Redemption Television: Chris Seay on The Gospel According to LOST
- 2010 15 Jan
Every once in while you stumble across the book that you feel you should have written. Or at least, that's what I thought when I saw the cover and title of Chris Seay's latest effort, The Gospel According to LOST, which happens to be about my all-time favorite television series and the Christian themes therein.
Then I was fortunate enough to read the book and speak to Chris about it, and let me assure you, he knows his stuff. Seay mines every nugget of redemptive gold from the annals of this show as it approaches its final season, and helps the reader understand that while LOST may not be a "Christian program," it's certainly a well-written, exquisitely-crafted piece of culture that explores what it means to be saved, to be redeemed, to be home, to be forgiven, to be in community... even to sometimes not know what on Earth is going on.
CW: In a nutshell, what is the Gospel as LOST records it?
Chris Seay: For Christians, we have to make two distinctions. It is The Gospel According to LOST, so these are the spiritual truths as told in this unbelieveable series. And sometimes they line up very clearly with Jesus the Liberating King. And other places they do not. So my job isn't to make all of it conform, it's to reflect on it and ultimately to believe what Jesus said: those that seek will find. So that's what I love about this show - it gets people seeking, asking questions, and hopefully finding. It isn't an endorsement of everything that happens in the show.
From time to time people pick up the book and tell me, "I thought this was gonna be just like reading the Bible." And I think, "For that, you would read the Bible." For this, you would engage people in conversations about a show that they're already watching. Having said that, I think that The Gospel According to LOST is about the yearning for redemption. There's not a full understanding of where redemption comes from, although, clearly with all the biblical metaphors in the show - the biblical narrative being woven in - there's so much there that alludes to [the Gospel], that seems to be hungry for it, but at the end of the day, [the story's about] the most broken people you can find.
In the book I compare it to another show that I watched growing up that took place on an island, where they picked very stereotypical people that you would want to be. We still use that: "Are you a Mary Ann or a Ginger kind of a guy? Are you a Professor or a Skipper? Who are you?" And you take these people that were basically very normal, beautiful, remarkable people in their own vein. LOST does the exact opposite, right? So at a time we're at war in Iraq, it includes an Iraqi soldier, plus a surgeon who's an alcoholic, and a woman who murders her father, and a mass murderer, and a man who had, I think, the most broken relationship with his father in John Locke that any of us have probably ever encountered. You just get these really deeply broken people, and clearly the ultimate story of it all is: can these people be redeemed? And for me, a person who believes that that's what Jesus came to do, believing that he came to bring shalom to all of creation, I feel like we have the answer to that. So that's a conversation I always want to be a part of.
CW: With all these diverse, broken characters thrown together, can you compare what it means to be "lost" in a scriptural sense to what you think it means on the show?
Seay: Where we find most of the term "lost" in the Scriptures is in Luke 15. Jesus tells these "lost" stories: the woman who loses a coin and turns the house upside-down to find it; the shepherd who loses a sheep and leaves the 99 behind to go and find it; the father whose son leaves and is lost as lost can be and ultimately finds his way home, broken but searching for redemption. In those "lost" stories (and you can't summarize scripture too simply, but) clearly it is about God seeking out and pursuing those that are lost and the joy of being reunited with that which God loves.
I think it is pretty similar in this story. It's not about necessarily coming home to a location, or a place, but about finding home. These people are searching for home, and maybe what they don't realize is that their very Creator is also searching after them. So I think that there are a lot of parallels there in the meaning and the way that we identify with them. The book shows that this isn't about them being geographically lost, though they clearly are, they're on an island. It's about them really searching for a spiritual home to lay their head.
CW: You mentioned earlier that LOST isn't a Christian show per se, but that there are obviously many Christian themes in the show. Of those, what do you think are the most prevalent?
Seay: Well, with every character it's different. So you have these dialogues that go on about salvation, and what that means, and whether it comes through Christ. You have characters like Eko - these broken characters - he was a drug lord who becomes a faux-Catholic priest, but still clearly doesn't understand that much about the Gospel. You've got topics like violence and others that come up repeatedly in the Scriptures. So it's hard to say; it's all there.
What I'm most curious about right now are some of the direct biblical names and the way that the story is being woven in. In the last episode of the last season we have this massive statue of an Egyptian god with these other figures like Jacob playing out in the middle of it. I think we have a story of exodus that's preparing to take place, so I'm always curious - how much does that parallel THE story of THE Exodus? I'm not really sure, but I'm excited to find out!
CW: Forgiveness is also a big theme in LOST, and in your book you talk about how some of the characters deal with the problem of guilt. What do you think LOST tells us about the role of guilt, and of being able to forgive oneself, as part of the whole process of forgiveness, absolution, and redemption?
Seay: This is one of the very basic questions that comes up at the beginning of Faith. I had a young man who's a friend who I introduced to Christ recently, invited to church; he came his first week on Easter Sunday. He comes from a very prominent, internationally-known family. He's been around church people all his life but never really heard or understood the Gospel. And one of his first questions was, "What do I do about my guilt?" He comes from a couple perspectives. One I think is, "This guilt is plaguing me, it's killing me in these sordid little ways." And so a part of me thinks, "That's gotta be bad," you want to run from it, and avoid it. Instead, part of what I have to be able to tell him is we have to face that guilt, embrace it, and then realize what Jesus has done on our behalf.
I think with all these characters what we see is them trying to deal with the guilt on their own, and it can't happen. When they can't deal with it, they run from it. So there has to be a salvation that comes in a larger form. Something bigger, something transcendent. Those of us who are followers of Christ, we know apart from a fictional story what we think that looks like. But all of these characters are looking for a real saving moment. And the struggle with guilt and the past is a big part of what drives that for all of them.
CW: In your chapter, "Life as Backgammon," you say that you see LOST on a basic level as a story about the struggle between good and evil, similar to Narnia or The Lord of the Rings. How do you explain the difficulty in LOST of sorting out good from evil? In those other stories, there's usually a pretty obvious line between them.
Seay: It's a question I purposely don't answer in the book because I'm not sure I have the answer. It's a whole lot easier to know, yeah alright, the queen who makes it always winter and never Christmas, obviously that's evil. There's no doubt about it. LOST is a lot more like our lives. Sometimes we don't know evil until we have to stare it in the face. Sometimes what we thought was evil is not so evil. It's just not quite as black-and-white, as gnostic in some ways, as we'd like to make it. That's one of the great heresies of the Christian faith, to think, "Let's just simplify the world into two categories, and we'll let the flesh be evil and the spiritual be good." Like all of us - we see this in our own hearts - even when I'm doing the right thing, I'm not always doing it for the right reasons, my motives have to be broken down. And I find that even in the good I do, there's evil present. That's what Paul talks about so much in Romans.
That's a hard thing for us to grapple with; it's not as clear-cut or as easy, it's not as easily embraced by children, for example. I'm not recommending that you get your pre-teens together and watch LOST. It will be utterly confusing for them. But I think part of entering into a stage of spiritual maturity means we begin to have the ability to grapple with these areas of gray and mystery, and try to find beauty and try to seek out good and evil where it's not quite as clear or dualistic. So I'm not sure if that's an answer or not, but that's the grand struggle of it. It's part of what I enjoy and frustrates me about the show. It's part of what I enjoy and frustrates me about my life. Sometimes I can spot evil miles away, and other times it creeps up on me and wraps me up from behind.
CW: You spend much of your book concentrating each chapter on a different character and figuring out how he or she is the "patron saint" of a different group of people. Which one was your favorite to examine?
Seay: If you would have asked me while I was writing it, almost without exception, when I was writing the chapter on that character, they were my favorite character. You just fall in love with the complexity of each one of them. Pulling away from it, hands-down the characters that I identify with the most are Jack and Eko.
Of the beautiful, remarkable paintings [of characters] that we have in the book - my friend Scott Erickson painted all those, and we've got a gallery show going up this week in our gallery here in Houston of all the paintings - I got my pick of which painting I want. Which really, it tests this question. Which character do I want staring at me in my office for the rest of my life? And for me it's Eko.
The reason I also identify with Jack so much is I think he epitomizes what it means to be the Wounded Healer, which is my favorite book of Henri Nouwen's, in terms of understanding how we heal a lot of our own woundedness. In Jack you have this great surgeon, this great healer who's also an alcoholic and is deeply broken, so I'm very drawn to Jack as well.
CW: Of the characters without chapters in your book, who is your favorite, the one you wish you'd had space to fit in? Charlie? Claire? Juliet? Miles? Widmore? Someone else?
Seay: Without a doubt it's Charlie. We just had space concerns. But for our gallery show we're going to have a painting of Charlie available as well.
CW: We've got Season Six coming up here in less than a month. What are you most looking forward to in the final season as the show ends? Is it a particular theme playing out? Is it finding out the answer to one of the mysteries we've desired the answer to for a long time? What do you most want to see?
Seay: All of it. At the end I'm like everybody - I want answers! I talk about in the book how I refuse to read spoiler websites because I don't want to be spoiled. J.J. Abrams said, "Literally the word 'spoil' means to ruin," right? I don't want to ruin the story for myself, but in due time I can't wait to know some answers. I want to know who 'Adam & Eve' are. I want to see these Egyptian parallels to the Exodus play out. I want to know if 'Esau' [a.k.a. The Man in Black] is Jacob's brother. I want to know if Kate and Sawyer end up together, what does Jack do, what happens to Aaron? Ultimately, is Ben a part of a redemptive story, or an evil plot? I could go on and on and on. All those things I can't wait to find out. I'm sure we won't find out every answer, but I'm encouraged by what the writers have said, that we can expect to have a lot of the big pieces put together for us.
Chris Seay is the pastor of Ecclesia, a progressive Christian community in Houston, Texas, recognized for exploring spiritual questions of culture and breaking new ground in art, music, and film. Chris is also the author of The Gospel According to Tony Soprano and The Gospel Reloaded. He lives in Houston with his wife, Lisa, and their four children.
To catch up with LOST or refresh your memory before the show enters its final season, check out our LOST in Translation blog at TheFish.com.