Hunger Games, Holy Week, and GC 2012

I went to see “Hunger Games” and was  taken by the message of vicarious suffering.  Twenty-four “Tributes” age 12-18 like Katniss Everdeen represent their districts in penance to the fascist regime of Panem. Katniss exhibited selflessness in volunteering to take her little sister’s place in the horrendous “games” where each boy or girl is asked to fight to the death until one victor is left alive. As much as I was intrigued by the overtones of the movie and impressed enough to purchase and read the series, I was appalled by the violence perpetuated by the Panem government on and by youth. I was most taken by the line said by Donald Sutherland’s “President Snow” dictator character as he was speaking to his aide-to-camp Seneca Crane. It was concerning Crane’s management of the games and his  TV ratings-gaining preferential treatment of Katniss. President Snow said, “Hope is the only thing more powerful than fear.” Crane is eventually killed because he is accused of fomenting hope over the regime’s fear.

This got me to thinking about Holy Week. Perhaps the reason the Palm Sunday crowds turned fickle is that they were cowed by fear and not inspired by hope. The Roman Empire’s manipulation of outcomes is clearly evident in both Holy Week and in “The Hunger Games.” The name of the country in “The Hunger Games” is a take-off of the Roman Empire’s phrase panem et circenses, or “bread and circuses/games.” It was a plan and method that the Roman Empire used to control the populace through a diversionary false reality. Yelling at blood sports kept people from forcefully dealing with the real issues of corruption, oppression, and despair. Panem in “The Hunger Games” does the same thing through their TV-streamed crowd control of televised teen murder. Panem and the Roman Empire are essentially synonymous. What takes them both down is hope.

Christian hope is the fuel for revolution in both the spiritual and political realm. If we believe in the Resurrection all fear is gone, as the old hymn puts it. Without fear and filled with hope we are more than undefeated. We are victors! But our weapons of revolution are not of this world. We will not use Katniss’ bow and arrows. Earthly weapons are of no value in fighting evil regimes or ideologies. Remember what Jesus said to Peter in the garden of Gethsemane as he swung his sword at a soldier, cutting off his ear: “Put your sword away, Peter. Those who live by the sword die by the sword.” Jesus promoted the power of love over the love of power and earthly weapons.

A devotional writer that I’m reading said it better than I: “The weapons of our warfare are not destructive, they are constructive. They include things like humility, forgiveness, resisting evil with good, holy attitudes, the Holy Spirit within us, and the even more offensive ones – the Cross of Christ, the Word of God, and the prayers of the saints. Jesus won this showdown in the garden of Gethsemane. No one really knew that but Jesus. His victory didn’t look like a victory. Neither do ours. When we turn the other cheek, offer to go the extra mile, forgive someone a thousand times, humble ourselves in the sight of humanity and  God, pray on our knees, and quote from the Word, it doesn’t look as if we win. But we do. The enemy trembles. He would much prefer that we go back to his style of battle – evil for evil, sword for sword, spite for spite. Satan knows how to fight on those terms. He has no idea what to do when his greatest offenses become the showcase for God’s greatest mercies.”

As I think about “The Hunger Games,” Holy Week, and even the upcoming General Conference of the United Methodist Church I want to claim hope over fear so that I remain constant in faithfulness to Christ. I cannot use Panem’s weapons or diversions. I need to yield to the Holy Spirit and Christian Hope. Hope overcomes fear in Panem and against the rhetoric of crisis that is rampant in our church. This Holy Week, just three weeks before we are about to be subjected to the smoke and mirrors via panem et circenses at General Conference 2012, we need to pledge to avoid worldly weapons, parliamentary end-arounds, spiritual manipulation, and coercion. Jesus’ hope is positive, vulnerable, and relies on God rather than political machinations.

The observations and questions asked by the devotion are so helpful to me right now: “How do you fight the good fight? Are your battles a reflection of the Spirit of God within you? Or are they consistent with the spirit of this world? One will lead you to victory, the other into darkness. You will encounter a battle today, as you do every day. How will you respond? Make sure you look a lot like Jesus in the garden.” These are the questions that I will ask myself as we head to Tampa for GC 2012. Keep hope alive! Hope wins!

Lent, Call to Action, and the Truth

I just got back from a Connectional Table meeting and felt like I was subjected to subtle and not-so-subtle encouragement to support the IOT/CT legislation carte blanche. Well I have hardly ever been accused of checking my brain at the door. I did get up and profess that I would rather be a part of the coalition of the willing than a resister but feel the responsibility to ask pertinent questions about the IOT/CT plan that must be answered. I still have those questions about putting so much power and assets in the hands of a 15-member Center for Connectional Mission and Ministry and a 45-member group that meets once a year. The questions are huge. I feel compelled to keep asking questions and pray for truth. I know that everybody in this debate has their own perspective, but I hope we will all ponder the common issues of UM indentity, theology, and inclusivity. All of us have to avoid spin which to me is negative and often just half-truths. I read the Wisconsin Annual Conference’s statement on the Call to Action and really resonate with it. Here’s the link to some good truth-telling and questions:

Speaking of truth, the great novelist Flannery O’Connor, known for surprise endings and plot twists that can turn a reader upside down, wrote these matter-of-fact words, “You shall know and do the truth . . . and the truth will make you odd.”  It may cause us to feel odd in today’s world when we live truthfully. I know that I don’t have a corner on the truth market. I also know how odd I can be, but I’m trying to be ethical. Ethics as defined by the dictionary is “the discipline dealing with what is good and bad and with moral duty and obligation.” I’m glad the definition started with the word, “discipline.”  Doing the right thing, believing the truth and living truthfully, takes extraordinary discipline.

For example, 20,000 middle-and high-schoolers were surveyed by the Josephson Institute of Ethics–a non-profit organization in Marina del Rey, California, devoted to character education.  Ninety-two percent of the teenagers admitted having lied to their parents in the previous year, and 73 percent characterized themselves as “serial liars,” meaning they told lies weekly.  Despite these admissions, 91 percent of all respondents said they were “satisfied with my own ethics and character.” That’s a scary thing–when we knowingly misrepresent the truth and we are “satisfied with my own ethics and character.” Living truthfully may make you odd in today’s world.

Lenten season dares us to “fess up” to our shortcomings and that takes truth telling. Most of us would rather talk about what’s wrong with everybody else but ourselves. We have the Cleopatra Syndrome, so called because she was the Queen of DENIAL. Jesus came to expose the denying lies of those who felt smug in their self-righteousness and to bring relief to those who felt imprisoned by their unrighteousness. He told it like it was about both groups. He wanted both groups to come clean, tell the truth and experience the freedom that can only come from having no secrets from God.

With the woman at the well Jesus dodged her non-answers and went straight to the jugular about her many marriages and live-in lover. It was her honesty that finally opened her eyes to both Jesus and her own salvation. But she had to tell the truth to get there! Honesty is the best policy, especially honesty with God! He already knows what we’re thinking anyway, so why don’t we turn those ugly worrisome thoughts into prayers?

Only God is omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient, but out of love God gives us tremendous freedom and latitude. We can choose or not choose to turn to God in repentance and ask for help in our daily predicaments. If we don’t turn to God aren’t we neglecting the best opportunity for real help when the going gets rough? Next time you find yourself in a situation and are already planning your exit strategy with not-so-truthful ease, turn to God instead. Jesus is more than ready and able to help you. All Jesus asks is for us to be honest. Without honesty, we’re stuck in a downward spiral toward disaster. I pray that as we prepare for GC 2012 we will speak the truth in love!