Why did I miss diving into the Divergent series until now? It is totally my kind of thing: anxious twentysomethings/teens forced by the government and their colluding parents to choose an identity that doesn’t fit them. Watching Kate Winslet (symbolizing the authorities) have her hand nailed to a computer screen by a well-thrown knife — what could be more interesting?
There is just so much to talk about here! So much of what the movie’s (and books’) characters face is exactly what people are thinking and feeling in the church all the time.
For instance, in Divergent-world, people are assumed to be pre-programmed. So far, it looks like Tris just isn’t. And it looks like Four/Tobias doesn’t want to be. Isn’t that just what we are all talking about — am I just who I am, or can I be someone more? “Can I choose? Do I have to choose? What if I choose wrong? Who decides the choices? Can they make me choose?”
In that kind of atmosphere, people have a lot of questions about the church, too — which is all about choosing, after all, and all about taking on a new identity. For instance: “Are the pastors a bunch of Kate Winslets with secret plots to use us for their own purposes?” That’s a good question. But, more likely, the question is about choices. “Should someone else choose what I choose (like Jesus)? Are they just programmed differently? Can I say what the choices are? I like choosing more than I like what I choose — what about that?” There is a lot to think about.
A couple of weeks ago, we revved up the survey monkey and asked people to choose seven words they thought other people would use to describe Circle of Hope. One group of words (in the order of incidence) were “different, weird, strange, confusing, mysterious.” Many of us were delighted at this result, since we think anyone who doesn’t describe Jesus with those words isn’t looking at Him carefully. So if people think of us that way, great! Other interpreters were dismayed. Being all those things doesn’t look very user-friendly. People avoid people who seem strange, don’t they?
Those are, again the kind of questions Divergent is exploring. “Is ‘being myself’ all that great?” But then, “Is being what others think I should be really that important?” And “Will I be left out one way or another?”
On the one hand most of the young people in the dystopian Chicago of Divergent seem totally ready to go with the program; they choose to take on the arbitrary labels assigned them and allow themselves to be trained into stereotypes. If you want to be a successful church, wouldn’t you appeal to that sensibility to get some butts in the seats? It works! Some people thought the survey responders were unhappy that our church is so different. They would never bring a friend to be a part of the meeting because it would be “weird” for them — it would be better if it were just like what everyone is already choosing. Even if they love the weird meetings themselves, they still think the majority of people would find them strange.
On the other hand, the only two people we really like in Divergent, in the sense that we would like to be like them, are Tris and Tobias. And everyone, including themselves, thinks they are “different.” The powers that be are hunting people like them down to kill them, they are so threateningly not conformed. Isn’t that exactly what the first church was like? The early Christians eventually got hunted down by a few Roman emperors because they were so divergent. (Veronica Roth, the author of the Divergent novels, is a Jesus-follower, so she might be channeling that reality). So if people think we are strange, that might be uncomfortable (especially if they try to kill us!) but it is better than the alternative – chosen for mindless drudgery, manipulation by the man and being part of something that is going nowhere fast.
All these choices make people anxious or irritate the anxiety they are trying to keep in check. We are afraid to be different and afraid we can’t be different at the same time. I bring up the anxiety people are bringing to the questions because I think it might be the unnoticed psychological disease that keeps infecting our life and work together. Anxious people tend to think things (like how people might label our church) are much worse than they are. They also tend to be highly conformist, even though they fear the powers that press them into molds. They tend to be perfectionistic and don’t choose to do things they can’t do well. They are critical and fear criticism. So being part of the different, weird, strange, confusing, mysterious church can take a lot out of a person.
If any of this applies to you, congratulations! Like Tobias facing his fear of heights, you are facing your fear of being different, weird, strange, confusing, and mysterious as you follow a Lord who is different, weird, strange, confusing, and mysterious. Face it.
I hope you can say, with Peter, who answered back to Jesus that time, ““Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” That was Peter’s response when Jesus was at his “weirdest” and truest. The Way, the Truth and the Life will always seem different, because He is different, thank God! Be brave.