In addition to following the Olympic Games, I indulged in another piece of popular culture last week. I read The Hunger Games. In case you haven’t yet taken the plunge, the story takes place at a time when the 12 Districts of a global empire must send two representatives, a boy and a girl, to fight to the death on national television. These “Hunger Games” are like a futuristic version of the Olympics combined with the gladiatorial contests of the ancient world.
To me, what’s most fascinating about the Hunger Games is that the contestants make alliances. Even though their survival depends on killing each other, they form teams! Our hero, Katniss, allies with the youngest contestant, a twelve-year old named Rue. The two hide from the others in a tall tree; because of the cold, they share a sleeping bag. As the younger girl snuggles up to her, Katniss realizes that, for the first time in the Games, she actually feels safe. With human contact, she actually feels at home, despite the hostile territory she is in.
The Revised Common Lectionary readings the past several weeks have encouraged worshippers to consider the story of Jesus’ feeding of the five thousand. This is the only miracle account found in all four Gospels. It is significant that John alone calls it a “sign” and not a “miracle.” The act itself is symbolic of something else; it signifies an even greater truth than multiplying loaves and fishes. Theologian Douglas John Hall claims what is truly “wonder-full” is the miraculous hope that Jesus offers to hundreds of needy people who follow him. This great crowd of folk was looking for something more to life than meets the eye, something deeper and more profound. Jesus himself suggests this interpretation when he tells the crowd, “You are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill (John 6:26).” Their deep desire was fulfilled, a longing beyond hunger…
Which brings me back to The Hunger Games. Like the Gospel of John, interpretations vary about symbolism behind the narratives: maybe they are an apocalyptic warning like the Left Behind series; or, perhaps they constitute a protest of imperialism, globalism, and the violence such “-isms” entail. But on a basic level, I was keenly aware that this material was written with teenagers in mind. People coming of age at a time when technology has connected us in unbelievable ways, and yet, survey after survey shows that we lonelier than ever.
Certainly, The Hunger Games contains some miraculous scenes and events. Katniss, for instance, is an unbelievable shot with the bow and arrow. But I wonder if her relationship with Rue might be the true miracle. For it seems to me that it is a sign, which points to a deeper hunger in the younger generation. Perhaps then they need communities of faith that show them the miracle of community – a place of comfort and warmth, even in times of fear and sorrow.