Being Human: A Stunt Documentary That Reminds Us We’re All Needy

Johnathan Kana

When Tim Owens lost his lucrative, director-level job with a major media company, he did what any self-respecting executive might do in such a situation. He cashed his final paycheck and gave it all away—to complete strangers.

That isn't normal, you say? Just wait. It gets better.

Owens wanted to do something memorable, so he came up with a provocative idea. He posed as a homeless panhandler at a busy Phoenix intersection, freely offering a crisp $50 bill to any passing driver who would roll down the window and accept it from him. He secretly recorded the interactions and turned the footage into a self-produced, five-minute documentary called Being Human. The video has garnered a considerable following and was featured at USA Today earlier this month.

If you haven't seen it yet, you should. It’s a delightful, paradigm-inverting piece of work that’s well worth sharing, especially among Christians. It’s also a timely reminder that, particularly when it comes to our regard for others, appearances can be deceiving—and sometimes our greatest blessings come in disguise.

In the video, drivers are predictably bewildered as this unkempt, ostensibly destitute man approaches their vehicles, turning away their loose change, and offering them his money instead. “My needs are met,” he repeatedly insists. “This is for you. I'm not kidding!” Some smile broadly and gladly receive the handout. Others require a little convincing, cautiously accepting the cash through a partially open window. A few simply won’t oblige—and they’re literally poorer for it.

We’re not exactly good at recognizing blessings in unexpected places.

Yet who can blame them? Ours is a pervasively skeptical culture, and we’re not exactly good at recognizing blessings in unexpected places. In fact, I suspect that if Jesus were to come in the flesh today as he did two millennia ago, people would treat him the same way they treated Owens. Some, like Zacchaeus, would eagerly roll down the window and start a conversation. Others, like Nicodemus or Joseph of Arimathea, would cautiously interact with him through a crack in the window. But most, I fear, would casually lock the doors and stare straight ahead to avoid making eye contact—wholly unaware of the enormous gift they were forfeiting in the process.

In an especially poignant reflection, Owens describes watching for worn-out-looking vehicles that obviously didn’t have air conditioning. “Those were the easiest ones to approach,” he says, “because they couldn’t roll up their window and tell me no.” I like that, because our Savior so often comes to us the same way—in our weakest moments, when we’re too broken to refuse. It makes me wonder how many times I’ve been the one in the Lexus, running behind on my way to work, waving Jesus off when he wants to share my burdens. “Not today, thank you!”

I don’t want to be that driver. Perhaps that’s why Being Human seems like more than just another piece of “feel-good” Internet fodder. When I watch it, I see a parable of the gospel (and of our response). It’s less about being human and more about the God who became human—and turned our world upside down.

Topics: Movies, Culture At Large, Arts & Leisure