Monday, 16 June 2008

The Zen of Photography II


A fine window dedicated to a former vicar dominates the interior of my church from it's position in the East wall, above the altar. If you were there on a clear morning with the sun shining through it this is what you would see:



Raise your camera to your eye, carefully compose the shot and press the shutter button and this is what you'd get:



The reason the top is skinny and the bottom is fat is because this is what it actually looks like. You don't see it that way because you brain has recognised the effect of things getting smaller the further they are away from you, done some very clever maths, and compensated for it without you even noticing. What you see in normal, everyday life is not the actual window, but an idea of what the window should look like; you're seeing an ideal version of the window, if you like. To make the camera take the picture you have in your brain requires one of two things: either a very expensive tilt and shift lens, or some jiggery pokery with a piece of editing software; in this case, Photoshop, the same program which lets me take out the extraneous bits of altar and also change a perfectly decent brown Port Chalmers door a fetching shade of blue.

Why change the colour of a door? it looks better. Why straighten up the sides of the window? It looks better. At least I think so, because I am not seeing the actual door or the actual window, but some idealised idea of what the door or window is or should or might be. We often see the world not as it is but as we'd like it to be. We often look at what is actually there only in comparison to some ideal that we have inherited from goodness knows where.Which is harmless enough when it's just a photo we're talking about, but deadly to us and to others when we're talking about other things.

Our own bodies for instance, which never match the airbrushed pattern of what they should be like that we take out and lay over the top of our own extraordinary and beautiful machinery every time we look in a mirror.

People for instance. We in relationships don't see the miraculous human being we are partnered with but some ideal spouse we have garnered from a pastiche of novels and magazines and experiences, and the poor partner always fails in comparison. So, much work is expended in trying to make the light of our lives fit the mould of what we know the light of our lives should be. And even if by energetic persuasion of a thousand sorts we succeed, so what? Our cajoling and manipulation and bullying would mean that we are partnered not with a real human being but some sort of Frankenstein monster of our own creation.

Or churches for instance. I read with morbid fascination the writings of some of my fellow Anglicans who are sick of the old flawed, multifarious church and who long to set up the new improved version with purity of doctrine and 57% more morality, especially in those matters that really count (and, no no, we don't mean oppression, destruction of the planet and those other trivialities. We mean the issues that have to do with your dangly bits and where you put them). It's the same old same old. The ideal church is constantly in mind and of course the real church must pale beside it. But what commentators like this have overlooked that even if they managed to set up their version of heaven on earth, who in their right mind would want to join it? The reformers themselves would find, within a year at the most, that whatever they set up fell far short of the ideal: how could it not? For many there would be the need to move on to something even purer. The rest of us would never manage to achieve the standards of moral and doctrinal purity required for membership.

Odd isn't it when we claim to have a gospel of Grace: that is, of complete unmerited acceptance by God? Odd when we follow a saviour who dined with thieves; who embraced and called 'daughter' a woman who had carried her stinking ritual impurity around with her for twelve lonely years, far too filthy for the righteous people to speak to, let alone touch. Very odd indeed.

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'd be wary of tarring Ruth Gledhill, of all people, with the "pharisaical prig" brush. Seems a tad unfair.

VenDr said...

Thank you. I have made a slight adjustment to make more clear the sort of pharisaical prig I was referring to.

Anonymous said...

Interesting that your true pharisaical prig prefers to remain anonymous (whoops, so am I. But I'm not THAT Anonymous!). Thankfully, for every narrow minded bigot, there is a Gene Robinson, a Ruth Gledhill, a John Sentamu and a Katherine Schori - not to mention one or two Wrights: a Tom and a Kelvin;)
Thank you for the adjustment (I'm sure Ruth will appreciate it too!).
Lastly - in truth, though I would hate to see the Anglican communion dissolve in a welter of recriminations (from Christians and atheists alike) - I would prefer to come out into the clear if it would mean no longer feeling guilty by association with those believers who seem truly obsessed by the "dangly bits"
Let's make a new Church - and allow the available light to illuminate all our words and deeds so we can see what REALLY matters to God!

Anonymous said...

Kelvin, Anglicanism now seems fated to divide - it would, however, be a less traumatic divorce if, as in failed marriages, an equitable division of property could be agreed (which Katherine Schori and 815 have set their face against). The other Protestant sects have fewer problems here and less legacy of bitterness because the property is usually vested in the local congregation. The 'children' will decide custody for themselves - and are doing so across the US and Canada, voting with their Prius.
May we not also note that the charge of pharisaical priggishness - 'I thank Thee that I am not as other men' - can cut both ways? As in pride in one's own greater wisdom and charitableness as much as one's fidelity to Scripture? And if the rejoinder to this is: 'Who's to say your interpretation of Scripture is correct?', then we are back to the problems J H Newman had with Anglicanism in the 1840s - the vacuum of authority. And if you think our (human) words on the subject are just *our words, and these are just mirror on mirror on mirror - then we have just dissolved into inescapable subjectivity and should find better things to do with our lives.
For I don't think the issus really is homosexuality - that is the presenting issue du jour, but the underlying question is really the doctrines of God and salvation. Anglicanism has fared better than other Protestant sects in maintaining formal structural unity, but that has been because of a number of happenstances.
The first of these is a common liturgical heritage (thank you, Cranmer!) rooted in reformed Western Catholicism which has exerted a conservative brake on the centrifugal tendencies of theological liberalism: consider by way of example how New England Congregationalism vanished in the 19th century, becoming instead Transcendentalism and Unitarianism. But the common Anglican liturgical tradition has faded as the biblical language and theology of the BCP have been shelved for modern modalism and Pelagianism.
The other factor has been the historical resurgence of biblical (Evangelical) or patristic (Anglo-Catholic) religion within the Chruch of England. The former is still there, the latter movement is practically dead, leaving it to evangelicals and liberals to slug it out. (And whether the Charismatics will end up following Schleiermacher or Schlatter is always an open question.)
The upshot of this is that the very doctrine of God has been transmogrified in 'western' Anglicanism into something quite strange - and along with that the identity of the Savior and the meaning of his grace.
Brian

VenDr said...

Yes, the charge of pharisaical priggishness runs both ways and that is precisely the problem. In all sides in this debate on authority I see few people actually proclaiming anything. All sides are obsessed with what they are not. I thank thee Lord of Heaven and Earth that I am not as these [liberals / fundies/ catholics/ penties ](substitute here the name of the group currently getting up your nose). Yes, like most divorces it will devolve into an ugly squabble over the beach house and the Watties shares, to the profit of no-one except the lawyers. Let 'em have it all, I say. All that property and all those assets haven't done us any good, maybe they'll have better luck.

The malaise of the church is consequent on the end of Christendom. We no longer have a role in our society and are thrown back on ourselves to ask the question, 'what are we here for?' We won't find the answer to that in rejigging our organisation or establishing a new one. We will find why we are here when we preach Christ and him crucified, and this is something that can only happen on a very small scale - at the individual and parish level.

Personally, I have developed a deep disillusionment with the church at any level above parish level, and I get more and more disillusioned the more layers I move up through our creaking system of systems. I have come to my own decisions on what to do about that.

Anonymous said...

Oooh, Kelvin, go on, start a sect of your own, do!

VenDr said...

How did you know my secret plans? I am going to set up a new church completely free of THEM: you know, the ones who are causing all my problems - and everybody else's for that matter. Without THEM it'll all work perfectly, just you wait and see.

Do you want to join? Just let me know your views on all the key doctrines and I'll give you an unacceptability rating, from 0 (me and my wife, though I sometimes have my doubts about her) through to 1 (only a little bit dodgy on one or two minor matters) to 10 (even God himself wouldn't touch you with a bargepole, unless it was a particularly long one, and even then, probably not). People with a rating of 1-3 will be able to join me in blissful, harmonious fellowship from now to eternity.

Anonymous said...

Yep, I'm in. Just let me find my green ink so I can set out my views (on THEM and on those key doctrines). If you let me join, I promise to bring my brand new electronic scales (guaranteed to weigh even 1 cumin seed WITH 100% accuracy).

Anonymous said...

For Brian, I'm a liberal Anglo-Catholic and I'm not dead. (yet)

Anonymous said...

Maybe the anonymous author of "COUNTERFEIT COMMUNION AND THE TRUTH THAT SETS FREE" is the hatred that dare not speak its name.....

kathryn said...

God must sit on high and wonder what on "earth" is happening to His Church? His Church is His people, no matter what sect or parish or congregation etc. they are affiliated with.
I believe He loves us all (homosexual or not). He doesn't love our sins, which we are working on, but He certainly loves us, His children.

"Let 'em have it all, I say. All that property and all those assets haven't done us any good" Well said, Kelvin.

In the end, it's what is in our hearts that counts, not material possessions.

Get back to basics;
"But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin" I John 1(7)

"Grace, Mercy and Peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord."

In His Love, Kathryn

Anonymous said...

Kathryn, 'western' Anglicanism is not to be equated tout simple with 'God's Church'; it's just one branch with a variable state of health - which is a matter of some anxiety for those who happen to sit on it. (Like Kelvin, I have very little taste for institutions beyond the local level.) The same could be said for Presbyterianism and Methodism - in a generation from now they will probably largely have disappeared from the western world but be flourishing in China, Korea and Africa. Whether Catholicism will be resurgent in Europe is hard to tell, but any observer of that continent knows that the future looks decidedly youthful Islam v. aging deracinated (ex-Christian) secularism. Interesting times, as the Chinese curse goes - but China may also prove the fount of this new Christian century. The Lord may remove and plant his lampstand where he wills. (How many of the seven churches of Asia are left today?...)
Like you, I would love to "Get back to basics" and resume the (relatively) uncomplicated early days of my walk with the Lord - though 'walking in the light' was scarcely easy then either, especially in the area of sexual purity. But you are right: the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all unrighteousness - including self-righteousness. And the Cross of Christ is the reminder that we are sinners - sinners - under God's just condemnation. What a hateful message to proclaim to the world! It's hate speech, isn't it? :)
And let us remember also that if we quote 1 John, that the author (the Apostle John, I believe, the Apostle of Love) was also a sharp controversialist (Cerinthus could have no kind words for him) - so love and clearsightedness (seeing things in black and white, even) did not seem contradictory to him.

The other troublesome fact is that controversy is actually the normal state of the Church. You would have thought that biblical orthodoxy had triumphed at Nicea in 325, but in fact Arianism continued to dominate and aggressively roil the Church for nearly 60 years (with property battles, deposings, even fisticuffs), until the Council of Constantinople in 381, which gave us the definitive standard of the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed. So if you believe in definitive divine revelation, as the Apostle of Love did (and Nicea was really the affirmation of Johannine Christology, as championed by Athanasius, over against Arius), you have to accept that controversy will be part of the bargain too.
Brian

kathryn said...

Thank you Brian. I am not a scholar of theology so am not as wise as you are:-)
The way I see it, organised Christian religions appear to be disagreeing amongst themselves about lots of things.
And many 'traditional' type churches are losing their congregations to activities that didn't used to be available on Sundays eg. sports matches etc. Churches (the buildings) are being turned into houses, restaurants etc.
How many times have I heard people say "I'm a good person, I don't need to go to Church to be a Christian"
And yet, when it is suggested that Easter & Christmas are Christian holidays and much of the population is not Christian anymore - should those holidays be scrapped? There is an outcry from people who don't believe in anything, but they still want the 'holidays'.
Many non-Christian religions are growing rapidly and from my observations their followers appear to be devout. The followers now live in Western countries and work alongside of Christians who do not live Christian lives.
I think that it is time all Christians stood up to be counted, and yes, got back to the basics of faith, hope and love. Especially loving our fellow man.
What an ideal opportunity for the BIG Churches, like the Anglican church to be an example in the world, not just in our own little backyards.
Perhaps, I see things too simplistically. I only started thinking about all these things because I read Kelvin's Blog!

All I know is that I 'talk' to God and when he is ready, He shows me some kind of an answer. Small or large, the problems are all the same to Him.

Kathryn

Anonymous said...

I did not know there was a theology of photography, so I am enlightened, and now I can rejoice and thank God for my SLR(old as it is) and my 200mm lens. This technology has given me photos of individuals from a distance as the song goes. Clemency will remember. The distance result provides the insight, in some small way,of how God views each one of us. when I visualize how God views me.I am glad that it is quite a bit coloured because of what my Savior did for me.
All of you are in our prayers.
Chris.