Sunday, December 02, 2007

Image is Everything... Counter-Currents to a Life of Simplicity

In the 80’s, when Andrea Agassi was at his prime, Canon did a commercial for their EOS Rebel camera, with the slogan, “Image is everything.” We’ve long since left the 80’s, but the slogan is perhaps more alive today than ever before. Moreover, it’s not only Canon’s phrase for living anymore, it appears to be almost everyone’s. Image is everything, the mantra for the New Millennium. This mantra, it seems, isn’t just for the media’s perpetual consuming self-promoting commercials, but for human self-preserving, self-promoting, self-esteem enhancing-make-me-feel-better-about-myself,
make-you-feel-better-about-myself purposes.

Image is everything.

From a very early age, we are all influenced by the power of these culture inflicted images. These images, by and large, shape our understanding of who we are, what we look like and if we appreciate or detest what we look like. Psychological studies establish that by age five a child has formed a comparatively distinct impression of themselves. The same studies reveal that self-esteem is not closely related to social position, family work background, education or any combination of such factors. A young child sees him/herself from the reflections of those close to him/her, mainly one’s parents. It is these reflections mirrored back into one’s soul in response to their interactions and activities that largely determines and influences one’s self image. These reflections attach themselves to the core of our being.

“We are trapped in a maze,” Foster writes, “of competing attachments.”[1] We are spellbound by what has been mirrored back to us through our experiences. “We are the most conditioned, programmed beings the world has ever known,” writes Dr. Tim O'Shea. He continues, “not only are our thoughts and attitudes continually being shaped and molded; our very awareness of the whole design seems like it is being subtly and inexorably erased.”[2]

The noteworthy indicator here is that all of this shaping and molding, though unconcealed, transpires very subtly to our awareness. For example, how do you know what you look like? Chances are, when you were only a baby a parent or significant caregiver held you up to a mirror and amid weird faces and goofy noises began pointing to you and the mirror repeating a series of chants to the effect of, “Who’s that…?,” followed by “That’s YOUR NAME…”

Over time, we began to understand that the image we saw in the mirror was indeed us and that was what we physically looked like. This awareness of ourselves is reinforced by pictures, videos and the like. These reflected images helps us to recognize who we are and what we look like, but they don’t in and of themselves influence what we think about what we see and how we feel about how we look. This type of conclusive internalization comes only as we observe others respond and react to who we are, how we act and how becoming and attractive we perceive they think we are. Additional calculations are made as we learn the curse of comparison to those around us, as well as the images presented to us via the various means of media.

It is imperative that we understand and internalize the sway image can and has had over us, otherwise we will remain hamstrung and incapacitated in our endeavors to live a life of biblical simplicity. For it is only as we understand the principles governing this reality and the practical in-workings by our surrounding culture on our understanding of value, success and personal worth, that we can begin to reorient ourselves to the truth. “We crave things we neither need nor enjoy,”[3] Foster tells us. He continues, “We are made to feel ashamed to wear clothes or drive cars until they are worn out. The mass media has convinced us that to be out of step with fashion is to be out of step with reality. It is time we awaken to the fact that conformity to a sick society is to be sick…”

Consider that for every alluring photo included in “Sport’s Illustrated’s yearly swimsuit edition, roughly twenty-five thousand photographs are taken and discarded. And that is after starting with statuesque models who likely have undergone intense dieting, rigorous exercise, and scores of cosmetic surgeries – not to mention the lights, make-up, and exotic settings. Tragically, countless women hold such photos as the standard for beauty, with devastating consequences for their health, confidence, and sense of priorities.”[4] And, innumerable men hold such photos as the standard for beauty as well. Regrettably, these images are by in large merely figments of creative design, blemish manipulating, cosmetic altering, psyche-seducing, cheap counterfeits of intimacy without responsibility.

The Challenge of Simplicity

How will the people of God ever be able to courageously articulate new and more human ways to live,[5] if they are ensnared by the same trappings of the world in which they live, especially as it relates to a life of simplicity?

For many of us, the radical call to living a simple life is too much to swallow. Could it be too much to swallow because we’ve been numbed by that which we’ve been feeding on all along, that which has been entering the gates of our consciousness while our inner “gatekeepers” were being enchanted by the blitz and comfort of the spirits of the age of comfort and ease?

Foster’s suggestions for developing a rule of simplicity can be quite formidable. He counsels us to “reject anything that is producing an addiction”[6] within.

For me personally, television isn’t a problem, sweets aren’t an issue and I haven’t drank a Coca-Cola type drink in almost a year, but I do enjoy coffee. Actually not a morning goes by where my hand hasn’t reached out for a fresh mug of brew and sometimes again in the mid-afternoon. Am I addicted? Can I go a day without it? Depends on how many starbucks I’ve had in a week. More than three days straight can tend to create headaches the next morning, luring me back for another hit. Could very well be physiological indicators of a biological dependence upon the substance of caffeine. The question is, do I care and am I willing to diminish intake down to zilch?

Foster commends our rejection of “anything that breeds the oppression of others.”[7] Typically this is a non-issue, but the ramifications of this are grander than meets the eye. I just took off my shirt to see where it was made. The tag reads, “Honduras.” Was this shirt made “at the expense of exploiting Latin American peasants?”[8] I can’t say for sure, but I’ve been to Honduras, shopped in it’s markets and I’m pretty sure the person who helped manufacture the shirt I’m now wearing didn’t earn anywhere near what the person down the street at McDonald’s does. Is that exploitation? Do I desire to live a life of simplicity enough to refuse to buy these articles of clothing? I actually won this shirt at a 5k race this summer. Do I refuse the prize of winning the race? These too have proved to be some of my internal wrestling this week.

The Formative Place of Solitude

It isn’t until I begin to see how my view of things have been shaped by the world in which I live, contrasted against the values of the kingdom of which I’ve been adopted into, that my perspective begins to shift opening me up to new ways of living. It is then and only then that I begin to understand with Lily Tomlin, that “even if you win the rat race, you’re still a rat.” But, these revelations often need an initiation that only comes through intentional solitude. “Solitude,” writes Calhoun, “is a formative place because it gives God’s Spirit time and space to do deep work.”[9] “Many other voices pull at us,” Calhoun continues, “seeking to own and name us, but in solitude we learn what it is to distinguish between the voice of God and the voices of the world.”[10] It is in solitude that we began to develop spiritual eyes and ears and begin to “see and hear”[11] things differently – from God’s perspective.

[1] Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline, 80.
[2] Dr. Tim O'Shea, The Doors Of Perception: Why Americans Will Believe Almost Anything.
[3] Ibid., Celebration of Discipline, 80.
[4] Erik Lokkesmoe and Jedd Medefind, The Revolutionary Communicator: Seven Principles Jesus Lived To Impact, Connect And Lead, 74.
[5] Ibid., Celebration of Discipline, 81.
[6] Ibid., Celebration of Discipline, 90.
[7] Ibid., Celebration of Discipline, 94.
[8] Ibid., Celebration of Discipline, 94.
[9] Adele Calhoun, Spiritual Discipline Handbook, 112.
[10] Ibid., Spiritual Discipline Handbook, 113.
[11] Ibid., Celebration of Discipline, 98.

Image Credits
Image is Everything -
Attainable Beauty? -
Refection & Young/Aging Woman -

No comments: