UpFront with Mary Hendricks, 07/31/2016

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time

July 31, 2016

Ecclesiastes 1:2, 2:21-23

The Urban Dictionary definition of “selfie” is: “The beginning of the end of intelligent civilization.” Selfies were taken as far back as 1839 when Robert Cornelius uncovered the lens of his camera, ran around to the front of it, stood there for a minute, and then ran back to replace the lens cap. But it wasn’t until the 21st century and the 2010 iPhone 4 was released with a front-facing camera that the selfie movement exploded.

A selfie is a self-portrait, taken with a digital camera or camera phone held at arm’s length or pointed at a mirror. It is estimated that the average millennial (those born between 1982-2004) will take over 25,000 selfies in his lifetime. If you take a look at any Facebook timeline, you will see that the estimate is probably low. I’ve been known to take a selfie or two or 900, and I’m light years from being a millennial.

We take selfies because we are social creatures. We need to be connected, seen, and valued by others.

We take selfies because other people take selfies. The practice has become a social norm. Remember your parents’ question? If your friend jumped off a cliff, would you? Well…yeah.

And we take selfies because we are vain. We need validation, duck lips and all. We want to share on social media, and we count the “likes” we get. The more the better.

We are vain. When’s the last time you walked past a mirror without sneaking a peek at how you look? There was a story on the internet which described a woman who, trying to prove her assertion that men are more vain than women, said to an audience “It is a pity that the most intelligent and learned men attach the least importance to the way they dress. Why, right in this room the most cultivated man is wearing the most clumsily knotted tie!” Every single man in the room immediately put his hand to his tie to straighten it.

“Vanity of vanities, says Qoheleth, vanity of vanities! All things are vanity!” is the verse we hear from today’s first reading. In this case, the exasperated writer is using the Hebrew superlative, “Vanity of vanities,” to express a supreme degree of futility and emptiness. The author, in fact, paints a rather depressing picture of life: you work hard and have to leave your property to another who hasn’t worked a day on it. You worry and fret, and all you get is sorrow, grief, and insomnia. This guy could use a good anti-depressant.

Translated from Hebrew, vanity in this case means “chasing the wind.” How many times have you done that? For me, it’s about twice the number of selfies I’ve taken. Yep. I prefer dreams over reality most days. Well, every day.

We chase the wind when we value what we own—a big home, the expensive car, jewelry, the electronics instead of family and friends. We chase the wind and think we are good parents when we take the kids on a fabulous vacation, or give them free reign on the credit card or iTunes account instead of spending time with them. We chase the wind when we deem ourselves successful when our bank account is healthy, our investments are secure, or we work outrageous hours instead of donating time, treasure, and talent to help the poor among us.

All of it—vanity.

This week, the Girl Scouts started preparing 93 backpacks for the kids at H.E. White Elementary School in Clay County, devastated by recent flooding, and more than a dozen totes full of supplies for the school’s teachers. I guarantee that the recipients will be happy, but not nearly as happy as the ones who donated the crayons, notebooks, scissors, and thousands more back-to-school necessities.

That, friends, is love of God and neighbor, the complete opposite of vanity.






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