One Day – in the City


So if the wilderness doesn’t get you, perhaps that fox in the city will.  In the reading from Luke today Jesus compares Herod to a fox and the people of Jerusalem as a hen’s brood – Jesus of course is the would be mother hen, protecting the people, but they reject him!  I’ve been slowly preparing a hen coop in the vicarage garden, the fence was already there, the cŵt came from a friend who was downsizing his operation.  I’ve yet to make the gate and install the electric fence.  It seems a lot of effort to protect a few chickens from a fox, who, to be honest is just doing what comes naturally.  Taking the easy prey.  Our desires for fresh garden eggs mean the fox’s lunch may be chicken in a basket.  Though we hope not!  Jesus compares Herod to the fox and the people are at the mercy of the one who preys on the weak and the vulnerable.  So Jesus overcame the wilderness and now he turns his attention to the city.  So soon into lent?  To be looking towards the city and the cry of our Sanctus and the Palm Sunday processions ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord – Hosannah’  No wonder Jesus weeps over the city.  At the mercy of the Fox and his government the people are unwilling to stand against the flow and be the nation that Abram was promised.  History repeating itself, but of course, as usual, a few key verses are left out of that Genesis reading this morning, verses which mention the slavery of the people in a foreign land.  Nothing much has changed, they are now slaves to the Roman rulers – they just don’t see it.  Jesus offers them freedom, but they reject him and I also hesitate to say this but, the slavery continues now as then.  Will we ever learn to, in the biblical language, ‘return to the land’.

There are many a tangent one could be tempted to veer off into at that point.  However, I’ll stay with the city and reflect for a moment with Emma and Dexter, characters in my choice of film this Lent to help us through the wilderness. One Day.  In the city of blinding lights Bono sings “The more you see the less you know The less you find out as you go I knew much more then than I do now”  It ends: The city of blinding lights The more you know, the less you feel Some pray for what others steal Blessing’s not just for the ones who kneel, luckily.  Though not a song from the film, (the timeline doesn’t fit its inclusion) it is a fitting representation of the disappointment found by Emma and Dexter in the city.  Each in their own way the Fox of the city devours them.  They each could do with a blessing.  For Emma, the blessing of a break in her writing career.  For Dexter, someone to tell him he’s being, well, a bit of a jerk. Emma and others tell Dexter, though he, like the people of Jerusalem, is not ready to listen.  And so the career in television that promised so much and delivered exactly what it promised.  Dexter became a slave to the city, to the critics, the reviews to the next big show, to being Mr popular.  We hate that word,  he says, ‘famous.’  But he doesn’t, he craves it, the attention.  He is not famous of course, infamous perhaps.  He is like so many others, just the latest fit for a channel that uses his youthful optimism to sell their image.  Though it is fiction, and centuries from the Jerusalem of Herod, it reflects the city that Jesus weeps for.  The city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it.

Emma ends up in a dead end job serving terrible Tex-Mex food.  To begin with she is able to laugh it off.  What’s your stroke?  She asks new employee Ian.  Waiter / actress,  Waiter / writer,  Waiter / singer? He is a Waiter / comedian.  Emma says she has no stroke, optimistically she claims this job is not forever.  Well, a year later we see her offered the job of manager, they want someone who is not going anywhere.  And the city claims another victim.  Are we captivated by the city of blinding lights?  Our citizenship is of heaven suggests Paul’s letter to the Philippians.  Christ will be our transformation.  We will have to wait to see if Emma and Dexter find their transformation.  Lent is our time of preparation and by Easter, as we return to the city, Jesus is prepared to take down the walls and break open the stronghold that the rulers have put in place.  Jesus can only do this because he is not tempted by the offerings of the city.  Jesus keeps his eyes fixed on the heavenly.  As we journey through lent, our feet ought to be following in his ways lest we find ourselves at the mercy of the foxes.

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.