This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

Andres: Our filtered selves

I ran across an article about a disturbing trend in plastic surgery in which people alter their faces to look like filtered selfies taken with apps like Facetune or Snapchat, which modify appearance by blurring imperfections and altering features to increase beauty.

Carmen Andres

In “Snapchat Dysmorphia,” health professionals and researchers express concern at how the line between fantasy and reality is blurring. Many seeking surgery seem to forget “there’s a big difference between making a nose or chin look smaller on camera and moving bone or tissue with surgery.

“In other words, the edited and filtered photos create an alternate reality, and along with it, unrealistic expectations about how people should look — and what cosmetic treatments can do for them.”

“It can be argued that these apps are making us lose touch with the reality because we expect to look perfectly primped and filtered in real life as well,” say doctors in a JAMA Facial Plastic Surgery article.

In “Is Snapchat Making Us Forget What We Look Like?” Ruth Faj laments that we’d rather have a “digitally obscured version of ourselves than our actual selves out there” and asks us to consider “what happens when our forged avatars are what we believe is real.”

While this challenges us to examine our use of social media, I think it also helps explain how we as a church culture could get to a place where #MeToo is also #ChurchToo, especially in the wake of Bill Hybels’ immoral behavior and the crisis of Willow Creek.

“The church is waking up to the nature of systemic sin, the embedded narcissism of institutions . . . entrenched in narcissistic systems and led by narcissistic leaders,” writes Chuck DeGroat, professor of pastoral care and Christian spirituality at Western Theological Seminary, in “Bill Hybels and the Future of the Church After #ChurchToo.”

“Willow Creek is our moment of experiential learning, our opportunity to die a painful death to our collective ego, grandiosity, celebrity worship, and more,” he continues. “We’ve got to wonder — together — how did we get here? What about us even craves narcissistic systems and leaders? Why is our American culture a perfect petri dish for narcissistic systems and leaders? How do our structures and systems cultivate this quick-spreading virus?”

I resonate with DeGroat. This is a systematic virus that plagues us all. We live in a culture fostering the need for constant admiration and warped and inflated self-image — where we now get plastic surgery to look like our airbrushed, perfected selfies.

We carry forged and filtered avatars with us to church, too, presenting appearances of perfection, hiding wounds and struggles. But all this focus on ourselves makes us less accessible to others, less empathetic and more narcissistic.

We forget what we really look like. And what the church should look like, too.

In From Brokenness to Community, Jean Vanier reminds us: “We are not striving for perfect community. Community is not an ideal; it is people. It is you and I. In community we are called to love people just as they are with their wounds and their gifts, not as we would want them to be. . . . It is giving each other freedom; it is giving each other trust; it is confirming but also challenging each other.

“We give dignity to each other by the way we listen to each other, in a spirit of trust and of dying to oneself so that the other may live, grow and give.”

Carmen Andres, a former editor of the Mennonite Brethren magazine Christian Leader, lives in Alexandria, Va.

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