Two years ago, Barkhad Abdi drove limos in Minneapolis. Today, he is an Academy Award nominated actor for his role in the brilliant Captain Phillips.
Did I mention Captain Phillips is brilliant? Because really, it is. If you haven’t seen it, why are you still reading this? Redbox that mug. Director Paul Greengrass (United 93, The Bourne Ultimatum) is stellar and Tom Hanks is well, Tom Hanks.
You’ll also be surprised at newcomer Barkhad Abdi. Abdi lights it up as the Somali pirate who gets more than he bargained for after hijacking an American freighter. The odds of Abdi even receiving the coveted role, not to mention a nomination for Best Supporting Actor, are nearly impossible. But here he is now, ironing his new tux for the Oscars.
Born into war-torn Somalia, Abdi relocated to Yemen as a child, eventually making his way to America at the age of fourteen. After attending college, Abdi tackled numerous jobs, including driving limos, before responding to an open casting call he happened to see on television. With zero acting experience, Abdi auditioned for what he heard was a new Tom Hanks film.
Beating out nearly a thousand others actors, Abdi grabbed the role of lead antagonist in Captain Phillips. The film soared and Abdi’s acting chops stole the hearts of critics everywhere.
Will Abdi win an Oscar? I don’t know. The field is pretty stacked this year. What I am excited about is the idea that someone’s life can change in an instant. Making a living driving limos to hanging with Tom Hanks on set. Do you think he convinced Tommy to say, “Jenny”?
I thought about why Abdi’s story resonates so much with many of us. After a while, I think I found it:
We love to see unknowns become known.
Think about how this desire is portrayed in modern-day films. Do we ever cross our fingers, hoping the the popular, stuck-up jock gets the girl? Never. Do we ever root against the ragtag high school basketball team who just signed a dog named Buddy to their roster? Over your dead body.
Deep down inside, we all want to feel valued and accepted. We want to know that the people upstairs care about those of us who feel like we’re living downstairs. We long for acceptance despite our obscurity, our mistakes, our weaknesses. Film often becomes a reflection of this inward desire.
Here’s where the story of Jesus blooms in vibrant colors. The Person upstairs does care about those on the ground level. We might be a nobody, but we can be a somebody because of Somebody. That’s why all of us, regardless of our occupation, wealth index, or number of Academy Award nominations, are valuable. We all matter, from A-list celebrity to B-list dad.
I don’t know what your past is like. Maybe you were/are a terrible person. Maybe you trashed your marriage, job, or criminal record. The beauty of Jesus’s story is that he provides a direct turnaround. A chance for transformation.
If you’re examining the Christian faith, understand that it’s not just about a set a rules we adhere to. It’s an opportunity for new life. Circumstances comes and go, but God connects us with purpose and meaning. If there is a God—and I believe it’s the only thing that makes sense of our universe—then humans will experience an unfulfilled longing until they find their purpose in him.
With God, life can change in an instant. The unknowns can become known.
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