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.

The Jesus – Jerusalem / Prada – Paris dilemma

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I want to offer you an image, a tableaux, a freeze frame image if you like from The Devil Wears Prada.  Andrea is standing in the road with Nate her boyfriend, or I should say, just about to be ex-boyfriend.  She has to make a choice.  She has been offered a chance to go to Paris fashion week as assistant to her Boss Miranda.  Does she turn her back on her friends and boyfriend and go off to Paris fashion week with the boss from hell, a trip which could be the making of her career?  She has finally found favour with her boss, she’s doing it right – at the expense of her relationships and friends.  She has what she always craved, the approval of her boss and the magazine gliterati.  Or does she turn away from the job and return to the company of her friends.  She is torn.  The job, the career, Paris could mean a great opportunity, it is a promotion.  Nate, her boyfriend, is also in line for a new job, she could begin again with those she loves in a new city.  Or she could choose to leave it all behind for the bright lights of Paris and whatever comes afterwards.  Whichever way she goes their will be a confrontation.  She is too far in to escape without it.
Jesus too at this point in our journey through Lent is uncertain and emotional in the events that unfold in his story.  It is relatively uncharacteristic of John’s Gospel as he is prone to theologising about what is going on, however in this discourse the action is placed centre stage and the theology takes a back seat (which is refreshing).  It portrays a beautiful image of family life and of the humanity of Jesus together with his spiritual awareness of what was going on.  We are now well into the second half of Lent and moving quickly towards Holy Week and Easter.  It is a pivotal reading as Jesus turns back from his travelling and it seems almost  uncertain of what to do.  Eventually he returns to Bethany.

Jesus, waiting before returning to Bethany.  Andrea, deciding which way to turn.  It is a freeze frame image, a point at which a decision has to be made.  Which way would we turn?  Would we run from confrontation because it is too difficult?  Or give in to those who hold power over us and others?  Or would we accept what others are saying and go along with it because we would not wish to cause trouble?  Or Perhaps, would we stand up for ourselves and confront the powers and dominions of our day with the powerful love and compassion that Jesus showed?
Andrea turns towards the job, the trip to Paris, the lights, glamour and glitz that apparently everyone wants.  She is unaware that this will lead her into even greater confrontation with her ‘boss from hell’ but perhaps even eventually to her epiphany, to salvation.

Similarly Jesus turns towards Jerusalem.  So begins the walk to Jerusalem, gathering friends along the way.  Jesus has deliberated and thought out this move.  It is a deliberate attempt to show that the path to the cross which Jesus took was one which was premeditated.  He deliberately put himself in harms way.  Now was not the time to disappear up into the hills or off over a lake.

He sets out towards confrontation knowing that the path he is treading will likely end in his death, but ultimately will result in the overthrowing of the systems of power of his day which held people captive.  Similarly, we must wait for Easter, or more correctly for Good Friday as the story builds towards Jesus overthrowing the powers that be.  We don’t need to wait for a specific date or time, but we do need to recognise what it is that is dominating us.  This, Jesus was certain of.  Andrea in the Devil Wears Prada is unaware and she goes to her confrontation without knowing what to expect.  But in order to get there, we must wait until Easter.