Catching Fire: Katniss allies with others – not necessarily of her choosing.

In the second book of The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, Katniss allies herself with a wide variety of other tributes. This time Katniss is fighting for more than her personal survival.

A brief overview

Finnick, by reputation a Capitol-controlled playboy, becomes one of Katniss’ strongest allies in Catching Fire. Photo courtesy IMDb

It is completely unfair and supremely unlikely – yet as a condition of the Quarter Quell, the “super games” held every 25 years, the tributes must be victors from a previous game. Katiniss is the only female champion from District 12. Ever. And only two male champions to have ever come from 12 are Peeta and their mentor Haymitch. Knowing President Snow would kill her to cut the head off the looming rebellion, Katniss can’t help but suspect the games were manipulated so that the odds would not be in her favor.

However, the rebellion has spread further than President Snow has seen. Even the game organizers are involved and several other “tributes” have committed to keeping Katniss alive. The problem is, Katniss doesn’t know who to trust.

 … and this has what to do with who?

So last week we read that God requested that Gideon destroy the temples of Baal and Asherah in the town square and replace them with a proper place to worship God. The key verse was God’s assurance that Gideon could do this ‘in his own strength’ (Judges 6:14). So he obeyed God – in the middle of the night when no one would see him do it – and earned a not-so-affectionate nickname from the angry townspeople as a result, Jerub-Baal, “Let Baal take care of him”.

None the less, God was pleased with Gideon’s obedience, but instead of a pat on the back and a lifetime of peace and wealth, God says to Gideon, “Call up the troops, you’re leading Israel into war.”

Initially, Gideon acts without question, blowing the trumpet and gathering warriors from not only his tribe but several surrounding tribes as well. The Israelite army of 32,000 men was gathered and ready to go when Gideon seemed to get cold feet.

Ever heard of “casting a fleece”?

No? Well the saying has fallen out of fashion, what with the waning influence of organized Christianity in Western culture and all. What it means, in short, is to ask God to do a small impossible thing for you to prove that he really wants you do do this huge impossible thing for Him. And it comes directly from this story.

And Gideon said unto God, “If thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, as thou hast said, behold, I will put a fleece of wool in the floor; and if the dew be on the fleece only, and it be dry upon all the earth around it, then shall I know that thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, as thou hast said.”

And it was so: for he rose up early on the morrow, and thrust the fleece together, and wringed the dew out of the fleece, a bowl full of water.

And Gideon said unto God, “Let not thine anger be hot against me, and I will speak but this once: let me prove, I pray thee, but this once with the fleece; let it now be dry only upon the fleece, and upon all the ground let there be dew.”

And God did so that night: for it was dry upon the fleece only, and there was dew on all the ground. (Judges 6:35-40)

Don’t get the wrong idea. This doesn’t work every time. In fact, I can’t remember any time in my entire life when I asked a similar question of God that he did something like this for me. (But then, He’s never asked me to round up an army and lead them into battle either… Usually, as was the case in writing Glitter in the Sun, it’s just a case of a persistant nudge I can’t shake or ignore.)

But, anyhow, Gideon gets the message and begins marching his army toward the enemy when suddenly God says, “Wait. You’re overstaffed. Ask the men if they’re scared and the ones who say yes are to be sent home.” Most of the army, 22,000 men, are brave enough to admit they’re freaked out, leaving a mere 1,000 men to cover Gideon’s back against the Midian hoard.

One. Thousand. Men. Against an army too big to count.

And again God says to Gideon, “No, you’ve still got too many men. March down to the river and I’ll tell you there who to keep and who to send home.”

It must have been a fairly long march because at the river most of the men collapsed on the ground and put their faces right into the water to drink. Only 300 men crouched down and scooped up water in their hand, bringing the drink up to their mouths while they kept their eyes on their surroundings.

And the LORD said unto Gideon, By the three hundred men that lapped will I save you, and deliver the Midianites into thine hand: and let all the other people go, every man unto his place. (Judges 7:7)

In the movie 300, most of the Spartans sacrificed their lives, drastically outnumbered by the Persian army. Unlike the Israelite 300 who defeated the Midians without a scratch. Photo courtesy IMDb

Yup. 300. Just like the movie, except better. Where many of the Spartans in the movie 300 died, God used the 300 brave Israelites to strike such fear that the Midians quite literally went crazy and most of them died at the end of each other’s swords. Those that escaped were mopped up later by the surrounding Israelite tribes and Israel ended up wealthier afterwards by the plunder left by the dead Midians. Gideon, that guy everyone called “Let Baal take care of him”, is suddenly – obviously – the one chosen by God to lead Israel to freedom from oppression.

The take home question is this: are you being asked to do something completely crazy? Something that can only be accomplished by the power of God in you or through you? Are there only a handful of people who believe you can succeed?

From experience  even though I’ve never had the confirmation of that convenient fleece, I encourage you to do it. Take the leap of faith and see just how far God will take you into glorious victory!

Want more? Part 1, The Hunger Games: Katniss, lessons from a reluctant reader, can be found here.

Hunger Games vs. Twilight = Apples vs. Oranges

I doubt many have escaped the relentless buzz surrounding Hunger Games the movie, opening March 23 here in the U.S. – and the increasingly tired comparisons being drawn between this dytopic series and the last blockbuster young adult novel/movie franchise, Twilight.

For clarity’s sake, these are the points these two series have in common.

Hunger Games producer says comparison makes no sense

1) They are both hugely popular book series.

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.

I have explained before why the Twilight Saga has struck such a deep chord among it’s mostly female audience, and it’s all about the love. Some have analyzed The Hunger Games the same way, calling the charismatic hunter Gale the embodiment of Eros (romantic) love and the gentle baker Peeta the representative of Agape (unconditional) love. While I really like that analogy – that is only a minor theme in the series, otherwise we would not keep reading all those pages where neither of the young men are involved.

For those not up to speed, here are the synopsis. In Twilight, 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.

The Hunger Games are set in a 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 Panum. 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 the Capitol 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 younger sister, widowed mother and the handsome Gale, her best friend and hunting partner. The male “tribute” is the baker’s son, Peeta, whom she barely knows. Peeta has always known Katniss and has loved her from afar since childhood. Yet, in order to survive, they will eventually have to see each other as the enemy.

When I read these books 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. In spite of the incredibly violent content, Hunger Games author Suzanne Collins is decrying the increasingly violent aspects of our culture.

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.

And it challenges us today. Last summer 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, calls for action – but what action is most appropriate? 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.