Sunday, September 18, 2016

Comparison is the Eighth Deadly Sin

I don’t recall when I started following Neil’s work on Facebook. Calgary-based pro photographer, Neil Zeller, captures the aurora borealis, night skies and turbulent weather with astonishing frequency and jaw-dropping results.

Photo: Neil Zeller

Photo: Neil Zeller

It may actually have been his coverage of Beakerhead that first got my attention, followed up by photos of an astronaut on the Peace Bridge and doing a space walk in the sky over Calgary. He permanently landed in my “Wow” books with his feature photos of a makeup artist who makes her subjects look like they just stepped out of a comic book.
Neil is down to earth and unpretentious in his online platform and shares stellar shots, tips and techniques with the unabashed enthusiasm. Sometimes, he posts online in the wee hours of the morning after he spent hours doing time lapses then editing his photos of the night skies. He hosts photowalks and workshops, and readily shares his knowledge.

At TEDxYYC in 2015, while checking my Twitter feed, I see Neil is serving as official photographer. In the crush of the lobby during intermission, I practically stumble over him, just leaning against a column surveying the crowd, so I say hi. After a brief conversation, I tell him about our church photo club where we help each other learn new photography and editing skills.

“Is there any chance you might come speak to our group sometime?” I ask.

“Sure, I’d be happy to,” he replies.

“What is your fee?” I hold my breath.

He waves his hand as if to brush away the question. I later learn that he does some things for free but earns a living doing corporate photography. He’s a networker, but he’s more about trying new things and building relationships rather than building a kingdom.

Over the summer, our club held a photo exhibition, “Power and Glory”, and Neil readily shared some of his best shots and videos so that we could promote his visit at our September meeting. We had 40 people attend and Neil rocks it; answers every question, lets us try his camera gear, shares photos, videos, tips and tricks, even a secret location or two.

Our normal club nights, we usually each bring 10 digital photos to share with the group: our best work from the summer or the prior month. As I choose mine, I begin to feel like I don’t want to share my work when a pro like Neil is in the room. I know Neil won’t judge. He’d probably even offer helpful advice on improving the shot if I ask, but still, there’s that gnawing anxiety in my gut and the inner critic hissing, “Your work isn’t very good” makes me want to step into the shadow instead of the podium.

Except I was scheduled to give a devotional thought, as is our custom. So I have to step to the podium, and I do. And upon request, what follows is my best recollection of that talk.

Comparison is the 8th Deadly Sin

When a pro photographer of the caliber of Neil Zeller is in the room, the last thing I want to do is show my work. Yet, the purpose of this group is to help each other improve our photography skills. And the only way to do that is to admit what we don’t know and ask for help from those who may have more experience.

Ann Landers used to say, “We are all ignorant, just on different subjects.” I like to turn that around: “We are all intelligent, just on different subjects.”

Each of us has our own particular gifting and expertise. Each one of us is important to the healthy functioning of the whole. When you stub your toe, your whole body feels the pain. When your heart and lungs are working well, your entire body benefits. Each part matters, just like each person matters.

In Hebrews 12, we have this challenge: “Since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.”

One thing that really “trips us up” is comparing ourselves with others. When an Olympic athlete competes, he may have others beside him in the race, but when he trains, he competes with himself. He tries to better his time. Each one of us must do our very best with the time and tools we have today. If we look at others, we will only slow our own progress.

“We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.”

This is the real grace: that when we come to Jesus, the ground is level at the foot of the cross. There is no comparison. None of us can earn salvation but it is a free gift of grace. In the same way, our purpose, our role, our talents and abilities are good gifts from our heavenly father. Only we can do what we have been given to do. And Jesus, who started the work in us, will be faithful to complete it.

So let me encourage you with these words from the Apostle Paul in the book of Romans, chapter 12:

“Because of the grace that God gave me, I can say to each one of you: don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought to think.” (And, I would add, don’t think of yourself more lowly than you ought to think.) “Instead, be reasonable (in your evaluation of yourself) since God has measured out a portion of faith to each one of you.” (He’s given us each different gifts.)

“We have many parts in one body, but the parts don’t all have the same function. In the same way, though there are many of us, we are one body in Christ, and individually we belong to each other. We have different gifts that are consistent with God’s grace that has been given to us.”

“If your gift is (Lightroom, do it well). If your gift is teaching, devote yourself to teaching. If your gift is encouragement” (and who doesn’t need encouragement?), “devote yourself to encouraging. The one giving should do it with no strings attached.” (And Neil is doing that tonight.) “The leader should lead with passion.” (We have had so many like Barry, Leo, Daron and Jill who have stepped up to help make these club meetings happen.)

“Love should be shown without pretending… Love each other like the members of your family.” (Or maybe not. LOL). So, okay, love each other like I love Henry.) “Be the best at showing honor to each other. Don’t hesitate to be enthusiastic” (when someone else gets that amazing shot that you missed!) “… Be happy in your hope, stand your ground when you’re in trouble, and devote yourselves to prayer. Contribute to the needs of God’s people,” (and we do that in the way we help each other learn new skills in the club) “and welcome strangers into your home,” (into our club and this church.)

“Consider everyone as equal, and don’t think that you’re better than anyone else. Instead, associate with people who have no status. Don’t think that you’re so smart.”

Each one of us can learn something from someone else and can share our knowledge with others. So, let’s set aside any comparisons, do our best, and share our knowledge with each other in the grace with which God gave it to us.


If you’d like to check out our photo club, we meet from 7-9 PM on the second Tuesday of each month (September through June) in Meeting Room 4 at First Alliance Church. To connect every day, join our Facebook group or for more details, email me.

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