I loved The Two Popes. I know it’s fiction, based on conversations and individual statements, but it still left me hopeful. I’ve read Benedict’s work on worship and the person of Jesus—he’s an insightful scholar that helps me understand the purpose and power of liturgy. I love the story of Pope Francis, his concern for the poor, and his unwillingness to participate in the costumes and fancy living. I know the tango scene is fiction – but it’s powerfully true. We need each other—traditionalists and progressives, conservatives and liberals. We need people in the church who make it their life’s work to maintain the tradition, to remind us about what is good about the past. We need progressives to offer a prophetic vision of the future, to open our eyes to new interpretations and new possibilities. And somehow we have to find a way to dance together, to get along, because we need each other.

I came away from the film seeing it as an affirmation of both perspectives. It moved back and forth, showing the failings of both Benedict and Francis, showing us how its easy to miss our own blind spots. Others may disagree, but the film seemed to suggest a healthy tension between the two is what keeps us from falling off on both sides. There’s a difference between tension and conflict. Healthy tension keeps people honest; it keeps us from constructing echo chambers. It also keeps us from alienating people with whom we share more in common that we realize.

It doesn’t take much to see the consequences of refusing to dance. Denominations continue to split over social issues, and political parties continue to push polarizing propaganda. Increasingly, we march toward intolerance and hatred, constructing ideological towers that no one can live in. Life is too messy and relationships are too complex to live in towers. We’re supposed to live in on the ground, in the messiness, with real people in all their complexity. This takes courage and love, but it also takes forgiveness. That’s the most powerful part of the film—confession and forgiveness. Yes, Popes too need penance, they too need grace. We all do—which is why we need each other.

May we hear the powerful message of this cinematic parable, and may we dance as beautifully and awkwardly as we possibly can.

Jason Lief

Dr. Jason Lief teaches courses in Christian education and youth ministry. A Northwestern College graduate, he served as the chaplain for Pella (Iowa) Christian High School while earning a master’s degree in theology from Wheaton College Graduate School. He also completed a doctorate in practical theology from Luther Seminary. He previously taught theology and youth ministry at Dordt College for 10 years. Dr. Lief is the author of “Poetic Youth Ministry: Loving Young People by Learning to Let Them Go” and "Christianity and Heavy Metal as Impure Sacred Within the Secular West: Transgressing the Sacred.”

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