Camera merely imitates lifeA woman who frequently attends worship with our congregation knew that we were about to go on vacation when she waved me over to her car a few weeks ago.

Through the open window at the driver's seat she handed me a small, fully automatic camera to take with us on our trip to our river cabin.

She asked only that I take pictures to bring back of the new deck we planned to build. With a twinkle in her eye, she wished my wife and me a safe and happy getaway as she rolled up her window and drove away.

It was in September 115 years ago that a man named George Eastman received his patent for a roll-film camera he called a Kodak. Advertisements for the "magic box" used the slogan, "You push the button; we do the rest." No longer did people have to depend entirely on verbal or written descriptions or on artists' renditions of a place or an event to communicate what really happened to others who could not experience those places or events or people in real life.

Exaggerations and individual aberrations now could be compared to factual photographs. Beauty beyond description could be seen for what it actually was. One picture indeed would be worth a thousand words. Greater accuracy would be the result. It was thought photographs might serve as valuable proof of the truth of a matter, because what you saw actually existed!

We just returned from our vacation, and we took photos with our new simple and small automatic camera, so that we could bring back real evidence of where we had been and what we had done, captured in detail, in careful focus, and in full color. We have not yet had the chance to develop the film we exposed to places and people we visited, but we both know that when we do get it developed and show the results to friends here they will not have the full truth in front of them.

The Kodak was a wonderful invention, and it may have stifled some exaggeration and aberration - even encouraged one's imagination - but it does not capture the full truth. Photos can be touched up, camera perspectives can alter real life, and appearances can hide who people really are. Haven't you ever sucked in your tummy, stood taller than usual, forced a smile, or put your arm around someone you did not especially care for, all for the benefit of a photographic moment?

Describing Jesus"Real" life defies being captured forever in its full form on film, or in writing, or in spoken description, or even in artistic portrayal. The author of the Gospel of John in the Bible tried to convey that same idea in his description of Jesus. There is little doubt in my mind that John had actually experienced a life-changing encounter with the man he was convinced was the son of God. But when John tried to convey that reality to others, he could only portray Jesus in broad strokes, giving examples of Jesus' power and compassion from what John had seen and heard and touched.

John knew that if others, including you and me, were to get to know the now-risen Jesus we would have to go beyond appearances. We would have to experience him for ourselves, in what John called "the spirit" of the matter. John phrases it this way: "The true worshipers will worship the father in spirit and truth, for the father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth" (John 4:23-24).

Contrary to common practice, we cannot experience the most profound levels of living by vicariously surrendering to the portrayal of life on film - whether in newspapers or in magazines or in movies. These are mere imitations of life, as inviting and as enjoyable as they might be. We can only experience such levels of genuine living by learning to encounter God for ourselves as we respond to his gracious invitation to share his life here and now in spirit and in truth.

Doug Rich is the pastor of Pioneer Presbyterian Church in Clatsop Plains in Warrenton.


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