My Big Bad Beatitude, Harry Potter, and the Resolution of “Narrative Misdirection”

Probably, to be “responsible,” I should be doing other things at the moment, but I felt a sense of urgency to finish writing this post that I’ve been working on for months. Perhaps that means I’m coming into a transition point, because when I’m processing and posting at this level, it usually means a point of closure has come and something new is likely to open up soon. Well see eventually whether that’s a myth or a mystery.

Anyway, the ocean/quicksand drowning metaphor post that I blogged yesterday is only one of several ways I’ve ended up processing the difficult experiences of recent months. Another has to do with Beatitudes and Harry Potter, as odd a combination as that may seem.

It started last summer with going through Psalm 139:23-24 at our church gathering:

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. (NIV)

Our house-church gathering, known as The Hearth, meets twice a month from 6 to 9 PM. It really is more like a three-hour retreat than a typical church service. The thing I appreciate most about this format is that it meets my need for slower-paced, deeper-level conversations and relational continuity. (I find that most worship services are – for me at least – more like warp-speed spiritual aerobics in the same space than a time focused on being together, participating with vulnerability and transparency, and working out the “so what” of Scriptures for our lives. I don’t flourish in such environments.) The Hearth offers enough time to actually get into a topic, process it interactively among ourselves and with Scripture, and pray for each other in full paragraphs instead of quickee phrases or short sentences.

To start this particular Psalm 139 exercise in reflection and discernment, we read the passage aloud in unison, and then each one of us read it aloud individually. It’s quite amazing, just what it does to hear your own voice(s) speak out such truths! Anyway, we invested a number of meetings to read and share, reflect and pray on these verses. We eventually transitioned over to thinking about our own lives as reflected in the beatitudes from Jesus’ sermon in Matthew 5, and each writing our own beatitude using the formula of “Blessed are the [fill in the difficulty we face, or the weakness we bear], for they shall [fill in with how God turns that into something constructive].

The entire beatitude exercise took many months together, and we started on it somewhere in the midst of my dealing with the loss of my main freelance client due to the economic downturn late in 2008. I was not in a great space – spiritually, emotionally, physically, financially – and I’m afraid that my first attempt at a beatitude sounds more like a be-bad-itude. I could only see the negatives, and thus, could only get through the first half of my own beatitude. Anyway, that was then, and it was what it was. It went something like this:

Blessed are those who are clinging on to God in the midst of suffering, even if it only seems like they’re hanging on by the ends of their fingernails and they’re wondering if God is really just a sadist because they feel like masochists, for they …

… and then I waited week after week to see how God responded to that rather provocative first half, and resolved things for whatever would emerge as my last half. Rather than an answer directly from Scripture, or a voice in my head telling me I was nuts, the response I needed came, providentially and surprisingly, through Harry Potter.

At times of deep difficulties, I often find solace in reading epic literature where good eventually overcomes evil and characters find ennoblement rather than corruption. For me, this is far more than a diversion – it’s a very practical way to keep the realities of gradual personal transformation in focus, as well as to see demonstrated how bittersweet beauty counteracts the effects of subversive evil. I don’t get those important messages from short and sweet media where plotlines resolve too smoothly and there is no substantial character development.

And so, during the summer season of Psalm 139, I’d started going through the seven audio-books in the Harry Potter series. Somewhere in there, I bought a copy of the audio-book of Looking for God in Harry Potter by John Granger. And there it was that I got introduced to the concept of “narrative misdirection.” Narrative misdirection occurs when the author sets readers up into identifying emotionally with a particular character, and thus, they ONLY really see things the way their over-empathized-with character does. Which, in the Harry Potter series, means we see things the way Harry does, even when there is sufficient evidence to contradict his (mis)interpretation of things. We follow after “red herrings.” We mistake the clues. We jump to partially correct or outrightly wrong conclusions. And it’s all because our eyes into that world, Harry’s eyes, have limited scope and perception.

Thankfully, typically in the very last chapter, we eventually get The Real Perspective as author J.K.Rowling clears up most misconceptions and helps us see how we “saw though a glass dimly” in the limitations of Harry’s eyes. She leaves enough questions unresolved so that, in her next Harry Potter installment, we’re drawn in all over again. With each episode building on the prior ones, and the overarching mysteries becoming more complex, we’re just glad to go with Harry’s simplistic perspective … for the time being.

I think that mirrors everyday life and – at least for me – the desire to reduce all the nagging negativities and seemingly silly sufferings into some libelous label (like “sadist”) that sticks all the responsibility onto God, and conveniently leaves out of it the impact of my own brokenness and the realities of living in the midst of a cosmic-level war between Satan and his forces against God.

Narrative misdirection, indeed.

However – back to the beatitudes, now – after seeing the obvious anger and veiled appeal for help in my first-draft beatitude, I eventually realized how much I over-identify with the very limited perspective in The Story of Me, in which my main character/”hero” is Me. But, the one who’s got The Big Picture is actually God.

Eventually I concluded what I already knew but certainly did not feel: God is not a sadist after all, and He didn’t and doesn’t want me to think Me was/is supposed to be a masochistic Me-sochist in His story after all. I can’t pinpoint specifically when or how my beativiewpoint transmuted to something more constructive, but, thankfully it did. And I do know that generally it had to do with Harry Potter, and the twists that J.K. Rowling slipped into the storyline. Things are not always as they seem. Those characters who seemed most consistently evil in fact had redeeming qualities because of love, or found the beginnings of transformation because of love. Those characters who seemed most consistently good often embodied elements of weakness or evil. But it often took the entire series (an amazing 4,100 pages in the hardcover editions and 107 hours of listening in the audio-books!) in order for that to become clear.

We readers generally didn’t get those last necessary pieces of exposition to alter our perspectives until the last chapter in Harry Potter book 7 … so, why should we expect them any sooner in the stories of our own life?

Huh.

Go figure …

And so, anyway, my final beatitude turned out a tad bit more positive – eventually – after a lot of processing that brought about at least a change of mind (I guess I’m still working on a deeper change of feelings.) This is the final version I wrote, after we worked in this project for something like six months at The Hearth gatherings:

Blessed are the tenacious … for they shall stand on the summit and view where God has brought them.

My overall circumstances are in many ways just as difficult now as when we started our beatitudes. But, bringing Psalm 139 back into the process, I am now more aware of my anxious thoughts. I believe I am at least a bit more trusting that God is kind and loving in His personal guiding, even when it seems to me to be peculiar or even perverse. There is providential purpose in it all and, somehow, someway, the persistence in this pathway makes a difference and I trust that I’m in the flow of being/doing what I was put here for.

Perhaps my own eventual last chapters will tell the real tale of the whys and wherefores of it all. Meanwhile, I’m thankful for J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter, John Granger, the Old and New Testaments, and these lessons for life from the resolution of narrative misdirection.

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3 thoughts on “My Big Bad Beatitude, Harry Potter, and the Resolution of “Narrative Misdirection”

  1. Pingback: Twitted by futuristguy

  2. Thanks for your beatitude. Its perfect.

    I tend to see “narrative misdirection” more as the tyranny of context and perception. Our experiences in life dictate how we interpret what is happening right now. What I like about Rowling’s Potter is that the “narrative misdirection” was less about the reader and more about Harry. He was thrust into a world whose script had been read by everyone but him. He was the child who lived, yet that didn’t mean anything to him. His whole life’s story up to the point of leaving for Hogwarts was not caught up in the conflict with Voldemort. Instead, it was about his own personal suffering at the hands of his muggle relatives. So, when he gets thrust into the wizards’ world, he is confronted with a new narrative that does not fit with his own sense of identity.

    I find great wisdom in how Rowling sets up the contrast worlds that force Harry to address his own destiny. So, too with us and this world’s experience in contrast to God’s life for us. It is the kind of experiences that you have that helped you produce this beatitude that helps us to see what is truly there, and not merely what our past perceptions dictate should be there.

    For me the real genius in the Harry Potter stories is her validation of the value of suffering as a life strengthening experience. I wrote about this on my blog at http://edbrenegar.typepad.com/leading_questions/2009/01/leadership-in-times-of-suffering.html.

    Again, here is a narrative misdirection for readers who believe that there is nothing redeeming in suffering and that comfort and security are the virtues to be sought for in life. What I see in Harry is a young man purged of idealistic narcissism so that he can be the classic hero, willing to sacrifice his life for the sake of his friends, and ultimately the world. And if this is true, and I believe it is, then I suggest that your narrative journey to your beatitude is a similar path through suffering to find strength, goodness and hope.

    And is it not also our savior’s story as well. Born to die a death that no one in this world thought was redemptive until later. Is not his death on the cross another narrative misdirection that forces us to face our own lives? And the the ending of the story gets revealed in resurrection and ascension.

    Thank you for sharing your beatitude with us.

    Peace and joy be with you this day.
    Ed

    • Thanks for dropping in, Ed, and for your insightful comment. The redemptive transformation of the heart through suffering is worth it. I’ll look forward to reading your blog post on its relevant to leaders.

      Meanwhile, life surely is no sprint. I’m not sure that even a marathon is an adequate metaphor. Steeplechase-athon, Everest-athon, maybe those are closer.

      And I like what you said about Harry Potter being dropped into a narrative not of his own making, that he had to adopt as much as he needed to be adopted. There’s a transformational storyline there worth pursuing. And to think, Rowling’s series for the most recent young generations is what Tolkien’s was for ours. Amazing how God implants such rich and redemptive stories in world literature for those who are Seekers …

      So, perhaps seminaries and leadership training systems need to present series on The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter for cultural context and contextualization. Just sayin’.

      Brad

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