God speaks to me through television, movies, and music. To put it that way makes it sound sort of creepy, as if I actually hear the voice of God coming through my laptop or iPod. What I mean is that, at times, I learn something about God, myself, and creation through these sources. Often this happens when I am least expecting it, or when I do not even know that I need help or am looking for answers.
Throughout the Harry Potter era, religious communities and authorities have warned young people against reading these books. Despite these warnings, many youth (and adults!) have read these books and have heard God speak through them. I include myself in this group. Readers of the Potter books have learned about the power of friendship, love, and sacrifice for the greater good. They have been reminded that young people can make a difference in the world. Many have even found connections between Harry Potter and Jesus, helping them better understand the Gospel narrative in terms that relate to their lives. Beyond being enjoyable reads, the Harry Potter books have invited readers to consider the big questions—theological questions—about good and evil, sacrifice, and the meaning of life. In this way, these books have been a place where Catholics young and old alike have met God.
There is a fancy theological term for seeing God in all parts of our world—sacramental imagination. In other words, many Catholics see the world through God-colored glasses, since we believe that the world and all of its events and people and things are somewhat like God. Because of this similarity between God and the world, all the events and people and things of world have the potential to be revelatory of God. We believe that God is involved in the world, not absent from it. We believe that God teaches us about God and ourselves continually, not only in Jesus Christ and the sacraments. Because of this, Catholics do not need to be afraid of reading books like Harry Potter or listening to popular music.
In this week’s Gospel, Jesus tells a parable about tenants of a vineyard who are not being faithful renters. Jesus uses this parable to challenge the religious officials of his day to be faithful renters themselves, that is, people who serve God and those in need. Today this parable encourages us to ask what it means to be faithful renters in our world, to be tenants of the Earth. We live in a media culture; Twitter and Facebook along with television, movies, and music are an integral part of our lives. How can we be faithful renters in a media culture? Is there a middle ground we can walk between rejecting popular culture and embracing it wholeheartedly? How can we engage media culture faithfully and critically? How can we learn about God and ourselves and our world through media culture? How can we bring our faith to the everyday activities of reading, watching, and listening?