Truth in advertising: Pitching ‘Lost’ for adult education
Truth in advertising: Pitching ‘Lost’ for adult education

Lost promotional still

I’d like to think I’m living proof that you can leave behind one career for a life devoted to ministry in the Church while not altogether abandoning that critical resume line item: previous work experience.

For the better part of ten years, I worked in marketing and advertising for a film studio in Hollywood. Truth be told, I worked on static print work, like posters and newspaper ads. But you can’t work in a department of eight people like that particular creative advertising crew and not pick up a few things about cutting trailers or TV spots (to use the lingo of “the biz”).

Today, any person from age 3 to 100 has the capability to create a movie and cut a trailer or thirty-second TV ad on their home computer. No doubt you have a family member who has attempted this on Facebook. All you need to create compelling material is some experience and a little inspiration.

Enter a course at Virginia Theological Seminary on adult education, where the professor implored us to use technology and new media to design or update a model of educational material that could be used somehow in the Church.

My idea was a no-brainer, given my experience: a fun class in a parish setting might be a course on watching a movie or television program and appreciating its theological value. I call it “Reading a Text with a Theological Lens,” and the first example I thought of to illustrate this point was the television program Lost (ABC, 2004-2010).

You remember Lost, don’t you? A plane crashes on a Pacific island, a bunch of eclectic, ridiculously diverse, and sometimes sexy survivors engage in love triangles and soap operatic tensions.

But that was just how Lost was initially marketed. The pitch to the American public in the fall of 2004 made it look like The Young and the Restless crossed with Cast Away. Those lucky viewers who stuck with the show after the first season quickly realized Lost was so much more.

This was not your average island, and gradually, mysteries unfurled involving secret science projects, island hostiles called “the Others,” a hatch in the jungle, submarines, and four-toed statue remains. Those who made it to the end, however, who weren’t focused on answers to riddles (What is the island? What is the smoke monster? Will Kate choose Jack or Sawyer?), instead found a moving paean to discernment, whatever that may look like in one’s life.

Put simply, Lost had a lot on its mind, and spirituality was dead center. As the show unspooled over six seasons, a grand centuries-old battle of good and evil, life and death, and faith and science, was played out in the hearts and minds of characters we came to know and love.

Watching all of Lost is a commitment, but it can be mined for rich theological reflection and discussion, and I feel it can serve a wonderful purpose in Christian education in churches today. A class on Lost, like the experience of watching the show itself when it originally aired, would also benefit from the shared viewing experience.

It’s hard to recreate that week-to-week guessing and theorizing that Lost provoked in countless water cooler conversations during its broadcast run (especially in the Netflix binge-watching era we find ourselves in). However, maybe a well-designed class format could help with that.

And this is where Christian education can truly excel: synthesizing what we know from Scripture, tradition, how we worship, and what we experience around us in the world today.

My approach to constructing a class on Lost and its theology began like all movies and TV shows begin: with a pitch. The pitch is a trailer, and I took advantage of resources that now come for free with laptops (in this case, Apple’s iMovie), and crafted my own trailer for this proposed class.

Years of watching my colleagues edit and shape marketing messages into 0:30 TV spots and 2:30 trailers gave me an upper hand, but really my advice to any novice is to ask yourself this: What would you want to see that would entice you to participate in a class like this?

Further to that, I adopted the mentality that Lost is tough sell to some people; let me illustrate to them that it is a unique experience, and also, it is richly theological, deeply spiritual, and incredibly relevant. And it is fun.

My pitch for a class about Lost in a faith community is essentially that, together, we can uncover the truths about faith and our world that the show’s storytellers tried to share with us. The creation of my little trailer, which advertised that hypothetical class, tried to do the same thing on a smaller scale: drawing you in to the shared experience of searching for truth and having fun in the process.

Learn more on Greg’s mock-up course blog, BLOST.

Greg Millikin (@My_Tweet_Lord) is a Virginia Theological Seminary M.Div. middler from the Diocese of Los Angeles.

Editor’s note: Greg produced this trailer for educational purposes as part of a course of academic study. Any church wishing to use copyrighted material in faith formation programming should consider the many legal issues involved.

For more on church, copyright, and public performance, see Sharon Pearson’s post “Showing Movies At Church” over at Building Faith. Here’s the pitch: “Obtaining a public performance license is relatively easy and usually requires no more than a phone call.”

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