Laura Culp Archives

Swept Up into the Magic of Hogwarts

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Editor’s Note: This is the fourth in a series, Significant Films of the 2000s, of articles about the cultural significance of films that were released between 2000 and 2009. Also check out Popsickle’s list of the twenty greatest films of the 2000s.

Harry Potter Books The Harry Potter series follows the story of one young boy who was orphaned at a young age by what he is told was a car accident. He lives with his Aunt, Uncle, and cousin Dudley, though he is relegated to live in the cupboard so that Dudley can have the second bedroom he so desperately needs to store his large collection of toys. This pretty well gives you an idea of what Harry’s place in the family is. The real story begins, however, when Harry gets a mysterious letter from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. This launches the story of his life into a fantasy adventure of epic proportions.

For every person who feels slighted by the people around him—like he got the short end of the stick—this story makes vindication seem possible. For Harry stuck in a boring, claustrophobic existence where even school seems like an escape, his acceptance letter to Hogwarts seems too good to be true. While at every turn his family tells him that he is ordinary and destined for mediocrity, in his new reality, he ventures into a world where he was a celebrity since birth. He discovers that he is really quite special and that his life has incredible purpose. This theme of the story really captures its audience, because every human heart longs for this kind of purpose.

The center of the films’ themes is friendship—especially the core group of Harry, Hermione, and Ron. The friendship of these three has its ups and downs, but never does any one character give up hope in their companions. They show great loyalty and courage even in difficult times.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets Poster Power, or more specifically the lust for power, is another major element in the films. It is implied through the life of the villain that the desire for power can easily become an all-consuming and soul-destroying quest. The characters on the side of good are ever vigilant to guard themselves from this kind of attitude even though it makes many advances on their spirits. One of the ways this plot point is explored is through the subject of death. The villain assumes that immortality is the greatest form of power while Harry and his friends risk losing their mortal lives on multiple occasions for each other and for the good of the world at large.

Given the success of the books before the production of the films, it is not surprising that the production is everything that you would expect from blockbusters financed by a major studio. The films quite live up to the fantastic realm described in the novels, from the magical elements to the grandiose settings—especially Hogwarts. The casting is also faithful to the characters created by the author. The central trio of friends has real chemistry, and there are standout performances by Alan Rickman as Professor Snape, constant foil to the heroes, and Helena Bonham Carter as both crazy and evil Bellatrix LeStrange.

Within the next year, two movies will be released that conclude the wildly popular series. The six movies that have been released so far comprise the highest grossing film franchise of all time. As many popular brands are wont to do, Harry Potter has stirred up its share of controversy. Most of this comes from conservative Christian groups opposed to the movies’ positive portrayal of “good” witchcraft. Witchcraft is compared to the sin of rebellion in 1 Samuel 15:23. I will not dispute the view that witchcraft is sin; in fact, I am probably more on the fundamentalist side of that argument than most. However, I would encourage anyone who refuses to read the books or see the movies based on that one fact to reconsider. If the policy is to watch zero movies that contain sin or even sometimes portray sin positively, that would probably discount even It’s a Wonderful Life. Anyone remember how George’s uncontrolled, unrighteous anger toward Zuzu’s teacher is played for humor? But the point of the movie is not that we should imitate that one character quality. Sometimes it is good to evaluate movies based on what overall message they put forth as well as content. As for the content itself, there are definitely pure fantasy elements to the type of witchcraft portrayed. For example, the ability to perform magic is something characters are born into, and in order to do it properly, they must obtain a wand made of unicorn tail or phoenix feather, something you might be hard pressed to find here in the real world.

Harry Potter While primarily marketed to the younger demographic, I wouldn’t discount them as kids’ movies, based solely on peril and violence. One other troubling recurrence that is up for discussion is the blatant disregard for any kind of caution or adherence to rules shown by the major characters. Our heroes constantly make their way into harrowing situations that they tend to escape by a hair. This serves the fictional suspense well but is not an attitude that translates well into non-fiction for those of us who value life and limb.

It is easy to see how so many have been captivated by the rich story of Harry Potter. The series contains the basic ingredients for a classic. Only time will tell how it endures for future generations, but it certainly continues to impact the current culture in multiple facets.

Laura Culp is 25 and lives in Northwest Oklahoma as a full-time creator of signage and part-time student. She would like to thank Angie Culp for her editorial skills and catering.

A Brief Primer on Christianese

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Dictionary of Lingo Have you ever noticed that every industry has its own lingo? Sometimes if you live around it long enough, it becomes possible to fake knowledge of technical language without having any practical knowledge of the terms whatsoever. I had a job for two years in which I became adept at describing the machinery we sold, including their many various options, but nevertheless, I still had no idea what the purpose of the products were.

Most subcultures—whether fandoms, hobbyists, or trades—could have conversations in front of other speakers of their native language without giving away the content of their communication. Christianity is one of the largest subcultures in the world, and it also contains many subcultures of its own. The way we Christians relate to the unique language that pervades our society has a huge impact on the development of every other part of Christianity.

As obvious as the statement might seem, words mean things. How you define the words you use makes a huge difference in what you intend to communicate to others. I feel that we often overlook this issue when it comes to sharing our beliefs, both with those who share our religion and those that may not come from the same religious background. Also, some of the people that you dialogue with may have no preconceived notion as to the definition of words based on religious experience. Have you ever had a conversation in which you were convinced you were on the same page as someone else only to find out later that you were mistaken?

Three Glasses with Olives For example, in Spanish class once, I was supposed to translate a story from Spanish into English. Baby Sleeping I at once translated the word bebe as a form of the verb to drink and was very confused as to why this story centered on a beverage and why the woman was so worried that a wolf had taken a drink. After I consulted a dictionary and discovered that bebe also means “baby” in Spanish, my perspective on the story was considerably altered.

Take for instance the word love. Dictionary.com has no fewer than twenty-one different definitions for the noun, but English speakers usually rely on context and guesswork to determine which definition another person is referring to when they use the word. It might be better if we reverted to Greek and had seven words with distinct meanings, but in English all of those words translate to our word love.

It concerns me that Christian terminology does not carry a uniform method of defining. We often take for granted that our audience has the same understanding of a term as we do. It has come to the point that we cannot use terms we have taken for granted in Christian culture without first precisely explaining them. If the terminology that we use to describe something changes meaning, it will not take long for our original intent to be lost.

Many interpretations of what a Christian even is are radically inconsistent with each other. One person might characterize themselves as a Christian based on the fact that they attend a church or that their parents did. Another might stake a claim that believing Jesus is the son of God is what makes him a Christian. The rich young ruler of Luke 18 asked Jesus how to obtain eternal life. In this instance, Jesus ends the conversation asking the man to surrender all he had and follow after him.

Another example of something that I have seen shifted between definitions is spiritual growth. The essence of spiritual growth is exhibiting more of the Fruit of the Spirit as listed in Galatians 5:22-23: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. A different definition I have seen spread is one where a person can measure his spiritual maturity by the standard of how many church songs he knows or how strictly he can adhere to his chosen religious ritual.

One of the specifically religious terms used often in churches is blessing. I think that if your only exposure to the word was through religious television, your idea of the definition would probably be “cold, hard cash.” This definition leans heavily on assuming the Bible always means material gain when it uses the term riches or prosperity. As explained in Romans 2:4, however, it is using the word riches to describe God’s kindness.

church-door.jpg There is a bevy of words that have distinctly religious meanings, and there are always new buzzwords in religious circles. Just in the last decade, terms like seeker-sensitive, community, and relevant have become common descriptors of what you might find within church doors. Every one of these terms is looked upon differently by different people. To one person, seeker-sensitive means using new-fangled technology, like sound systems and PowerPoint; to another, seeker-sensitive means purging any dogma or doctrine that might make anyone uncomfortable.

I encourage you to clarify the definitions of the terms you are using. Consider the possibility that others who filter the significance of what they are hearing through their own experiences might come to an alternate conclusion about what they think is being said. Do not be afraid to challenge the people around you about what they mean when they use phrases that have multiple interpretations. Be a word nerd and carry a Webster’s dictionary everywhere. (Okay, I was just kidding on that last one.)

Credits: Dictionary: Mads Bødker / Creative Commons, Glasses: Kyle May / Creative Commons, Baby: Paul Sapiano / Creative Commons, Church Door: Till Krech / Creative Commons

Laura Culp is 25 and lives in Northwest Oklahoma as a full-time creator of signage and part-time student. She would like to thank Angie Culp for her editorial skills and catering.
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