Hungering for Games

Isolationist nations manipulate their people, presenting them with only one perspective.  While common, it’s important to remember that not all cloistering is politically motivated.

Even though I grew up in America, I grew up in an isolationist subculture:  I belonged to a God-fearing family who presented secular things as bad, and sacred things as good.  Our family activities tended to be sacred in orientation.

While it wasn’t necessarily bad,  it wasn’t necessarily fun either.

Some difficulties arose from this way of living, Movies and FM Rock were forbidden, but they were eventually overcome by the “Jesus Movement” of the 70’s.  As a result of a man in California leading hippies to Jesus, American Christianity experienced a cultural renaissance.  As people began writing rock songs and movies about Jesus, the lines between secular and sacred became blurred.

It wasn’t necessarily bad, it just wasn’t very safe for isolationists.

This blending made determining secular and sacred products difficult.  Graciously the Christian Bookstores stepped in, stocking their shelves with only Christian products.  At some point in the process, the word Christian stopped being used to represent whether someone was a disciple of Christ, and became an adjective meaning “safe for consumption”; like a seal of approval.  People could attempt to live a well-accessorized Christian lifestyle, free of the sinful temptations of “the world”.

It wasn’t necessarily a bad idea, it just wasn’t reality.

Growing up I noticed that secular art tended to be depictions of life “as it is”, while secular commerce presented life as we “desired it to be.”  Christian products, in contrast, produced as either art or commerce tended to present life “as it should be.”  In musical terms, Patti Smith sang about her life as it was, Kiss sang about desired fantasies, and Petra sang about… well… you get the picture.

I’m talking about how life was, not how it should have been.

Because of these divisions, I’ve noticed that many Christians fail to interact with secular art, or worse, assume that these works are depictions of “how life should be”.  For this reason Christians are often found at the forefront of movements to ban, or censure, product or presentations they feel are destructive to society.

I’m talking about how life can be, not how it is supposed to be.

These divisions lead to questions like, “Should my kids listen to secular music” or “Should a Christian read Harry Potter”?  I’m afraid to say that these questions miss an important point about the person and work of Jesus Christ, because they come from the belief that isolating ourselves from the world has a moral value.

Which brings me to The Hunger Games, a literary depiction of “how life is”.

I’ve recently had many parents ask me if The Hunger Games is appropriate for Christians.  My response is that The Hunger Games are the brutal illustration of a lifestyle of consumption that pervades western society, and the abandonment of children that happens as a result.

No child should see The Hunger Games, but every adult should.

The Hunger Games portrays the absurdist end-game of a society that so thirsts for entertainment that it will devour its own children as it searches for self-sufficiency.  It just does so in a way that offends our “way it should be” sensibilities.  We don’t want to be confronted by the depiction of a society where the adults are absorbed by the numbing of their own pain through substance abuse, professional styling, and affluence.

Because that’s the way America is, and no one is asking if it should be.

Club sports, child pageantry, dance contests, and more can be “arenas” where the family is sacrificed on the altar of entertainment, so that children can bring pleasure and self-actualization to adults… in the name of competition.

The sacrifice comes in the form of irresponsible time commitments and social conformity to unhealthy norms- conditions that remove our ability to see how destructive our life patterns have become.

The implicit message is that over-indulgence is available to those people who are willing to conform themselves to the values of a society that seeks entertainment at expense of the wounded, provided you look the part.

Why not take a handsome man and allow him to romp through 30 beautiful, and carefully screened, emotionally wounded women?  It could be fun to watch.

OR

What about a contest to mold an impressionable young singer into a global commodity:

“We will give you the privilege of being consumed for our pleasure, if you will present yourself as we want you to be.”

Anyone struggling to grasp why young people are drawn to Suzanne Collins’ novel should pick up a copy of Chap Clark’s book “Hurt.” In it he describes that as adults abandon their responsibilities to nurse their own wounds, a generation of young people have banded together in alliances, attempting to forge their own identity and then protect it at all cost:

“I’ll give you the game you want to see, but maintain my individuality throughout.”

This pressure used to make kids to stand back to back, defending their friendships and expecting the same loyalty, even if they knew they were in the wrong.  Now, as a result of parents chasing fantasy, kids no longer have to watch their back.  When the adults do “check-in” to see how things are going, kids understand that parents will spring into action on their behalf out of guilt.

Now the abandoned kids stand “face to face” in friendship groupings, communicating digitally with the outside world.  Their alliances are built so they can “survive the game.”   This can result in bullying at best, and murder at worst.

It’s the way things became, as we stopped listening to “how things were.”

Which brings me back to that important point about Jesus, and our belief that isolation is virtue.  Jesus said that we aren’t defiled by what we consume, it is what we produce that reveals our corrupt nature.  Reading or watching The Hunger Games doesn’t defile a disciple of Jesus, it helps us understand the areas of hurt that only Jesus, can bring healing to…

If we’re willing to pay attention to the cries of “how things are”.

In the same way that Pixar’s Wall-E stabbed at our compulsive lust for things and experience,  The Hunger Games exposes the brokenness of hearts that want to corrupt, and then feed on, the flesh of the young to stave off the pain of growing old.

For good or for ill, that’s just the way it is.

Isolationism prevents virtue because it controls the viewpoint that people look from.  It robs us of the ability to understand the needs of the dying and broken, in unsuccessful attempts at self-maintained righteousness.  Isolationism fails because it merely attempts to restrict sin, instead of calling us to righteousness.  It ultimately crushes our souls as it keeps us from living out The Great Commission.

And a Great Commission life is the way it’s supposed to be.

Isolating ourselves from our culture’s hunger amounts to not looking into a mirror that displays the desperation of hearts who need a Savior… but hunger for games.

“And he called the people to him again and said to them, Hear me, all of you, and understand: There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.  And when he had entered the house and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable.  And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?”(Thus he declared all foods clean.)  And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery,  coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.  All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” -Mark 7:14-23

 

16 Responses to “Hungering for Games”

  1. Ken March 28, 2012 at 10:21 am #

    Very good thoughts!

    • Jon March 28, 2012 at 10:45 am #

      Thanks Ken! Miss you guys.

    • Dona March 28, 2012 at 10:48 am #

      Wow John! Great writting. I totally agree.

      • Jon March 28, 2012 at 11:07 am #

        Thanks Dona, hope you are doing well.

        • Dona March 28, 2012 at 7:08 pm #

          So I sent your article on to my pastor and here is his reply…Good point. You guys just think waaaay deeper than I do. Think I’ll just stay in my little bubble. But love to read and hear your incites. Gets me out of my comfort zone. Message below:

          Hi Dona,

          Thanks for sending the article. It is well written and clearly demonstrates the viewpoint of an isolated American Christian. Fortunately not all American Christians are so isolated, and fortunately not all Christians are Americans :-).

          I have yet to see the movie, but look forward to seeing it as well as reading the book.

          Blessings,’
          Perry

  2. Luke March 28, 2012 at 10:54 am #

    Well said, Jon.

    If The Hunger Games was merely exploitative, it wouldn’t be as successful as it is.

    • Jon March 28, 2012 at 11:04 am #

      So true, people don’t resonate with exploitation.

  3. Jennifer March 28, 2012 at 11:17 am #

    Very well said!

  4. Kimberly Kyllo March 28, 2012 at 12:30 pm #

    Weeping as I read these hard yet exacting words. Thanks once again Jon~

  5. Sharon O March 28, 2012 at 12:38 pm #

    I have no interest in watching this movie, even if it is ‘a lesson’ to be learned.
    Life taught me enough, I do pray people would use common sense and NOT take little children, one blogger I read said she was in the theatre with other parents and there were more than 20 young children in the theatre watching this movie… children of all ages. It becomes ‘a form’ of abuse when we place our children in front of a big screen and it shows other children dying. Do not understand this kind of ‘entertainment.’
    Thank you for your great words, Jon.

  6. Erica March 28, 2012 at 4:31 pm #

    Reading this a second time. I have been struggling with this topic for a while now….thank you so much for the insight.

  7. Mark Fordice March 28, 2012 at 4:35 pm #

    Excellent article. Really makes me think! Thank you!

    I don’t know, Jon. Not having read the book or seen the movie, I may be one step behind. (And maybe that’s part of your point.) Should I have gone with the Romans to the Colosseum to see the gladiators fight or the martyrs die on the argument that watching wouldn’t make me unclean? Would I be drawn in and take enjoyment in the spectacle? Partake just so I could appreciate what the culture’s search for self-sufficiency? Or is it enough to know what is going on inside?

    I don’t think the line in the sand can be whether or not it’s real, either. Because a movie isn’t real, isn’t enough for me. If I take pleasure in watching Maximus crush someone in Gladiator, which I did, hasn’t the focus shifted from what I am watching to what my response is to having watched it? Do I become potentially more violent in my thoughts, for having watched and enjoyed that movie? I probably did.

    While Mark 7 says what we take in doesn’t defile us, there is still the prohibition against getting drunk (Eph. 5:18) because of what it often leads to. When does Philippians 4:8 kick in? What if Hunger Games was 10 hours long? Should we sit through all ten hours of mind-numbing violence, just so we can connect with a co-worker? Honest questions. Does that discussion lead to a discussion about Jesus? Could that discussion only happen because I saw the movie?

    I like your points on isolationism. I’m torn. I want to see the movie if it will really get me thinking, and I think it’s great if it allows me to be part of the discussion with others. Flip side, I don’t want to watch something horrid just to be educated. (And I’m guessing it’s not all that horrid if box office sales are any indicator. It’s probably rather entertaining or incredibly though provoking or both.) I don’t want to go to be entertained if this is the subject matter, and that’s what I usually associate with going to the movies.

    I used to have a saying, “I don’t have to shoot myself in the foot to know that I don’t want to.” The point being that you can learn without first-hand experience.

    No holier than thou going on with me. I listen to music I probably shouldn’t and I enjoy TV shows that I believe are corrupting me. Interested to hear your response.

  8. Jon March 28, 2012 at 6:44 pm #

    Great thoughts all around Mark. I’m not certain that I have a rebuttal for anything that you’ve written because I don’t think we are actually very far apart in our thinking.

    The actual violence of the film isn’t anywhere near as graphic or disturbing as say the decapitations of LOTR, or an R Rated shoot em up. It’s the fact that it is children killing children that has people disturbed. Like Lord Of The Flies, or the Slaughterhouse 5, THG isn’t a predictive caution about our future, it’s an over-illustration of where we actually are.

    …the dying just happens over time as opposed to in an instant.

    That adults are having a hard time grasping this while kids are emotionally drawn to it is simply an identification of a generation gap (created by affluence and the information age) that is the largest since the late 1950’s. Many adults don’t get THG for the same reason that they don’t understand the 10-30yr old demographics preoccupation with cutting, eating disorders, and pornography.

    That generation gap isn’t the fault of the younger generation. That’s why I wrote the post.

    I’m not saying that you need to participate to understand, each person has a “weaker brother/possible profitable” battle to wage in this regard, but I am saying that Christians have the ability to stand in the presence of wickedness and not be corrupted, and that THG won’t corrupt an Christian adult on mission for God in the same way that “meat sacrificed to Idols” didn’t corrupt Paul…

    …It merely offended some of his more conservative friends.

    There actually is a difference between real killing and depictions of killing, so I don’t really buy in to the analogy of the coliseum. I feel that the equivalent would be hearing a story or reading an illustrated inscription of the coliseum. You aren’t partaking in the event, you are witness to a description of the event, and that’s the difference between being a bank robber and being in the jail cell with a bank robber who is describing the scene to you.

    To hear, or watch, someone tell a story of need, a parable if you will, is different than being a participant in the story. Being able to relate THE STORY in a manner that someone can relate to is the reason that Paul went to Mars Hill, amidst the pagan thought and Roman excess. He was in it but not of it, as a result of the renewing of his mind.

    I don’t think I’m arguing with you at all here, just clarifying a few points. Thanks for jumping in to the conversation.

  9. Cody Boardman March 28, 2012 at 9:42 pm #

    Great post, Jon. I’ve been listening to the audiobook. My oldest is actually watching the movie with friends right now.

    Here’s another, related thought:

    How often do we ‘hear/read’ about what’s happening in the world, in our community, in the lives of people around us and make comments like “can you believe that?” or “that’s so horrible” or better yet “I’m praying for you…” but take no action. As an example, we’ve heard a lot about ‘human trafficking’, ‘sexual enslavement’, ‘hate crimes’ etc… I wonder what we would do/think differently if we were ‘actually’ exposed to these horrible acts. What if we saw some of the ‘real deal’ with our own eyes? I can’t help but think ‘hearing’ about hate crimes is a lot different from actually seeing a beautiful human being beaten because of their race, gender, sexual orientation etc… I can only imagine that this is why women who have been freed from prostitution often take action against it (e.g. @hookersforjesus on Twitter: http://bit.ly/Hio8VL) or human trafficking like the fella who wrote this book: http://www.acrimesomonstrous.com/.

    Sometimes, I think the ‘engagement from afar’ is a form of isolationism. We’re still protected from the ‘real’ pain because we’re reading a reporters summary of an interview etc… Sometimes, being exposed to the real deal, no matter how painful or memorable, inspires us to act.

  10. heather s March 28, 2012 at 10:19 pm #

    Hi Jon–

    I am curious as to how you would define child when you say “no child should see it, but every adult should”? And what are the reasons you think children should not see it? Our 13 year old is begging to see it because his friends say the action is sooo cool!

    Thanks
    :) H

    • Jon March 29, 2012 at 7:43 am #

      This one is difficult because kids of similar ages are usually of differing maturity levels, especially middle school aged boys. He might be mature enough to understand the films message, beyond merely resonating with it, but his friends sound like they are clearly missing the point… A sign that they might still be in their concrete reasoning stages of childhood development.

      Another factor is exposure level. Most middle schoolers I know receive very little restriction on their media consumption, parental guidance, so not only are they overexposed and desensitized, they also don’t have conversations with adults to process what they are experiencing.

      If your son is not overexposed, and doesn’t wrestle with complex emotional issues yet (most firstborn males don’t enter their formal operational thinking until their mid-teens) the movie will probably be a needless exposure, not to violent acts, but disturbing concepts: “what if my friend had to kill me?” “what if I was forced to kill my friend?” that he doesn’t yet have the mental or emotional capacity to wrestle with.

      I suspect that you’re asking because you guys have some strong family standards, so in layman’s terms I’d just say that families with responsible standards usually raise kids that are emotionally healthy and sensitive. Emotionally healthy and sensitive kids will have trouble with the content of the movie. That’s only a good/ growth thing for them to experience with parental guidance (conversation) when they are capable of not being traumatized.

      If your son is moving away from “black/white” concrete thinking, and into the world of “theory/possibility” then he could be guided through the movie with some great values affirming/instilling conversation. If not, follow your gut and don’t let pressure rush him into adulthood. He’s too precious for that.

      Grateful for your diligent, faithful, persistent, and rare, parenting.

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