Shortly before we left Northern Ireland, my daughter Jordan wanted me to watch a film. I’ll have to admit, for a 17 year old, she has fairly good taste in cinema. This one was something supposed along the lines of “The Hunger Games”. Dystopian fairy tales are right up my alley as well. However, all the girls (I am the only man in a house with four women) said this movie was fundamentally different and I might like it more than the “The Hunger Games”. So, we watched “Divergent”. One reason I note this is because a sequel to “Divergent” is about to be released. It’s called “Insurgent”. Both are based on a series of books by Veronica Roth.
This was one of the most theological movies, particularly for young adults, I’ve ever seen. The movie starts with the same underlying premise Jesus shared with his disciples shortly before he died. In John 17:21, Jesus prayed, “that they may be one.” One body, in agreement, with no divisions; this was Jesus’ prayer. This promise of unity-social, cultural, moral, legal, and ethical is where this movie begins.
The film’s basic premise is that (at some point in the future) peace can only be achieved by organizing people into groups (factions). These groups then become the main source of an individual’s identity. Upon reaching their mid-teens (it’s ultimately unclear exactly what year) the young people are tested to see which group or faction they are best suited.
When the test results are announced, the teens leave their biological families to join their respective factions. They will remain with these factions for the rest of their lives. The faction will come define their identities. Who they were before they were they joined their faction, especially if they choose the defense faction, is expected to be completely forgotten. Each faction is expected to contribute something unique to the common good. One faction functions in a political role, another group works as bureaucrats or administrators, another serves as a defense force. As is it conceived, each group needs the other faction in order to survive. This means one group is less likely to launch a coup to overthrow one faction to consolidate their own power. In theory, the world they’ve created works, up to a point.
Except, when they do this testing, to see which group people are most suited for, some people blow up the test. By that I mean they don’t come back with standard results which are easily interpreted that say, “Yep, you fit in here, there, or there.” These people come back with no clear answer of where they belong. As such, they are called, “Divergent”. A divergent person is someone who is gifted and skilled in every area of life. A divergent is someone who can’t be pigeonholed as any one type. As you might imagine, a divergent is a danger to the well-prescribed hierarchy and order which had been created. If the “divergents” let the cat out the bag that the factions and groups are just a way to control society then the jig is up, the game is over. Divergents were to be stopped and killed.
Jesus was a divergent. Jesus was the original divergent. You and I are called to be divergents; to borrow the language of the film, especially if we’re honest with our own test results.
Jesus refused to be placed in a faction. We let ourselves be put into constituencies, factions, and groups all the time. Despite the fact Jesus comes to us and says, “You don’t have a faction or a group. I’m you’re group, me, Jesus. I’m the only faction you have and we work and love everyone.” We are divergent.
Being a divergent is about denying factionalism a place in our lives. What we know from our own lives (not just from the movie) is that factionalism and factions doesn’t work, labeling and ordering the world in some pre-conceived notion of the common good is the very opposite of freedom-whether you’re motivated by politics from the left or right. It’s the opposite of what Jesus envisioned.
How does Jesus say we, as divergents deny the power of faction, the go along to get along idea that sucks so many of us into this mentality?
In this week’s lectionary lesson, Jesus says you’re going to be rejected by the factions you may so desperately want to join. The factional people, those who place stock in the factional way of life, he calls them out. (The elders, the chief priests, and the legal experts in verse 32.)
The factions are going to come after us if we’re living according to how Jesus teaches us to live.
Divergence is also about denial. When we welcome divergence, you start by saying no to the things with which you normally converge. Divergence is about moving away from those things that normally define you.
Jesus also tells his early followers and disciples to “take up our cross”. I do think the statement “Everyone has a cross to bear” minimizes Jesus’ identity and the reality of his execution by the Roman Imperial authorities. The cross is the great equalizer. The function of the cross is to draw humanity to Christ. When you’re a Christian it becomes the means in which you define yourself, the locus of you identity, you can’t talk about yourself without talking about the cross. At the foot of the cross there are no factions. It may seem counterintuitive, but in order to get to that level ground at the foot of the cross, we have to become more divergent, more like Jesus. We have to move beyond factional, Pharisee theology (believe like this or else) and diverge from the divisions and pray that they may be one.
Divergence is the way of Christ. Divergence welcomes everyone and empowers us all to live, love, and serve without the boundaries created by humankind. Serving Christ may not be as clean and clear as serving a faction but why would you join a faction when you could gain everything?