Would you attend this Hunger Games camp?

So, this happened earlier this week.

Hunger Games Camp in Largo, Fla Has Some Concerned

(Oh! I went to post the link to the original Hunger Games Camp story on MSN.com and the video was gone! The point of the video is  the event organizer explaining the team-building, life-gaining activities at the camp.)

I was about to say – “that’s so COOL!”, but my husband was all, “can YOU beLIEVE this? A summer camp that glorifies kids killing other kids?”

But, he’d only read the headline – so I explained to him that it’s all team-building stuff – not a single paintball gun or Nerf arrow in sight. (Do they make Nerf arrows? If not, they should. I’d totally be onboard with those!)

I understand his concern, though. He’s seen the movie. It’s graphic. The deaths are deplorable and violent. (The Huffington Post picked up the story and had this to say about it.) This is my primary problem with movies. When I’m reading a book I don’t “see” the blood. I register that a character died, but I don’t invest my imagination in the details – and if the book is particularly graphic, I’ll even skip a few sentences so I don’t have to carry that image in my head. In the books the story does not drown in the deaths. In the books we hear lead character Katniss’ thoughts as she navigates this horrifying world, trying to avoid both killing and being killed. Knowing she is suffering somehow makes our suffering  as observers easier to bear.

What the Hunger Games is truly about, beyond the gory-kid-on-kid-murderous-violence, is justice.

lovejusticeTwo of the main characters, Katniss and Gale, have been deeply aware since an early age that injustice rules their lives. Their fathers died in a mine explosion. While their mothers are doing the best they can,  each has had to take on responsibility beyond their years to keep food on the table. Their childhoods were sacrificed because the government sees them as expendable.

Once in the arena, another main character, Peeta, declares he will not play the government’s game. He will preserve justice within himself. He nearly dies following that decision while leading predatory contestants away from Katniss and helping her to escape when she was trapped.

The camp I want to attend would  have a section on food foraging and survival skills. And archery. Because at some level I think  everyone wants to be Katniss. But if I were to organize a Hunger Games camp I would emphasize the need to be just in order to bring about justice in our world. We would talk about regional crops and food justice, bullying, institutional racism, and team building with people who are “other” than us.

I think the deeper story in The Hunger Games can be summed up by Micah 6:8 “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

The Hunger Games: Katniss volunteers… would I?

In The Hunger Games, when young Primrose Everdeen is selected as tribute, Katniss volunteers to replace her little sister in what is surely a death sentence without a moments hesitation or thought. And while she regrets many things she does in the months and years to follow, volunteering to replace her sister is not one of them

Esther, recruited to be queen, can keep silent and perhaps survive the genocide looming over her people. Or she can speak up and be the first to die.

“I volunteer! I volunteer as tribute,” Katniss Everdeen, resident of District 12.

“If I perish, I perish,” Esther, Queen of Persia, Jew.

Although written millennia apart, the same steely determination rings through both of these  statements. Both young women face impossible odds for a victory that could improve their worlds – or a defeat that would destroy their loved ones for good.

I volunteer, if I perish, I perish.After all, the point of the Hunger Games is not really about crowning a victor. It’s about reminding the residents of Panem who holds the power. It’s the Capitol saying every year, “we hold the power of life and death over your children – and by extension over you.” For Katniss, as a resident  of one of the poorest districts, where any skills that might save her aren’t taught until adulthood, the odds of surviving even the first few days are not in her favor

  • Yet Katniss volunteers.
  • And once in the arena Katniss fights.

Esther is a Jewish orphan being raised by a relative. Decades earlier the Israelites had been defeated and carted off into exile by the massive Persian nation. The Persians were somewhat enlightened. They didn’t really care who or what people chose to worship – as long as it didn’t disrupt their peace. The Jewish people knew they had been defeated because they had turned their backs on God. In exile, as a people, they kept their heads down, worked hard and returned to the roots of their faith.

Yet, through extraordinary turn of events that almost resembles an American Idol season, Esther is selected to compete and wins the throne of the reecently deposed queen. She is, possibly  for the first time in her life, secure – until turning political wheels threaten the lives of every Jew under Persian rule. If the Jews are to survive Esther must risk her life, appearing before her husband, the king, without being summoned. If he is even slightly annoyed with her presence she will be put to death.

  • Esther is challenged to think about the reason she was raised to power
  • Accepting the challenge as an appointment from God, Esther choses to fight.

I have always loved the story of Esther, a beautiful girl is plucked from obscurity, becomes a queen, and saves a people. Perhaps this is why Katniss’ story resonated with me. I already knew the framework.

You know what is most annoying about a good story? It is the question that lingers when it’s done. Esther and Katniss both linger. They ask me what I am going to do. What am I doing to do about the little things: the litter on my street, the neighbor kids who need someplace safe to play, convenient versus healthy foods?

And then there are the really big questions. What am I doing to improve my neighborhood? My town? My state? My world? Am I really considering how my actions affect other people near and far?

Do I have what it takes to face the president or the king and stand up for what is right?

What about you? What challenges make you willing to stand up?

I’d rather be a zombie

I just finished the second book in Diana Rowland’s excellent White Trash Zombie series.

Yeah, I said “excellent” and “zombie” in the same sentence. What are you gonna do about it?

Here’s the synopsis of the first book, My Life as a White Trash Zombie, from Rowland’s website.

Angel Crawford is a loser

Living with her alcoholic deadbeat dad in the swamps of southern Louisiana, she’s a high school dropout with a pill habit and a criminal record who’s been fired from more crap jobs than she can count. Now on probation for a felony, it seems that Angel will never pull herself out of the downward spiral her life has taken.

That is, until the day she wakes up in the ER after overdosing on painkillers. Angel remembers being in an horrible car crash, but she doesn’t have a mark on her. To add to the weirdness, she receives an anonymous letter telling her there’s a job waiting for her at the parish morgue–and that it’s an offer she doesn’t dare refuse.

Before she knows it she’s dealing with a huge crush on a certain hunky deputy and a brand new addiction: an overpowering craving for brains. Plus, her morgue is filling up with the victims of a serial killer who decapitates his prey–just when she’s hungriest!

Angel’s going to have to grow up fast if she wants to keep this job and stay in one piece. Because if she doesn’t, she’s dead meat.

Literally.

It’s funny, it’s heartbreaking, it’s romantic and it’s incredibly gross. I LOVED it! Necessary warning: Angel is white trash and her vocabulary is appropriate for her. F-bombs fall frequently.

Even White Trash Zombies Get The Blues is the book that kept me up until midnight last night. This time Angel tangles with zombie hunters who may or may not be in cahoots with the zombie mafia. Wrap your head around that one.

I think what I love most about this series is the real heart that Rowland has for Angel. It is a compassionate and realistic portrayal of how things so frequently go wrong. (The story is set in Louisiana, but I know I went to school with Angel in Northern Michigan. Maybe the names were changed to protect the innocent.)

Angel has been shown grace. She’s been given a second chance at life, un-death after dying.

Stick with me here, but I’m seeing a pretty important parallel here.

I’m pretty sure becoming a zombie, like Angel did, is not going to happen. But I got a second chance after dying, after putting myself on the alter and walking away from what I thought was best for me and giving it all to God. Also like Angel, I need to follow some simple but vital rules. Angel has to eat brains or she will rot away. (Happily her new job at the morgue keeps her in fresh and quasi legal supply – she doesn’t even have to kill anyone.) To keep me from rotting away I need to keep close to my supply too. I need God in my life.

Another important thing to remember. Angel never forgets where she came from. She has compassion for a stoned convenience store clerk because that used to be her. She shows love to her father because she understands his hurt and how overwhelmed he was when her mother, his wife, went off the deep end of mental illness. She extends grace to the people who are where she used to be.

These are the most poignant, and most damning, moments in the series. Especially when I compare them to how Christians are reacting to current events. There is no grace in the Chick-fil-A conversation.

If this is how Christians continue to act, then I would rather be a zombie like Angel.

Hate crime: taking sick and wrong to a whole new level

I am still shaking my head after a major What The Hell moment this morning when I read an article my friend posted on Facebook about a horrific hate crime in Nebraska.

According to CNN, a 33-year-old woman was attacked in her home, stripped of her clothing, tied up and tortured. The three male attackers sprayed anti-lesbian slurs on her walls and carved words into her skin. What words she will be scarred with for life have been kept from the public, but it’s not hard to imagine.

 

It is exactly this kind of abuse that makes me want to move off the planet. Those three men touched that woman – put their hands on her warm skin, heard her scream

The Mail Online ran this picture of the homophobic slur spray-painted on the wall of the woman’s basement at her home after she was bound and her body cut.

and beg, violated the sanctity and safety of her home – yet still denied her basic humanity.

No woman … wait, check that … no HUMAN should be treated like that. EVER.

My friend posted the report from the British newspaper, The Mail Online, where the comments were overwhelmingly in support of this woman who most certainly did not deserve this kind of abuse.

Second to support, though, was an immediate backlash against “Christians”. I have to tell you, this made me feel almost as heartsick as the initial news report.

I am a Christian. I try really hard to remember that everyone is made in the image of God, and that everyone is loved equally by a Creator who loved us enough to make it possible for us to live at peace with him. Yeah, I screw that up. A lot. I’m working on it. And when I remember how badly I screw up it’s easier to be compassionate.

But I don’t have any compassion for people who do horrible things and call themselves Christian. Maybe I should apologize for that, but I just can’t find it in myself to do so.

“Christians” cannot justify bombing an abortion clinic by pointing out how Jesus threw money changers out of the temple with a whip. Their choice to destroy property and even lives aligns them more with the priests and thieves who colluded to fleece worshipers than it does with Jesus.

Neither can “Christians” condone anti-gay violence in Jesus’ name, the very same Jesus who ate dinner with sinners and prostitutes and condemned the whitewashed tombs who assumed an almost laughable ‘holier than thou’ attitude. How dare those monsters condemn a woman who was living peacefully and seeking love the way she understands it? How is their action NOT completely contemptible? On what scale imaginable is breaking and entering, destruction of property, assault and torture BETTER than looking for love and acceptance from someone of the same sex?

Look. I’m not condoning homosexuality. I can’t. I have looked for the loopholes in an attempt to understand, and I haven’t found them yet. Just as I look back at my premarital sexual activity and recognize the sin I willfully practiced.

What I do know is this. Jesus held special condemnation for hypocrites, telling his followers to take the planks out of their own eyes before trying to remove the speck of sawdust from someone else’s. I’m not sure how those men even got into the house with those massive beams sticking out of their faces.

 

A new generation of evangelicals

Jonathan Merritt

I am extremely fortunate to be exposed to some of the leading religious thinkers of our time through my work at Read The Spirit publishing. Every week my editor interviews someone with insights new and old that challenge currently held assumptions. This week the spotlight is on Jonathan Merritt, who grew up in the inner circles of power of the movement as the son of an evangelical stalwart.

Yet Merritt is the very voice of reason in an age of hyperbolic rhetoric.

I made this graphic because this abbreviated quote so perfectly summed up what needs to happen in the upcoming election. Here is the full quote:

Christians need a rapid infusion of what Peggy Noonan calls “patriotic grace,” which is to say, “a grace that takes the long view, apprehends the moment we’re in, comes up with ways of dealing with it, and eschews the politically cheap and manipulative.” Many of the folks I’ve spoken with want exactly that. They desire what John Murray Cuddihy called a “culture of civility.” They long for the day when the American public square will be a place of passionate but reasonable discussion—resembling the Greek agora more than the Roman Coliseum.

In short, we all need to take it down a notch, listen closely, and find the common ground we all share.

Read more here, at Read The Spirit.com.

 

Review: The Wolf Gift

In 2005, I was home with a toddler and a breastfeeding infant, the biological imperative to be a stay-at-home-mom overruling my hard-wired desire to write. I felt trapped, and spent a lot of time asking God why he made me a writer and then set me in a place where writing a coherent paragraph was less likely than taking an uninterrupted shower.

The Wolf Gift

It was during this conflict of callings that a friend suggested I read Anne Rice’s most recent book. The proper-church-girl in me responded with scorn, “I don’t read vampire books.” (I have since had ample opportunity to repent of that attitude.) But this was Christ the Lord, Out of Egypt, the story of Jesus’ childhood, written with deep respect, reverence and imagination. Anne Rice was no longer the author who would celebrate a book launch by throwing herself a mock New Orleans-style jazz funeral. This is Anne Rice, the devout Catholic, who after returning to the vibrant faith of her childhood has dedicated and sanctified all of her writing for Christ.

For me Out of Egypt, and its sequel Christ the Lord, the Road to Cana, lifted Jesus from the two-dimensional flanelgraph understanding and made him real in a way I hadn’t experienced since watching the movie Passion of the Christ. As a tryptic, the two books and movie underscore the verses most difficult to understand, the human part of Jesus who was fully God and fully Man.

For me as a writer, Anne did something else, she demonstrated in glorious detail that a Christian author does not have to write with hackneyed prose and be limited to stories about people wearing bonnets. And, to my immense delight, when I sent her an e-mail thanking her for her work and inspiration, she responded with a kind and graceful note.

The Wolf Gift is her most recent novel and at first blush seems to be a reversion to her previous fascination with the supernatural. The Wolf Gift is about werewolves, violent werewolves, and cruel humans and extramarital sex of all sorts. It might be a little much for the chaste bonnet romance crowd, but hang on with me for a minute longer.

In the back of Out of Egypt, and in her recent biography Called out of Darkness, Anne evaluates her previous body of work. Writer Patricia Snow sums up, “Of her secular books—books about creatures ‘shut out of life, doomed to marginality or darkness’—(Anne Rice) says flatly, ‘These books transparently reflect a journey through atheism and back to God. It is impossible not to see this.’”

That journey is deliberately explored in The Wolf Gift.

The protaganist, Rueben, is a gifted reporter but dismissed by nearly everyone he respects because of his youth, beauty, gentle nature and his trust fund status. His has been a charmed life, gifted with everything he could want except the one thing he truly longs for – respect. Until the night he is bitten by a strange, unseen beast. Within weeks he finds himself struggling with the curse – and the blessing – that he comes to call the wolf gift.

More surprising than his ability to transform from human to werewolf form, is the imperative he feels at a biological level to defend the innocent from violence. Soon the news outlets are tracking the exploits of the Man Wolf as would be rapists and murders are dismembered and eaten, while the rescued tell tales of a beast who treats them with extraordinary gentleness.

Rueben finally has to leave the city to get away from the voices of the victims he hears all hours of the day, wondering to himself, “God, what is it like to be You and hear all those people all the time everywhere, begging, imploring, calling out for anything and anyone?” It seems that Rueben and others like him are one of God’s answers to those cries. Perhaps Anne is saying we all are supposed to be the answer…

Rueben’s brother, Jim, is a Catholic priest, a good priest who serves his impoverished parish well. Unable to keep the secret to himself any longer, he confesses everything he’s done – killing numerous people who were about to kill others – and that he couldn’t make himself feel bad for it, it was a moral as much as a biological imperative.

Finally, Jim says, “May God protect you.”

“Why would He do that?” Rueben asked.

“Because He made you. Whatever you are, He made you. And He knows why and for what purpose.”

Finally Rueben finds some answers from other Morphenkinder, who have been working out what the wolf gift means to them for centuries. One of the oldest imparts this word of wisdom, “You are creatures of body and soul, wolfen and human, and balance is indispensable to survival. One can kill the gifts one is given, any of them and all of them, if one is determined to do so, and pride is the parent of destruction, pride eats the mind and the heart and soul alive.”

Replace “wolfen and human” with “eternal and mortal”, and you end up with credo to live by.

This is not a “Christian” book in a traditional sense – but the spiritual issues Anne explores are eternal. She raises questions of morality and purpose, love and justice, faith and experience, and not all of them are answered. But then, these are answers we really need to find for ourselves.

The W.I.P. 7x7x7 challenge

Perhaps you’ve seen it on Facebook, authors challenging each other to post seven lines from their Work In Progress (also known as WIP).

My friend Amy Rose Davis, who self-published the amazing Ravenmarked (I rave about it here), posted a few paragraphs from her “cowboy-witch-dragon” WIP on her blog this week – and threw down the gauntlet to the rest of us who dared.

Well, I’m game.

The challenge goes like this. Go to page 7 or page 77 of your WIP. Count down seven lines. Post the following seven lines for everyone to read.

So, here it is. Seven lines from page seven of The Dictator’s Daughter.

Whenever possible Adrian took his place at Liri’s right hand, almost always a little too close for her comfort. An involuntary shudder ran down her spine when she thought about how many times he seemed to be just on the edge of acting inappropriately intimate for a member of the presidential staff.

“He earned this position by fighting for it,” she continued. “He’s as fast as a snake and able to quickly size up any opponent’s weaknesses. Olek and Engel are the only two he didn’t defeat. And not for lack of trying, he still seems to take our practice drills way too seriously. I’ve wondered if he isn’t still trying to compensate for something.”

So? What do you think?

Go ahead. Feed my paranoid ego and tell me you want more … or at least want to know why Adrain is such a weasel.