Our Wonderful(?) Life In Pictures

20140809_023I’ve always had an admiration for Bill Watterson and the often true-to-life hijinks captured in the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip. One such comic (September 17, 1992) features an attempt by Calvin to teach his stuffed tiger how perspective affects other people’s thoughts. In this case, he begins discussing photography and pictures: “[People] think the camera is a dispassionate machine that records only facts. But really, cameras lie all the time! Select the facts and you manipulate the truth!” As evidence of this, Calvin suggests that Hobbes take a picture of him sitting on his bed. However, he’s manipulated the situation so that half the bed is cleared off but the other half isn’t. All Hobbes has to do, after taking the photo, is to crop out the mess to make it look like he keeps things neat.

Hobbes’ reply is wonderful: “Is this even legal?”

In earlier times, people captured their memories using Polaroid film that reeked of chemical soup yet produced photos that only took a few minutes to develop. Others went for the regular camera setup that used flashcubes (remember those?) and took better photos that took a week or so to acquire from the local drugstore. Eventually, people moved on to 35mm cameras with built-in flashes, drop-in canisters, and developing times as low as an hour. Digital cameras were next, but were bulky at first, cumbersome to operate, and sometimes difficult to retrieve files from. With Apple’s invention of the iPhone, the digital revolution allowed any and everyone with a decent cell phone to take photos and email them to whoever they chose. And as technology got better, the ability to send via text message and/or upload to a social media site made taking and sharing memories as simple as tapping the phone a few times (or with the advent of applications such as IFTTT, doing absolutely nothing).

Social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest allow people to show off their lives as a sort of virtual life album. Each picture a person posts represents a snapshot that, when viewed in relation to the totality of photos, reveals a person’s history from their perspective. Words cannot adequately do this (I’m still waiting for the first totally pictorial autobiography to be released). The Bible even speaks of this to a limited effect, when Jeremiah writes, “Set up for yourself roadmarks, place for yourself guideposts; direct your mind to the highway, the way by which you went” (31:21 NASB). Photos are our guideposts to a life we’ve already lived and are currently living out.

With this ability to create roadmarks, however, there is an inherent danger. Just as Calvin astutely noted, we have the ability to ‘manipulate the facts’ in our photos (and therefore histories), making ourselves to be better than we perhaps are. We have the ability to create a sanitized version of life that correlates to what we envision it to be. For example, if the kids are playing in a baseball game, but the photo shows two kids having an argument off to the side, there’s a story to be told. But a different story can be told by cropping out the offending players, leaving a clean photo of a base hit or slide into home plate.

I admit that I’m guilty of this.

I love the ability, with the photos I upload, to be able to control the narrative of my life and show folks that life is grand all the time (and honestly, who wouldn’t?). Of course, that’s not always the case. You don’t see me, for example, posting pics of myself stressing out in a Starbucks over a deadline for an article. You don’t see reaction selfies of me the second I’m cut off by a driver. You don’t see a photo of me struggling to get the kids in bed when they’re so tired they can nothing else but talk and sing in order to stay awake. What you would realize is that, for all the shots of the kids winning awards, playing Frisbee at the park, and me with various celebrities (always with the fedora), there could be photos of me at my not-so-best.

It’s probably not advantageous to post these not-so-perfect pics, so we avoid it out of an attempt to make ourselves look better than perhaps we truly are. In essence, it becomes a form of vanity that runs counter to the ways of God. The goal is to remember that it’s okay to be ourselves, but not make ourselves to be more than we are. Otherwise, we risk being humbled at some point when the perfect life of photos we’ve carefully created crumbles like a house of cards, exposing us for who we truly are. Jesus said it this way: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 14:11 NASB).

Perhaps we need to consider the effects our pictures can have on others’ views of who we are and be a little bit more real. I hope to be a little more down-to-earth in the upcoming days and months, showing unscripted glimpses of life. That way, when my kids and grandkids take a look at my life in pictures, they’ll see who I really am, not an embellished, lofty version of who I’d like them to see me as. The end result will be worth it.

May Brings Change

sfimagefilmIt’s time for an announcement – one that you’ll be hearing more about in the next few days.

But first, I should provide some background.

Over the last decade, I have been a writer (and sometimes editor) for Hollywood Jesus.  Basically, that position meant that I would work my normal job during the day, but pull a Clark Kent once in a while and run off to appointments in the 90210 area code and nearby areas. Of course, that allowed me to meet and interview some really incredible people and have an insider scoop on what was coming out of Hollywood (before you ask, I haven’t seen the new Star Wars film).

At the same time, Hollywood Jesus was undergoing a behind-the-scenes transformation that had been in the works for a number of years. While I had an idea what was going to happen, I just continued doing what I had done all along—reading, reviewing, and asking questions to people who were playing a role (in one way or another) for making Christianity known to the rest of the world.

February 15th of this year brought an official notification that the long anticipated changes were going to finally happen. At this point, I needed to consider and pray about what the next step was.  The answer came sooner than I planned.

Less than a week later, I was at Kohl’s with my family shopping for kids’ clothes. Suddenly, my phone started vibrating as if it was possessed. But it wasn’t a phone call.  Instead, a number of writers from a Facebook group I was a part of were chatting.  It seemed that they wanted to create a new site that embraced a vision that integrated faith, dialogue, and discussion–and they were working on what it should be called. The ideas were flowing fast and furious and my phone was paying the price as a result. So while the rest of the family was trying on clothes in the dressing room, I added some ideas while trying to control my laughter at the comments (note: it didn’t work).

The group seemed to be enamored with the word screen, so I played with the idea a bit.  Suddenly, I remembered an issue regarding the computer maker Lenovo that was currently making headlines.  It seems they were in trouble for secretly adding an adware program called Superfish to their lower-priced computers. What if we kept the screen idea and added ‘fish’ to the end of it? I thought. Quickly, I pulled out my phone and wrote, “Screenfish (as opposed to Superfish),” adding later that screen=movies and fish=faith (think of the early Christian symbol plastered on the backs of cars even today). A few of the folks liked the idea, but I wasn’t able to continue the conversation due to my phone battery going to zero. The next night, I whipped up a quick logo idea and before we knew it, the idea was born.

Of course, there was a lot of behind the scenes work that would take place, but it’s almost time to fully unveil the curtain on ScreenFish. You can sign up for the newsletter at screenfish.net right now if you’d like.

Please note that I’m not calling my time with Hollywood Jesus non-beneficial.  Far from it. I learned so much from the opportunity that it cannot be adequately written about–how to interview, how to look at pop culture through a different lens (take a look at the book Eyes Wide Open by William Romanowski), how to dialogue with people about Jesus instead of browbeating them with the Bible, and how to rock a fedora like founder David Bruce did.  But there is a time to step away, and that time is now.

I hope you’ll join me on this new journey—and become a part of the discussion. The internet is a great place to acquire information, but it’s also a great place to talk about issues and topics (trolls notwithstanding).

Faith and film are always intertwined. Come be a part of the unraveling process!