Saturday Morning Live: April 7, 2012--The Call of the Games

 [box] Every Saturday morning, I will be sharing a little snippet from my own personal walk with God...straight from the heart. God has work to do in me too, and sometimes it's not pretty. But my prayer is that as I am honest, He is more able to do that work in me...and at the same time, encourage you as well.[/box] "For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm."--Ephesians 6:12, 13

[openbook booknumber="ISBN:9780439023528" templatenumber="1"] My husband and I are not trendy parents. But we were trendy this week. Both of us read (and enjoyed) The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins...and then even went out to watch the movie for our date night.

It all started when Janna's friends asked her if she had read the book. To be honest, I have not kept up with popular young adult fiction because of its questionable content. However, if my daughter wants to read a book, I'm willing to read it with her so that we can dialogue about it.

At first, when I finished reading it, I wasn't sure what I thought. I just couldn't put my finger on it, but there was something that disturbed me. I think it all started coming together though, as I watched the movie. Even with all the things they had to cut out, I thought it remained faithful to the book. In fact, there were some scenes in the movie that helped to bring to life and enhance my understanding of what was mentioned in the story.

If you haven't read the book, I'll try not to give all of it away. Basically, the setting is the ruins of what was once North America, sometime in the future. The nation of Panem, divided into twelve districts, emerged out of the rubble of a rebellion. In the center is the Capitol, ruled by a president.

Every year, the Capitol stages what is called The Hunger Games. Imagine them as a cross between the Greek mythological story of Theseus and the minotaur mixed with the Roman gladiators. Basically, each of the twelve districts was required by law to send a boy and a girl to the Capitol, where they are trained and then released into an arena to fight to the death. Of the twenty-four "tributes" there could only be one victor.

Throughout the Games, there is a band of Gamemakers who manipulate and devise ways to force the kids to fight. They stage huge fires, create mutated creatures to devour the kids, and change the rules on whim. While the book mentions them, the movie really highlights the behind-the-scenes action of these Gamemakers. In playing God, they egg the kids on to fight and kill each other.

I think this was the element that disturbed me the most. It had the potential to be (or is) a little too real to life. Under the Capitol, all the districts live in a shadow of fear. The kids live in the fear of being chosen to be the tribute. The parents live in fear that their kids will be the ones sacrificed. There is fear in knowing too much or in speaking any opposition, lest you be taken away, mutiliated or even executed. I thought this fear was aptly illustrated with the drab, dull colors of the citizens of Panem.

In contrast, the people of the Capitol---most of them wealthy, vibrantly colored, vain, shallow---see all of this as just that: a game. As long as its not their lives on the line, it is all merely entertainment. If there isn't enough action, they press the Gamemakers to up the drama. If they like you, they can be persuaded to help. The tributes quickly learn that  to survive, you basically have to appease these people and give the viewers what they want. In order to win, you may need to lose your identity and stoop to do things you would never otherwise do.

For girls, there is romance. For boys, there is action. But for parents, at least from my perspective, there is a warning and a challenge. The warning: We are living in a similarly oppressive spiritual world. We are at war. There is a very real enemy out there. If you don't believe me, read Ephesians 6:12 (above), and 1 Peter 5:8. Worse yet, this enemy masquerades as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14). Like the Capitol, they can make us forget this reality with all the rich food, luxurious comforts, and promises of wealth and ease that surround us.

This is what got me really thinking. What would you and I do if we were the parents in this world? Would we live in fear and despondency, shrugging our shoulders and thinking "this is just the way things are"? Or would we face the facts and prepare them for this reality? What are we doing to prepare our children for their Hunger Games? Will they be victorious or will they be one of the casualties? When the time comes, will they be prepared to do all they can and still remain standing at the end? For the world that we are sending them into is not a whole lot different than the Arena. We are not sending them to summer camp.

I cannot fight my children's battles for them, but I know that as a parent, I can get them ready for it. Unless we recognize that we are living in a war zone, we will not do this crucial work. And then our children are left to figure out the way through the traps, dangers and enemies of life on their own. And some just might not make it.

While this is a fictional world, there are some eerily realistic parallels in ours, even today. It is not impossible for this to be the world our children will have to face. With new legislation and laws passing through our government, Christians are being oppressed at every turn. Rebellion against these laws can be very costly. Doctors may need to leave their practices if they stand up for life. Pastors may need to vacate their pulpits if they stand up for truth. Already, if we believe in biblical marriage, family, and God, we are called bigots, intolerant and every hateful name under the sun.

Just like the people of Panem, we might feel fear in rebelliously standing up for Jesus in this world we live in. There is a price to pay. The rebellious in the book are silenced in one way or another. This is a very real possibility for us too. It can come in the form of outright persecution, but there are many subtle ways that the "people of the Capitol," those spiritual forces of evil can keep us silent. What will you do? What will I do?

As I have pondered through these thoughts, I have come to this conclusion, and here is the challenge: Like the characters in the story, victory is achieved only by teaming up. I believe God is looking for men and women, mothers and fathers, who will not stand idly by, living in fear or ignoring its presence, but facing it boldly, even if it means certain death. Will we be willing to join together, stand firm, and fight---not against each other, but with each other against the greater enemy?

I thought it interesting that in the movie, the President says that the greatest danger to the Capitol is not rebellion, but hope, for hope gives us courage to take our stand and fight. Our God gives us that extravagant hope, that we might stand against this world system that seeks to pen us in, shut us up and keep us down.

Though this book is by no means a Christian novel with a biblical worldview, that is the warning and challenge that I took away from it. Recognize we're in a war. Prepare your children for that battle. Band together with other like-minded parents. And place all your hope in the God who will ultimately win.

I'm in. Are you?

Heavenly Father, I thank You for the way you can use even popular novels to challenge and shape my thoughts. Whether this was the author's message or not, I know that it has spoken to me. Even though I am still living here, Lord, please remind me that I am in a battle zone, not a hotel resort. I am raising children in the midst of a warfield. I don't want them to be mindless sacrifices to the god of this world, but powerful, victorious weapons in Your hand. Teach me how to prepare them for the arena they will one day be thrown into. Raise us up as parents to work together. And most of all, may we find our greatest hope not in ourselves, our ingenuity, or even our own diligence, but in You. For You have promised us the victory. Even if I should die in the battle, You will still ultimately win. For this, I praise You and seek to follow You all the days of my life. In Jesus' name, Amen.

PS. I came to these thoughts and conclusions on my own, but I was curious to find the author's perspective. I was pleased to find and read this New York Times interview with author Suzanne Collins which let me know that I am on the right track.

PPS As with all literature, there are multiple ways to look at the story. In light of  this Easter weekend, I enjoyed this video looking at the ideas of substitution and redemption in The Hunger Games. Just more food for thought. Happy Easter!

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