From the age of 13 to 15, I was someone you might label as a “goody two shoes” or a “square.” I made it a point to listen to Christian music, watch Christian films, read Christian books, and abstained from using any foul language. I made it a point to try to convert as many people as possible to the Christian faith by accepting Jesus into their hearts. Believe me when I say more could be added to that list but feel free to use your imagination. My teenage God-loving brain couldn’t understand the difference between good people and Christians. It seemed that one couldn’t exist without the other which made me deeply worry about my friends who either didn’t go to church, claimed a different religion, or didn’t believe in God at all.
But this worldview was quickly shattered after watching a documentary called Jesus Camp. When this film was released, I had already been to church camp twice and considered both experiences to be among the highest in my young life (and in many ways still do). Church camp provided me with an awesome spiritual high that I never wanted to let slip away.
Not only that but I was sort of bitter about the fact that I didn’t grow up in a Protestant church. We Catholics never went to fun Church camps or retreats growing up. We never combined worship with fun slideshows and tasty snacks. I wanted to be part of it all! Naturally I gravitated toward Jesus Camp.
I don’t remember much about the documentary. All that stands out in my head is a scene where the kids are at chapel listening to a heavy-set woman preach. I listened to her sermon with attentive ears, drinking in the “spiritual truth” that I thought would quench my thirst.
And then this woman brought up Harry Potter, the book series that had thus far accompanied me through life and had a message of good vs. evil. What could be wrong with that? Up until this point the rivalry between Harry Potter and the church was one I had only brushed shoulders with in insignificant situations. I can remember watching the news as an 11-year-old when the fourth book came out and seeing a man ripping the book in half over a fire pit.
My only other memory of this rivalry occurred when I was 14 at a Nazarene church. While I grew up Catholic, I only ever attended a Nazarene youth group. In fact, most of my teenage church experience was at the Church of the Nazarene five minutes from my house, a place my mother would never let me step foot had it not been that my best friend attended. When I was 14, I started Upward Kids Program at the church. Upward is a basketball and cheer-leading program that meets every Saturday morning for sports, faith, and fun. At the time I wanted to be a teacher and I loved working with little kids and sharing the message about God (I was also aiding in Sunday School every week at the time).
Every Saturday amidst goofing off with my youth group friends and watching my brother play basketball, I began to notice parents struggling to control their young children. They were trying to watch their child during the game but the younger one was taking all of the attention. It occurred to me that I could start a kids program where the parents could drop off their children who were too young to participate. This way they could enjoy the game while their child was being looked after for free. I somehow managed to rally my friends into becoming my assistants, and convinced our youth Pastor to allow my idea to become a reality. My excitement knew no bounds. I had a ton of ideas on how to teach young children the Gospel (which I had never read a word of in my life voluntarily).
Now you are probably wondering how Harry Potter comes into play. Hold your horses, I’m getting there!
One of my ideas (which I borrowed from my fourth grade teacher) was to have a “store” where the kids could buy prizes with fake money which they could earn through participating and doing a good deed. I had a ton of miscellaneous toys that I was sure would catch the children’s eyes. One of the items was a set of Harry Potter trading cards. See, I told you Harry played a part in this long ass story! As I set things up one morning, my friend Kelly arrived to give me a hand and noticed the cards. “You should get rid of these Danielle,” she said cautiously.
“Seriously?” I responded in the innocent tone which people had come to know me. “They’re just cards.”
I don’t remember Kelly’s response, nor do I blame her for reacting the way she did, but I imagine she went into some sort of explanation to which I huffed and puffed.
But now back to Jesus Camp. The preacher taking up my screen brought up Harry Potter and her tone was one of disgust and rage. I dreaded her words and suddenly I couldn’t tell if she was uttering truth and the series I loved was a lie or I should be defiant of the church’s false teachings. “Harry Potter is a warlock and warlocks are an enemy of God!” she pronounced angrily.
My world, which felt a lot bigger than it actually was, felt as if it were crashing. I always believed Harry Potter to be a character of good. Yet this Christian, who moments ago I had associated with 100%, was preaching otherwise.
I shut the documentary off.