Either/Or vs. Both/And

By Sarah Baar

A friend recently posted a screenshot of a text debate she had regarding the morality of Severus Snape, a character from the wildly popular Harry Potter series. (I feel weird explaining this, but who knows? Maybe not everyone is as obsessed with Harry Potter as I am.)

Of course, I jumped in: “Snape is one of the best characters in the series precisely because he is neither ‘good’ nor ‘bad.’ He’s not a hero and he’s not a villain. He is all of us.”

Several years ago I took a class here at Hope called “wicked,” taught by Jesus Montaño. It specifically looked at “anti-heroes” in literature. We discussed a number of titles, from The Lord of the Rings to Lolita, from Harry Potter to Darkly Dreaming Dexter.

The class looked at character development, context and historical literary connections. Our discussions often turned a bit personal, since everything we experience filters through our own individual lenses. It taught me a lot about myself.

Wicked taught me that more often than not, our decisions are not either good or bad, but rather they are both good and bad. That life experiences usually contain both pleasure and pain.

My husband and I have been processing a possible job change for him. We’ve listed pros and cons to both job opportunities. We’ve discussed how we might adjust our schedules and responsibilities depending on what decision he makes.

But at the end of the day, neither of us feels any closer to knowing what the “right” answer is. My thoughts turned to the debate about Severus Snape and I realized that in this situation, there probably isn’t a right or wrong decision. Both choices will be both right and wrong, for various reasons.

How, then, do we deal with this ambiguity in life? How do we “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” as Isaiah 1:17 asks us to do?*

For me, it comes down to that third word in the verse, the tiny one, just two letters: do. It doesn’t tell me to be right, just to do right. Seek justice. Learn.

Sometimes we learn by achieving. Sometimes we learn by failing. Sometimes we find justice. Sometimes we endlessly seek. But perhaps it’s the seeking that makes it all worthwhile.


*I’m not a biblical scholar, nor do I particularly believe in taking one Bible verse out of context to prove a point. And yet here I am kinda sorta doing it nonetheless. So what. I contain multitudes.

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