When it comes to teeny-bopper novels with young female heroins I am pretty out of touch. A couple years ago, I was completely surprised when I asked my Facebook friends what books I should read and this swarm of young women suggested I read Divergent. I thought Divergent would be a non fiction sociology text about the need to engage culture critically so as to diverge to new paths. Instead it was a novel about some teenage girl who gets to pick her own faction and then suddenly becomes the chosen one. . .because, you know, all teenage girls are the chosen one these days.
But this post isn’t about Divergent. It is about the last teeny-bopper fad I did catch up with, “The Hunger Games.” When Suzanne Collin’s trio of novels went big a few years ago, my wife and I somehow came in possession of them and I read all three in a week. The first was surprisingly brilliant, a wonderful narrative critique of professional sports and their impact (or less than so) on low income neighborhoods. Strangely, almost nobody is talking about that aspect of the novel, just how all girls get stuck in their choice between the Peeta’s and the Gail’s in their lives. Don’t get me wrong, I can totally relate.
The other two novels were less than the first, leading me to believe Collins should have stopped after the one hit wonder. And yet, as I have continued to think about “The Hunger Games” and now have watched all four movies, it is the last two novels that have been the object of my focus.
I should add right now that huge spoilers for the entire trilogy follow this point.
In “Catching Fire” Katniss Everdeen emerges from the hunger games with a raw power that is best described as influence. She has a national following and is a political force to be reckoned with. So “Catching Fire” is about President Snow’s attempts to control and co opt Katniss’ influence using his brute force. When he is unable to do so, he resorts to sending her back to the Hunger Games with the hope that this time she will either die or emerge a victor but with severely decreased influence.
It doesn’t work. Katniss escapes the game before all the victors are dead and, in the “Mockingjay”, awakens in a 13th district that is led by a cunning President Coin. The third novel is about Coin’s attempts to control and co-opt Katniss’ influence, but not with brute force. Instead she uses a very cunning manipulation, that is almost worse than Snow’ss force. This leads to a stunning climax where Katniss has standing in front of her both Snow and Coin with the entire nation looking on. Forget Peeta versus Gail. This is Everdeen’s true choice and she uses it to kill Coin instead of Snow. I must admit that during my first reading of “Mockingjay” it did not occur to me that Coin was a villain until Katniss killed her. But then it made sense. Cunning manipulation is just as bad as brute force.
Therefore, the reason these two novels have consumed my thoughts since I read them is because I feel like Katniss’ story is the church’s story. Since the first Pentecost, the church has had access to a raw and supernatural power that is best described as “influence.” We are not powerful in and of ourselves but the Holy Spirit has given us access to the Trinity’s power, which is what C.S. Lewis calls “the deep magic.” It is a power deeper and more pure than brute force or cunning manipulation. It is the power of love and it is that love that powers us.
Since the outpouring of that power, the lesser powers, the national and corporate interests, have desperately tried to control and co-opt it. Some, like President Snow, have used threats and force. Others have been more like Coin, using cunning and manipulation. This still goes on today. Politicians are right now fighting to co-opt our votes and use our influence to get them elected. Corporations still use Christian symbols and imagery to get us to buy their product. Sports’ teams still tout the religious credentials of their star players to convince Christians to root for them and in turn, buy their merchandise. When the principalities and powers see our “deep magic” they recognize it and desperately want it for their own.
Sadly, we are not as unique or as brave as Katniss. We sell our religion to the highest bidder and remain loyal until another bidder comes along. There is quote that traces back to Augustine that claims, “the church is a whore!” and I agree. We sell our bodies to anybody who offers to buy from politicians to athletes to CEO’s.
At the end of Mockingjay it becomes clear that there is no win for Katniss. In the movie she explains to her newborn daughter that fighting nightmares is her new game. Thus, I walked out of the theater last night feeling very somber and downcast because rejecting the principalities and powers is a tough and costly chore. But Katniss did find a subtle win. She notes to her daughter that fighting the nightmares is a better game than the other ones she played. Her win was not executing Coin or even Snow. It came when she retreated to a quiet, humble and good existence, becoming a wife and a mother.
Her choosing of Peeta in the end is indicative of that choice and the church would do well to follow her, to deny the cunning manipulators and the coercive tyrants and instead follow the commands of our one true King, who tells us through the Apostle Paul, “to make it our ambition to live a quiet life” (1 Thess. 4:11) and who adds to it through Peter, “live such a good life among the pagans that they might see your good deeds and praise your father in heaven.” (1 Peter 2:12)
It is the quiet but good life lived among the ungodly that beats the principalities and powers. It is the quiet but good life that refuses to be co-opted by nations and politicians and armies and businesses. It is that life that wins the raw victory with God’s raw power.
Last Sunday we celebrated this with Christ the King Sunday where we proclaimed anew that Jesus is Lord and King of all. He stands above the athletes and corporations and politicians and nations. He is the Ancient of Days and one day, hopefully not long from now, He will take his throne and open the scroll! May that assurance carry you into a blessed holy-day season!