“Come and eat.”

Perhaps the three most beautiful words imaginable, at least as the final moment in the wonderfully-imagined film, “The Locked Door” by director Zhipang Zhao. Released this year in China, I saw it tonight on my flight from Vancouver, BC back to Washington, DC. Somehow China was written into my weekend, and I wanted to see something from that world on my way home (so I downloaded it from iTunes for my viewing pleasure).

When I got off the plane Friday there was a plane full of teenagers from Beijing, in the long line waiting for the passport officials to allow us into Canada. On Saturday, during our day-long filming project with Regent College’s Marketplace Institute, a woman came up to me at lunch, introducing herself as someone who had been in a week-long course I spoke at in Shanghai three years ago. And then today I had breakfast with my friend, Mike Hsu, though long of the American Midwest, he has moved to Vancouver this year with an almost mysterious and yet very real sense of belonging among the Asian community of the Pacific Northwest. In the church he pastors, Grace Vancouver, almost half of the people have Chinese backgrounds, like Mike.

For years I have had a sense of being implicated in China. Beginning with evenings spent in the company of the Tiananmen Square survivors who had a very serious question to ask, onto an invitation to give a lecture at the Beijing Film Academy some years later, and then an invitation to speak to a group of leaders from throughout Asia, gathered in Shanghai for a week a few years after that. The stories go on. Most years I have meals with human rights activists, lawyers, professors, and journalists, who come to Washington wanting to talk about their country, and ours.

Even two weeks ago I had dinner with a man who is no longer the young man he was when I first met him when he was an undergraduate. I was impressed with him then, and suggested he apply for a fellowship that would generously support his graduate study; he did, and I wrote him a recommendation. Now 20 years later he lives in Shanghai and is all that I hoped he would be when I first began to get to know him. Serious about things worth being serious about, he has married a good woman, become a father, gained the confidence of his corporation, loves his country, and has committed himself to the life of a house church. A man in full, formed by a true sense of vocation.

“The Locked Door”? I love Chinese cinema for many reasons. At the heart of this film is a good story. There is love and longing, heartache and sorrow, the complexity of the human heart offered for our mediation, all with a brilliant cinematography full light and color– and in the end, a hint of hope.

But I am also intrigued, and always will be, because when I spoke to the graduate students at the Beijing Film Academy, my address was titled, “Good Stories and Good Societies.” There is always an integral relationship between the two, in every century and every culture. We live in light of the stories we tell. They shape our sense of self, even our social self. So the stories matter, because they will either nourish our flourishing as human beings, or they will diminish our flourishing, making us see ourselves as less than what we ought to be and can be and need to be.

Steven Garber is the Senior Fellow for Vocation and the Common Good for the M. J. Murdock Charitable Trust. A teacher of many people in many places, he continues to serve as a consultant to colleges and corporations, facilitating both individual and institutional vocation. A husband, a father and a grandfather, a he has long lived in Washington DC, living a life among family, friends, and flowers.

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