Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Harry Potter and the Spiritual Gifts

So a rather genius idea was suggested to me to do the seventh installation of this blog series in two parts. It's brilliant for several reasons: 1. It fits the movie series, where the last movie was split into two installments. 2. It allows me to write about two ideas from the seventh book (one was suggested by the same person who suggested I do two parts... she's a winner). 3. It allows me to squeeze out one more blog. Rather than racking my brain for another idea, I can now simply draw out this idea, and get one more out of it! So, without much further ado, here is the summary of Book Seven!
Dumbledore is dead. Harry knows about the Horcruxes. Voldemort has control of Hogwarts and (soon) the Ministry. Harry has reached 17 years of age, which is the age of adulthood in the Wizarding community, and the protections that he's had on him, and the protections on the Dursley's home, will be lifted. Before that, the Dursley's are strongly encouraged to leave their home. They resist at first, but finally agree. As soon as the clock strikes midnight, bringing in July 31, 1997, Death Eaters are all over that house. The Order of the Phoenix set up a plan with several Harry impersonators (thanks to polyjuice potion), and he's able to get away, but not without losing Mad Eye Moody and Hedwig. Shortly thereafter, they're able to forget their problems for a brief time to celebrate Bill and Fleur's wedding. At this event, Rufus Scrimgeour, the new Minister of Magic, comes to Harry, Ron, and Hermione, and gives them items left to them by Dumbledore. To Harry, the snitch he caught in his first ever Quidditch game. To Ron, his "Put-Outer", a device that is able to magically extinguish any light. To Hermione, a book entitled Tales of Beedle the Bard, a book of fairy tales for young witches and wizards. The meaning behind these gifts is a mystery to all, though Scrimgeour is convinced they know why. All they can figure out is the connection of the snitch, and that's only in part. Snitches have a magical attribute that allows them to be able to identify the first person to touch it, in case of a close call. Scrimgeour assumes something will happen as soon as Harry touches the snitch, but is disappointed when nothing happens. However, after Scrimgeour leaves, Harry remembers that he didn't catch his first snitch, but nearly swallowed it. He presses the small golden ball to his lips, and a message appears: I open at the close. The wedding is a success, until a message baring Patronus from Kingsley Shacklebolt comes, telling everyone of the fall of the Ministry into Voldemort's hands. Chaos ensues, and Harry, Ron, and Hermione hightail it out of there, beginning their journey...
For the purpose of this blog, I'll leave off the summary at that point, and continue it in the next blog. The gifts given to Harry, Ron, and Hermione seem odd. None can figure out why they received them. The snitch certainly carried some sentimental value, but what of the mysterious message? What would the "Put-Outer" benefit Ron? And, while Hermione is certainly a lover of books, why a wizard's children book? The reasoning for it all is explained later in the book, and plays quite the pivotal role in the whole scheme of things. It's quite amazing how Dumbledore could foresee what would happen, and be able to recognize what each individual person of the group would need in order to help accomplish the task. He knew them well enough, their strengths and their personalities, to know what tools to present them with. The same could be said of the things our Heavenly Father provides for us. Since He knows us all perfectly, He knows what trials we will go through. He also knows what our strengths are, so that He can know what tools will best benefit us, and allow us to succeed. We all go through hard times, and will all face challenges, but we are never left to our own devices. The Lord never abandons us. He gives us each, individually, ways to cope with Satan's temptations. We each have personal abilities that allow us to overcome. Just like the snitch for Harry, maybe you have a lot of patience that allows you to grin-and-bear; or like Ron and the "Put-Outer", maybe you can look at things in a more eternal perspective to be able to let the little things just roll off you; or, like Hermione and her book, you have an unwavering positive attitude that makes it so you can greet any problem with a smile. We all gifts like these, and they've all been given us by our Heavenly Father. It's the difference in them that makes them unique to us, as we are all unique individuals (one of the many wonderful parts of our Heavenly Father's plan!). Our Father gives us spiritual gifts, and as we nourish them, we are "able to stand against the wiles of the devil" (Ephesians 6:11). So know that we are not left alone, but have been given gifts to help us stand strong in the face of the adversary!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Harry Potter and the Individual Testimony

It's very possible (likely, even) that Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince is my favorite book of the series. Why? Cause I'm weird. It all starts coming together: the mysteries behind Voldemort's seeming immortality is explained, details that seemed weird and even unimportant from previous books suddenly are tied in to the bigger picture, the Horcruxes are introduced, things really start to go down, and it ends on kind of a downer (that's why I'm weird, I like that part... much like the end of Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back). Dumbledore is dead, Snape is a traitor, Harry breaks up with Ginny, Hogwarts and the Ministry (though that was earlier) have been taken over by Voldemort and his goons, and Harry has to leave Hogwarts a year early to start hunting down Horcruxes and save... well, the world.
As for a brief rundown of the plot: Harry is back in the public eye, and things are getting pretty dang crazy. Cornelius Fudge was sacked as Minister of Magic because of his lack of action at the warnings of Voldemort's return (he claimed Harry was making up stories and it wasn't true). Now, Rufus Scrimgeour is the new Minister, and Voldemort and his Death Eaters have no problem making their presence known, as it's already out in the open. Destruction and chaos have gotten of hold of not only Wizarding England, but Muggle England as well. Harry is taken on a trip with Dumbledore shortly before school begins to find a Horace Slughorn, former potions master. Horace is enticed by Harry, being quite fond of getting in with well-known, high-ranking people, and agrees to return to Hogwarts... to once again be potions master. This means that Snape gets to finally get his dream position of professor of Defense Against the Dark Arts. Snape's had a busy summer as well, making an unbreakable vow with Narcissa Malfoy, Draco Malfoy's mother, that he would do everything he could to help Draco with whatever task Voldemort had assigned him.
Harry returns to school and finds himself able to continue with potions due to Professor Slughorn's less strict requirements. He borrows a used book, which has lots of notes in the margin that help Harry not only do much better at Potions than usual, but actually excel in the class. The year seems pretty typical, except for one extra "class" Harry has: he meets with Dumbledore and, through his Pensieve, and using memories that he's collected, they're able to see some of Tom Riddle's history. Harry is able to get an untampered memory from Professor Slughorn which solidifies Dumbledore's guess that Voldemort has been using Horcruxes, a very dark magic where one rips their soul, and places it in an object, allowing them to survive even after death. They have enough evidence to know several key points: He made 7, they've destroyed 2, and Tom would use artifacts from the founders of Hogwarts. Dumbledore was able to locate one, and they take off to get it. The protection that Dumbledore has to go through to get it leaves him very weakened, and when they return to Hogwarts and find it overrun with Death Eaters, things don't look good. Upon landing in one of the towers, Dumbledore quickly stuns Harry, making it impossible for him to move. Out of sight, Harry can only listen and watch as Draco comes to try and kill Dumbledore. When he realizes he can't do it, Snape suddenly barges in and kills him. Harry is now free, because a spell can't continue once the caster is dead. He chases after Snape and tries to get revenge, but to no avail. Harry is now without Dumbledore, his mentor and greatest form of protection, and he now has to go out and accomplish what Dumbledore had started, with little knowledge of what to do, little idea of where to go, and little preparation for what he was going to face.
Harry had relied on Dumbledore these past 5 years for just about everything. He felt comfortable and safe with Dumbledore around, and knew that nothing bad could happen to him. He learned a lot from him, and discovered things about himself, his family, his past, present, and future. Dumbledore was his guiding light; but after that night, Harry was alone. Harry never considered the event of Dumbledore's death, or what that would mean. He always assumed he'd be there to help him. But the end came for him, and Harry was left to face this great adventure without him. Now, he could no longer rely on Dumbledore, he had to do it all on his own.  
As we grow up, we lean a lot on our parents and leaders for lots of things. We gain opinions and tastes, likes and dislikes, morals and beliefs from the people who raise us. This is common, it's hard for a young child to make a well formed view of a serious issue. So, they simply take from their parents or their teachers of their church leaders those things. The same is true of a testimony. We often see small children go and bare their testimony: "I know the church is true, I love my mom and dad, I know Heavenly Father loves me, name of Jesus Christ amen." Classic. But, their testimony is simply an appendage of their parents'. They know the church is true cause mom and dad do, and they told them so. Because their Bishop does, and he told them so. Because their Primary teachers do, and they told them so. They don't truly have their own testimony. They don't have a rock solid foundation. They can't, they're simply too young. It's when we grow up and start to learn things for ourselves that we can come to certain important conclusions. At some point everyone, everyone, must decide for themselves if this church is true. Everyone from you to President Monson. We need to read the Book of Mormon and pray, to truly and sincerely ask if it is true, and the Lord will tell us. It's only when He tells us that we will truly know that it is true. We're just like Harry: eventually, we're expected to do things on our own. We can't just ride on the coattails of others, we need to be able to stand on our own. Just as Harry took on Voldemort and his army, even without Dumbledore, we can all take on Satan and his army, even on our own. As we develop and strengthen our individual testimonies, and nourish the seed (Alma 32), we'll be able to face whatever opposition comes our way.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Harry Potter and the Church's Purpose

Following up a rather exciting fourth year at Hogwarts, Harry is back at the Dursleys for what promises to be a long, rough summer holiday. Fortunately for him, a group of mysterious people show up to carry him away. With the reemergence of Voldemort, and the lack of belief on the part of the Ministry of Magic, it's not safe for, frankly, anyone, but this isn't just anyone... this is Harry Potter. Since the Ministry won't take any action to protect him (as they don't even believe him that Voldemort is back), then Dumbledore will, with the reformation of the Order of the Phoenix. Headquartered at Sirius Black's house, and protected with every form of magical protection they can, the Order of the Phoenix is an organization made up of wizards and witches, most of them Aurors (magical policemen, pretty much), and several of them very involved in the Ministry of Magic. The group existed in the first war against Voldemort as well. They're all out to protect Harry and try to keep Voldemort from running amok.
Well, things are just as weird as ever. Now, suddenly, Harry is seeing things. Strange dreams of running through long hallways. When one of the dreams involves Harry, as a snake, striking Mr. Weasly, his best friend's dad, he gets more than a little concerned. He tells Dumbledore, and they find that it indeed happened. Now it's become apparent that these aren't just random dreams, but Harry's connection to Voldemort is actually allowing him to see into Voldemort's world. This Voldemort eventually uses to his advantage, placing a fake vision of Sirius Black being tortured. Harry and his friends rush to his rescue, only to find him not there, but rather an ambush of Death Eaters. They fight as best they can, eventually being aided by the Order of the Phoenix, but the battle cost Sirius Black's life (probably the lamest occurrence in the series). Following this, there's a showdown between Voldemort and Harry, where Dumbledore steps in. Voldemort tries to possess Harry's body, but Harry is able to resist this. When all is said and done, enough of a warning has been dent out that many prominent members of the Ministry, including the Minister of Magic himself, were able to show up and see for themselves that Voldemort was in fact back and in power.
The plot just keeps thickening in this very exciting, and rather sad book. No one wanted to see Sirius die... he was Harry's best shot at a normal life. I guess Harry just wasn't meant to have a normal life.
The Order of the Phoenix (possibly one of the coolest named organizations ever) plays a major role in the second war with Voldemort, and we're told it played a pretty big part of the first war, too. This group of dedicated individuals are willing to risk life and limb to stand up for what's right and try to stop evil from conquering. They're unified in their purpose and are willing to do anything to accomplish their goal. This is how the Church is. We are the best form of protection from the world, because we have the best resources to combat the evil out there. We have the fullness of the Gospel; we have the Bible and Book of Mormon, that go together to answer all questions and provide an entirety of doctrine; we have Prophets and Apostles who reveal God's will for us, and let us know how best to get through life's maze. Thanks to these tools, we are never lost, and can be a guiding/protecting force for all our brothers and sisters. If they don't know the way, at least we do, and we can do our parts in helping and protecting them. That's what we as member's of Christ's church should do: reach out and "lift up the hands which hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees" (Doctrine and Covenants 81:5).

Monday, November 21, 2011

Harry Potter and the Unified Purpose

Oh man! I just keep going! Now we're on to book number 4! Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, a pretty pivotal book in the series. Why? Well, let me tell ya:
Harry gets to spend an actual magic summer, spending time with Weasleys and going to the Quidditch World Cup. While there, some Death Eaters (Voldemort's supporters) make a stand, marching around and tormenting some muggles. This is quickly put to rest by someone sending the Dark Mark (Voldemort's sign) into the air. They find the wand that did it, and it seems like a house elf named Winky did it. But, evidence says there's more to it than that. Things get even more exciting upon Harry, Ron, and Hermione's return to Hogwarts. The announcement of the Tri Wizard Tournament puts all of Hogwarts in an uproar. The Triwizard Tournament is an even that tests young witch and wizard's skill and magical prowess, and takes place between Europe's 3 major Wizarding schools: Hogwarts of England, Beauxbatons of France, and Durmstrang of Scandinavia. The catch is, however, you can only enter if you're 17 or older. Well, somehow, when the champions are being chosen, Harry is one of them. This is strange because, not only is he only 14, but Hogwarts already had a champion selected, Cedric Diggory. Now Harry has to participate. He's getting some help from friends, and the new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor, Professor "Mad Eye" Moody (named for his strange, magical glass eye). Some crazy stuff goes down, and suddenly, when in a labyrinth for the final event of the tournament, Harry and Cedric come upon the trophy, which turns out to be a portkey (an object able to magically transport you anywhere). They wind up in a graveyard, where Cedric is killed and Harry is bound, and his blood is taken and used to bring Voldemort back to full strength. Thanks to another magical occurrence (Priori Incantatem), Harry is able to get back to the portkey and bring Cedric's body with him. Now, Voldemort's back, and the wizarding world is in an uproar. Well, sort of...
I've left out the part about Mad Eye actually being a prominent Death Eater posing as him, but that's not pertinent to the current blog post. What I'm choosing to focus on is the unity that is displayed, and will continue to be displayed in the series, between the three opposing schools. This was the main point of why they started the Triwizard Tournament ca 1294. Dumbledore knew something was up, and that something bad was soon to come to fruition. He urges all three schools, upon their arrival, to remember the importance of unity, and that all the wizarding world needed to be united to fight against evil. This must exist amongst us, as well. I've written about this subject a couple times (here and here). But if something is repeated, you know it must be important.
We as members of the Church have a common goal and dream. We know where we want to go, and we know what we want our world to be like. And, there's only one way we can accomplish that, and that is through Unity. We can unite ourselves with others by forming friendships, and this can be done through service. But what's important is to remember that we are all children of God, and thus we are all brothers and sisters. This idea must unite us, and our desire to make this world better must unite us as well. Why quarrel and squabble over such minute details as to where we're from, what we like, where we stand on certain issues, or what our race is? These things are only temporal, and don't matter at all in the grand scheme of things. We must put behind our differences and be one in purpose and unity to help the Gospel reach all the inhabitants of the world. When our hearts are knit together in love, we can do anything, and bring all of our Heavenly Father's children to a knowledge of Him.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Harry Potter and the Guest Blog: How Strong Is Your Patronus?

Courtesy of the wonderful Elder Miller:
So I'm pretty sure that everyone reading this loves Harry Potter, and one night as I was eating dinner with one of my favorite families here in Whitefish, Mt and we were talking about Harry Potter this came to me.

In the third book/movie, The Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry is introduced to an intense new enemy, dementors. After his initial meeting with them Harry wanted to be able to defend himself against their insidious attacks. He turned to Professor Lupin who then taught him the famous Patronus charm.

However casting a Patronus charm is pretty tricky. You first have to think of an extremely happy memory or idea, and then say the incantation: "Expecto Patronum". Because of this, negative emotions or influences can compromise a wizard or witch's ability to cast a Patronus; such as the difficulty Harry had casting his Patronus when under the negative influence of Salazar Slytherin's Locket, one of Lord Voldemort's Horcruxes

So the Patronus charm  "is a kind of positive force, and for the wizard who can conjure one, it works something like a shield, with the Dementor feeding on it, rather than him" (Harry Potter Wiki). Another use for the Patronus charm was developed by none other than Albus Dumbledore, who invented a way of using the Patronus to deliver messages.

So what about our Patronus? What kind of protection do we have from the dementors of life? What can protect us from the forces of Satan who like the dementors "seeks to make all miserable like unto himself" (2 Nephi 2:27)? God has given us a powerful source of protection and communication, and that is prayer.

 He councils us: "Pray always, that you may come off conqueror; yea, that you may conquer Satan, and that you may escape the hands of the servants of Satan that do uphold his work." Prayer allows us to focus on the redeeming power of Christ that then shields us form the forces of Satan trying to break us down.

So next time you encounter a dementor along your path, Pray! You'll quickly find how much strength you have when you tap into the power God will give you to overcome temptation and adversity. 

To read more of Elder Miller's work, check him out at http://taylorgmiller.blogspot.com/

Friday, November 18, 2011

Harry Potter and the Half Truths

That's right, I'm going for it... I'm gonna do a series! So,  the logical progression in a series is to go from 1 to 2, so we're going to go from Harry Potter book 1, to Harry Potter book 2. So, here's a brief summary of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets:
Harry is set to go back to Hogwarts, but some strange stuff is going on, mainly a house elf named Dobby trying to keep him from getting back. Well, Harry gets back, and strange stuff doesn't stop. There are mysterious messages being written, and people (and cats) being petrified. What's not helping the matter is the fact that Harry is hearing voices that no one else can. Throw in the legend of the Heir of Slytherin and the Chamber of Secrets, and that people have discovered Harry is a parselmouth (can speak to snakes), and it's looking like a pretty rough year for Harry. Well, when a mysterious diary pops up, then just as quickly goes missing, the plot thickens. And now there's a big problem: A note saying that someone is taken into the Chamber of Secrets... and it's Ginny, Ron's little sister. Now it's up to Harry, Ron, and Hermione (no surprise) to go and save the day. But can they do it?
Well, if you've read the book or seen the movie (or can make a guess based on the 5 books that come after it), you'll know that they can do it. Harry once again comes face-to-face with Voldemort, though this time a memory of his former self. This came about through an enchanted diary, the depth of its magic goes far deeper than at first expected. This diary came into the possession of Ginny Weasley, and she started using it. What was so special about this diary is that it could respond to what you wrote in it, so Ginny started to write all of her secrets in it. The more she poured into the diary, the more Tom Riddle (who would become Lord Voldemort) was able to make himself stronger, till finally he could pretty much control her, and bring himself out of the book. He was the Heir of Slytherin, and had opened the Chamber before, and had done it again. Now Harry needs to kill a Basilisk, destroy the diary, and save Ginny's life. This is a frightening thing that happened to Ginny, and it's fortunate that something like that couldn't happen to us... right?
What's so frightening is that could happen to us. The diary is certainly something that could be compared to Satan. As Ginny put her trust and confidence in something she didn't understand, and that seemed innocent, she made herself weak and vulnerable to Tom Riddle's designs. That is just how Satan works. He presents us with things that seem innocent and harmless, so we don't see a problem going ahead with it. As we do this, thinking all is well and we're in control, he gains stronger possession of us until he has control. Our actions are no longer in line with the Lord's will, and we are being lead carefully down to hell (2 Nephi 28:21). It's Satan's half truths that make it possible for him to do his work. He presents us with something that seems okay, and convinces us that there's no harm in it. It's presented with just enough truth to justify it. We need to be careful of these things. We need to always be on the lookout for things that seem alright, but we know aren't. Satan's plan is to drag us down with him and make us "miserable like unto himself" (2 Nephi 2:27). We should follow the advice of Ginny's father and never trust anything where we can't see where it keeps its brain, applying it to the Gospel: if we can't see how it will bring us closer to our Heavenly Father. Don't trust Satan's half truths.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Harry Potter and the Preparatory State

True, the first Harry Potter book is far from the most exciting. It's an introductory book, acquainting you to the characters and building up who they are, and introducing you to this brand new world. However, you're not deprived of action and adventure. Little blips of excitement come up here and there to keep you intersted, and to set up for the big climax, which, if you've read it, you surely remember. But in case you don't know, or have forgotten, I'll give you a brief run down:
The Philosopher's Stone (or Sorceror's Stone in the American editions) is a stone with many magical powers, but quite a distinguishing feature is its ability to create the Elixir of Life, a potion that perpetuates life in the drinker. That is what draws a particular "person" to it. After many clues are laid out, the adventurous trio of Harry, Ron, and Hermione finally realize just what's been going on: The Philosopher's Stone is somewhere in Hogwarts Castle, and Professor Snape is trying to steal it. Well, they know enough to know where the entrance to the hiding place is, and what they may be up against. The first obstacle is Fluffy, a giant three-headed dog, who's already asleep by the time they get there. Next, they find themselves in Devil's Snare, a magical vine that ensnares them, and will not let go. Thanks to some quick thinking on Hermione's part, though, they get away unscathed. Next, they find themselves in a large room, which quickly reveals itself to be a human-sized Wizard Chess board (wizard chess is like regular chess, only the pieces move on their own, and it's quite violent). Well, thankfully, Ron just happens to be quite proficient at Wizard Chess, and is able to win the match for them, while sacrificing himself in the process. Following this, Harry and Hermione come to a room filled with flying keys. They need to find the right one to open the door. But how? They're flying. Well, wouldn't ya know, there's a broomstick right there, and Harry is the youngest Quidditch player in Hogwarts in over a century, and is quite the flyer. Not only that, he's a Seeker, making him quite adept at finding and capturing a small, golden, flying ball. He hops on and is able to find and grab the key and open the door. In the next room, there is a selection of different potions, and a poem to help discover which will get you through, which will take you back, and which will kill you. Hermione is quite the student, and has excelled in all her subjects, and thanks to her wisdom, she's able to identify the potion Harry needs to move on, and which one will get her safely back. Harry takes the potion, and finds himself in a room where he expects to find Professor Snape, but what he finds surprises him.
Rather than Snape, it's actually Professor Quirrell, the stuttering, nervous Defense Against the Dark Arts instructor. Suddenly, he's no longer stuttering, but is now quite deranged. It's then revealed that he is playing host to the sinister Lord Voldemort, the dark wizard who tried to kill Harry in his infancy. He's made it all the way to this room, but can't figure out how to get the Mirror of Erised to give him the stone. Harry, however, knows, because he had encountered the mirror before, and Dumbledore had explained how it works. Harry is able to get the stone, ward off Voldemort and Professor Quirrell, and save the day. Not the first time, certainly not the last time.
But where would Harry, Ron, and Hermione have been had they not been prepared for these tasks? Because of their preparation, the things they'd learned, their skills and abilities, they were able to get through the obstacles and come out on top. Because of Hermione's studious nature, she was able to get them through Devil's Snare and tricky potions; thanks to Ron's skill at Wizard Chess, they were able to win the game; as a result of Harry's seemingly natural talent at flying, he easily procured the key and got them through the door. They already had the means of accomplishing these feats. The same is true for us. Alma said "For behold, this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God; yea, behold the day of this life is the day for men to perform their labors." (Alma 34:32). We're preparing. We all want to inherit Celestial Glory, to live with our Heavenly Father and our families forever. But, in our present state, we couldn't possibly live that life. We need to prepare ourselves for that, and what better time than today? As we do the things we need to do, we are preparing ourselves. As we live the Gospel, follow the commandments, and stay true to our covenants, we prepare ourselves.
As we read our scriputres and heed the words of Prophets, both ancient and modern, we are taught what we need to do to prepare. As we go to the Temple, we also are taught. Knowing these things help us to know what it is we need to inherit Celestial Glory and to live a Celestial Life. The Lord won't just send us here and expect us to make it ourselves. He's going to give us everything we need. Just like Harry, Ron, and Hermione were prepared, through schooling and through their personal interests and talents, were able to overcome, so are we. Because of the councel and guidelines we are given, we know that we can return to live with our Heavenly Father, and be able to live the life He would have us live.