The Harry Potter series contains a valuable lesson for today’s church. In Book Five, “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,” the Ministry of Magic has exiled Dumbledore as headmaster of Hogwarts, replacing him with the awful Dolores Umbridge. In denial about Voldemort’s return, she refuses to teach the needed skills, leaving the students defenseless. In so doing, she unwittingly pushes them towards creative rebellion.
And thus “Dumbledore’s Army” is born. Led by Harry Potter, a group of earnest students gather in the secret, magical “Room of Requirement” to begin clandestine lessons in self-defense. They assume risk, seek training, and take responsibility. They acquire skills, form friendships, and build trust. Even clumsy nobodies like Neville Longbottom and Luna Lovegood become protagonists with a unique contribution.
The DA was an underground teenage start-up, a “disruptive innovation” that creatively met a need and solved a problem. Rather than complain about how the “institution” was failing them, Dumbledore’s loyalists became self-feeders in his absence, taking responsibility for their own growth and development. They exercised intelligence, freedom, and a healthy autonomy. They took permission and invested in personal and communal growth, contributing to the common good in ways they could scarcely foresee.
We need more DA start-ups like this, particularly in the church. We need self-feeders and responsibility-takers determined to step up and contribute creative Kingdom initiatives. We need Christians who are tired of complaining about all-too common institutional failures, ready instead to become the change they wish to see in the church. While more common in other Christian circles, Catholics often lag behind in this area.
There is a growing movement afoot in our country. People are no longer looking to Wall Street, Washington, or their boss for solutions. Criticizing leadership, even church leadership, is unfruitful and adds little value, even when justified. Instead, with tools like modern communication, coupled with a little initiative, today anyone can find a “room of requirement” for the gathering and training of real-life “DA’s.” All that’s needed is innovative, start-up-minded Kingdom seekers taking permission and doing it.
Like young Harry Potter and his friends, we too may find ourselves facing many types of church bureaucracy, lameness, and institutional intransigence. Pope Francis is telling us to take risks, get started. At World Youth Day in Rio this past July, he even said “make some noise!” (some translations say, “make a mess.”)
Catholic social doctrine has a name for the DA spirit. It’s called “subsidiarity.”
- Subsidiarity stresses non-interference of higher levels of governance with respect to lower levels, except when strictly necessary.*
- Subsidiarity involves the primacy of the intermediary bodies formed at local and grassroots levels. It encourages individual initiative, freedom and responsibility. Its opposites include paternalism and abuses by higher powers tending toward centralization, bureaucracy and welfare-state dis-empowerment.**
- Subsidiarity manifests charity and contributes to people’s emancipation by fostering freedom and participation. It promotes the assumption of responsibility and respects personal dignity by recognizing each person as a subject who is always capable of giving something to others. It considers reciprocity as the heart of what it means to be human and is an antidote against welfare-style thinking.***
Little is asked of today’s youth apart from sports and school. Unlike the up-and-coming young wizards of Hogwarts, they are told, at least implicitly, that any meaningful contributions they make toward history and the common good must wait until years and years of education and debt have accrued. Most learn to game the system, bide their time, and seek adventure elsewhere, often in self-negating ways. And in a sense, can we blame them?
And it’s not just the young. Within the church, the laity too are often minimized and marginalized, their unique and indispensable mission reduced and diminished by church leadership that fails to practice in its own institutions the subsidiarity it preaches for the economic and social sphere. This is the scourge of clericalism which Pope Francis has so often and sharply criticized.
Church leadership needs to encourage and equip more Harry Potters and “Dumbledore’s Armies.” This means more subsidiarity, disruptive innovation, and creative grassroots Christian start-ups for Kingdom advancement by the laity. This is not my idea, it is the church’s:
Let the spiritual shepherds recognize and promote the dignity as well as the responsibility of the laity in the church. Let them willingly employ their prudent advice. Let them confidently assign duties to them in the service of the church, allowing them freedom and room for action. Further, let them encourage lay people so that they may undertake tasks on their own initiative.
(Lumen Gentium, #37)
Pope Francis goes even further, speaking in Dumbledorian fashion to clergy at World Youth Day in Rio last summer:
Let us form them (young people) in mission, to go out, to go forth... Jesus did this with his own disciples: he did not keep them under his wing like a hen with her chicks. He sent them out!... Let us urge our young people to go forth. Of course, they will make mistakes, but let us not be afraid! The Apostles made mistakes before us. Let us urge them to go forth.
Amen to that.
Have you encountered any Christian groups that are embracing the DA spirit?
I wanna hear! Tweet at me, or comment below.
* Catechism of the Catholic Church #1883
** Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church #187
*** Charity in Truth, Encyclical of Pope Benedict XVI, #57