Hunger Games

Tis the season of the curveball. Okay, not so much for my little guy who is just getting the hang of the whole hitting off of pitches rather than a tee. But baseball is in full swing!

And so are the springtime distractions. There are gardens to till, flowers to plant, vegetables to start, leaves to rake, fertilizer to be spread, and plants to be loved. The activities at school are racheting up as are the after-school activities. Getting ready for concerts, performances, games, the culmination of weeks of practice. Fundraising events, spring parties… it’s like the world is awakening from its winter hibernation and the perennial quest for … what?… has begun.

Heading into this weekend, I was feeling pretty good about life. Like maybe just maybe I’d have some quiet time to pull aspects of life together, get things done, relax and enjoy my family.

Yeah. Not so much.

Clara brought home The Hunger Games (book one) with the intent of reading it over the weekend. I’m enough in the loop to know that this series has caused controversy and many debates over its appropriateness for certain age levels. So red lights started going off all over my body when she presented her plan for the weekend. Nope. Not until I read it first. Which I did. Cover to cover in 24 hours time… in between a ceramics painting party, a work event for hubby, and the required meals of my family. I felt like I’d been hit by a train by the time I was through.

And the verdict was that this weekend was not the right time for my 10 year old to read this book.

The grand debate here is how much do we shield our children from and to how much do we expose them? When is the right time for them to start to learn about lust (because Katniss is developing lustful feelings for Peeta), the political power games people play, the insidiousness of the entertainment industry, the vacuousness of certain people, and the pure evil that the human heart can harbor.

I thought I was being generous by letting her read the Harry Potter series!

But seriously, there is a vivid difference between the Hunger Games and Harry Potter. (Caveat… I haven’t read books 2 and 3 so I’m operating solely on my knowledge of book 1). In Harry Potter, Harry is battling in an epic way the physical manifestation of evil in the person of Voldemort. Harry is a loveable, laughable endearing teenage boy, full of foibles and questions about his past and his future. But even when he goes half-heartedly, he goes out to fight evil marked with the lightning bolt of love and armed with loving friends. Katniss has glimpses of humanity, but for the most part, her actions and emotions are primeval, instinct-driven, and she is motivated not to right the world but to survive by playing the game better than anyone else. She is a product of her society and that is the only reason I can find to feel any sympathy for her. When she flaunts the Gamemasters, she does so not out of any great understanding of the system, but out of a survival instinct and intense hatred for the way the system has robbed her.

Philippians 4:8 kept coming to mind as I read: And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.

And my years of teaching English and the debate over what is the purpose of literature reared up. Is literature to hold a mirror up to our faces and show us what we are? Or is it to lift man out of the muck and give him hope for humanity? William Faulkner in his 1949 Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech says it this way, “Ladies and gentlemen,
I feel that this award was not made to me as a man, but to my work – a life’s work in the agony and sweat of the human spirit, not for glory and least of all for profit, but to create out of the materials of the human spirit something which did not exist before. So this award is only mine in trust. It will not be difficult to find a dedication for the money part of it commensurate with the purpose and significance of its origin. But I would like to do the same with the acclaim too, by using this moment as a pinnacle from which I might be listened to by the young men and women already dedicated to the same anguish and travail, among whom is already that one who will some day stand here where I am standing.

Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it. There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only the question: When will I be blown up? Because of this, the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat.

He must learn them again. He must teach himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid; and, teaching himself that, forget it forever, leaving no room in his workshop for anything but the old verities and truths of the heart, the old universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed – love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice. Until he does so, he labors under a curse. He writes not of love but of lust, of defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, of victories without hope and, worst of all, without pity or compassion. His griefs grieve on no universal bones, leaving no scars. He writes not of the heart but of the glands.

Until he relearns these things, he will write as though he stood among and watched the end of man. I decline to accept the end of man. It is easy enough to say that man is immortal simply because he will endure: that when the last dingdong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking.
I refuse to accept this. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet’s, the writer’s, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet’s voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.”

I tend to agree. We need all the props and pillars we can gather to shore us up here in this shaky ground we call life.

Does Hunger Games do this? Not in book one. I walked away disgusted. I wanted open, knowledged rebellion. I got backtracking and backstabbing. Like the Ancient Booer in The Princess Bride, I felt like saying to Katniss, “Your true love lives…. True Love saved her in the Fire Swamp, and she treated it like garbage. And that’s what she is, the Queen of Refuse. So bow down to her if you want, bow to her. Bow to the Queen of Slime, the Queen of Filth, the Queen of Putrescence. Boo. Boo. Rubbish. Filth. Slime. Muck. Boo. Boo. Boo.”

I wanted redemption, a character I could cheer for, the savage from Brave New World, ideas that were lofty and worthy and selfless. What I saw was a character motivated by survival and her burgeoning sensuality. Period.

But I’m having trouble leaving it at that. It’s difficult to walk away and completely dismiss this book, this character.

Because there are so many people in the world like Katniss who have no moral compass, who operate out of the need to survive and the need to meet the ever-increasing demands of their sensuality. Which is probably where Suzanne Collins is going with this.

And there’s this desire to wrap them in loving arms and say to them, “There is healing for this.” It isn’t a skin buff, shower, and manicure. It’s a soul garden replant, weeding and tilling and watering and feeding that looks and feels like redemption.

Sometimes I think I’m getting to be an old fuddy-duddy. But I’m seeing things in new lights these days. I remember a day when I moved in the world much like Katniss, not with 23 other children hunting me down per say, but moving through the world meeting the body’s needs and not much else. I believed in God and claimed to believe in the redeeming power of the cross and of Jesus on that cross. I developed strong head knowledge of parts of the Bible because that is what a good church-goer does. I even supported the missional work of the church, not necessarily because I thought it was a good idea for people in third worlds to know about Christ as much as I thought they needed a good meal or maybe a shot at some medicine or education typically not available to them.

But joy? Me sharing the gospel? Jesus dying on the cross for me personally? Yeah, none of that was mine to claim. Just get through another day.

Heck, I still have days like that. Where busyness crowds out the stillness and communion I need to connect with my God.

But somewhere along the way, God’s knocking finally resonated. And He said to me, “You are my princess. I love you the way you are. I would have died just for you, just like I promised Abraham I wouldn’t destroy Sodom and Gomorrah for the sake of 10 righteous.” He released me from the labels of the world, gave me new purpose and direction, and gratitude is becoming a way of life. I’m beginning to understand what it means to crave reading Scripture. This is the healing I needed and the healing that God offers all the children/people of the world. It is a feeding of the hungry soul.

You know, Jesus talked a lot about being the bread of life, the living water that quenches the soul thirst. I used to think that was a clever little metaphor he had going on. We all need bread and water, so of course we all need him.

But it’s more than that. It speaks to our need to find meaning and peace and resolution. The world is constantly offering us ways to fill those needs. If you eat at this restaurant, buy these clothes, use this fabric softener, own this car, view these shows, listen to this music, wear these jewels, shop at this store, if… then… amazing happiness will follow you all the days of your life.

And we “buy” into it only to find that we’re craving more and more of the world’s “food” because what we just bought… the clothes, the food, the car, the house, the floor cleaner… lacks the protein, the sticking power to stay our hunger pangs for very long. Like gluttons, we gorge on more and more of the sugary stuff of life, the fake, processed, unnatural. When what we really need is the word of God. This fills the belly with meaning and purpose, a life driven by gratitude, reacting out of joy, overflowing with generosity. And it lasts.

Wanna talk about Hunger Games? We’re all playing the hunger games… searching for ways to game our hunger. When the food we really need has already been gifted in the silver parachute of Christ on a cross. Eat and be filled.

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