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.

The devil wears the wilderness well

The devil wears the wilderness well.

Devil attacks when it’s easy – when we are vulnerable and in need.  Our basic desires are attacked with temptation:  Bread for the hungry.  Riches for the poor.  Power for the weak.
But is this true:  What is it the hungry truly need, but any meal.  What do the poor need for but simply the ability to pay their way.  Do the weak need anything but equality with others?

So should that be our desires are:  Bread for the glutton?  Riches for the materialist?  Power for the mercenary?
Remember that the devil offers not from what we need, but from our desires.  So a word of caution to those who would give up chocolate this lent in the hope of loosing a few pounds.  Is your self denial focussing upon God or actually a reflection of your own desires?

So it was then that in an attempt to simply pay her way in the world: Andrea an ambitious journalist graduate who was unable to get a foot in the employment door and who is at the end of a long search for jobs, arrives at Runway a fashion magazine to end all others.  It just so happens that the in the 2006 film, the Devil decided to wear Prada that day.

Andrea, (Anne Hathaway) is from what we might call the ordinary world of functional clothes and choosing what to wear based on the weather.  She ends up in the deepest deep end of the fashion world with no real understanding of what she has walked into.  And there, of course the devil is waiting.

Miranda, the head of this fashion icon in print is about to make a devious entrance.  As the imminent arrival is announced the office goes wild with activity in attempting to live up to her expectations.  Desks are cleared, shoes are changed, rails of clothes moved round and round, last minute make up applied – image is of course everything.

Miranda (Meryl Streep) or perhaps we might say the devil’s advocate decides to play a little game with Andrea.   If you want an unblemished apple, you pick one from the tree.  If you want an assistant who you can train, get one who doesn’t already think she knows the job.  If you want someone whose fashion you can tailor to your own designs?  Find someone who considers it irrelevant to their life.  If you are the devil in the job of temptation you make sure you strike at true weaknesses.  Andrea is a mystery – what is she doing here?  Clearly no interest in fashion and not intimidated by the name she doesn’t know.  Here’s a challenge for the devil, what might her weakness be, how best to wear her down?

Here’s to jobs that pay the rent is the toast that night with her bemused friends who cannot believe she has a job with ‘that woman’.  But Andi is determined not to get sucked into this world, she’ll be answering phones and getting coffee, surely a ball gown will not be required.  Andi begins her new job. The baptism of fire begins with a rude awakening at 6am.  Paris fashion week?  Andi seems to have no interest.  One pair size eight ‘Jimmy Choo’s’? (I had to look that up)  not a second glance.

Intersting, the girl is unmoved, so there is a need to increase the pressure.  Andi is called into the office and is unable to answer a baffling array of requests, most of which were probably meaningless.  But here comes the killer blow, no words, just a look, a long lingering look that says it all.  Andi retreats to her desk and slips quickly into the Jimmy Choo’s. Gotcha!  Time to slip home the advantage with a little dig or two:  How about size, weight?

Andi goes down with fighting talk: “Why should I change everything about me just because I have this job.”  To which the reply comes “Of course that’s what this multi-million dollar industry is about isn’t it – inner beauty.” Ouch.

We find the little demons aka ‘office staff’ running back and forth trying to live up to the expectations set so high they fail with almost comical regularity.  But amongst those who jump and twitch at her every comment or command there is a calm cool individual.  Not phased by the devilish requirements, neither overawed by the mere presence of this woman.  As Andrea is at the beginning of her downfall, can it be that in the heart of this place lies a little salvation?  Perhaps after all there is a glimpse of the Easter resurrection even in the midst of the dirty devil games of desire.

Lent One: The walls that contain us.

Well Lent has begun.  40 days of fasting of sackcloth and ashes.  Are we enjoying it? – don’t answer that, I really don’t want to know!!  For those who have given something up for Lent this year, you’ve had four days already since Ash Wednesday, so 36 to go and remember that Sundays don’t count.  Shouldn’t say that should I?   Personally that seems a little bit like cheating, especially if you have become vegetarian during Lent, with Sundays not counting – nice roast dinner. hmmmm…  not looking in any particular direction…

Films are always for me an endless source of inspiration, especially for times of the year like Lent and this year is no exception.  This film is one which I first watched at university.   I remember going into our common room in the University Chaplaincy, the chaplain at the time – John, sat us down, (we were all very dutiful students in those days) and he said ‘now watch this’, then turned to us and said:  Here begins my lent course.  We all sat back in horror: Oh no, what is he putting on?  Well it was the Film “The Shawshank Redemption” I’d never seen it.  It isn’t the sort of film I would suggest you go out and watch for a good evening with the family.  It’s not a family film at all.  It is though, full of hope, it is full of wonder at life and it is full of well, rather a lot of swearing and darkness and prison life, the worst of prison life in places.  But there is underneath it all a sense of there being something wonderful at the end.  Something to be hoped for, to be looked towards.  It’s one of those films where you rather hope everything’s going to turn out all right, but during it, you really don’t know.  It is so terrible in places.  It has you thinking hope against hope that perhaps something wonderful could happen at the end of this.  How could this possibly turn out well when you’re about half way through or 3/4 of the way through the film?  Watching there, sat in that common room, never having seen it before we were on the edge of the seat because the tension that the films builds up is unbelievable.  It’s narrated by Morgan Freeman who also takes one of the lead roles.  If you know his work, he has that wonderful quiet way about his voice in a lot of the things he does.  And he talks pretty much all the way through the film as a narration.  It draws you into what is going on.  Yet it is not the sort of film for the family or the faint hearted it is 18 certificate.  We meet one of the characters near the beginning.  His name is Red played by Morgan Freeman.  We meet him as he’s, as they call it, ‘up for parole rejection’  He’s not expecting to get Parole, he’s expecting to get rejected.  We think 40 days of lent is long, he’s been in prison 20 years.  He approaches the bench, sits and is asked, ‘have you been rehabilitated?’  ‘Yes, yes I’ve been rehabilitated I’m a changed man, no threat to society here’ he replies.  Nothing wrong with me now I’ve learned my lesson.  Prison has worked it’s been wonderful, thank you very much, can I go now?  And they stamp his form ‘rejected’  He’s sent back into prison.  Into the walls, amongst the walls.  Walls are funny things.  I think lent can be a bit like that.  A bit claustrophobic.  We start this period of time before Easter and things change and are different.  A little stark and bland perhaps.  But it is supposed to be different to make us reflect a little on what is going on, on the time of year on what we are looking towards.  I suppose in a way that is what prison is there for, to make people reflect.  Though the times I spent visiting young offenders in prison the only things they were thinking about was when they would be out again what they were going to do when they got out.  There was little reflection on what they had done to end up there.  Little that was expressed to me at least.  Walls can contain and you start to hate them.  Red Hated what he was contained within and after 20 years he hated it so much that yes he had been rehabilitated and yes everything was fine, no longer a danger to society he could be sent out into the world and commit no more crimes.  He had been sent there for murder.  Well after a while those walls start to close in around you, you start to accept them.  I suppose part way through lent we might become accustomed to not eating chocolate or whatever it is we’re not doing or doing.  We may become accustomed to our lenten discipline.  Become used to lent.  And you start to accept the walls around you.  I wonder if it was ever like that for Jesus who spent 40 days in the wilderness or Noah who spent those days on the Ark the story from our OT reading?  Perhaps after a while they got used to it as well.  It became the norm, their ordinary life.

I often go up to St. Beuno’s up in the hills near Tremeirchion.  A wonderful place to go.  They have a delightful labyrinth set out in the garden and a little chapel up on a hill quiet, away from everything.  You can spend a quiet day week month or ever three months there.  They even provide space for three month silent retreats.
I remember going once with a group for a day – though I forget the speaker or even the subject.  Obviously that made a great impression on me.  We enjoyed lunch and the grounds and the sunshine and came away.  Some other people had arrived that day.  they had arrived for a three month silent retreat.  They were only allowed to speak once a week to a mentor about how it is going through the week to share any problems.  When we were there for the first time they were really unsure of themselves.  Most of them had not been there before, they didn’t know where everything was, and were really unsure of what was ahead of them.

I remember going back for another day and they were half way through or three quarters through their retreat.  You could see the difference immediately they knew their surroundings.  Mealtimes were hilarious for the outsider looking in because routine had taken over.  Things that were at set times were extremely important.  The walls of the centre had become so very familiar encompassing them.  So their routine and day to day life was familiar, that was what they knew.  I wish I had gone back at the end of their retreat when they were ready to leave because I wonder whether they would have wanted to leave?  They had spent three months in this place, pretty much cut off from the world around them no contact with other people, no communication.  They certainly had been anxious, then they were used to the place, So I wonder whether they would have wanted to leave by the end.  In the film Shawshank Redemption there is another inmate called Brookes Halten.  Half way or so through the film we see Brookes with a knife to the throat of another prisoner.  He has been given parole after 50 years.  He wants to cut the other prisoners throat so that they won’t send him on parole.  He wants to stay in the prison because it has become home.  It has become so familiar that he doesn’t want to go out.  He is an important man in the prison, an elder statesman, a librarian.  He’s looked up to and given respect.  Yet, outside the prison, Red reflects, he probably couldn’t even get a library card because of where he has come from.  He doesn’t want to leave.  Is it going to be like that at the end of lent?  So enclosed by what we have built around ourselves we don’t want to leave Lent has become familiar.  I think we do this in the Church all too often and frequently.  We find ourselves enclosed and familiar and it is very hard to step outside.  When you do, what is the world outside like?  For Brookes, the world outside was too much, he couldn’t take it.  It was so different from what he knew before that sadly he took his own life and he couldn’t understand why the world had changed so much.  He had been enclosed.  He had not seen the world for 50 years.  Fortunately for us lent isn’t 50 years, it’s only 40 days.  Jesus only spent 40 days in the wilderness and came out transformed.  He had taken something in with him.  Something which Brookes didn’t have and its something that someone who did go into that Prison did have.  And he is the subject of the next sermon.
If we have the hope that Easter brings when we enter into Lent we can do all things with a joyful step.