More Opacity Please

13 11 2009
Thank you Technology for making the word “opacity” more and more a part of modern vernacular.In my last post, I tried to argue that “selflessness” is not a true Christian value, but a trick of Satan to try to get us to fight against ourselves.


In my mind, this concept is analogous to that little “opacity” slider that shows up in various kinds of design or photo editing software: You add a photo to your project, and then you get to choose how transparent you want it to be, so it can show up very solid and clear, or barely there, just a background image.

Well, I think people are like that.I think, for example, of the classic American “couch potato dad”. You know, the guy who sits on the couch all day, watching TV, whose goal is to pay the minimum required level of attention to his wife that will still lead her to think he’s engaged in the conversation. That’s a man who is gradually, ever so gradually, dialing down his opacity farther and farther, until he’s barely even there, barely even a person to connect with at all.


I’ll never forget a moment in a Bible study that I was a part of a few years ago. We were discussing what it means to be truly present in life. The be honest, the conversation was pretty bland. Most of us in the room weren’t particularly engaged in the conversation.

But at one moment, a friend of mine took a risk: She opened up about her longing to connect with others in the group, and how lonely she felt when she was unable to do so. As she shared her loneliness, she began to feel sad. Instead of shutting down this feeling, she drew it up, out of herself, and shared it with the group. Her tears began to flow.

There was a palpable change in the atmosphere of the room at that moment. We had all been just drifting, only half “in” the conversation, and suddenly this woman made the choice to dial her opacity all the way up. She showed up, in the room.

At that moment, everyone in the room was awakened a little bit. I’m sure our pulses quickened. All of us were confronted not only with the emotions of my friend, but with the emotions that her sharing had evoked within us. And then we, too, had the choice to stuff those feelings down (erasing ourselves again), or draw them up and out of ourselves, showing ourselves to one another, becoming more present in the room.

You see, this is why I dislike the word “selfless”. Because selfhood, when it shows up, is so beautiful. This kind of “holy selfishness” does not increase itself at the expense of others, but calls others to also become more present, more alive. It demolishes our limited idea that, “If you take up more space, I must then take up less space”. Rather, it says, “I will now take up more space so that you, too, may become more.”

This required a great risk on the part of my friend: She could have feared the vulnerability that her self-exposure would bring. She could have told herself, “I don’t want to be ‘selfish’ and make this time about me.” But these, I believe, are tricks of Satan, calling us to decrease ourselves until there is little left of any of us at all to connect with, to know, or to love.

This is one more reason why I long to find, to know, and to increase my daily experience of desire. When I desire, I am alive. When I long, I am alive. When I feel, I am alive. There is more of me to be in the world, and I then draw others into selfhood as well.

Think now for a moment about Jesus. Is this not what Jesus did in his life? Is Jesus best characterized by selflessness? I don’t think so. I would argue that Jesus was the solidest, most fully present human that ever lived. His presence was almost too much to take, and as a result, people had a wide variety of responses to him. Some were offended; some were terrified and ran; some bowed their heads and begged forgiveness. Others wept and bathed his feet with their tears.

Whatever the response, one thing is for sure: You couldn’t encounter Jesus and not be changed. There was simply too much of a person there for one to not be affected.
When I avert my eyes from the gaze of Jesus (and from God) I am really trying remove myself from the reality in which he lives. And there is nowhere I can go except into nonexistence, into nothingness, into a place where there is less of me.
Liu Bolin6

When we attempt to fade into the background of life, we are far from what God has intended for us.

But God’s desire is to call us to be more of a self. If you will allow me to redefine the word, he wants us to be more “self-ish”.





2 responses

14 11 2009

i think the challenge after being transparent amidst opacity is being open the next time too. i’ve been that girl before, and then entered the same situation again to find that nothing’s really changed. maybe last time it was different, but now we’re back to before. because transparency can make people awkward, it’s easier sometimes to pretend to forget that beautiful moment because we don’t know how to move forward from it. i don’t think anyone actually forgets that it happens, but the follow up can be intimidating and uncomfortable for all parties involved. don’t get me wrong, i still think it’s worth it because i’ve seen great results from someone stepping out in faith too. but without a counselor or former small group leader present, how does someone pick up the pieces of vulnerability in the real world?

14 11 2009
Tim Courtois

Yeah, even with a counselor present it can be difficult. In fact, even in that particular group, things didn’t really change over the long run. I agree with you: that difficulty doesn’t make me think it’s not worth it, but it does remind me that it can be a battle every day to be genuinely alive and present – and can be frustrating when other people don’t want to fight that battle, too.
Thanks for sharing this!

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