Thursday, April 15, 2010

Harry Potter and the Search for the Perfect Church

I recently finished reading the Harry Potter series. Consequently, our family has also begun an exhausting search for a home church here in Tulsa.

What in the world do these two things have to do with each other?

Glad you asked.

In being an incessant reader, a voracious consumer of classical and modern fiction, I have learned something. It's something you've probably heard your whole life in reference to everything except books, but there it is: You must never judge a book by it's cover. And it's true. Some of my favorite novels are nondescript volumes that I found on dusty shelves in the back of some funky old thrift store with dead cockroaches littering the aisles. Most of these were missing a dust jacket, if they were even fortunate enough to be a hardcover book, and spotted with mold, or food, or yellowed with age. In such a way did I stumble across one of my favorite stories, "The Last Unicorn" by Peter S. Beagle. I think I've probably read that book half a dozen times but it's not much to look at. On the other hand, some of the most beautifully bound, glossy surfaced thirty-dollar books are the biggest wastes of time and energy I have ever endured. I am thinking of a book I read last year about Dracula (don't ask). I don't even think you could call this a book - it was more of a tome. At least 600 pages and it came with a gorgeous cover and glowing reviews and it was a big fat endless waste of my time. I can't believe I bought it, but what's more, I can't believe I finished it. Insane.

For me, Harry Potter was the same way. I found the first book in the series at a garage sale for 25 cents. The cover was tattered, there was a yellow stain on the side, and it was laying in the grass, but I knew all the fame the series had generated and I thought, what the heck. I'll read the first one and see what I think. As an avid reader and aspiring writer I consider it my responsibility to read a lot of what's out there, not only to see what is being created in the fiction world, but also, as a christian, to gauge the temperature of the culture. You can tell a lot about this country by what's on the bestseller list. Of course, I do have my limits. There are certain authors I'll never read. With Harry Potter though, there was more curiosity than usual to add to my normal literary appetite.
I had heard for years polar opposite opinions on the series. Lots of christians believe it's a horribly witchcrafty series that glamourizes the dark side. Lots of other people, many christians included, believe it to be a fun and wonderfully imaginative fantasy collection with wild plots and all the fun of magic. I have noticed that many people who strongly disagree with the content in the books have never read any of them. I am of the school of thought that you aren't allowed to discuss a book unless you've read it or at least a significant enough portion of it to get the overall gist. If you disagree, I will think no less of you (unless of course, you haven't read the books).

As for me and the controversial Harry Potter, I didn't stop with book 1. I personally loved the series. I found the books unpredictable, well-written, excitingly imaginative and full of loveable and tangible characters. When I finished the series I had a day of mourning. I was sad to let go of Harry and Ron, Hermione and Ginny, Neville and Professor Dumbledore. If you read the series and enjoyed it, then you know just what I mean. It reminded me of the sadness I felt when I said goodbye to Laura Ingalls Wilder in the Little House on the Prairie series, or when I bid farewell to Anne Blythe in the final installment of the Anne of Green Gables collection. Finally, I remember the nostalgia I had in reading the final book of The Chronicles of Narnia. I wished wished wished that I could somehow whisk myself into that magical world of talking creatures and ancient magic and endless possibilities. This was the same sense I got in reading the Harry Potter series. Yes, it was full of magic and sorcery, there was evil and some scary stuff, also I found a couple of bad words toward the end books (I guess when Harry had more of a teenage audience), but there was a lot of good too and on the whole it was a wonderful escape into a new and intricate world where magic was not only an occupation but a whole culture and country to discover. The people who lived there were quite like those I talk to every day, their personalities unmistakeable, their human nature as intact as ever it could be, and the plots were wonderful. They swept me up into realms of good and evil, death and life, tough love, the power of friendship, the deceptions of power, and on and on and on. Like any good fiction, they were able to bring me up out of my life while teaching me the moral of the story in the meantime. And, like any good fiction, though the setting was fantastical, they had truth in them. So I think you get the gist. I absolutely loved them. While I think some of the content will need to be discussed with my children when they are old enough to read these books, I see no reason why I will not let them read them.

And this brings me to our search for a church. I've been judging them by their covers, you see. We've tried out so many churches by now, and usually they were the glossy ones. But none of them have really been "the one" yet. I went to a church that had a really good website but I accidentally sat in some old guy's usual seat and he glared at me almost the entire service. I went to another church that seemed like the right one until they kicked us out of the service for bringing our 4 year old into the sanctuary and weren't very nice about it. We've been to a few others, and a couple of them were actually great churches but they weren't for us. I thought I was being too critical. But at the same time, there's nothing wrong with having high standards - I mean it's what helped me marry a good man and not go off the deep end during my teenage years (well, not totally) and decide to stay home with my kids, etc...

Anyhow, I've decided to be more systematic. I've decided to think like a guy engineer. I have a list of churches and we will thoroughly explore each one until we find one that feels like it wants to be our home church. Sometimes you have to go back a few times before you realize it's not the one. That's the exhausting part. Church searching is much like what dating must be like. I never did too much dating so I guess I don't know. I am trying to keep in mind my best loved, dog-eared, tattered books. We are determined not to lose heart. Somewhere in the thrift store of this garage sale world, there is a mediumish sized church with hymns and contemporary songs, young and old people, red, yellow, black and white, cool and uncool, fat and skinny, and life. Being alive is something a church must do. A church that offers spiritual alignment, prayer, friendship, encouragement, ministry opportunity, global perspective, people in jeans and slacks Blazing, radiant I'mhappytoloveGod LIFE. That's what we're looking for. Do you think my standards are too high? Well I did come from an amazing church that had all those things but I don't think my standards too high.

I think I'm just searching for that dusty book sprawled on the back shelf that's hiding a world of wonder inside. That's all. And I'd like to get it for a quarter.