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!