The man with the red chequered shirt and flat cap

After many months resisting, I finally succumbed to Netflix’s one-month free trial. There was a movie I really wanted to watch, plus I was reliably informed that there was a box-set I would enjoy. Turns out, neither of these are showing on Netflix yet.

To overcome my disappointment, I waited with baited breath to see what movies and programmes Mr Computer would suggest following a few questions on my tastes. I’d say my taste is fairly broad, ranging from action to comedy to those that really get your mind ticking…and being the somewhat reflective and sentimental type, to a good thought-provoking drama/rom-com.

Mr Computer came up with some good suggestions, and following a survey of reviews on both Netflix and Amazon I have subsequently watched a handful of thought-provoking and original movies which I would otherwise never come across.

We’re drawn to a good movie for many a reason – entertainment, rest, art, bringing people together, education, nothing else to do on a long plane journey. For me recently, what has drawn me in is the depth of insight we get into peoples’ lives – an insight which often makes it easy for us to identify with the movie’s characters. We don’t just see them sparingly and observe the way they interact with people, do their job, or their reaction when their team scores or someone accidentally spills coffee over them. We see the rhythm of their lives more closely and the extent to which life’s ebb and flow is contributing to their character and journey. We also see them when the door is shut and no one is around. It is this perspective which sometimes shows a different side to the one seen and understood by family, friends, colleagues and passers-by. We see more intimately their hopes and fears, thoughts and feelings, and what playlist they sing and dance to as they get up in the morning or make dinner.

Let’s say we’re watching a movie. It’s just begun and we’re beginning to discover who the main characters are. If one is walking down a crowded street in, say, a red chequered shirt and flat cap, our focus is on them and we follow their journey in light of the story the movie is beginning to tell. This story could be a happy and hopeful one, perhaps a sad, hidden and tragic one, or maybe it’s somewhere in between.

Whatever it may be, we’re hooked and wanting to see where their story is going. We are willing them on (assuming they’re one of the good guys, that is!).

Now let’s say we are not watching a movie, but are instead walking that same crowded street with no knowledge of anyone we are walking by. Everyone kind of blurs into one, including the man casually dressed in the red chequered shirt and flat cap, because we don’t have any prior insight into their lives that we can hook onto.Chester

In the first instance, we’re getting to know this guy, while in the second instance we know nothing to distinguish him from everyone else. On the one hand, his story is being played before our eyes, and on the other hand his story is hidden to us. Either way, this man goes on living his life. Uniquely, deeply, intricately.

The point I make here is illustrated well by the following words of Donald Miller:

‘Everybody we meet today is likely more fascinating than television. Their stories go untold for lack of a listening ear.’ 

These words struck me the moment I read them. Whilst I get that the stories shown on the movie screen often have that Hollywood edge and effect, the fact that we can so readily identify with many of their characters and stories suggests that perhaps our own are just as engaging. They’re a whole lot more important as well because they are real.

We’re drawn to the man with the red chequered shirt and flat cap on the movie screen, but just maybe that same story is being played out a lot closer to home.

I am not suggesting we should follow the lives of others with a magnifying glass and seek to know the intricacies of their past, present and future. This isn’t about intrusion. It’s more about connection, friendship and a listening ear.

I guess the nudge for me from the big screen world is that when it comes to meeting people and hanging out with them, I want to listen better and be more intentional about doings things a little differently and deeper. I want to more frequently go past the often surface-level, ‘How are you?’ and ‘How was your weekend’ and ‘What job do you do?’ (nothing wrong with these, they have their place, just they sometimes only go so far and we usually – me included! – provide the same response. ‘Yeh, good. You?’), to something which provides a broader insight into the stories people are living.

I love it when I get this broader glimpse into peoples’ lives, but there is so much opportunity out there to know more.

I want to be more intentional in coming away from the TV, the laptop, the iPhone and the impending task, to know the things that lie a little deeper beyond what the watching world sees. I want to discover who and what inspires, what perspective the world is seen, what causes so much laughter that it hurts, what stirs-up passion, what annoys and irritates, what the highlight is of an average week, what has been overcome, what was learnt, perhaps even what is difficult right now.

Kings CrossAt the beginning of my third year at Bible College a bunch of new students arrived, so there was the whole getting to know you thing going on. After a brief introduction, this one girl called Lanie asked me to share an interesting story from my life. The question took me aback. It was unexpected and it took me a while to find something somewhat interesting, but the cool thing to see was the way it really opened up a good discussion which led to multiple stories flying all over the place between quite a few of us. I’ve never forgotten that moment because of the way the conversation and relationship developed from there.

We often resonate so much with movies, not because we are following the perfect lives of people who succeed in everything and always make wise choices, but because we see in them something of our own lives – mistakes, broken relationships, conflict, pursuit of dreams, happiness, triumph over adversity, perseverance, breakthrough. Regardless of how a movie ends, simply finding a story which aligns closely with our own life is sometimes enough to draw us in, and through that lens we can often find perspective, guidance, encouragement, comfort and hope.

The thing is, such stories are all around us – in our neighbourhood, our workplace, church, families, on the street, in prisons, on the train, at the bus-stop. Where these stories lay untold, we forfeit the opportunity to connect and identify, and with that we can miss out on an opportunity to learn, encourage and stand alongside.

Not only that, giving someone the opportunity to speak can be for them a pathway towards perspective, clarity, comfort and healing. Listening is such a precious gift to give someone.

I want to hang out with the guy in the red chequered shirt and flat cap. After the usual pleasantries, I want to find out what he wanted to be when he was a kid, if he could live one day again what it would be and what’s the one song that best kicks off his day. It’ll be fun, interesting and could lead to us sharing stories that offer something more than a movie ever well.

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