PopeCrush

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No one has risen to fame and garnered more respect, attention, hatred, followership and love than Pope Francis (with the possible exception of Lady Gaga). He's been on the cover of Time Magazine and Rolling Stone. He's re-authoring the public's opinion of Christianity – and doing it with flare.  He's usurping traditional, Christian stereotypes and challenging outdated practices. We've seen him make front page news by doing the following:

Ride in a Ford Focus because it's pompous to ride in a limo

Walk among the masses even when his life is in danger because he wants to be accessible

Touch and bless people who get disenfranchised by society because no one is outside the realm of God's mercy

Randomly call people who write him letters because he's afraid they are suicidal

Sneak out of the Vatican, wear a fake mustache and hang out with the homeless because that's what Jesus would do

Speak negatively about Western Christianity's unbridled love affair with capitalism because . . . well . . . it's adulterous

Refuse to condemn or judge homosexuals because he doesn't want to condemn those who are different

Speak with conviction about the need for women's leadership in the church because the full gospel is only being half expressed by men

Embrace children when delivering an important speech because he doesn't take himself too seriously

Allow women to breastfeed in the Vatican because he refuses to let old standards define a new day

What amazes me about his intrepid faith is that he manages to make Christianity look attractive, hopeful, loving, empathetic and meaningful. His serve-first mentality resonates with Boomers, Xers and Millennials.

One of the most trending Twitter handles for him is #popecrush. We love watching the most powerful and influential Christian alive put the gospel (and others) ahead of himself. His commitment to speak truth to power gives hope to the marginalized as well as courage to us wishing we could do more.

Pope Francis inspires us to live deeper, more meaningful lives. His life is his best testimony. We are witnessing an honest, hope-filled Christian live out his faith.  And it's about time.

Christianity needs a spark. We need a voice willing to cry out in the wilderness, “Prepare the way of the Lord.” In our overly-politicized, overly-tribal communities of faith, we've lost touch with the sheer joy of serving the “least of these.” We've replaced service with what MLK says are “sanctimonious trivialities.”  We've replaced hope-filled grace with doctrinal steps. We've domesticated a wild and dangerous gospel in order to comfort the comforted.

So we look to Pope Francis with hope-filled eyes. We want him to succeed. We want him to remind us that things can change for the better. We want him (as much as anyone) to point us to something deeper, something better, something real.

I have a major #popecrush.

This article was originally published on ABPNews on February 7, 2014 and is used by permission.

Barrett Owen is the admissions associate at Mercer University's McAfee School of Theology and pastor of National Heights Baptist Church in Fayetteville, Ga. He blogs weekly at Liminality: Exploring the holy, in-between spaces.