July 12, 2006

A New Pair of Eyes

1519 page12 capn Chinese New Year1 I embarked on a resolution: To take at least one photograph for each day of the year. An easy resolve, I thought. All it required was that I keep my eyes open and notice the ordinary—a squirrel on a garbage can, a colorful salad, a sunset. I began the project with enthusiasm.
Day 1: I lay on my stomach on a New Mexican plain and photographed a cactus. Day 2: I noticed light and shadow against a wall. Day 10: I was nearly asleep when I remembered I hadn’t taken a picture yet. I rolled out of bed and photographed a pot in the kitchen. Day 27: I collected my developed film and flipped through the pictures. They were mostly quick, unimaginative shots, and on the whole they were dreadful.
Discouraged, I gave up the project.
Day 30: I arrived in Salzburg, Austria. Suddenly, I wanted to take pictures of everything. There was the Hohensalzburg fortress perched on a hill, the Alps cutting into a moody sky, the spire of Nonnberg Abbey. I began carrying my camera in my purse. When I walked to school, I stopped to photograph children sledding down a hill. On a stroll through the old town I photographed narrow alleys and bicycles and arched entries. When spring finally came, I knelt in a meadow and took more pictures of the Hohensalzburg fortress, this time with flowers in the foreground.
What produced the change? Is Salzburg more photogenic than New Mexico?
Photographer Ferdinando Scianna had this to say about his craft: “Many times you don’t see things, and you go for days without a good picture. That’s not the fault of the world—that’s a matter of your receptiveness.”2
1519 page12He’s right, of course. In the United States I’d grown accustomed to the landscape. The sights were known—a case of familiarity breeding complacency and boredom. A visitor from another place (say Austria) would have stalked the vistas of New Mexico, taking roll after roll of film.
Does something have to be new in order to be dynamic?
It’s an important question for Christians, especially those born into the church. When you grow up with grace, you don’t get to discover it. The good news becomes old news. And stories of miracles lose their wonder. (Of course manna fell in the wilderness. Of course Jesus walked on water.) Christianity becomes tame.
I’m interested in how second-generation Adventists can see through new eyes.
First, it’s important to question your faith. What do you believe? Why do you believe it? In the gospel song “Give Me That Old Time Religion,” it’s implied that if a particular belief is good enough for your ancestors, it should be good enough for you. But what about those who are born into cannibalism? Does the same logic apply?
Adventism doesn’t advocate following something simply because it’s a tradition. Our church began by eschewing rituals. But any religion practiced long enough accumulates its own customs. Traditions give us history and a sense of community. But having faith in a tradition (not a deity) will lead to a hollow, unsatisfying imitation of Christianity.
Once you know what you believe and why, shake up your religious routine. Attend a spiritual retreat. Join an interdenominational Bible study group. Volunteer in an outreach program or begin one at your church. Read new parts of the Bible. Try reading Song of Solomon or Isaiah. Read also books that explore the lives of contemporary Christians. I’ve been particularly blessed by the book Soul Survivor, Philip Yancey’s moving account of “how thirteen unlikely mentors helped my faith survive the church.” Another must-read for every Christian is The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom. Both books will give you new insights into having a dynamic, living faith.
To grow up a Christian should be a blessing. But if you’re only attending church because it’s a habit, you’re missing out on the kind of love that caused Mary to wash Jesus’ feet with her hair,3 the kind of joy that caused the healed beggar to leap and jump and praise God,4 the kind of faith that caused the widow to give away her last coin.5
1By January 29 I’d already failed at my January 1 resolutions.
2“Quote of the Week,” Slate, Apr. 6, 2006. http://todayspictures.slate.com/20060407/.
3John 12:1-8.
4Acts 3:1-10.
5Luke 21:1-4.
Sari Fordham, a lifelong Adventist, is working on a postgraduate degree from the University of Minnesota.