For freedom Christ has set us free; stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1)
I’m a writer and teacher at heart. Beginning today, I’m also a blogger.
As most of you know, I’ve been a pastor for some 22 years. (And, by the way, a huge part of pastoring is writing and teaching!) Yet I have been working a second job outside the church for the past 13 years – 8 years in teaching and the last 5 in banking. While this has been rewarding in many ways — especially in the people I’ve encountered — it has often left me exhausted, prevented me from doing a lot of things I’ve wanted to do, and taken a bite out of my general health. No, I’m not dying. Well, not any more than the next person. Just things like stress, anxiety, and blood pressure.
This fall, a perfect storm of good circumstances and grace came together to allow me to leave the second job for good, and return to pastoring full-time. Which means more freedom to write and teach… yay!
Freedom to do what I am designed to do.
Freedom to do what I want to do.
Freedom to serve humanity without having to.
Freedom to write. Teach. Read. Visit. Breathe. Share. Serve.
Now this blog will only occasionally be about me, but will always be from me. Weird combination, I know. But any time it is about me, I hope it’s universal enough to our humanity that you can get something out of it.
But in the spirit of not writing too much about myself, today I’m going to write about Dobby.
Dobby is a house elf in the Harry Potter world. Some people think house elves are fictitious. They’re not. They’re real. And while they’re not in the majority, there are enough of them around. Admittedly, they don’t look like Dobby – they look just like you and me. So you can’t spot them by looks. You have to watch their behavior. But if you know what to look for, you’ll learn spot the random house elf in no time.
The house elf loves to serve. It’s in their blood. It’s in their genes. It’s in their very nature. Unfortunately, nearly all house elves are also enslaved.
In the Harry Potter world, house elves are enslaved by magic to serve a specific family. In our world, the house elf is enslaved by other forces, both on the outside and from within. Rarely in either world is the house elf free to serve who they want, in the way they want, when they want. If you’re a house elf, read on. There’s hope.
For most of his life, Dobby was compelled (read: enslaved) to serve the Malfoy family. He suffered for it. But one fine spring day, Dobby was – with the help of Harry Potter, but quite unintentionally by his master – set free.
At first, Dobby didn’t quite know what to do with himself. Compulsory service was all he had ever known. Slavery was all he had ever known. I find it most interesting that a feeling of enslavement continued in Dobby’s own mind even after he was freed. Funny how the brain works.
The mind is like a forest. Repeated thoughts tread paths that make the going easier on those pathways. Ways of thinking become routine – the path of least resistance. The more we think a certain way, the harder it becomes to try a new path. Even if those easy, trodden ways of thinking are dysfunctional. Self-destructive. They still become our go-to because they are familiar. They take minimal effort. Those dysfunctional ways of thought are the master. And the mind is the slave.
Treading a new path – a new way of thinking – no matter how healthy, takes effort. Struggle. Lifestyle changes. Sometimes medication. But with persistence comes freedom. Eventually the new path becomes less entangled. Clear. And the old path starts to grow over.
Of all forms of slavery (disclaimer: I’ve experienced only a tiny portion of the multitude of different forms of slavery in the world), I wonder if enslavement in one’s own mind is not the worst. Isn’t enslavement to how we think, to what we do to ourselves, the greatest invasion of the self?
Eventually, painstakingly, Dobby starts thinking like a free elf. Slowly he finds his way to serve freely. First serving Dumbledore. Then Harry Potter and his friends. Freely. For freedom Dobby was set free, and he will never again submit to a yoke of slavery.
Some people resent the free elf. Some fear the free elf. Elves have magic their masters don’t. What will become of the order of things if elves are free to use their magic however they choose?
Even other house elves resent Dobby’s freedom. House elf Winky tells Harry that he didn’t do Dobby any favors setting him free. Freedom is going to Dobby’s head, sir, said Winky sadly. Ideas above his station, sir.
Ideas above his station. What’s next? All out rebellion? The nerve of a house elf thinking for himself.
Sometimes Dobby forgets he’s free. Goes back to slave-mode for a moment or two. Those old, worn paths are hard to avoid, especially at the beginning.
Then click! Dobby remembers. He is free. Dobby is a free elf. And when Dobby serves freely, that’s when the best things happen. Oh, not for Lucius or Bellatrix, to be sure. But for good. For Harry Potter and his friends. And for what they symbolize in that world.
And in the spirit of freedom from enslavement, I leave you with one of my favorite songs from the Wisconsin indie band Cloud Cult: