One of the most interesting advantages of having a smartphone is the ability to take high quality photos any time and anywhere. The most popular current fad application of this is the taking of selfies. For those of you older dudes who are smartphone ignorant, a selfie is a photo taken of your own face with some special background, which might be another person (a friend? a celebrity?), a scenic view or some event taking place. This is a way of saying, “I was there, and here’s the evidence.” It allows you to keep a lasting image.of something you want to remember.

To take a selfie, you hold your smartphone/camera at arms length, with the selected background over one shoulder, smile at it and click. Because your arm is probably less than three feet long, the selfie distorts your face a bit, exaggerating the size of your nose, your teeth and your chin. So clever marketers have come up with selfie sticks, which can extend your arm by up to forty inches and can be triggered remotely when the view-finder mirror shows the image you want. Some of these selfie sticks can collapse to eight inches and are easy to carry and operate.

There’s a certain arrogance in the taking of selfies. It seems to imply that you are the center of all reality, that the Grand Canyon only matters because you’re in the picture, that the family group around you only has meaning when you’re in the center of the photo.

There’s also the problem of focus. Smartphones have an auto-focus feature that selects which part of the image to clarify and emphasize, and this will bring you into focus causing the background to be out of focus. That means you’re never getting a true picture of the context you’re in at the time the selfie is taken.

However, these problems with selfies illustrate some important life truths. Selfies are really quite honest. We do see ourselves as the center of things; we can’t help it, that’s the way we are made. We experience the world — people around us, our daily experiences, the location where we’re standing — through our five senses. They’re our five senses, not someone else’s, so how we feel and what we are thinking is going to affect the way we see things. It’s good to admit this, rather than to deny it.

There is also a life lesson in the smartphone’s selection of focus. We have an inner auto-focus process that sharpens the contrasts in our own personal experience of the present moment, over against the background of the situation we’re in, the people, places and events, all of which seem a little blurry.

Sometimes a good friend can be like a selfie stick, giving us a picture from a little further away. This helps us to balance our natural self-interest with the concerns of others, and to bring our life situation into better focus.

Jesus told a story of two men who were talking to God about how they saw their selfies:
“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 19:10-14)

Jesus was like an infinitely long selfie stick, giving perspective to these men’s selfies.

— Pastor George Van Alstine