Friday, March 23, 2012

'The Hunger Games': An Opportunity for the Gospel

Today marks the premiere of the latest movie to create a massive buzz and anticipation. Your local movie theaters will be packed, with people waiting in line for hours--even days--to see the movie. Some of you reading this may be among those waiting in line this evening, or already.

The movie, yet another film based on a wildly-popular book series, is "The Hunger Games."

Sadly, too often Christians see the premieres of popular moves as nothing more than an opportunity for entertainment, instead of seeing such premieres as an opportunity for evangelism. And yes, evangelism can happen even as you stand in line for the movie.

My daughter, Marissa (B.A. in English and pursing her Masters in Library Sciences [proud papa moment]), has read all three books in the "The Hunger Games" series. Since I have not read the books and will likely not see the movie, Marissa was kind enough to write up a quick, unedited summary of the movie, for her dad.
"The Hunger Games" is the first book in a trilogy of the same name, written for young adult readers by Suzanne Collins and published in 2008. Collins came up with the story while channel-surfing between a reality-show competition where teens compete for the audience's favor and footage of the war in Iraq.

The most basic plot summary of the story is this: in a post-apocalyptic North America (and we never learn what causes this apocalypse; just that it involved world-wide continent shifting, earthquakes, other natural disasters, and devastation), now called Panem, the evil Capitol rules over 12 Districts. Each District is responsible for a different export (District 3 is technology [electronics], District 7 is lumber and paper, District 12 is coal mining, etc.). There were originally 13 Districts, but District 13 attempted to rebel against the Capitol and was obliterated for its efforts. As punishment for the rebellion, the Capitol holds the Hunger Games every year, in which each District must provide one boy and one girl "tribute," between the ages of 12 and 18, to compete with other District's tributes in a televised fight to the death.

The book "The Hunger Games" is told from the perspective of 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen, a girl from the poor District 12. When her younger sister Prim is chosen for the Hunger Games, Katniss volunteers to go in her place, saving her sister from certain death. The rest of the book covers Katniss' journey to the Capitol and her efforts to win the Games. Another key player in this story is Peeta Mellark, the boy tribute from District 12.

The tribute (or in this case, tributes) who wins the Hunger Games is given a nice home in what's called the Victor Village in their home District, as well as a monetary reward. One of the things the Capitol does to oppress the people of the Districts is limiting their food supply. Hunting is illegal and most of the people in the poorer Districts die from starvation, while residents of the Capitol live in horrible excess, ignorant of the Districts' misfortune. If a tribute wins the Games, the monetary reward basically assures them that they will never have to worry about starving to death, because they'll have enough money to buy food instead of living off what little the Capitol provides.

The Hunger Games themselves are the Capitol's way of keeping the people of the Districts in line, because "look at what we (the Capitol) are doing to your children to punish you. Your children are paying the price for your rebellion, so don't do it again." The books themselves deal with several issues, such as poverty, oppression, the effect of war on others, and the downfall of power. It is also a commentary on our current society's gluttony for televised reality-show competitions and our current society's growing lack of empathy for one another. Essentially, look, this is how callous we can become. The violence in the book is not glorified, but shown as horrible and wrong.

In the later books, Katniss becomes a symbol of rebellion known as the Mockingjay (a hybrid of a mockingbird and a Capitol-created mutant bird called a jabberjay). She is put forth as a beacon of hope for the Districts, that if she could stand up to the Capitol by refusing to kill Peeta in the Games, then the Districts can stand up against the wrongness of the system as well. In this respect, she's put forth as a savior-figure. She is far from a perfect character, however; she is selfish and even uses Peeta's love for her during the Games in order to get them much-needed supplies from sponsors. So, in that respect, in an open-air, you could say that unlike the savior-figure of Katniss, who is sinful and selfish, Christ is the perfect savior-figure, the true Savior in fact.

The books, and the movie, are not for children or even for young teen readers, in my opinion. The thematic material and the violence (which is not glorified, but is still described) are too mature for anyone except older teen readers and adults. It's gritty, but offers glimmers of hope in the selfless acts of characters who put their own lives at risk to save the people they love.
Here are some suggestions (tracting, trivia, and transitions) for evangelism outside of movie theaters.

Tracting

Suggested Tracts: 180 Business Card; Trillion Dollar Bill; Giant Money

Each of these tracts are very easy to distribute, especially to those waiting in line to see a movie. You can say something like: "Here's a free, online movie with more than 2.5 million views on YouTube" (180 Business Card). Or, "Please do not try to spend this in the theater, no matter how expense the popcorn is" (money tracts).

Trivia

If you use trivia in your open-air preaching, you can find numerous "The Hunger Games"-related trivia in Google. You may have to take a few quizzes in order to obtain the answers.

Transitions

1. The main character of the movie (Katniss) is willing to sacrifice her life so that her sister may live (see John 3:16; John 15:13; Romans 5:8; 2 Corinthians 5:21).

2. The movie is, about a post-apocalyptic America in which many people are hungry and thirsty and starve to death (see Matthew 6:25-34; John 4:7-15; Revelation 7:13-17; Revelation 22:12-17).

3. The movie is a commentary on our current society's gluttony for televised reality-show competitions and our current society's growing lack of empathy for one another (see Proverbs 23:19-21; Galatians 5:16-21; James 4:1-4).

TMZ, the People's Court, and the Gospel

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

A Response from Mr. Taggart Lee

Yesterday I posted an email exchange I had with Mr. Taggart Lee, a teacher at Canyon High School.

I awoke this morning to find the following email in my inbox:
Mr. Miano,

I am a bit embarrassed in having to write you, but it has come to my attention that an email was sent out from my computer station Monday somehow using my email address. My work area is an open one as I teach photography and filmmaking and am often in different parts of the building/studio away from my desk. Apparently I left my email on and open and in doing so, either an aide or student was able to access my account, and sent you the email to which you and yours are referring. You have quite a following BTW!!! :)

I apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused and while I remain neutral and do not wish to receive further correspondence; as a fellow filmmaker, I wish you well and good luck in your endeavors

Kindest Regards,
Taggart Lee
I responded with the following:
Mr. Lee,

Needless to say, this was not the type of response I expected from you after the first email I received. I will certainly give you the benefit of the doubt and will let our readers know to do the same. I will certainly honor your request not to receive further emails from me.

Thank you for writing.
While, as I stated in my response to Mr. Lee, I will give him the benefit of the doubt, there are a couple things worth noting.

Mr. Lee (or whoever was on his computer) said in his first email that he was a "former clinic defender." Since there are no abortion mills in the City of Santa Clarita (at least none that I can find), and since Mr. Lee used the word "former" in his description, this is not a case of a mischievous student playing with a teacher's open computer work station. Whoever wrote the email was, at the very least, an adult--most likely another teacher.

While I assured Mr. Lee I would not email him again, I will leave it up to you what you will do with this new information. I suggest taking the higher ground and giving him the benefit of the doubt. If Mr. Lee did write the email, his most recent response, at the very least, indicates he is crying "uncle!"

Monday, March 19, 2012

Why Getting '180" To High School Kids Is Critical

Taggart Lee is a teacher at Canyon High School, in Canyon Country, CA.

Last week, with the wonderful help of family members and friends, I distributed 400 "180" DVDs to students as they left the campus of Canyon High School.

Not long after distributing the videos Trisha Ramos, writing on my behalf, sent an email to all of the teachers and administrators at Canyon High School. Here's the email:

"My name is Tony Miano, I work with Los Angeles-based film producer Ray Comfort. On Wednesday we gave hundreds of your students a free copy of a 33-minute award-winning movie called “180,” as they left your school. “180” received over one million views on YouTube in 22 days (we have given away over 200,000 DVD’s to high schools and colleges across the U.S.). It opens with 14 people (mainly college students) not knowing the identity of Adolf Hitler. This lack of knowledge of one of the darkest periods of human history deeply concerns me. You may like to look at the movie on-line and discuss it with your students. “180” also deals in depth with the subject of abortion. www.180movie.com"

I received the following email response from Mr. Lee:

"Take me off of you right-wing whack job list. Your movie is offensive and you are morons for comparing the Holocaust to the safe and legal practice of abortion. You aren't teaching anything or anyone, you are propagandizing. I am a former clinic defender, you're barking up the wrong tree here, idiots."

I sent Mr. Lee the following response:
Mr. Lee,

You are not on any “list.” Your email address, like the rest of the teachers and administrators at Canyon High School, is available through the school’s website (http://www.canyonhighcowboys.org/apps/staff/).

Poor grammar and poor manners aside, I do appreciate you taking the time to write us. Your email only serves to galvanize our resolve to reach the students at your school and high schools everywhere, with the message of “180.”
Mr. Lee's nonsensical tirade in written form is evidence of why it is so very critical to get "180" into the hands of as many high school students as possible.

Of course, in the United States, Mr. Lee is free to spew his hate-filled rhetoric. He is just as free as I am to distribute material to high school students from a public sidewalk outside his school. But Mr. Lee is the kind of man who is making indelible impressions upon the minds of the age group of young people most likely to have and/or encourage others to have an abortion. Mr. Lee is the kind of man who uses his freedom as license for condoning, supporting, even facilitating (as a clinic defender) the murder of unborn children.

Sadly, it is unlikely we can change the minds of people like Mr. Lee (although God can change the hardest of hearts); but we can certainly change the minds of those Mr. Lee is influencing--high school students. More importantly, of course, than changing the minds of young people about abortion is proclaiming the gospel to people of all ages, with the hope that the Sovereign Creator will change their hearts and minds and grant them the gifts of repentance, faith in Jesus Christ, and eternal life.

The Lord is using "180" to accomplish both goals.

If you would like to share your thoughts and concerns with Mr. Lee, you can email him at: tlee@hartdistrict.org.

Please make sure to be Christ-like in any and all correspondences with Mr. Lee.

Join me in praying for the students who received "180" at Canyon High School last week. And pray for Taggart Lee. Pray the Lord brings him to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Low Standards of Self-Righteousness

I met Irene on the campus of Cerritos College. Irene was a pleasant lady; but behind the pleasantness was a deep-seeded self-righteousness. Irene is not unique. In fact, most people in the world are just like Irene when it comes to how they think of themselves.

Show Me da 'Big' Money!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Christians Shouldn't Dance With The Stars

All-too-often, famous Christians dance with the stars. In other words, when given the opportunity to proclaim biblical truth in front of a live, television audience they too often swing and miss. They would rather dance with the stars (show hosts, interviewers, news reporters, and pundits) than proclaim the truth.

Too often high profile Christians seem to hesitate--almost as if they are silently contemplating what their answer might cost them personally, professionally, or financially--before answering tough questions about their Christian faith. And then, when they do answer, they sheepishly qualify their answers or skirt the issue, seemingly caring more about their public persona than where lost people will spend eternity.

Today, Kirk Cameron finds himself in a bit of hot water with the liberal media and depravity-driven homosexual lobby for comments he made on the Piers Morgan Tonight program. Here's an excerpt of what he said.



I praise God that Kirk opted to speak the truth instead of dancing with the stars. He took and held the biblical high ground, and Piers Morgan knew it. Here's what Morgan had to say about Kirk's comments.

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While Morgan is ignorant regarding the Christian worldview, he recognizes integrity and consistency when he sees it--a rarity in Hollywood.

I hope the next time a well-known Christian--genuine or professing--takes their place in front of the camera they will follow Kirk's lead. For, Christians shouldn't dance with the stars.