Hunger Games and Easter

April 9th, 2012

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.

  1. 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.

  1. Sacrifice

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.

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  1. Elaine Harrison Wilson says:

    Thanks for this, Ian.  I like how you’ve tied it all together, and put a lot of life’s pieces into perspective for me.

  2. Katarina Broughton says:

    Thank you this is very inspiring. One needs to stand up for what one believes regardless of consequences.

  3. Phillip Smith says:

    Thanks, as always, Ian for this. This give me more reason to see “The Hunger Games”! A few of my best friends have both read the book series, and, most recently seen the movie, and initially, with all due respect to my aweosme, wonderful, and lovely friends, given what the stories are about, I was a bit skeptical. However, now from what you’ve said about it, I’ve now become a convert, if you like, and so want to check it out.The storyline from what you’ve said, seems to relevant, does it not, with growing levels of violence, political and religious fundamentalism, and brings home even more strongly how vitally, whether one is Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, or whatever, to be extremely careful in how we interpret our respective scriptures, and what can, and indeed does happen, and what has happened, when scriptures are literalised and thus trivialised. I must check the movie out! Thanks once again, Ian!

  4. CCB says:

    Snaps to you on an amazing article!!!! It drips with seeds of wisdom!

  5. Bill Lawton says:

    An amazing challenge and deep truth and wisdom. M


  6. Victor says:

    Very timely challenge to us all, Ian.  I haven’t yet read the novel nor saw the movie, but have a gist of what the plot is about.  It’s sad that we see America acting like the fictional Panem.  But, thankfully there are those of us willing to challenge the status quo.  Thanks for sharing.

  7. naomi says:

    Fantastically written blog. I have not seen the hunger games but now tempted

  8. Christine says:

    Thank you Ian.  I just read this at lunch today and find it timely (isn’t that the way Life works when your eyes are open).  I had  a conversation with fellow educators in the lunch room at school yesterday, and they were discussing the book and movie.  Some wanted to keep up with what their 4th and 5th grade students were reading and viewing.  One teacher told the rest that she started to read the book and couldn’t get past two chapters.  The topic was so disturbing to her that she didn’t want to read further.  I am going to forward your message to her, as I believe it will help her to view this in a cultural and philosopical manner.  It’s always good to look at things from a different perspective.  And I am pleased you shared yours. 

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  11. Phillip Smith says:

    I’ve already read this sermon preiously, but having finally checked out “The Hunger Games:” yesterday,  I see what you mean, now. Like you, I too, drew stark comparisons between that, and the Easter story, in terms in standing up for what one believes in, such as Jesus, Martin Luther King Jr, Ghandi, and others I could mention , did. Admittedly, it is frequently violent, but I guess you get that, and I see that as metaporical, in terms of Jungian philosophy, in battling, not only, but by no means withstanding, the domination systems of injustice, violence, but also battling one’s shadow side. Thanks for posting, Ian!

  12. Carol Shimp says:

    Thank you Ian for your review of the Hunger Games. I don’t want to see te movie or read the book. I see enough violence in the News. Reality of this story is so true to real life. I’m a country girl and I enjoy finding violets in the woods.

  13. May Por says:

    It is so true. The hard thing to do is to start getting out of your comfort zone, but once you start getting use to the difficulties of being out of the circle, you also start developing strengths that you can only develop when you are out. When you get these strengths, you will be surprise of how strong, creative, great you can be. Many times you really get out of the circle of the comfort zone when you have to, when you don´t have another choice.
    I like to use this sentence as a way to motivate myself:
    I never knew how strong I was until I started to fall.

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