Last summer during our vacation with our 10 year old granddaughter Scarlett, she was reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. I thought I would join in reading it as a way to have something in common to stay connected with her.
Over the course of the last year I read the 7 book Harry Potter Series written by JK Rowling. It was an easy read. The first few books seemed unremarkable to me, but as the series went on, one could look back and see the foreshadowing and character development. Let me say, up front there will be spoilers in today’s sermon.
And I am just going to say that there is so much in these books that I am not going to get to all of it. So first, I am curious, if you would raise your hand, how many of you have read the Harry Potter series or seen the movies? Second question. How many of you have read the four gospels in the Christian Scriptures. So the pictures you will see are from the movies, but I thought casting did a really good job. So for those who have not read the book or seen the movies, here is the overarching story.
The story is based mostly in England, where there are wizards/withches/elves/goblins, dragons, and giants and then there are humans called muggles who are kept mostly unaware of all of this. (PPT) A powerful wizard Voldemort (previously known as Tom Riddle) in his lust for power kills Harry Potters Parents, when Harry was an infant but the spell that kills his mother rebounds and critically injures Voldemort himself who goes into hiding and thus harry becomes known as the boy that lived. (PPT) The books start up when Harry is 11 years old and each of the 7 books spans a year in the life of Harry Potter from age 11 to 17.
Although there are many overarching themes, the focal point of the story is the return of Voldermort and his conflict with Harry. The story starts with Harry living with his Aunt unaware of his past, or about wizards but is starting to recognize that he has some unique abilities. It is interesting to think about fear and awkwardness of Harry’ realization of his Wizarding abilities and the similarities of someone going through puberty and how having sexuality education can be helpful to navigate such changes and How life long education in general can help us navigate the ever changing world we live in. (and just a note if you are interested in teaching our Sexualty Program we will be having a training next year. (PPT)
A Wizard comes to Harry’s aunts house, and reveals to Harry that he is a wizard and brings Harry to Hogwarts Academy for a wizarding education. (PPT) At Hogwarts he is mentored by the headmaster Dumbledore and befriends Ron Weasly and Hermoine Grainger. Now it is an interesting corollary, in that Voldemort himself was an orphan, of a royal wizarding lineage who grows up in an orphanage. As he discovered his own powers when he was young he experimented with them by causing pain to others. Voldemort was as well brought to Hogwarts for an education as a youth.
I have to admit, at times throughout the books, I kept thinking Harry is a bit of a jerk. As I looked back though, it makes more sense to look at this series from the lens of childhood trauma and how it affects people differently. For years Harry was forced to live in a closet under the steps in his Aunt’s house and was treated abusively by his aunt, uncle and cousin. So it makes sense that Harry throughout the books struggles to build meaningful relationships. He is very distrustful of adults, and often lies to them and in general is a very secretive person. He is a very bitter young man, often angry at Dumbledore for deceiving him, or withholding information but it is easier to understand when seen through the lens of childhood trauma.
Another character Neville Longbotton who is connected to harry via a prophesy, is also a survivor of trauma, with his parents having been mentally incapacitated by Voldomorts followers years earlier. He was raised by his grandmother. He as well was secretive, but found his niche, and was compassionate to others.
Three orphans, three who survived trauma, one Harry, felt a strong call to duty, a second Neville, felt a strong call to protect the weak, and the third Voldemort, sought absolute power. Did living in the orphanage, vs with abusive family vs with a more loving family help shape how they reacted to their trauma? Or was Voldemort just a bad seed. And of course let us remember that this is a fantasy book and not a psychology book.
The author through Dumbledore does give us their perspective on it. When each student arrives at Hogwarts they are sorted into one of four house based on a person’s qualities, or perceived qualities that could be developed. Sort of like a magical Myers Briggs test. The four houses are
Gryffindor which values courage, bravery, nerve, and chivalry
Hufflepuff values hard work, patience, justice, and loyalty
Ravenclaw values intelligence, creativity, learning, and wit
Slytherin values ambition, cunning, leadership, and resourcefulness;
For the record, on Pottermore.com you can take a test that sorts you and I was put in Slytherin. The houses compete with each other for points in academics and sports and behavior and the house with the most points wins the house cup a source of great honor. In book one, When Harry was being sorted, all he thought was “not Slytherin.” In book two, when Harry finds out he has similarities to Voldemort who is an heir to Slytherin, he wonders why he was not sorted into Slytherin, and he understands
“It only put me in Gryffindor, because I asked not to go in Slytherin,” and Dumbledore replies, “Exactly, Which makes you very different from Voldermort. It is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”
This message so resonated with me, this is the saying of my life.
I can look back on my life and see the variety of choices I have made and see how they led me through my life. The truth is there is so much uncertainty, and interdependence, that we can never truly know how things would have turned out otherwise, or will turn out in the future, but that doesn’t give us the right to abdicate making a choice. We make the best choice we can with the information we have. And I can tell you for myself, every time I make the hard choice instead of the expedient choice in the long run it usually ends better. Sometimes we have two bad choices, and its hard. But If you don’t make a choice and allow others to make it then that is also making a choice. And often there is a cost and consequence to every choice, something gained, something lost.
But what this story tells me is that by our choices we can transcend our trauma. We can choose, like harry, though feeling abandoned, and lied to, with heavy burdens placed upon him, to face down his fears and engage with the challenges that faced him. Though often uncertain, and feeling unprepared, he kept pushing forward, doing his duty for the greater good. Helping those around him, constantly working to improve himself and his fellow students. Even with Draco Malfoy who Harry had many fights with, in the end he helped save his life. Dumbledore said Help will always be given at Hogwarts to those who ask for it. Let us move forward as well with such strength and purpose as a community. It is with these thoughts in mind that we ask for your help in fulfilling our mission and vision as we now take our offering.
So I led a service a few years ago about what makes something a Sacred text. The shortened version is that we as a community determine what is sacred for us, and individually a text is sacred if it helps you transcend the everyday, offers you insight, guidance and most importantly leads you to act in the world for something larger than just yourself. Whatever that is for you, that is your sacred text. There is much I found in Harry Potter that fills those description of sacred text for me and helps me with those uncertain choices we have to make.
Although I have to say it is ironic that when I talk to people about the Books, people who disdain literalism in all other religious sacred texts, suddenly become very fundamentalist about what the book says and means. One of the great lessons from the books for me is that no one is completely good or bad. Every ‘good” character has a fault.
As I mentioned earlier the hero protagonist of the book Harry Potter had many negative qualities. The loyal protective gameskeeper Hagrid’s inability to keep a secret and poor teaching skills leads to many dangers. Jealousy led Snape to do horrific deeds, and it took the rest of his life to earn his repentance. And of course the wise Dumbledore whose penchant for power put his own family at risk, and even later in life even with a lifetime of wisdom, a momentary relapse with a bad decision left him with life altering consequences. Constant vigilance is required. Even most of the bad characters have some redeemable qualities. In the end, Draco Malfoy, despite being groomed to, could not bring himself to kill Dumbledore. Even the loathsome Peter Pettigrew in a moment of Mercy or honor choses not to kill Harry when he is ordered to and is killed for it. Narcissa Malfoy’s love for her son, allowed her to overcome her fear of and lie to Voldemort to protect Harry.
And that is another core message of the series,
that love is stronger then fear.
That love can heal us.
From the very beginning, it was Harry’s mothers love that protected him.
“to have been loved so deeply, even though the person who loved us is gone, will give us some protection forever.”
Harry’s love for Hogwarts, his deep caring for his friends, his loyalty and duty to Dumbledore is contrasted throughout the book with Voldemorts coldness, selfishness, and cruelty.
It is the love in the aftermath of suffering and the willingness to grow and learn that separates Harry from Voldemort. Dumbledore tells harry,
“That which Voldemort does not value, he takes no trouble to comprehend. Of house-elves and children’s tales, of love, loyalty, and innocence. Voldemort knows and understands nothing…. That they all have a power beyond his own, a power beyond the reach of any magic, is a truth he has never grasped.”
And so I ask you what do you value.
Do you value the ethic of love as a way to live your life.
That is what Unitarian Universalism speaks to,
Our sources speak to the transforming power of love.
If you want that for yourself, for our congregation, for our community, then I ask you to take the trouble to comprehend what that means.
It doesn’t mean lets all sing kumbaya together, (although every now and then that would be ok)
It means that despite our differences we have to stick together. As Dumbledore says
“we are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided. Lord Voldemort’s gift for spreading discord and enmity is very great. We can fight it only by showing an equally strong bond of friendship and trust.
Differences of habit and language are nothing at all if our aims are identical and our hearts are open.”
Let us remember who we are fighting and what we are fighting for.
We are fighting to create a compassionate and just world.
We are fighting for religious freedom.
We are fighting for a world where we can eradicate discrimination and end the oppression of marginalized people.
And it is going to take all of us to do that.
Ultimately this story is a story of resistance. The youth in the story form Dumbledore’s Army (or DA for short) to fight against the dark forces of Voldemort. After intensive training, when some real trouble starts Harry doesn’t want to involve others in order to protect them from danger, but instead Neville Longbottom crys out, “we were all in the DA together….It was all supposed to be about fighting Voldermort wasn’t it. And this is the first chance we’ve had to do something real, or was that all just a game or something” When the going gets tough, do we stick it out, do we keep our eye on the prize of creating a community of love and justice, or is that just a game to make ourselves feel better about ourselves. Now more then ever is the time to come together, not try to do it on our own. Dumbledore tells Harry,
“If I thought I could help you, “by putting you into an enchanted sleep and allowing you to postpone the moment when you would have to think about what has happened tonight, I would do it. But I know better. Numbing the pain for a while will make it worse when you finally feel it.”
Just like the four houses of Hogwarts had different values, abilities, and potential, they came together to fight for the greater good.
Despite our differences we must do the work together
to see the love in one another,
to forgive each other and to begin again and again and again,
because that is our covenant with each other.
Specifically our covenant of right relations ends with
“Recognizing and acknowledging the existence of human error as a part of the cycle of human growth, we will respect the dignity and worth of each other and will be accountable for our own words and actions. Even if the process is lengthy and difficult, we will work honestly through our disagreements with others”
Even at the very end in the final battle, when Harry understands the truth of what is about to happen and why he will kill Voldermort, the person who killed his parents, the person who has hunted him and tried to kill him, still Harry offers him redemption. He says:
"before you try to kill me, I’d advise you to think about what you’ve done. Think, and try for some remorse, Riddle “What is this?” Of all the things that Harry had said to him, beyond any revelation or taunt, nothing had shocked Voldemort like this... “It’s your one last chance,” said Harry, “it’s all you’ve got left. . . .Be (human) . . . try . . . Try for some remorse. . . .”"
Now I know we each think we are Harry in this drama and someone else is Voldemort,
but the truth is just like the story there is a little of both in all of us.
This is the battle we fight constantly.
Individually and communally.
Let us all work to be a little bit more like Harry.
Courageous, engaging, working for the greater good.
To fulfill our vision and mission
May it be so.