So you can also figure out that I haven't read any Harry Potter either. Don't hate me. Again, just not interested.
HOWEVER, that is not to say that I am not fascinated by much of the hype surrounding every blockbuster like what is surrounding the premiere of Hunger Games this weekend, mostly because I tend to keep an eye on pop culture, and because nearly every high school and college student I know has either read the book and/or already seen the movie.
I just listened to a roundtable discussion about the book that included writers, college students, librarians, grandmas, parents, critics. Fascinating stuff to listen to as a long-term youthworker. I cannot help but hear everything said about both the film and the book with that youth ministry filter.
Invariably, in processing what goes on with youth in the early 21st century, at some point I compare my own experience as a teenager in 70's. In jr high, the big movies (both of which I went to see in the theater at the time) were the original Planet of the Apes and what I consider a dystopian classic, Soylent Green, with its horrifying line, "Soylent Green is PEOPLE!" Both films certainly painted an incredibly bleak scene of the future back in the day, so is there anything really new under the sun when it comes to sci-fi and fantasy fiction?
I will say that I find many core concerns for teenagers to be exactly the same ones I dealt with: social struggles with peers (especially among girls), tensions with parents, identity, decisions about the future, hormones, sex / drugs / rock 'n roll... but I also think the intensity has cranked up immensely. Junior highers today face issues and decisions that I most definitely did not face until college.
I also see a world radically different in terms of how we understand commitment and community. Among my close girlfriends in 1979 (about a dozen of them), only one friend had parents who were divorced. And I was the only one who had not grown up in the SF suburb in which we all lived. Fast forward to 2012: I chuckled with a college senior two weeks ago, whom I've known since she was a 9th grader, that her generation is "committed until... they are no longer committed." In other words, commitment is self-serving and utilitarian, for the most part. Our divorce culture, as has been discussed in other forums, has a broken comprehension of how overriding a vow or commitment is meant to be. Now, commitment tends to be something you agree to until it becomes inconvenient, unnecessary or just plain uninteresting. Apply this reality to the 2012 adolescent understanding of marriage, sex, career, family, community, church, faith... that might cause a few beads of sweat on your brow, eh?
And as for "community," we are a world in flux right now as to what that word means. Our families have experienced far more divorce and a lot more mobility, but we are also in regular contact with many more (hundreds? thousands?) people than we used to be. I tell college students that when I went away to college I simply did not talk to my friends back home until I came home at break because I couldn't afford long-distance phone calls. Period. Now, my students talk to their friends and family nearly every day. But does that build closer relationships? I can't tell.
What my old friend and colleague Chap Clark says is that students today build what he calls "clusters" (similar to what Patricia Hersch describes in A Tribe Apart):
Currently, adolescents are grouped by what Chap Clark calls, “clusters.” These “clusters” are made up of about four to eight friends and this group is similar to a secondary family. Patricia Hersch describes these groups as “more than a group of peers, it becomes in isolation a society with its own values, ethics, rules, worldview, rites of passage, worries, joys, and momentum. It becomes teacher, advisor, entertainer, challenger, nurturer, inspirer, and sometimes destroyer.”My observation, after years of watching clusters function, is that they are not the big social groups or cliques of decades past that teens tended to run among. Clusters are tighter, smaller, somewhat more secretive, and powerful in their devotion to one another.
Thus today's students resonate with Katniss' willingness to serve as tribute for her sister and her selfless willingness to feed her family and care for those closest to her. I also believe students are greatly drawn to finding a cause worth dying for, and live it out through Katniss (and Harry, and Aragorn, and Ironman and and ....)
So for me, as I hear all the buzz about the film, I know there is irony in the title, because this is certainly no "game" we are talking about. This is a life-and-death struggle. As one 20-year old caller essentially said to the roundtable discussion I referred to earlier, "This film sort of defines our reality. A college degree doesn't guarantee a job, and the Arab Spring cuts both ways for young people. It seems like a battle is ahead for us." In response, one of the panelists said, "That's what good science fiction is. It doesn't describe the future. It describes NOW."
Yikes. Is that true? Are today's students fighting "Hunger Games" of their own? In response, I want to remind the church of two things we can proclaim: safety and hope. How I pray that our congregations, our bible studies, our youth groups, and our mentoring relationships are safe and dependable. We need good, solid adult volunteers to care for our students, and a commitment to development over time, as I have ranted about time and again on this blog...
We also need to be resurrection people. I continue to enjoy Surprised by Hope by NT Wright. With 60 pages left, I am so moved (and motivated) by his words, which call us to be messengers that bring truly new life through the gospel:
If we believe it and pray, as he taught us, for God's kingdom to come on earth as in heaven, there is no way we can rest content with major injustice in the world... As far as I can see, the major task that faces us in our generation, corresponding to the issue of slavery two centuries ago, is that of the massive economic imbalance of the world, whose major symptom is the ridiculous and unpayable Third World debt. (p 216)Again, though I must claim ignorance about the exact details of Hunger Games, it's my understanding is that it is framed as the "have's" being entertained by forcing and oppressing the "have-not's" into annual, tortuous games -- a way of painting the "massive economic imbalance" that Wright describes.
May we instead seek to redeem creation in the name and power of the Creator, who went before us in resurrection, and gave us the Spirit and the Promise of his return as our strength to press on in this calling. People are indeed hungry. May we give them the food of the Kingdom.