A Christmas "selfie"
Ok, I was thinking about the selection by US News and World Report and others of “selfie” as the 2013 Word of the Year, beating out "twerking" and a couple of other contenders. But Geoff Nunberg from UC Berkeley has written on this in a far more subtle and interesting way than I would have, so I'll link his article (also available as an audio commentary on www.npr.org). It all still begs for some theological response, though–but maybe later . . . I'm thinking about Christmas now.
Christmas! That’s it, our celebration of the divine “selfie” imaged in the face of that swaddled baby in whose face we see God–redeemed of our narcissism, perfected of our brokenness, God depicting Godself through a self-gift of love.
Obscure? Well, maybe worth a little Christmas thinking. Look at Patrick Blower's cartoon from England's Daily Telegraph above. Can you imagine? Funny, but poignant.
The great 20th century Jewish thinker, Martin Buber, once wrote that the dilemma of the modern person is that we're doomed to attend our own actions as spectators. And he wrote that before "selfies."
Don't know what a "selfies" are? They're those photos we take of ourselves on our smartphone with front facing lenses in various situations of our lives--ostensibly to post on social media sites so everyone else can see us spectating our own lives. They're the new, pervasive, high tech version of the "wish you were here" postcards of the last century.
Beth McDonald on FM 99.9 in Phoenix pointed out one morning the way our selfies are often so distorted, with funny looking faces, torsos bigger than they are, arms strange because of the angel of the lens. We only come into view from a further distance. Up close, we are out of wack. There's a sermon there, of course.
Are there any experiences that are so authentic, so real, that a "selfie" could never hope to show what you're really experiencing in them? Can we see ourselves more clearly in relationship to something other than a screen containing our image? Does God relate to us free of the narcicissm that so devastates our abilities to relate to each other, free of the insecurities that force us to try to record our "place" in life, free of the endless abstractions and self-deceptions that can sometimes come when we feel like we are always looking at ourselves (or when we lack healthy self-awareness, out of some kind of fear)? Yes. I'm thinking of the image of God in the face of the one baby born in God's image (and seen through our eyes) in Bethlehem. We have no snaphot image of that baby except as an imageless act of pure love--in the image of babies of many colors and faces inspired by our imagination of this one baby we have come to know (or may yet come to know) as God. The wisefolk who came to see this baby weren't watching themselves watching him. They were searching, and were found. They were giving, and were given to. They were watching, and were seen by the One they were watching. And so by being seen, they finally saw themselves--and they saw themsleves in a way no camera could ever catch. The baby is God's image of Godself, given to us as love.
This Christmas, take a moment and put the smartphone cameras down and sing a hymn, say a word of thanks to a presence you can't see, and see yourself in the face of the Love that created you. Then you can wave and point and make a funny face!
Here's the Geoff Nunberg article, if you're interested: