Jesus, Divergent or Abnegation?

IMG_0959As we begin Lent it is time to go out into the wilderness… And time to begin a new Film – Divergent.
At Christmas eve I suggested that to take the cultural temperature of our time we might delve into some teenage fiction.  Well Divergent isn’t a Christmas film, but it is very much a film for Lent and Easter.  It begins with a denial of self and moves to rebirth.  But we begin in the wilderness.  What is wilderness?  It is said that there are very few true wilderness places left in the world.  And by that I guess they mean places truly untouched by human hand.  We often speak of wilderness as a place where nothing grows or everything appears dead or is unfamiliar to us or is perhaps inhospitable.  But there are many human built ‘concrete wildernesses’ and there is nothing untamed and wild about those.  What makes them wilderness places is that they appear to be uninhabited by anything – dead as it were.  But what about a city where no-one speaks to each other passing by as if the other were not there?  This too can be wilderness, one of loneliness.  The story divergent begins in a wilderness of sorts.  A concrete jungle.  Imagine a city destroyed by war, a city which, though ravaged by war is beginning to slowly rebuild society and structure and to rebuild identity.  This city is inhabited but, unless you know your place it would seem empty.  This story is about a girl Tris who is finding out who she is.  The social system of the city is built on five groups called factions to keep the peace.  It all works because everyone knows where they belong.  Except, that is, for Tris.  For Tris, the city is a wilderness.  Her faction is called Abnegation.  It means self-denial.  They are all public servants they run the government and feed the homeless, the factionless.  Abnegation wear grey clothes, but this is not only a colour, it is a way of being.  Denial of self.  A life centred serving others.  It works if you know who you are.  There is, as they say, an art to losing yourself. Letting your self merge into the background.  There is an echo here of Philippians:  “Jesus … emptied himself taking the form of a slave.”  The Faction System in Divergent opens up a question for us and for Tris.  What does it mean to belong?  Who are we?  And what is it that we belong to?  We define ourselves by our belonging to various groups.  Political, social, religious, family, cultural.  Could anyone say ‘I belong to the Earth’ without breaking it down further.  To live at such a global level would be a truly selfless – very ‘Abnegation.’  Time spent in the wilderness is time spent alone with ones own demons.  What would we choose if offered the wilderness choices.  Would we choose to feed or to defend ourselves to take power or to give it away?  To allow others to make decisions for us or to make them ourselves?  The wilderness cannot tell us where we belong.  In the world of the factions, the wilderness land that Tris is part of challenges her to question her own identity.  Who am I when faced with myself?  This is not a question she has had to face living as a member of the selfless faction Abnegation.  However, Tris cannot be told where she belongs, she must choose for herself.  Does she leave her family behind and follow a different path, an unknown path into a new wilderness?  How do we react when we are tempted, what path do we choose?  Do we follow the crowd or do we stand against the flow?  Lent is our preparation time, a beginning.  It is a stripping back to essentials, not because we wish, like the Abnegation, to deny ourselves, but to enable us to focus on ourselves and our relationship with each other, our relationship with the world and perhaps if one day we can get those right, then our relationship with God.  Tris chooses to stand against her family and the faction she has been brought up in.  She chooses to identify herself, to accept the baptism of fire that is Dauntless.  It is tempting in the wilderness to follow the crowd, the real adventure begins when we start to stand against the flow.