Dodging and Burning
I gingerly removed my print with tongs from the last basin of liquid and waited for it to dry. I squinted as I left the darkroom, and a waft of chemicals followed me as I laid the latest version of my assignment in front of my teacher.
“Mmm…a little more here on the leaves. Yes, burn it a little more. Then you should be good,” she said.
Back into the darkroom I went…
I took a darkroom black and white photography class in college. One of the (many) crucial elements to developing a quality picture was achieving good contrast. The blackest blacks and the whitest whites were the goal for any assignment. To obtain that contrast was difficult at times, but so worth it in the end.
Dodging and burning in film photography requires exposing a portion of the photograph to more light (burning) or shielding parts of the photo from the light (dodging). It can be a tedious process, depending on the composition of your photo.
I remember one photo I developed pictured delicate Japanese red maple leaves against an overcast sky. I don’t know how many times I put the print back under the enlarger and worked to achieve the perfect contrast.
Why the focus on contrast? Because contrast is what is most pleasing to the eye. To see trees or buildings stark against a bright sky is much more appealing than muddy gray buildings against an equally muddy sky.
In thinking on this concept, I realized it applies to our spiritual lives as well.
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:2)
Sometimes Christians can look rather muddy and blend into the dull landscape of our fallen world. We don’t stand out as clearly as we should, as often as we should. We read verses like the one from Romans above and it sounds right to our ears, but to walk that out faithfully? It turns into a task that is at best difficult.
I love that exposing a photo to light is one of the ways to achieve contrast, just like our hearts need to be laid bare to the light of Christ. Our motives, thought processes, and inner dialogue all have muddy areas that don’t shine like they could. But his light burns away what shouldn’t be there and what’s left is a mind and heart that reflects Christ.
Vindictive anger is burned away and what’s left are understanding and forgiveness.
Addiction is burned away and an understanding of temptations and our reliance on God are left instead.
Pride is burned away and humility and meekness are left in its place.
Meekness…forgiveness…reliance on God. Those most definitely stand in contrast to how the world operates.
For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God. (John 3:20-21)
Let’s continue the photography analogy. Burning is only one part of achieving good contrast in a photo. Dodging, shielding delicate parts of the photo, is the other part. While we don’t “hide” parts of our hearts from God, we do shield parts of our spirits from the harsh elements of the world by our actions and choices.
We shield our marriages with prayer and intentional choices that protect the inner sanctorum of husband and wife.
We shield our hearts with wise choices in entertainment and friends.
We shield our integrity in the workplace from selfish ambition and corruption.
Again, won’t those choices stand in stark contrast to how the world operates? Would those not give people pause and ask why we would make such a decision?
The more our lives contrast with the world, the more the world will know what Christ looks like.
And “then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life.” (Philippians 2:15b-16a)