The Harry Potter experience

I saw the latest Harry Potter movie this past week. I see in Harry as he moves into his teen years this frustration and loneliness – “you don’t understand! I can’t take this anymore!” – that alludes kids who don’t know yet that there could be something different. He is growing up. We watch and wait in anticipation of the process and the journey.
I missed the cultural excitement of a generation of readers who had to WAIT, sometimes years, for the next installment of the story. What would happen next? For the kids reading the books, who happened to be around same age as the characters, they see the images of themselves and what they have to go through in life. They relate, even if but a little, to the trials and tribulations, the friendships and the loves, that the characters must endure – for good and for bad. (And, the bad is never glossed over – it can’t be avoided!)
Such excitement. Such anticipation. Wait. Wait, and don’t tell me about it before hand because I want to experience the discovery myself!
I just read an article about the Harry Potter phenomena and some parallels (or anti-parallels) with the Christian faith and the culture. Interesting points. Here is an excerpt:

Those of us who have been reading the Harry Potter novels as they were being published were able to experience something special that future generations of readers won’t — the anticipation and suspense of waiting several years between each book. From now on, new readers can read all seven books straight through if they want to. But for the past decade, Harry Potter readers have been part of a global community that has experienced the dramatic tension of waiting for the next installment.
I wonder what it would look like for the gospel story to be more suspenseful. I think one of the most significant aspects about the experience of reading the final Harry Potter book is that we didn’t want to hear spoilers. We had come to know and love the characters so much that we wanted to journey with Harry and his friends. We needed to experience and discover for ourselves what they were going through. We didn’t want to find out in chapter two of book one how it was all going to turn out. Instead, we read seven books and thousands of pages, staying up into the wee hours of the morning, because the journey is every bit as important as the ending. Indeed, without experiencing the adventure of the journey, there wouldn’t have been as much dynamic power to the ending.
Are Christian “gospel presentations” less like the adventure of a Harry Potter novel and more like spoilers that tell you what happened but take all the suspense and delight out of the journey? Maybe Christians have been so intent on getting to the point and bottom-lining things, for the sake of saving souls, that they’ve taken the mystery and surprise out of the narrative. We jump to the end. God loves you, Jesus died for you, pray this prayer, yada yada yada.
It’s well-intentioned but self-defeating. We don’t get to know the characters, so we diminish the experience and the power of the biblical narrative. Often we are so concerned about getting people from here to there that they don’t experience the journey enough to really make the faith their own. We have short-circuited the narrative imagination. What a loss.

I couldn’t agree more. What have we done in the name of religion – or power, or prestige, or insecurity, or fear, or…
This thing called Christianity, this faith, this way of life, this way of being and thinking, is a journey that necessitates personal discovery. It cannot simply be told to us or demanded of us with the expectation of honest and real understanding – the kind that satisfies our inner-most being. Most of all, it takes a whole heck of a lot of waiting, anticipation, and more waiting – and work. This is how it is, no matter how we want it to be. Rawlings was not going to write any faster, no matter how much her fans demanded it. “Make me whole, right NOW!” “Solve all my problems, right NOW.” “Make me feel good, right NOW.” “Make me a millionaire, right NOW!” “Make me popular, self-assured, healed, powerful, funny, straight, ruler of all things, NOW!”
Christianity doesn’t work this way. It just doesn’t, and because the form of the faith that is now in the ascendancy says that it can, we all experience a very deficient faith. And you know what? Most people realize it and have said, “We don’t want anything to do with you all and this Christianity of yours’.” They see the superficiality, the hypocrisy, and the self-deception that runs rampant within American Christianity. It is empty, it is bland, it is irrelevant to the deep calling to the deep. I’m telling ya, the monastics have it right (or as right as possible this side of the divide), even though we cannot all be professed monastics. What then can we be?

Ah, youth

We, individuals in my parish, have been going through the discernment process for a program to engage and connect young people with their faith, life, and parish called “Journey to Adulthood,” or J2A for short. I must say that I think this is one of the best of numerous curricula or programs I’ve seen. It is based on solid developmental principles, thorough, flexible, and hits what I think are all the right targets. The question, of course, is whether this particular “system” or program is for us. The overall emphasis is for adults to enter the journey with young people as they navigate their movement into adulthood. Simply to be with them, offer guidance, be real and honest – nothing done to the young people, nothing but high expectations of honesty and forthrightness, and within the Faith.
One of the questions I put to the discernment committee is this, “What does a youth ministry in an Anglo-Catholic parish look like?” (To clear some things up, this particular parish is traditionally Anglo-Catholic, not because of some misplaced love of ceremony or desperate clinging to tradition, but because of a lived ethos that comes only from the ancient and deep practice of the Catholic faith in its Anglican expression.) What does a youth program in an urban setting, with young people who are scheduled to death, that have every opportunity and cultural expression available to them, in a church that has a lived tradition of the faith development of young people taking place primarily in the home (which isn’t really happening these days, for a variety of reasons), in a physical plant that was not designed for a “youth group?”
Our common notion of “youth programs” or “youth groups” come from a programmatic point-of-view that is not very old – perhaps from the 1950’s onward. Our expectations of a youth group and the Christian formation of young people come from the same place where we developed our misplaced expectations of education in general – parents have given over to the schools the responsibility of raising their children for things temporal, and in the same way they have given over to the Church the responsibility for the faith development of their children. Both are misplaced! Both will and are resulting in failure, but only time and a complete collapse will bring us back to reality and from our adult self-centeredness.
Anyway, parents, for the most part, have reneged on their primary role of overseeing the adult development of their own children (educationally, professionally, emotionally, and spiritually). That is a hard thing to say, but having worked for over 20 years with young people in higher education and faith development, I find it to be true in far too many cases (with definite and numerous exceptions, of course). So what do we do as a parish? Try to take the place of family and parents? It doesn’t work, or at least it doesn’t work very effectively. Kids aren’t stupid. They see too many parents that do or say one thing, yet expect differently of their kids. This is their example, and the follow it.
So, in this parish, with its history, and the trajectory of youth in this day and place, I don’t think an idea of “youth group” is the direction we should go. Not that J2A isn’t excellent – it is excellent for a time and place, which I don’t think is here and now. Perhaps an adaptation? I don’t know.
Whatever we decide to do, a re-emphasis on home and family-based youth faith development/Christian formation is essential. We, as a parish, must provide support and help for the parents, but the primary locus of development must remain in the home and by the parents/family. We also must do what is necessary to make younger parents feel capable of working with their kids – teach them, guide them, support them, hold them accountable.
The question remains – How do we do this? I keep coming back to some form of the monastic tradition – of postulants and novices and vows and Rules of Life. To something that is real, ancient, mysterious, honest, and quite counter-cultural.