Thoughts on Vulnerability


Recently I was reflecting on my friendships. As a definite introvert, it takes a while for me to warm up to people. I tend to be a very private person and have trouble letting people in. However, the relationships that I have with my closest friends tend to be very deep, meaningful, and authentic. As I thought about how each of those friendships developed, I noticed a key theme: vulnerability. All of my closest friendships deepened through mutual sharing of struggles, fears, pain, and disappointments. From my experience, vulnerability is the glue that cements deep and authentic friendship.

However, I think that our culture is especially terrified of vulnerability. We tend to present ourselves as idealized versions of the people we truly are. Our social media profiles show snapshots of all the best moments of our lives, but fail to show our disappointments, anxieties, and insecurities. Most of our relationships only reach a surface level, stopping just short of true intimacy and closeness. I think that pride is the biggest culprit. We want people to be impressed with us, so we carefully construct idealized but false images of ourselves that keep people from discovering who we really are. Our pride makes us lonely-unseen and unknown.

Fear is another culprit. Vulnerability is dangerous. When we authentically share ourselves with others, we risk rejection and disapproval. I think that most people have had these experiences at some point. The Enemy tries to use painful memories of rejection to keep us from risking vulnerability again.

The Lord has recently been chipping away my own fear of vulnerability in a surprising, but simple way. I’ve been a Christian for most of my life, but the reality of God’s love for me has often been more of a mental understanding than a practical experience in my life. As I’ve experienced more and more the reality of God’s unconditional love, I’ve had greater courage to risk vulnerability with the people in my life. God sees me as I truly am. He knows ever insecurity, understands every anxiety, and mourns with me over every disappointment in my life. He knows every sinful thought and impure motive. He is intimately acquainted with every aspect of my life that I carefully hide from others. Yet he loves me deeply and unconditionally.

The love of Jesus frees me to be vulnerable.

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Why I Love La La Land 

Those who know me well know that this movie has become an obsession. Let’s be honest, it’s more than an obsession. I have become a bit of a La La Land evangelist as I’ve tried to convince many friends and family members that they need to see this movie. La La Land is the only movie I’ve ever seen in theaters 4 times. It is the only movie I’ve ever pre-ordered online. In fact, La La Land may have surpassed the Lord of the Rings trilogy (gasp!) as my favorite movie of all time. When I try to explain to people why I love this movie, I tend to have trouble articulating myself. Writing is always easier for me. So without further ado, here are the reasons that La La Land has captured my heart (Beware, spoilers abound!):

Compelling Themes: Numerous themes are portrayed throughout the movie including timeless love, the artist’s struggle, sacrifice, nostalgia, and many others. However, the theme that stands out to me the most is the conflict between idealism and reality.  This story is about Mia and Sebastian, two dreamers who consistently brush up against reality.  La La Land has so many magical moments that end disappointingly. For example, the movie starts with a glorious musical number, with drivers in LA traffic singing and dancing on top of their cars, and ends abruptly with loud honking horns. After an upbeat musical number at a glittering LA party, Mia returns to her car to find that it has been towed. Mia enters a restaurant and listens to Sebastian play a beautiful song that will be significant for them throughout the rest of the movie. However, this scene ends with Sebastian rudely brushing past Mia when she approaches him. After singing and dancing to “A Lovely Night”, Mia and Sebastian are about to kiss when Mia’s cell phone rings.  In my opinion, this movie shows that part of the beauty in life is the struggles we experience when things don’t go perfectly. This is underscored by the fact that Mia and Sebastian don’t end up together at the end of the story. In the ending montage we see what could have been if everything had gone “right”. Although in this alternate reality Mia and Sebastian technically end up together, the story loses its richness. Their story was so beautiful because of the struggles they went through and the disappointments they experienced. As an idealist myself, I resonate with their experiences and find myself in their story.

The Four Seasons Motif: This motif gives the  film a cyclical structure, beginning and ending with winter. As the viewer, it’s interesting to see how the plot corresponds with each season. In my opinion, the four seasons are symbolic of Mia and Sebastian’s relationship and the pursuit of their dreams.

Winter: La La Land begins with both characters facing discouragement. Mia tries out for numerous auditions, but is consistently rejected. She then attends a flashy Hollywood party where she is clearly very out of place and doesn’t belong. Sebastian’s sister visits his unimpressive apartment and nags him about his unpaid bills. He then returns to the job he hates, playing cheesy Christmas tunes at a restaurant. Mia and Sebastian’s relationship with each other also has a slow start. They see each other for the first time in a traffic jam where Mia flips him off. Their second chance encounter is in the restaurant where Sebastian is playing piano and he completely ignores Mia.

Spring: This is my favorite season of the movie. Spring symbolizes the blossoming of their romance and is full of fun and flirtatious moments when they meet again at a Hollywood party. It includes the delightful “Lovely Night” song where they sing about how “wrong” they are for each other while obviously falling in love. This season ends with their glorious dance among the stars at the Griffith Observatory and their first kiss. Spring also symbolizes the blossoming of their individual passions (Jazz and acting). As they get to know one another, Mia and Sebastian encourage each other to take risks and pursue those passions wholeheartedly.

Summer: Summer is the pinnacle of Mia and Sebastian’s relationship. It begins with an upbeat, fast-paced montage chronicling these months of their relationship. The fast-paced music emphasizes the fast-paced nature of their relationship. They are hopeless romantics falling head over heels in love. At the same time, Mia works on her one woman show and Sebastian joins a Jazz band and experiences great success.  This season is the height of their relationship and their individual artistic pursuits.

Fall: Fall introduces a sense of foreboding that all may not turn out as they hope. Mia and Sebastian start to grow apart as they are both so busy with their own work. Especially memorable is their fight at dinner when Mia confronts Sebastian for selling out on his dream of opening his own Jazz club in order to be in a successful band. Equally heartbreaking is the scene where Mia performs her one woman show and only a few people show up, Sebastian not being one of them. After Mia’s audition they go their separate ways, recognizing that if they really want to pursue their dreams, they may lose their relationship.

Winter: The movie cycles back to winter where once again, Mia and Sebastian aren’t together. Sebastian is the owner of Seb’s, a Jazz club that is doing well. Mia is a successful actress who is now married to another man. They see each other once again by chance in Sebastian’s club. A gorgeous ending montage shows what could have happpended if they stayed together and everything had turned out perfectly. But at the end of this idealistic montage, the reality is that they are not together.

Stunning Cinematography: La La Land is shot in CinemaScope like old Hollywood movies and the result is breathtaking. The world of LA as seen through Mia and Sebastian’s eyes is colorful, vibrant, and utterly magical. The use of color is worth noting in is film. The screen is filled with bold, colorful costumes and gorgeous sunsets in vibrant hues. I also find it interesting that the colors start out brighter at the start of the movie and become more neutral as the movie progresses and the characters face disolussionment and disappointment. What is most impressive about this film is the number of single takes including the opening number “Another Day of Sun” and  “A Lovely Night”. These single take shots make you feel like you are there in the moment with the characters as opposed to the quick cuts in most films today that feel disjointed. I respect the effort put into this film and how they refused to cut corners.

Masterful Writing and Directing: Director and writer Damian Chazelle is only 32 years old, but he has created a masterpiece. The script is interesting, authentic, and never feels trite or cheesy. In my opinion, the pace of the movie is perfect. Not for one moment did I feel that it dragged, as each scene felt necessary to the storyline. The directing throughout the whole movie is incredible, but most impressive is the opening number “Another Day of Sun”. This song takes place on an LA freeway during rush hour traffic and includes hundreds of people singing and dancing on top of their cars. I cannot even imagine how difficult this scene must have been to film. Especially impressive is the end of the song where everyone gets back into their cars and closes their car doors at the exact same moment! This scene alone is enough of a reason to watch this film!

Gorgeous Sountrack: The music of La La Land does not disappoint. I appreciate the variety of songs.  Some are immensely joyful and playful (“Another Day of Sun” and “Someone in the Crowd”) while others are more melancholy and moving (“City of Stars”, “Audition: The Fools Who Dream”, and “Mia and Sebastian’s Theme”). I immediately fell in love with almost every song. The only song I didn’t care for was “Start a Fire”, the song Sebastian plays with Keith’s Jazz band.  However, I appreciated this song in how it showed that Sebastian was not being true to himself and the clasic Jazz he valued. My favorite song is “Mia and Sebastian’s Theme”. I love how this song reoccurs throughout the movie as a reminder to them of each other.

Nuanced Acting: Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are perfect in their respective parts. Emma plays Mia with vulnerability, strength, and authenticity. I feel that she more than deserved her oscar for best actress. Additionally, her performance in “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” is so vulnerable and sincere. I also surprisingly enjoyed Ryan Gosling’s performance as Sebastian. I’ve never really cared for him as an actor, but feel that he brings a passion, enthusiasm, and overall likability to his character. What really stands out to me is his comedic timing. His presence in the movie adds just the right amount of comic relief. Especially impressive is his piano playing which he learned for the movie.

Effortless Chemistry: Emma and Ryan are great alone, but their chemistry together is so infectious. I know that they have already been love interests in a couple of other movies. As a result, their chemistry is so believable. You can’t help but fall in love with them as a couple and root for them throughout the movie. In the second to final scene they sit on a bench at the Griffith Observatory where they first fell in love. As they get ready to go their separate ways they both declare that they will always love each other. These lines could easily feel trite or induce eye rolling. However, because of the near perfect chemistry between the two leads, these lines are surprisingly believable and heart wrenching.

Each Character’s Passion: Both characters are deeply passionate. It’s moving to see them share with one another their respective passions.  One of my favorite scenes is when Mia and Sebastian walk through the Warner Brother’s lot and Mia shares about how her aunt was an actress and used to watch old movies with her. She remembers falling in love with film and putting on plays as a child. Another favorite scene is when Sebastian and Mia sit in a Jazz club and he explains with great enthusiasm the history of Jazz. It’s almost hilarious how over the top excited he is and his enthusiasm is contagious

The Bitersweet Ending:  In my opinion the ending is the best part of La La Land. I have talked to many people who outright hated it, but I honestly loved it. Endings are so important to me. A fabulous movie or tv show can be spoiled if the ending doesn’t sit right. While I do love a happy ending, I often feel frustrated when an ending is too perfect. That’s just not reality. In a way La La Land does have a happy ending. Mia and Sebastian both pursue their dreams and are successful. I don’t sense that either of them regrets following their dreams at the end of the movie. Instead they are both left with the bittersweet truth that fully pursuing your dreams often requires sacrifice. The look they share at the end of the movie as Mia leaves Sebastian’s Jazz club is easily my favorite part. When you look back at the rest of their story, you realize that everything had been building to this moment. Their silent look says so much because of all that they’ve been through together. The ending is tragic and beautiful at the same time. I would describe it as perfectly imperfect.

Silence and Solitude

I’ve been realizing lately just how much I seek out distraction. I regularly complain about how busy I am and how I wish I had time to reflect and process what’s going on in my life. However, when I finally get that time, I quickly fill it with distraction- Facebook, Netflix, or another mind-numbing drug of choice. Sometimes facing what’s going on inside is just too hard. I’m scared of what I’ll find if I truly stop and listen to what my soul is telling me.

I think that this is one of the greatest blind spots of our culture currently. Technology has created the ability for unceasing distraction from all of the things we don’t want to face. In a moment we can call, Skype, text, or FaceTime a friend so that we never have to be alone. We can find out anything we want to know in seconds via the internet. And if our own lives feel too depressing, we can get lost in another world for hours binge watching a show on Netflix. Sometimes escapism is so much easier than facing what’s really going on inside of us.

However, I’m learning just how much my soul needs silence and solitude. I need time alone with just myself and God to remember who I am and how God sees me. In silence and solitude I realize just how much I need God and how I’ve been trying to satisfy myself with everything but him.

The cure for my restless, anxious heart isn’t escapism and distraction, but rather engagement with God in the quiet place.

My Favorite Quote

“The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning. And as he spoke, he no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us, this is the end of all the stories, and we can truly say they lived happily ever after. But for them, it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had been only the cover and the title page. Now at last they were beginning Chapter 1 of the Great Story which no one on earth has ever read, which goes on forever, in which every chapter is better than the one before.” 

C.S. Lewis “The Last Battle”

This is one of my favorite quotes of all time. For a while I had this passage on my mirror and I would read it daily. I love how beautifully it describes the hope of heaven.

Sadly the good things we experience on earth tend to have little permanence. Loved ones pass away unexpectedly. Friends move in and out of our lives.  People get sick with cancer. Marriages end in divorce. Even simple joys like the weekend or vacation quickly come to an end. I always feel restless the last day of summer vacation because I know I’m about to return to the stress of real life. My soul longs for permanence, for the good things in life to last.

It’s so encouraging to know that life will not always be this way.  One day we will step into a new reality where “every chapter is better than the one before”. What a glorious thought! The good things in life will one day be permanent.

Gracious 

As a teacher, it’s that time of year where life feels especially overwhelming. Paperwork. Deadlines. End of year assessments. A shortage of student supplies that were so abundant at the start of the year. Messy, crammed desks and book boxes. Dreaded state testing. Antsy kiddos very much ready for summer break. Tired teachers equally ready for said break! Most discouraging, though, is that sense of failure that my perfectionist self so readily experiences. I look back over the year and see all the flaws and holes in my teaching. I obsess about all the places where I wish I’d done better. I resolve to be more thorough in those areas next year. Although teaching brings such purpose and meaning to my life, it also causes me to be immensely hard on myself.

Recently, I got into a new phase (this happens regularly) where I was exploring the meaning of names. I learned a lot in the process. For example, be wary of naming your child “Cameron” as it means “crooked nose”. Also avoid the name “Calvin” since it means “bald one”. After chuckling at some of these meanings, I re-explored the meaning of my name. For years I’ve known that Hannah means “gracious”. However, I’ve always thought that meant that I am called to be one who is gracious to others. As I re-read the story of Hannah in 1 Samuel 1, I remembered how the barren Hannah deeply desired a son and God granted her heart’s desire. This wasn’t a story about Hannah working hard to be gracious to others. Rather it was a story of God extending grace to Hannah. In that moment, the Lord told me that a key piece of my identity is to be one who deeply knows God’s grace. He encouraged me that every time someone calls my name, it is a reminder that “God is gracious to you”.

This is what my soul needs most deeply. God’s grace. My identity is not rooted in striving to do better or be more. My identity is centered in who God is and how he sees me.

And His heart towards me is gracious.