Last night I spent some time with my friend Nicole. She's actually the one who recommended the book "It's kind of a funny story" to me.
Nicole is very smart (I happen to have a lot of friends who are, as it turns out), and she is super active. She is very passionate about To Write Love On Her Arms and Invisible Children. She is an activist at heart.
Though Nicole is a newer friend to me, she has blessed me substantially with her perspectives.
Last night, as we were walking over to the local DQ, we talked a bit about God, Jesus, and church among other things.
We talked about how narrow minded religion is, but I found myself wondering if the institution itself is really the problem, or if narrow mindedness runs deeper than its religious exterior...
As I thought about it, inspiration came from the unlikeliest of sources. The art of photography...
I love photography.
Especially film, 35 mm film to be exact.
I love the creative process. Not just searching for and capturing the shots, but developing the film in the darkroom as well.
Digital has made things too simple; one can snap, review, and delete pictures instantly if necessary.
Film, however, is an entirely different animal.
You need a certain amount of artistic eye to find your shots. You have to work with the lighting, because the camera does not automatically correct it for you. You play, tweak, and improvise if necessary.
Even then, there is no guarantee how the roll will turn out, but, if it does, it means just that much more.
Why did I shift from religion and God to photography?
I think that photography and life are a lot alike...
If you've ever been to a photography show you will notice something interesting.
It quickly becomes apparent that each artist sees something different through their lens. True, they can often have similar subject matter, sometimes they even shoot the same locations, yet often they end up revealing entirely different perspectives of the same world.
I can't tell you how many times the Eiffel Tower has been photographed, yet each artist can manage to show a different detail, or aspect of the storied tower that another didn't see.
Isn't that how life is?
Isn't this the reason why we have conflict?
When life's lenses don't capture the same things?
Everyone has a "lens."
We see, perceive and therefore react to life differently because of our particular lens.
The trouble is that our convictions, the things we feel strongly about, and believe passionately tend to make us believe that our lens is always accurate. We all think that the snapshots we have taken are the "right" portraits of life as it should be.
I honestly don't know many people who think they have a lot to learn. Do you?
We tend to think we are pretty smart, and know quite a lot.
I think this is especially true with religion.
It is a comfortable thing to believe that you have everything together, and that other people have much to learn from you. It is far more difficult to admit that there are things you don't know.
Don't misunderstand me...
Our paradigms are important.
Convictions and deeply held beliefs are important.
They give each individual a way to reference, comprehend and take action in life, but our paradigms cannot be immovable. They cannot be fixed.
One cannot allow their deeply held beliefs to hinder their ability to look at life different ways.
Listening, authenticity and honesty are also art forms. Much like photography.
Some have an easier time picking up these arts.
They are "artistically inclined", if you will.
But for those, like me, who aren't, it can be quite a difficult process to learn these arts.
I'm finding that while passion is important in life, relation is more so.
When I first found Jesus to be true in my life, I was super passionate about his message, and wanted to share it with the world. I signed up for a trip with a campus ministry. It was a three month long endeavour.
Three months of sharing my truth with those on the beaches of North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
We used little booklets to explain what we believed to many intoxicated partiers during that time. Then we would come back and share to the group how our day went. We'd share success stories, and hardships in the process.
I just assumed that this was the right way to go about it.
However, something never felt quite right.
I realized in many of these conversations that the person we were talking to was, in my mind, a conquest, not a person. I wanted a cool story to tell when the group got together at night. I wanted to be an effective evangelist. It was about me, and justifying myself.
It was horribly wrong.
My lens was fixed. I already had the truth in my mind, and I was going to convince others to see life the way I saw it.
In my time of sharing with partiers I didn't see one single person I had talked to come to our weekly meeting, or to church with us.
During this trip the members of the project also worked full time jobs at local establishments. I made many friendships at Chick-Fil-A that summer. It was one of the best jobs I ever worked.
In that time we saw many of the Chick-Fil-A staff join us at our weekly meetings. One had us over to dinner at her place. My manager invited me to spend a night with his wife and kids, we watched the Princess Bride and had homemade peach cobbler and vanilla ice cream.
Something real happened at the Chick-Fil-A that summer, and it never once involved me using my "Knowing God Personally" booklet. It messed with my head a bit to be honest.
I thought to myself, either I'm going to be a terrible evangelist or a great food service worker...
The difference between Chick-Fil-A and sharing on the beaches was the way in which we related to people.
We didn't assume our lens was right around our co-workers. We just listened to them. We listened to their stories. We invested in their lives and, in turn, they invested in ours.
These co-workers taught me a great many things, and, I hope, that I was able to share some thing with them as well.
It was authentic relationship. Not a stat sheet.
I think many Christians are a lot like mediocre photographers.
Their picture has fantastic subject matter, but it is poorly composed.
It doesn't reveal the true beauty of what they have been photographing, but rather a skewed, cheap looking, poorly matted attempt.
They are actually too busy critiquing the other photographs around them to realize this fact.
Pointing out the smallest little flaws and details of another's portrait.
But they fail to realize that not everyone views life through the same lens.
We all take our snapshots of life. Sometimes we photograph the same places, people, events; but we are moved by different elements of the picture.
Its composition, our memories of people, places, the history of these pictures.
Regarding one's own lens as the only truth is not only prideful, but it is also, in my opinion, anti-God.
It begins to instill a subtle sense of superiority within the individual.
Almost a sense of being the "enlightened one."
This can develop into rudeness, bigotry and even contempt for those who see life differently. Sadly this is demonstrated rather frequently in religious circles.
When a lens is fixed, ignorance abounds. It is blinding. Those who proclaim to be viewing life through the lens of God, end up creating destruction wherever they go.
Our lenses can prove to be very dangerous, if we aren't careful.
I don't want to be like this.
I want to share my pictures with others.
I want to see theirs.
I want to talk about the similarities, differences, and delight in the fact that my simple pictures of life aren't all there is.
Maybe this is why Jesus emphasises humility in his followers.
A servant's attitude.
A lens that wasn't fixed on one thing, but instead takes every snapshot with a grain of salt.
Each picture cannot capture the whole. It is merely a piece of something greater.
Jesus understood this.
I think that Jesus would certainly have been a masterful photographer...