Transparency and Honesty — a little distance goes a long way

Questions of identity preoccupy us – much more than has ever been the case, historically speaking. This is so on account of the leisure time we are afforded, the levels of wealth we have attained, and the public personas we now necessarily create and craft via our social media profiles.

In the contemporary world we have time to develop an interest in particular artists or particular social movements; time and resources to shop for clothing and accessories that project a certain image or style; the ability to mark our bodies (hair die, tattoos, piercings, etc.) in ways that publicly declare our persona; we have online platforms that require us to make decisions about which photos or personal stories or opinions we will share. A few weeks ago I preached a sermon that explored, in part, how our shoes are even, now, a significant feature of this persistent crafting of our image. (See that sermon here.)

This whole exercise in creating and maintaining our image can be an exhausting affair – and it will surprise none of us to hear that some friends or acquaintances have given up Facebook and Twitter and Instagram (etc., etc.) for Lent. Giving up social media, in particular, can be a way to provide ourselves with room to breathe – a way to give up on the never-ending cycle of comparison and projection, instead seeking our identity where it truly and finally resides, by resting in God. Although social media is by no means the only locus in this cycle of self-referential and self-preoccupied identity formation, it is the most difficult to wrestle with given its ubiquity – giving it up no doubt helps puts life in perspective.

But aside from giving up social media, for Lent or otherwise, perhaps another way to humanize and de-pressurize the whole enterprise is through a kind of ironic or transparent naming of our self-preoccupation. A kind of detachment that is willing to examine ourselves – and to let others see us examining ourselves. Continue reading

Representing Advent and Christmas

I am by no means an artist. In fact it’s only in the past number of months that I’ve begun putting pencil to paper – that I’ve begun taking baby steps in trying to understand how to use shading, lines and different pencils (2B 4b HB 6H) in service of an idea or image. And aside from being a total novice, I don’t exactly have a lot of time on my hands for drawing. Though I do find it a soul-nourishing way to make myself slow down for a moment, to reflect on life and its meaning.

Earlier this Fall the Presbyterian Record opened its annual art competition for the December issue of the magazine. I took the competition (and the reality of a deadline!) as a source of motivation to create something. It was an opportunity to think about how I would represent some aspect of Christmas. The end result is the pencil drawing, below, which I have also put through a “sepia” filter in iPhoto.

pensive smallerLike many within the church I have a kind of love-hate relationship with Christmas. On the one hand I have beautiful childhood memories of Christmas – of trees and lights and family celebrations. And even today I have a kind of delight  in aspects of the season. And yet beneath these positive aspects of memory and celebration is a deep frustration with the way Christmas (Advent is essentially bypassed!) has become a saccharine and tinsel-strewn affair of little or no substance. Worse, perhaps, the church often caters to this indulgent and superficial approach to the season, which means that our representation and celebration of Christmas is not as rich as it could and should be.

In submitting my own drawing to The Record, I had no sense this was a great piece of art or that it had any chance of making the cover of the magazine. It’s not, and it didn’t! The piece absolutely belongs in the small little corner they found for it toward the back pages. Continue reading