Jun 14, 2010

I Know, I Know...

One of the most interesting thing about blogging is that you never know who is reading your stuff.  So, my recent Lost posts drew some attention, and people I don't even know have written me asking me to finsih the series and mostly, to comment on the controversial Lost finale. 

So to you, and you know who you are, even if I don't know who you are - hopefully by the end of next week.   And, for those of you who follow this blog regularly, you know that waiting for me to post a promised post is a little bit like leaving the porch light on for Jimmy Hoffa.

[Space here for you to enjoy or research the hilarity of that remark.]


May 22, 2010

Why I Like Lost - Part IV

(This is the fourth post explaining in some detail why I like the TV show Lost.   Please read the first post here, then continue with part II and III and then this list below...)

Why I Like Lost - Part IV
Alternate Reality Games

In an episode of Lost early in season 2, there is a video being watched by some of the characters and at the end, in small print we see, only for a second:

(c) The Hanso Foundation  1980  All Rights Reserved.

To date, there has been no discussion of The Hanso Foundation on the show, although, we do see advertisements for The Hanso Foundation in the backgrounds of various character flashback scenes, and we have heard the name "Hanso" now in some parts of the story.  But at the time, it was seemingly just a detail in a well crafted show.  We have come to learn since then that details like this are not mere window dressing in Lost.

A few months later, I was in an airplane and someone had left behind a major news magazine, I can't remember if it was Newsweek or Time, but one of those.  My eye caught a strange advertisement:

What?  The Hanso Foundation?  I had remembered the Lost reference and wondered what in the world I was looking at.   There is no reference to Lost in the ad, or ABC television or anything else.  Just an advertisement from "The Hanso Foundation" defending itself from the contents of some new book called Bad Twin.  Turns out, the same ad appeared is major newspapers around the world, including the New York Times.

Let's be clear:  There is no such thing as The Hanso Foundation.  But they have ads in real-life newspapers.  And, if you noticed in the ad, they have a real-life website.  So, naturally, I went to the website (it was recently taken down, I'm hoping it will come back up for the finale.)  It was the coolest website I've ever seen, rich with graphics and detail.  Numerous pages in the site detailing scientific advances being made in all sorts of areas by The Hanso Foundation.  It included real email addresses of company execs (you'd get an automated response if you emailed them) and get this, the phone number worked!  You could call up, be transferred to various departments and personnel and leave a message.  I never did get a call back...

In the real life advertisement from the fake Hanso Foundation, it criticizes a newly published booked called Bad Twin, by Gary Troup.  This book is for real.   It is in stock right now at Amazon.com.   A real-life ad from a fake organization about a real-life book.

At the time, I saw the book in Costco and I was drawn to the cover flap about the author, which reads:


Bad Twin is the highly-anticipated new novel by acclaimed mystery writer Gary Troup. Bad Twin was delivered to Hyperion just days before Troup boarded Oceanic Flight 815, which was lost in flight from Sydney, Australia to Los Angeles in September 2004. He remains missing and is presumed dead.

Oceanic Airlines is a fake airline.  Its the one that crashed on the fake island that is the setting for the fictional show Lost.  There is no flight 815.  And the people who rode on Oceanic Flight 815 also don't exist, including the author of Bad Twin, Gary Troup.

So, there is a fake organization placing real-life ads in real-life newspapers defending itself from the claims made in a real-life book written by a made-up character from a fictional TV show who died in a fake plane crash on a non-existent airline. 

Was Gary Troup on the fictional Oceanic Flight 815?  Well, rumor has it he was killed on the ground during the pilot episode by getting sucked through the engine that was still revving in all the wreckage.  However, there is only one actual reference to him.  The characters in the show organize all the wreckage and one pile is full of books.  One character, Sawyer, is often doing some reading.   It is mentioned that a manuscript for some book is found, and later we see Sawyer reading it:

This is the only reference to Bad Twin or Gary Troup in the show.  

By the way, if you take the letters "Gary Troup" and move them around, you find that his name is an anagram for "purgatory."  Are our castaways lost souls in purgatory?  Well, the writers have said no, but we'll see...

The next thing I noticed was television commercials for The Hanso Foundation, first during Lost, later on other programs on ABC.  Here's the original ad, one of several.  (Note:  DO NOT call the number on the add as today its someone else who will try to get you to change your long distance carrier.)

Then, crazy things started to happen.  Hanso Foundation people started showing up in real-life advertisements for Sprite, Jeep and other companies.  The Hanso Foundation is even listed in the credits for Mission Impossible III under "Special Thanks."

Then, the Hanso site changed.  It supposedly gets hacked, and someone from the outside is determined to expose the Hanso Foundation for its dirty deeds.  

A game begins.  

At Comic-Con, the annual comic book convention in San Diego, during a Lost forum, a woman named "Rachel Blake" stands up and starts shouting at the real-life writers and the real-life actors about the evils of the fake Hanso Foundation.  The writers and actors simply point out that the Hanso Foundation is fictional, but she presses that it is for real.  Before being taken away by security, she throws out a website URL, which was the beginning of what came to be known as "The Lost Experience."  Interestingly, the actors and writers were wearing clues for fans to discover for this game.

"The Lost Experience" is an alternate reality game (ARG) where real life fans of the show are invited into the Lost's mythical storyline to play a role.  There are numerous websites tracking how this game worked out if you want to investigate, but it was amazing.   How amazing?  Get this:  in the TV show Lost, there are candy bars called "Apollo Bars."  For The Lost Experience, real-life Apollo Bars were manufactured and placed all over the world for fans to find, giving them clues to the game. 

No kidding.  A real-life Willy Wonka contest.  The video below tells a bit of the story of the global game that was truly the most incredible game I've ever seen.


For most seasons of Lost, there have been alternate reality games, although the other ones not so big.  One year, Oceanic Airlines started putting out real-life press releases about reconstituting service.  They placed real-life billboards all over the world in each of the cities that the Lost characters come from.

Who has time for all of this?  Well, I don't know, I sure don't.  Fortunately, there were great blogs that people who apparently have time for all this would keep up so that you could follow the games and get caught up without actually playing them.

All this is to say that the ARGs brought Lost to a new level.  Its why it is an unprecedented global phenomenon.  Fans actually became part of the story.  Genius. 

Here's a television commercial for Oceanic Airlines that appeared on several TV shows and gives a URL for the game that began that season.  If you didn't know about Lost, you probably just thought it was some new airline...

.... Why I like Lost - Part V coming soon...


May 21, 2010

Why I Like Lost - Part III

(This is the third post explaining in some detail why I like the TV show Lost.   Please read the first post here, then continue with part II and then this list below...)

Why I Like Lost - Part III

The Spiritual Themes

John Locke: "Why do you find it so hard to believe?"
Jack Shepherd: "Why do you find it so easy?"
John Locke: "Its never been easy!"

I was in a Lost online forum reading posts speculating about the mysteries of the show and what it is actually about.  For some reason, this particular forum was spending lots of time debating the scientific aspects of the show, believing it is primarily a show about science fiction. 

I chimed in with my own opinion, relaying some of what I posted here in Part II, and also the issues the characters are dealing with spiritually.  You would not believe the rage I got from these folks in suggesting that the show is not actually about science, but about faith.  But I was able to prove my point, much to their dismay, by simply asking them to watch the episode conveniently entitled "Man of Science, Man of Faith."  That theme, faith vs. science, is a constant in the show, and for my friends in that forum, they reluctantly had to agree.

Spiritual themes are significant in Lost; a title itself with a spiritual meaning.  In the show, those who trust science are often proven wrong, but sometimes they are right.  Faith is put to the test in similar ways, where sometimes the faithful are rewarded, but other times, they discover they have been deceived.  The show moves along with the characters repeatedly placing their trust in each other, in themselves, in the island, in God, or in science.  This is how we live life too; it makes the show and its characters even more compelling.

Deception is a danger, both in faith and science.  In science, you have to trust that physical laws are always constant and that assembled data is correct, otherwise, you can scientifically come to a false conclusion and be deceived.  Likewise, faith requires some kind of teaching or understanding, even if you conjure up some kind of belief all by yourself, it's still contrived from some kind of attitude or experience.  But often, when our faith is misplaced, we are deceived and disaster follows.  The road to Hell is paved with good intentions, so to speak. 

Lost handles this subject very well.  The nature of deception is that while we are deceived, we don't know we are deceived, we don't believe we are deceived, we will even argue that we are not deceived.  We don't know we are deceived; that's why we are deceived.  We find out we are deceived once truth is forced upon us by the circumstances of reality and truth.  In Lost, no one is sure who to trust, or what to trust, but they are forced to make a choice and place their faith somewhere.  The great thing is, the audience also isn't sure who or what to trust.  It brings us along in the adventure that is true to life's challenges and risks. 

Another spiritual theme is free will vs. predestination.  How much control do we have in our life?  Its is all planned out for us or can we choose to change our direction?  Is our fate predetermined by God or the universe or our DNA or upbringing?  These questions have been significant in every area of human thought.  Something people have always inherently asked is, "Why am I here?"  This question is the ultimate question our heroes in the story are asking.  Are they on the island by chance or by fate?  The viewer can relate quite well to that question.

Good vs. evil?  Also a huge question.  Who is good?  Who is evil?  How can we be sure?  Is everything black and white or is there a middle road? One episode to go, and we only have this partially figured out.

Recently, one of Lost's head writers confirmed that the show is about "redemption."  Redemption is indeed the main conflict the characters are going through spiritually.   With this in mind, the show presents the audience with the basic spiritual questions people ask.  Can a person change?  Does a person have to atone for their sins, or is there forgiveness and grace out there?  Does one redeem oneself or is someone (or something) else the redeemer?  Is there a God or not?  What happens when you die?  Does anything really matter?

Again, this is compelling.  Redemption of some kind is at the heart of all religion and spiritual thought.  The characters wrestle with these issues.  They aren't even sure where they are, but they consider it may be Heaven, Hell or Purgatory or some similar place.  Their perception is driven by their attitude about past sins and decisions and whether or not they can still have value and hope and purpose.  The power of love is intertwined in each case.

Naturally, as a Christian minister, these topics and the way they are treated by the writers is very interesting to me.   I don't think the show is going to have some kind of distinctive Christian resolution, but I am very sure the writers have been to Sunday school a time or two:

Ben: "Thomas the Apostle. When Jesus wanted to return to Judea, knowing that he would probably be murdered there, Thomas said to the others, "Let us also go there and we might die with him." But Thomas was not remembered for this bravery. His claim to fame came later when he refuses to acknowledge the resurrection. He just couldn't wrap his mind around it. The story goes that he needed to touch Jesus wounds to be convinced."
Jack: "So was he?"
Ben: "Of course he was. We are all convinced sooner or later, Jack."

So, it has given me much to discuss with my friends who believe differently than I do,   A good article about Lost and faith was published in the Wall Street Journal this week.  It has a couple of significant spoilers, so don't read it if you haven't watched all through Season 5.

Here is one of my favorite scenes as a character (Locke) questions his faith.

... Why I Like Lost - Part IV - Coming Soon...


May 20, 2010

Why I Like Lost - Part II

This is the second post explaining in some detail why I like the TV show lost.   Please read the first post here, then continue with this list below...

Why I Like Lost - Part II

The Character Depth Goes Beyond the Story

"Uh, the bald guy's name is 'John Locke'?" I said to my wife.  I knew that naming a character after one of the biggest philosophers in history had to be more than just a minor oddity of the show.  It meant something.  But what are these writers doing?

Let's see.  A bunch of people stranded on an island and its looking like rescue is not coming soon, if ever.  What would that give them?  Ah, a clean slate, Tabula Rasa, as the real life John Locke would have called it.  The character John Locke relies on this philosophy and derives encouragement and confidence from it.  His view?  The survivors of Oceanic Flight 815 get a fresh start on the island;  an opportunity to start over without prejudice.  They now have free will to choose a different path because of this opportunity.

This could be the theme of the show.  Unless John Locke's postulations are wrong, then of course, some other philosophical point of view may be more relevant to our story.  Fortunately, we have a character named Desmond David Hume, whose namesake tells us about determinism, which would indicate that there is no blank slate, but instead, our destinies have already been predetermined by our environment.  Everyone was going to end up on that island one way or another, no matter what.  It was fate.

Why is this kind of thing relevant at all?  Well, see, on the island, a new society is being developed, and someone has to be in charge.  Who should the leader be?  How will the society be governed?  Who gives the orders and who follows them?  What if there is division or criminal behavior?   This new society must get developed politically somehow.  If everyone has a clean slate, then anyone could morally qualify to lead.  But if not, then people cannot escape from any sins in their past.  This will affect who leads and how.

Fortunately, a character named Rousseau is on the scene, a nod to the savvy viewer that a Social Contract (as presented by the real life philosopher named Rousseau) must be formed one way or another.  There is no way around that.  Unless of course you want anarchy, then lucky for you, we have another character named Mikhail Bakunin (aka "patchy") who creates quite a bit of chaos.  That should be expected because the real life Mikhail Bakunin was a Russian anarchist philosopher who rejected every kind of governing system and a real critic of Rousseau. 

But what if philosophy, the search for truth, is resolved by a religion?  Well good news, we have that too, especially Christian references.   We have Bible characters such as Adam and Eve, Ruth and Naomi, and perhaps more importantly, Jacob.  We even have a mysterious character who appears to have risen from the dead named "Christian Shepherd."  Isn't that a title for Jesus?  Is he the Savior or just a false Christ?  Maybe he came to seek and save what was ... 'lost'?

Perhaps we should inquire from a character named Charlotte Staples Lewis, who interestingly, shares a similar name with the famous Chronicles of Narnia writer C.S. Lewis.  The real C.S. Lewis is also a famous Christian writer, using the Narnia stories as an allegory for the Gospel.  Is Lost then an allegory for a Christian worldview?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  I think you'd get an objection to that theory from Jeremy Bentham, another character who would advocate keeping religion and government separate, if his namesake has any bearing on the discussion.  He's not much of a fan of natural law either.

Can you see how this is totally mesmerizing and addicting?  Do you know now why Lost fans are so annoying?  This can go on and on.  Turns out, most if not all characters are named after (or otherwise reference) famous philosophers, scientists, literary figures, writers, mathematicians, physicists, and Biblical characters.  It is a significant part of the Lost story.

If you haven't watched it yet, just wait until you meet Henry Gale, who shares his name with the Wizard of Oz character.  Henry Gale's character might in fact be the best television character of all time.

Oh and by the way.  If a character or two don't seem to have any reference at all to a real life person, then maybe you should take their name and enter it into an anagram server.  You might just find a clue or an idea that will make you wonder.  You may even discover that one man you think you know is really an other man.

The characters are great on their own and the exposition above isn't necessary to enjoy the show.  Each character is well developed and interesting.  Truth is, they don't stay consistent to their namesakes above anyway.  However, knowing who they are named after does add a significant element to the show and a depth that I have never seen, outside of the Bible anyway.  Its those genius writers again.

For your enjoyment, a speed drawing of our hero (?),  John Locke:

... Why I Like Lost - Part III - Coming Soon...


May 19, 2010

Why I Like Lost - Part 1

As the TV show Lost comes to a conclusion in just a few days, I thought now would be the last time to finally deliver as promised and blog about why I watch this show.   The show is impossible to watch if you haven't watched from the beginning, so you shouldn't even consider watching the finale if you aren't caught up.  Plus, if you want to enjoy the show later on DVD, it will spoil it.  So start from the beginning if you must...

Because I recognize that I am "one of those people" when it comes to Lost, I'll try to keep this as succinct as possible. 

Somewhere along the line, as I got older, I started to appreciate different kinds of art for the sake of whatever it is that makes it, well, art.  When I see a painting, I am often astonished to think how it is that the artist can take an idea and turn a blank canvas, a Tabula rasa if you will, into no simply a picture of something but also a representation of an opinion, a culture, a philosophy, a theology or an idea.  Good art makes us reflect on what matters in life and inspires the kinds of questions all humans ask themselves but often have a hard time expressing.

Storytelling is an art form.  Like any other form of art, it can be well done or it can be done poorly.  A good story includes captivating character development, compelling themes that illicit emotion because they tap into real human conflict, and thoughtful implications that do not require explicit explanation or agreement.  These things are delivered by a narrator or exposition, but through the story itself,  prompting consideration and trust from the audience.  A good story is not about how much it costs or special effects or technical achievement.  Take those things away from the movie Avatar, for example, and all you have a sophomoric tale that spoon feeds the audience and removes the need for intelligence.  A good story, on the other hand, makes a profound statement through characters and plot and dialogue and dignifies the audience rather than demeaning them.  Lost is a story that is rich in all that is the art of storytelling.

This isn't to say that it is without flaw, certainly the story shouldn't have taken certain turns.  But the reason I like Lost is because of the depth of the storytelling and the characters and its underlying themes.  It is a story about the most basic human questions about life, God, meaning, purpose and love.  All of those elements present the viewer with much to ponder about what matters most in life.  The show itself doesn't promote truth or spiritual realities, but it raises the questions that must be raised in dealing with those subjects.  For me, it has prompted real life discussion of these issues with many of my friends, and in a couple of them, life changing results.   That is good storytelling. 

So, what is so great about Lost?  I'll make a list. 

The Writing 

I have a theory.  Because of all the reality shows now on TV, Lost had at its disposal the best writers.  This is the most creative show on TV in a long time.  Its storytelling technique is brilliant and unusual.  The way the story unfolds is intricate yet riveting.   The dialogue is smart and consistent.  The show is emotionally moving and thrilling at some times.

My wife actually started watching before I did back in season one.  She doesn't normally stop everything just to watch a TV show, but in the Fall of 2004 she suddenly was totally into this new show Lost.  For all I knew, it was just another reality show with people stranded on an island, and I was surprised that she was so into it.  By the 5th week, I had to check it out, and I watched my first episode entitled "White Rabbit."

There were several things that intrigued me about this episode.  Mostly, I was surprised that my wife was not happy with me interrupting to ask questions trying to get caught up as she was watching intently, as if there was more going on than I was aware.  I didn't get it, but I knew there was something more to this show that just people stuck on an island after a three hour tour.  So I followed the rabbit down that hole and within a couple of weeks, I understood this show was special and I was hooked.

If you are thinking about watching, a warning:

A friend of mine returned from a 2 year mission trip to China and stayed at my house while we were on vacation so that he could look for work in San Diego.  He asked me if he missed anything important while he was gone, so I gave him the DVDs for seasons one and two of Lost.  He said he found himself excusing himself from appointments just so he could get back to the house and watch more Lost.  He ended up making no progress in the job search and had to plan another trip later.

That is good storytelling.

Here is how it begins...

.... Why I like Lost - Part II coming soon...


May 4, 2010

May the 4th Be With You and More Important Things to Say Today

Recently, I've received some interesting comments in the form of compliments, that while flattering, they also carry with them an implied, yet unintended, harsh criticism.  Its challenged me in various ways, causing me to make small changes that have significant impact.  It's useless to explain that in further detail as doing so would only further the problem.  Its better to just get busy blogging...

... and other things.

In my life, the urgent often overwhelms the important.  Its the nature of my job as pastor.  I suspect that is true for many people in other jobs too.  Ironically, getting done what is important actually reduces what is urgent.

When the urgent parts of my job overwhelm the important things I need to do with my family, my family suffers.   However, when I am taking care of the important with my family, there is understanding and margin for the time needed for the urgent at work when it comes up.

When I spend all day responding to the urgent at my job, the important things that I need to do, the things that can only be done my me, either don't get done or in some cases, they get done with less care than they require.  But when I get the important done first, many of the urgent things take care of themselves as people find solutions to their own issues and answers to their own questions.

Right now,  I have very urgent matters to tend to.  I have people who need my help, people who need my opinion, people who need to be angry with me, people I need to visit, and tons of people who need me to respond to their email/text/IM/Twitter/Voicemail/Facebook message...  all of that and more needs to get done right now.

But I can't let those urgent things prevent me from accomplishing some other important things.  I need to teach, to lead, to focus, to write, to study, to pray, to think and to accomplish the things that I am most gifted at and do them extremely well.  Yes, I have to get to those other things, and its not that they aren't important.  But if I don't do the former and do it well, it will generate more of the latter.  I already have more of the latter than there is time to handle.

Having fun is important too, by the way.  Leaders who don't take time for fun are no fun and will only lead others who don't have fun and that is really not fun.  You have permission to quote me on that.

So here's some fun.

Today is International Star Wars Day: May the 4th be with you.

HA!  Admit it, that's fun. 

So, while this posting may seem to be not all that important, the urgent has pushed it off for months.  And this is important.  Really.

So now, off to more important things.  The urgent will be taken care of, but it will also wait a little while longer.


Feb 2, 2010

Lost: It's About Redemption

The long wait is over. 

I know I need to explain why this is my favorite show (actually, its the only show I watch right now), but for now, a video to celebrate the beginning of Season 6. 

This is my favorite promo commercial.  While some think Lost is about science fiction, its actually a show about redemption.  How the writers will ultimately handle the issues of redemption in the story remains to be seen, but from an increasingly dark and frustrated culture, the theme is definitely one that we all need to seriously explore.