In Praise of the Right Tools

Friday, Mar. 17, 2017
By Marie Mischel
Intermountain Catholic
I might have mentioned to one or two (hundred) people that I got a new camera. I also might have complained a couple (dozen) times about the theology classes I’ve been taking, and yesterday it occurred to me that the two actually have a lot in common.
That realization came after an enjoyable photography session was followed by a frustrating couple of hours composing a three-page theological essay. 
As I struggled with the writing, it dawned on me that both the camera and the knowledge I’m gaining from the classes are tools, and the reason I’m so happy with the one is because I understand how to use it, and the reason I’m so discouraged by the other is that the learning curve is so steep that at times I’m ready to quit the climb.
It’s embarrassing to admit that I know how to wield a camera better than my faith. I was raised Catholic, and what I’d learned in catechism class growing up allowed me to attend Mass on Sunday and go to Confession a couple of times a year, which for decades was the entire extent of my religious practice. 
Photography, on the other hand, has been both work and pleasure since high school. Until recently, the relationship between the camera’s f-stop and the depth of field in the resulting photograph had much more impact on me than the fact that the Eucharist is the source of all the other sacraments.
Then I took this job, and now the work I do has me delving deeply into how the Catholic faith is practiced in Utah.
Soon after I started here, I realized that my high-school-level knowledge of the faith was no longer adequate, not just on a professional level but also in my personal life.  
I started taking advanced theology classes for the same reason I got a new camera: My old equipment no longer did what I wanted or needed it to do.
In the case of the camera, the Nikon I’ve been shooting with for the past 10 years is still serviceable, but it’s not as good as I need it to be in situations like taking photos without a flash in church. So I broke down and went to the camera store. 
That smile you’ve seen on my face for the past two weeks has just as much to do with my new gear as it does with Bishop Solis’ arrival. 
It’s amazing the things my new Nikon can do with ease. An example is the photograph that accompanies this column. In that photo, there’s natural light coming from behind the bishop, and artificial overhead lighting, and yet all of the faces are almost perfectly lit. I did only a modicum of color correcting in Photoshop. With my old camera, in that lighting, I wouldn’t have gotten nearly as much detail.
The benefits of the theology classes are less obvious. However, one notable example occurred during Advent, when I edited a story that said that Catholics believe that with the incarnation Jesus came to earth as fully man. This is true, as far as it goes, but it’s necessary to add that, though human, he remained fully divine. Without the theology classes, I probably wouldn’t have noticed that piece of information was lacking from the draft of the story, but because I’ve become more attuned to the subtleties of the faith I recognized that we needed to include the fullness of the mystery that we celebrate at Advent.
I don’t know if I’ll ever enjoy theology as much as I do photography. Maybe once I’ve got the basics down it will be easier, but even if it’s not, the knowledge of the faith I’m gaining is worth the effort. I’ll never be a Pulitzer-prize winning photographer just as I’ll never be a theologian, but each pursuit allows me to see God in a different light, and perhaps in time, if I keep pointing the lenses of both at him, I’ll see him a little more clearly in the darkened glass.  
Marie Mischel is editor of the Intermountain Catholic.

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