Saturday, November 13, 2004
The Gift-Giving God
"People have never seen it before, Sendi."
This isn't the first time God has spoken to me through the words in a science fiction book. The two people whose dialog is quoted above have just come through a near-war required when the world's controlling powers didn't like the freedom expressed by the characters' country. The parallels with following Jesus were obvious to me, having just written about judgment and freedom.
I've been researching digital cameras for years because I wanted a simpler way to photograph sand sculptures and prepare images for the Web. In the fall of 2002 I bought a digital point-and-shoot as an interim step; what I really wanted was a single-lens reflex camera but these were too expensive for the available performance.
The problem with most of what we know about God is that it comes from words instead of experience, and words, no matter how carefully chosen and assembled, never tell the complete story. We read the words and think we know reality.
My digital point-and-shoot worked well for almost all purposes, turning out thousands of good images. It wasn't particularly good for flower photography because I could never tell where in the frame it automatically focused, and manual focus wasn't usable. I like shooting flowers and
sharing the beauty.
Jacob had the right idea. Wrestle with God for a night and you have a much better idea of what He's like. In the process you learn a reality that's far beyond what can be presented in words, and the knowledge is precious.
A single-lens reflex camera has a mirror that shows in the viewfinder exactly what the lens sees. When you trip the shutter the mirror flips up out of the way so the light will fall on the film. The advantage is that now you know what's in focus and what isn't.
People have different reasons, as many as there are people, for turning to God. For me, He was the last resort, the option that was slightly less scary than the singularity looming a few months ahead of me. Since then, He has had to work very hard to keep me going because I was so sure I knew what He was like.
Finally, Canon brought out what seemed like the perfect digital SLR camera, the EOS-20D. I read about it, looked at sample images, read more reviews. It seemed just right, yielding good image quality, reliable operation and a good selection of lenses. It's time to quit thinking about this and go do it.
Why do so few Christians spend much time talking about God? I'd think He would be the major topic. People should share what's going on, what they're learning. But perhaps we all feel too guilty about the simple little things He does for us; in a world that demands spectacle, God's gentle guidance doesn't get much attention. And yet, what kind of revolution would you like to have? A personal one, transforming your life, or one that simply exhausts your energy with no reward? Churches are always trying to drive people onward, with some reason. We do tend to get stuck and become lazy.
The day before I planned to go to Samy's and buy the camera--they were having a sale--my friend Steve, who runs the photo lab on the corner, stopped by on his way home. My door was open so he stopped and yelled "Good night!" I went out to chat, and told him what I was going to do.
"Oh, don't do that," he said. "The consumer cameras are no good. Buy the big one. It's more robust, more capable."
"It's also a lot more expensive."
"Do it. You won't regret it. See you later; I have to get home."
"Good night." He drove away and my plans crashed to the pavement and shattered.
Good news is usually bad. If someone tells me something nice it's either a lie or the set-up to a request. If I hear something good from God I assume it's my own wishful thinking. Only criticism is honest.
I did more camera research and discovered that Steve was right. Everything I read about the EOS-20D's big brother was good. It seemed the perfect camera for high-quality shooting on the beach: reliable, quick, weather-sealed, and capable of very high quality images. The problem was the price, roughly three times that of the 20D. Oh, I had the money, but how could I justify the expense when the 20D would do the job?
The inner voice kept saying to buy the expensive one. I couldn't believe it. I thought the camera couldn't be justified, so that meant God couldn't possibly be indicating I should buy it. A week went by, and another. The voice wouldn't be quiet. It became louder during two mountain bike rides that offered not only beautiful landscape photographs--hard to imagine in Los Angeles, I know--but spectacular flower close-ups. Sunset light on a chaparral flowering currant is just out-of-my-mind beautiful, and I knew that Mirjam would love to have an image of it. I stood on the last hill of the day and imagined how I'd take photographs of this lovely announcement of spring's true, wet arrival.
Frame the pink-and white flower clusters against the dark green chamise in the background. Bias the exposure downward to make up for that dark background, and use a large aperture so the background is soft. I tried flower photography with the point-and-shoot and was always disappointed, no matter how hard I worked.
How do I tell the difference between God's voice and mine? One way is to check it against various moral standards. Anything bad clearly isn't God. Morally neutral issues take more time, and that's the key element for me. If the idea hangs around long enough I pay it more attention. There's an element of need, too, and a resistance to buying gadgets just for the sake of having them.
The voice didn't nag, but it was always there. Logic was on its side because I have a proven record of using cameras for most of my life. Just as Mirjam, whose hard drive holds hundreds of my images Emailed over the years. God is, however, supposed to be parsimonious. Buy nothing more than what you need, and make sure it's the cheapest one available.
I'd rather have one good tool than a bunch of cheap ones, having spent far too much time fighting cheap tools while just trying to get a job done. Finally I decided to follow the indications.
"Do you have an EOS-1D mark 2?"
"Could I see it, please?"
Joe walks to the display case, picks up a camera, puts a lens on it, comes back and hands it to me. It settles right into my hands as if made for them.
The main thesis in Lee Correy's "Manna," quoted above, is that there is plenty of everything in the world and fights over resources make no sense. The characters are wondering why no one has realized this. Well, no one got it because it's not true. The book is a fantasy.
From one point of view. From another, we do live in a world of God's unlimited resources. There's no reason to be stuck inside our little self-made worlds. God has much better ideas, and He is quite willing to demonstrate over and over to me that He believes in generosity. How much rain is He willing to pour onto a dead desert in order to bring about some flowers?
I walk out to my bicycle with the large bag of camera stuff. "Thank you," I say, with a smile similar to the one brought on by yesterday's flowers.