The book and film The Hunger Games is an interesting parable for our time, and has some awesome Easter themes. The action takes place in post apocalyptic America, where the people are controlled by The Capitol. One boy and one girl from each district are forced to compete in the televised Hunger Games once a year. The Capitol pit people against each other for their own entertainment in a battle to the death.
It struck me that there are some frightening parallels to what is happening in America right now. Just four examples:
1. Political Hunger Games
In America, the primary election is a long process where each candidate tries to grind their opponents to dust. It’s a negative game, with very few discernible values or convictions expressed by any candidate. The winner is the candidate still standing at the end. Then the two parties go head to head in Hunger Games part 2. The same process repeats itself. At the end of all this there is a winner, but not much progress for anybody.
2. Gun Laws and Hunger Games
There is a lot of controversy around Stand Your Ground laws and the recent killing of Trayvon Martin in Florida has brought this all to a head. The ambiguity of the law pits citizen against citizen, in this case in a battle to the death. It leaves innocent people vulnerable and enables bullies to unleash vigilante style justice in the guise of self defense.
3. Health Care Hunger Games
This one is difficult for me to understand as an Australian. Having grown up with a universal health care system that worked well, it’s hard to understand why Americans are so opposed to considering a single payer system. As long as Americans refuse to even have the conversation about a single payer system, patients will continue to be pitted against health care providers and insurance companies in another version of the Hunger Games. It’s a battle of attrition.
4. Women’s Reproductive Rights
In one of the more bizarre recent turns of events, Arizona lawmakers now think that life begins BEFORE conception. (pregnant as of the date of your last period!!!!)
As Journalist Megan Carpentier said,
Some religious conservatives believe that ovulation is a vast leftwing conspiracy.
The religious right are trying to force their morality on society and women are left to battle the Hunger Games of reproductive rights. Add to this, the recent Roman Catholic protest about having to include contraception in health care coverage, and in this case, religion is The Capital.
There is a dangerous principle behind the Hunger Games. Ordinary people are pitted against each other and their conflict becomes little more than sport for those who create the system; lawmakers, the 1% and religions. Until the underlying culture is challenged, most changes will be little more than weak compromises such as the current Affordable Care Act that forces everyone to pay for health insurance. (read on for more about The Hunger Games and Easter)
The Hunger Games of American culture seems to be spiraling towards greater and great conflict. If we can step outside of our comfort zones, we can change the course of history. More on that later. First, consider the connections to the Easter story.
The Easter action took place in the midst of the Roman version of the Hunger Games. At the Gladiator games during the time of Jesus, the Gladiators would say “Hail Caesar, we who are about to die, salute you!”According to the story, Jesus stepped outside of his comfort zone and directly challenged the culture of Rome. His conviction cost him his life. He’s not the only person to lose his life standing up to an empire. History is littered with heroes like Jesus who changed the course of history.
Changing the course of history is an appropriate Easter phrase. There was a commercial a few years back. It was for a new video cell phone. Jesus was sitting around the Last Supper table. When he realized that Judas wasn’t there, he called Judas on his video cell phone. He caught Judas downtown telling jokes to some Roman soldiers. In the background, you see one of the soldiers dangling a bag of silver coins. There is guilt written all over Judas’ face. The look on Jesus’ face is, “Aha, I caught you in the act.” Then the caption flashes onto the screen- “So and so brand mobile phone- Changing the Course of History!”
The Easter miracle is that YOU can change the course of history. You can rise above hurts and trauma from your past, and change the course of your own history. You can rise above cultural Hunger Games that divide and conquer and change the course of history. The Hunger Games offers two awesome inspirations.
- Choose your future
In the story, Katniss and Peeta are two of the Hunger Games’ contestants. The night before they head in to battle, Peeta tries to tell Katniss how he wants to die, but he can’t find the words. Peeta says, “‘I don’t know how to say it exactly. Only… I want to die as myself. Does that make any sense?’” It doesn’t make sense to Katniss, at least not yet. She wonders, “How could he die as anyone but himself?” Peeta explains: “‘I don’t want them to change me in there. Turn me into some into some kind of monster that I’m not.… I keep wishing I could think of a way to show the Capitol they don’t own me. That I’m more than just a piece in their Games.’”
You choose your future, including how far you follow your convictions. Because I don’t believe that the future is predetermined, I believe that we help to create the future with our present choices. This is empowering.
Katniss and Peeta commit to living and dying as themselves—to not let the system change them, own them, or rob them of their convictions. In doing this, no matter the outcome of The Games, they DO beat the system. Conviction based in love and not fear changes the course of history, even if it doesn’t happen in the time and way you hope. This is resurrection; not a physical rising from the dead but the supremacy of love over fear.
In The Hunger Games, Katniss takes her younger sister’s place in the battle. There are obvious parallels here to the Easter story. For me, there is nothing supernatural or theological about sacrifice. It’s earthy and human. I don’t see the Easter story as God sacrificing his son for the sins of the world. I see it as a story of a man who is prepared to sacrifice his own safety for the good of many, even to the point of death.
We’re hungry for heroes and we’re hungry for change. We can either fill our hunger with status quo, the empty carbs of human existence, or we can step outside of the comfort zone and fill our hunger by working for a cause larger than ourselves. As human beings we crave heroic stories. We’re hungry for heroes. If Jesus had never existed, we would find others to hold up as examples. They might be historic figures like Joan of Arc who said,
Every man gives his life for what he believes … one life is all we have to live and we live it according to what we believe.
Or they might be more recent legends like Martin Luther King, who said,
Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.
They might be deceased family members or friends who left behind a legacy of love. The important question is whether you are going to pay their example forward. Are you prepared to bleed for your convictions? Which causes are you prepared to suffer for in order to seed the change in the world?
The Easter message is to step outside of your comfort zone, whatever it is. The comfort zone is a tightly drawn circle. The comfort zone is always too close for comfort. This is where you remain a slave to the status quo. The much larger circle outside of the comfort zone is where the magic happens, both personally and culturally and it’s always growing. Dwell in this space, where your life is larger than fear. This is where you change the course of history, as the world becomes a gentler and fairer place.
Sacrifice comes in many shapes and sizes. For most of us, sacrifice doesn’t extend to giving our lives. History is more often changed through small, even unnoticed acts of kindness. As David Foster Wallace said,
The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day.