So I sold two massive bibles today, huge things, so huge they could be breeze blocks. As with all things that come into the shop, we google them for research and decide on a reasonable price which either ends up being half of the original price or one fourth of the original price, it all depends. The bibles fortunately or unfortunately, were seriously banged up, they had stories to tell, history etched into each scar and tear. The original price would have been easily £150 pounds or higher but our book specialist (who hilariously is an atheist to boot) said I was pushing my luck for pricing them at £20 each. A volunteer ended up selling both for £20 which was still pretty good going.
The bibles left a massive space where they used to sit on the book podium, so I searched around for a photography book to take centre stage. I live in a town populated by hipster students and they love a good camera and a good photography book so I was looking for bait. With no photography books in sight I put a hardback romance novel on the podium. Cleaning up the dust that the bibles left I got thinking about how long it had been since I physically opened my bible. A practising christian, I try not to publicise the fact, rather simply illustrate it in my living. We’re in an age where people don’t paticularily care who you say you are but rather what you do.
There are many wounds that christianity needs to heal. In the name of the church people have been abused, harmed, made to feel less than or simply not welcomed. Shutting the door on people is the last thing God wants. A place that should be open for all, has become an exclusive club, full of people comparing intimate personal journeys as if they’re competing a relay race. The pursuit of the ideal truly beleaugers all. I walked into the lobby and looked up our steep flight of stairs, crestfallen at the conclusion of my musings. I took out my phone and took a picture of the staircase. I named the shot “Stares” after our ability to stare at other people’s journeys with wonder when ours is set before us.
I thought about how we form the idea of ideals not from our own devices but from constructs and values inherited from our own families and friends, our cultures. The ideal picture is not actually a picture of the ideal, we’ve just been told that it is. Our pursuit for perfection propels us to portray a reality that isn’t actually real at all, making it difficult to anchor oneself with realistic expectations.
I thought about my funny mission to take one picture a day of my wife and child. It is a labour of love in my daily goal to be a good father and husband. I sat in bed going over my notes in bed thinking about how my christian walk had become less about reading the bible ten times and more about illustrating what’s in the pages with care and courage.
I laughed to myself when I remembered a time at work when I discovered a beautiful oil painting of Jesus christ going to the cross in the toilet downstairs. I affectionately named that toilet the “Toilet Gallery” because all of our pictures and frames go there since its the only place with the space for such an ensemble. The christ figure was practically glowing off of the canvas. His hair was straight and he looked like a european Gucci model. David Gandy eat your heart out.
The Jesus of the bible is so far removed from this , its hilarious. Isaiah an old testament prophet describes him; “It was the will of the LORD that his servant grow like a plant taking root in dry ground. He had no dignity or beauty to make us take notice of him. There was nothing attractive about him, nothing that would draw us to him.” . Couple that with the fact the ancient Hebrew people had a clear picture of their ideal messiah. He would be cut from the same clothe as warrior King David of old and be solely about the liberation of Israel from the boot of the Romans. What they got was someone more in line with a roaming prophet with ambitions to liberate the rest of the world, not just Israel. Liberation from one great spiritual enemy that had its boot on the neck of humanity, sin. Needless to say, it didn’t go down well with officials of the day.
In christianity Jesus is the ideal, unassuming and humble in all the ways we miss out in multimedia. The Servent-King, the template for the ideal man; power and strength tempered with service and humility. I think about this as I walk home and reflect on my definition of the new man and how that doesn’t always line up with the picture of the ideal man for all seasons that is less Thomas Moore and more give me more.
I open Instagram and attempt a selfie and save it on the first go. While I am what many would call handsome, the spirit surging within me anchors me more. I am not really self obsessed, although admittedly I am in my own head a bit too much at times. I have had the benefit of family and friends nurturing the words that come out of me as opposed to what I look like. It’s why my poetry has been such a big part of my life, my rudder even. So I could be forgiven for presuming the new found community on Instagram was solely hyper interactive.
In classic mythology Narcissus attracts the wrath of nemesis and is made to fall in love with his own reflection after rejecting admirer Echo who wastes away into a feedback loop of despair. It’s surely the cautionary tale of our time in a world locked in the jaws of solipsism.
While Instagram is a fantastic app (heck I met my wife on it), it isn’t without its less charming Features. It has become, for many, a breeding ground of rampant ego and vanity. Keeping up with the Jones’s has never been more poisonous, inspiring a vapid culture in the ultra curated world and only those aware of the mirror’s glare salvage a true sense and picture of their actual selves. I worry that it has become a lightening rod of narcissism for a generation more than any other app that comes to mind.
And yet, there is hope. Hope that if we focus on the intangible elements of the ideal beauty we try to display physically so often, we may blossom into more than we currently are. Instagram was a means to an end for my wife and I when we were long distance dating. We video called and chatted but it required us to leave behind all that we had posted online in favour of the vulnerable beautiful flawed people we were (and still are), scars and stars alike. When we finally met in person it was like the convergence of the planets themselves! Face to face, we were at home with each other, in love not with an ideal but with the real deal and it has made all the difference.
I think the Apostle Paul puts it best ; “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.“