Monday, May 24, 2010

What the Church Can Learn from LOST

Okay, no doubt the Christian blogosphere is going to be inundated with LOST-related reflections on faith and spirituality, especially given the "universalism"-tinged finale last night.

I have not read Chris Seay's The Gospel According to LOST, mainly because it doesn't interest me too much. I will just say that I gave up on expecting any coherent Christian worldview from LOST back when Mr. Eko said Jesus had to be baptized to cleanse him from his sins. At that point, I wasn't angry that LOST didn't reflect Christian theology, but mainly that LOST couldn't even get it right from a characterization integrity standpoint. Eko knew Catholic theology. He was posing as a priest. Believing Jesus needed to be cleansed from sins is not something you'd expect from a Catholic priest. So they botched it there, and from then on I wasn't expecting good solid Christian theology from a television show. But I wasn't really expecting it before that either.

So while others may be arguing the merits or demerits of the "all faiths" suggestions (did you see the stained glass window at the chapel at the end?), I'm coming at it from a different angle. What is it exactly about LOST that engaged people so much, and what can the church learn from that (if anything)?

I think of three things off the bat:

1) LOST was robust. It did not partition off "spiritual matters" and "scientific matters" and "romantic matters," etc. It wasn't a romance show. Or an adventure show. It wasn't just science fiction. It wasn't fantasy. It was -- I think -- more along the lines of "myth," but what it managed to do was weave a "philosophy of everything" into its storyline. I think Christians can learn from this that "Christianity," as David Powlison says, "is higher than anything is high, yet walks on the ground." The Incarnation of our Lord itself reminds us that Christian faith and practice has ramifications for and application to everything in the world, including the things it opposes. This helps us steer clear of easy and brittle "faith vs. art" or "faith vs. science" sorts of gnosticism. Christianity is a sturdy, earthy, robust way of life.

2) LOST was multiethnic. Has there ever been a show that was not only this diverse but diverse without relegating minority characters to background, "token" positions? I think part of LOST's appeal was its racial diversity and the strength of characterization within the diversity. This is compelling to lookers-on. So the church can learn from this not just the inclusion of multiple tongues, tribes, and races, but the integral inclusion of them.

3) LOST got narrative. What do people in most modern contexts need from the Church's communication? A story that is comprehensive and compelling. And of course there is no more comprehensive and compelling story than the Christian one, which has the added benefit of being a true one. We can learn from LOST to tell the biblical stories well, to tell them in compelling ways, to show how our stories are part of God's story, to show how Jesus is the hero in every story and the gospel the theme, and to help people see what God is doing in the world over and throughout history. History is going somewhere. (Of course that somewhere is not a purgatorial "now" where sincere believers in x, y, and z all connect. But we are headed for a finale.)

The Church doesn't need LOST. Like all TV shows, this one will drop off our radar in a few years, fondly remembered when retrospectives and nostalgia trips arise. But the creators of the show did some stuff tremendously right; as far as TV goes, they made some stinkin' good art here. I think we can learn something from it, if we care to.


Manders said...

Good word.

Sherry said...

Yes. I said some similar things at my blog, but as usual you said it better. I sometimes envy your three point sermon organizational skills and your clarity of thinking.

But I don't want to copy jealous Ben, so I'll be content with my own place in the pecking order.

Anonymous said...

For me the good thing about Lost was that it pointed to eternal life. Many people never think about life beyond this one. I hope the show will cause some to stumble into a Bible teaching church.

Zach Hoag said...

Jared, excellent, agreed all the way around. The pluralistic temple, maybe like Ecko's theology, was a disingenuous slip on the writers' part. But taken together, the series was truly worthy.

Despite the slight James Van Praagh vibe at the end, there was something there of the beauty of community without end. I think that is what the church is, in part.

nhe said...

I still don't "get it", but you make a good case. I felt a disconnect from most of the characters in Lost that kept from immersing myself and seeing all this.

I watched the finale though. It was hard for me to get past the convolutedness of it all, but I see the point.

STEVE said...

Never could get into LOST, but as one who is committed to raising the evangelistic temperature of the church, I resonated strongly with your observations about what the church can learn.And you're right. These are all true about the church at its best - when we let the Holy Spirit work in an through us.