Divergent: A Mirror to the Soul

Image

My teenage daughter and I have read several books together in recent years. A while back, I handed her a copy of Divergent by Veronica Roth. We both enjoy books with a fantastical element, dystopian world views, and strong young women. My child believes that women are naturally strong, insightful, and independent. I am always thrilled to find books, movies, and television shows that encourage this belief.

A great deal has been written about this trilogy (the last book was published in recent weeks), and the first movie made a big splash over the weekend, starring Shailene Woodley and Theo James. Ava and I were part of the throngs who filled the theater seats Friday night. The basic story concerns a futuristic Chicago where society is divided into 5 factions – Abnegation (focused on serving others), Candor (valuing honesty above all else), Amity (where peace and happiness prevail), Erudite (the scholars who believe knowledge is most important), and Dauntless (the fearless, who are the soldiers of the society). At age 16, each member must choose a faction in which to live. Protagonist Tris Prior comes from Abnegation, but learns that she is actually Divergent – a hidden group who belong in more than one faction. The Divergent are a threat to society, and must cover who they are in order to survive. Tris chooses Dauntless, one of the factions for which she is most suited. As with many dystopian stories, there are people in power who abuse that responsibility, and seek to harm society. Tris is the young woman who fights for justice.

Ava and I had a good discussion about the changes from page to screen. They always necessarily exist, and sometimes those alterations are effective, and sometimes not. For the most part, I felt like the movie did a good job in this area. The differences maintained the essential story and the focus Roth created in her writing. One change in the movie actually struck me as far more effective than in the book.

Both the book and the movie begin with Tris and her mother, who is cutting her daughter’s dishwater hair in preparation for the choosing ceremony. Abnegation members keep mirrors hidden, only using them for special occasions, and then only briefly. They believe vanity is a trait which inhibits helping others. That, in and of itself, makes a vast statement in the age of the selfie.

Yet, the movie beautifully incorporates Tris’ reflection as an important symbol. Throughout the film, when Tris sees her own face (in a mirror, water, the back of a spoon), that is when she sees inside herself. She comes to know herself more fully, understands her capabilities, strengths, potential and power. She sees a mirror to her soul. This self-realization enables her to stand up against the powers that be, and to fight for the victims of this society.

God’s light shines in each one of us. Too many young women doubt their own intuition, what their soul is telling them. Instead of looking at themselves, they look to others (society, the media, boyfriends, fathers, the world of entertainment) to tell them who they are and how they can or should function in society. Tris is an example of trusting that light of God in the soul of each young woman, and knowing that great things will happen when they do.

Read the books. Go see the movie. Take a girl with you, and then have a good conversation.

Advertisements

A Spirituality of March Madness

Image

As a native North Carolinian, March doesn’t just indicate the beginning of Springtime and new life. Individuals in my state spurn the emerging outdoors to spend hours and hours on a coach in front of a tv. One will ignore everything else to flip between games, mark up her printed bracket when a favored team loses on the first day, and then toss out texts or quick voicemails to friends who made different picks. There isn’t much greater joy for a North Carolinian than having more Men’s Basketball tourney picks right than everyone else. (I will confess – I still have my 2001 bracket, when my beloved Blue Devils won the championship and I only missed 8 calls out of the 64 games.)

March Madness normally coincides with Lent, the Christian season for giving up things we don’t need in our lives and instead focusing on walking the spiritual journey with Jesus. With all the countless people I know who observe the season of Lent, I am very hard pressed to think of people who have abstained from tv. March Madness seems to draw one away from the sacred path. We are more likely to use foul or abusive language, perhaps at the referees or struggling players or coaches. We tend to eat junk food and consume a fair amount of beer. We might be petty if our team wins and our friend’s rival team loses. This whole thing is all about competition, right?

Yet, I do believe March Madness can offer some opportunities for us to grow along the spiritual path. Basketball is a sport accessible to practically anyone in our country. One just needs a ball and a hoop. Public playgrounds and recreation centers have these in abundance. No special shoes, fancy equipment, specialized training. As Jesus invited everyone – regardless of status, background, culture, or gender – to join his movement, so anyone can pick up a ball and start playing.

One of the things I love about this sport is the team aspect. There is normally a more gifted player, who might score most the points, or have most the steals or rebounds. Yet, all 5 members of the team are essential to the success of the 40 minute journey of a game. As 1 Corinthians tells us, the eye is just as important as the ear as is the head as is the foot or heart. They must all work together as one body.

Basketball takes a great deal of hard work and effort. There is no coasting on past achievements. One of the great stories during this season has been the reemergence of Rasheed Sulaimon, a young Duke player. One of the stars of the team last year, he endured some personal struggles and found himself on the bench for a while as his commitment to the game waned. Yet, he persevered, never gave up, and eventually was able to work through the difficulties in his life and once again become one of the most reliable Duke players. The spiritual journey is not an easy one, and some days or weeks or months are much harder than others. Yet, perseverance, struggling through the droughts, is always worth the effort.

Life is obviously more complex and intricate than sports, even a great game like basketball. Yet, I pray during this season of Lent, that I will remember the important things. I’m not saying I won’t gloat on Facebook about a particularly good pick, especially if my friends don’t agree – because I know I will 🙂 I am simply sending up a prayer that I will remember the gifts of something like basketball, and help incorporate those inspirations in my own spiritual journey.

The True Spirit of St. Patrick’s Day

Image

(Dingle Peninsula, Ireland, taken January 2011 while leading a group of students on a trip to study Ireland and its spirituality)

I have witnessed the “observance” of St. Patrick’s Day explode over the years. I always made certain to wear green as a child to avoid the inevitable pinching. Upon arrival in college, a few of my friends took the opportunity to head to a local bar to drink green beer. Yet now, it seems everyone claims to be Irish today and the primary focus is the green beer, Guinness, or other assorted drinks vaguely connected with the Emerald Isle.

I like to offer a good-natured quiz about St. Patrick every year. I’ll ask what people know about him (especially my students who are ready to go out and celebrate in the typical American manner.) The responses normally are limited to declarations that he was an Irish priest, and he drove the snakes out of Ireland (which most people, myself included, view as a positive). Yet, the true story of Patrick is so much more fascinating than the few words people might utter. Patrick was born in southern England, and grew up a pagan, worshipping the gods and goddesses of the Saxons. As a teen, he was kidnapped by Irish slavers – outlaws who terrified the western coast of England for many years. Enslaved in a foreign land, alone and isolated and living at the whim of his owners, Patrick survived for several years before God sent him a dream. The dream gave the young man instructions about how to escape and make his way 200 miles to a ship to find his way back home. And he did.

 A sensible ending to this story would be that Patrick went back to his family farm, married a local girl, and lived as happily ever after as one could back in the 5th century. He did return to the family farm, but eventually converted to Christianity. He studied his new faith, and was ordained a priest. Patrick never forgot those few years of enslavement. Against what would seem rational, he felt called to go back to Ireland and spread the message of Christ. And he did. 1 Corinthians 1:25 states that God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom. Patrick embodied that verse.

 God’s foolishness – to return to a land of enslavement – was so successful that Christianity spread rapidly throughout the land and most people today assume Patrick was actually Irish. The true spirit of St. Patrick’s Day is about the courage, grace, and wisdom of Patrick. Instead of using today as an excuse to over imbibe, let’s take time to think about where we need courage in our own lives. What frightening place in our hearts, in our lives, do we seek to flee? How can we face those places with courage? How can we offer grace to the people who have placed us there (especially if that person is our own self)? How can we live and act in God’s wisdom, especially if it places us at odds with what is deemed wise in our world?

 

“Christ with me,

Christ before me,

Christ behind me,

Christ in me,

Christ beneath me,

Christ above me,

Christ on my right,

Christ on my left,

Christ when I lie down,

Christ when I sit down,

Christ when I arise,

Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,

Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,

Christ in every eye that sees me,

Christ in every ear that hears me.” – The Breastplate of St. Patrick

More in the Season of Lent

Image

            Yesterday I heard a colleague spouting these words as she left a meeting, “No alcohol! No sweets!” Being on the tail-end of the conversation, I responded, “That sounds awful!” My immediate thought was her doctor had insisted on the restrictions. She quickly replied, “Oh, it’s Lent, you know.” I felt a tad bit chagrined. Being the only clergyperson around, I should have immediately known the reference.

             Lent is one of those odd times of the Christian year. Many people will “give up” or “sacrifice” something during those 40 days (minus Sundays) prior to Easter. These items often focus on food or luxuries. Alcohol, sweets, red meat, television, fast food – all these things are commonly associated with the season. Yet, why do we give up something? Is it a habit, just a thing to do? Is it a spiritual discipline? How do we hope to grow in our faith by sacrificing something we probably don’t really need anyway?

             When my kids were little, and I began to introduce the concept to them, I focused a great deal on what it means to have too much. In our society, we are almost obsessed with wanting more – more money, more free time, more possessions, more youth, more beauty, more success. And yet, so many of us have so much more than we truly need. (Now today’s thoughts are not directed towards the millions who are struggling to get by, who are dealing with food endangerment, and are on the edge of homelessness. It’s for the rest of us – the majority in this country.) I told my children that when we are so focused on wanting more, we have a really hard time focusing on Jesus and who he wants us to be. I explained that he lived his life in poverty, and wants us to help those who are struggling. When our lives are filled with excess, it’s really hard to do that. The whole camel through the eye of a needle thing.

             We give up things during Lent so that we have the heart, time, and space to focus on empowering those who don’t have more. We give up things during Lent so that we can identify, in some small manner, what it is like to do without. We give up things during Lent so we can walk in the path of Jesus.

             What am I giving up during Lent? Fast food. I have a real thing for fizzy Diet Cokes, and realized during the dark winter days how dependent I had become upon them. And I know many people in the world don’t have the extra few dollars to buy a soft drink from a fast food chain. Will I succeed in this endeavor? I surely hope so. I never maintained my promise during the years I gave up chocolate. (If the Girl Scouts wouldn’t deliver cookies during Lent, I would have had a better chance at success.) Regardless of success or not (after all, wanting “more success” will not enhance my spiritual journey), I pray that these days will create more space in my heart, soul, and mind so that I might see the needs around me, and might be filled with the Christ spirit to find ways to help meet those needs.

             I wish you all a fruitful Lent.