Archives for the month of: January, 2017

One of my favorite books is CS Lewis’ Till We Have Faces. The title is drawn from this quote:

I saw well why the gods do not speak openly to us, nor let us answer. Till that word can be dug out of us, why should they hear the babble that we think we mean? How can they meet us face to face till we have faces?

And to take the face analogy further, I equate the “babble” Lewis refers to in the quote above as a face mask. Many of us wear masks to hide our true faces. Sometimes we don’t even realize we’re wearing masks because it’s so habitual. It’s taxing to keep up appearances, and so easy to lose sight of what we really look like.

God wants us to face Him, no masks. We can’t have a real dialogue and connection with Him till we have faces. But it’s deep work to take the mask off, as Lewis alludes to when he writes “that word being dug out of us.” Digging implies breaking soil, and to me, involves a certain amount of pain and brokenness that is inherent in the process.

I hear the words “connection,” “vulnerability,” and “authenticity” a lot. Many people say that they want intimacy, community, and safe spaces. Do we know what we’re asking for? Are we able to provide to others what we want from them?  Are we able to take off our own masks and face them? Are we able to face them when they remove their masks? These are sacred acts. It is a privilege when someone honors us with their true face, and on that same vein, we commit a sacrilege when we are unable to honor them for this vulnerability.

I feel in this quest for creating authentic spaces, sometimes we are “faux” authentic. Like sometimes when we are in a church small group and folks are asking for prayer requests, for example. That’s supposed to be “community” and a “safe space.” But simply declaring it as a safe space does not make it one. Even setting conversation norms doesn’t make it safe — God only knows what judgments people are making but not sharing out loud. So we feel pressured to share something about ourselves that on the surface sounds vulnerable, but really isn’t. It’s not what we are truly struggling with, what keeps us up at night. We share something that no one will judge us for — like we take off one mask, but there’s still another one under there. And who can blame us — we’ve all endured past trauma from sharing too vulnerably and then being slammed for it. And if everyone is honest, there’s no real connection being made. Brene Brown says that connection necessitates vulnerability, so we can only connect to the degree we are vulnerable.

So we need to find our trusted friends…. The one or two people in our inner circle that we can open up to and know that we’ll be accepted. But it seems hard these days to find even those people. How do you figure out who you can trust without at some point becoming vulnerable to that person, and seeing what they do with that vulnerability? Vulnerability implies some level of risk.

I look forward to Heaven when we will have faces and there will be no shame.

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I loved Manchester by the Sea.

It was not colorful, fast, bright, and flashy like La La Land. It was quite the opposite. This movie was somber and gray, which is the tone that its name conveys. The story line builds in a quiet, subtle way, with a few humorous moments. We first get a long glimpse into Lee Chandler’s mundane life as a janitor at an apartment complex in Boston. And then he gets the call that his brother Joe has died, and he has to return to Manchester-by-the-Sea, a Massachusetts town which he fled years ago. He finds out that Joe appointed him trustee over Joe’s 16-year-old son, Patrick, whom he hasn’t seen in a long time.

[SPOILER ALERT]

The typical plot would then show Lee valiantly struggling to be Patrick’s guardian and resettling in Manchester-by-the-Sea. And then after hitting some bumps in the road, he would be able to thrive at parenting Patrick and to truly rise to the challenge. And at the same time, Lee would reconcile and reunite with his ex-wife. That’s the Hollywood ending.

The actual story line soberly mimics life. Lee does make a heroic effort to take responsibility of Patrick–that part is the same as the “typical” story. But Lee isn’t able to prevail over his grief and his past. His emotions continue to overwhelm him and he is still prone to starting fist fights in bars because the pain is so hard to deal with. Being back in Manchester-by-the-Sea is too traumatic and triggering. He has to humbly admit defeat and recognize the limitations of his broken heart. He returns to another janitorial job in Boston. Family friends adopt Patrick instead so that he can remain in Manchester-by-the-Sea.

However, by the end, Lee and Patrick have re-established their relationship. Lee’s heart, still broken, has healed enough to maintain and commit to this one relationship. This is realistic healing. He figuratively went from 0 to 10 mph, even though in an ideal world, we’d like him to go from 0 to 60.

Baby steps, as Bill Murray says. Baby steps.

Endings like this may not be “inspiring” or “uplifting” or “redemptive” in a way that hits you in the teeth. But it sets reasonable expectations and opens the door to hope. We promote and publicize stories with amazing happy endings, but at the same time, we often compare our own stories and are secretly disappointed in our lack of progress, because the changes aren’t immediately obvious, dramatic, or newsworthy. Change is often quiet and subtle, like Manchester by the Sea. Lee Chandler is an extremely flawed and fallen protagonist (“protagonist” is perhaps too strong a label to describe him), but there’s hope for him yet. And hope for us all.