My husband and I watched The Two Popes (2019) last weekend, and so much about that film has stuck with me. Too much for one post alone, so here is the second of a mini-series of posts on different elements raised by the film.
“Change is compromise” – Pope Benedict XVI, from The Two Popes, 2019.
Things need to change. Something needs to change. Things can’t carry on like this. These and many similar comments are common elements of dialogue in our soaps, in our newspapers and on our Facebook feeds. We are a restless society, always looking for something to be different. In many ways, for good reason. When we live in a society (in the UK) where the gender pay gap is still almost 17.3% (ONS), where only half of disabled people have employment compared to four fifths of the general population (ONS) and where we need pastoral statements to tell congregations to include LGBTQ people without discrimination (CofE, 2019) it is apparent change is still sorely needed.
But who is it that needs to do the changing? Surely not me? In ‘The Two Popes’ we see Pope Benedict XVI taking one conservative stance while Cardinal Bergoglio argues for change. There is no common ground between the two stances, and neither is prepared to change, or compromise. Until they continue long dialogues over many days, learning about each other’s lives, stances and approaches. By the end, Pope Benedict XVI is himself not willing to change, but is willing to allow the opportunity for change to happen when stepping aside as Pope in the knowledge Cardinal Bergoglio will most likely be the one elected. As he was.
I sit here writing my blog in the full and secure knowledge I am right. That’s why I’m writing these words after all, because they are my truth. But if I dig a little deeper, I begin to see the cracks. I may be right that I need to be an Ally, but I have a long way to go before I understand #BlackLivesMatter or #DisabilityTheology in a meaningful way. I seek out the twitter threads by those with lived experience in transgender issues or online church because they are the voices that really need to be heard, not mine. But the inherent privilege I get from my white cisgender neurotypical presentation makes it dangerous to sit on my laurels and ‘know’ I’m right. There will be less of a voice to challenge me if I’m wrong, and it will be easier to ignore.
Pope Benedict XVI needed a humble Latin American with roots in social justice to start to consider the possibility of change. I needed to be led in worship by a wonderful musician who happens to be gay and deaf to see it. In neither story change happened straight away, it took me over a decade to settle the prejudices of my childhood with the change in my heart and theology as a learned adult. Now, the voices are louder than ever – I will never forget the impact of hearing Becky Tyler, a 15 year old wheelchair and eye gaze technology user, delivering the sermon to Greenbelt on the main stage at the Sunday Communion service (which you can watch here). There was no compromise here, no reduction of her message because she was a woman, young, disabled, not using her own physical voice, not in a church building. It was purely and simply wonderful. And a blessed change.
Mark 1:15 tells us “The time has come,” [Jesus] said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (NIV). Rohr (2012) points out the message here was to change your mind, believe what you did not already believe. Romans 12:2 encourages us “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” I pray for more open hearts, discerning minds and repentance from what is thought to be known, more learning from those anointed to teach us from their places of lived experiences, and more voices singing out to God in chorus with them ‘Change is Good! Hallelujah! Amen!’
Peace be with you.
Church of England (2009). Pastoral Principles for Living Well Together. Available at https://www.churchofengland.org/sites/default/files/2019-05/Pastoral%20Principle%20Cards%20May%202019.pdf (Accessed 11th May 2020)
Rohr, R. (2012). Falling Upward. London: SPCK
The Two Popes. 2019 [Film]. Fernando Meirelles. dir. UK/Italy: Netflix