October 2020

Looking in or looking out

A while back, I was visiting Cyprus and was driving with a friend who lives there along the road that rises above the coast east of Paphos. We stopped at a lay-by from which there was a magnificent view down to Aphrodite’s Rock. This is the outcrop just off-shore where the goddess was born - or possibly not. As we stood there, a coach arrived and disgorged its cargo of young tourists who all wanted to take a photo of the rock. Except that they didn’t. Instead they each stood with their backs to the view and took a photo of the rock with themselves in it, as if the beautiful site needed the enhancement of having their mugs in it.

Now let me confess. I am not a selfie person, and I find it genuinely difficult to understand the idea that, when taking a photograph, any view no matter how new and wondrous needs to have my depressingly familiar face in it. It may just just be an aspect of my old fogeydom.

Anyway, I was reminded of this incident while reading a new and wondrous book by Jonathan Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi, called Morality. I recommend it. It is immensely readable and pleasingly free  from polysyllabic philosophical terminology. It essentially traces what he sees as the change in morality from being about ‘We’ to being about ‘I’. It is a compelling argument, and he sees really clear signs in what he - and I - see in the appalling decline in political and public life. 

This is not a new trend: it has been very obvious since the 1960’s and it has affected the church just as much as it has other institutions. There has even been a whole number of hymns written, all about ‘me, me ,me’: they are conveniently gathered together in a book called Mission Praise 2.

But the Christian faith has never been about ‘me’: it has always been about ‘us’. It has been about community, and its earliest worship, of course, involved coming together to share the kiss of peace and to share in communion. It remains a community faith. that is why it felt so painful during all those weeks when we were not able to gather together for worship. But the Christian community is much more than a worshipping community. It is a working community, dedicated to spreading the good news of God’s healing love and forgiveness, and sustained in that task by joining together in worship. The Christian faith is all about walking together on the pilgrimage of faith, helping and being helped by each other. It is not a cosy club gathering together behind intimidating church doors every Sunday: it is open and welcoming to everyone.

It is emphatically not about ‘me’: it is always about ‘us’. And when society around us clearly acts, thinks, believes and behaves differently, it is all the more important that we resist the temptation to look inwards, to ignore the needs of others, to be insular in our thinking, to put ourselves at the centre of our thoughts and our lives. Therein lies, I think, my essential problem with selfies: for those addicted to them, it means that wherever they are, whatever they are looking at, by whoever they are surrounded, they are in the centre. That is not Christ’s way. he shows us that the world is huge, varied and beautiful, and its people are varied and beautiful. And we will be proper citizens of his kingdom if we look out and care for his world and his people rather than looking and care only for ourselves.