By Chris Stefanick
More than 13 million viewers tuned in for the final episode of “Lost” on Pentecost Sunday, May 23, 2010. Those 13.5 million people got a profoundly Christian message, courtesy of secular media. This led me to ponder why the non-Christian world is so much more effective at using mainstream media to evangelize than Christians are.
“Lost” never made direct mention of God, but the viewer was caught up in a profoundly Christian world. “Lost” painted the picture that this brief life is a test with eternal consequences, and that there are forces for good and evil attempting to win us over to their side. The story of the redemption all humanity desperately needs was woven through the life of every character—broken individuals given the chance to start over on a mystic island.
The story portrayed heaven as the home we’re all looking for, and a place we can only arrive at if we learn to lean on one another in our weakness. I’m particularly struck by how the show’s writers inadvertently catechized the viewer about purgatory, the place where the characters learned to “let go” so they could enter heaven. In an era where a devotion to the holy souls of purgatory has fallen out of the mainstream with so many Catholics, maybe the secular Jews who wrote “Lost” will help revive it!
“Lost” is chock-full of Catholic imagery. The story chronicles the journey of Jack Shephard through his own woundedness and longing for a father-figure until he finally becomes one himself. At the end of his redemptive saga, it becomes clear that Jack is the central “Christ-figure” of the series. He gathered the islanders and constantly put his life on the line for them. He was their doctor, their healer. He shared a spiritual drink with his successor before dying (after which he said “now you’re like me”), and was pierced in the side for his people. In the closing scene his father, aptly named “Christian Shephard,” embraced his son and led him with his friends through a Church and into the blazing light of heaven.
No Christian media outlet would have gotten away with preaching such an overtly Christian method in a way that 13.5 million would have watched. So back to my initial question, why is it that secular media does our job better than we do? Professor and screenwriter Thom Parhan offers a few reasons in his article, “Why do Heathens Make the Best Christian Films?” Among them, he points out that Christian media tends to fall short when conveying the theme we most pride ourselves on: redemption. We’re too afraid to convey real brokenness. It’s messy. It might offend. Heroes in Christian media tend to lack any duplicity, any real interior struggles, any humanness. But watching “Lost,” a shattered world can insert its own story into any one of the characters with the hope of finding the peace they found in the end.
Thom also points out that Christian filmmakers are too preoccupied with conveying a message. TV and movie dramas produced by Christians are often homilies cloaked in a silver screen. Non-Christians are better at giving an unbiased snapshot of the human experience without feeling the need to inject Christian themes. And often there is no need to inject such themes into a story because they are already there. The human story is the Christian story.
Sometimes a Christian message explodes from a story with such beauty that it impacts millions. This is the case with great films like “The Mission,” “Dead Man Walking,” “The Crucible,” “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, and countless others. These stories weren’t delivery devices for a message—created to lead to an altar call. Rather, the messages were in the DNA of the stories, just like real life. As with “Lost,” there is no perceived agenda. Compare these films with those produced by the evangelists. As much as I applaud their efforts, there is simply no comparison. Christian media usually ends up preaching to the choir.
During a “Lost” finale wrap up on “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” sitting among the teary-eyed fans was the overtly satanic (in his case it’s not just an act) rocker, Marilyn Manson. Apparently a big fan of “Lost,” he had just soaked in the profoundly Christian message for six seasons. For the first time I had hope that this fallen man might convert to Christianity; but if he does, we’ll have Hollywood to thank for it!
Speaker and author Christopher Stefanick is director of Youth, Young Adult and Campus Ministry for the Denver Archdiocese. Visit www.chris-stefanick.com.
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