In 2013, the Chicago Sun-Times cut their photography staff and instructed the reporters to snap any pictures needed with a smartphone.
Three years later, the Chicago Cubs would win the World Series. Those covering the historical moment included the Sun-Times, as well as the Chicago Tribune — who still employed photojournalists. If you were to Google either of these two paper’s front pages the day after the Cubs’ victory you would immediately recognize the capacity of a professional photographer armed with more than a smartphone. Both papers captured the event, but only one captured an iconic moment.
That’s what I love about photography. Even in a world that relentlessly avoids … still, somehow, with just a click of the shutter, that frozen moment of time can tell a story. With this in mind, I grabbed my Nikon, hopped on my longboard and rolled to the Deerfield Beach Fishing Pier over the weekend in search of nanosecond stories. Though I was not expecting to shoot anything near the level of the Tribune at Wrigley Field, I did want to post images on my social media pages that added value to my viewers — pictures they would enjoy. I found plenty, but it was the snapshot I missed that I remember the most.
Atop the parking garage above Bru’s Room, I witnessed the sun sink deeper toward the horizon, engulfing the sky with a warm orange glow. Having already snapped a few pics of the sunset, I packed my gear and called it a day. I was ready for an ice cold Coke.
It was then that the iconic shot presented itself: the sun setting, Mars-esque sky, the Deerfield Beach water tower on the horizon and the Hillsboro Bridge open in the foreground. I knew by the time I unpacked my camera, configured the shutter speed and aperture settings, the moment would have passed. All I could do was follow the advice from the more recent version of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.
Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller), a negative assets manager for Life Magazine, sets out to find a misplaced negative sent by famed photographer Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn) — supposedly capturing “the essence of Life.” The unadventurous Mitty is forced to brave a treacherous climb through the Himalayan mountains where he finds O’Connell poised ready to photograph the elusive “ghost-cat,” a white snow leopard. When the animal enters the frame, to Mitty’s bewilderment, O’Connell doesn’t snap the pic. Mitty says, “When are you going to take it?”
“Sometimes, I don’t. If I like a moment, for me, personally, I don’t like to have the distraction of the camera. I just want to stay in it,” says O’Connell.
Mind blown! Countless times since first watching Walter Mitty, I’ve been tempted to grab my phone and take a picture, but didn’t. I’m reminded, while there are definitely times for us to capture a special moment — an iconic one even — most of the pictures we take are less about storing a memory and do more to rob us of being present and experiencing the moment.
And so, there I stood. Wanting to take a picture of the setting sun over Deerfield Beach, I clung to O’Connell’s wisdom: I stayed in the moment — no distraction of the camera. It was beautiful, satisfying even … worth clearing the distractions and being fully present.
If you are like me, there are other areas in your life where this is pertinent as well. For me, it’s in my alone time with God. My serving, reading plans, book studies, small group meetings, and even mentoring, while they all serve a higher purpose and help to capture the essence of faith, just like the camera, they can become distractions from being fully present with my Creator.
This week, take a moment to inventory the distractions that cloud your relationship with God. They may be good things, but as James C. Collins says, “Good is the enemy of great.” And we can’t have a great relationship with God — one that is as quintessential as the front page of the Tribune the morning after the 2016 World Series — if we’re bogged down by all the good, never fully present and satisfied with Him alone.
C.J. Wetzler is the NextGen pastor at First Baptist Church of Deerfield Beach. Before transitioning into full-time ministry, CJ was a commercial airline captain and high school leadership and science teacher. For questions or comments he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.