Friday, March 30, 2012

What “The Hunger Games” and the Prodigal Son Have in Common

On the face of it Suzanne Collins’ trilogy and Jesus’ parable are strange bedfellows. Their story line is light years apart, their “points” don’t seem to converge, in short, what do these two stories have in common?

It seems to me that both stories have a common ending. We celebrate the father’s prodigal love in welcoming and celebrating his wayward son home, but Jesus’ story does not end there! Rather, it ends with the father trying to persuade the elder brother to join in the party and similarly welcoming his prodigal brother home. And we are never told what happens! We are left to imagine various responses and ultimately to decide how we are going to respond to God the Father’s prodigal saving love for prodigals and “righteous” alike. In this way Jesus pulls us into his story and makes us characters in it (as it were) needing to make our own decisions and responses to its drama.

“The Hunger Games” trilogy likewise leaves the story open-ended. Each of the main characters have a persona they have developed in response to the horrific psychological, emotional, social, and physical oppression of the Capitol. Yet none of them seem set in stone. Intimations and signals of actual and potential changing responses from each of them leave the texture of the ending of the story without closure. We don’t know where any of them end up or how their stories continue on to conclusion.

Like Jesus’ parable Collins’ story-telling draws readers in and as we accompany Katniss, Peeta, Gale, Prim and the others through their travail we too start to form our responses to this crisis which has become ours as well. We watch the others making their decisions and forging plans and strategies against the Capitol’s demonic designs. Yet we also see that none of these responses seem satisfactory. And the questions that naturally arise, such as “What will or should Katniss (or any of the other main characters) do now?” become questions for is amid the oppressions and injustices that impinge on our lives. What will we do? How should we respond?” “Which character(s) are moving in directions we too would like to move?”

This, I take it, is “The Hunger Games” greatest virtue. Collins writes us into a story with sufficient analogies to our own post-industrial setting that we get hooked into it, supple enough to evoke our own changing responses as we read (or watch), and provocative enough to force us to declare ourselves and write ourselves the next chapter in our own setting.

This is what good stories do for us. They enhance our spiritual formation by inviting and in some senses compelling us to extend them into the fabric of our own lives. Jesus’ parable and the Collins’ trilogy do this for us in exemplary ways for which we can be most grateful!

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