Seeing through Lenses

I experienced recently the importance of context, and of framing. It was a very vivid moment, and it has to do with the image I used for my Blue Christmas sermon this year. I am on a number of email mailing lists connected to the Lutheran church, and I received an email from one of them about a week ago, which included a link to a blog post that had this image as its header:

I fell in love with the image immediately, and the more I looked at it, the more I saw. I immediately saw it as two images side-by-side, and my first reaction was to see them as Advent (left) and Christmas (right). The blues and pondering of Advent juxtaposed with the bright shining surprise of Christmas. I then started to see the whole image as a metaphor for how Christmas feels to people who are suffering at this time of year. The left side is a person surrounded by blue, symbolizing sadness and worry, and whose center is also filled with blue. Yet on the right is the bright shining star of Christmas, so close to that person yet so far. (I go into far more detail in my Blue Christmas sermon, if you’re interested.)

So, I really wanted to use this image at worship, and show it on the projection screens. I was concerned about copyright, though, so I wanted to make sure I had the right to do so. There was no image credit given on the blog post, so I tried to use my Google fu to find it online. Took a while, but eventually I found that it’s available on iStock, a stock image website. The fee for licensing it was reasonable, so I paid it and downloaded a high-quality version.

But what I got surprised me. Turns out the image above is slightly cropped. The full image is below, and I saw something completely different there.

Christmas in a church

The caption “Christmas in a church” is embedded in the image file, and that gives a clue to what this really is a picture of. Note that this full image has more on all four sides, and what is revealed there showed me that this is a stylized and modified image of the inside of a church at Christmas: the left side is a stained glass window, almost certainly of Mary holding the infant Jesus. I can see the wood of the window frame clearly, and the orange background on the right side seems to be a wooden wall that continues past the window. Hanging from above is a Moravian star, likely lit from within. The artist framed the image such that the window and the star formed a beautiful balance.

To me, this image in its original frame and context is a beautiful image of Christmas — but it’s not the same image I saw in the cropped version. I don’t see the same disconnect. I don’t see the balance between Advent and Christmas. I don’t see a perfect illustration of Blue Christmas anymore. So even though I found (and paid for) this image before I preached, I still used the cropped version, because it was so much better for that use.

And I find this so fascinating, because the cropping was so minor. Compare the images, and you’ll see there’s not all that much missing in the cropped version. But there’s just enough to change it completely.

I’m wondering what this might mean in terms of how I view the world, or perhaps how any of us do. What do I miss because I’m looking at things from a slightly “cropped” perspective? Or what do I miss because I’m looking at the “whole picture” instead of at the beauty that can only be seen in a part? What do I view differently from you, simply because of a slightly altered perspective? And how can we learn to see things differently?

I guess one piece of good news is that both of these images, both the cropped and full versions, are signs of hope and love. No matter how we view the world, no matter what lenses or blinders we have, there is that of God in it, there is beauty in it, if we would only see.

Featured Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay.

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