Friday, March 30, 2012

The Hunger Games...what's all the fuss about?

If you've read my blog at all, you know how much I love this book series. And you also have read how much I loved the movie. But I've got to say I had no idea how deep a chord it would strike with people. Its production company Lionsgate recently estimated that its opening weekend box office take would be about $75 million. They were wrong...try $155 million!

Why? What about this story has grabbed hold of so many? I'm sure there are as many answers as there are fans, but I have a few thoughts.

There are so many directions I could go with this. There is the fact that it is about finding out who you really are in the midst of adversity. There is the disturbing commentary on our society today. Panem in a lot of ways is an extreme version of our culture: the premium value put on entertainment, the reality TV phenomenon, the disregard for the poor and outcast, and the utter devaluing of human life. There is how Katniss learns that love is a choice, not a feeling, a lesson lost on our romance-addicted culture. All of that is in there and more.

But all that is symptomatic of our deepest needs, our ultimate purpose, the reason we were placed on earth. Whether Ms. Collins meant to or not, she has struck at the heart of who we are. And why stories like this mean so much to us. Ultimately, The Hunger Games trilogy is a story of redemption, setting captives free, and standing up for "the least of these." And doing so at great personal cost. It reminds me alot of a true story, one that happened about 3,500 years ago.

Spoilers ahead both for the movie and ALL THREE BOOKS

If you haven't read the whole trilogy, you'll want to stop here. But please read it soon and then come back!

"What am I going to do?" I whisper to the walls. Because I don't really know...What they want from me is to truly take on the role they designed for me. The symbol of the revolution. The Mockingjay. (Katniss Everdeen, Mockingjay, Chapter 1)
At this point in the story, Katniss is being asked to do something great, something a lot bigger than herself.

The whole story has been leading to it. In fact, that is one of the the things I love so much about the movie adaptation of The Hunger Games. By cutting back to the Capitol during the games, they give us a glimpse into what Katniss is unwittingly stirring up back in the districts of Panem. We see concern growing among the powerful, and hope growing among the downtrodden. (The cutaway to unrest in District 11 is priceless.) So as the first movie comes to an end, and President Snow delivers his passive-aggressive little speech, we know something much bigger is afoot.

So she struggles. Is this her destiny? Is it worth it? Is there even a chance of it working out? Most of all, will she risk her own personal interests (including her family) to do something great? We know that she is capable of great sacrifice, because when we first met her she volunteered to meet near-certain death on behalf of her sister. And she has been willing to die in order that Peeta might live. So can she do it again?
What am in going to do? Is there any point in doing anything at all? Of course I hate the Capitol, but I have no confidence that my being the Mockingjay will benefit those who are trying to bring it down...What am I going to do? Could any good I do possibly outweigh the damage?
How many times has this been asked? I'm just one person. Do you ever feel that way?

But then, due to a shocking event she witnesses involving someone she loves, she ends up here:
 What am I going to do? I take a deep breath. My arms rise slightly - as if recalling the black-and-white wings Cinna gave me - then come to rest at my sides. "I'm going to be the Mockingjay."
This struggle rings so familiar. About 3500 years ago, another people was in slavery and bondage, and needed a Katniss. They had been enslaved for 400 years and needed a leader to bring them freedom.

His name was Moses.
But Moses said to God, "Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?" (Exodus 3:11, NIV)
Sound familiar? I'm not the one. I'm inadequate. I'm out here in the country minding my own business and have been for 40+ years. Why me?

It goes on, as Moses struggles with his role.
"What if they do not believe me and sat 'The Lord did not appear to you'?...I have never been eloquent...I am slow of speech and tongue...Please send someone else." (Exodus 4:1,10,13, NIV)
As God was making it clear, through a burning bush no less (Moses! The man whose bush is on fire!), that he was the one needed to bring freedom to the captives, he was full of excuses. But God had an answer to every one of them, so ultimately he obeyed. He confronted the most powerful man in the world. And the rest is history.

Our story is one of bondage; it always has been. There is an enemy, and he has subjected us to slavery just as surely as Pharaoh did.

Or President Snow. Or Darth Vader. Or any number of other fictional characters who are created from deep in the heart of an artist who senses the truth.

We live in a world of growing despair. Hunger. Violence. Injustice. Meaningless, empty physical relationships. Broken families. 147 million orphans. The list goes on and on.

We are desperate for a real live hero, someone who will set us free from our despair. Someone who will be willing to sacrifice their own life, if necessary, to free us and give us meaning.
 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me
   to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:18-21, NIV)
Yes, we do have someone! Jesus of Nazareth proclaimed at the beginning of his ministry that this was exactly his purpose. And, when the time came for him to fulfill his purpose, he also struggled. He prayed in great agony, pleading for there to be another way. So much agony that he sweated blood. Redemption is never easy - it's costly, more costly than anything else. But he accepted the cup of God's wrath on our behalf, and has bought freedom for all of us.

We need more heroes in our books and movies like Katniss Everdeen. Heroes who, though flawed, rise up to do great thing. But most of all, heroes who remind us that there is hope. That no matter how our own version of the Capitol beats us down, there is One who has beaten it and can give us hope as we struggle against it.

And that is a story worth telling.
P.S. (please read): There is way too much in The Hunger Games for me to even scratch the surface. Hey, you're probably already thinking this was the longest post ever. But there are two excellent posts that do it more justice than I, and come at it from a different angle. Please take the time to check out the two links below:

Let The Hunger Games Begin: Why the story of Katniss Everdeen resonates with so many readers

In the Open Space: Why we need dystopian stories like The Hunger Games

Happy reading! "Thank you for your consideration."

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Random observations from a day in London

Here at the end of my first full day in London, here are just a few random thoughts:

1) I found another sign today that should have been included in yesterday's post. It was in the stairwell of the office where we were meeting:


So...I don't think the sign means what they think it means. Hopefully, there's not a place downstairs where bombs are being assembled.

2) Doing the same presentation seven times in one day can be tiresome, but it wasn't really today. I think it's because I find the people over here so interesting, and it's fun having conversations with them - yes, even business conversations.

3) There are doing something really cool here, as explained by my friend Gemma. They did an Easter egg "hunt", where people who spotted one of 209 (I think) huge eggs around the city could text a picture and be eligible for a prize. I wish we would do something like that at home. Here's a picture of one of the eggs:

4) After dinner tonight we went to see a stage version of The Wizard of Oz, produced by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Here I am in front of the theatre:

It was alot of fun. It used all the music from the movie plus a few original songs by Tim Rice (lyrics) and Mr. Webber (music), who kinda knows a thing or two about writing musicals. The girl playing Dorothy was an understudy, so I enjoyed watching her have her moment in the sun. I think my favorite parts were both in the last ten minutes:
  • When Dorothy said to the Scarecrow, "I think I'll miss you most of all", the Tinman and the Cowardly Lion both reacted with "thanks alot" type comments. That is an emotional moment in the movie, but I have always thought that it was weird that the others were ok with that. To see them react to it was hilarious!
  • At the close, after Dorothy's family has left her alone in her room, a closet door bursts open and there are the ruby slippers with a single spotlight on them. Dorothy picks them up and the stage goes dark as she hugs them with a single spot on her. First, I love this because it raises the issue, "was it a dream or not?", unlike the movie where it's pretty clear it was a dream. I love that kind of ambiguity that makes you think. But most of all, I loved that it was a pretty clear piece of self-deprecating humor by Mr. Webber. It was a visual parody of the ending of Phantom of the Opera. If you saw it (and you've seen Phantom), you would agree. Awesome!
And while it was a good day over here, yes, Dorothy, you're right - there's no place like home.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Same language...sort of

I love visiting London, for a lot of reasons. I was reminded of a small one a few minutes ago in a Caffe Nero near our hotel.

I love how the US and the UK have different phrases or words for the same thing. They go to the water closet instead of the bathroom. The first floor in their elevators is designated with a "0" instead of a "1". Their signs use different expressions:

  • "Way out" = "Exit"
  • "Mind the gap" = "Watch your step"
  • "To let" = "For rent"
Well, I saw one today that I had never noticed. Here it is:

Yeah, I thought it was only considered litter if you threw it out on the ground. Otherwise, isn't it trash? Or garbage? Or even, as I've seen elsewhere here, rubbish?

Not wrong, just different. And kinda fun.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

All that, and more

I promised in my last blog post that you would hear thoughts from me on The Hunger Games after seeing it. So here ya go...


In short, I was blown away by the casting and acting. Jennifer Lawrence is Katniss Everdeen, and that's just the beginning. Lenny Kravitz, Donald Sutherland, Stanley Tucci, and many others create characters that were just what I would have pictured from the book. Especially moving was Amandia Stenberg as Rue.

I thought the movie was very faithful to the spirit of the book, while making necessary changes to meet the time constraints. It is a 140 minute movie and that is about as long as you can go without losing much of your audience. Almost all the changes I noticed could be attributed to the need to move the story along. And that was fine with me.

I also thought the film did a good job of avoiding turning itself into a Twilight-like love triangle story - an aspect of the book but not a major theme. It may have even understated this part of the story, but if there was an error to be made, in my opinion they went in the right direction.

The use of behind-the-scenes Capitol activity was a clever way to let us know things we needed to since we didn't have access to Katniss' narrative thoughts. I loved it. I also love the way it gave us a foreshadowing of the trouble brewing in Panem, and how dangerous Katniss is. It makes me so ready for Catching Fire to come out in 2013.

Later, when I have more time and everyone has had plenty of time to see it, I will probably write a little about the themes of the book/movie and why I think it speaks so strongly to us in the 21st century. If I forget and you happen to see me around, remind me.

All in all, a wonderful movie experience. I will see it again in the cinema, and will definitely own it when it's released. Well done, Gary Ross!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Hunger Games - the wait is almost over

Last year I was introduced the book by my niece. By the time I finished the first chapter I was hooked. Of course I'm referring to Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games trilogy. And now, it's coming to the big screen next week. March 23. I can't wait - a point you probably knew already based on the countdown clock on this page.

For those of you living under a rock, here's one of several trailers for the movie:

Reviews are coming in, and they are almost unanimously praising the movie. They seem to feel it captures the raw emotion that the story is meant to evoke. That makes me happy, because there's nothing worse than movies that mess up a good book. I'm very confident that won't happen here.

So I can't wait for a week from tonight. I'm traveling for work this week so I'll miss opening night - indeed, I'll miss the midnight movie experience that I always enjoy so much. But a week from tonight, I'll get together with good friends who are also fans, and we'll take it in as a group.

If you see it, I'd love to hear your thoughts afterward. Rest assured, you'll hear mine.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Kony 2012 and causes in general

I would try to write a profound blog post on this subject, because I think it's that important. Fortunately, my friend Frank has written exactly what I would want to say. But better. Please read!

Link: Thoughts on Kony 2012 and Supporting Causes in General - Frank Pass


Last night, returning home from Chicago, I followed my usual routine. I always use the park-and-ride at the Atlanta airport (bus pictured at left). It's convenient, cheap, and I always know where to go for the bus that returns me to my car. (There was one time when my ticket was wrong and we spent over an hour looking for my car - but that's another story.)

As always, I got on the bus along with about eight others, and the bus headed to our lot to drop us off one at a time.

As it turns out, I was at the end of the parking lot where I was going to be the last one dropped off. One of the first guys to be dropped off was a young dude in a suit, and he got out and went straight to his Audi. This group of strangers were actually laughing together about the way we would find our cars - making the lights blink with the key fob.

Well, when the group was down to three, a young woman near the front of the bus noticed one of these on the seat beside her:

Yeah, that's right. Somebody had left their iPhone on the bus.

We quickly figured out who had been sitting there; it was the guy with the Audi. The driver asked the rest of us if we minded whether she tried to find him before dropping us off. Of course not! So she whipped that bus around and headed back toward the exit. We weren't exactly burning rubber, but we were moving pretty good for a shuttle bus.

Well, just when we thought we were too late, we saw an Audi moving toward the exit booth. Is it him? We all thought so. So the driver got us as close as she could quickly, and as she came to stop, the exit gate opened for the car. She began blowing the horn loudly and repeatedly.

A blur - She opened the bus door. I grabbed the phone and jumped out. I ran toward his car as fast as I could. And yes, I caught him and knocked on his window before he left. Needless to say, he had this look on his face like, "what the heck is wrong with you??"

It was funny. I handed him his phone and he just had this stunned look on his face. I was probably 10 feet away when I heard him call out "thank you" from a distance. I'm sure it took him that long to process what had just happened.

It was a very cool thing to be a part of. It made the night of everyone on that bus that we had helped the dude. For just a few minutes, the driver, the young woman, and one other man felt like friends instead of strangers.

And that was awesome.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Ethiopia, Part 3

So...what are you doing this summer?

You can probably guess the big item on my summer agenda. Two years ago, I was preparing for my first trip to Africa. I was apprehensive, nervous, and had no idea what it would look like. But hey, Lord, if I've got to do this, let's go ahead and get it done.

The trip came about for one reason: the and inspiration of a 17 year old - my niece Brooke.

Brooke and me in Uganda
Instead of just a vacation, Brooke wanted to do something after her graduation that would make a difference. So we found this trip with Visiting Orphans and went for it. Did she make a difference? Oh yeah.

I could spend pages talking about how she made a difference. But if I do, you'll stop reading before I get to my point. And I do not want that to happen.

So here it is: Yes, she made an immediate difference by loving on kids in Ethiopia and Uganda. But she also changed my life! Because of her, return trips to Ethiopia and the children I met there are something I cannot imagine not doing. So here I go again.

But this time, I am going to be a team leader. I am putting together a team to go back to Addis Ababa and spend time with the children of a community which lives off the city's trash dump. It is a place that God has put on my heart, and I can't wait to return.

So I'm putting it out there. If any of you, my friends, are looking for a chance to be used by God in ways you cannot even imagine, I would love for you to join my team. If you do, you will be changed. For good. And I've got to say, it would be cool for me to work side-by-side with friends.

It is relatively short trip, from June 30-July 8. There's lots of time to plan. Here is a link to the details on signing up:

Visiting Orphans: Ethiopia with Donnie, Summer 2012

If you want to know more about it, email me at, and/or read some of the links below to previous blog posts.

Hope some of you will pray about going. Either way, please pray for me and for the children we will be visiting. Thanks!

Helpful links:

A community in East Africa (Facebook note from a friend)

Seeing God working

Why Africa? (Project 61 blog)

Does visiting make a difference? (Includes a must-see video)