As an interactive media developer at Asbury Theological Seminary and master of fine arts candidate at the school, Timothy Shangle always looks at pop culture with a spiritual eye.
That includes the latest pop culture phenomenon, The Hunger Games.
The blockbuster movie, based on Suzanne Collins' best-selling young adult trilogy, has been No. 1 at the box office for four consecutive weeks and is poised to become one of the top-grossing movies of all time.
"I really became engrossed in the world that Suzanne Collins painted," Shangle said from his Asbury office. "I really like deep philosophical questions like, how do you deal with poverty, is sacrifice OK and is violence acceptable if it leads to greater means?"
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Questions such as those, particularly with a wildly popular story as the backdrop, could be the basis for long talks in Bible studies, Sunday school classes and youth groups. Shangle just happened to be in a position to help guide those talks working with Seedbed, an Asbury initiative that aims to create teaching resources for Methodist churches as well as other denominations.
Shortly before the movie opened, Seedbed published Shangle's Surviving the Hunger Games, a biblically based discussion study guide addressing issues raised by the book and film.
The Hunger Games is set in a post-apocalyptic North America in the country of Panem where a decadent and wealthy Capitol rules over 12 impoverished districts. Each year, a boy and girl are selected from each district to compete in The Hunger Games, a reality TV series in which only one competitor will survive, and children are forced to kill each other or succumb to the elements.
The show keeps the residents of the Capitol entertained. It keeps the people in the districts in fear and horror.
In Collins' story the heroine, Katniss Everdeen, played by Louisville's Jennifer Lawrence, volunteers to compete in the place of her younger sister, who is initially selected. While on the show, she unwittingly becomes the symbol of revolution against the dictatorial government.
Shangle's guide to the story is broken into five sections with titles like "Hunger is not a game," which looks at the issue of hunger in the story and in the world; "Our imperfect families," looking at how most families face problems; and "Desensitizing violence," looking at how the violence in the story reflects violence throughout human history and in the world.
Shangle says he drew on experience as a youth director in a church before coming to Asbury to help guide him in crafting the guide.
"I tried to address things kids had a hard time talking about, or they would talk about it, but they'd have a hard time articulating what they had to say," Shangle says.
"So like chapter two, 'Our imperfect families,' the character Katniss's father died when she was younger and she had to step up and take the role of the mother figure because her mother was in a deep depression.
"Kids can relate to a character and talk about that character and say what their emotions are and apply them to that character. So I try to find different topics that kids were able to do that with."
Each section offers an overview, questions for discussion, an activity, related biblical passages and a prayer.
Shangle says he worked to leave topics open-ended to foster further discussion, as opposed to providing pat answers.
Since launching the guide the week before the movie opened, the seminary says it has been downloaded more than 600 times. People who download it are authorized to make as many copies as they wish.
In addition to youth directors planning to use it with their kids, Shangle says he's heard from "just fans of the book, who like the way it addresses the issues."