Monday, May 24, 2010

Lost in Lost

Okay, I admit it – I got sucked into Lost. A couple of years ago I watched a few episodes from the first season and got hooked. I went out and bought all the seasons on DVD and immersed myself in the storyline preparing for the new season that year.

It didn’t matter that it didn’t make sense. It was terrific storytelling and we were told the writers had it all mapped out. In fact, it was so well mapped out, we were led to believe, that the season of the writer’s strike, they were upset that some of the plot development from that season would not get in, or would be rushed.

This gave me comfort. So, I could live with my confusion. After all, I knew one day it would all fall into place – the writers had it all plotted out. One day all would be revealed and I would be able to say, “So, that’s why the polar bear was there; that’s where the smoke monster came from.”

So, here I sit after the series finale – my hopes dashed. It turns out it was all a sham. There are no real answers; in fact, it doesn’t appear there was a “real” story. It seemed left open to my, yours, their, interpretation as to what it all meant.

We are left to debate what the smoke monster represented, why the polar bear was there, whether or not anyone even survived the crash. For that matter, was there even a crash at all; or was this just a group of the dearly departed (and we’re not talking airline departure, but deceased) sitting around collectively creating an imaginary plane crash so they could create an imaginary island, ultimately realizing they were all dead so they could move on to the next point?

In the end, this was just an overly drawn out storyline (creatively presented, though it was) to get to a spiritual punch line, rooted in Eastern religions. The spiritual undertones were always there. After all, the “Dharma Initiative” is clearly drawn from Hinduism and Buddhism. So, I am not surprised that the finale would have spiritual dimensions. What surprised me is that the writers decided to wrap everything up in a neat little far eastern worldview that really didn’t say anything.

Among the final scenes in the Church, Jack stands by his father’s casket and behind him is a stained glass window. Each pane contains the symbol of a world religion. The lower left pane is a wheel with spokes (like a wagon wheel), a symbol commonly used by new agers to explain that all religions lead to the same God. The hub of the wheel represents God and the spokes are the various religions. This, it appears, was the secret of Lost.

Recent polling indicates that about 25% of Americans hold some version of this view of religion and God. As such, there are probably quite a few folks who are perfectly happy with the way it all turned out. However, for this viewer, the conclusion was as senseless as the spiritual theories it espoused.

When Seinfeld premiered, we were told it was a story about nothing and we bought into it and enjoyed the ride. Perhaps, if the Lost creators had just told us up front this was a story about nothing I would not feel so much like I had been savoring over a menu filled with wonderful meals, only to be told the kitchen is closed. In such a case, I might be left to try and concoct my own meal with the ingredients available to me, as I have been left to do with Lost.

In the end I must try and piece it all together myself, as must you. No doubt we will draw different meanings and interpretations of the series. And, from the show’s creators’ perspective, I am sure that is okay. After all, the eastern spirituality espoused in the show holds that there are no absolute truths. You have your truth and I have mine.

Make sense? Of course not.

So, in the final analysis we have a group of characters, who may never have been alive at any point in the series, living in an illusionary world of their own making until such time as they can find one another and come to the collective understanding they are all, in fact dead. Upon reaching such point they can then move on with their…er, life – now my head is really spinning – or, next life (can you spell REINCARNATION).

If you haven’t been watching Lost this probably didn’t make any sense to you. Don’t worry, I watched every single episode and, as you can tell, it doesn’t make sense to me either.

For those of you who enjoyed it and love the ending, I am glad for you. As for me, while the journey was quite enjoyable, upon reaching the destination it turned out to be a road that should have been less traveled. Well, that's my truth anyway.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Top Ten Shifts in Faith Beliefs

It is not unusual for someone to ask me what I think are the biggest or most important shifts in faith-beliefs that have occurred in recent years. Answering this question usually leads to an interesting discussion about where we are as a society as regards religious, or “spiritual”, issues. Following is my “Top Ten” list for your consideration and discussion.

1. God doesn’t exist/isn’t real/is dead.
2. There are many gods, or perhaps one God who expresses himself, or itself in many different forms.
3. Many/all religions lead to eternal life, or to the same God – they just have different understandings of who, or what, God is.
4. All religions, basically, teach the same truths, perhaps, with a little variation.
5. The Bible is not God’s word but just another book.
6. Jesus was a great teacher or prophet, but he was not God in the flesh.
7. The universe and man came about through evolution.
8. When a person dies they come back again as another person, or thing, through reincarnation.
9. Man can save himself, or participates in his salvation through good works.
10. There are no absolute truths

If you are interested in reading the statistics behind this list, read our article, Top Ten Spiritual Truth-Shifts.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

To Pray or Not to Pray by Jeff Sutherland

Thursday May 6 marks one of the most controversial days in the history of our country. Doubtful our founding fathers would believe a National Day of Prayer could cause such division among us.

Our first President George Washington pleaded with the colonists to pray for Congress as they established our Constitution. At that writing, Thomas Jefferson was instrumental yet some would say he actually began the argument by writing to a group of Baptists agreeing with them that a separation of civil government from concerns of religious doctrine and practice were important. Jefferson writes: "...I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between Church and State."

And the battle has raged ever since 1802. No one who reads the Federalist Papers, our Constitution, and other founding documents with a critical eye would say George Washington and the “Freedom from Religion” people think the same thing. In 1776 the fear was that our new government would start a ‘church of America’ forcing the colonists to accept the government’s way of worship.

That is one hundred eighty degrees from what the National Day of Prayer was meant to be. The National Day of Prayer was signed into law by Harry Truman in 1952 and Ronald Reagan made the day a permanent annual event on the first Thursday in May in 1988. Last year President Obama used the day to say, “America is no longer a Christian nation.”

This year the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the America free thought organization filed a lawsuit in Madison Wisconsin arguing the National Day of Prayer was unconstitutional and federal judge Barbara Crabb agreed saying "It goes beyond mere 'acknowledgment' of religion because its sole purpose is to encourage all citizens to engage in prayer, an inherently religious exercise that serves no secular function in this context," adding in a CBS news interview, the Day of Prayer violates the First Amendment's establishment clause, which bans the creation of a "law respecting an establishment of religion" in the Constitution. She backtracked adding, there was no law preventing Americans from praying or organizing non-governmental days of prayer, and wrote this: "I understand that many may disagree with that conclusion and some may even view it as a criticism of prayer or those who pray. That is unfortunate. A determination that the government may not endorse a religious message is not a determination that the message itself is harmful, unimportant or undeserving of dissemination." View CBS News Story

Crabb also wrote, "it is because the nature of prayer is so personal and can have such a powerful effect on a community that the government may not use its authority to try to influence an individual's decision whether and when to pray."

Interestingly, according to many church by-laws and beliefs of many Baptists and other denominations today, they agree wholeheartedly with the Freedom From Religion Organization and Judge Crabb.

While at first glance it seems Thomas Jefferson and the first colonial Baptists would agree with the Freedom From Religion Organization, Judge Crabb. Many of today’s Americans including church members say God and government should never mix. Indeed the atheists and agnostics who formed Freedom From Religion believe that religion should not be tolerated in any manner in our society. According to one of their surveys, 22% of 22,000 freshman college students said their preference was ‘no religion’. Roman Catholic was the only higher answer at 26%. So maybe Obama was right in saying America is indeed no longer a Christian nation.

This year’s National Day of Prayer is to be held at the Pentagon where there was a call to invite Franklin Graham, honorary chairman for the National Day of Prayer and son of evangelist Billy Graham. Protests started from Muslim and other Pentagon workers stemming from Graham’s statements following 9/11 that Islam "is a very evil and wicked religion. Adding that "I am not on a crusade against Muslims. I love the Muslim people . . . I want them to know that they don't have to die in a car bomb, don't have to die in some kind of holy war to be accepted by God. But it's through faith in Jesus Christ and Christ alone."

In an interview on Fox News with Gretchen Carlson, Graham spoke openly about his comments on Islam. He made it clear he had nothing against the Muslim people but he did have a point to make with them. He said you don’t have to die in a car bomb or do any other ‘heroic’ suicide. In the Islamic faith you have to be good enough to die or kill others of a different faith to be assured your place in heaven but in Christianity it is very different. In fact it is the only religion where things are the other way around. God sent His perfect Son to die so you, by believing, can be in relationship with Him. You can’t be good enough. He was.

The National Day of Prayer will happen this year. The festivities will be held at the Pentagon but the speakers will be Muslim, Buddhists and basically anyone else except Evangelical Christians, for they are different. Like Franklin Graham, they are cast as being intolerant of others beliefs; claiming that Jesus Christ is the only truth, the only way to heaven. Imagine!

On this National Day of Prayer, say a prayer for our leaders who make decisions for us that they may look to Him for guidance. Pray for our military as they fight for the freedom of, both those who believe in God and those in Madison Wisconsin who believe there should be no religion. Pray for our churches to boldly make a difference in their communities and with their members, growing them to reach out. Pray for our judges who decide how the laws should be interpreted that they know the true Judge and His ways. Pray for our ministries like Crosswinds. They know the power of those prayers.