BY CHARLOTTE O
Who doesn’t like a bit of dystopian young adult fiction every now and then? I have to admit, I’m a fan. Quick reads, good stories, intriguing scenarios. There will probably be a love triangle, but not always. The ending may be somewhat predictable, but not always. What’s not to love? The most recent series I got my hands on was Divergent. And I really liked it. The idea of society being separated into factions based on virtues was fresh and fascinating.
For those who aren’t familiar with the stories, Divergent depicts a society where teens take an ‘aptitude’ test to determine their future in one of five factions. If they choose to transfer, they must leave their family behind, in a world where faction comes before family (Jesus may have mentioned something about that once).
The factions are:
Candor: valuing absolute honesty
Erudite: valuing learning and knowledge
Amity: valuing harmony and relationships
Dauntless: valuing bravery and fearlessness
Abnegation: valuing selflessness and sacrifice
The heroine of the books is discovered to be divergent. Which means she contains dominant tendencies toward more than one virtue. And much fighting ensues.
Now, I'm the kind of person who, if the competition gets too fierce, is likely to let the other person win. That's why I'd probably be in Amity if I lived in the divergent world. Avoiding conflict in the name of harmony sounds pretty good to me! But true courage comes from embracing God’s plan for our lives instead of hiding ourselves behind our best qualities and hoping no one will see the truth. It can feel safer to blend in than to stand out. But we were never called to walk the safe path. In my life, that has meant stepping outside of my culture, and living in a place where life is as different as you can imagine from what I grew up with. But simply living overseas itself doesn’t make me divergent.
From my experience, there's nothing like immersing yourself in another culture to remind you that your preconceived notions about the world are not held by everyone. Just this week, I was teaching a lesson on “sound effects” and it was interesting to hear how my students interpreted the sounds things might make so differently from what I expected. For example, dogs in Taiwan don't bark, they 'wang.'
Another illustration is something I encountered as I started learning the language. The Taiwanese don’t eat soup as we do in North America, they drink it. Does this tell me something about the culture? The language? Or simply the quality of soup? Do I insist that my students change their speech patterns to make themselves better understood? Or do I encourage them to maintain their own culture and use these differences as a starting point for communication? Anyways, who am I to tell someone they are not doing something the 'right' way? It seems like in the same way, we might stifle the creativity of children, adults, anyone around us who imagines the world differently from the accepted norms. Like the heroine in the novels, we go to great pains to hide any signs of divergence.
So instead, we stick to what we know. We succeed or fail under immense pressure to perform and conform. We surround ourselves with people who agree with us, and shy away from divergence. But isn’t it possible that we were born to be divergent?
Divergent thinking makes us problem solvers. It allows us to see the world, and people differently and respond in refreshing and surprising ways. We sometimes forget that the one we're following was utterly countercultural. I recently heard musician Paul Coleman speak on this:
"Jesus was unpredictable, but often Christians are the most predictable people in the world - we know what they're against, but we don't know what they're for. When we have the Holy Spirit we should be unpredictable too."
Being a Christian doesn't mean being standardized/conformed to everyone else, even to other Christians which is often how we interpret Romans 12:1-2. But Paul didn’t write "do not be conformed to the pattern of this world, instead, do your best to fit in with the church." Nope. I believe the key word is transformed.
So do you have the courage, honesty, wisdom, love and selflessness to be someone who transforms the world? To be divergent? I hope I do. Even the word speaks volumes. To be separate, to be distinctive, to go in a different direction from the rest of society. Isn’t that what we as Christians are called to do?