No one has risen to Christian fame and garnered more respect, attention, hatred, followership, anger, 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 He’s usurping traditional, Christian stereotypes and challenging outdated practices.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.

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The Rev. Barrett Owen, pastor of First Baptist Waynesboro in Waynesboro, is a columnist for The News Virginian. His column is published the first Friday of the month.

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