For years I’ve been a part of camera clubs.
The first one I joined was one in Minnetonka. It was a great club, and I’d still go there if meetings did not conflict with parish council and commission nights as they meet the first Thursday of the month.
The second one I joined was one that is closer to Rosemount, though I was a member even when I was commuting from Delano, and that is the Minnesota Nature Photography Club. It too has been an enjoyable club, and is more geared to the kind of photography I’m most interested in, wildlife and birds and nature and landscape shots.
As part of both clubs, there is what is called a “salon.” This is where photographers submit images to be judged.
What you quickly learn is that while no one is mean, this is not the world of Facebook where when you post an image everyone seems to like it or say “nice photo.” The point for submitting it is you hope that it does well and is liked by others, perhaps winning an award at the end of the year, but those judging it might not like it as much. They’ll generally say something positive too, but if the photo needs work or could have been done differently, they’ll let you know how to do it better. This is especially the case in the nature club, and in fact I remember there was one person in the Minnetonka club who, when I learned of the nature club, remarked “they are so mean! They take things that will get a perfect score here and not even accept them!”
Well, despite the perceived “meanness” of the nature club, I still enjoy going. And over the years, some of my images the judge has liked a lot; others they said was just so-so. I’ve won some awards, and left with a slightly bruised ego as well. But I can say that in the past decade since I started photography, I’ve gotten better. Shots I took ten years ago I thought were really neat at the time I look back and say “well that’s just OK.” I’ve learned more about processing images (though I’m still not a Photoshop expert). I’ve come to understand more things like shutter speed, aperture, ISO settings, camera noise, background, subject placement, and all that other stuff. And I’m still learning and hope to become better because I really enjoy the hobby.
All that being said, there’s something far more important that I hope to attain than an award for photography, and that is the crown of life. And just like the camera club salons, to get there people will comment on the portrait we present to them of ourselves. Some times it will be a very good review such as something we did selflessly for them, or how we seem to be living our lives. But other times it might be something very challenging. Hearing something from someone about our health, how we treat our spouse or kids, a bad habit, or our conduct that isn’t all that flattering can cause us to become defensive. But we have to ask ourselves a question, do we want to just coast through live and be average, or do we truly want to be great? If we want greatness, we have to listen to the prophets in our lives.
A little over a week ago at daily Mass, our Gospel of the day was from Matthew 13, where Jesus returns to his native place. The people who hear Him wonder where He learned to speak as He did in the synagogue and essentially ignore what He has to say, dismissing Him as the son of a carpenter. Perhaps they remember Him from HIs younger days, or think less of Him because of His family’s social status. What is clear is they don’t have much respect for what He has to say.
Sometimes we can be just like those people with the prophets in our midst, especially with people we know well such as friends and family. And while it certainly could be the case that someone misjudges us, sometimes a person who knows us well will challenge us about something that’s really worth thinking about.
We all want to be perfect, but sometimes we don’t want to travel the road to perfection as we were reminded of last week at Mass in our readings because the road is hard. If you are a human being, you have shortcomings. God’s love and mercy are always there, but we are called to respond to it. So be open to the prophets in your midst. Honestly look at your temperament and personality and ask yourself do people fear giving you honest feedback, whether it is family or coworkers or perhaps people you supervise on the job? Do you get defensive or listen carefully to what they have to say? Do you follow up on what someone says to you by getting another opinion? Do you pray about it when your conscience or another person is challenging you? Do you seek out people who will tell you what you need to hear and not just what you want to hear?
Spiritual growth is not easy. Just like on a performance review at work it’s a lot more comforting to hear what we did well and not the “areas for growth” the same is true in life. Thankfully even if we die with some work to do, God will help us sort all that out. But along the way there, He sends wise people to us who have a lot to tell us. So don’t be afraid to take the good with that which challenges you, because you just might find it enables you to present a beautiful picture to the world of virtue.
Have a great week,