Thursday, March 27, 2014

Book Review: Hunger Games, The Mockingjay


I've been on vacation this week (sort-of...the kids are out of school and we went to Georgia).  That meant that I had time to read--Wow!!

The Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins is the third in the Hunger Games series and is a real page-turner.  I'll confess that I haven't read the first two books, but I enjoyed the movies so much that I wanted to know how it ended and the book didn't disappoint.  The plot centers around Katniss Everdeen, a 17 year old girl that has already survived two "battle to the death" challenges.  She has become a rallying point for a rightful rebellion against the abuses of the elites in the Capital against the common workers in the Districts.  Those in the Capital have every modern convenience while those in the districts are starving. 

Several themes recur during the book like the use of propaganda to drive popular opinion, the value of human life, and the corruption that absolute power brings.  In many ways, the ending takes on the same feeling as Animal Farm, by George Orwell. The new powers seem to be just as willing to treat life with indifference and manipulate public sentiment as the old leaders. 

I was struck by the scale of the despair that runs as an undercurrent throughout the book.  Katniss' emotions are driven by the state of her friends and relatives so she often seems tossed about like a bobble on a fishing line in a storm.  She is the visible presence of the rebellion, the Mockingjay, but her only motivation is to protect her family and friends.  She has rudimentary compassion for others, but is willing to sacrifice others to save those that give her peace of mind.  Her life and the story lack any sense of transcendent value beyond her immediate circle and times. 

Of course, as a God-friend, the most compelling absence was that of God himself.  The book inadvertently shows the horror and despair of a Nietzschean (God is dead) worldview in stark reality.  Technology and political manipulation are the rescuers and God is never even mentioned once.  Elites abuse others because they can and no one will hold them accountable.  When given resources, the commoners adopt a socialistic/militaristic distribution of scarce resources based on need and the value of the contribution that a person makes.  Life has a rudimentary value, but no transcendent value.  Suffering has no redeeming virtue.  Innocence is a tool to be abused to manipulate others.  Suicide or alcoholic escapism is the emotional normal. Love comes down to a matter of survival:  those that help you and your family survive are those that you love.  Only Peeta shows even a hint at unconditional love, and that is nearly tortured out of him.  People often sacrifice themselves for the sake of the Mockingjay, but she is at a loss for why.  Even when a new normal is achieved at the end of the book, the only hope is that they can teach their children something that will keep them from facing the same horrors but what they will teach about the meaning of their suffering they don't seem to know. 

When Francis Shaffer spoke with those that carried this worldview, he would often come down to the question, "So why haven't you killed yourself yet?"  Every character in the book seems to have a slightly different answer to that kind of question, but ultimately they are only a few decisions or tragedies away from despair.  For a person who knows that there is a larger framework, an eternal destiny, a plan for our lives, and a hope for our future, the ache is palpable.  Life doesn't have to be that way but the enemy has blinded their eyes.  Their freedom to choose for themselves has become a prison of despair, as it always does. 

"For the message about the cross is nonsense to those who are being destroyed, but it is God's power to us who are being saved."  I Cor 1:18 (ISV)

Heaven help them.  They will find help nowhere else.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Unplanned: Caramel rice crispy treats...

This week, PJ actually planned ahead and told me he needed rice crispy treats for his 8th grade science lab, so off to the kitchen we go...

I pulled out the bag of snowmen marshmallows that we didn't use this winter.  At the last minute I decided to double the batch to use up the glut of marshmallows left over this year...PJ and I love hot chocolate.  I had a huge container of really big, really stale marshmallows.  The recipes all said to use fresh ones, but how could fresh be different than stale?  It's all just fluffy sugar, right???

You can see what's coming, can't you...

The snowmen dissolved into a blonde goo while the huge, stale marshmallows swam in that goo, unrelenting.  Ten minutes went by.  I stirred; nothing happened.  I started chopping up the marshmallows.  Now I had big chunks floating in a honey colored slop.  It looked worse than ever.  I pulled out the mixer.  The chunks went through the beater like it was an amusement park ride--entertained but unaffected.  I added milk.  I stirred.  I beat.  I smashed.  It just ended up being smaller chunks in a decidedly caramel hued sauce.  By now it had been at least half an hour and if we didn't hurry PJ would be late for school.  I gave up and started adding the rice.  Six cups of rice went in and the chunks began to disappear.  Another 6 cups of rice and it was a mass of sticky goo--no chunks to be seen.  We poured it out on the foil hoping for the best. 

My first taste on the edge confirmed what I suspected.  All that extra time meant that a bunch of that sugar had caramelized.  A dusting of Himalayan sea salt and, --voila'--I had the most addictive things I had tasted in a long time. 

There are so many times that God starts refining us and we know we're in for some heat and mixing.  We expect that it will be tough, but life turns out so much harder than we bargained for.  If I had used fresh marshmallows, it would have been a 10 minute job.  The marshmallows would have melted and I would have mixed and it would be done.  Instead, I included some old, tough marshmallows that didn't want to respond to the heat and pressure I exerted.  I added more stress--beating them.  I added softness with milk.  The pieces began to shrink, but they certainly didn't go away. 

It's easy to be jealous of some Christians.  They face God's refining fire and they melt--they seem so usable so quickly.  Then there's folks like us:  quirky, tough, rough around the edges, stiff-necked, maybe even tainted.  We go into the pot and our old habits swim around in our new nature seemingly unaffected.  God sends more trouble our way and the habits only seem more obvious for the beating.  He shows us His tender love and we still fret and argue.  All the while, we remain in the fire of His presence wondering if the preparation will ever end; wondering if we will ever "arrive."  Then suddenly, before we think we are ready, he plunges us into ministry.  We squeal, "I can't do this yet!!"  But as we work alongside Him, we find that those rough edges don't poke others quite as much.   His fragrance seems to flavor our work in ways that are easy to see came from the long, painful hours alongside Him.  He adds the Holy Spirit's power and influence not just within us, but for others too. 

For our recipe, it may have taken longer and the outcome was uncertain, but the additional time and work added a flavor that was unexpected and delightful.  For you, God's preparation may take more time than you think.  The ground He starts from may be rocky and unprepared.  The extra time is never wasted.  Rice crispy treats are yummy when they take 10 minutes to make but they are a whole different kind of amazing when they take 30 minutes.  Only the cook knows when it's done.  Trust Him.