles and resources to help put things in perspective:

Lastly, resources ADULTS need to pay attention to from Teaching Tolerance:

Discipleship & Milkshakes

Refreshing. Surprising. Transportable.

Last week I was at a gathering of Christian educators at Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. One of our purposes was to dream about what the future of Christian formation might be in The Episcopal Church.

We discussed trends and tensions, personal and institutional needs, resources that we already have (and might not know about) as well as what we are being called to do. Over and over again we came back to discipleship. Programs and resources are simply vehicles, but it is through personal story, following Christ and being authentic to the Gospel that will keep Christianity alive.

Carolyn Chilton, of Richmond, Virginia shared a story in relationship to a marketing research project about milkshakes.

In visioning the future of Christian Formation in the church, what do you want Christian formation to do? What job do you want THIS milkshake to do?

Jesus & Harry Potter

Wizards, Wonders, and Discipleship

Using the stories of Harry Potter in church settings with children has again raised some eyebrows. This is not a new phenomena, as the fundamental Christians and biblical literalists are always getting their surplices and cottas (or academic robes) in a twist when it comes to being creative with children.

A congregation in the Episcopal Diocese of Iowa recently concluded a successful Vacation Bible School with 30+ children in which they used the themes of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series using a program called Wizards & Wonders. The local Iowa City newspaper picked up on the event and shared a news story which hit the news services, and in turn, showed up on the blogosphere.

The comparisons of Harry Potter (and all the books) to themes of Christianity is not new. Even the author’s own acknowledgement says “Harry Potter” deals extensively with Christian themes. Myriads of books and curriculum have been written comparing the themes of good vs. evil, sacrificial giving, loyalty & friendship, spirituality, self-awareness, and call – to name just a few. An article in Christianity Today from November 2005 (Redeeming Harry Potter) compares this series to C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia and the Star Wars trilogy. All literary devices where good overcomes evil through the passion of faithful characters who rise above adversity.

I just finished reading The Life, Death and Resurrection of Harry Potter by John Killinger (2009: Mercer University Press) for a book review. He compares why religious conservatives dislike Harry to the Pharisees  who “cleanse the outside of the cup and leave the inside untouched, or strain at gnats and end by swallowing camels.” Killinger believes they also “forget what it is like to be a child  and fend for oneself in a complex world of competing loyalties, baffling hormonal development, and sometimes faithless friends.”

Killinger makes many comparisons and observations of Rowling’s storytelling (and he believes she gives an overt Christian message). A few are a bit far-fetched for me, but some examples:

  • “There was a scarlet oval over his [Harry's] heart where the locket had burned him.” A scarlet oval over Harry’s heart recalls the Sacred Heart of Jesus, one of the most revered signs in Christian history.
  • Dumbledore as a God-Father figure with characteristics of loving kindness, forgiveness and inclusiveness.
  • There is an eschatological moment at the death of Voldemort and the triumph of Harry Potter (the Boy Who Lived). The witnesses scream and roar in excitement, and at that moment “the fierce new sun dazzled the windows.” Could it be Easter morning at Hogwarts?
  • As the three friends (Ron, Hermione, Harry) eat supper, Ron prods at the “lumps of charred gray fish on his plate” and reminisces about the way his mother can “make good food appear out of thin air.” Supper on the beach?

Back to the VBS controversy. Don’t we want children to experience the Christian message in a language and mileau they are familiar with and engaged to learn more? Didn’t Jesus use stories to explain the Kingdom of God? Wasn’t Jesus consider a “magician” in his time? Children are pretty sophisticated today; they know the world has temptations. And they are quickly losing their imaginations by the hard and unforgiving world that we live in. Why not engage their wonder with seeking God in all shapes and forms?

Kudos to Meg Wagner and her volunteers for making their church a hospitable, fun and inviting place for children this summer. They could have been home playing video games or reading comic books. Instead they learned about friendship and cooperation. And maybe they’ll come back on Sunday for worship – and bring their parents with them!

October 8, 2010: Harry Potter, Christian Hallows & C.S. Lewis – A book review for “One Fine Potion: The Literary Magic of Harry Potter” by Greg Garrett