Every few years something seems to come along that becomes a bit of a definer of an age. There tends to be nothing intrinsically wrong with the piece of equipment itself but, perhaps in the way that we use it, perhaps in the way it changes life in unexpected ways, some of its effects become less than positive.
It’s a week now since we came back from the Cathedral pilgrimage to Greece. We were following in the steps of St Paul which meant beginning in what was called Neapolis in Paul’s day and now is called Kavala and then travelling by stages down to Corinth. That meant visiting some spectacular archaeological sites in some stunning scenery. Delphi was amazing as we looked down from the remains of the Temple of Apollo upon an olive tree filled valley to the amazing azure blue sea that lay beyond.
But the most spectacular place has, of course, to be the acropolis in Athens surmounted by the Parthenon. People say of it that it is the most perfect building ever built and though it has suffered over the centuries you are still aware of that as you approach it. The crowds there testify to its unfailing ability to draw people to the place just as Paul was drawn with a message of Good News for the people of that city.
We took loads of photos so that we had something to show friends; the place is so photogenic. But the thing that I became very conscious of was the plague of Selfie Sticks! They were everywhere. We see them in London of course and I can imagine that they are great for taking a photo of yourself when you haven’t got a friend with you – but what was amazing was seeing people taking photos of themselves in every location – ‘me on the acropolis’, ‘me by the Parthenon, ‘me overlooking Athens’. The Selfie Stick seems to be defining an age when ‘I’ have become the centre, the focus of the world, that nothing is really interesting without me in it!
As I say, there is nothing wrong with a Selfie Stick but the idea that I, me, the self, is the centre of the world feels a long way from the Gospel in which the ‘other’ is the most important.
We were celebrating the feast of the Beheading of John the Baptist the other day and something that John says in St John’s Gospel has always been important to me and though I constantly fail to live up to it it’s something that I continually aspire to.
‘He must increase, but I must decrease.’ (John 3.30)
This is as far from the Selfie Stick and the ‘me’ at the centre of the world syndrome as you can get – a real challenge to the zeitgeist.
But this is not the whole story. From the Deanery I can watch lots of people taking photos of themselves against the fantastic view of St Paul’s Cathedral that I enjoy everyday. But there is something else that I see. Almost every weekend there is a sponsored walk or a sponsored run along the South Bank, along Bankside, over the bridges, past the Cathedral. Today there were hundreds of people walking past to raise money for a charity that supported research into and victims of Cardiac Risk in the Young (CRY). This was their 9th annual London bridges walk. But if it isn’t CRY it may be breast cancer, the work of the Children’s Society, animal welfare or anything else. People are out there in their hundreds, in their thousands, through the day, through the night sometimes, putting in the time, putting in the effort to make a difference for someone else, someone they may not even know.
The self and the other, me as the centre of my own world, you as the centre of the world. These two world views exist side by side. Selfie Sticks will have their day, I know that, will be consumed to the box room with everything else we bought as a fad and the next thing will come along. But that charitable spirit that brings people out to do something for the other person is something that I pray will survive and that even more people will be walking past my front door rather than just being photographed by it!
help me to die to self
and live for my brother or sister
and so, live for you.