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: Peeta, Innocence and Cunning

In the beginning of The Hunger Games, Peeta Mellark is a puzzle to Katniss, seemingly equal parts of innocence and cunning.

He is “the boy with the bread”, the one who saved her from starving to death. He volunteered to clean up the puking-drunk, passed out Haymitch, a level of selflessness that Katniss herself could not imagine practicing.

Yet, he is the same one who knocked the drink out of Haymitch’s hand the next morning, and intentionally charmed the Capitol residents in an effort to pull future favors from them.

Dove-Serpent-frame.jpgKatniss has a hard time with this dichotomy because she only really sees two types of people: innocent doves and cunning snakes. As we follow her through the story we see her interactions with “doves” and “snakes”. Her sister Prim and her Hunger Games ally Rue are the innocent ones, the doves she goes out of her way to protect.

The “snakes” are easy to identify, also. She talks in passing about “old Cray”, the head peacekeeper who would use starving young women for his own gratification. But she reserves the epithet “snake” for President Snow himself. It is Snow’s machinations that terrify Katniss – his absolute, icy determination to have complete control.

There is no place in her black and white world for someone who walks between the two. So even as they team up to survive the games, she finds herself constantly second guessing Peeta, wondering if his goodness is too good to be true.

Katniss sees herself as a protector of the innocent, but she does not see herself as innocent or deserving of protection – not anymore. Not since her father’s death when she had to shoulder the family’s grief and step up as the sole provider. Yet, she is not a snake either. Haymitch has to teach her how to think like President Snow, to see how her innocent actions have been interpreted as malicious attacks.

Peeta, somehow, naturally walks the line between being the innocent dove and understanding how the snake thinks. It is a line Katniss can never seem to find, and when she does, almost immediately loses again.

It is a line we are called to walk.

In Matthew chapter 10, Jesus is preparing his disciples to continue his work in the world, so he send them out on a mini mission trip. He warns them that it won’t be easy, that he is sending them out like sheep to the wolves. Jesus advises his disciples to be “as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”

Face it. There is evil in this world. (There has been since the beginning. If Eve had been as cunning as the serpent in the Garden of Eden she might not have fallen for his flattery.) It surrounds us with the only goal of pulling us down and preventing us from walking in peace with Christ. Pretending it doesn’t exist is a pretty lousy defense, and does nothing to help those who are suffering in its grip.

It is our job to know there is evil in the world so we can stand against it. But here is the tricky part – we are to remain innocent. Our innocence is restored the moment we ask God to forgive us our sins. With the help of the Holy Spirit we can maintain that state of communion with God.

You do not have to be a fictional character to be like Peeta. You are called to be, and therefore capable to being, both cunning and innocent, wise and pure. It is only then you will make a difference in the world

The Hunger Games: A mockingjay, an arrow and flames

There are several recurring images in The Hunger Games – a mockingjay, an arrow and flames. Each element on its own is powerful – together they stirred the residents of Panem to rebellion.

birdarrowflame.jpgThe mockingjay

We begin to see just how potent the mockingjay symbol is when, in Catching Fire, Katniss returns once more to the woods. Instead of finding peace and quiet she finds two starving women struggling to find their way to District 13 and safety. The only thing that keeps Katniss from shooting them is a biscuit. There is a mockingjay pressed into the top of it, copied from the pin Katniss wore into the arena. In the book series, the mockingjay pin was a gift to Katniss from her only friend, the mayor’s daughter Madge Undersee. It was a potent symbol for several reasons.

  • The mockingjay bird existed in spite of the Capitol’s intentions. The Capitol had created a “muttation” called the jabberjay to eavesdrop on conversations and parrot them to its handlers. When district residents caught on they filled the jabberjay’s ears with nonsense. In frustration, the Capitol released the muttations into the wild, assuming they would die off. Instead the jabberjays bred with the indiginous mockingbirds creating a new species. The mockingjay became a favorite of district residents as a symbol of a thwarted Capitol plan, and because its songs were so beautiful.
  • Katniss’ pin had been worn to the games before, by Madge’s aunt, who was killed by muttations in her games – the same games Haymitch won. The mockingjay is returning to the fight, as if to represent the indomitable spirit of the district residents.
  • The mockingjay is, in the end, a symbol of Katniss. She is a creation of both her home district and the Capitol that drove her to the woods to hunt and gather. It is this combination that makes her a survivor, a contender in the Games, and ultimately a symbol to others.

An arrow

On the book cover and movie poster for The Hunger Games (and the pin I wear on my jacket) the mockingjay holds an arrow in its beak. The arrow is a weapon, a symbol of war. Katniss, and the districts under the Capitol’s thumb have two choices: accept subjugation or join the resistance.

Official seal of the Church of the Nazarene

Official seal of the Church of the Nazarene

Flames

Katniss is associated with fire the first time she enters the Capitol. Her costume is not the expected variation of a coal miner’s suite. Instead she and Peeta are the coal. They are the source and spark and energy. They are the flame. Katniss is introduced as “the girl on fire.” But fire, like hope, can be a dangerous thing. President Snow warns that hope might lead to rebellion, just as a small spark can cause a great forrest fire. Katniss comes to understand how dry the forrest is when her tiny flame is all it needs to ignite an inferno of rebellion.

A bird, a weapon, a flame

So, I was thinking about these symbols: a bird, a deadly weapon and fire, when it suddenly occured to me how very similar they are to core symbols of Christianity. The dove that symbolizes the Holy Spirit. The flame represents holiness. And of course the cross, used to kill criminals and horrify the rest of the population into submission.

Culturally we recognize the dove as a symbol of peace, and it’s true that it was a dove that brought an olive branch to Noah after the flood to show that there would be peace between God and Man. In the New Testament, though, the dove comes to represent the third member of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, as a friend and active helper in the life of believers.

John Wesley created this symbol for the chapel he build in London in 1777. The dove and snake are from Matthew 10:13 when Jesus says, "be as innocent as doves and cunning as serpents."

John Wesley created this symbol for the chapel he build in London in 1777. The dove and snake are from Matthew 10:16 when Jesus says, “be as innocent as doves and cunning as serpents.”

The cross takes us back to the militant Roman imagery that Suzanne Collins used so effectively in her novels. According to Wikipedia, “crucifixion was often performed to terrorize and dissuade its witnesses from perpetrating particularly heinous crimes. Victims were left on display after death as warnings to others who might attempt dissent. Crucifixion was usually intended to provide a death that was particularly slow, painful (hence the term excruciating, literally “out of crucifying”), gruesome, humiliating, and public.” Even more than death in the arena, crucifixion was a horrible way to die. Especially when you consider that although it was the fulfillment of prophesy, a sacrifice to atone humanity’s sin and make a bridge between us and God, Jesus was set up for political reasons not executed for a genuine crime.

Throughout the Bible, Old Testament and New, fire is a purifying event. Jesus said it is the Holy Spirit who leads believers into truth and enables us to live holy lives. In the book of Acts, tongues of flames appeared to settle on the early church, fulfilling Jesus’ promise of that he would send the Comforter, another name for the Holy Spirit. The best part is that guiding friend, that Comforter, that purifying force is still available today.

Symbols are important. Where Katniss’ mockingjay, arrow and flame represented freedom to be fought for, Christianity’s dove, cross and flame offer freedom freely given.

Mockingjay: Gale Hawthorne and Active Resistance

I’m Team Peeta. So sue me. But this does not mean I don’t appreciate Gale.

It isn’t until the third book of the Hunger Games series, Mockingjay, that Gale Hawthorne really comes into his own. In Catching Fire, however, there is one key scene – when Gale is whipped by the new Head Peacekeeper, Romulus Thread, for possessing a poached turkey. The beating is so severe Gale is unable to work for two weeks, but it doesn’t matter anyway because the mines have been shut down in a form of reverse strike. The Capitol is flexing its muscles to show the already starving district just who holds all the power.GaleDavid.jpg

Gale goes home with no more talk of rebellion between us. But I can’t help thinking that everything he sees will only strengthen his resolve to fight back.

~ Katniss Everdeen, Catching Fire

The most famous of Israel’s kings, David, started with similarly humble circumstances. He was the youngest of seven sons working at the least respected job on the family farm – shepherd. As the youngest he was extremely unlikely to inherit anything. But there’s a problem for this ambitious and talented young man. Israel was being overrun by a neighboring nation – Philistia. The Philistines were fearsome warriors, better armed, better trained and the soldiers are quite literally giants.

Like Gale, David is a skilled hunter, he is handsome and respected by those who know him. And he has every card in the deck stacked against him.

The most famous of the Philistine soldiers was Goliath.  Like a modern day dance-off, the best soldier of each army duked it out one-on-one to determine the best army. Goliath was over 9 feet tall, and every day as he stalked back and forth along the no-man’s-land between the two armies, he roared insults. The Israelites cowered in their tents, just like the Districts did for decades under the thumb of the Capitol’s cruel Hunger Games.

The similarities don’t end there.

  • It was during one of these events when David was doing one of the most mundane chores – delivering food and suplies to his older brothers in the army – that he first hears of Goliath. It was as normal as Gale bringing wild food and game to sell to the residents of District 12.
  • David quickly learned that King Saul had offered a pretty incredible set of prizes for whoever took on Goliath and won: wealth, the king’s daughter in marriage, and his entire family would be exempt from taxes for life. The prizes Gale hopes to win are not that different: freedom to earn a living for his family and the potential to win Katniss’ hand.
  • When David’s older brothers heard he was asking around they accused him of being vain and told him to shut up and go home. Kinda like how Katniss told Gale to be careful what he said and who he said it to.
  • None-the-less, word gets to King Saul that a young man is interested in challenging the Philistine champion. Saul suits up David in his personal armor and weaponry. When Gale and his family find refuge in District 13, Alma Coin, the leader of the district, tries to suit him up as a leader.
  • David finds he can’t even move in Saul’s armor and rejects it for his own simple sling. Gale also chafes under Coin’s traditional military style and finds greater success when he can draw on his skills as a hunter and trapper.
  • David faces Goliath and brings him down with a stone to the center of his forehead. Gale brings down the capitol when he destroys its last stronghold,also with rocks, a mountain fortress called “The Nut”. He uses landslides, actually, strategically set off to trap all the workers inside.

There are times and places for active resistance – times when what is yours will never be willingly given. Times when the power disparity is so great, and the political gulf so wide that so amount of picketing will bridge the gap. Gale, much like King David, is that kind of guy. And King David is the only one God ever called “a man after His own heart.”

Watch the Hunger Games: Catching Fire trailer

Catching Fire: Death, grief and rage

For the survivors we meet in Catching Fire death is a constant companion. They are walking examples of post traumatic stress disorder, never having dealt with the grief and rage of what was done to them. Of what they were forced to do.

How does anyone experience extraordinarily shocking events and then return to “normal”?

In Chasing Fire we meet 22 Hunger Games victors, bringing the total we meet through Katniss’s point of view (including herself, Peeta and Haymitch) to 25. Very few of them are what anyone would call “normal”. The morphlings from District 6 have buried the horror of surviving the games in drugs. Enobaria, whose victory was particularly brutal (she tore her final rival’s throat out with her teeth), has pushed her claim to fame to the extreme. Her teeth are now sharpened to shark points ensuring no one will ever get close enough to hurt her ever again. Haymitch, famously, ruegrief.jpgis perpetually drunk. Seemingly more so when there’s an audience. Katniss buries her grief of losing Rue just as she buried the grief of losing her father – she keeps too busy to deal with it. Yet every night the nightmares remind her of what she’s done and what she’s lost.

I started writing this on Good Friday, when the whole Christian world contemplates the unjust conviction, sentencing and execution of Christ on the cross. Jesus’ closest friends were dealt a hammer blow on that day. Their friend and rabbi, a peaceful teacher full of compassion, was killed in the most violent and shameful way. They were there when Jesus’s skin was flayed from his back, they watched the life ebb from his body on the cross, they heard his mother cry.

Like the victors in Catching Fire, the disciples also reacted in their grief in a wide variety of ways. Judas, whose actions lead most directly to Jesus’ death, committed suicide. Peter, who famously denied knowing Jesus, ran away, trying to return to life before he became a disciple. Many of the other disciples clustered together in hiding places, fearing they would also be hunted down and killed. I’m sure they remembered Jesus words, “I must leave you so the Comforter can come,” but I doubt it meant much to them.

~~~

When I was writing this, I became stuck right there.

What do I know if grief? My parents are healthy, my beloved Grandmother just turned 90, my children are noisy and full of life. Then I was reminded of my cousin’s death when I was in college. He was in his early 20’s, just a few years older than me, a writer and composer, and movie-star handsome. Friends would ask me to introduce him, begging for his phone number. For some reason he decided to go fishing on a pier that juts out into Lake Michigan – in October when a storm was blowing in. A witness saw a man trying to run for safety between the waves until a particularly large one crashed over the breakwall – and the man was no longer there.

They found John five days later. His fishing pole rested on the sandy bottom just a few yards away.

It was utterly unfair. I raged against God and fate. It is still unfair. John should be reading and critiquing this blog. And I should be doing the same for him.

~~~

Of course, Jesus rose again on the third day. The disciples got him back – at least for a little while. For 40 days walked with and talked with his disciples again. He comforted them, he forgave their betrayals, he gave them new jobs. He told them he would be leaving again soon – but that he wouldn’t be leaving them alone for long. In Acts chapter 1 the disciples watched Jesus as he rose, inexplicably, into the sky. While they were standing there, mouths wide open, staring up, two men dressed in white suddenly asked, “Why do you stand there looking at the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way…”

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Normally my dreams are disjointed and senseless. Forgettable and quickly forgotten. But shortly after John’s funeral I had a dream unlike anything I’d ever experienced before.

John was packing his little pickup truck for a long trip, and he had to borrow something from me that was both sentimentally and financially valuable. I was reluctant to turn it over to him, even with his promises to care for it. But I did, and when I saw how carefully he put it in the front seat next to him I  knew he would care for it like just as I would, and I was immensely comforted by that. Then he hugged me, and I swear to this day I could feel, really feel, that hug.

I woke up in the middle of the night. Although I could barely see the yellow legal pad under my pen for the tears in my eyes, I knew as I transcribed the dream that John had been given permission to visit me. To comfort me. And I was comforted. I had given him permission to go where he needed to go, and to take a piece of me with him.

~~~

Just ten days later the core disciples and many other followers of Jesus were gathered together when a sudden, supernatural experience overtook the room (Acts chapter 2). What looked like flames of fire fell through the ceiling and rested over everyone’s heads – but nothing burned. Each was filled with the Holy Spirit and the truth of God poured out of their mouths for anyone who would listen.

They were no longer alone, without Jesus, for God had sent the Holy Spirit to live in each of them – a personal Jesus who never leaves, constantly guiding, encouraging and loving the believer.

~~~

Death, grief, rage, loss, we all deal with these at one level or another. Some, like the waves of soldiers, marines and sailors returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, suffer more than I can imagine. I don’t pretend to have all the answers. But I think, maybe, there is some validity in accepting that a part of you went with the person who died, and a part of them stayed with you. And that there is a reason Jesus called the Holy Spirit “Comforter”. Jesus was God in a physical body. He couldn’t be everywhere with every need – but the Comforter can be. Jesus left so we all can call on God, and receive his Comfort.

The Hunger Games: Peeta’s Bread

PeetaBlessed

 

Katniss would have never made it to the Hunger Games without Peeta’s compassionate gift of bread after her father died. His willingness to take a whipping from his mother, because he intentionally burned the bread so he could throw it out to her, left an indelible mark on Katniss. It was a kindess she felt she could never repay. It was a debt Peeta never expected to collect.