Divergent: A Mirror to the Soul

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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.

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Here comes the rain again…

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            Tacoma, Washington is close to heaven on earth. I attended a summer conference here about 10 years ago, and immediately fell in love. It sits on the Puget Sound, with the Cascade Mountains gently circling the city. My favorite colors are blue and green, and every shade of these two hues fills the eye in Tacoma. Rolling hills, diverse architecture, and unique micro-breweries dot the landscape. I am quite fortunate to find myself back in Tacoma for another conference. It’s not the freshly warm days of summer, but instead the cool rainy days of winter. A winter storm is sweeping north of here, so the day has been filled with torrential showers. Wind sweeps the rainfall sideways, and hail even decided to make a brief appearance. Tacomans have been quick to tell us visitors that this is unusual. Yes, it rains often here, but usual gentle sprinklings that don’t interfere with one’s normal day.

             The rain hasn’t bothered me. I rather like it. As a teen, one of my favorite songs was “Here Comes the Rain” again by The Eurythmics. Here comes the rain again, falling on my head like a memory, falling on my head like a new emotion. Rain was equated with deep emotion, the depths of one’s heart and soul. I didn’t quite understand all the meaning of the words so beautifully sung by Annie Lennox, but I knew it stirred me and spoke to something beyond my short-sighted 16 year old perspective.

             The rain still speaks to me. The world’s religions have various water rituals which symbolize cleansing, new life, new beginnings, new community. “Remember your baptism and be thankful” are words I have stated on numerous occasions. Rain cleanses us, nourishes us, gives growth to the dryness of our lives. So many people desire sunshine each and every day. We want sunny dispositions, an easy and fun life, a wide sandy beach with a cooler of Coronas.

             But we need balance. It wouldn’t be so lush and gorgeous in the Pacific Northwest without all the rain. The sunny days wouldn’t mean so much if they never ended. We’ve been taught that rain is something we must endure – into each life a little rain must fall. But why must rain be the bad guy? Rain instead exemplifies what is basic, necessary, and foundational in our lives.

             So I say, bring on the rain.

Sleepy Hollow, The Bible, and Women

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           Every summer I thoroughly peruse the promos for new television shows. One stood out this past August – primarily because I thought it was in the top 10 of ridiculous premises ever proposed. Ichabod Crane (of the famous story penned by Washington Irving) wakes from the dead in modern day Sleepy Hollow, NY. It turns out he was Gen. George Washington’s primary soldier in the fight against biblical evil during the Revolutionary War while history has only recorded the colonies’ fight for independence from the British Crown. Crane discovers he is meant to stop the horsemen of the Apocalypse, and is partnered in this battle with Det. Abbie Mills. Chaos ensues.

             This ludicrous premise led to my favorite show of the season – and ratings reveal that I am not alone in this love. The last of 13 episodes aired Monday night, and now we all wait impatiently and spout various theories concerning the cliff-hangers until next Fall. This show has captured the affection of viewers and critics alike. Gifted actors, compelling action, entertaining humor, angst and drama, surprising historical revelations, and unpredictable storylines have contributed to this surprise hit. It also helps that the guys behind the show are in the JJ Abrams circle, working on shows like Lost and Fringe. These guys understand spirituality and well-rounded characters, especially women.

             I love all these different aspects of the show, but two areas provide particular interest for me – the treatment of the Bible and the place of women in this world. First, in regards to the Bible, it is used as a guidebook for how Crane and Mills can combat the coming of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (see book of Revelation if this doesn’t sound familiar to you). I daresay Revelation has been the part of the Bible most appropriated by Hollywood. And of course, it’s never accurate, but that’s beside the point when someone is looking for good inspiration for a fictional story. The writers and viewers both are aware that this interpretation is fictional and outlandish, but I appreciate how the Bible and faith are treated with respect. The clergy are strong individuals, endeavoring to fight evil at whatever costs. Crane and Mills use their extensive knowledge of the scriptures to help in their quest.

             Second, it is such a pleasant change to see strong, independent, articulate, and smart women characters who are not defined by their relationship to a man. (Tom Mison, who plays Crane, even stated this was one of the draws to this show for him.) In addition to Mills (portrayed by an engaging Nicole Beharie), there is her sister Jenny, Crane’s wife Katrina, and Capt. Irving’s wife. What makes it even better is the fact that most these women are African-American. Abbie Mills’ defining relationship is not the past romance with a fellow cop, but the great love she has for her sister. In the season finale, she even tells Jenny – “I will not lose you again.” Tears came to my eyes – sisterly love is a beautiful and powerful thing. When a woman normally says these words on tv, it’s too her “soul-mate,” the romantic love of her life who completes her. (And please don’t get me started right now on the soul-mate/complete my life baloney that Hollywood dishes out. I’ll rant about that in a future blog.)

             On paper, this show shouldn’t work. But it has – in an overwhelming way. I hope other shows will follow suit. Be imaginative, respectful, and treat women as the well-rounded, intelligent, and independent people we are.

             I can’t wait until next September.

Women In Hollywood – Thinking Theologically

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            With the airing of the Golden Globes Awards ceremony last night, much has been written and discussed in recent days about the presence (or lack thereof) of women and minorities in Hollywood. When one looks at the population statistics of our country, women and minorities are greatly underrepresented in movies and television. One of the reasons The Hunger Games trilogy has been so well received is because the protagonist, Katniss, is a teenage girl from the backwoods of Appalachia. Yes, there are boys and men interested in her, but that is not her raison de vivre. She is a full and rich character – imperfect, flawed – but real. And that is such a rare thing in Hollywood. When women are present, they tend to be the girlfriends or some passive agent in the action. We can name the exceptions on a couple hands, because they are so rare. (The Hunger Games movies themselves certainly have been helped by the presence of the incredible Jennifer Lawrence, an authentic and down to earth talent.)

            The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media is trying to change this in regards to children’s entertainment through research, education and advocacy. Women and girls are less than 20% of the characters represented in children’s media, and these images tend to be stereotypical. As children are inundated with these ideas, they are less likely to broaden and expand as they age. Movies and television for adults continues to perpetuate this lack of the presence of women, as well as relegating them to passive roles. And if a film has a preponderance of women, it usually falls into the derogatory category of “chick-flick.”

            This is truly a theological issue. Before serving a women’s college, I worked on a state campus for a number of years. For several years, our ministry hosted a panel discussion – “Was Jesus a Feminist?” Yes, I realize this is an improper question. It’s taking a fairly recent construct and applying it to a Jewish man from the backwoods of the Ancient Near East. Yet, in these discussions we looked at how Jesus treated women. And the fact was, he treated them in a manner that was revolutionary. In a patriarchal world that left women at the mercy of men and denied them opportunities for growth and enrichment, Jesus included women as some of his closest followers. He continually affirmed the presence and participation of women in his movement, both in words and in actions.

            I love movies. I love entertainment. (And I especially love Tina Fey and Amy Poehler.) And I would love even more to see images of women in Hollywood that are real, empowering, active, and transformative. If a preacher from the wilds of Palestine changed the subject 2000 years ago, we can too.