Archive for the ‘Harry Potter’ Category

Changes are everywhere. The New Year approaches. Soon we will change our calendars to 2009.

Historic changes are underway in Washington, DC as Barack Obama prepares for his inauguration as the 44th President of the United States.

Changes in jobs, retirement funds and consumer confidence levels happen daily across America as unemployment rises.

How do we deal with changes in our lives? Do we view changes as opportunities in which to excel or tragedies in which to wallow in doubt and fear? To whom should we turn for comfort and guidance?

Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future. (John F. Kennedy)

harry-potter-5-posterThere’s a moment near the end of the fourth film Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire when Harry, Hermione and Ron are talking about Lord Voldemort, who has taken shape again to terrify the wizardry world and the students at Hogwarts.

“This is all going to change, isn’t it?” asks Hermione.

Harry, who is the object of Voldemort’s hatred, courageously answers “Yes” with a certainty that is far wiser than his years. He and his friends realize that their world will be different in the future, that there will be hardships to bear and battles to fight.

But who will fight the dark forces in their world? Should they follow the suggestions of the elders at the beginning of the fifth film (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix) and just stay out of the way? No, says Harry, if Voldemort is gathering an army of Death Eaters to change the world as they know it, then he and his friends want to fight. He teaches his friends defenses against the Dark Arts and they succeed in helping the elders win the first battle.

They say that time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself. (Andy Warhol).

In J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Faramir is presented with a great opportunity to profit from the changing fortunes of war. The second son of Lord Denethor, Steward of Gondor, Faramir grew up in the shadow of his older brother Boromir, who was favored by his father.

One day while patrolling the woods of Ithilien, he captures the hobbits Frodo and Sam, who are on their way to Mordor to destroy the One Ring of Sauron.

All Faramir has to do is reach out and take the powerful ring, and he can win the favor of his father. “A chance for Faramir to prove his worth,” he mutters to himself. This acquisition would change the war for Gondor and garner considerable wealth and power for Faramir.

In the end, however, he does not succumb to the ambitions that destroyed his brother. Despite the attraction to profit from the changes to his own world, he finds the strength to remain true to himself, setting Frodo free to continue his quest.

People grow through experience if they meet life honestly and courageously. This is how character is built. (Eleanor Roosevelt)

For the past couple of months, I changed my regular weekend schedule to sing during Advent with the Chancery Choir of Glen Leven Presbyterian Church on Franklin Road. While the rehearsals and services have added more miles to the Mercury, the time spent has been very rewarding, for a couple reasons.

First, it reminded me of my teen years when I went to Mass on Sunday mornings and then sang in the First Baptist Youth Choir on Sunday nights with my high school girlfriend. Worshipping with friends at other Christian churches is usually a step outside my comfort zone. Yet these special events help me realize that the similarities of our Christian faiths greatly outnumber the differences.

Secondly, I was introduced to an inspired homilist, Dr. Mark Bryan, the pastor of Glen Leven Presbyterian Church. Each week he delivered a fresh look at Holy Scripture and its place in our lives.

Recently he was speaking about the prophecies of Isaiah and their fulfillment in the birth of Jesus the Christ. Even though our lives are like the grasses of the fields (Is 40, 6-9), soon to wither and die, there is comfort to be found.

“Though the world is changing, though we are constantly in transition, though our lives are short and fleeting, there is one constant and stable thing…God’s Word,” said Dr. Bryan. “God’s promise of faithfulness to us, God’s covenant with us is constant, though all of life and all of the world is changing around us.”

May God’s Word be a constant comfort and companion to you and your family as we step forward into the New Year.


First published in the December 28, 2008 issue of The Tennessee Register.
© 2008 Christopher Fenoglio.

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Ever since the Cathedral of Our Lady of Chartres in France was completed in the early 13th century, sunlight streams through its windows and bathes the worshippers at Mass in glorious technicolor.

Each of the three stained glass rose windows tells a different story. The one on the north transept shows the Glorification of the Virgin. The one on the south portrays the Glorification of Christ, while the one on the west front depicts The Last Judgment.

For the first visitors to the Cathedral, the windows were an artistic portrayal of inspirational stories, whose messages of sacrifice, good works, repentance and love enriched their lives outside of the church.

These windows (and the beautiful examples in our local churches) continue to inspire us to this day.

But thanks to modern technology, we have many more media formats in the 21st century through which inspiration touches our lives. Readers of this column know that one of our favorite formats is film.

Robert K. Johnston writes in his book Reel Spirituality that “film has the power to disturb and to enlighten, to make us more aware of both who we are and what our relationship with others could be. It can even usher us into the presence of the holy.”

Some films were created specifically to be inspirational stories of faith:

> A young French shepherd girl holds fast to what she saw, heard and believes, despite the ridicule of her family and the townspeople. (Song of Bernadette)

> An Olympic runner refuses to run on Sunday, but runs on another day, saying “I believe God made me for a purpose…but he also made me fast. When I run, I feel his pleasure. (Chariots of Fire)

> A non-Italian cardinal is elected pope and takes drastic measures to feed the starving people of the world and diffuse the growing threat of nuclear war between two superpowers (The Shoes of the Fisherman)

> A widow and her son offer gentle help and heartfelt words to a recovering alcoholic country music singer, helping him reclaim his life and advance his career. (Tender Mercies)

Other films, while not specifically stories of faith, have scenes that mirror the choices we have to make every day.

> When it is clear that Lord Voldemort has returned, Professor Dumbledore tells Harry that “dark and difficult times lie ahead. Soon we must make the choice between what is right and what is easy.” (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire)

> In the heat of battle, Luke Skywalker realizes that his anger serves the wrong purpose. He regains his peaceful composure, throws away his light saber, and tells the Emperor “I’ll never turn to the Dark Side…I’m a Jedi, like my father.” (Star Wars VI – Return of the Jedi)

Movies can also be metaphors for classic themes (good vs. evil, individual vs. establishment) or for contemporary issues. Consider a film currently in theaters Evan Almighty, starring Steve Carrell.

In this film, Carrell reprises his weatherman role from Bruce Almighty and wins election to Congress. But his wife and three sons recognize Congressman Evan as the same old Dad, who brings work home and never has time for them. Late one night, Evan learns that his wife has prayed that they grow closer as a family. Evan also decides to pray, asking God for help to fulfill his campaign promise to “change the world.”

God listens and asks Evan to build an ark in the middle of his subdivision. God makes the clear distinction that he is not answering Evan’s prayer by changing the world, but that he is giving Evan the opportunity (along with a large supply of gopher wood and the necessary hand tools) to change the world himself.

evan-almighty.gifStill, it’s up to Evan to make the right choice and do what is necessary, even at the risk of losing his job, his family and the respect of his community.

The film becomes a metaphor for the internal conflicts we experience when making a choice in our lives. Do we follow God’s way or the path we want? Evan Almighty also explores the themes of man’s improper use of the Earth’s resources, the misuse of legislative power for personal financial gain, and the influence that Biblical stories should have on our lives and the operations of our government.

Films can inspire us to lead better lives, to respect others and make good choices that affect the lives of our family, friends and even our planet.

In The Lord of the Rings films, we see Frodo’s courage and hear from Galadriel that “even the smallest person can change the course of the future.”

Imagine what we could do for our planet if we combine that sentiment with the suggested energy-saving measures in Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth.

We truly could change the world.

First published in the July 13, 2007 issue of The Tennessee Register.
© 2007 Christopher Fenoglio
Purchase from Amazon.com:
> The Song of Bernadette

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Standing in front of Harry, encircled by the Death Eaters, Lord Voldemort says, “Shall I divulge how I truly lost my powers? It was love. When dear, sweet Lily Potter gave her life for her only son, she provided the ultimate protection.” – Scene from Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire

The fourth Harry Potter film hit the silver screen two weeks ago, with theater seats gobbled up like so many Chocolate Frogs.

The massive ticket sales, together with the millions of books sold since 1998, makes Harry Potter and author J. K. Rowling a publishing phenomena and a big target for critics and half-baked ideas.

Chief among these ideas is that reading about Harry Potter will make magic and witchcraft more appealing to youngsters. And if young boys and girls like magic, then it’s just a short slippery slope until they fall in love with devil worshipping and join a satanic cult.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Anyone who takes the time to read the books will understand the fiction series is about love, sacrifice, friendship, loyalty, using your talents wisely and becoming the best person you can be. Since millions of youngsters are reading these books, I’m very hopeful that these values will be absorbed by future generations.

These values are further developed in the Goblet of Fire, the episode that widens the divide between good and evil and shows who belongs on each side.

On the good side we have Harry, Hermione and Ron, each experiencing teenage growing pains with emotional outbursts, racing hormones and a mixture of confusion and longing.

PotterOn the other side is the evil wizard Voldemort, who lost his corporal self when he tried to kill Harry. With the help of some loyal servants, known as Death Eaters, he regains his powers and returns to his full physical being.

That he lost his shape in the first place is the main reason why Harry Potter is known to the wizardry world as “the boy who lived.” As Voldemort explains to his followers in the film’s climatic scene, it was the power of a mother’s love that gave his body a thirteen-year sabbatical. With this ultimate sacrifice, Lily gave up her own life to save her son, a sacrifice that many parents experience, in lesser forms, every day.

Rolling over to the edge of the bed so a frightened youngster can sleep in the middle – getting up off the couch to get your son a drink before he falls asleep – committing to that extra day of work for a larger paycheck to make ends meet – all these sacrifices are born from love for our children.

When I was in the seminary, trying to discern my own destiny, I struggled with the two paths of fathering a family and celibacy. “Raising a family is just as important a ministry as the priesthood,” said a friend of mine. “When you love your children, you feel a little of the love that God has for all of us.”

It’s a living connection between God and my children, with my wife and I smack dab in the middle. Sometimes it’s not pleasant, as our teenagers have had their own growing pains with emotional outbursts, racing hormones and a mixture of confusion and longing. But on the whole, those relationships mean everything to me and provide a strong connection to the love of God.

Being a living example of God’s love is not restricted to parents. Everyone is called to sacrifice one’s time, talent and treasure for the good of others. Every day is a personal “Triwizard Tournament” in which we have to navigate the maze of modern life, battle the dragons of ambition, apathy and discrimination, and keep from drowning in a sea of half truths and innuendos. The road can be very difficult at times.

But as the wise headmaster Dumbledore says to Harry at the end of the film, life is “a choice between what is right and what is easy.”

Faced with mounting political pressures from the Ministry of Magic to discredit Harry’s account of the re-emergence of the dark Lord Voldemort, Dumbledore implores the students to do what’s right and support one another in these dark times.

“All you need is love,” wrote John Lennon and Paul McCartney in 1967 in the midst of war protests, political controversies and spiritual awakenings. Some of the same situations exist today while new problems have arisen. We are constantly faced with the choice of doing what’s right and what’s easy.

The solution remains the same. All you need is love.

First published in the December 2, 2005 issue of The Tennessee Register.
© 2005 Christopher Fenoglio.

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