Two years ago during our classroom discussion of The Hunger Games, we Skyped with one of my colleagues from New Jersey regarding the potential utilization of pop culture in youth ministry setting. Our conversation and thoughts were helpful. Making good use of the “low-hanging fruit” that society offers us can make sense in many contexts, especially when such occurrences are so popular and ubiquitous that they become common societal texts.
Our diverse and multicultural world is rarely “on the same page;” in those moments when it is, it makes sense to make whatever use we can of it. For a movie like Catching Fire that shows all signs of being a blockbuster (and is currently ranked 95% on Rotten Tomatoes!), I’m all for it. This said, we should be warned that such flash-in-the-pan phenomena are almost always only temporary and should rarely be utilized for very long. Making helpful use of The Hunger Games for a special event or teaching series surrounding the film’s premiere might make sense. Renaming your youth minstry “Katniss’s Kids?” Not so much.
Understanding this, I’ve had some thoughts about possible points of practical connection in youth ministry. Some of this has been covered over the past few days, and much of it should probably only be used illustratively, but there is some good stuff here.
First, and clearly, I think that Catching Fire clearly depicts a world that is “messed up.” I’ve already talked about this with regard to theology, but its critique is clearly aimed our society. Sin may be the theological concept, but the ways in which this works itself out–violence, repression, global economic inequality, etc.–deserve attention. Pairing some of the biting satire of Catching Fire with reminders of the problems in our world would help students to more deeply understand the call of God to love “the least of these” and be agents of justice and righteousness. Sermonically, an audio-visual illustration combined with real-world facts could have a powerful impact.
Second, all of the books raise the important question of violence and its use. I think that having an open-ended conversation connected to relevant scriptural texts would give high school students some important scaffolding to process through the issue in a helpful and nuanced way. I could see a great small group discussion here.
Third, Katniss herself continues to be a compelling character in Catching Fire, both as she shares the adolescent experience with our teens and provides a positive female role model. Especially for the young ladies in our ministries, I’m glad that we’ve moved away from the sighing passivity of Bella Swan for the more independent and assertive Katniss Everdeen. The hero of Catching Fire is not perfect and is still growing as an individual, but helps to provide a much better template with which to affirm young women and help them explore their identity as image-bearers of God equal to men. For those in your youth ministry that are fans of the books/movies, these themes could make for a strong “girl’s night” event or overnight experience.
Again, these are just some quick ideas. I suspect that many out there are coming up with better ones. One last word of warning, though: remember that something like The Hunger Games trilogy is satire. It is critiquing our world. Even while it gives us lots of violence and celebrity and glamour, it is telling us that these things are not so good. If you’re going to make use of something like Catching Fire, make sure you are utilizing its deep message and not celebrating the symptoms that it seeks to deride. Having a Hunger Games themed summer camp that uses the series to pump up the intense competitions/games student teams will be facing? It might seem thematically sound on paper, but it completely misses (and defeats) the point of what these books are all about.