A New Dawn for the Jesus Divergent

BGEaster2015Today we celebrate the rising to new life of the Christ.  The revelation of God’s continual work in the world.  It is a new dawn.  A new beginning.  You might have been surprised at the choice of Divergent for a film this Lent and Easter.  But it has plenty to say to us – despite it’s very teenage appearance and apparent thrilling action adventure genre.  Underneath the gloss coating from the film company of running, jumping, killing, climbing trees, repeat ad infinitum; is an astute look at culture and about who we are as humans and about how we treat others and about a journey towards self discovery realising that we are not just individuals, but connected.  Realising who we are is not just one thing, but many interconnected complex parts.  In the wilderness world of Divergent where we began in the first week of Lent we see the characters coming to terms with who they were in their world, trying to find their way and find their place – their faction.  Worrying they won’t fit in or that they might end up as outcasts or ignored as unimportant.  In Divergent these who don’t fit are named as faction-less.  In our society they have many names, but they are always the ones who are blamed for the ills of the world.  Jesus spent his time on earth with these rather than the elite or the theologically educated.  The ones who were outcast or who were scapegoated.  Those whose faces didn’t fit the picture that the authorities wanted to paint.
To be whole, healed requires first an understanding that we are broken and that we need healing.

In divergent we hear “I Don’t want to be just one thing” – I want to be Selfless and Brave and Clever and Honest and Kind.

Human nature is blamed as the problem. The solution – get rid of what we don’t understand rather than trying to see from another perspective.

So can we look beyond what we see?  Can we see the true stories behind each person we encounter – at each meeting?

Can we look beyond the outward appearance of the film Divergent and see the world it is portraying behind it?  Easter gives us a new way of seeing, reveals to us a truth about the world.  When we see a homeless person on the street, what do we think?  When we encounter someone on benefits what is our reaction?  What about someone with a mental health illness?  Or with issues with drugs, alcohol, money, food, people from a different race to us or a different religion.  In fact anything that stigmatises or has a stereotype attached to it.  Looking through the cross of Jesus we can see differently.  Damascus is a name we know from the bible, but we might not know that this is right now yet another place of violence and terror, where Palestinians once again stand against an armed and violent regime.  Much as they did in the time of Jesus who was of course a Palestinian Jewish man.  Redemptive violence never wins it only leaves more people broken. Can we look beyond the headlines to see the real stories.  We can if we use the cross and the life of Jesus as our guide.

To quote a line from Trevor Dennis Easter is fresh from God being in the world.  It is like a sunny day after a rain storm, a new fresh crisp spring dawn.  The air is clear. It is the new creation it is time to begin to see differently.  We can begin to look beyond the stereotype the world gives us to the real stories behind them, stories of ordinary folk like us.  This is the new dawn.  Jesus reveals God’s whole self on the cross.

Divergent tells another story, a hidden one, if only we have the eyes to see it, the eyes of Jesus.  Seeing through the crucifixion, we are able to glimpse the realm of God on earth where everything is different.  Everything is seen in terms of compassion – suffering together.  Who are we willing to suffer with?  Easter is the new dawn, don’t let it go.  Capture the moment and allow it to fill us with God’s freshness and crucified love for the world.

Jesus – Factionless

factionlessSo what happens when you don’t fit in? What happens when the society you live in believes you are an outcast or that your face does not fit the picture they would like it to? What happens when a society that nurtured you and brought you into being decides that your views are too radical? What happens when that society that you thought was nurturing and home decides that you are a threat to their status? What happens when you come into direct opposition with those who make the big decisions in life? What happens when all that you believed in turns out to be a fabrication designed to keep you under control? What happens when you stand up for those who are persecuted or marginalised for those whose poverty is not of their own making or for those who are different simply by virtue of their birth? What happens when you become faction-less – an outcast? Am I talking of the world of Divergent – our film this Lent – or our world? – Perhaps you can decide.
What happens when you become an outcast – faction-less? All those who you once thought of as friends turn against you. Your status as a member of society is removed. No food. No money. No clothing. Nowhere to live. No security. A life with no certainty, except that many will be ready to turn you away. This is the world that Tris Prior faces being a part of in Divergent. It is the world that many in our country live in every day and millions more beyond those who we can see. The faction-less are all around us, and it is time to join them. Why? Because Jesus went there before us. As we stand at the beginning of Holy Week separated by two thousand years from those events we witness the contrast between those who hold on to power for themselves and those who seek to give power away to others. It seems like only a few minutes has passed, rather than a few thousand years as we embark on yet another round of preparations for a general election. Who is challenging the status of those who would say they speak for the people, yet act only for themselves? Here is Jesus entering the city in mock splendour riding on an ass. The people’s king as they cheer him in. In contrast to the empire who exalts their own leaders without humility. The second chapter of Philippians is a beautiful passage of Paul exhorting us to be mindful of the way of Jesus. Empty of human pride, a servant to the people, Jesus comes calmly into our midst and is waved in with palm branches. Therefore says Paul, God highly exalted him. Because he was willing to be emptied of himself and humbled before all others and here he comes humbly once again amongst the people. In opposition, in contrast as an outcast, a usurper, a game changer. The authorities don’t like it. The religious are scared they will lose their shaky hold over the people. For they cannot control this Jesus.

What happens when you don’t fit in? You have Jesus on your side, because he didn’t fit either. He rides to certain death for all and alongside all those who have been denied their place in society. Because as well as faction-less Jesus is Divergent – but we’ll have to wait until Easter to uncover that secret.

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.