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My own Facebook feed is probably too limited to be much of a bellwether on anything. But across a weekend that featured both a Super Bowl game and the tragically unexpected death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, I was amazed at how many people posted and re-posted and shared stories related to an interview given by Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling. In a magazine interview conducted by Emma Watson (the actress who quite brilliantly played the genius young witch Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter movies), Rowling says she now thinks she made a mistake by not having Hermione end up with and marrying Harry Potter. Instead in the story Hermione ends up in a romance with Harry’s buddy Ron Weasley, and in the book’s “Twenty Years Later” coda, we find out that Ron and Hermione wed eventually too. Friends from all over Facebook found this fascinating and so posted links to the story. But then CNN, the Huffington Post, NPR, and a slew of other big-name news outlets did the same thing.
A while ago here on The Twelve I posted a blog about how real characters can become to the authors who invent them. It’s a very interesting phenomenon and may well be telling for how vital and engaging well-crafted works of fiction can be for both writers and readers alike.
Yet at the end of the day in the case of this recent media sensation, we do have to remember that Harry, Ron, Hermione, Voldemort and the rest of the gang at Hogwarts are, in the end, not the least bit real. Wondering about who married whom (or who should have married whom) brings us to a level that is actually a good many ratchets down from the street level of real life. Yet how easily we can be consumed with it. As my previous post about the recent movie Nebraska shows, I am all in favor of learning things via the arts, including movies and novels and the like. But what’s real in this world should surely trump the unreality of fictional realms.
Maybe I am saying all this because last weekend I also was involved with our annual Symposium on Worship at Calvin College and Seminary. One of the plenary sessions this year–with which I dove-tailed in a workshop of my own–dealt with intercessory prayer in worship. My colleague John Witvliet adroitly and correctly noted that despite all the innovations in worship across the last quarter century, not only has intercessory prayer been left out of most discussions about what a good worship service should look like, the expansion of other liturgical elements has actually all-but squeezed the pastoral prayer out of existence in some churches. Not only do we need a recovery of the serious place of prayer in public worship, we also need to be intentional so that prayer can be capacious, all-encompassing, world-wise and world-aware. Public pastoral prayers that never get beyond things listed in the local church bulletin neither mirror nor join in with the kind of prayers Jesus is uttering on a constant basis at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. Yet so many prayers never do get much beyond the walls of the church sanctuary.
By way of example, John mentioned visiting multiple churches when he was on sabbatical at the time of the devastating tsunami in Japan. Week after week in congregation after congregation John discovered that in public worship not one mention was made of this catastrophe in prayer. Finally seven or so weeks after the event John at last heard a prayer for the people in Japan: it was in a Japanese-American congregation.
The confluence last weekend of the media sensation about Harry Potter and this lamentable situation in the prayer life of American churches makes me sad. If only we North American Christians were as aware of the challenges facing Christians in Pakistan as we are about the goings-on of the Kardashians . . . If only we could find ourselves as interested in the struggles of South Sudan or Egypt as we are about whatever J.K. Rowling is rolling around in her mind . . .
At the same Symposium, theologian Jeremy Begbie mentioned that recently an actor from Downton Abbey met a fan in California who told the actor, “Your show is making me a better person,” to which the actor replied, “You do realize it’s a television show, not a religion!”
We live in an age where we seem to confuse the two at times but to the detriment of what really should be a core part of our actual religion. It reminds me of the end of the Book of Jonah. Jonah gets into a tizzy about losing a shade plant at the same moment when he keeps wishing God will wipe out the Ninevites, man, woman, child, and cattle. God in essence tells Jonah his priorities are out of whack–be concerned for what’s really important, not what’s trivial.
Ron and Hermione are interesting characters. I personally was happy they ended up together. But if I think so much about them that I fail to find out that come Sunday in church we should all be praying fervently for an end to the killings in Sudan, then that’s a problem. As a pastor friend from South Sudan told me at the Symposium, “We just keep praying to God that the violence will end.”
So should we all.