Robin Ham’s “Filtered Grace: Seeing Goodness, Desire & Meaning in the World of Instagram”

Enjoyed a quick read through Robin Ham‘s Filtered Grace: Seeing Goodness, Desire & Meaning in the World of Instagram (download free e-book) over an un-Instagrammed cup of tea this morning.

Meant to be doing a seminar this very Friday, handing out Christian goggles with which to view the Instagram phenomena. Instagram is such a popular app in Singapore that it has become an adjective – food reviewers applaud a dish for being “instagrammable”, friends discussing where to have their next meal ask if a certain cafe is “instagrammable”, and of course, restaurant owners briefing interior designers demand that their space must be “instagrammable”.

Fortunately, the seminar topic got up and wandered off into some wild grass to explore authenticity and social media, so that’s where we’re headed (said I to the patient pastor-in-charge last evening). A relief since Ham has so many good things here that I might have been tempted to plagarise the lot.

Robin Ham's "Filtered Grace" filtered on InstagramFar from the usual Instagram-is-the-Devil so Repent-Or-Face-Hellfire (why yes, I did live in Mile End for a few years, how did you know?), Ham notes, following Kevin Vanhoozer:

as we culturally analyse anything, this must include considering the motivations of its creators, whilst not succumbing to a “blind reductionism”. In other words, it’s all very well saying, “Instagram is just a product to make someone a heap of money,” but we also need to ask why this particular product has become so successful

Ham continues:

I believe that Instagram is so popular and so appealing not just because of what it is like, but also because of what we’re like, because of what the world is like, and because of what God is like.

I think Christianity comes along and says, of course Instagram is popular – why are we so surprised? It plays into the way that we are wired. And yet rather than just leaving us there, the Christian faith also speaks compellingly into the aches and longings we so often encounter in the world of Instagram. It makes sense of us as we use the app, helping us see why we feel some of the things we do.

He then does some exploring with his Christian reality goggles on:

  • We all worship something (not just “religious”types), and worship is bound up with enjoyment, and enjoyment manifests in visible and/or audible praise. Instagram is one outlet by which we can express this praise. This seems wrong to some people only because, with their rejection of God, there is no one higher to praise for the good things in life – therefore any Instagrammed praise must necessarily seen as self-centred pride;
  • yet the reason why we enjoy beautiful things and love so much of life is because God made all things good, provided for our enjoyment. We should thank him for this and Instagramming might be one way of doing so. But there are more important un-Instagrammable things he has given us – his Son, Jesus, who brings all of us who have rejected God back into relationship with God.
    Instagrammed Spring Flowers
  • Instagram demonstrates (i) our limitations as human beings and teaches us that we are mere creatures. We want to see what is going on with our friends and experience what they are experiencing in real-time. But by so doing, we have to forfeit being where we actually are and ignore the people we are actually with; and (ii) our selfwardness in so doing. Says Babycakes Romero who is documenting this sad state of affairs:“They know that every single thing that arrives on their device is somehow connected to them, whereas in conversation you are not always the focus. It’s almost as if we are starting to become incapable of processing someone else’s life because we have become so preoccupied with our own.” Only God can be omnipresent, and he has purposely placed us in a certain place with certain people. So we should acknowledge our creatureliness and be where we are.
    Instagrammed Berry Picking in a Forest
  • Instagram is also a bit of a game of “let’s pretend”. The strategy for living in a broken world with broken people, full of hurt and suffering and wrongs-not-made-right is to filter away this reality. In contrast, the Bible not only illumines this brokenness but also states that we are to blame for it, by turning our backs on God. It also tells us how God has gifted us a real solution to all this – the rescue provided by the death of his Son, so that we might be forgiven and made new!
  • So selfies might be our way of constructing ourselves, creating our own value. But we know that this does not accord with reality. Rather, we should “find our meaning in knowing that we have been personally created by the God of the Universe to bear his image, and have been personally redeemed by his grace and changed to become more like him”.
    Instagrammed Fruit Tart

Lots more good stuff there. Do have a read.

Right, I’d better go pin down that seminar now before it falls off the edge of the known world.

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