Thursday, April 27, 2017

Christianity on the Small Screen: Lost, Season 1-3

Locke: "Why do you find it so hard to believe?"
Jack: "Why do you find it so easy?"

One of the rich aspects of Christianity is that it unveils reality through story. Christianity is a story - in fact it is the most common of stories. So common that even secular stories highlight its themes. One great example of this is the ABC show Lost which aired from 2004-2010. It tells the story of the surviving passengers of Oceanic Airlines Flight 815 on an isolated island. Thus Lost refers to being stranded on a literal island but as the show develops one discovers that the title means much more.

Not only are the survivors lost on a very mysterious island with unique properties and a strange "security system" with an odd history, but the survivors themselves are lost. What makes Lost so rich is the character development and the writing. Each episode in the first three seasons explores the backstory of each character and reveals that everyone, from Jack to Sawyer to Kate to Charlie to Locke to Claire to Sun to Jin to Sayid to Boone and even to Hurley, are broken. Through the world of the island, the show's creators explore the theme of universal brokenness.

The challenge is how do these survivors overcome their brokenness on the island. They are strangers who do not trust each other forced to live in a strange world dealing with unique challenges ("Guys, where are we?"). Will they overcome their brokenness and past or will they be consumed by them?

To some, the island is a new beginning. John Locke tells Shannon in season 1 that "Everyone gets a new life on this island Shannon. Maybe its time to start yours." (". . . In Translation") She, of course, is a broken young woman who manipulates men (like her brother Boone who is on the island with her). She has a broken relationship with her stepmother and is still mourning the loss of her biological father making her home life Cinderella-esque.

Locke himself has a complicated backstory. He is paralyzed from the waist down  (spoiler alert!) caused by a broken relationship with his father. His father cons him out of a kidney and then abandons him. To Locke, the island is a place of miraculous hope and newness. He arrives on the place in a wheelchair but lands on the island with the ability to walk.

One major theme of the show is that the island does change each character in some way. Jack embraces his role as leader. Locke regains his ability to walk. Rose is healed of her cancer. Boone lets go of his sister. Charlies breaks free from his heroin addiction. Shannon finds true love (again, her story mirrors Cinderella minus the shoes). However, as they find change on the island, the brokenness of their past continues to haunt them. Jack's need to fix things (which drove him to become a doctor in the first place) making him the perfect and worse hero. He is stubborn and not trusting. Kate's violent past turned her into a fugitive and even though no one hunts her on the island, she is constantly on the run in the jungle and on the beach (not to mention between Jack and Sawyier). Charlie must give up his drugs only to find another crashed airplane inland full of heroin. Every character bring their brokenness to the island and though they try to conceal it at first, who they really is eventually exposed.

This is a universal story and it lies at the core of Christianity. The gospels tells us we are broken people: we are lost and in need of a Savior. In Luke's Gospel Jesus tells three parables about lostness: a lost coin, a lost sheep, and two lost sons. Every time something was found there was great rejoicing.

Deep down we all know we are broken and lost and in need of healing and discovery.

No wonder, then, the creators of Lost explore themes of faith and redemption. Most important in this regard is the science vs. religion debate. The opening episode of season two is actually entitled "Man of Science, Man of Faith." On the one hand is the spine surgeon, Jack, who embodies the man of science. He does not believe what he cannot see and study. He lives, as it were, in the "real world" that requires a clear explanation for everything. John Locke (note the name), on the other hand, is an office worker at a boxing company who embodies the man of faith. Nothing can explain the miraculous healing he experienced on the island so he begins to communicate with the island and becomes its disciple. This obedience leads him to pursue the hatch, save Mr. Echo, "sacrifice" Boone, and not fear the mysterious "Smoke Monster."

This disagreement becomes serious between the two men. From the writers perspective, what separates them is their view of history. Locke asks at the end of season 1, "Do you think we crashed on this place by coincidence?" ("Exodus, part 2") One phrase, used twice in the first three seasons, is "Don't confuse coincidence with fate." Coincidence, of course, does not need a metaphysical explanation. Fate, however, does. Mr. Echo, who later embodies the man of faith persona when Locke temporarily apostatizes, is the first to say it to Locke (Locke later says it to Desmond while in the midst of his apostasy).

The writers should be applaud for exploring seriously the questions of faith and brokenness. Echo becomes the island's priest and performs a baptism for baby Aaron, for example. There are a number of references to Scripture and theological and philosophical issues. A show about human brokenness should not be taken seriously without exploring such religious themes for healing cannot come by science alone.

Yet the central issue of fate vs. coincidence is a real weakness. Coincidence is blind trust in nothingness and no doubt there are many coincidences in Lost. Fate, on the other hand, is not the faith answer the writer's want us to believe. In fact, to put the words "Perhaps it's not happenstance that you and Essam met at the Mosque. Perhaps it is fate" ("The Greater Good) in the mouth of a Muslim should be offensive to them. This forced dichotomy shows the writers ignorance of what faith in a broken world looks like. Fate is a faceless power and is nothing more than metaphysical coincidence.

Christianity has a better term: providence. Providence reminds us that there is a God who reigns supreme over the universe and rules over human affairs - past, present, and future. This fundamental truth to Christianity gives us hope in the midst of our suffering and brokenness. It is central to the story of redemption in Scripture. At the Fall when man became lost, there was God, not a faceless power, but a loving Father extending his providential grace to a broken people promising that the head of the serpent would be crushed (Gen. 3:15). And crushed it was in the person and work of his son, Jesus Christ.

This is why, at the end of the series (which will be explored in a future post) there is no real redemption in Lost. Science cannot and will not redeem because that which science and medicine fixes will break down again (like Jack's marriage). Fate cannot and will not redeem because it will in the end betray you. But a providential God who comes down in the person of the Son makes all the difference of the world. Whether we are broken at a bar in need of hope, at the end of our ropes in a failing relationship, or stranded on a mysterious island being chased by an odd smoke monster, providence is what we need because providence produced a Savior which heals us of our brokenness. And in the Great Shepherd, the lost are found.

For more:
Christianity on the Small Screen: Prison Break - Part 1
Christianity on the Small Screen: Prison Break - Part 2
Christianity and the Small Screen: The West Wing
Christianity on the Small Screen: The Office (Updated)
Christianity on the Small Screen: The Office
Christianity and the Small Screen: "Smallville"
Christianity and the Small Screen: Fox's "House, M. D."
Christianity and the Small Screen: NBC's "Crisis"
Christianity and the Small Screen: FBI Files
Saying Shibboleth

All Around the Web - April 27, 2017

Kevin DeYoung - What Can Church History Teach Us About Wolves?

Eric Metaxas - Liberalism in a Lab Coat

Tim Challies - 8 Sins You Commit Whenever You Look at Porn

Chuck Lawless - 8 Ways the Internet Can Hurt the Church

Owen Strachan - 3 Ways God’s Justice Comforts Us

Independent Journal Review - The Most Stunningly Detailed 2016 Election Map Was Just Released—Democrats Should Be Scared, Very Scared

Thom Rainer - You will deal with gnats in pastoral ministry

Erik Raymond - God Still Uses Ordinary Means and Ordinary Men

Pastor's Today - 3 Ways to Get Leaders from Pew to Pulpit

Baptist Press - Porn deemed public health crisis, harmful in 5 states

The Blaze - Commentary: Can we stop pretending Bill Nye is a science guy already?

Babylon Bee - Merriam-Webster Updates Definition Of ‘Fascism’ To ‘Anything One Disagrees With’ | Satire

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Science: The Shibboleth of Progressive Religion

In today's BreakPoint commentary entitled Liberalism in a Labcoat by Eric Metaxas takes on Bill Nye and the religion of scientism arguing that "being 'pro-science' has become a shibboleth for supporting progressive ideology." For example, if your uncertain about manmade global warming (and thus demand increase taxes and government intrusion as the solution) then your anti-science. If you believe that biology and gender is fixed and not determined by fluid feelings then your ant-science.

I listen to Metaxas and Stonestreet's BreakPoint commentaries every morning and this one ranks up as one of the best ones. Here is the introduction.
In his preface to “Mere Christianity,” C. S. Lewis explains what happens when words lose their original meaning. Take the word “gentleman.” Once upon a time, Lewis writes, a gentleman was “one who had a coat of arms and some landed property. When you called someone ‘a gentleman,’ you were not paying him a compliment, but merely stating a fact.”

Gradually, however, “gentleman” evolved into just that—a compliment. A true gentleman was no longer someone who met the objective qualifications, but a person whom the speaker liked. Thus, concludes Lewis, “gentleman” became a useless word.

I think another important word is undergoing this same redefinition. That word, alas, is science.
You can read the rest here.

Called to Pastoral Ministry?: A Question to Consider

The call to ministry is a serious question that many consider every year. Perhaps someone is reading these words right now struggling with God's call on their life. Entering gospel ministry is not something that should be taken lightly and thus any guide that points us in the right direction is imperative.

Typically, the question comes down to both the internal and ecclesiastical call. The internal call regards the candidate themselves. Do they believe God has called them? Is there a strong passion for ministry in general and pastoral ministry in particular? A general rule of thumb is that if you could be content doing anything else, then pursue that. Many have confessed to fighting the call for ministry in pursuit of other interests and careers only to surrender later in life.

The other is the ecclesiastical call. Does the local church affirm the internal call? Do they see the Spirit of God at work in your life? Is the power of God evident in your life? If the local church would not and could not recommend you to another congregation, then perhaps you are not qualified or called into ministry.

I concur with this general assessment. Of course more goes into this, but when counseling those struggling with God's call on their life, I always begin with this general assessment.

But then I quickly draw their attention to another question to consider. When tragedy strikes in the church (perhaps a teenager is killed in a car wreck or one of the church's leaders suddenly dies of cancer), do you feel called to go and minister to the family?

I received a call once from a youth minister friend who had been struggling the called to pastoral ministry. One of his students had suddenly passed in a tragic accident and was asking for my counsel on how to approach the situation. Weeks later we discussed how everything went and he confessed how uncomfortable and difficult it was. No pastor is comfortable in such situations. Death is our greatest enemy. Yet every pastor should feel called to such situation. If you do not have a strong sense of calling to minister to people in the worse moments of life and believe, without a doubt, that the gospel is the only means of comfort and grace, then do not enter ministry. But if you are compelled to comfort with grace, then perhaps God is in fact calling you.

This third question is a crucial one for me. Next to criticism, perhaps nothing else drains a pastor more than the emotional roller coaster of tragedies and the sufferings of his sheep. In a single day a pastor could be called to weep with the suffering and rejoicing with new parents. If you do not have a sense of calling for that, then stay away.

All Around the Web - April 25, 2017

Russell Moore - Signposts: How Can You Know If You’re Under God’s Discipline?

USA Today - How faith communities view different fertility treatments

Trevin Wax - Feasting As An Act of War

Thom Rainer - Five Common but Unreasonable Requests Church Members Make of Pastors

Desiring God - The Quiet Plague of Painkillers

Gentle Reformation - African American Preaching at RPTS

Chuck Lawless - 8 More Reflections on Church Consultations

The Gospel Coalition - Why the Lord’s Prayer Is So Offensive

Hare Translation Journey - Verses to Meditate on When Considering Missions

The Resurgent - Minimum Wage Hikes are Killing the Poor

Babylon Bee - Facebook Adds New ‘I’d Rather Die’ Response To Event Invitations