The Hunger Games

Do You Believe in Santa Claus?

If you ask a naïve child: “Do you believe in Santa Claus?” he replies “Yes!”

If you ask a bright child the same question, he replies “No!”

However if you ask an even brighter child, he replies “Yes!”

- - Ronald Rolheiser in Forgotten Among the Lilies - -

Not long ago, my partner and I had one of the worst moviegoing experiences of our lives. We went to see The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. The movie itself was quite good. The audience, however, was atrocious.

Parents, who apparently had never uttered the word "no", brought throngs of ill-mannered adolescents who kawkawed through the entire movie like a murder of crows. As we entered the theater, two of them ran up from behind us and attempted to shove us out of the way in order to get prime seats. (My outstretched leg halted their progress.) The gossipers seated behind us provided a cacophonous secondary soundtrack, and with one exception, none of these urchins every said "please" or "excuse me" during their repeated foot-trampling escapades in and out of our row. By the time the movie was over, we were eager to enter the whole lot of them into a Hunger Games lottery.

We were particularly eager to see this movie because we had enjoyed reading the trilogy. In our heads we had conjured a complex, virtual reality of characters, districts, the topography of the games, the ambience of the capitol…a vibrant and fluid mental landscape inspired by the books. If we had seen the movie first, our imagination would have been narrowed to the vision of the film's director.

This struck me as an analogy for the spiritual path. We start off taking things literally as we have been spoon fed them. We naively believe in a literal Santa Claus. This is fine as the starting point in which we first learn the stories, but eventually we have to throw off this limited literalism that denies the reality in which we live (or we become rigid fundamentalists). Eventually, we no longer believe.

Then, at some point, if we are lucky, we realize there is a deeper truth beneath these stories, myths, scriptures and dogmas. It's not the stories themselves which were important, but the Ultimate Reality to which they point, which is, after all, a Mystery. While we may no longer believe that a rotund philanthropist trespasses across the threshold of every household and is then whisked away by airborne caribou, we do start to believe in the spirit of generosity, altruism, good cheer and kindness. We can once again say with integrity that we do believe in Santa Claus.

What it requires is that we release those "film interpretations" that narrow our perspective without losing The Story itself. We read both sacred texts and the sacred scriptures of our own lives side by side. Imagination sparks. Hope inspires. Compassion exudes. Otherwise, we've missed the point. Even the Christmas story itself needs to pass through this dialectic of belief, unbelief, and then deeper belief that rhymes with the holy experience of our own lives.

Perhaps if those adolescents at the movie still believed in a literal Santa Claus, we could have threatened them with lumps of coal for Christmas. While Santa won't literally shaft them with lumps of coal, I do believe it will happen in a deeper sense. Soon enough the smartphone or Wii given at Christmas will seem like a lump of coal when it is tossed aside as obsolete.

We all get to the point where life feels like a bag full of charcoal briquettes. In those moments will we keep grasping for new toys to distract us? More lumps of coal in the making? Or will we choose to believe in and embrace the Essence of Christmas…a human heart broken open by compassion…awe-filled eyes that see the Sacred Presence everywhere…satiated gratitude for the simple goodness of being this and now.

Do you believe?

Your Holiday Movie Previews! (With a Few Twists)

As we approach the end of the year, Hollywood is poised to release several blockbusters featuring household names in starring roles. While you may be familiar with the movie titles, you might not be familiar with the plots. So, below is a brief synopsis of three prominent upcoming films: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire - Katniss Everdeen, an obscure woman representing her district (brilliantly performed by newcomer Wendy Davis) rises to become a household name almost overnight. She ignites a firestorm when she dares to defy the Capitol's heavy-handed cabal (portrayed by the lusciously malevolent David Dewhurst and the Texas Legislature), who ruthlessly suppress any opposition as their authoritarian power structure begins to crumble.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug - Bilbo Baggins, a diminutive Hobbit (portrayed by the small in stature but large in spirit Robert Reich) attempts to cajole and inspire a bumbling gang of infighting dwarves (the Democratic Party), in a quest to reclaim their lost homeland. Bilbo is in possession of a dangerous yet powerful ring (a.k.a. Truth-Telling) and leads an effort to save Middle Earth (the Middle Class) from its impending demise by facing down Orcs (the Republican Party) and, in this sequel, the dragon Smaug (voiced by Ted Cruz), which Tolkein described as "a most specially greedy, strong and wicked worm."

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues - A narcissistic, misogynistic anchorman stuck in the 1970's (played flawlessly by Bill O'Reilly) gains a vast national audience on a cable news network, where with the help of his cohorts (played by Sean Hannity, Chris Wallace, Karl Rove and a host of over-the-top character actors), he makes a mockery of journalism and distracts the public from honest debate with news that is anything but fair and balanced.

May the Odds Be Ever in Your Favor!

In The Hunger Games, the ruling leisure class subjugates their starving fellow citizens, who are confined to several districts, each of which provides an essential natural resource for the Capitol.  In an annual contest, a male and a female adolescent is taken from each district to fight to the death in “games” that are part gladiatorial entertainment and part brutal reminder that the government can and will crush any semblance of resistance. Adolescents are chosen by lottery, before which the mantra of the games is broadcast: “May the odds be ever in your favor!” I can’t help but wonder if the odds are in our favor. Let’s take a look at the game board. Economic upheaval. 1% vs. 99%. Overpopulation. (Despite claims by the Duggar family, it’s real.) Political and religious extremism. Irreversible environmental degradation. Looming termination of the petroleum era. The odds seem dicey, at best.

In The Great Work, Thomas Berry wrote, “The distorted dream of an industrial technological paradise is being replaced by the more viable dream of a mutually enhancing human presence within an ever-renewing organic-based earth community.” (p. 201) In other words, your odds, my odds and the odds of all life on the planet are linked.

What’s needed is a shift in pronouns: May the odds be ever in our favor, where “our” includes the 99% and the 1%, documented Americans and undocumented immigrants, Christian children in Iowa and Muslim children in Afghanistan, humans, trees, bees, whales, oceans, and air.

Our odds of survival rise when we see ourselves not as Masters of the Universe plundering every district of life for our own temporary satiation, but rather as one expression of a vast evolutionary story that precedes, exceeds and yet includes us.  In that story we do not see things, people, or even the Earth itself as belonging to us, but rather everything, including us, belonging to Life. It is in the service of Life that we can consciously choose to write a new chapter in the history of the emerging Universe, an era in which each of us becomes a fierce practitioner of justice, sustainability, and community.

The challenge before us is immense. Eventually, it will require birthing a new way of being human on the planet. We need more than tinkering with policies and developing a few renewable energy resources. We need a new lifestyle that is simpler, less industrial and more organic, less driven by global corporations and more community-driven.  One that respects and synchronizes with Life on the planet.

Where do we start? Once this week walk, ride a bike, or use public transportation when you would normally drive. Replace one supermarket trip with a visit to a local farmer's market.

On a more political note, become an unrelenting squeaky wheel for the cause of a more inclusive and sustainable Earth community. For instance:

Will we continue to decimate the very ecosystem upon which our survival depends? Or will we become a "mutually enhancing human presence" for humanity and the rest of our Earth community? Our chances of survival depend on the choices we make. May the odds be ever in our favor!

Please take a few moments to post below your thoughts, suggestions and steps you are taking to move us toward a “mutually enhancing human presence”.