What I found in “Lost”

By Peter M. Carey

I am a big fan of the television show “Lost.” If anyone doesn’t know by now, the set-up of this show is that a jet airplane crashes on an island in the middle of the Pacific, and when no rescue happens, the passengers have to contend with surviving on an island that is increasingly dangerous, and mysterious. What begins, perhaps, as a 21st century Gilligan’s Island, develops into a far more complex, interesting, and confounding story. I have spent a great deal of time reflecting on Lost, and was very interested that in a recent Speaking of Faith broadcast on NPR, Krista Tippett discussed “Lost” among other television shows as a “Parable of our Times.”

There is one aspect in particular which has been quite instructive to me as I continue my ministry in the church. I am interested in the ways that the creators of the series have chosen to reveal the back-story of each survivor on the Island. At first, the viewer is merely observant of behavior and dialogue of characters stuck on this island. However, as time goes by, like an onion being peeled, we are treated to see the stories of each of these characters. The viewer sees how one character ends up in the custody of a federal marshal, how another character becomes a priest without ordination, how another loses, and regains, use of his legs, and how another becomes a multi-millionaire. Several episodes are dedicated to tell the story of a different survivor, bouncing back and forth between the present and the past.

Of course, the world view, behavior, and attitudes of each of the characters is formed in part by their history. They are not blank slates. They each bring their history and their “baggage” with them. As the series has moved through the various seasons, the writers have also been courageous enough to allow the characters to be formed and changed by one another. The selfish thief begins to show leadership qualities, the recovering drug addict shows selfless love for his friends, and a diverse and eclectic group is transformed.

There are many ways to reflect upon this rich television show, but what I have found most helpful as I have entered into a new church community is the ways that each member of our church has many layers, and has a history that is fascinating to discover. We each have our stories which inform who we are both in ways we are proud and in ways that we are not. We all bring our gifts and our baggage with us wherever we go. Recognizing this fact can help inform the way that we treat each other and the way that we treat ourselves! Our history does not define us in total, but it certainly affects who we are.

When I have the patience to really sit and hear someone’s story I am treated to their own “backstory” which, of course, informs their world view, behavior and attitude. At times, I wish it were easier to learn these stories, but, of course it takes patience, presence and prayer to open up a space to listen. Of course, we each have our stories (including pastors and priests), and we are also formed, in part by our own history.

Like the individuals washed up on the beach, each of us enters a church for the first time as strangers, maybe sometimes feeling out of place in a strange land. At times, this feeling of being lost can also occur over and over after we experience tragedy, doubt, or grief. As people of faith, when we have the courage to listen, and to share, we are no longer “Lost” strangers on the beach, but persons in communion with God and one another. When the church is at its best, we allow people to share their stories, and we offer friendship and love both “because of” and “in spite of” our stories.

The Rev. Peter M. Carey is associate rector at Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Greenwood, Virginia. He blogs at Santos Woodcarving Popsicles.

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