Posts Tagged 'Modernity'

The Lord is My Jack Shephard: From System and Spectacle to Sacred Story, Part III

You may be ‘lost’ (forgive the horrible pun) without reading Part I and Part II!

From Faith in Himself to Faith in The Island

The story of Lost begins with Jack Shephard’s eye snapping open. He is lying on his back in a dense bamboo forest, wearing a torn suit; his body scratched and bleeding. He is in shock, confused, and alone. A golden retriever runs from deep in the jungle to lick him awake, and soon he is running through the bamboo reeds until he reaches the beach, the site of the horrific crash. Jack, the decisive, self-reliant spinal surgeon, immediately begins doing what he has been trying to do ever since he was a small boy: save everyone. He pulls people from burning wreckage, gives a woman CPR, and moves others safely out of the way of falling debris. He spends the next three months maintaining his role as the survivors’ hero – he tends to people’s wounds, finds the transceiver in the cockpit deep in the jungle, outruns the mysterious Smoke Monster that kills the pilot, and finds a pool of fresh drinking water. He makes rules for distributing the food that they find, he tries to save his friends from ‘the Others’ that kidnapped them, and he makes it his mission to get ‘his people’ off the Island.

Jack is the typical modernist man. He is ‘homo autonomous’ – a ‘law unto himself’ – as he is independent and rationalistic; he believes only in that which he can see, touch, or do himself. Walsh and Middleton say that for the modernists, “we are who we are by overcoming all that binds and inhibits us and by determining for ourselves who we will be.” (1) Jack is constantly trying to overcome his father’s harsh words to him as a child, “You don’t have what it takes [to save everyone].” He has been trying for most of his life to prove his father wrong, and he does it by ‘fixing’ as many people as he can. He has a bonified Messiah-complex, and believes he can, through his own rationality and medical abilities, help the lame to walk and the dead to rise. Before the crash, he ‘fixed’ the beautiful Sarah, enabling her to walk again and then marrying her. She left him a short time later, and as she was walking out of his life she said to him, “Look at it this way, at least now you have something to fix.” On the Island, Jack resuscitates a nearly dead Charlie and becomes furious with himself when he is not able to ‘fix’ the young Boone, who dies after falling off a cliff. He even tries to fix himself, as when he needs his appendix taken out, he tries to do it himself! When Juliet, another doctor, tells him she can do it, he still demands to be kept awake in order to ‘guide her through it’ (although she eventually has him put out when it’s apparent he is not handling the pain well). His mission to get everyone off the Island is just another broken situation to  ‘fix’. This controlling impulse does not come out of a selfless desire to help others, but out of a need to control, to master the natural world thereby putting himself in the center of it.

The modernist quest to master the unknown stems from people like Jack. For as Walsh and Middleton assert, “the whole view of the modernist project depends on this view of selfhood. Without an independently rational self there would be no reason to trust the results and achievements of modern science.”(2)  It is Jack’s view of himself as a rationalistic, independent being that allows him to see the world – and other people – as a set of mechanistic systems that can be studied, known, and conquered. Thus if something is wrong – whether is be paralysis or being stranded on an Island, his natural response is that he must fix what is broken, thereby achieving a mastery over it. (3) Jack only believes in what rationality and science can help him see, feel, or touch. If it is not logical, it must not be true. This naturally puts him into conflict with the Island’s ironically-named ‘‘Man of Faith’’, John Locke. It was the Island that healed Locke’s paralysis, not Jack. As a result, Locke has tremendous faith in the miraculous nature of the Island, telling Jack that he believes it is “different…special… because I looked into the eye of the Island, and what I saw was beautiful.” Locke believes that each one of them crashed there ‘for a reason.’ He says they have a ‘purpose’ on the Island, that ‘the Island chose you too, Jack,’ and it is his ‘destiny’ to be there. Jack thinks this is ridiculous, and consistently dismisses Locke as a delusional old man, telling him ‘I don’t believe in destiny.’ When the two discover a hatch that leads down into the DHARMA Swan Station with the computer button that needs to be pressed every 108 minutes to ‘save the world,’ Jack refuses to believe that anything will happen if it is not pushed. Locke, on the other had, believes this is part of their ‘destiny’ and tries to convince Jack to push the button first. When Jack refuses, they have one of the most memorable shouting matches of the entire series.

Locke: WHY DO YOU FIND IT SO HARD TO BELIEVE??
Jack: WHY DO YOU FIND IT SO EASY??
Locke: IT’S NEVER BEEN EASY!!

Locke spends his time on the Island struggling to find what exactly it is that the Island wants him to do, while Jack spends his time trying to rescue ‘his people’ from ‘the Others’ who kidnap some of them, and get everyone off the Island. Eventually, Jack makes contact with Widmore’s freighter, believing it is there to save them, while Locke tries desperately to stop him from leaving the Island.

Locke: You’re not supposed to go home.
Jack: What am I supposed to do? …What was it you said [before]? That crashing here was our destiny?…It’s an island. It doesn’t need protection.
Locke: An island? No… It’s a place where miracles happen.
Jack: There are no such thing as miracles.
Locke: Well, we’ll have to wait and see which one of us is right…You’ll have to lie to the people [when you get back home, about what has happened]. Lie to them, Jack. If you do it half as well as you lie to yourself, they’ll believe you.

Jack, as the typical modernist man, cannot believe in miracles, or a higher purpose, or destiny, because these things are rationally and scientifically inexplicable. He cannot produce miracles himself, therefore they must not exist.

Yet Jack is a ‘Man of Faith’ – faith in himself, and faith in science and reason as the highest possible ways of knowing. But his faith does not lead him to a very good place. Just as Walsh and Middleton suggest, when left to his own self-directed devices, the heroic, modernist individual inevitably does violence.(4)  Jack’s controlling, self-reliant ways caused him to physically fight anyone (like Ben) who got in his way of getting off they Island, and his ‘rational’ decisions got many people killed. He guided the people from the freighter to the Island and they ended up killing several people. The freighter eventually exploded, killing more and leaving them stranded on a helicopter, which crashed into the ocean. Only a handful of them, the ‘Oceanic Six,’ were rescued by another boat passing by. Remembering the last words of Locke, Jack convinces them all that they have to lie in order to protect those they left behind, who were still on the Island. The three years that they were off the Island were the most miserable of their lives. Jack succumbs to alcoholism and drug addiction.  He ruins all of his relationships and loses his job. His modernist, controlling tendencies rebounded upon himself. The last straw for Jack is discovering that Locke has committed suicide, after failing to convince the Oceanic Six that they all had to go back to the Island. Jack feels deeply responsible for Locke’s death and, realizing his controlling, self-reliant faith in himself, reason, and science had led to nowhere good, begins to believe that maybe Locke was right after all. He had become nothing but an emotionally bankrupt, deeply broken, shell of a man.

I like to think Coldplay’s sweeping ballad Fix You influenced Jack’s decision to go back to the Island.

When you try your best, but you don’t succeed
When you get what you want, but not what you need
When you feel so tired, but you can’t sleep
Stuck in reverse

And the tears come streaming down your face
When you lose something you can’t replace
When you love someone, but it goes to waste
Could it be worse?

Lights will guide you home
And ignite your bones
And I will try
To fix you

Jack had tried his best to get everyone rescued, but was only successful in ‘saving’ six of them. He wanted to get away from the Island, and he wanted to ‘win’ Kate’s heart, both which he accomplished, but this was not what he needed. His life derailed and he became a drunk, unable to sleep or move forward with his life. Thinking of all that he had lost – his father, his job, his friends, and his love with Kate – caused him to drown himself in tears. But there was hope for Jack.  The Light of the Island would ‘guide him home,’ so he would no longer be lost. Fulfilling his destiny on the Island would ‘ignite his bones,’ would help him come truly alive, and would bring him healing and redemption. And in the end, for Jack who had become broken by trying so hard to fix things, the Island would be the One to fix him. Starting to believe that all these things would come to pass, Jack takes a leap of faith and goes back to the Island.

Once returned, now in 1977 (5) , Jack slowly starts to show signs of change. He lets others lead and when a young Ben gets shot (6) , Kate tries to plead with him to save Ben and he replies, “You know, when we were here before I spent all of my time trying to fix things. But did you ever think that maybe the Island just wants to fix things itself? That maybe I was just getting it the way?” He believes now in the seemingly impossible – that the Island is a special, miraculous, relational entity, capable of choosing him to complete some important task. He believes now that he is ‘supposed’ to be there, yet at first he doesn’t know why. When Daniel Faraday, the physicist who specializes in time travel, explains to them that if they were to drop a nuclear bomb into the pocket of electro-magnetism (that would eventually be the site of the Swan hatch), then it would break the chain of events that would lead to their plane crashing on the Island, Jack, believing still in the weight of scientific knowledge, believes that this must be why he is there, to prevent all the misery that they had experienced since crashing on the Island. He drops the bomb into the pocket of energy, which only succeeds in killing Juliet (7)  and catapulting them back into the present day. Jack, confused that his plan didn’t work and still struggling to know why he is on the Island, eventually sees his name on Jacob’s mysterious dial in the lighthouse (8),  and the images of his childhood home in Jacob’s mirror. After some time, Jack is finally able to let go of his need for rationalistic answers and embrace faith in the mysterious ways of the Island. When the four final Candidates (to replace Jacob as Island Protector) are finally able to talk to Jacob and he explains that one of them must protect The Light, Jack speaks up in his first moment of complete clarity.

Jack: I’ll do it. This is why I’m here. I’m supposed to do this.
Jacob: [whispering gently, knowing Jack’s previous confusion] Is that a question, Jack?
Jack: [shakes his head, without hesitation] No.
Jacob: [smiles softly] Good.

Jacob performs the New Island  Protector Ceremony, and gives Jack a cup to drink while reciting a Latin incantation over it (like the Eucharist!).  Jack’s destiny, of which he is now certain, is to protect the Light, thereby saving all of humanity from the the Man in Black (aka the Smoke Monster) who’s soul now resides in John Locke’s body (who I’ll call Fake Locke, or ‘Flocke’ for short). Flocke’s goal is to destroy and leave the Island, thereby killing all of humanity. Jack however, is now ready to do what is necessary to protect the Light and destroy ‘Flocke’ (who up until this time, could not be killed by regular means). (9)

Now with a deeper, mystical connection to the Island, Jack goes with Desmond (who has a unique resistance to electro-magnetism) and ‘Flocke’ to The Light so that Desmond can turn it off. Jack believes this will enable him to kill ‘Flocke’, but ‘Flocke’ believes it will destroy the Island. They are both right. With the Light turned off, the Island begins to shake and sink into the ocean. Meanwhile,  ‘Flocke’ (the Smoke Monster) becomes fully human again, allowing him to be killed by regular means.  During an epic battle with the Smoke Monster on the side of a cliff in the pouring rain, Jack is stabbed in the side. But with the help of Kate, Jack is victorious in killing him. Yet the Island is still shaking and sinking, and Jack knows that he must go turn The Light back on in order to save the Island – and all of humanity. He declares his love for Kate and they share a passionate embrace before he pleads with his friends to run for the Ajira plane that brought them back to the Island. He returns to the cave and turns on The Light again (by placing a giant stone back into the core of The Light). He weeps with joy as he realizes that his destiny has been realized. He saved the Island and protected The Light thereby saving the world.

The final moments of Lost are pure poetry. Jack, bleeding profusely from his side, slowly stumbles back through the bamboo forest – the same one he first woke up in at the beginning of his journey. All his strength gone, he collapses to the ground and gazes through the trees. (Here the camera flashes to the ‘sideways world,’ which we now know is a sort of purgatory – outside of time and after they are all dead – so that all the plane crash survivors can find one another so they ‘move on’ together. Jack and all his beloved friends that he saved – and some that he couldn’t save, like the real Locke and Boone – are being reunited in a church sanctuary.) Flash back to the Island: Jack is laying on the ground and the same golden retriever, Vincent, runs to him from out of the forest, this time not to lick him awake but to lick his wounds and lay beside as he dies (and this is where I started sobbing uncontrollably).

Jack musters a weak laugh at the sight of Vincent, knowing that his epic, destiny-ridden journey has come full circle. (Flash sideways to the church: Jack embraces Locke, Hurley, and finally, his love, Kate, who guides him to sit down beside her in a pew.) Flash back to the Island: Jack’s final sight is the plane flying overhead, and he smiles knowing that his friends are safe. (Flash sideways to the church: Jack’s father, Christian Shephard, with whom he had made peace, proudly squeezes Jack’s shoulder. Christian walks slowly to the back of the church and opens the doors, allowing The Light – The Light of the Island that Jack had died to protect – to fill the church, and all the survivors –including Jack – are in awe of its pure warmth and radiance.) Flash back to the Island: the final image of Lost is Jack’s eye closing shut.

Only by letting go of his modernist ways and embracing, in faith and against all logic, his place in the Story of the Island, was Jack truly able to do the one thing he never been able to do before: save everyone. In the end, Jack didn’t need all of the ultimate, rationalistic answers. He didn’t need to know why he needed to protect The Light, or what it was, or how it got to the Island. He recognized that his modernist drive to rely on himself, master the unknown, and ‘fix’ people and situations only ended in tragedy, both for those around him and for himself. For reasons far outside the realm of logic and science, Jack relied on faith in something outside of himself, faith in something beyond the limitations of rationality, to guide his path home. Only by indwelling the Story of the Island, embracing his place among the many Island Protectors that had come before him, and sacrificing himself (adopting a healthier Messiah-likeness) for the good of others was he able to find ultimate healing and redemption, and spend eternity in peace with his beloved fellow pilgrims.

From System to Story (10)

Like Jack, the Church’s hope for guiding this generation through the jungle of post-modernity is found in letting go of our modernist ways of knowing, and embracing, in faith, our place in a socially embodied Story. We must abandon our idolatrous faith in rationality as the highest form of knowing and interpreting the Scriptures.  We must recognize that ‘finding the objective principles’ is not possible because we can never have access to a ‘neutral’ position outside of our socially, historically, and culturally rooted perspective. (11)  There is no such thing as an absolute, timeless, contextless system of Truth that simply ‘floats in space’ somewhere ‘out there’ for us all to grasp with our reason. Our belief that truth must equal objectivism simply implies that we have been culturally captivated by the modernist quest to master the unknown which as we have seen inevitably leads to violence against the ‘other.’ Rather, truth in scripture is always socially embodied in a tradition; rooted and intertwined in a culturally infused overarching Story. Instead of pretending that we are able to stand outside of  Scripture, from a neutral position, and then able to apply it to our own lives in a completely different cultural context, Lesslie Newbigin says that we must “indwell” the story in such a way that it becomes our story. (12)  We can come to a more authentic interpretation of the Scriptures the same way that we can come to a more genuine understanding of Lost: by abandoning our modernist quest for absolute answers, understanding that the narrative itself contains a critique of this way of thinking, and seeking to see ourselves as ‘lost’ as the characters in the story.

If the Creator of the Universe wanted us to know truth as a contextless system of ‘objective facts’, why didn’t he instruct the writers of Scripture to create systematic theology charts, graphs, and lists? Instead, he revealed truth through a socially and culturally embodied Story, that like Lost, contains within its narrative a critique of the totalizing and inherently violent ideology that results from modernist thinking. Spanning all of time from pre-existence to eternity, the Scriptures contain the epic tale of the creation, fall and redemption. It is the story of a suffering people whose cry was heard by a sensitive God who responded by taking the suffering upon Himself. It is the story of God’s purposes for the world – shalom, compassion, and justice – being worked out through Israel, Jesus, and the Church.(13)  Because this story of redemption is for all of creation, any “violent, ideological, self-justifying ownership of the story – either by nationalistic Jews or by sectarian and self-righteous Christians – brings the story to a dramatic dead end that has missed the creationally redemptive point.” (14)  The narrative itself – with its concern for every creature from every tribe, tongue, and nation, especially those who are weak and suffering  – is a critique of the totalizing exclusionary violence that occurs when one person or group embarks on the modernist quest to master the unknown. Like those who seek absolute answers in Lost, those who interpret scripture through modernist eyes are missing the very point that the narrative is trying to drive home.

Instead, we must seek to become part of the story. We can more authentically interpret Lost once we see that we are the stranded survivors – flawed, alone, and ‘lost’ in the chaotic, disorienting postmodern jungle; we are like those who arrogantly seek mastery over the unknown and thus cause harm to others; we are like Jack – struggling to let go of our need for control, to ‘fix’ people, to rely on ourselves and to seek absolute answers; we would be better off if we placed our faith in something beyond ourselves, something that cannot be known rationally, something as mysterious and beautiful as The Light; we could find healing and redemption by choosing to love, serve, and lay down our lives for the good of our fellow pilgrims.  In a similar tone, we can find a purer interpretation of the Scriptures, as Walsh and Middleton write, by noting that “We are the people whom God liberated from Egypt and led through the Red Sea; we are the people languishing in exile and crying out for release; we are the disciples whom Jesus rebuked for misunderstanding his mission and to whom he appeared after his resurrection; we are the newly formed church who received the outpouring of the Spirit after Pentecost.” (15)  By placing ourselves in the biblical narrative, we are able to gain a much clearer, intuitive insight into the ‘dramatic movement’ of the story and learn how we are to carry it forward, in our own context, in a manner that is faithful to the Author’s intentions.

How exactly are we to do this? Walsh and Keesmaat borrow from N.T. Wright as they explain that the task of indwelling the biblical story requires ‘faithful improvisation.’  It is helpful, they say, to think of the biblical narrative as an unfinished six-act drama, with Act I being creation, where the Author’s plot intentions are initially revealed, Act II being the fall or the initial conflict, Act III the story of Israel, Act IV the story of Jesus and the climax, ‘the pivotal act with begins to unravel the conflict at its deepest roots’, Act V the story of the Church, and Act VI being the eschaton when the Author’s narrative purposes are finally realized. We are all like actors living in Act V, the story of the Church, but the problem is, we have been given no script and the Author wishes us to finish Act V ourselves. In order to do this well, with the help of the wise and comforting Director (the Holy Spirit) we must, as actors, become so immersed in the script we have been already been given that we acquire an ‘intuitive imagination’ for how we are to improvise in a manner that is faithful to the Author’s narrative purposes. (16)  To do this well, Walsh and Keesmaat say it “requires taking the risk of improvisation that is creative, innovative, and flexible.” We must not simply cut and paste from the culturally imbedded stories of Israel into our cultural context, because “these earlier passages are not a script intended for our performance in a postmodern world but are the record or transcript of past performances of God’s people.”  To merely copy what Moses, David, and Paul did without taking into consideration that their actions were part of a particular culturally embodied story would as absurd as trying to find the Island in order to kill the Smoke Monster. Instead, we must learn of the Author’s purposes for the story and humbly seek to embody spirit of the story – justice for the oppressed, compassion for the poor and marginalized, sacrificial, selfless love for all of creation – in our own cultural context.

The Conclusion of the Matter

Lost was never about forming a systematic grid of answers, it was about engaging in the human story. It was prophetic critique of the modernist quest for ultimate answers and an allegory for how life should be lived in the carnivalesque aftermath of modernity’s demise. Those who cynically bitch that we never found out why Walt was so special, how The Light got in the cave, and why the Smoke Monster makes mechanical noises, have sadly missed the entire point of the narrative. The lack of answers was an intentional, brilliant literary device so that we would struggle along with the characters that were just as disoriented and ‘lost’ as we were. Jack never got all the answers spoon-fed to him – he had to reject his need for rational answers and rely on his intuitive connection to the Story of Island in order to fulfill his destiny.  Likewise, to come to a more authentic interpretation of Lost – and more importantly, the Scriptures – we must abandon our need for absolute, objective answers – a mindset that caused only violence and destruction on the Island – and so immerse ourselves in the narrative that we gain an intuitive sense of its overarching dramatic movement that is faithful to the intention of the creators. For Lost fans, to be faithful to the intentions of Damon and Carlton means that we must interpret it as a character study, and learn from the horrible mistakes of those who sought to control the Island, as well as the redemptive sacrifice of Jack Shephard who died to protect it. For the Church, to be faithful to the intentions of the Creator means that we must seek to live out shalom, compassion, justice, and sacrificial love within a community of fellow pilgrims. It is only by rooting ourselves in this Story of the Light that we may illuminate the Way for those who are lost at sea, battered around by the crushing waves of the postmodern storm.

endnotes

1 – Middleton and Walsh, 47.
2 – Ibid., 48.
3 – Walsh and Keesmaat, 123.
4 – Walsh and Keesmaat, 49.
5 – When Ben moved the Island, it skipped through time until it ‘rested’ in 1977 until Jack and the others returned.
6 – This was during ‘DHARMA times’ and Ben, whose father joined the DHARMA Iniative in 1975, is just a small boy.
7 – Juliet, another doctor, was a member of the Others who joined up with Jack’s people when she tried to get off the Island. She became close with many of them, including Jack. She died by getting sucked into the pocket of electro-magnetic energy.
8 – The large and lovable Hurley is told by Jacob to lead Jack to the Lighthouse, where hundreds of names are written beside numbers on a large dial. Jack’s number is 23 (like the 23rd Psalm, the ‘Lord is my shepherd’) and when they turn the dial to point at 23, Jack sees his childhood house in the mirror. This is how Jacob was able to watch them, and mysteriously draw them to the Island.
9 – As a ‘rule’ the Smoke Monster, who has no body, is able to take the form of whatever dead bodies are on the Island. Jack brought John Locke’s body back to the Island after he committed suicide. Ironically, even though Jack is now a disciple of Locke, visually it appears as though Jack is battling against Locke, which is reminiscent of their original relationship. It is also ironic that Locke was the only one who believed in the Island and wanted to stay and now his body is overtaken by the Man in Black who’s only goal is to destroy the Island and leave it forever.
10 – Middleton and Walsh, 66.
11 – Ibid., 174.
12 – Ibid.
13 – Ibid., 68-69.
14 – Walsh and Keesmaat, 109.
15 – Walsh and Middleton, 174-175.
16 – Ibid., 183.
17 – Walsh and Keesmaat, 133.
18 – Walsh and Middleton, 183.
19 – Ibid.

Works Cited (for Parts I, II, and III)

Colquhoun, Nathan, “5 Reasons Why LOST Disappointed.” Linking Life. May 24, 2010.     http://www.linkinglife.com/2010/05/5-reasons-why-lost-disappointed.

Lang, Michelle A., “Lost: Post-structureal Metanarrative of Postmodern Bildungsroman?” Society for the Study     of Lost. Issue 2.1. March 1, 2010. http://www.loststudies.com/2.1/postructural_metanarrative.html.

Lostpedia. http://www.lostpedia.wikia.com

Middleton, J. Richard and Walsh, Brian J., Truth is Stranger Than It Used to Be (Downer’s Grove: Intervarsity     Press, 1995).

Porter, Lynette and Lavery, David, Lost’s Buried Treasures (Naperville: Sourcebooks, 2010).

Moore, Pearson. Email to the author. May 15, 2010.

Seay, Chris, The Gospel According to Lost (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2009).

Smith, James K. A., Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism? (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006).

Vaughn, Cari, “Lost in Hypertext.” Society for the Study of Lost. Issue 2.1. March 1, 2010.     http://www.loststudies.com/2.1/hypertext.html.

Walsh, Brian J. Walsh and Keesmaat, Slyvia C., Colossians Remixed (Downer’s Grove: Intervarsity Press, 2004).

White, Heath. Post-modernism 101. (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2006).

The Lord is my Jack Shephard: From System and Spectacle to Sacred Story, Part I

“A product of mean story-telling bullies.” -Nathan Colquhoun, Lost blogger (1)

The series finale of Lost outraged thousands of fans. Many were furious at the way the show did not provide concrete answers for the hundreds of questions it raised during its six year run. After investing in the show for 121 episodes and pouring themselves into countless of hours of research, they felt cheated. They studied with vigor and passion the various cultural references – from Buddhist teachings to Egyptian hieroglyphics to European fantasy novels. They created plot charts to follow the  multiple, fragmented, non-linear storylines. They wrote elaborate theories showing how every minor detail would fit in a larger scheme that would make perfect sense in the end. They read weekly analyses on many websites and blogs dedicated to uncovering all the ‘Easter eggs’ hidden in each episode: the numbers; the whispers; the artwork. They listened to podcasts, debated theories with friends, and viewed creators Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse as storytelling gods. And now they feel like their gods have betrayed them.

I do not share their view. I believe that Lost is the greatest, most prophetic work of fiction to ever grace the small screen. The genius of this epic tale of redemption is not compromised by the mysteries it left unresolved. To the contrary, the lack of answers is intentional and serves as a brilliant literary device to help the viewers feel as displaced, disillusioned, and ‘lost’ as the characters in the narrative. The creators are inviting us to see the story of Lost as our story, a reflection of humanity in this disorienting postmodern age. For Jack, Kate, Sawyer, and Locke – who represent us – the greatest mysteries of life can never be fully be grasped. Those seeking ultimate, objective answers will be endlessly frustrated because they are essentially asking the wrong questions. Damon Lindelof said, “For [the writers], the real mystery of the show wasn’t ‘Where is the island?’ but ‘Who are these people?’”

For at its heart, Lost is a character study; an exploration of what makes people the way they are and the results that spring forth from their behaviour. Specifically, it is an exploration – and critique – of the modernist quest to master the unknown. All the characters that attempt to conquer, control, and harness the mysteries of the Island inevitably do violence to the ‘other’ and are eventually led to their own demise: the DHARMA Initiave; the Man in Black; Charles Widmore. The characters that appear to have ultimate knowledge are revealed in the end to be nothing more than a social construct with a skewed and limited perspective of reality: Benjamin Linus; Eloise Hawking; Jacob. While Lost condemns the modernist project, this ‘metaphysics of violence,’ it is also a reflection of the disorientation that results from being liberated from it. (2)  The smorgasbord of cultural references and seemingly random patchwork of mysteries creates a sense of being ‘lost at sea’ for both the characters and viewers alike. (3)

Yet in the midst of the tumultuous storm, the transformative journey of Jack Shephard offers us a prophetic allegory for how we can live on stable ground. Initially a self-reliant, controlling, ‘Man of Science’, Jack finds redemption by abandoning his modernist ways and embracing his place in the larger Story of the Island. His ability to save everyone is only realized once he stops trying to fix everything and places his faith in something much bigger than himself – the Island – to bring ultimate healing, within and through a community of beloved pilgrims. Lost can teach the Western Church – a community of  lost pilgrims – how to find our way through the postmodern jungle by abandoning our modernist, systematic, and dangerous ways of knowing ultimate reality and interpreting the Scriptures. Instead, we must embrace the narrative nature of the Scriptures and find our place within the epic drama of the socially embodied Story of Yahweh.

A Failed Social Experiment

Those who demand that all the questions of Lost must be answered according to their own logic-based standards do not view the mysteries as something to be wrestled with on a journey of discovery, but conquered. This is nothing more than a modernist quest to master the unknown. During the age of the Enlightenment, the Reformation, and the Scientific Revolution, (roughly between the 17th – 20th centuries), the great mysteries of life, like those of Lost, were seen as puzzles to solve. The questions, “What is the best way to achieve freedom in society?”, “What is the true nature of salvation?” and “Why does an apple fall to the ground?” were thought to have definitive, black-and-white answers that could be discovered through one infallible vehicle: human reason.


It was a time to throw off the shackles of church and civil authority and embrace the freedom and progress that could be achieved through human rationality. The British philosopher John Locke (whom our beloved ‘Man of Faith’ on the Island is ironically named after) believed that the “reasoning power of a human being…is competent to answer his deepest questions”. (4) This included the questions of Christianity – he believed that God could be known absolutely through human logic. Likewise, Jean-Jacques Rousseau (the namesake of the insane French woman who lives in the jungle) believed that humans are rational, good, and capable of achieving great progress. The ultimate goal was a “prosperous, happy, peaceful society that would be constructed on the basis of a rational, scientific understanding of humanity.” (5)

Sounds pretty good, except for the fact that the century immediately following the height of the Enlightenment was the bloodiest century of human history. For as Middleton and Walsh say in their book Truth is Stranger than it Used to Be, the modernist quest is at its foundation an “impulse to mastery and ultimately to violence.” (6) The various executions of the Catholics, the Anabaptists, or the Reformers, depending on who held the throne of England, were the result of each monarch believing they had mastered ‘the Truth.’ The First and Second World Wars proved that even the countries most influenced by the Enlightenment could engage in tremendous amounts of needless slaughter. The holocaust demonstrated the scientifically calculated methods that an evil regime could apply to genocide. Modern advances in technology lead to the development of nuclear weapons that could eradicate millions of people at the touch of a button. Beliefs in a ‘One True Culture’, which had been ‘enlightened’, led to imperialistic oppression and colonization so the ‘savages’ could be ‘enlightened’ as well.

The development of capitalism and democracy, which was promised to ‘lift all boats’ and provide freedom for the masses only lead to an increase of global wealth disparities, social inequalities, and an oppression of a new kind. This ‘metaphysics of violence’ was the result of seeking to “grasp the infinite, irreducible complexities of the world as a unified and homogeneous totality.”(7)  As postmodern philosopher Jean-Francois Lyotard put it, the modernist quest to master the unknown has given us “as much terror as we can take.”(8)

The Island Will Not Be Mastered


In Lost, the Island is the Great Unknown that many people, time and time again, have tried to master and yet have catastrophically failed to do so. From the moment Oceanic flight 815 crashed there, we knew it was no ordinary island. It healed John Locke’s paralysis and Rose’s cancer. It was home to a polar bear, an insane French woman who had been stranded for 16 years, and a mysterious jungle-dwelling Smoke Monster that killed whomever it chose. Jack Shepherd saw visions of his dead father. The large and lovable Hurley saw his friend from the mental institution where he lived before the crash. The beautiful and strong Kate, a fugitive for killing her abusive stepfather, saw the horse that had once helped her escape the police. The Island contains ‘unique electro-magnetic properties’ that seem to be able to bend the space-time continuum. It is outside of time and thus not visible to the outside world. It requires special knowledge to find (unless Jacob, the enigmatic Island Protector, mysteriously draws one to it). It is not surprising then, that many people wanted to conquer, control, and manipulate the powers of Island for themselves. People like the DHARMA Initiative, the ‘Man in Black,’ and Charles Widmore. However, following in the footsteps of the modernist quest to master the unknown, they committed great violence upon the ‘other’, which inevitably led to their destruction.

 

Noble Hippie Scientists Turned Massacred Conquerors

The DHARMA (Department of Heuristics And Research on Material Applications) Initiative, a multi-research project founded in the 1970s, came to the Island to conduct scientific research in various disciplines that would supposedly “save the world as we know it.” The word ‘dharma’ in a Hindu context means “one’s righteous duty”, which emphasizes their belief in themselves as saviours of humanity.(9)  It was revealed in the Lost Experience, an alternate reality online game designed to engage fans and expand the storyline, that a mathematical calculation called the ‘Valenzetti Equation’ was used to predict the exact day that humanity would destroy itself through either environmental crisis or nuclear warfare. The numbers 4, 8, 15, 16, 23, and 42 – the numbers that are seen hundreds of times in various ways throughout the six seasons (on clocks, soccer jerseys, cans of soups, etc) – are explained as the numerical values to the core environmental and human factors of the Valenzetti Equation. The supposed purpose of the DHARMA Initiative was to change the numerical values of any one of the core factors in the equation in order to give humanity a chance to survive by, effectively, changing doomsday. (10) The mysterious powers of the Island would play huge role in this research, and it was these powers that the DHARMA Initiative sought to harness.  They built over 10 research stations in secret location throughout the Island for the purpose of their experiments. At ‘the Swan’ station, they drilled deep into the ground for the purpose of tapping into a pocket of electro-magnetic energy, which they were hoping to use to ‘manipulate time’, thereby giving humanity more time to survive based on their calculations.

A noble mission, one could argue – much like the original goals of the modernist project which sought to better humanity – to produce a society of order, peace, and prosperity. The DHARMA folks began as a peaceful group. They greeted each other with ‘Namaste’ meaning the ‘Divine in you greets the Divine in me.’ They lived on the Island in a sort of hippy commune and worked together to save humanity from its own destruction. They believed that their project was of utmost importance, never doubting the truth of the science behind the Valenzetti Equation. Yet like James Olthuis says, the “unity of truth is purchased only at the cost of violence, by repressing what doesn’t fit and erasing the memory of those who have questioned it.” (11) Totalizing aspirations, such as those of the DHARMA Initiative, inevitably seeks to conquer, destroy, or ‘dissolve into a homogeneous unity’ those that who are different, those who seen as ‘other.’ (12) This is precisely what happened with the DHARMA Initiative. They were not the only ones on the Island. There were original inhabitants that they called ‘the Hostiles’ (who our plane crash survivors would eventually call ‘the Others’). They had an ongoing conflict with the Hostiles and would kill or capture those that were on ‘their territory.’ Stuart Radzinsky, the controlling, determined Head of Research in the DHARMA Initiative, was so paranoid about the Hostiles discovering his plans to build ‘the Swan’ station, that he sought to kill those that he believed were ‘spies.’

Even though he was warned that drilling into the pocket of electro-magnetism would release an enormous amount of energy – like Chernobyl – Radzinsky refused to give up drilling, which caused the catastrophic ‘Incident.’ As a result, the energy was contained in tonnes of concrete, but small amounts needed to be released every 108 minutes by entering ‘the Numbers’ into a computer. Radzinsky, devastated by the cosmic failure of his research, did this job for a number of years before he shot himself in the head. The rest of the DHARMA Initiative were eventually killed by ‘the Hostiles’ in a holocaust-like genocide referred to as ‘the Purge.’ Their modernist quest to master the Island and ‘save humanity’ resulted in nothing but a bloody, horrific tragedy – much like the wars of the 20th century. Yet this was not the first time a catastrophe of this magnitude had occurred on the Island. Centuries before the DHARMA Initiative was ever founded, the Man in Black also desired to manipulate the powers of the Island.

 

Curious Boy Turned Evil Smoke Monster


He was not a trained scientist, nor did he desire to do complex experiments, nor did he seek to ‘save humanity.’ The Man in Black’s aim was simple: he wanted to leave the Island. He was born there, along with his twin brother Jacob (the ‘Man in White,’ who later became the ‘Protector of the Island’), after their mother was shipwrecked. He was raised by the woman who was the current ‘Protector of the Island.’ This woman had murdered the boys’ mother immediately after their birth so she could raise them as her own. She told him that nothing was across the sea, that the Island was all there was. When he and Jacob were young boys, she took them to a cave that contained The Light (which the DHARMA folks later would call ‘electro-magnetic energy’). But for them it was simply the warmest, most brilliant light they had ever seen. She told them that it was the ‘heart of the Island’ and it was ‘birth, death, and rebirth.’ (In Christian terms, we could say it was the ‘Alpha, Omega, and Author of Salvation’ or the ‘Light of the World.’) She told them that a little bit of this Light was inside of every person, but that they always want more. She said that she was protecting it from the dangerous people who tried to conquer and manipulate the Light. According to her, “they come, fight, corrupt, destroy; it always ends the same.” She told them that eventually her time would be up, and when she was gone, one of them would have to become the ‘Protector of the Island’ in order to protect the Light. For when people try to capture the Light, it would go out, and once it did, humanity would cease to exist.

The day that his dead birth-mother appeared to him in a vision, the Man in Black learned that the woman who had been raising him was a liar and a murderer. His real mother told him that there were many things across the sea, and that her people who had been shipwrecked on the Island lived on its other shore. Shocked and angry, the Man in Black confronted his guardian mother and told her that he was going to live with ‘the other people.’ He tried to get Jacob to join him, but Jacob did not believe his story and was loyal to his guardian mother. For the next 30 years, the Man in Black lived with the other people, who were ‘smart men who were curious about how things work.’ They discovered that there were places on the Island where ‘metal behaves strangely’ (what the DHARMA folks would call ‘electro-magnetism’). When they discovered it, they dug, and found the Light / electro-magnetic energy. The Man in Black, along with his people, had developed a system where they would ‘channel the Light and water.’ They installed a giant wheel that would harness the power of the Light, which would mysteriously transport them to another place, off the Island, and across the sea.

When Jacob told his ‘mother’ about the Man in Black’s plan to harness and manipulate the Light, she transformed herself into the Smoke Monster (13)  and murdered his entire village of people (an act which would be replicated with ‘the Purge’ of the DHARMA Initiative centuries later). Knowing that the Man in Black would seek to kill her, ‘mother’ took Jacob back to the cave of the Light and performed a ceremony that made him the new ‘Protector of the Island’. When she arrived back at her camp, the Man in Black, who would now not be able to leave the Island, murdered her in a fit of rage. Jacob arrived just in time to see his ‘mother’ stabbed to death by his brother, and angrily beat him. He then dragged him back to The Light and threw him down into the cave. This caused the Man in Black to be forever separated from his body and his spirit transformed into the Smoke Monster. His desire to control and harness The Light, no matter what his motivations were, resulted in horrific violence and a terrifying end. Just like what would happen with the DHARMA Initiative, his attempt to master the mysteries of the Island led to the Man in Black’s demise. Unfortunately, no record of this lesson would be passed on to future generations, and so history continued to repeat itself on the Island. Forty years after ‘the Purge’ of the DHARMA Initiative, Charles Widmore, a powerful industrialist living in Los Angeles, sought to find the Island and capture it for himself.

Betrayed Island-Lover Turned Ruthless Tyrant

He had once lived in peace on the Island as the leader of ‘the Others’ but had been banished by Benjamin Linus, an aspiring leader of the group, who had discovered his ‘questionable’ misconduct. Ben believed that Widmore was an unworthy leader because he was disobeying Jacob’s ‘rules.’ Once he banished Widmore from the Island, the two became mortal enemies. Widmore hired a freighter of people – a mercenary team and scientists – to find the Island and kill Ben and everyone on the Island (which at this time included our beloved plane crash survivors) so that he could resume his leadership on the Island and claim its powers for himself. Widmore’s plan to conquer the Island was systematic, ruthless, and inherently violent.
Like the DHARMA Initiative and the Man in Black, things did not end well for the power-mongering conqueror. Like the Spanish Conquistadors who sought the riches, fame, and glory of the American Continent, Widmore had no concern for the people already on the Island. He ordered his mercenaries to kill everyone, including Ben’s sixteen-year-old daughter, Alex. Though they were unsuccessful in killing everyone and capturing Ben, Alex was murdered right in front of Ben.  Enraged, he made it his purpose to take revenge on Widmore and eventually succeeded, years later, by shooting him. Widmore’s quest to master, control, and harness the powers of the Island led to much needless bloodshed, including his own.

The DHARMA Initiative, the Man in Black, and Charles Widmore, though in different time periods and with different motivations, all sought to become what Rene Descartes called “masters and possessors of nature.”(14)  They all had faith in their own rationalistic methods of harnessing the unknown which led to catastrophic violence against all the ‘other’ who did not share their totalizing worldview. The tragic stories of these characters portray the modernist’s faith in reason and science as a ‘metaphysics of violence’ that must be rejected. The Island, or The Light, will not be mastered. As an allegory for God, it will not allow itself to be domesticated, placed in a box, or submit itself to be known fully by human reason. As Lost analyst Pearson Moore insightfully suggested,

The point of Lost is that there are things completely beyond our control, completely beyond our understanding, beyond our grasp.  I like to say we are like dogs trying to read a newspaper.  We only understand a few of the black-and-white photographs.  That’s it.  The full reality of God is there in the newspaper, but we will never be able to read it, never completely understand it.(15)

This echoes the apostle Paul’s sentiment in 1 Corinthians 13:12, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully.” Human reason too limited as a means to understand the great mysteries of life, included the great mystery that is the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End, the Author of Salvation. This is not to say that we cannot know God, but this knowledge requires something much more holistic than logic, which I’ll expand upon later. This holism begins with understanding that all of our knowledge is a mere interpretation. For as we shall see in the life stories of Benjamin Linus, Eloise Hawking, and Jacob, what originally appears to be their ultimate, objective knowledge is little more than a socially constructed and limited interpretation of reality.

 

Good-bye Objectivism

Jean-Jacques Derrida

The French philosopher Jean-Jacques Derrida asserted, “There is nothing outside the text,” or in other words, “everything is an interpretation”. According to the contemporary Christian philosopher James K. A. Smith, Derrida believes that the whole concept of people being able to reach absolute, objective “Truth” is in fact a faulty epistemology that stems from modernist philosophers such as Rousseau.(16)  Rousseau believed that language prevents us from experiencing the world “as it really is.” As soon as there is language, he believed, there is a distorted interpretation of our experience. Rousseau believed that the “state of Nature” is a place of direct knowing, where mediated interpretation is not necessary; we just “know things as they are.”(17)  Like cold, hard facts that are simply “floating in space” with no connection to time, culture, or space; they somehow exist independently of everything.

James K. A. Smith

According to Smith, Derrida believes that 21st century thinkers are “Rousseaueans are heart.”  In other words, many believe that they can know things objectively, “as they really are”. For example, Smith points out that many biblical commentators believe that only with difficult texts, such as certain Scriptures and C.S. Lewis allegories, it is necessary to go through a process of interpretation in order to get the meaning behind the text. According to the commentators, the rest of the time we are “simply reading” and seeing things “as they really are” – and no interpretation is taking place. However, Derrida believes that there is never a time where we are not interpreting. (18)  Everything that we read, and more significantly, every time we use language, we are engaging in a humanly constructed, mediating process of interpretation. Here he agrees with Rousseau – language means interpretation. However, unlike Rousseau, Derrida does not believe that language is a pesky obstruction of reality, something that we need to remove or get past in order to understand things “as they really are.” Derrida believes that we can never experience things “as they really are”. Rather, “everything must be interpreted [through language] in order to be experienced.”   Thus, language/interpretation is the arena where our experience, and thus our truth, takes place. Therefore, our sense of the world, our truth, is constructed through the lens of history, culture, time, and place. This is Lost’s most powerful critique of the modernist sensibility: no one person or group of people can hold objective knowledge because there is no such thing as objective knowledge. It is all a façade, like the Wizard of Oz, a quivering little old man behind the curtain. It was a failed social experiment in the human ability to master the unknown that resulted in the most violently imperialistic atrocities of human history. Later, I will discuss how we need not throw out the concept of truth, for there are in fact more holistic and biblical ways of knowing truth than simple objectivism. In Lost, characters such as Benjamin Linus, Eloise Hawking, and Jacob, who initially appear to have ultimate knowledge, are eventually discovered to have only a socially constructed and finite perspective of reality.

Part II :

Benjamin Linus: Omnipotent Leader or Bluffing Manipulator?

Eloise Hawking: Oracle of Destiny or Student of Her Murdered Son?

Jacob: Demigod or Flawed and Lonely Mama’s Boy?

Reflection of Post-modernity: A Chaotic, Complex Cacophony of Cultural Confusion

“Come In and Get Lost!” – Honest Ed’s and the Commodification of Beliefs

Part III :

The Lord is My Jack Shephard: I Shall Not Want to Fix Everything: What the North American Church Can Learn From the Good Doctor

From System to Story

The Conclusion of the Matter

Endnotes

1 – Nathan Colquhoun. “5 Reasons Why LOST Disappointed.” Linking Life. May 24, 2010. http://www.linkinglife.com/2010/05/5-reasons-why-lost-disappointed
2 – J. Richard Middleton and Brian J. Walsh, Truth is Stranger Than It Used to Be (Downer’s Grove: Intervarsity     Press, 1995), 35.
3 – Ibid., 62.
4 -Heath White, Postmodernism 101 (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2006), 31.
5 – Ibid., 33.
6 – Middleton and Walsh, 34.
7 – Ibid., 34.
8 – Ibid., 35.
9 -Lostpedia. June 10, 2010. http://lostpedia.wikia.com/wiki/Sri_Lanka_Video
10 -Lostpedia. June 10, 2010. http://lostpedia.wikia.com/wiki/Valenzetti_Equation
11 -Middleton and Walsh, 34.
12 -Ibid., 35.
13 -We never saw her do this, but it was alluded to by the way the entire village was killed. Bloggers theorize that many years prior she must have gone into the Light herself, which caused her to become the Smoke Monster. The Smoke Monster is able to take the physical form, and all the memories of whatever dead body is on the Island.
14 -Middleton and Walsh, 34.
15 -Pearson Moore. Email to the author. May 15, 2010.
16 -James K. A. Smith, Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism? (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006), 36.
17 -Smith, Ibid.
18 -Ibid.
19 -Ibid.


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