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Photography: A Contemplation

Photography: A Contemplation

In recent weeks, I have ventured into the practice of contemplative photography. While it has been an interesting pursuit, I’ve sensed that there is something more, a deeper, more intimate experience to be had than to just sit for 10 minutes with a photo that I’ve already made and to intentionally reflect on what the imagery evokes.

I think I may indeed have crossed over and attained a new level of personal investment in photography.

Recently, I received a bit of criticism about my photography. It wasn’t rude or mean-spirited, but it hit me deeply. Of a sudden, I realized that there is something intensely personal linking me to my images, something that indicates this has gone far beyond a mere hobby or taking snapshots.

Photography for me is not to remember, not to share, but to experience. A humble walk in a local wooded area (seen here on my Flickr page) becomes significant to me when I venture in with camera in hand, when I observe, when I truly see, when I interact with my surroundings in ways that my predominantly passive personality would often shy away from. Being present and engaged has suddenly become possible for me through photographic tools.

My photography is for me…because I need it, currently, to encourage me into the places when my soul does not often go, but finds oh so life-giving.

Surely, I am not the first person who has braced up against the world and proclaimed that my pictures are for me alone. The fact that I have a Flickr photo page may be taken as evidence against this very statement.

But my goal is not to simply share a photo, to entertain, or even to impart beauty to others. The world is full of photographs–millions of which are more technically perfect, more creative, more inspiring, more beautiful than mine.

But the world is not full of my photographs.

My pictures do not stand on their own–they are a creation…of me. While some would argue that pictures should stand on their own, that they should communicate volumes of words (and communicate clearly! attractively! impactfully!), I have realized that this cannot be for me. My pictures do not exist in their fullness apart from their perpetual attachment to me. Uploading them to Flickr doesn’t separate them from their origin, from the heartbeat that created them.

It’s only recently that I’ve even begun to share photos online. With such a philosophy, why even bother to upload them? Because I have a faint hope that through them, I will be known.

If people find beauty, or joy, or inspiration…wonderful! But I would trade all of that if instead people would wonder, “What do I see of Allen in here? Why would Allen create this photo?” Or perhaps beyond wondering such things, a simple smile and an admission, “This is Allen’s photo,” would suffice. Connection. Relationship.

I am made in the image of a Creator God. His hand has wrought everything that I photograph. His creation does not exist in separation from Himself. His creation–whatever beauty, or functionality, it may provide–lacks its full and ultimate meaning if it is not linked back to Him.

How often have we tried to hear what the created is saying–much like deriving the thousand words from a photograph–while ignoring the Person who brought it into being, ignoring the one who’s creative act is what infused it with meaning, let alone existence?

My photographs are of me, and they can serve to reveal me to you.

If they were anything else, they would likely need more skill in composition, more expert enhancement in Photoshop, more mastery of the machinery that leads to their creation.

But they are not. They are just a part of me.

What you see, is who you get.

 
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Posted by on September 6, 2013 in Life, Theology

 

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Modern Alchemy

For centuries, humanity was fascinated with the prospect of changing one thing into another.

In the classic example, there was a deep, mystical pursuit for how to turn one material (lead) into another, ostensibly more valuable one (gold). This journey became the stuff of legend for some; a lifelong pursuit for others.

And in many ways, I don’t think that pursuit has ever really ended.

A friend’s recent trip to Costco came with the summary: “the wallet is now empty, but the larder is full.” The empty wallet may hurt, but the full bellies will be a blessing.

We live in a transactional society. Many of our interactions are based around the premise of changing one thing into another. Our labor turns into dollars, which in turn become food…or electricity…or clothing…or movie tickets.

Our party invitation to a friend becomes a bottle of wine or a bouquet of flowers…and perhaps a reciprocated invitation as well.

There is even a model of organizational theory known as “transactional leadership.”

From business to relationships and back to business again, we act, expecting to change one thing into another.

Modern alchemy.

True enough, not all of our “ingredients” are necessarily offered for the purpose of transformation or exchange. We likely don’t invite a friend to dinner so that we get wine or flowers, but often times, there is that expectation, that cultural norm of responding to an overture by giving something in return.

As social conventions, as acts of politeness, no problem; as sincere acts of gratitude and blessing, even better.

But what about when the intent is otherwise, when there is a desire, a seeking, to get something in return? An expectation, a sense of entitlement attached to the investment?

I think of how many areas of life I function realistically as a modern alchemist. I certainly have expectations. I think of how often my sense of fairness and equality is based upon a tit-for-tat mentality. “I did this for you, and I expect you to do something in return.”

Now, rarely do those words actually get said. But I think them.

I work, and I expect salary and discretionary time (aren’t I a shrewd investor to obtain such a multiplicity of returns!). I take care of the garbage, and I expect meals. I clean dishes and I expect meals. (I have an apparently high demand for meals in my economy.) I give time and I expect thanks. I listen and expect a chance to speak.

A certain degree of expectation is reasonable, necessary, even healthy. But it becomes twisted when that expectation becomes demand, becomes greed.

The alchemists of ancient times are often depicted in such sinister light: their pursuit of the unnatural, the quick and easy way to achieve desire, the lusting after power, wealth, and knowledge…their sense of multiplying the ordinary to become the majestic.

Such behaviors sing of discontent and avarice, of ends justifying the means. Selfishness, rather than service, becomes the primary motivator.

How easy it is for us to point out such lusts in our ancient ancestors, and yet somehow disregard the modern manifestations of this generational sin.

I don’t want to be a modern alchemist. I don’t want to look around my home, or my life, wondering which items I can claim as ingredients or inputs or investments in order to obtain something even better.

I would much rather look around, seeing my resources–material and immaterial–as the raw materials to use in serving others.

But I’m not there.

We all come from a long line of mystics…who are ironically uncomfortable with mystery, and instead want machinery. We want predictable outcomes and many happy returns on our investments. We don’t tend to want the ambiguity of relationship, or the possible disappointment of unrequited altruism and service.

Alchemy, sadly, hasn’t passed away. We simply read our incantations from a different book…but expect oh so similar results.

 

 
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Posted by on August 27, 2013 in Life

 

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The Sin of the Tree of Knowledge

The Sin of the Tree of Knowledge

Contemplating mankind’s errant ways and need for restoration can lead us into all kinds of metaphors, analogies, myths, and fairytales.

Amidst all the musing, the central issue can easily get lost, or even completely missed and never discovered.

From my foundation of Christian faith, I have regularly heard the terms “sin” and “salvation,” and often encountered all kinds of courtroom, debt, and slavery analogies.

Each may be helpful to a degree, shedding a ray of light onto a mystery that seems somewhat graspable, and yet not entirely explainable.

But I still think that there’s something missing in all of this, as we try to understand the circumstances of humankind and the nature of our brokenness.

It wasn’t until a friend shared an incredible insight with me that the pieces became more clear. And as another friend has done more writing on the subject of relationship recently, I think I’m getting a clearer picture than ever.

What is the main issue? What is the big mistake that Adam & Eve committed in the Garden of Eden when they listened to the snake and grabbed the fruit off of the forbidden “tree of the knowledge of good and evil”?

Their problem was this: they were seeking to know apart from God, apart from relationship with Him.

Rather than continuing to walk with Him in the garden during the cool of the day, chatting it up about whatever they wanted to know and whatever He wanted to tell them, they tried to take the quick and dirty way, the non-relational way.

They were trying to erode the mystery (what will happen if we go against what God says, if we leave Him out of our thoughts and actions?), trying to just gather the information and cut to the chase rather than learn progressively, as a result of walking daily with the Sovereign of the Universe.

They tried to become self-defined: we are the ones who know, the ones who have eaten of the fruit.

The result was indeed self-definition…an isolation and separation from God and a shame and concern for self that they could hardly bear.

They got knowledge alright. They got awareness.  But they didn’t get the right kind, the right way.

I’ve heard that instead of calling it “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil,” it might be better understood as “the tree of good and bad knowing.”

Some philosophers may claim that all knowledge is good and virtuous. But clearly, there are some things that we are really better off not knowing–like how to make nuclear weapons. And there are other things that are not worth knowing in the way that we came to learn them–gruesome human experiments in Nazi Germany come to mind.

No, there is good knowing and bad knowing. Good knowing comes from walking in relationship with the One who forms, owns, and runs the Universe. Bad knowing comes from going our own way, pursuing the knowledge we want by the methods we choose, rather than learning the things we need to know from the one Good Teacher.

There was a tree in the middle of the garden that represented a choice: good knowing was available and enjoyed. Bad knowing was out there. Instant gratification. Delightful to the eyes. Food for the body and mind. But not for the soul.

Humanity’s main issue is that we tried to learn and grow apart from God. We tried to define for ourselves what we should know–and thus how we should live, and even who we should be. And these things run exactly contrary to the essence of good knowing, of walking the path that God has for us, of learning the lessons He teaches us, of becoming the people He has intended for us to be.

The sin of partaking of the tree of knowledge is not merely disobeying the commandment of God (as if that weren’t enough), but rather the plotting of a course of self-definition and self-determination that is not ours to plot. We don’t belong to ourselves. We were bought at a price. And we were created for relationship. To turn our back on these things, to turn our back on this God, is at the root of our ongoing need for restoration, for deliverance, for salvation.

 
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Posted by on August 18, 2013 in Theology

 

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