The Adam Hamilton interview on ‘Making Sense of the Bible’ while growing the church

Book

TO BUY THE BOOK, click on this image for the book’s Amazon page. At the end of this interview, you will find more links and information on ordering the accompanying DVD and Leader’s Guide.

Adam Hamilton wants to help congregations grow.

Within his United Methodist denomination, he already has proven himself a master of church growth. Now, he is breaking out to a wider audience in his first book for HarperOne (his earlier books are from Abingdon, his denomination’s publishing house).

Now, he wants to show congregations nationwide how to fuel revival and outreach—by starting with the Bible.

But, this isn’t your grandfather’s revivalism. Making Sense of the Bible: Rediscovering the Power of Scripture Today is equal parts an evangelical return to the Bible as the foundation of Protestant Christianity—and a scholarly, inclusive approach to understanding scripture that draws on themes familiar to readers of Brian D. McLaren, Rob Bell and Marcus Borg. Most importantly, for the millions of men and women who have been avoiding churches for years, this is a faithful and intelligent orientation to the Bible.

Adam Hamilton’s congregation was dubbed the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection when he and a handful of families founded it in 1990. “Resurrection” seemed like a good name because the only space they could afford at the time was a local funeral home. Today, the church’s “main campus” is in Leawood, near Kansas City, Kansas, but the church is spread across multiple “campuses,” including some sites in other states with video feeds. Adding to that growing list of physical locations is a rapidly growing online church that attracts thousands each week. The church’s digital team regularly sees men and women logging into online worship from Michigan to Florida and from New York to Los Angeles—often including sites overseas.

How big is the Church of the Resurrection?

Church of the Resurrection lobby

One entryway to just one campus of Church of the Resurrection. Photo by Paul McDonald provided for public use.

Writing as Editor of ReadTheSpirit online magazine with many decades of experience as a journalist covering religion in America, I can tell you: Claims of church membership and attendance are as slippery as eels and there is no regulated national reporting on numbers. Nevertheless, the Hartford Institute for Religion Research is widely respected as a neutral center observing these trends. Based on Hartford’s rankings …

AMONG ALL CHURCHES:
The largest American congregation is Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church in Houston with a weekly attendance of more than 40,000. Next are about a dozen churches claiming weekly attendance of 20,000 or higher, including two of the most famous megachurches: Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church in California and Bill Hybels’s Willow Creek Community Church in Illinois. Next are more than a dozen claiming weekly attendance of 15,000 or higher and among the famous congregations in that strata are T.D. Jakes’s The Potter’s House in Dallas and Creflo Dollar’s World Changers Church in Georgia. Adam Hamilton’s Church of the Resurrection currently is listed in the next group claiming weekly physical attendance of 10,000 and higher. Hamilton’s online congregation isn’t reflected in these totals and, if counted, would push Church of the Resurrection up into the Jakes and Dollar range.

Heatmap of Online Worship

This sample “heatmap” shows the geographic spread of online worshipers at Church of the Resurrection on one Saturday. On Sunday mornings, the heatmap expands further.

AMONG UNITED METHODISTS:
No question—Church of the Resurrection is the largest within the 12-million-member denomination with roots in the movement founded by John and Charles Wesley before the American Revolution. Next in ranking, at about half of Church of the Resurrection’s size, is Windsor Village United Methodist Church in Houston, where pastor Kirbyjon Caldwell has made a name for himself in befriending presidents George W. Bush and Barak Obama. (Adam Hamilton also is dabbling in national leadership; he preached at the Inaugural Prayer Service held at the National Cathedral in Washington in January 2013.) Caldwell’s church is followed by Granger Community Church in Indiana, Ginghamsburg United Methodist Church in Ohio—and then Highland Park United Methodist Church and The Woodlands United Methodist Church, both in Texas.

ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm talks with Adam Hamilton in …

HIGHLIGHTS OF OUR INTERVIEW
WITH ADAM HAMILTON ON
‘MAKING SENSE OF THE BIBLE’

DAVID: On July 12, you’ll turn 50. You’re only six years older than Rob Bell. And, already, you’re a long way toward your life’s goal of leading a revival within mainline Protestant churches, specifically within your own United Methodist denomination.

Adam HamiltonADAM: We care deeply about wanting to see the United Methodist church revived and revitalized.

DAVID: As a journalist, it’s hard to keep up with everything you’re doing with your huge team of colleagues. I hadn’t realized until recently that you’ve got a satellite program called Partner Churches that now lists eight congregations from Maryland to California. This is for small churches, often served by part-time pastors, who want to use Church of the Resurrection resources—including your sermons in a video feed, right?

ADAM: Yes, we know that all of the things we are trying to do won’t work the same way everywhere. There have to be many different approaches to ministry. Remember that the majority of our United Methodist congregations are small. Many of them have local pastors in some cases part-time at the church. Some of our small churches are led by lay people who serve as excellent pastors in their communities in many cases. Some of these men and women are excellent shepherds; they’re great at hospital visitation and other areas of ministry—but perhaps they don’t feel they can preach very well, or at least not every week. So, that program, Partner Churches, provides a high-quality sermon from Resurrection and other resources.

DAVID: Readers may think that sounds like something out of the “prosperity preaching” movement—Creflo Dollar and others have tried video feeds. But what you’re doing here stems from the very roots of Methodism more than 200 years ago. Methodism was an incredible grassroots, pack-it-up-and-move-it movement. Circuit Riders crisscrossed America. Wesley himself was a pamphleteer widely using the latest technologies for rapid print distribution of his texts.

ADAM: The example I use is a 1789 edition of John Wesley’s sermons that was published while he was at his City Road chapel in London. I hold up my copy of that book and I say, “In America, when the Circuit Riders started a church, they would get it going and then they would leave to work in another town and they’d say, ‘Here is a book of Wesley’s sermons; read one each week until I return to you.’ And they would. We’re just adapting Wesley’s model for the 21st Century.

DAVID: That pattern spread like wildfire in the era of Francis Asbury. Wesley’s assistant before the American Revolution and later one of the first Methodist bishops. The more I’ve researched Wesley’s life myself, the more impressed I am with his courageous innovations. The book of sermons reflects his roots in the Church of England where there was a tradition of publishing sample sermons. So, it was natural for him to carry this idea much further. For Asbury and his team, sample sermons were a great help. Most United Methodist leaders, even today, have copies of Wesley’s numbered sermons.

ADAM: We’re constantly testing what we can do to help small- and medium-sized churches, especially those that are struggling. Partner Churches is just one example. We’re trying all kinds of things. In our online worship, last Sunday, we had 3,600 people actually logging in during the worship services. The online participants register their attendance; they can turn in their prayer requests; they can make donations. That’s the fastest growing segment of our congregation.

They visit us from many places. Recently I was out of town, so I worshiped online myself. What’s interesting is that out of 3,600 men and women we have online on a Sunday morning, about 2,000 of them are Resurrection members, but they choose to worship online with us—for many reasons. Many people can’t make it to the church on a Sunday, for example, but this gives them an opportunity to be with us.

FAITH VS. SCIENCE?

Inaugural Prayer Service

Adam Hamilton preaching the sermon at the National Cathedral’s Inaugural Prayer Service in January 2013. Photo courtesy of Washington National Cathedral. Photographer: Donovan Marks.

DAVID: Right now, you’re speaking to a larger national audience through this new book and events like last year’s sermon at the National Cathedral as a part of President Obama’s inauguration. But, many of our ReadTheSpirit readers are meeting you for the first time today. So, I want you to describe this passion that drives you: Your goal isn’t political influence or riches. You’ve said you’re donating any proceeds from this new book back to your church. You really do want to see mainline Protestant churches start to thrive again, right?

ADAM: There were two things I had in mind as I was finishing this new book: One is the person who has been turned off to Christianity because of things they’ve heard or experienced in the past. The most vocal Christians we see in America today are conservative evangelicals and Fundamentalists—and I know those are two different categories, but the two groups do overlap. I don’t regularly watch Bill Maher, but I happened to see him on TV the other day ridiculing Christians because of this new Noah movie. Maher was pointing out that  a large portion of Americans tell pollsters that we need to take these Bible stories literally—and Maher also was pointing out how absurd the Noah story seems, if we have to take it literally. He pointed out that it’s obscene to think that God wanted to kill virtually every man, woman, child and animal on the planet.

The Bible does seem absurd to many people, today. And misunderstandings about the Bible lead to all kinds of confrontations. I think of people in my own congregation: One woman is studying biology at the university level and she told me, “I’m in a Bible-study group and people are telling me I can’t be a Christian if I believe in evolution. Modern biology rests on the assumptions of evolution.”

There are so many issues that arise if we try to take everything in the Bible as literally true. What do we do with all the violence in the Bible? What do we do with the passages in which God seems to be ordering overwhelming violence against men, women and children? There are lots of people wrestling with these issues inside and outside of churches all across America. I write about these issues in the new book.

I want people to know that there is room to interpret scripture in light of modern science and that we don’t have to accept that God intentionally ordered this overwhelming violence we read about in some passages. But we have to properly understand the Bible. I’ve been saying this repeatedly within the United Methodist Church.

DAVID: Now, through HaperOne, you’re saying this to a much broader audience. Clearly, you want to revive “mainline Protestant” churches. You’re also known as fairly evangelical among United Methodists. Crossing over into the national arena now, one big question is: Where do you stand on interfaith relationships? In my own research into your work, I’m finding very positive examples of cooperation with diverse communities. You were honored, at one point, with a B’nai B’rith award in social ethics.

ADAM: We’ve tried hard to develop positive relationships with the Jewish community here in our own area. We’ve shared some worship services together. That’s important here because, in the very area where our church sits today—until the 1960s, Jews were not allowed to purchase homes in this community. We regularly talk about this. I have friends, rabbis, who I bring on the screen with me to share in certain sermons where their insights are valuable. I’ve taken a trip to the Holy Land with a rabbi friend. We’ve also met with and talked with Muslims. We’ve sponsored forums here where we bring Christians, Muslims and Jews together to talk.

‘BIBLE 101’ CLEARING UP MISCONCEPTIONS

DAVID: You point out that, in today’s world, the religious challenge really is not between faith groups—it’s between religion and secular culture. Americans are distinctive in the world because of our intense interest in religion nationwide. In the UK and across Europe, there’s a stark contrast: Very few people go to church anymore. Even in America, people really need a crash course in “Bible 101” to understand the Bible.

ADAM: Yes, that’s how to understand my new book. There are so many folks out there who know very little about the Bible. If they read my book, I hope it will clear up some of their misconceptions; then I hope it will lead them to read the Bible itself; and maybe they will decide to visit a church where they can find out more. In the first half of my book, I lay out the Bible: how it came to be, the sweep of the Bible and so on. Then, in the second half of my book, I address some of the very difficult issues that still spring from the Bible today.

A lot of times pastors are nervous about sharing what they’ve learned in seminary and through scholarship with lay people in their churches. They fear this might undermine people’s confidence in scripture. So, we end up with a lot of pastors letting unquestioned assumptions continue and accumulate out there. In this book, I tried to put about a year’s worth of graduate study of the Bible into a book that general readers will find interesting. I find that too many people—including Christians inside the church—have an inadequate understanding of the Bible.

DAVID: I know enough about you to tell readers: You love the Bible. Your own daily reliance on scripture is described in the opening page of your new book.

ADAM: I really do love the Bible, yes. The Bible contains the defining story of my life. As you just noted, I do regularly tell people how I wake up in the morning: I drop to my knees and pray and then the very next thing I do is read the Bible. And, before I go to bed at night, no matter how tired I am, I open my Bible and read. I carry a Bible with me everywhere I go; I carry a Bible on my phone, too, but I always have an actual Bible with me. We encourage Bible reading here. We prepare a daily Bible reading for people to encourage them to read more of the scriptures. Every day, I’m doing all I can to encourage more people to spend more time with the Bible.

GENESIS, SCIENCE & ROB BELL

DAVID: Before I left newspapers in 2007 to form ReadTheSpirit, I covered Rob Bell’s launch of his Everything Is Spiritual tour in which he barnstormed the country, talking to people in theaters and clubs about the Genesis creation story and science—and how the two realms are not in conflict. When I read your section on the Creation Stories, I immediately thought: There’s a lot of similarity here between your approach to these issues and Rob’s.

You and Rob both love the Genesis stories and find them profoundly true, but not as some kind of scientific report on creation. As you both describe it: Genesis opens with some of the world’s most famous poetry, talking about God’s ongoing role in our cosmos. There is no reason to regard this as a war with modern science.

ADAM: The Bible represents the people of God coming to understand how the order of creation came to be. Genesis wasn’t intended as a science lesson, as we understand science today. The Bible is making profound claims about the connection between God and the world—and this is profoundly true. It wasn’t intended as a science lecture.

I encourage people to read the opening of Genesis. The first chapter is beautiful poetry with the refrains coming back—”evening and morning” and this beautiful liturgical language about the nature of creation as it unfolds. People need to understand that this is an archetypal story that was repeated down through the generations around campfires and in homes and the Genesis stories do express deep truths. We need to understand the great value of these stories.

If we free ourselves from all this noise from some of the Fundamentalists about this somehow conflicts with science, then we can begin to appreciate again the deeper truths here. Did a snake appear and speak in a garden in the literal way the scene is described in Genesis? That’s not the point. The point is the real truth of such an experience: Who among us hasn’t heard a serpent speaking to us at some moment in our lives? We’ve all faced temptation—haven’t we? And, often, that temptation feels as real as a serpent speaking to us.

HOMOSEXUALITY: ‘WE MUST BE COURAGEOUS’

DAVID: You have organized this book in a masterful way. You begin with an overview of the Bible and, in the middle of the book, you’ll have a vast majority of readers with you when you talk about the hundreds of verses in the Bible that seem to indicate that God wants us to wreak overwhelming violence in the world—or the hundreds of verses in which the Bible seems to approve of slavery—or the many verses in which Bible treats women as second-class humans or, even worse, as possessions.

Christian churches today have completely rejected slavery or mass killing as something God wants us to be doing. Many churches have come a long way toward recognizing women’s rights. Then, you come to the small handful of verses that seem to condemn homosexuality.

Cover A Letter to My Congregation by Ken WilsonYou point out in this section that you are bound, as a United Methodist pastor, by the denomination’s strict rules on this issue. If you tried to bless a gay couple, you’d be brought up on charges and banned from the church. But, in this section late in your book, you make it clear that gay marriage is not a threat to our faith. And you make it clear that you want to see your church move toward inclusion. Your language in this part of the book reminds me very much of the language in Ken Wilson’s new A Letter to My Congregation.

Let me read from page 278 in your book, Adam: “My own views on this issue changed as a result of thinking about the nature of scripture, God’s role in interpreting it, the meaning of inspiration, and how we make sense of the Bible’s difficult passages. As I came to appreciate the Bible’s humanity, I found I could at least ask whether the passages in scripture about same-sex intimacy truly captured God’s heart regarding same-sex relationships. But what really prompted me to look seriously at this issue and to wrestle with it were the gay and lesbian people I came to know and love, including children I had watched grow up in the church I serve.”

That’s Ken Wilson’s story, too. Truly pastoral Christian leaders do seem to be leading this change in Christianity, right now. The major reason, which you point to in your book, is the enormous generational shift going on across America on this issue. You’re focused on reviving the church and, frankly, that’s not going to happen with large numbers of young Americans staying away from church because of the way churches treat their gay and lesbian friends. The Public Religion Research Institute just released a major new study on this. And, Pew just took a look at the trends as well.

ADAM: You’re right: There is a trajectory in this book. Homosexuality is the most divisive issue in mainline churches and it really is the natural conclusion of the book. By the time you reach this issue, we’ve already talked about the era in which the scriptures were written, the way in which they came to be written and we’ve understood the complexity of the canonization of scripture. And we’ve helped people to set aside their overly simplistic views of the Bible.

So once I’ve established that in the first half of the book, I run through these topics that build on each other: the hundreds of verses about violence, slavery, the way we regard women. Finally, we reach homosexuality and hopefully readers will have a much more nuanced understanding of how we should approach these 5 short passages of scripture that seem to talk about homosexuality. We realize that some things in the Bible don’t capture God’s heart as much as they refer to issues that presented themselves in the era when the scriptures were written.

At the very least, I hope that people will realize that thoughtful and committed Christians can come out at different places on this question—and still be committed Christians.

I know this is a very difficult issue for many people. I have had people leave our church over the way I am talking about this issue and so this is painful for me, too. Some of the people who have left us were people I once baptized. But, right now, the spirit is moving. Of course, we all recognize today that slavery isn’t the will of God, even though hundreds of verses in the Bible seem to take slavery for granted and even encourage it. We’ve moved beyond that issue. We will move on this issue, too.

DAVID: There is only so much you can do, right now. You make that clear in your book. You’re bound by your church law. Still, you can talk about this movement toward change. And talking like that is courageous.

ADAM: I have this deep fear that, one day, I’m going to stand before the Lord and the Lord is going to say: “I put you in a position to speak to great numbers of people. Why didn’t you dare to say something courageous on behalf of people who are so marginalized and who so very much need to be welcomed?” I don’t want to face such a question someday.

Hopefully readers will see how deeply I love the Bible and how much I want people to start reading the Bible every day. I’m doing everything I can, every day, to see that this happens. I believe we can revive the church. But we must be courageous.

DAVID: Well, returning to the life of John Wesley, he courageously published a booklet completely opposed to slavery—about a century before the American Methodist church finally settled that issue.

ADAM: My next big project is about the life of John Wesley. We’ve got video segments in which I take people to many of the places that were important to Wesley. What we can learn about John Wesley and his faith can shape our own faith today and can help us in this revival of the church.

Care to read more?

(Originally published at www.ReadTheSpirit.com, an on line magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

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Categories: Author InterviewsBibleChurch GrowthGreat With Groups

Zombie guy Clay Morgan on why we’re drawn to death

http://www.readthespirit.com/explore/wp-content/uploads/sites/16/2013/03/wpid-0904_Clay_Morgan_Undead_author_at_University_of_Pittsburgh.jpgCLAY MORGAN posing with the famous University of Pittsburgh Panther, a bronze statue installed in 2001 near the university’s William Pitt Union. In the background is a National Historic Landmark—the 535-foot-tall, 42-story Cathedral of Learning—the second tallest university building in the world.Ever since we published our review of Clay Morgan’s timely new book for small groups, Undead, and followed that with a 3,000-year tour of milestones about zombies, vampires and other ghouls—readers have been asking us: Who is this guy!?! Undead is Clay Morgan’s first book. We think that we’re all going to be hearing a lot more from this talented young historian, writer and Christian educator. So, today, we are publishing ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm’s interview with Clay in …

November 2012 Update: As the latest Twilight movie debut nears, Twilight expert Jane Wells publishes a column that includes Clay Morgan’s Undead preview video. Enjoy.

HIGHLIGHTS OF OUR INTERVIEW
WITH CLAY MORGAN
ON ‘UNDEAD’

DAVID: People hearing about your book will think of you as the “Zombie Guy,” so let me start by asking about your day job.

CLAY: My day job is as a college teacher at three different institutions in Pittsburgh, including the University of Pittsburgh. I mostly teach history and political science. I work in areas of sociology, too, and I spend a lot of time looking at what popular culture can tell us.

DAVID: You’re also respected as an expert in leading groups in congregations. Are you ordained?

CLAY: No, I’m a lay person who has done a lot of work in youth ministry.

DAVID: Your publisher is associated with the United Methodist church. How do you describe yourself religiously?

CLAY: I’m a follower of Jesus and I try not to misrepresent Jesus. I’m a writer and teacher so I respect someone like N.T. Wright, who is a brilliant teacher of Christian apologetics, but he is an academic. That’s a different style of writing than what I do. I’m not writing as an academic Bible scholar like Wright. I’m not writing as a theologian teaching high-minded scriptural lessons.

In writing Undead, I wanted a book that can be used in churches that will draw the kind of 20- and 21-year-old young people who walk into my office and say: “We hear you’re a Christian.” And I’ll tell them: “Yes, I’m a Christian.” As we talk, they’ll say, “I thought Christians were …” and they’ll complete the blank with some derogatory comment. I was thinking of that kind of student I see every week when I wrote this book. I think that anyone of any age who enjoys reading the Bible will have a good time with Undead, because I do look at the six individual accounts in the New Testament where people came back to life. I look at this book as enough material for a six- or eight-week series in a small group.

‘LEFT AT A FUNERAL HOME WHEN I WAS 4’

http://www.readthespirit.com/explore/wp-content/uploads/sites/16/2013/03/wpid-0904_Clay_Morgan_UNDEAD_cover.JPG.jpgClick the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.DAVID: Early in your book, you describe your own fascination with death as stemming from an incident early in your life. You write: “My family accidentally left me at a funeral home when I was 4 years old. I was lost, surrounded by strangers in dark rooms.”

CLAY: It’s a family legend now, but it’s a true story. I have two older sisters and back in the ‘80s when this happened, we had a station wagon with an acre of space in the back. I don’t even remember who had died, but my family went for a viewing. When my parents were done, the family got in the car and my sisters led my parents to believe I was in the back of the car. It was just a funeral home with people there for a viewing. I can say that now as an adult, but at the time it was the trifecta of childhood terror. My attention was focused on that body in the middle of the room and I’d been left there alone with these strangers.

I remember that I started crying and a teen-aged cousin helped to calm me down. By the time my parents realized what had happened and they returned, I was sitting on the front steps of the funeral home and not crying any more.

‘ETERNITY IS SET INTO OUR HEARTS’

DAVID: Death has a deep, deep impact on the living. We just wrote about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s interest in spiritualism. He had lost family members around World War I. When someone we love dies too young—crosses over into whatever else is out there after death—that really changes the way we think about both life and death. It certainly transformed Doyle’s life.

CLAY: The historian in me thinks back to the period when spiritualism spiked in America after the Civil War. So many people were dying. Even Mary Lincoln, the president’s wife, had terrifying events in her life and she turned to trying to communicate with one of her children who died. Then, World War I reignited the whole interest in spiritualism for a while. Doyle was in the headlines in that era.

But throughout the 20th century, we’ve managed through technology and improved medicine to increase our life spans. Now, we have this desire to live forever, which is built into us, and we actually think we can do it.

DAVID: That’s a longstanding desire, isn’t it?

CLAY: Solomon said that “eternity is set into the hearts of men.” That hasn’t changed throughout history. What’s changed is that we’re in denial, thinking that we could live forever. We hope that through surgery and supplements and gyms—and all the other things we can do these days—that we can deny death. But the truth is: Nobody gets out of this alive. Thoughts of death produce haunting feelings in all of us.

COMICS CAN CONNECT NEW PEOPLE

DAVID: I was impressed, when I first saw your book, that you clearly love comics. You’ve got some specially commissioned 1-page comics sprinkled through the book. ReadTheSpirit has published quite a few stories about the popularity of comics and graphic novels. You talk about the popularity of “Walking Dead” in your book, which now is in its third season on TV. And “Walking Dead” started as a series of comic books. So, what draws you to comics in this case?

CLAY: Too often, the Bible is presented in a stagnant way. We miss out on so much of the good stuff in the Bible by sanitizing what’s happening in the Bible stories. I wanted people to experience these stories in a modern way. So, I thought: What would some of these stories look like if we showed them in the style of a graphic novel? The artist is Gary Morgan—no relation although we share a last name. He started to play around with these stories in the book and came up with these panels to represent some of them as comics.

Comics appeal to people who might not normally be interested in what goes on in church. Comics can be a way that more people can connect with these stories that are so familiar to us.

DAVID: You even appear in one comic, right?

CLAY: Yeah! I got to step into the action a little bit. Gary did this one incredible page as an introduction that’s Pittsburgh as a zombie apocalypse begins. The skyline of Pittsburgh is there, so I like that. And I’m in there, too.

‘POPULAR CULTURE ISN’T AN ENEMY. IT’S A MISSION FIELD.’

DAVID: Help me sum up the book. At this point in our interview, readers clearly will understand that you’re exploring some eerie material, that you’ve got a good sense of humor and that this is—well, very different than anything else they might have chosen for a small-group study. But there’s a very important message here.

I would describe it this way: If you’re active in a church and you’re seeing all this bizarre stuff out there in popular movies, TV, comic books and popular novels about vampires and zombies and all the rest—you should realize that this is your turf. Don’t look at all the fascination with these eerie tales as something that’s irrelevant, or worse, as something you should reject. This is your turf. Exploring issues of life and death—and what comes after death—is the home turf of the church.

How am I doing? Am I close to a pretty good summary here?

CLAY: That’s definitely a huge part of the take away in this book. The one thing I would add is: This book also looks at the struggles we all face between spiritual life and spiritual death on a daily basis. We all know what it means to feel empty inside. We all crave life. That’s our daily struggle.

People will say: I don’t get the zombie thing. I don’t want to read about all this stuff. That’s not for me. And I do understand that a lot of these movies and TV shows are full of horrific things that some people won’t want to see. I’m not saying, in this book, that we all have to enjoy everything in popular culture. But we do need to understand what’s so popular out there—and we need to ask why it’s so popular, why people are so drawn to it.

A lot of people have forgotten today that when C.S. Lewis first wrote The Screwtape Letters that it really was a pretty shocking story of demons conversing about humans. Christians have read the Screwtape Letters for so many years that we now recognize it as a classic, a masterpiece of spiritual writing. I’m not saying that I’m C.S. Lewis, but I am saying: C.S. Lewis made this connection, too.

Our popular culture isn’t an enemy. It’s a mission field. We can be appalled by what we see out there. We can turn away. Or, we can realize that we all are trying to chase down avenues of rebirth and redemption every day of our lives. And, we can gather together and have some great conversations by looking at all of these stories that are right there everywhere we turn.

BUY THE BOOK: You’ll find UNDEAD: Revived, Resuscitated, and Reborn for sale at Amazon.

FOLLOW CLAY MORGAN: He’s reachable on Twitter @UndeadClay.

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Originally published at www.ReadTheSpirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.

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Categories: Author InterviewsBibleChristianGreat With GroupsMovies and TV

Let Undead (vampires & more) inspire your church

http://www.readthespirit.com/explore/wp-content/uploads/sites/16/2013/03/wpid-0827_Clay_Morgan_UNDEAD_cover.JPG.jpgThe Undead are more popular than ever! On October 14, AMC’s hit series The Walking Dead returns to television for its third season. On November 16, millions will flock to the debut of the Twilight movie series’ Breaking Dawn Part 2. As the fall term begins on college campuses, the elaborate HvZ (Humans vs. Zombies) game—a long-running form of “tag”—will revive again on more than 600 college campuses across the U.S. Never heard of HvZ until today? Serious gamers and college-age adults know about it. In fact, only seven years after its creation, HvZ is graduating to other venues across the U.S. For example, a version of the game will be played at the Escapist Expo, a mecca for gamers in Durham, North Carolina, in September.

Good news for congregations:
This isn’t a taboo topic.
This is home turf for Christians!
In fact, the resuscitation of the dead runs throughout the Bible—most famously Jesus’ own resurrection, of course, but there are many other gripping tales of the dead/undead in the pages of scripture. Historian, college lecturer, author and Christian educator Clay Morgan’s debut book, UNDEAD: Revived, Resuscitated, and Reborn, couldn’t have arrived at a more timely moment in American culture. That’s Clay Morgan’s mantra: Connecting spiritual themes with popular culture to inspire a new appreciation of our religious traditions. That’s also in line with ReadTheSpirit’s own slogan: Spirited Inspiration for a Connected World.

Our recommendation today: Visit Amazon and order your copy of UNDEAD today. Consider organizing a small group to discuss the book. You’ll have lots of fun. We certainly are at ReadTheSpirit!

AND, enjoy our author interview with Clay Morgan.

WHAT’S IN CLAY MORGAN’S STRANGE NEW BOOK: ‘UNDEAD’?

http://www.readthespirit.com/explore/wp-content/uploads/sites/16/2013/03/wpid-0827_Zombie_art_from_Clay_Morgan_Undead_book.jpgCOMICS: The first details you’ll notice when picking up this book are a series of 1-page comics sprinkled among the chapters. These mini tales, drawn in black and white, are perfect for enticing fans of comics (and there are many these days) toward a small-group discussion on Undead. The comics are deliberately left open to spirited debate about their meaning. At right, we’re showing you just half of a 1-page story about a Zombie plague hitting Clay Morgan’s own hometown of Pittsburgh. And, yes, that’s Clay himself looking terrified in the middle of the tale!

From popular culture genres like comic books, Clay Morgan makes dozens of other connections between the Christian faith and pop culture appearances of Undead, Zombies, Vampires and related ghoulish creatures. CLICK HERE to read our second story, today, about some of those pop culture tales.

UNDEAD: ELISHA AND THE DEAD BOY

One of the most dramatic stories from ancient Hebrew scriptures features a grief-stricken mother calling on the prophet Eilsha for help after her child dies. The story in 2 Kings Chapter 4 is as dramatic a scene as anything we might see on Grey’s Anatomy today. The boy dies, the Bible says, but Elisha stretches himself out and touches mouth to mouth. The boy becomes warmer, then coughs and sneezes back to life. Sure sounds like CPR today doesn’t it? To this day, thousands of years later, we still are talking about what happened with Elisha in that bedroom in the Shunammite Woman’s home. Gripping! And that’s just the first Bible story retold in Clay’s book.

UNDEAD: Elijah Shows the Way

Clay Morgan starts with Elisha’s story—before he relates an earlier account involving Elijah—partly because there are more details in the Elisha scene. While the Elijah scene may not be quite as vivid in the 17th Chapter of 1 Kings, Elijah clearly seems to have provided the model of resuscitation that Elisha later would follow. In fact, in the way the Shunammite Woman calls Elisha, we are seeing evidence that Elijah’s pattern was quite well known. People assumed that prophets of God knew how to bring back the dead—and the first step was laying the corpse out on the bed, then calling the prophet as soon as possible.

UNDEAD: JESUS CLAIMS THE MANTLE AND THE FAME

Understanding the close association between God’s anointed messengers and their power to grapple with the forces of death—we see more clearly how Jesus’s miracle working quickly claimed the prophetic mantle. Most people today recognize the name Lazarus. We barely remember the other two very lucky people who Jesus reportedly raised from the dead. (Do you recall them? They’re in Clay’s book along with the other stories.)

Why do we recall Lazarus so vividly? Clay points out that Jesus’s revival of Lazarus must have appeared like something out of a Cecil B. DeMille blockbuster. Lazarus’s story in the 11th Chapter of John makes it clear that his body had been wrapped up and left in a tomb for four days! Not only that, John also emphasizes that people were complaining about the stench—even though Lazarus’s wrapped body was inside a cave sealed with a rock. If that weren’t enough high drama, Lazarus’s miraculous return to life came with him stumbling out of the tomb still wrapped like a mummy. John describes it this way: “The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth.” People witnessing the scene were so awestruck that Jesus had to remind them to get moving again and cut away the stinking strips of cloth.

UNDEAD: JESUS’S FOLLOWERS DO IT, TOO

“Tabitha get up!” Does that line from the book of Acts ring bells? Peter, the supposed rock on which Jesus established the Christian church, finds himself called in the same kind of tragedy that was a noted specialty in the careers of Elijah, Elisha and Jesus. Clay Morgan’s careful overview of the Tabitha story is an eye opener, indicating that Peter probably was sweating bullets on this occasion. Was his faith strong enough to accomplish this challenge? As it turns out, the Bible says, Peter’s faith brought the dead woman successfully back to life. Most Christians won’t even recall the story of Tabitha, also known as Dorcas. Whether you know the story or not, you’ll see it from new perspectives in Morgan’s book.

And Paul? Of course, Paul also was equal to the challenge of grappling with the dead. Who did Paul bring back from the dead? Here’s a hint: The incident involves a man who did the equivalent of falling asleep in church. Unfortunately, in that jammed Christian gathering 2,000 years ago, he was sitting in a third-story window at the time he nodded off.

No, Clay Morgan isn’t arguing that churches should hang out shingles offering to do the same today. But, these are powerfully enticing mysteries from thousands of years ago. He writes, “What I’m trying to say is that miraculous events of this magnitude probably weren’t much easier to explain in the 1st Century than they are now.” The central lesson Morgan underlines is: There’s nothing taboo in the pop culture fascination with death, the undead and people who somehow inhabit mysterious, miraculous boundaries of life and death. That is bedrock Judeo-Christian culture.

We can bring the whole discussion of the ultimate meaning of life and death right into our congregations, today. And, while we’re at it, questions will arise about other forms of death we all face—like spiritual death and zombie-like depression in times of global anxiety. Clay Morgan is arguing that churches have a whole lot to say about revival and rebirth.

Care for more about Clay Morgan’s Undead?

READ OUR SECOND STORY TODAY: We’ve headlined it simply “Inspiring Zombies and Vampires and Ghouls (oh my!)” In the first story (above) we’ve shown you some examples Clay Morgan highlights from the Bible. In the second story, we look at some of the many pop culture references Morgan explores.

ENJOY OUR AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Meet Clay Morgan in our weekly author interview.

ORDER THE BOOK: Visit Amazon and order your copy of UNDEAD today.

Care for more about Vampires and Bible study?

http://www.readthespirit.com/explore/wp-content/uploads/sites/16/2013/03/wpid-0827_Glitter_in_the_Sun_Twilight_Bible_study_large_cover.jpgClick the book’s cover to learn more.ReadTheSpirit publishes Glitter in the Sun: A Bible Study Searching for Truth in the Twilight Saga. You can read more about that Bible study in our earlier ReadTheSpirit story about Twilight. In that story, we explained: There are many connections to make as you enjoy this Bible-study series! According to author Jane Wells, the single biggest connection is: Love. For all of its supernatural trappings, the series has sold well over 100 million copies worldwide because of the compelling quality of the immortal love story at its heart. At the heart of Christian conversion is the search for God’s eternal love, Jane writes.

Please help us to reach a wider audience

We welcome your Emails at ReadTheSpirit@Gmail.com
We’re also reachable on Twitter, Facebook, AmazonHuffington PostYouTube and other social-networking sites. 
You also can Subscribe to our articles via Email or RSS feed.
Plus, there’s a free Monday morning Planner newsletter you may enjoy.

Originally published at www.ReadTheSpirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.

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Categories: BibleChristianGreat With GroupsMovies and TV

Twilight subs for religion & spirituality for some teens

http://www.readthespirit.com/explore/wp-content/uploads/sites/16/2013/03/wpid-0528_Twilight_saga_and_connection_to_religion.jpgThis Twilight news is buzzing around the world: A Danish researcher finds some teens in that non-religious corner of the world are experiencing the intense vampires-and-romance series much like other people experience religion. Here’s a Mother Nature News verison of the story, which says in part: “American fans, or Twihards, as they’ve been dubbed, respond to the movie in similar ways.” But, “The semireligious aspect of fandom might be slightly different in America, where religious faith is more common.”

Dr. Wayne Baker, the sociologist who writes the OurValues column, just published a five-part series about Americans’ distinctively strong faith. In response to the Danish report, Baker says such findings could echo his own research into the vast differences in cultural experiences of religion. While American culture is overflowing with faith, Denmark is largely secularized.

Baker cites these comparisons between levels of faith in the two nations:
Ranked on “Certain belief in God”:
Out of 30 countries, the U.S. ranks 5, Denmark is 26.
On “Don’t believe in God”:
Out of 30 countries, the U.S. ranks 27, Denmark is 8.

At ReadTheSpirit, we turned to author and Twilight expert Jane Wells for more …

Twilight as a Touchstone of Faith:
‘Wicked Angels, Adorable Vampires’

By JANE WELLS

http://www.readthespirit.com/explore/wp-content/uploads/sites/16/2013/03/wpid-0528_Twilight_saga_returns_in_2012.jpgI’ve been saying it for two years, but now there is independent scholarly research showing that Twilight and other Gothic-themed media have a value in religious discourse.

Danish researcher Line Nybro Peterson drew this conclusion in “Wicked Angels, Adorable Vampires!” That is the title of her doctoral thesis in the film and media studies department at Københavns Universitet (the University of Copenhagen in English). Peterson found that teens in the largely secular nation on Denmark use media, usually of American origin, to explore universal questions of good, evil, life, death and love.

“My thesis demonstrates that a film series like Twilight offers young people a playground for exploring life’s big questions, moral judgment and to imagine the possibility of the supernatural in a pleasurable and informal fashion. The fictional worlds challenge their presuppositions about themselves and their surroundings,” Peterson told the University of Copenhagen News this month.

Peterson’s thesis consists of a qualitative study of the consumption of TV shows with supernatural and religious content among seventy-two 14- to 18-year-old Danish teenagers, a smaller study among a group of nine teenage Twilight fans as well as a more general analysis of American TV shows’ representations of religious themes and issues.

http://www.readthespirit.com/explore/wp-content/uploads/sites/16/2013/03/wpid-0528_Glitter_in_the_Sun_Twilight_Bible_study_large_cover.jpgClick on the book cover to learn more about Jane Wells’ book on Christian connections with Twilight.Well … hunh!
Who knew this suburban Detroit hausfrau had her thumb so firmly on the zeitgeist? And why hasn’t Glitter in the Sun: A Bible Study Searching for Truth in the Twilight Saga sold a million copies yet?

Peterson and I aren’t the only ones to see spirituality of a positive sort in current gothic literature, movies and television shows.

Author Victoria Nelson in her new Harvard Press book, Gothicka: Vampire Heroes, Human Gods, and the New Supernatural, asserts a new religion is being formed through this new breed of optimistic horror story. She cites a range of books and novels in which what was formally the worst fate possible—becoming a vampire, zombie or werewolf—is the best possible end and the victim becomes “perfected.” The obvious example is the Twilight Saga in which human Bella Swan becomes perfect and indestructible as a vampire. (Another recent novel is Dust, by Joan Frances Turner, in which the zombies, thanks to a mysterious virus, cease to rot away, and instead heal into a body that seems to be able to live forever.)

According to a May 23 Wall Street Journal review of Nelson’s book, she suggests “that the Gothic has, in the 21st century, taken a ‘surprising new turn toward the light,’ not only ‘showing signs of outgrowing the dark supernaturalism it inherited from its 18th-century ancestor,’ but doing so in a way that promises to shift it from being the locus of a displaced spiritual sense to the possible harbinger of an actual new faith system. ‘Is a major new religion born of these fictions looming on the horizon?’ Ms. Nelson asks boldly.”

My answer to that question is: No, I don’t think so. I do, however, believe this trend hearkens back to the Enlightenment, when Gothic literature first rose on the scene, as our souls began to hunger for the mystical being driven out of our lives by logic and science. By now, the spiritual deficits in our culture have reached critical mass and teenagers especially are looking for anything that has eternal meaning.

Please help us to reach a wider audience

We welcome your Emails at ReadTheSpirit@Gmail.com
We’re also reachable on Twitter, Facebook, AmazonHuffington PostYouTube and other social-networking sites. 
You also can Subscribe to our articles via Email or RSS feed.
Plus, there’s a free Monday morning Planner newsletter you may enjoy.

Originally published at www.ReadTheSpirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.

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Categories: BibleChildren and FamiliesChristianMovies and TV

6 Impossible Things: How Alice still inspires dreamers

http://www.readthespirit.com/explore/wp-content/uploads/sites/16/2013/03/wpid-0504_alice_in_wonderland_john_tenniel.jpgFor the birthday of the “real Alice,” ReadTheSpirit asked author Jane Wells to reflect on how much this classic story still can teach us. After all, Jane herself is an expert on the spiritual power of fantasy—as you can see in the note at the end of this story. Here is …

Six Impossible Things
How Alice Liddell
Still Inspires Dreamers

By JANE WELLS

In honor of Alice Liddell’s 160th birthday on May 4 (see our official holiday story for more), I revisited the most recent movie inspired by the tale woven by a math professor to entertain three little girls during a boat ride. The 2010 movie version of Alice in Wonderland, directed by Tim Burton, finds Alice now 19 years old, facing pressure to marry a young man she can barely stand because it is the right thing to do. Her doting father had been a dreamer and a successful businessman. He would tell her that sometimes he would believe as many as six impossible things before breakfast. Unfortunately, his death and the influence of others in her life have drowned out his permission to act upon her dreams.

When a waistcoat-wearing rabbit draws her down a rabbit hole she begins a journey of self-discovery. Alice eventually draws up her own list of impossible things to believe, which includes, in the end, that she can slay the Jabberwocky.

Here are my six impossible things, as seen through the light of this fantastic film version:

http://www.readthespirit.com/explore/wp-content/uploads/sites/16/2013/03/wpid-0502_1.jpgSometimes it takes a while but you can find the right door. Just like in the original novel, this Alice has to try a bunch of locked doors before she finds the little one that the key fits, and then go through frustrating rounds of shrinking and growing and shrinking again before she can get out of the “waiting room” and into Wonderland proper.

http://www.readthespirit.com/explore/wp-content/uploads/sites/16/2013/03/wpid-0502_2.jpgYou can discover who you really are. Alice was fortunate to have a blue caterpillar obnoxious enough to call her stupid for not knowing herself. The rest of us waste a lot of time bumbling around before even thinking to ask ourselves this question.

http://www.readthespirit.com/explore/wp-content/uploads/sites/16/2013/03/wpid-0502_3.jpgYou can regain what has been worn down in your journey so far—if you know what is missing. The Mad Hatter is disappointed when Alice refuses to take up the battle against the Red Queen. “You’re not the same as you were before. You were much muchier. You’ve lost your muchness…” He points at Alice’s chest, “in there, something is missing.”

http://www.readthespirit.com/explore/wp-content/uploads/sites/16/2013/03/wpid-0502_4.jpgThis is your journey to determine. When the helpful hound Bayard tries to direct Alice to the White Queen, she rebels. “From the moment I fell down that rabbit hole, I’ve been told what I must do and who I must be,” she protests. “I’ve been shrunk, stretched, scratched and stuffed into a teapot! … I make the path!”

http://www.readthespirit.com/explore/wp-content/uploads/sites/16/2013/03/wpid-0502_5.jpgBecoming who we are is a process. The blue caterpillar demonstrates, “I said you are ‘not hardly’ Alice, but you’re much more her now. In fact, you’re almost Alice.”

http://www.readthespirit.com/explore/wp-content/uploads/sites/16/2013/03/wpid-0502_6.jpgThe power that enrages and defeats our biggest enemy is not our own. When Alice walks onto the battlefield to take on the Jabberwocky, the monster says, “So, my old foe, we meet on the battlefield once again.”
Alice is confused and says, “We’ve never met.”
“Not you, insignificant bearer,” roars the Jabberwocky, “My ancient enemy the Vorpal one.”

What impossible things have you found to be true in your life?
Share them in the comments below.

Care to read Jane Wells’ book on spirituality in Twilight?

Her new book called Glitter in the Sun and is guaranteed to spark lively discussion in small groups, especially since a new Twilight movie debuts in the autumn of 2012. Plan ahead for a summer or fall series in your congregation with Jane, Twilight and Glitter.

Please help us to reach a wider audience

We welcome your Emails at ReadTheSpirit@Gmail.com
We’re also reachable on Twitter, Facebook, AmazonHuffington PostYouTube and other social-networking sites. 
You also can Subscribe to our articles via Email or RSS feed.
Plus, there’s a free Monday morning Planner newsletter you may enjoy.

Originally published at www.ReadTheSpirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.

Comments: (0)
Categories: Children and FamiliesChristianHolidaysMovies and TV

Hunger Games: Things we’ve never seen before

http://www.readthespirit.com/explore/wp-content/uploads/sites/16/2013/03/wpid-0323_Hunger_Games_still_courtesy_Lionsgate.jpgFINALLY, after a year-long media campaign that the New York Times calls one of the most innovative social-networking efforts in Hollywood history:
Hunger Games is here!
Originally aimed at Young Adults, this series has crossed over to millions of adult fans who are buzzing about the central themes and the high adventure. ReadTheSpirit is publishing several viewpoints on this important cultural milestone.
Want to spark a discussion about Hunger Games?
Read faith-and-film author Edward McNulty’s detailed analysis.
AND: Rodney Curtis, a.k.a. Spiritual Wanderer, on Why Your Mom May Hate This Movie.

Here is Twilight expert Jane Wells’ review …

Glimpsing Startling New Aspects in Hunger Games

By JANE WELLS

Where to start? The amazing costumes? The violence you didn’t quite see, but shocked none-the-less? The superb cast and nuanced acting? The breathtaking special effects?

Let’s start here: The Hunger Games movie is not Twilight the movie.
Last week I explained why these two best-selling series of novels can’t be compared apples to apples. Turns out, the movies are also different animals. I’ve often described the Twilight movies as a form of shorthand for people who were already fans of the novels. Several times in the Twilight movies, a major theme on which an entire future plot point hangs is summed up in one sentence, which the fans catch, mentally acknowledge and move on. People who are introduced to Twilight in a movie theater sometimes miss those key little details from the novels as throw-away moments then find themselves broadsided later because the cues had been too subtle.

The Hunger Games, on the other hand, benefited from author Suzanne Collins background in scriptwriting and hands-on approach to converting her books to the big screen. Collins ruthlessly culled her own material, distilling it down to the most important elements so they could be fully developed.

http://www.readthespirit.com/explore/wp-content/uploads/sites/16/2013/03/wpid-0323_Mockingjay_pin.jpgFor example, the Mockingjay pin, is an important symbol in the series. In the books it is given to heroine Katniss Everdeen by the mayor’s daughter, whose mother’s twin had worn it when she died in the Hunger Games 25 years earlier. Rather than try to preserve this minor plot line that weaves through all three novels, Collins cuts out the whole family but preserves the importance of the pin that symbolizes her hardscrabble coal-mining district, Katniss’s independence, and the love she and her sister have for each other.

What isn’t lost is the horror of violence. The Hunger Games is set in a dystopian future where the Capitol city of Panem rules the nation with an iron fist. The opening screens are a quote from the nation’s “constitution,” which states each of the 12 districts must provide an annual “tribute” of one teenage boy and one teenage girl, between the ages of 12 and 18, to be sent to the capitol where they will be put into an arena and will fight to the death. Only one can survive.

‘HOPE IS THE ONLY THING MORE POWERFUL THAN FEAR’

http://www.readthespirit.com/explore/wp-content/uploads/sites/16/2013/03/wpid-0323_Donald_Sutherland_in_Hunger_Games_photo_by_Murray_Close_courtesy_Lionsgate.jpgIt is, as President Snow explains to the Head Gamekeeper, a carrot and stick method of governing. That 23 of the 24 children must die reminds the outlying districts that their survival rests on the grace of the Powers that Be. But…

“Do you know why there is a survivor?” Snow asks the Gamekeeper.

The Gamekeeper is puzzled by the question.

“Hope,” Snow says. “Hope is the only thing more powerful than fear.”

That spark of hope, Snow explains, is what keeps the districts motivated. But this spark must be tightly controlled. If it ever gets out of control, the resulting fire could destroy everything. Unfortunately for Snow, and without any conscious intent on her part, Katniss comes to define hope for the entire nation.

‘CAREERS’: TURNING TEENS INTO KILLING MACHINES

http://www.readthespirit.com/explore/wp-content/uploads/sites/16/2013/03/wpid-0323_hardscrabble_town_in_Hunger_Games_courtesy_Lionsgate.jpgCostumes define the stark differences between the lives enjoyed by the residents of the Capitol—and those suffered by residents in the outlying districts. When Katniss and her 12-year-old sister Primrose are preparing for the Reaping ceremony they scrub up and wear their very best clothes. The town square is filled with young women with braided hair and cotton dresses taken directly from Dorthea Lange’s Great Depression photos. In the Capitol, on the other hand, are people with brightly colored hair, impractical clothes and paint-like makeup—the most outrageous high fashion runway show on the sidewalk every day.

As one would expect in any gladiator movie, and that’s exactly what this is, the violence is unavoidable. Several of the districts actually train their children for the arena. Called “Careers”, they are taught from an early age that it is a privilege to be chosen and to bring honor to their district by winning. These teens are killing machines. The worst of this is kept off camera, but a lot of blood still spills across the screen. Even the survivors are bloody and injured most of the time. In the theater where I saw a midnight debut, one of the “Tributes” snaps the neck of a younger boy—and even those who had read the books and knew it was coming gasped in shock. I realize these books are read in Middle Schools across the country, but seeing it in full-color, larger than life, is a different thing. I don’t think the PG-13 rating is too harsh.

The casting is spot on. My only quibble is with Donald Sutherland as President Snow. I imagined someone smaller, oilier somehow. Yet, Sutherland brings to the role a layered personality that is at once warm, open and welcoming, yet deeply disturbing in his ruthless pursuit of control.

PLEASANT SURPRISES: THINGS WE’VE NEVER SEEN BEFORE

One of the coolest things brought into the film that wasn’t in the novel was the Gamekeeper’s control room. While in the novels we knew the gamekeepers had control of every aspect of the arena, even the weather, we didn’t get to see them make those decisions. Here we do and it is fascinating. We see how the Tributes are manipulated by the gamekeepers to force conflict and keep the Game “exciting.” Forest fires are set and extinguished, night falls and dawn comes in rapid sequence, and manufactured monsters are set loose to speed things up.

All in all, The Hunger Games movie opens our eyes to aspects of this terrific and deeply troubling saga that even long-time fans of the novels will admit: There are things here that we’ve never seen before.

Care to read Jane Wells’ book on spiritual themes in Twilight?

It’s called Glitter in the Sun and is guaranteed to spark lively discussion in small groups, especially since a new Twilight movie debuts later this year. Plan ahead for a spring, summer or fall series in your congregation with Jane, Twilight and Glitter.

Please help us to reach a wider audience

We welcome your Emails at ReadTheSpirit@Gmail.com
We’re also reachable on Twitter, Facebook, AmazonHuffington PostYouTube and other social-networking sites. 
You also can Subscribe to our articles via Email or RSS feed.
Plus, there’s a free Monday morning Planner newsletter you may enjoy.

Originally published at www.ReadTheSpirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.

Comments: (0)
Categories: Children and FamiliesChristianPeacemaking

Hunger Games: A hit novel, movie, App—but not Twilight

http://www.readthespirit.com/explore/wp-content/uploads/sites/16/2013/03/wpid-0316_Hunger_Games_media.jpgHunger Games! Hunger Games!

The haunting futuristic world with the attractive young heroes—also known as Hunger Games—is everywhere we look in the days leading up to the March 23 debut. ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm gave a series of lectures to a couple hundred high school students this week and asked: “Anyone here going to see Hunger Games?” The whoosh of rising hands was audible.
This week, ReadTheSpirit is running a wide range of viewpoints on this blockbuster:
Faith-and-film critic Ed McNulty writes about the many dystopias Hollywood has produced.

For this story, we asked Twilight expert Jane Wells to write about the distinction between the super-popular Twilight franchise and this series of novels and films that many adults are just discovering.

Hunger Games:
A Different Message
Than Twilight

By Jane Wells

I doubt many have escaped the relentless buzz surrounding Hunger Games the movie, opening March 23 here in the U.S. At the very least you’ve probably been exposed to the television ads featuring teenagers with weapons, a lot of fire and grownups with strange-colored hair. And, if you pay any attention at all to the relentless noise produced by the Hollywood hype machine, you’ve heard comparisons made between The Hunger Games and Twilight, as if setting up for some Battle Royal/Rumble in the Jungle.

DISTINGUISHING BETWEEN TWILIGHT AND HUNGER GAMES

For clarity’s sake, these are the points these two series have in common.
1) They both started as popular book series written for young adults, but both have enjoyed a huge crossover audience.
2) They feature a teenage girl and two teenage boys between whom she feels she must choose.
3) Ummmm… yeah. I think that’s about it.

WHAT ARE THE BASIC STORY LINES?

TWILIGHT AT A GLANCE: In the four-book Twilight Saga, modern-day human girl Bella Swan finds herself torn between the enigmatic vampire Edward Cullen and the dangerously passionate werewolf Jacob Black. Thematically, her choice is between Edward’s eternal love and Jacob’s unconditional love. And for four books, Bella, Edward and Jacob work out their futures. Side themes include loyalty and family.

Why has the Twilight Saga struck such a deep chord among its mostly female audience? It’s all about the love. Some have analyzed The Hunger Games the same way, calling the charismatic hunter Gale Hawthorn the embodiment of Eros (romantic) love and the gentle baker Peeta Mellark the representative of Agape (unconditional) love. While I do like that analogy—love is a very minor theme in the series, otherwise we would not keep reading the hundreds of pages where neither of the young men is involved.

HUNGER GAMES AT A GLANCE: The Hunger Games books are set in a dystopic future, 75 years after America has been destroyed by civil war. The resulting nation is divided into 13 districts ruled with an iron hand by the capitol city called Panem. Each year two teenagers are selected from each district to compete in the Hunger Games as “tributes.” The winner is the one who survives. District residents are required to watch their children die in the arena while residents of Panem make lavish bets on their favorites. Katniss Everdeen volunteers to replace her younger sister who had been pulled in the drawing. She leaves behind her sister, widowed mother and Gale, her best friend and hunting partner. The male “tribute” is the baker’s son, Peeta, whom she barely knows. Peeta, however, knows Katniss and has loved her from afar since childhood. Yet in order to survive they will have to see each other as enemies.

When I read the Hunger Games series, the pieces of popular culture that kept coming to mind were not love stories. Twilight was the furthest thing from my mind. They were pieces of literature like Orwell’s 1984, Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery, and the 1987 Arnold Schwarzenegger movie The Running Man, in which criminals could earn their freedom by competing to the death through a deadly maze. I was reminded of stories in which violence and resistance defined and refined the characters.

Care to read more about dystopias in Hollywood movies? Check out faith-and-film critic Edward McNulty’s overview of famous films sharing this theme.

WHAT WAS SUZANNE COLLINS THINKING IN HUNGER GAMES?

Popular culture inspired author Suzanne Collins to write these stories. “I was channel surfing between reality TV programming and actual war coverage when Katniss’s story came to me,” she said in an interview with Powell’s Books. “One night I’m sitting there flipping around and on one channel there’s a group of young people competing for, I don’t know, money maybe? And on the next, there’s a group of young people fighting an actual war. And I was tired, and the lines began to blur in this very unsettling way, and I thought of this story.”

Mennonite pastor Marty Troyer nails the pacifist theme throughout The Hunger Games trilogy in this excellent Pangea Blog post. He explains how Collins drags us through the pain inflicted by Dominant Violence, used by those in power to keep their power. And how the resulting Resistant or Revolutionary Violence can become just as bad. The problem with Resistant Violence, as our heroine Katniss learns, is that it very easily can become Dominant Violence itself.

In fact, the most jarring scenes in the series are when Katniss acts out violently against the powers manipulating her: shooting Coin instead of President Snow and voting for a final Hunger Game featuring the formerly exempt children of the privileged Capital residents.

HUNGER GAMES AND TODAY’S HEADLINES

We don’t have to look far to find real-life echoes of these themes. Last summer, we saw the rise of The 99%, protesting against corporate rule and cultural inequalities. Just this past week the Kony 2012 campaign against a revolutionary fighter whose violence surpasses inhumane, became a cultural phenomenon of its own calling for action.

But what action is most appropriate in the face of violence? The strength of peaceful resistance has been on my mind lately since reading Blessed are the Peacemakers by Daniel Buttry. This collection of biographies demonstrates exactly how dangerous intentional peacemaking can be, but how very worth the sacrifice and difficult choices can be in the end.  Some of the biographies are well known and have been made into movies themselves, such as Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. But others, the many stories of ordinary people who made a difference, also deserve to be remembered and emulated as well.

I will let you know later this week what I think of the movie, but I’m hoping the take-home lesson of both the book series and the movie will be that violence begets violence. Waging peace is much harder, but so much more worth it in the end.

Care to read Jane Wells’ book on spiritual themes in Twilight? It’s called Glitter in the Sun and is guaranteed to spark lively discussion in small groups, especially since a new Twilight movie debuts later this year. Plan ahead for a spring, summer or fall series in your congregation with Jane, Twilight and Glitter.

Care to read more about worldwide peacemakers?

Jimmy Carter is among the dozens of global peacemakers profiled in ReadTheSpirit’s “Blessed Are the Peacemakers” by Daniel Butty. The book is a collection of real-life stories about the men, women and children who are taking great risks around the world to counter violence with efforts to promote healthier, peaceful, diverse communities. Like Carter, Buttry is a Baptist who works on peacemaking projects around the world.

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Originally published at www.ReadTheSpirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.

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