Similar to It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, another current movie, The Two Popes, gives us something to meditate on concerning kindness and how we live it in the face of increasing division, this time within religion.
There are many reasons for recommending this movie, one being, the acting is superb. Anthony Hopkins captures the mannerisms and character of Pope Benedict XVI bound by his conservative hubris and yet wanting to learn from his more open successor. Jonathan Pryce outdistances himself as Francis I, the moderately progressive Jesuit who leans more to reform and discussion on issues surrounding inclusion, environment, justice and a host of other problems impacting our faith. One anticipates there is a pending clash here: two titans pulling on the same rope. Who will win this struggle?
Try to peel away what you think, or are told, is fictional about the story. While it helps to know some of that, the core of the story is so much more important, much larger than that. And the core is this: How can two leaders, commissioned to serve a church embroiled in conservatism versus liberalism, scandal versus sacred, help the believers in that church find hope, solace, and spiritual direction in their lives?
Yes, there is a clash. Benedict, the lifelong academic, is doctrinaire; Francis, once the apologist for correctness, is a humanist. It is easy to think that each represents one side of the division within our Church. But there is a catch to this. They talk about their differences even in anger. They debate, sharply, and candidly. They do not lie to each other or curry favor and eventually they confess the weight of their imperfections and sinfulness to each other for reconciliation.
The movie left me wondering if I am kind and open to the arguments of others whose opinion or belief is different from mine, especially on hot button issues in politics and faith. The men in this story do not necessarily ‘bury the hatchet’ of their disagreements but they show us how to lift these disagreements out of the morass of personal attachment and find a truth, somewhere in the other’s thinking.
All of us are facing religious and political divisions. For some reason, we can understand the political divisions better than the religious ones. And yet, all religions have historically endured periods of division; some have actually separated themselves into a different religion over a disagreement. I’m wondering if the questions I have here would help us to examine our approach to division in both government and religion. I hope we can move to a greater kindness in wanting to resolve issues rather than hold to one approach over another, rather than cling to a binary solution only that says, “I’m right. You’re wrong.”
Do I adequately inform myself on issues that are often brought before me or do I argue and disagree based solely on my likes, preferences, fears, etc?
Do I really listen to the person disagreeing with me? Can we depart while respecting each other?
This will be a difficult week in American history as the impeachment trial takes place. You must have the courage of your convictions but I pray that all of us—our collective society, you my friends, and my anonymous angels reading from all over—will remember that kindness is the basis of a faith unafraid of expressing differences.