Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Why I like 'Lost' (or, 'Lost' in Love and Story)

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been asked by more than one person what it is about Lost that attracts me and so many others. Why, they ask, are you so enthralled by a series about a bunch of people who crash land on a mysterious island besot by smoke monsters, polar bears, electromagnetic fields and many other forms of weirdness? I’ve thought awhile about it, and while there are many aspects of the six-season-long series that are critically noteworthy (from its character development and the actors who portray them to the themes it explores and the skill of its storytellers) I’m becoming more and more convinced that a huge draw of the series lies in the power of story—in particular, the fact that Lost tells a larger or grander story in which individual stories take place.

Story plays a powerful role in our lives. In our real-life relationships with each other, so much of who we are is communicated in our personal and individual stories—both those we share together as well as those we learn about and hear from each other. Then there’s the stories we create (or, fiction). As I’ve mentioned before, the best of these stories teach us more about ourselves, the world we live in, the people we walk with and those with whom we cross paths. The best explore what it means to be human and live in this world. They get at who we are and why we do the things we do, and they take us down the roads those choices lead. And the best stories are true—not that they actually happened but in that they reflect human nature and the way the world works in reality. And those kinds of stories have a power to cause us to examine ourselves and how we approach the world.

Lost does all this well. Throughout its six seasons, we’ve gotten to know these characters not only by watching them interact and live on the island but also by learning through flashbacks their experiences before they got there. Through their individual stories we’ve learned why they are the way they are and why they make the choices they do—and that changes our understanding of them (and, more often than not, like real life, that enables us to care about them more). And as good stories like that tend to do, more than once I’ve been challenged to examine myself and how I approach the world.

But one of the unique aspects of Lost is that it places all these individual stories in the context of a much larger and grander story. And sharing the frustration, fear and wonder of the characters as they struggle with (and some against) how to understand and deal with this reality is a huge draw for me and a lot of other folks.

So, why is that?

No doubt, I resonate with this idea in large part because I believe we live our lives in the context of a larger story—the Story. And that has had a profound effect not only on how I understand my own story but also the world at large.

Over the last few years, I’ve realized that some of the deepest, most profound and transformational truths I've learned about who God is and what he can do has come not from doctrines or theologies I’ve read and learned but from that Story itself. Just as I get to know those around me better by hearing and learning their stories, I’ve gotten to know God better by hearing and learning the Story—in Scripture and as it continues to unfold today.

I love how Fuller New Testament professor Daniel Kirk talks about this at his blog, (aptly titled) Storied Theology. The Bible, he points out, is not “a guide for daily living” even though it does contain “rules and instructions” or “a work of doctrinal or systematic theology” though it does contain “theological claims”. Instead, encourages Kirk, we need to pay attention to how those rules, instructions, and claims are expressed because that tells us “about what we should be doing with the Bible”:
The true end of Biblical theology should be to articulate a theology that corresponds to the historical and narratival dynamics that make theology biblical. In Biblical theology, God must always be the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God and Father who raised Jesus from the dead. God need be neither of those things in systematic theology, where timeless truths are the order of the day. . .

What is the Bible? I am committed to a generally narratival shape to scripture: it is a dynamic story that moves from creation and fall through Israel’s story of patriarchs and law and judges and kings and exile and failed return and messiah and church and return. I am committed to this, not because I think it is a problem-free story that runs easily from start to finish, but because even where we find theology and instruction and wisdom and law it is all deeply shaped by the moment of the story within which it is found.

The whole points in one direction: the Bible is storied. Therefore, our calling is to tell the story well so that we learn to live and love and worship well within the narrative that determines our identity.

I love how Kirk gets at how our identity is formed within the context of that Story—indeed, it is inexorably tied to it. Sometimes, I envision the Story as a core-like pipeline stretching and pulsating through time and space with our own individual stories weaving around and through it, always adjusting, moving, and threading as the Story pierces through eternity.

And that’s helped to shift my understanding of reality: My life is not the central story but rather I’m a part of God’s Story; my life lies in and is shaped by the context of it. While we may not intend it, in current church culture we often emphasize a different perspective. We talk about “getting God into our lives” or “putting Jesus at the center of our lives.” While these are good intentions, I think they ultimately flip reality. They makes our own personal story the core pipeline moving through time and space rather than God’s. And that can become a problem when we try to make sense out of the events around us. Everything becomes centered on us rather than put in the larger context of the Story—and that not only screws up our understanding of things like blessings and sufferings but also our understanding of who God is. And I don’t think God or the reality he created will stand for that; like C.S. Lewis’ house of cards in A Grief Observed, it will crumble because that is simply not the way reality works. God is the Author and our lives our written into his Story, whether we understand that or not.

So, what is Lost’s connection to all this? If the biblical narrative is correct and our lives are all taking place in the context of, to be shaped by and weaving around the Story, then I can’t help but wonder if we are instinctively and innately aware that our individual stories play out within some larger one—and we are drawn to stories that echo that. Perhaps a part of us is “wired” to seek out and see the world in the context of a larger story and series like Lost awakens that in us and draws us to it.

And Lost echoes something else about the biblical concept of a larger Story: Love. One of the things that runs through the center of Scripture is a good God who created good things who is Love itself—who, in fact, so loved a broken and dying world bent toward destruction that he made a most unthinkable sacrifice so that “no one need be destroyed” or die but by believing and trusting him and what he’s done “anyone can have a whole and lasting life.” And Lost? Interestingly, Chicago Tribune columnist Maureen Ryan wrote of the most recent Lost episode:

“That's the thing about "Lost": It has a hard crunchy (sometimes delicious) shell of mythology and time-travel and weird stuff. But inside it has a gooey, soft, sweet center. In the "Lost" universe, love unites people across time and space. And who knows, maybe one day love -- or a sacrifice made for love -- will raise an island from the bottom of the ocean floor.”

I agree. One of the core themes of Lost is the link of redemption, salvation and transformation to loving and being loved. We don’t know if there is a larger, benevolent Who behind the larger story taking place on that island and in the Sideways world, but we do know the Author of the Story is good and Love itself. Our stories play out in the context of that love. Yes, there are darkness, evil, and destructive forces. But, in the end, they cannot—they do not—stand up against his Love. And that Love is the context in which our lives are created, lived and saved.

Of course, there’s a lot of argument out there against any kind of larger story or meaning to our lives. But as for me, I believe the Story. And because I believe it, I can’t help thinking there’s something in each and every one of us—whether we know it or not—that knows there’s a larger Story in which we live our lives. And stories like Lost resonate with us because of that. So it isn't a stretch to say, then, that stories like Lost can help us understand and explore the largest Story so we can (to borrow a phrase from Kirk) live and tell it well where the breadth and depth, the love and life, the wonderful and good news of it has not yet soaked through.

And, so there you go. That, in a very large part, is why I am so enthralled with Lost. And that, among other things, brings a lot of God-talk into these open spaces.

(Images: ABC)

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