From a sermon originally delivered in Ascension Chapel, Augustana College. This reflection is excerpted from her “last sermon” as chaplain at Augustana College, delivered in May 2018, before taking her new call at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania.
Text: John 17
When I was looking through my past six years of sermons at Augustana, I found something funny. In my second year here, I first preached about the “selfie.” It was in the fall of 2013 and that is because that year, selfie was declared “word of the year” and was first added to the dictionary. It might seem like we have had the notion of selfies forever, but really it’s only been since 2013 that it officially came into the vernacular and even later that our phones now come with selfie mode. So as we have lived now for five years with selfies, something that I have learned and reflected on a lot this year is that most of life is not what we put on Instagram; most of life is an accidental selfie.
Let me explain. The usual images that we see on Instagram or Facebook or send to people are cultivated; they are the best of us. Or, maybe they are what we think are the best of us. When we like how we look or where we are or who we are with or what we are eating. I mean, I really can’t eat at the Quad Cities Pancake House without posting a picture of the food, am I right?
Can you? And, don’t get me wrong, those are wonderful moments. Yet we know also that life contains so much more than those moments. This is what I call the accidental selfie. You know, when you turn your phone on to take a picture of the pancakes and it turns out to be you yourself at the most unflattering angle. You might even get 50 screen bursts of that. When that happens to me, I jump back and recoil from the image of myselfie in the screen. That’s not what I want to see—I don’t want to be reminded of how I really look at any given moment when I’m not expecting to take a picture. I don’t want to be reminded of bad hair days or bad skin or the tear-stained face of being a widow.
What if those accidental selfies are the actual moments of grace? What if we started to think of those moments also as the best of us, because they are real?
Know what else is real? Well, FOMO is real. Right? FOMO—the “fear of missing out”—is a real phenomenon. Many times, people are hesitant to accept an invitation or opportunity because—maybe something else is going to come our way. I think this fear is also what drives our obsession with selfies. If we don’t take the picture, maybe it didn’t happen. And, to go a step further, if it’s not the perfect picture, maybe it’s not worth showing. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
Jesus says in today’s Gospel:
I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them.
God does not require the perfect picture from us. We are made, lovingly, in the image of God, or imago Dei in Latin. This is who we are. Our lives contain so many moments; joyful, surprising, funny, inspiring—to be sure. They also contain moments of deep pain and sorrow and anger and frustration and fear.
I think we might all be helped by sharing these real pictures; our real selfies. That is what life is. A writer that I love, Glennon Doyle, calls these moments “brutiful.” She is a best-selling author who started blogging about her real life as it was—not as she was pretending it was. Listen to what she writes; “I used to say: I’m broken. Fix me. Then I grew up a little and said: WAIT A MINUTE. I’M NOT BROKEN. And now I’m a real grown up so I say: Of course I’m broken. And I love, love, love myself that way. If you’re comfortable with that – come sit with me and we can laugh and cry and be broken and beautiful together. But don’t try to fix me – I didn’t ask for that. I just asked for some good company in which to be human. Come, let’s be beautiful and brutal “brutiful” together.”
We are beautiful and we are broken. I know, that in college—the struggle is real. Everything in your life is real. Stress is real. Joy is real. Friendship is real. Love is real. Pain is real. We just don’t usually post pictures of anything except for what we think people want to see. At least, I don’t. Well, I didn’t used to.
This year, when I have been journeying through grief at the death of my husband, Javier—in the spirit of being brutiful—I embarked on what I am calling the #accidentalselfie project. Each day since Javier died, I took at least one selfie that wasn’t because I thought I looked really good. I wanted to be reminded that during each day, even during a time of high sadness and stress, there would be many different brutiful moments. So, I have selfies crying, I have selfies laughing, I have selfies in my office, selfies at home, selfies walking the dog, selfies with friends—I even have one selfie with Pastor Priggie. They are not all accidental, but they are real and they are raw. Mostly, I don’t post them. But, they are a reminder of the enormous capacity each of us has to live and love in the world even in the midst of difficulty.
What if we started showing what real life looks like; real, complicated, messy, beautiful life. In that spirit, here is a collage of never before seen selfies of real life Pastor Kristen—including one with Pastor Priggie. They are all brutiful.
I think that accidental selfies help us understand what Jesus says when he says that he has, in fact, been glorified in us. What an amazing picture; Jesus glorified in all of the realness of humanity, in everyday life. Jesus, praying for us. Jesus having a heart to heart with God and saying, “I have given what I know to them—and now I ask on their behalf that they be protected and loved and that they might trust that they are empowered to be who they are in the world.”
Success can be defined many ways, and personal growth gained from making mistakes is one. Fr. Richard Rohr, a well-known Catholic spirituality teacher writes, “Imperfection is the very framework inside of which God makes the God-self known and calls us into gracious union.” Or, as our vintage green Augustana College campus ministries shirts say, we are “Perfectly imperfect”; that is what it means to be created in the image of God. Sometimes we become so fearful that we forget that Jesus is the one who is truly capable of sustaining our life.
We are called to focus on what God is doing right in front of us and within us. How easy it is to forget that the gospel is the declaration of what God does, and instead act as though all of reality centers on, and is determined by, what we are doing or how people perceive us. The God who chose to die on the cross, chose to use what could appear to be the most narcissistic thing ever—our own fixation with ourselves. God chose to come to earth as one of us. To create us in God’s own image. So, in a way, we are all of God’s selfies.
God reflected in our selfies reminds us it’s not just about us, but it’s about how God is always with us and how our very lives are a true reflection of God’s love.
So, my friends—in the name of Jesus—I release us from FOMO and invite us into gracious, no-filter accidental selfie life together. We are the people of God, called, shaped, formed and also sent into the world that is full of our beautiful, broken, joyful, and real accidental selfies.