To be a person, my friend Andy Root says in his wonderful new book The Relational Pastor , is to be broken. Most of us probably don't like the sound of that too much, but there is surprising power and freedom in admitting it's true. For once we stop trying constantly to pretend that we have it all together, that life is just as we want it to be, and that we don't really need anyone else, then we can open ourselves up to the power of authentic and transformative relationship.
While I'll review Andy's book more thoroughly soon, I thought of it as I prepared to write about what was one of my favorite movies last year and, perhaps, all time: Silver Linings Playbook . Based on the book of the same name by Matthew Quick, the story revolves around two broken people, Pat Solatano and Tiffany Marshall. Pat has been recently released from an eight-month stint at a psychiatric hospital after being diagnosed with bi-polar disorder. Tiffany is struggling with depression after losing her husband. They are each trying to put their lives back together. But as they discover, that doesn't mean going back to how things were or fixing things that are broken. Instead, it means acknowledging one's own brokenness as a place where you can meet other persons in theirs.
We are truly human, as it turns out, only in our brokenness, the places of need and limitation and hurt that turn out also to be places that harbor the possibility of love and acceptance and growth and grace. If we were perfect, we would not need each other. But in admitting our need - and being willing to acknowledge and honor the need of others - we become whole.
That move - from a false but protective sense of self-sufficiency to a vulnerable openness - is neither quick nor easy. Indeed, it's not something you can do alone. But lest we think that means we just need to find some supportive friends or a loving family, as it turns out the folks from whom we most need help are also broken people. And this is what makes community - whether of a family, neighborhood, or congregation - so vexingly difficult. Community eases our loneliness and offers us support, for sure, but because any community is made up of broken people, it is no idealized escape but confronts us with plenty of challenges to love those who seem at times unlovable, to forgive each other, and to bear one another's burdens.
The film is at turns quirky, beautiful, and heart-breaking, but also at points difficult. It offers both flashbacks to the incident that landed Pat in trouble, when he beat a man he caught cheating with his wife, and current struggles to contain his anger. But it also offers a hopeful picture of life when we do not avoid but embrace our brokenness. For the point of life isn't, as it turns out, to be "fixed," to somehow get rid the broken parts of ourselves, but to accept them, trying as best we can to overcome the challenges they present, but also to accept them as part of who we are and as arenas in which we can meet others in genuine acceptance and love.
The film, directed by David O. Russell and starring Bradly Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, deservedly received 8 Academy Award nominations. Both Cooper and Lawrence were nominated in the best actor categories, and Lawrence won. Because of language, occasional violence, and references to sex the film was given an R rating. But that's all backdrop, frankly, offering a gritty and realistic - but for that reason all the more beautiful - picture of life. For while Pat and Tiffany may struggle more obviously or publicly than most of us do, they are no different than we are and their struggles no more unusual.
One of the questions the film poses is as straightforward as it is challenging: if we don't meet each other at our points of brokenness, where do we meet? For if we cannot be vulnerable and honest enough to admit and share who we really are - the good and the bad, the beautiful and the ugly, the kindness and the hurtfulness - then how do we find genuine acceptance? How do we know the people around us love us for who we are, and not just for who we are pretending to be? "The world," Pat says in the closing scene, "will break your heart ten ways to Sunday. That's guaranteed." But with a lot of help and unexpected measures of grace, sometimes you find the silver lining - the thing is, you can never get there absent the cloud.
I'll put the trailer below.