The Gospel According to Forrest Gump: An Invitation To Imagine

Twenty four years ago this past Friday, a feather floated on the big screen, dancing to a musical score in a long journey to a park bench. It landed on the checkered shirt of a man seated there, a man named Forrest ... Forrest Gump. 

I was not yet a teenager when Forrest Gump premiered in theaters. Yet my parents were willing to round up my age so I could go to the PG-13 rated movie  with them and my older sister. I felt so grown up and wise as one of the youngest people in the theater. Forrest Gump was one of those films where not only details of the movie stick with you but also details of watching the movie. I distinctly remember a moment where Forrest is in a hotel room in Washington DC at night, and he makes a phone call to security. Some men in a nearby office were digging around with flashlights. Forrest says, "They must be lookin' for a fusebox or something because them flashlights are keeping me awake." As he hangs up the phone, the camera zooms in on the notepaper on the desk: The Watergate Hotel.

I remember the theater erupting with laughter. My parents threw their heads back and exchanged knowing glances. There were a couple of claps.

I laughed because everyone else did, but I had no idea why.

What was so funny about flashlights? I remember thinking. Forrest had said many funnier things, but this had gotten one of the biggest laughs of the night.

On our way home from the movie later that night, the four of us talked nonstop about the film: both what we liked ("Lieutenant Dan got new legs") and what we disliked (the running... and the running... and seriously, is he still running?). We also asked questions to help one another connect the many dots of the 2+ hour movie.

I said, "What was so funny about that flashlight scene?"

Confused, my sister said, "What flashlight scene? What are you talking about?"

"The one at the hotel that made everyone laugh."

There was a brief silence. I don't remember who spoke first, but I realized there was a much longer answer to my question than I'd anticipated. I'd asked about flashlights, but a few minutes later I had received an important history lesson. As soon as they briefly explained to me about Watergate and President Nixon, I started laughing not because everyone else did but because I understood what it meant.

One of the reasons I think Forrest Gump is such a beloved film is that it continually asks the question, "What if?" What if this young man from Greenbow, Alabama, really was the whistleblower of the Watergate scandal? What if he did become a star college football player and ping pong champion? What if he had something to do with the development of a "fruit company"? 

Perhaps another question the film dares us to ask more often is, "Why not?" Why not believe that life is like a box of chocolates? Why not sit and make conversation at a bus stop with strangers? At the heart of the film is Forrest expressing his love to Jenny with the unspoken question, "Why not me?" Why not dare to imagine and dream that people like Forrest Gump changed the course of history?

As disciples of Jesus Christ, we can look back over our own history and ask those same questions of "What if?" and "Why not?" They are not questions of regret and excuse but rather invitations to imagine how great life's box of chocolates can be. As we study Scripture, why not insert ourselves imaginatively in the stories of our spiritual history? What if we obeyed the Word as readily as Forrest obeyed Jenny's command to run from the bullies?

In the simplicity of Forrest Gump we remember that we are already a part of something bigger than ourselves: the greatest story ever told.

all good things to each of you,

Pastor Darian