After six years of shocking turns, mysterious symbols, and powerful stories, the television series Lost came to a widely watched and dissected end last month.
Fueled alike by both the passion of rabid fans who analyzed each frame for clues and casual fans drawn to the show's fascinating character, Lost was a ratings success and, more importantly, a cultural touchstone. What can we learn about preaching in the wake of Lost? What questions does this show pose to our efforts to proclaim the good news?
A Communal Experience?
Lost functioned around one basic dictum: you can't watch by yourself. For some fans, weekly watch parties meant a house full of Lost exegetes. For many others, social networking provided a means by which to dissect the latest revelations. In either case, watching Lost became a social experience meant to be shared with and ultimately enriched by interaction with others.
What might the interactive, relational, and communal aspect of watching Lost teach us about preaching? While television is typically viewed as a passive medium that we receive but to which we do not contribute, Lost flipped the script, demanding of its audience constant participation and interaction. Such interactivity, however, would have been impossible before the internet, where people with shared interests can collaborate in creating the show's cultural and personal significance.
Might the internet provide an analogous turn for preaching? How might preaching shift from a passive medium that a homiletician delivers and her audience receives to a creative collaboration of community and preacher? Some months ago, this website published an interview with church staff who had begun to use Google Wave as a tool in the development of collaborative sermons. The key here is not the use of technology so much as the deliberate attention to the questions and concerns of those we hope to reach. How might the experience of preaching change if those sitting in the pews heard their questions, concerns, and joys reflected from the pulpit? How might we propel conversation about the moving of God's Spirit in our midst beyond Sunday morning?
The End of Mass Culture?
The series finale of Lost may also signal the end of a cultural era. Even people who had never watched the show tuned in to the series finale because it was a widely acknowledged cultural event. However, the ever-increasing fragmentation of entertainment, thanks to the proliferation of broadcast channels and online media, means that it is increasingly unlikely that we are all watching the same shows or listening to the same music. Even in the case of Lost, its mass appeal is only relative; while 13.5 million viewers tuned in to watch the finale of Lost, MASH drew 106 million!
In our preaching, upon what common cultural touchstones can we rely when our consumption of media is so fragmented? Can we still assume that most of our hearers can connect with an allusion to a movie or a novel? Will references to recent cultural artifacts increasingly fall on deaf ears? Moving forward, the creation of an ecclesial culture may require more active attention to popular culture in our increasingly connected but fractured cultural landscape. Now that we can no longer assume a shared set of cultural knowledge, we may need to be more intentional about creating focal cultural "texts" around which conversation and reflection can generate.
Our Common Cultural Yearnings for Redemption and Meaning?
Whether cultural expressions merely reflect a people's spiritual yearnings or influence them directly remains an open question. A response to this question, I imagine, lies somewhere in between these two options. Lost both reflects something of our culture's spiritual state and will shape our common future.
What are the deep spiritual questions that Lost posed which reverberate with significance? Might Lost provide us a glimpse into these deep cultural anxieties? How might the show influence popular theological inquiry moving forward?
Without the assistance of long-term reflection and study, let me posit some possibilities. At its core, Lost was about the journey for redemption and forgiveness, that solitary road that the show's protagonists hoped would lead to a place of belonging. In the end, redemption in Lost was fundamentally relational. That seemingly lonely path to redemption was paved by those relationships that injected love and meaning into their lives. Redemption and forgiveness could not be found individually but only communally.
This spiritual lacuna is precisely where the gospel can intercede and be the vehicle of God's promise to make us whole.