It’s been a Harry Potter weekend in my house. Denise and I are latecomers to the series, but we’ve nonetheless been drawn in by its combination of captivating characters and clever storytelling. And at the risk of sounding completely yonkers, I have to say by something else as well.
Namely, it just seems so real.
I don’t mean the business of witches and wizards, or even the movie trickery (which is wonderful in its own right). I simply mean that it fits with so much of life, or at least life as we wish it.
Not that any of us relishes the thought of being targeted by a vile egomaniac, or of battling a sixty-foot snake to the death. But the grown-ups among us know that such things do have parallels in the real world, whether mean bosses or toxic relatives or addictions or…the list seems endless.
And we want to know that, when those things face us, we can respond with courage. We want to know that we won’t run away when our friends are in danger or cower when our lives are on the line. We want to know that inside of us is a person who is special, who doesn’t wilt under pressure, who has what it takes to conquer our foes.
Still, we know from experience it’s far easier to swim with the current, to go along with the flow no matter where it might lead. The shores are littered with would-be heroes who washed out in the effort. People who show both the courage to swim upstream and the stamina to stick with it are rare.
Or are they?
The truth is that none of us really knows what we are capable of until we find ourselves in a struggle. And we are very good at avoiding the struggles. We–and I especially mean my church comrades here–have gotten very good at avoiding any kind of conflict in the name of unity or peace, sometimes even invoking the name of Christ himself as an excuse for inaction.
But our heritage is not one of acquiescence to the odds. We don’t even need to resort to American Methodism or John Wesley. Let’s go all the way back to Jacob, who wrestled with God and won. The foundation of our identity is built on our willingness to accept a challenge to a worthy fight, regardless of how unclear the outcome may be.
I suspect that, if we feared struggle less, we would find within ourselves more courage than we realized. We might really be able to push back against the things we complain about: unnecessary suffering, treatable diseases, ludicrous church corporatization, unfair politics, and so on.
We might find the courage to let go of the church as we’ve loved it, trusting that it will rise again. We might even be privileged enough to help rebuild it.
I envy Harry Potter and his friends. The struggle forced upon him was clear in both its aims and its nobility. There was a question of who would win the fight, but never a question of who deserved to.
The real world may not be so simple. But I believe this much to be true: we can be courageous. We can endure what is necessary for the sake of a worthy struggle. We are stronger than we think.
But, if our stories are ever going to be worth telling (much less writing), we have to do more than talk about the hero we want to be. We have to be that hero. Starting now.