On Boggarts

Consider your boggart and much can be learned.

There’s an office, dim and somewhat dusty. Its occupant is often absent, and takes little care of his space. He’s there now, though, and there’s someone with him: a youth, there to learn. He stands, facing the drawer in the filing cabinet. It’s time. Lupin opens the cabinet. The boggart is out. It’s a dark shape: large, hooded, menacing. Gliding. This is what Harry is here for: he’s here to face his fear – the dementor.

There’s something powerful and revealing about fear. Despite the comical situations in Lupin’s boggart classes, the boggart touches on something profound it’s about being brought up against your fear.

Capture

Actor, rapper and comedian Donald Glover (you know, Troy from Community) recently fessed his own fears. After announcing that he was leaving Community, and feeling the backlash, he scribbled some notes on hotel stationary and shipped it off to the world via instagram. It’s candid. You can go HERE to see the pics. His fears, his frustrations are out there for all to see. It made me wonder – what can we learn from fear?

And what’s the deal with fear anyway? There’s brute fear: that instinctive fear, perhaps that which causes us to flee or fight. But humanity has fears beyond those of the beast, beyond mere survival instinct. With sociality comes the potential for much in the way of misunderstanding, miscommunication, and betrayal. As we operate in the abstract world of ethics, duty, culpability, we open the realm of fear of consequences. The more we know, and rely on knowing, the greater the fear of the unknown. The more we accumulate, the greater the fear of losing it all. Humanity knows death, and fears him.

My own knowledge of fear is poor, psychologically speaking. I know of a few studies, and have heard a bit of theory about fear, but that’s not where this is going. Rather, consider what your fear can reveal.

Back to Harry Potter, where the boggart is a fascinating device, perhaps a parallel to the Mirror of Erised. The mirror reveals the deepest desire of one’s heart – showing the truly noble from the fundamentally selfish. The boggart, shows almost the opposite: it shows what you fear. Rowling uses the Boggart to show us that Harry’s fear is the dementors, not the dreaded Lord Voldemort. As Lupin reveals, what Harry fears most is thus fear itself. Cheesy meta-fear aside, there’s something profound about the whole concept: the boggart takes the form of your greatest fear. That is, the thing you consciously fear above all else. An encounter with the boggart forces one to be honest with themself, to face their fear. I wonder: as Harry’s boggart speaks of the nature of his fears, could confessing our own teach us something as well?

Changing gear, let’s talk about Les Miserables. In the last few weeks, I’ve seen the film adaptation of Les Mis numerous times. There’s so much to love about this movie, and the musical (and the book, I’m sure – that’s on my holiday reading list), but in terms of “favourite” characters, Eponine steals the show. Someone asked me why this was, and I couldn’t give them an answer. Dwelling on this question, I think that the reason I empathise with Eponine is due to the way some of my own fears are realised in her character and situation. In Eponine, then, I find a sometimes uncomfortable shove towards understanding myself a little better. I’ve come to see something not just about what I fear, but what I desire, that I might not have come across on my own.

I reckon there is a link here: the mirror and the boggart are not so far apart. Fear often corresponds to something that we want. When you desire something, do you not also fear that it may not eventuate? When you love what you have, do you not fear to lose it?

Think on your own worries for a moment. What freaks you out? What makes your breath catch, and chases your sleep away? What leaves you shaking in your boots, Larry?

Those who know me on Facebook may have seen my post about sleep-texting. Sleep-texting is a “thing”: people are sending messages without waking up! Sure, they are usually garbled nonsense, sent to their significant other, after they fell asleep texting. Even so, it is a message being sent, and all it would take is for one of those weird dream-ideas to make its way into your phone fingers, and some weird junk could happen. It’s perhaps not so dangerous as drunk texting (all the skillz and emotions, none of the discernment), but I’m not really in danger of texting while drunk, on account of not getting drunk. But sleeping? Subconscious me can go wild! That scares me. I think it’s to do with controlling the message: I don’t want to saying something without knowing it. There have been times when I have sent the wrong message, creating unpleasant situations and difficulties in some friendships. I am afraid of not having power over what I say. This fear is a little distressing, as experience and theory tell us that you can never control the message the whole way. Think death of the author, or just plain misunderstandings.

Let’s tackle another one.

Earlier this year, I said goodbye to St Matts – my home church of 20 years. For the last few months, I’ve been getting involved with the crew over at Trinity Chapel Macquarie. The process of moving into a different community can be tough, but my worries mainly relate to leaving St Matts. How is that perceived? I fear that people have judged me and my actions, and I’m afraid that people may have assumed things about my decision, my attitude and my influences that are untrue. Thinking through that fear, I think it too has something to do with control of the message. Beyond that, I think it’s because I value what my brothers and sisters at St Matts think, and because I value the work and influence of that community. I’m afraid that the leaders and kids at youth will not understand how much I love that ministry, and I think my fear of unsettling them, undermining my old co-leaders or coming across as rejecting the church comes in part from a desire to see that ministry flourish.

After deciding that Trinity would be my local church, I met up with the Pastor there. Chatting over baguettes, he was introducing me to where the church was, spiritually, and trying to gauge something of my own walk with God. He asked me something like this: “have you ever had serious doubts that threatened to turn you away from God?”. The answer, simply, is no: I have many doubts, and grapple to get my head and heart in line with my creed, but I don’t think I have ever been at crisis point. I’ve never almost walked away from Jesus. What I could say is that I’m scared that I’m not honest with my doubts. My faith is rationally grounded, and I think it holds up philosophically and historically as the best explanation of everything. Yet sometimes I fear that this conviction is wishful thinking: I fear that should I meet contradictory evidence, I would reject it rather than come to terms with it. It’s a fear of being intellectually dishonest, or not having the integrity to deny what I have held true. If evidence emerged, proving that Christ did not rise, would I really be prepared to walk away from Christianity? The Bible itself says that without the resurrection, Christians are to be pitied. I believe that.

I think this fear of being dishonest with myself, or being inconsistent in my claims, is grounded in a desire for integrity in belief. Perhaps the fear is a comes from the tension between two desires; to have strong faith in the God of the bible, and at the same time to say this faith is reasonable and justified. That’s a troubling thought, but it also comforts me to some extent: it gives me some confidence that I do want to question and investigate, but also that I have a concept of real faith in my God.

These last few fears I think are more troubling than terrifying: they worry me and distress me, but there are other things I find more “scary”. Going back to Donald Glover’s fears, I can’t say that all of them resonate with me, but there are definitely a few that do. At one stage, he says:

“Im afraid my parents wont live long enough to see my kids”

I am scared that my kids (no, I don’t have kids yet, chill) will grow up without knowing their heavenly Father. I have friends who walked away from Jesus, having grown up in the church. I was recently at a 21st. This mate is the son of a minister, and he stopped calling himself a Christian a few years ago. His dad gave a cracker of a speech, and amidst the witticisms and facetiousness, he said that in choosing to follow his own convictions, my mate had in some sense become a man. His dad is grieved that their beliefs don’t align, but there’s a point where father and son are men who disagree, and have to make room for that. They are men of different conviction, and they have to live with it. When I think about one day being married and having kids, my greatest fear is that I too will one day have to “make room” for my children turning away from my God. Heck, I’m scared that I too might turn away from my faith. It scares me though: having children who shun grace would be heartbreaking and tragic, surely worse than not having kids at all.

That one’s a little harder to break down. I can’t really locate the seat of that fear, except that I long to have children who walk with the Lord. I want children who grow to be men and women of God, with whom I can spend eternity in God’s glory. I long one day to be a man with my son, both under a heavenly father, brothers in Christ.

There’s just one more of my own fears that I want to raise here. It’s the last one for a reason: it’s that which has kept me awake more nights than any other. I wonder what the boggart would do – how does a boggart become eternity? The concept of infinite time – or perhaps no time at all – is  terrifying. It’s one of those things you can push to the side during daylight, but at night when it’s quiet, it doesn’t let you go. God has set eternity in my heart: I do look forward to being with him forever. I wholeheartedly believe that I was made for that, and tha it will be awesome. But if I am completely honest, sometimes the concept of it all just ending – nothing after death – is more comforting than that of eternal life. It’s that I pray will change with time, and something that I fear will compromise my ability to minister in the future: how can one cast a vision of the glory of the new creation, when they quiver at the concept of endlessness? At this point, I’m forced to concede that these are things which are too wondrous for me to grasp. I read Job 37, and sometimes that helps: “he does great things which we cannot comprehend.”

I think that the fear of eternity reveals that I do not know who I am. Humanity was made for eternal life with our creator. As a Christian, I am being transformed after the image of Christ, becoming more like the true human. I am being moved towards eternity in Christ, and it is a glorious destiny. Yet my fear shows that my heart and mind are not yet as they should be. My fear of eternity makes me feel small,  and shows that I fear and resist what is best: it shows me that I am fallen, and I see the world through a cracked and dirty lens. My desires are not as they should be. I only recently came across this quote, supposedly of John Newton, and I find it a helpful reminder in the face of this fear: “I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I want to be, I am not what I hope to be in another world; but still I am not what I once used to be, and by the grace of God I am what I am.” I trust that God is doing what is right for me, as for all the saints: when we enter eternity, this fear will be cast off, a relic of my brokenness.

So we’ve come to the end of confession time. What are your fears? If you feel comfortable, stick up a comment: anything from a mild phobia of spiders to a dread of something major. If not, don’t just brush your fears off. I think it can be helpful to come to terms with your fears. I don’t say this in the sense of cheesy self-help and “loving yourself warts and all”. I think that in your fears you might find something about who you are which can be a challenge, or even a comfort. Perhaps they will lead you to seek God more or perhaps they will show you areas in which you are holding back from giving him your all. I don’t know: I can speak only for myself.

This post is far too long: well done to those who have braved it thus far. I want to end with a quick thought on fear.

Up on Golgotha, three men were dying. This is a desperate moment, and a powerful one. It’s a tragic, ironic scene: the king is mocked for claiming to be king. The saviour saves by not saving himself.  One of the criminals joins in the mocking of the crowd: he uses some of his rapidly fading strength to yell out:

““Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”

One of my favourite songs to sing in church is “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us”.  One gut-wrenching stanza says

“Behold, a man upon a cross / my sin upon his shoulders.  / Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice / call out among the scoffers.”

We all stand in the same place: we too are under this sentence of death. So the criminal’s question echoes down to every human, alive and dead: don’t you fear God? By ourselves, we are doomed. Yet if we know who Jesus is, we can be saved. He who does not know Christ has every reason to be terrified: His wrath is indeed terrible.

In one sense, God should be our greatest fear. His power is endless, and his wrath is terrible. Yet a fear of God does not need to be terrifying and debilitating: instead, proper fear of God leads to repentance, forgiveness, salvation: we can approach the throne of God. And for those who fear God in this way, there are great promises: we need not fear, for Christ is with us, and we have the Spirit. There is no fear of condemnation.

Think about your boggart; what do you fear? What does that tell you? How is God using that fear to teach you? But in the end, you need not fear: though we walk in a world that is still overshadowed by our own evil, there is no fear in the valley of death, for he is with us.

[I thought it would be cool to stick in a few verses that have informed some of these thoughts. As I mentioned before, Job 37 is something I read when I am troubled. Similarly: Psalm 23, Psalm 27, Matthew 10:28, Luke 23:39-43, Hebrews 13:5-6. What are your favourites?]

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