Autofocus Blues

Auto Focus

As a birder, one of my favorite tools is my camera. As a photographer one of my favorite subjects is birds. Now for my aging eyes and reflexes, this presents a basic problem. Birds move. This means that if I am going to get good pictures I have to see them very clearly in order to get a good focus, and I need to do so very quickly.

This is a formula for failure. Although I improve with time at getting the aim and focus correct, it also results in an awful lot of useless snaps.

The shortcut for this problem is called autofocus. The computer in the camera will focus for me. Autofocus is so much better than me that I can zoom in with native resolution and see every single vein on every single feather of a bird. I am not that good without autofocus. Autofocus is great sometimes.

But then again there are other times, like the picture above. This bird is an immature hummingbird, hovering above the water outlet of a desert spring. It is not the kind of setting I get to visit very often. Even if I went a hundred more times, I am not sure I could find another hummingbird behaving this way. So autofocus and I took a picture. I was attempting to photograph the bird, but autofocus chose the two thick blades of reed between me and the subject.

Shortcuts can be convenient, but they can also rob us of the ability to do things for ourselves. When we take the time to practice and discipline ourselves to master difficult tasks, it also means that we have allowed ourselves to become more than we would have been without the experience. The shortcut robs us of the new abilities and often hides from us the potential we are missing.

This is probably truer in spiritual matters than most of us want to admit. We learn our theology from unchallenged sermons, which are sparsely digested. We know the same Scripture verses we knew when we graduated high school, but no more. Our daily Bible study is reduced to devotionals that have one or two verses at most, and prebaked ideas drawn from them for our controlled consumption. (Yes, I know, this piece is exactly that kind of thing.)

None of these issues I describe are problems if they are handled correctly. Sermons should be fact checked and the portions worth keeping should be fully digested. Memorizing Scripture should be a lifelong process. In every way, if we want to take our lives out of spiritual autofocus, then you have to stay connected to God through His Word.

The shortcut of letting someone or something else form the connection for you will leave you spiritually vulnerable. Only when you carefully develop your own disciplines will you be sure you are on the right track.

2 Timothy 2:15 (HCSB) Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who doesn’t need to be ashamed, correctly teaching the word of truth.

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Anna’s Hummingbird

Annas Hummingbird Sharpened

Here is a picture of a male Anna’s hummingbird. The brightly reflective feathers on the face are called the gorget. This happens to be the only hummingbird which has a gorget that goes above the head as well as under it. This positively identifies it as an Anna’s. I can also identify it for the commonly heard call which is a high pitched wispy scratching cry.

In addition to these identifications, the hummingbird has a distinctive display flight. It will pick its target and hover right in front of it. Then it will swirl straight up into the air, reaching up to about 130 feet. It will hover for a moment before diving straight down in a line and then as it passes its target it will circle back and hover in front of it, right where it started.

The male Anna’s hummingbird is a bit of a show off. It might be showing off for a female, but it will also do the display flight for people. Many times it will do the display flight while waiting for its favorite human to put out a feeder.

Being a show off is seldom a positive trait. It might impress people around you. It might earn you a raise or get you a date with a pretty girl—but more often it just shows the world that you are self-centered.

Christians also need to be careful about showing off. We can be so subtle about it, we don’t notice we are doing it. We show off by praying in King James English. Or maybe we quietly draw attention to our own humility. Preachers might be the worst, we can show off from the pulpit and if it works out well people will call it evocative preaching.  Even if it doesn’t work out, few people will point out how bad it was or nobody ever says it was because we were showing off.

Jesus warned against showing off. He taught the danger is when our pride gets to the point where all we want is to be seen by others. Choosing others over God is hardly living out the life of the Christian.

In Matthew 6:1-6 Jesus said,

“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of people, to be seen by them. Otherwise, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So whenever you give to the poor, don’t sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be applauded by people. I assure you: They’ve got their reward! But when you give to the poor, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

“Whenever you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites, because they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by people. I assure you: They’ve got their reward! But when you pray, go into your private room, shut your door, and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”