March 18, 2012

Thoughts on The Hunger Games

Posted in Book Reviews, Books, Faith, Fiction tagged , , at 7:09 pm by catsinboxes

I must admit that I have a hard time liking Katniss Everdeen.  That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy reading the Hunger Games trilogy.  Suzanne Collins has created a series that is hard to put down.  But she has also created a series, a setting, and a cast of characters that presents many questions: questions that Katniss Everdeen never seems to answer.

When I read the series, I was struck by the feeling that is created.  Imagine a future America that is divided into 13 districts.  Imagine a future where young people, 2 tributes from each district, are sent to participate in the Hunger Games, a televised slaughter in an artificially created “arena” that will leave only one victor.  That is the world that Katniss Everdeen introduces readers to in the opening pages of the Hunger Games.

Katniss’ world feels dark, old, depressing, and by contrast the Capitol is gaudy to the extreme.  It is such a different world that it is almost surprising to find references to things we know, like the fact that Katniss’ family has a television.  And when in the midst of the second book we find out that District 13 specialized in “nuclear development” it seems just plain out of place!  Does this world feel real?  Not to me, at least, but it is a story.

I do have a couple bones to pick when it comes to the genre.  I cannot believe it possible that a world sometime in the future would have no recollection of God.  There is no religion in the Hunger Games, no mention of any greater being or any remnant of religion preserved from the past.  Realizing this, it is not surprising that there is no common sense of morality in the series.  In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis points to the fact that we all have an inward moral law: a moral law that will point us toward the right thing to do, a moral law that will sometimes cause us to do the right thing even when it’s the last thing we actually want to do.  In the Hunger Games, Katniss often battles with herself, wondering why she does things, but she never seems to conclude that it is simply because it is the right thing to do at that time and place.  In the Hunger Games each character is operating for a different reason and there is not a unifying theme.  Instead of black and white, there are many shades of gray.  Indicative of this is the fact that the rebels, instead of being the good guys, are a weird kind of totalitarian force who wear gray uniforms.

In the Hunger Games there is not a sense of true beauty or joy, instead there is only darkness and confusion.  I believe it is good to read the Hunger Games to get a sense of our times.  I find it intriguing that this has become such a best seller.  Honestly though, I don’t believe that this will become a lasting classic.

I know that a lot of Christian parents are wondering if their children should read the Hunger Games.  I think that is a personal decision to make, but I will tell you two things I observed which I personally found disturbing.  These reasons are why I would be hesitant to recommend the Hunger Games trilogy to anyone younger than a mature and analytically inclined high schooler.

Reason 1.  Throughout the trilogy there is intense violence almost to the point of desensitization.  Granted, given the premise, of course this is going to happen, but it almost seems to be gratuitous at times.  One example of this that stuck out to me came from Katniss’ description of one of the tributes in Catching Fire:  “Enobaria looks to be about thirty and all I can remember about her is that, in hand-to-hand combat, she killed one tribute by ripping open his throat with her teeth.”  It’s one thing to read about violence, about the Holocaust or about genocide or a battlefield, when it really happened.  It is quite another thing to invent such violence, and it doesn’t seem right to me, not in this much detail.  By the end of the Hunger Games trilogy, I found myself desensitized to all of the death.  Character after character had been killed off, often in gruesome detail.  It’s not like in Harry Potter when death takes you by surprise . . . when you have time to miss a character . . . no, this was just a LOT of dying and a whole lot of violence.

Reason 2.  While there is no sex in the Hunger Games, I would argue that there is a lot of sensuality.  Some of it comes from statements . . . like the fact that Katniss stands unclothed while her male stylist Cinna is studying her.  Call me a prude, but that made me squirm.  There is a good bit of kissing and little details thrown in that stick with you: Gale smells like oranges the first time he kisses Katniss.  Peeta and Katniss sleep together in the same place during the Hunger Games and then later on multiple occasions.  Nothing goes on, but Katniss emphasizes how nice and secure it is to have Peeta there.  Lastly, I just kept picking up on little details about Katniss: she wishes she were alone so she could strip off her clothes and dive naked into a lake . . . 11 times during the series Katniss refers to her naked body.  Several of these times happen at night when she strips off her clothes and sleeps _____ you can fill in the word!  I really don’t feel like this is appropriate, especially not for any juvenile male readers.  There is so much sexuality in our culture, you might say this isn’t that bad.  But it’s there . . . and I’d rather know about it in advance if I’m trying to determine the appropriateness of any book.

For me, the most telling part in the entire series was the conversation Katniss overhears between Peeta and Gale.  They wonder who will wind up with Katniss if they all come out alive and Gale says: “Katniss will pick whoever she thinks she can’t survive without.”  As the reader, I was inclined to agree.  Over the past two books, Katniss had shown herself as intensely selfish in how she relates to others.  But as the reader, you also want Katniss to prove that she’s not that bad, that she does care for others, that she doesn’t operate solely on that plane.  But it never happens.  Do you understand why I have such a hard time liking Katniss Everdeen?

Obviously this is my opinion of the Hunger Games trilogy.  Do you agree?  Do you disagree?  What were things you noticed or things that bothered you?  I know there’s a lot more that could be discussed, and I would love to hear your opinion!  


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March 11, 2012

Looking back, Looking forward

Posted in Faith, Japan at 10:00 pm by catsinboxes

A year ago I was awake after spending the night at my office in Tokyo.  I was horribly tired, and I had realized that the earthquake I had experienced was not normal.  I had seen video clips of the huge wall of water hitting the coast of northern Japan, but I had no idea the amount of damage, the loss of life.

It doesn’t seem like a year ago.  I remember so much, the big things and the little details, like the coffee I bought at the convenience store near my office.  (It was Starbucks, and I was splurging!)

I remember getting home to Wisconsin after the US Department of State recommended that all US citizens leave Japan.  I remember going to church with my family, a new church for me . . . and singing Blessed Be Your Name.  I remember tearing-up as I sang,

When the darkness closes in, Lord, still I will say: Blessed be the name of the Lord . . .

You give and take away, you give and take away . . . My heart will choose to say,

“Lord, blessed be your name.”

I remember the uncertainties of looking ahead and wondering what the next step would be, wondering what the coming months would hold.

I still get questions about Japan, about how everyone is doing, about what it was like being there during the earthquake.  This post isn’t an attempt to recap what happened, it isn’t going to be an account of what Japan looks like one year after March 11th.  Instead, as I started working on this post and thinking through what I wanted to say, I realized most of all this is going to be a post about seeing God’s work in my life.

In the two months leading up to the earthquake, I belonged to Tokyo’s Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) group.  We were studying Isaiah 40 and onward.  In the days, weeks, and even months following the earthquake, I’ve loved and hung onto the verses from Isaiah:

Fear not, for I am with you;

Be not dismayed for I am your God.

I will strengrhen you,

Yes, I will help you,

I will uphold you with My righteous right hand . . .

Fear not, for I have redeemed you;

I have called you by your name;

You are Mine.

(Isaiah 41:10 & 43:1)

Was that a coincidence?  I think not!  I love God’s timing and His providence.

Looking back at last summer, I remember all the uncertainty.  I remember wrestling with the fact that God was in control, the I had to depend on Him.  I wanted so badly to be holding the reins!

Now fast forward to the present.  I have learned so much!  Am I there yet when it comes to resting fully in God’s plans?  Not at all!  But I have come a long, long way.  This past week I found out what my summer is going to look like . . . I’ll be a counselor at a Christian summer camp.  I’m very, very excited!  At the same time, I am so glad that I have been relying and resting in God’s plan and not my own.

I’ve found myself being challenged in different areas, in areas that I have really not expected.  I’ve found myself constantly going back to the Gospel.  I am not perfect, I fall short so many times, but it’s so neat being able to see God’s sanctifying grace in my life.

But as for me, I will look to the Lord;

I will wait for the God of my salvation;

my God will hear me.

~Micah 7:7

March 7, 2012

Rejoicing and Weeping

Posted in Adoption, Blogging tagged , , at 10:10 pm by catsinboxes

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.  ~Romans 12:15

I hit refresh and start to scroll down on Reece’s Rainbow’s page for Orphanage 39.  I stop.  No . . . I look again.  Yes!!!  Today Duncan is no longer listed in Orphanage 39 . . . He has a family!!!!  It’s so exciting.  First it was Sam and Tyler, now it’s Duncan.  I was thinking of this verse as I thought about Duncan’s new family.  Rejoice with those who rejoice . . . and what a wonderful thing to rejoice about!  Weep with those who weep?  What about that?  That’s becoming increasingly real to me to as I read through the stories on blogs.  Read about children watching as others leave the orphanage.  Read about the emptiness, the longing.

You might ask, how does this affect me?  I’m only a college student, goodness, don’t I have other things to do?  I do, and believe me, I am doing them!  But, when you get involved, when you can rejoice that Duncan has a family, when you can weep for the narrow window of time left to Bernadette and continue to pray . . . It changes you.  It changes the way you look at life.  When you realize that living out the Gospel is a much, much, bigger picture.  When you realize that you (yes, you!) can help.

So, this week, I challenge you: rejoice and weep.  How can you do this?  Renee at But By Grace had a wonderful idea today that I’m going to share:

So here’s my plan- for the next 10 days, I’d like you guys, and anyone you can convince to join you, to traipse over every day to http://reecesrainbow.org and find a child, any waiting child, who is wearing green, and show him or her some love. I’m starting with Alyssa and Yates, two sweet siblings, and she’s wearing the brightest green jacket I’ve seen. I’ll be putting in $50 as soon as I hit publish on this post, because there’s two kids in that sibling group, and my plan is to give $25 a day, but I’d ask you to give whatever God puts on your heart, or if you’re not a believer, whatever you feel good about sharing.But shhhhhhh, don’t tell Reece’s Rainbow. Just like the mythical leprechaun sneaks around, I want us to do the same. Let’s let everyone else wonder why all the kids in green suddenly have rapidly growing donations! They may notice at first, as it stays in the low numbers, but wouldn’t it be cool to see all the kids in green suddenly have substantial funds? Like something that people would notice and think “wha-huh?!?!?”
I’ll post everyday, at the bottom of my post, who I’m giving to wearing green. If you want to comment and tell me who you shamrocked, then I’d love to know!
I love that sentence; let’s do some shamrocking!

March 6, 2012

The Least of These

Posted in Adoption, Blogging, Faith tagged , , at 8:55 pm by catsinboxes

I know I haven’t been blogging for over a month.  I know that many people who find this blog are looking for information about WWII and the Women’s Land Army.  In short, I know that I don’t have much of a voice when it comes to this blog, but I want to try something.

Have you read Matthew 25:40 recently?

And the King will answer them, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”

What does that mean?  Who are the least of these?  They are the hungry, the impoverished, the sick, the prisoners.  And you know, it can be easy to leave it at that.  It can be easy for me to tithe, to help support some children through Compassion International . . . It’s painless, just contribute and know that you’re helping.  But is that the right way to look at it?

I know that each day people around the world are dying in poverty.  In the time that it has taken you to read this, at least two children somewhere in the world will have died from hunger-related causes.  Watch the clock for a moment, and each time 8 seconds pass, remind yourself that a child’s life has ended.  At the end of the day, 22,000 children will have died, the majority from very curable diseases.  Does that make you uncomfortable?

Until about three weeks ago, I knew that there were orphans in Eastern Europe.  I knew that Ukraine as a country had about 100,000 orphans.  I knew facts, I knew some numbers.  I didn’t know faces.  I didn’t know about institutions.  Do you know?

I’m still learning, but let me tell you.  And I’ll make it real.

This is “Duncan.”  He is 15 years old, the same age as my brother.  He has cerebral palsy which affects his legs.

This is “Bernadette.”  She is 15 years old, and she has my brother Joshua’s smile.  She has Down Syndrome.

Two 15 year olds, both living in an orphanage in Eastern Europe.  Two 15 year olds waiting for families.  Do you know what will happen when they turn 16?  They will no longer be available for adoption, they will leave the orphanage and be sent to a mental institution.  An adult mental institution.  Do you have any idea what that means?  For Bernadette:

She will likely have her head shaved, be stripped and placed into institution clothes, taken to a bed or crib and restrained there if she tries to wander. No toys. No books. No one to rub her back or sing her a lullaby. She’ll become a number on a case file, a name on a roster. Forever condemned to a life without a family. At her small size, likely a victim of other, older adults at the institution, as they take her food, hit her, or worse.

That’s a quote, a quote from a wonderful adoptive mother who met Bernadette.  Surely it can’t be that bad, can it?  Oh, it can.  Read about it here, and look at the pictures.  Look at them.  Do you know, as I started to read, I didn’t want to find out more.  I didn’t want to know about how bad it was . . . But we need to know.

No child, for Bernadette really is like a child, should ever receive that fate.  No teenager like Duncan should live with the fact that his birthday (yeah, we call it sweet 16, don’t we?) will mark the end of hope.

And you know, the thing is, it’s easy to just ask, “Well, what can I do?”  If you’re like me, you’re a college student.  You can’t adopt, but does that mean that you should just go on with life?

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained from the world.  ~James 1:27

You can visit.  You can contribute, this website is a wonderful resource:  http://reecesrainbow.org/category/waitingbycountry/ee-1/orphanage-39.  And most of all, you can pray.

I want to say something, and I hope it doesn’t offend you.  I hope it makes you think.  In the United States, we don’t have adult mental institutions like in Eastern Europe.  We don’t have a system that condemns teenagers like Bernadette to a living hell in an institution for the crime of having an extra chromosome.  No, we don’t.  We just take care of that problem much earlier.  9 out of 10 babies with Down Syndrome are never born in the United States.  Civilized.  Intentional.  Extermination.  That’s the United States.  Don’t ever forget that we have our own problems.

Please pray, and pray for faces.  It’s much harder to forget, to shake off a face.  A statistic can just slip away, but a face remains.  Look at Duncan.  He’s afraid no one will want him because his legs don’t work.  Look at Bernadette.  She’s so sweet, so happy, so blissfuly unaware of what is ahead.

What will you do for the least of these?