Friday, January 3, 2014

Religion in the Age of the Selfie

My wife and I went to see Michael Buble a while ago (wonderful concert) but the girls (what am I saying, they were twenty or thirty somethings) sitting next to us were constantly holding up their smart phones, taking pictures of themselves, and posting them to their Facebook page.  They drank through the concert and were forever asking us to stand up so they could hit the restroom.  I had some less than Christian thoughts about these two.  Didn't the pope say something last fall about the adolescent state of things and people today?  Maybe Francis knew these folks!

At the time I did not know there was a term for their self portraits.  Now I know.  In fact, it was the most popular word which ended up being added to the Oxford English Dictionary last November.  The word of the year!  Selfie.  Although it is still not in my computer's dictionary (and I refuse to add it).  Oxford Dictionaries editors claim the use of the word has increased by a jaw dropping 17,000 percent since this time last year.  It's reported first use came in 2002 -- from what I heard it began when a drunk took a picture of himself and texted it to someone -- an Australian, I was told.  Figures.

I am not sure if there is another term for a selfie, shall we say, that is a self-portrait of an individual partially or completely unclothed.  It does not have to be pornographic to be irritating and self-indulgent. As popular as selfies are, they are clearly one of the icons of our age, a powerful symbol of our cultural values and desires.

It is as if we use our technology to look in the mirror and then we look adoringly at the person we see, "Wow, do I love you.  You are so wonderful."  Is there any wonder we have trouble talking about the word that seems consigned to depart from the dictionary soon -- sin?  Many of you probably think I am a curmudgeonly old man who still types on a manual typewriter and writes with a fountain pen (ah, well, the pen part is correct).  But you might be surprised to know that I have a smart phone, a tablet computer, several laptops, an I-pod, a desktop with dual monitors, a GPS device, etc...  I like technology when it affords me the opportunity to do something more quickly and easily but I hate it when it magnifies my weaknesses or makes me think I am more important than I am.  Believe you me,  I am ordinary and utterly forgettable.  The last thing I need is a piece of technology to lie to me and tell me I am wonderful, to suggest that I am just fine as I am, or to magnify my flawed and failed footprint on this good earth.

That I fear is what our technology often does best -- it magnifies our weaknesses, tells us the lies we want to hear about ourselves, and makes us think that our faults are actually cute, endearing, and inconsequential.  That, dear friends, is the devil's line.  And he can use technology for our undoing as much as we can use it for noble purpose.

If there is anything we need in our age, it is truth,  We need the cutting edge of the Law to draw fresh blood from our rotting lives.  We need to be brought from the shadows into the stern and uncompromising light of God's scrutiny.  We need to be hit over the head by the commandments, for these we have not done and worse, we have hated them for being the good that we should.  The Gospel offers little of use to a person in love with self, to a person sure that his or her little foibles are nothing of consequence, and under the mistaken idea that sins are cute.  Before that Gospel of Christ crucified can do anything for us, the Law has to strip us down and give us a real selfie -- one in which we cannot escape the stain of sin, its consequence of death, and its reign of destruction through our lives.

Many considered good preachers today are great at speaking hope but they do not expose the hopelessness of life apart from God.  Many who enter pulpits are great at extolling the virtues of our lives with God but they forget to say what it is that has kept us from this perfect communion with Him and through Him with one another.  We do not need another way to speak the Gospel.  Scripture gives us many (all the way from the favorite of Lutherans, the juridical image of justification, to the image of Christus Victor, and everything in between).  What we need today are creative and pointed ways to speak the Law.

It is not one of my strengths but it is surely one of the greatest needs of my pastoral ministry.  How to speak authentically and powerfully to an age of selfies that what you see is not what you get.  Hidden in our photos that look so good is the smell of decat, the stink of sin, and the odor of death.  No matter how much we think of our selfie, how much we have of our wealthie, and how many medical advancements have made us more healthie, we are the walking dead until and unless Christ gives us new life.  What we need to hear is the last thing we want to hear.  But ain't always the case?

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