Archive for the 'Media' Category

A Pair of Jacks and a King: Reflections on LOST, 24, Failure and Friendship

Tonight is the Series Finale of LOST.  For six seasons, over 121 episodes, 87 hours, 5225 minutes, it’s come to tonight’s epic two-and-a-half hour finale.  Jack Shepard (the character the on whom women crush like they are tweens once again), has volunteered to be the candidate who will ultimately either save the island or die trying.  (Probably both, actually.  At least in one dimension of reality.)

In a couple of weeks, Jack Bauer (the character whom men crush on like boys over their first ballplayer’s autograph) will exit stage right as as well after eight seasons of 24.  I know the show has gotten formulaic – Jack is the president’s right hand man, tortures someone in the process, loses someone he loves deeply, but saves the world from World War 3.  We wonder how he could ever do another season.

I’m honestly sad.  I never really watched television regularly until I returned from Cairo nearly three years ago and needed some therapy from the horrific poverty in which I lived.  (How watching 24 is therapeutic is probably strange for most folks…but it is so addictive that I think I just needed a hit of sorts.)

I kinda hope both Jacks die tragically on screen, because they will basically die to me.  They will only be memories, but great companions in a difficult season of life that I sensed, like LOST and 24, has finally come to an end.  And they’ve reminded me about important things about failure.

For the last three years, probably the three most difficult of my life, I’ve actually come to trust these two Jacks in my hand as more than just a pair of cards waiting for the flop and river of life.  The flavors of their characters are so wonderful and complex.  I’d compare them to my favorite coffees, but that would be woefully inadequate.

Jack Bauer is the bad boy who does what’s right and never gives up…and waits for redemption.  In the beginning of this season, one of the sketchy informants comes to him and says, “You’re Jack Bauer – you’re the guy who always does the right thing.”  It’s why we love him.  Doing what was right has been very costly, but he did it anyway.

But Bauer is no angel – he’s really a bad boy. Does he do what is right? Do the ends justify the means? This is the dramatic tension of 24. For some reason, we have come not only to love a man who tortures his enemies, but implicitly trust him.  Why do we trust Jack Bauer? Because he’s experienced such epic losses, we want him to win in the end.  We want him to receive justice – that though he has done wrong, his rights outweigh his wrongs and have come at such selfless sacrifice that want him to know his job is done and he’s finished.

Jack Shepard is the good boy who does what’s wrong and finally falls short…and waits for redemption.  Of all the characters in LOST, he’s the one whose flaws are most clear to me.  He was always the good boy – the one who never really failed at anything.  Even when his marriage fell apart, it still wasn’t enough to break him.

It was when Shepard finally left the island, at the end of his rope with a god-awful bushy beard and brandy-breath that he hit rock bottom and said, “We have to go back to the island.”  This man of reason, who had been living by calculated reason his entire life, had no reason for explaining why going back to the island made any sense whatsoever.  Except that this man of science just “felt it” and was slowly becoming a man of faith.

Failure drove him to transformation.

I was recently captivated by JK Rowling’s commencement address at Harvard in 2008 where she spoke on failure. Kind of a downer of a topic for a commencement address, and something that most graduates of Harvard and other prestigious universities never really experience.  But the fringe benefits of failure placed Rowling in a place where she could truly write in a way that connected with the human experience in ways that few have achieved in our world.

Both Jack Bauer and Jack Shepard have had epic fails. The last three years, they’ve comforted me in the midst of my failures – and reminded me that failure is the crucible for transformation.  Jack Bauer lost his wife and one lover and yet another lover this season.  He has done awful things to people.  But he never, ever has given up doing what is right.  He shot and killed two of his partners and friends – because he chose to do what was right over what was popular.

Jack Shepard picked up the pieces after two bad decisions and hopes that the third time is the charm (as we will find out tonight.)  In an alternate reality, he realized he was becoming his father and has changed to reach out to his son to understand him as he was never understood by his own father.

But both of these Jacks remind me that redemption is something for which I long.  I want to make things right. As I’ve watched them, and reflected over time on these tragic heroes, I’ve realized redemption and making things right often comes counterintuitively.  It doesn’t come through what wrongs we make right. It comes when we finally let go of both our wrongs and how we’ve been wronged in order to receive and give grace.

Grace gives us peace of heart and mind, because we realize we are in greater need of a gracious King to come and trump anything we could ever conjure up ourselves.  That peace allows us to experience joy and authentically love others – in ways that our need to be powerful (like Jack Bauer) and right (like Jack Shepard) could never fully meet.

Why do we love LOST?

For the better part of the late 90’s and early 2000’s, I didn’t really watch much television other than sporting events.  I’ve always been more of a film guy.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but what annoyed me most about the silver screen was how it didn’t really have a direction – most TV isn’t really “going” somewhere. I never really got into the whole reality TV thing because, really, how close is it to reality to have a couple dozen gorgeous women pining over that guy who just says the cliche lines at the cliche times?

After I got back from Cairo in 2007, my spiritual director and I talked and she told me I needed a hobby of sorts.  Saving the world wasn’t exactly a hobby, but watching someone do it is.  So I picked up 24 and learned to see Jack Bauer do it in 24 hours.

After the other series I picked,  Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, got cancelled (it was good, but 30 Rock ended up being better) I needed another show. I picked up Arrested Development on hulu and used it to laugh after long, 12-hour days on campus that required laughter instead of drama.

(Yet another great show that got cancelled. Morons.)

After polling several friends, I took the advice of my then supervisor and picked up LOST. She absolutely adored the show and I couldn’t imagine why someone would love a show so much…but I was soon to be disproved.

I kinda wanted to start a conversation among my friends who I know are fellow LOSTies and ask you a real simple question: Why do you love the show? What about it hooked you?

I think it was the season finale of season 5 that made me consider why I enjoy the show so much.  It is the opening dialogue scene between Jacob and the Man-in-Black:

Jacob: I take it you’re here because of the ship.

Man in Black: I am. How did they find the island?

Jacob: You’ll have to ask them when they get here.

Man in Black: I don’t have to ask.  You brought them here.  You’re tring to prove me wrong, aren’t you?

Jacob: You are wrong.

Man in Black: Am I?  They come. They fight.  They destroy. They corrupt.  It always ends the same.

Jacob: It only ends once.  Anything that happens before that, is just progress.

This scene epitomizes why I love LOST.  It’s screams of parallels from Job 1 where God and “ha-satan” (we call him Satan – literally translated, “the accuser”) discuss the reason for which the righteous servant Job is obedient to God.  Ha-satan says Job serves God because He’s a cosmic gumball machine.  Give God what he wants – get what you want.  Ha-satan’s question, “Does Job fear God for nothing?” is an assault on humanity’s capacity to do what God does: give unconditional love.

Jacob goes on throughout the season finale to meet all of our LOST Favorites – Jin and Sun, John Locke, Jack, Hurley, Sayid, Kate, Juliet, and Sawyer – touching each one of them mysteriously for some reason.  It’s as if he’s been watching them, walking alongside them on their journey of encountering the ongoing threats to this one thing that we all seek to receive and give most: unconditional love.  Are they capable of this?

We hear all the buzzwords with LOST – incredible depth of character development, a plot that has a clear trajectory and a definite endpoint to which everything is converging, clear identification with the villains and the heroic flaws, the new connection with the post-postmodern generation.

I think it’s deeper than that.  Those are devices – not the stuff that makes this the best stinkin’ show I’ve ever seen.

It’s the longing that we have as human beings to make wrongs right, and wondering if the innocence that we once had could ever be recaptured again.  Jack wanting to erase the past and start over.  Sun and Kate both leaving their children, biological and adopted, to seek and save their lost loved ones. Sawyer just wanting to have the chance to do one thing right in his life. Sayid, in my opinion the most complex character of all, desiring most deeply the innocence he lost even way back when he killed a chicken to protect his younger brother.  Even Ben going straight and honest, and sharing his deep pain and anger that causes him to kill the one who…who what?

And that’s the beauty of LOST.  The longer we go, the deeper we get, the more questions we ask. It was first about a hatch with a beam of light. Now we are talking about the deeper question, is humanity capable of unconditional love?

What do you love about LOST?

Fear of Swine Flu vs. Knowledge

From graphjam.com

Courtesy of graphjam.com

Courtesy of graphjam.com

Working Together: The Whole Word to the Whole Campus

This was completed several months ago, but it was recently released by 2100 Productions, InterVarsity’s Multimedia company (who are simply awesome).

This is part of a training cirriculum we are using with students across the country in helping building authentically multiethnic ministries in colleges and universities across the country.

Enjoy!

I’m a Marvel, and I’m a DC

I cracked up when I saw last summer’s YouTube superhero promo series, but this one is just as funny.

So is this one

Man Dates Gone Mainstream: “I Love You, Man”

The second Thursday of the month is when I try to get together with my fraternity brothers (not as successful as I’d like to be) and eat at a great Chicago restaurant.  Most of the time, we laugh so hard that we can become “that annoying group of guys” where we try to leave a nicer tip because we know we could easily be seen as “those guys.” And thanks to better than average interpersonal skills, we are typically able to talk to the waitress and leave on good terms.

As I’ve interacted with a lot of circles of young men over the years, I still love my gatherings of fraternity brothers the most.  Just Thursday, we went from trying to solve the country’s economic crisis, to religion, to buffoonery and how to travel with a hangover, to farting, to the subtlties of Irish stouts, to understanding how to be a professional gambler, to education and community development.  My abdominals get a better workout than I get at the gym from laughing so hard.

But it’s interesting observation – when I go out, try to look at the gender dynamics around me.  More often than not I see larger groups of women than men, and men typically rarely congregate together without the company of women.

Anyone experience anything differently?

I’ve talked about this before, and ask any of my students I’ve mentored, but it looks like America is going to be talking a lot more about “man dates.”

(I still resolve that I did not hear either the terms “Man-Date” or “Dude-Date” before I started using this years ago – but that doesn’t matter anymore.  Totally should have copyrighted it or somethin’.)

Best quote of the preview:

“Society tells us to act civilized, but the truth is were animals, and sometimes you gotta let it out”

“Argh!”

“Respect the process”

“ARRGHHH!”

“Yeah, you feel better?

“Yeah!”

“You wanna get a corndog?”

“Yeah!!”

(Oh, and BTW, I have played Rush on Rock Band in similar fashion…T, I know you are smiling now for some reason and you don’t know why. And the fart conversation? Totally had that one too…)

I’m curious what America’s response will be. In college and post college, many men have a real hard time finding authentic friendship. I feel blessed to have some great male friends over the years – both in Christian communities as well as those outside of the church. I’m trying to get in a football league again where I can revisit the gridiron in all of it’s glory.

But I know my experience is the exception rather than the norm. Why is that?

As women have rightly gained more opportunities and are making the most of them, men often don’t know what to do with themselves. When men expected certain opportunities to be handed to them, they aren’t in the same way – which is a good thing.  But at the same time, I would argue that we haven’t advanced our understanding of male identity that can thrive in an age of feminism.  

I mean, Homer Simpson is America’s most recognizable international male figure other than the president.  Does that rub anyone else the wrong way?

I’m curious as to what conversations about genuine male friendship will happen over the course of the upcoming weeks.

Slumdog & Oscar: The Danger of “Awareness”

When Slumdog Millionaire came out in theaters, at first I was very excited to see it.  Some of the students I took to Cairo to live among the poor organized a reunion around the film so they could see it together – I couldn’t make it, so I told them to enjoy it themselves without me.

Then things with my late-Grandma Lois became the priority in my life, and seeing a movie was pretty low on the list.  Finally, I just up and saw it a couple weeks back.  I was preparing myself for it, mainly because I thought the shock value would be something that would remind me of my experience living in the slums of Cairo and continue to remind me of my commitments I’ve made to live as an agent of God’s justice, his shalom, in a broken world.

And it did. The shots in India and the subtle exposing of the caste system is something that is important.  The scene where you see the children collecting garbage and the ones who are stolen by the villain – that location could easily have been shot in Mokattam with no one knowing the difference.  

I was brought back to Mokattam once again for glimpses. The way my memory works is that emotions and imagery tap thought trails that cause me to relive experiences again.  Slumdog did that for me – it was a rush of sensations back to living among the poor, seeing their smiles and saddness, laughter and tears, sights and smells, recalling stories and statistics.

Yet at the same time, I was incredibly bothered by the overriding premise of the film that interwove itself into the gameshow, “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?”  While it is an incredibly effective device to create a sense of anticipation and excitement with the question, “Will he win?” I was more concerned that it created a false hope that people get out of this through such fanciful ideas.

Hollywood does a good job of exposing people to just enough of the problems of the world to make us feel a little more informed s0 we care a little more about what happens. But then the lights go up and we leave the half-eaten jumbo popcorn and box of raisinettes on the ground for the kid paid minimum wage to pick up, who makes more than some families combined and would be glad to enjoy the popcorn and raisinettes we leave behind.

Here is what is interesting to me: Slumdog Millionaire had a production budget of $14 million.  It has a current worldwide box office gross at $153 million.  Now, I don’t know about you, but a profit of $139 million is pretty incredible in a down worldwide economy.  I know that Slumdog has likely brought to the attention to people around the world more about child slavery, forced prostitution, human trafficking, slum communities, and other problems of the world.

But awareness is not our issue anymore. We are aware. We need more than awareness these days – we need real, tangible efforts and dollars to make real change. People need to be aware that awareness isn’t enough, and awareness without action is worse than ignorance.

I don’t know if Slumdog Millionaire is giving of their profits to end the problems they filmed and made a bunch of money on.  I hope they have. But if they haven’t, then I think it would be exploitative to get rich off of filming poverty and making a whole bunch of people feel better about themselves for becoming “more aware.”  Again, I hope this isn’t the case and would be happy to be shown otherwise.

It’s hard for me to imagine my friends in Mokattam among a group of people dressed in the best clothes they’ll ever wear, walking on red carpet with the paparatzzi, enjoying fine dining and waiting for their names to be called, walking to the podium giving an acceptance speech about how thankful they are, and then getting cut off by the orchestra in mid-sentence. The talking heads celebrate and say, “Wow, what a great movie. Such an important work.”

Important work? But what about those whom you portrayed? They don’t get picked up for red carpets and game shows, and they need our help. Do we choose to or not?  

If not, then we should really consider that our Oscars belong with the grouch in the trash. At least the real “slumdogs” could have their just reward.


May 2017
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