Column: Image to Image: Musings on Faith, Media, and Story
April-May entry: “Revealing Hobbies, Redeeming Time”
Column Description: Image to Image: Musings on Faith, Media, and Story is a monthly column that illuminates old and new ideas about media ecology from a Christian perspective. Dr. Mitchell will explore what it means to bear God’s image and Christian witness in a mediated world, with a particular focus on the relationships between theology, media, and orthopraxy across different Christian traditions.
By Chase Mitchell, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Media and Communication, East Tennessee State University
Revealing Hobbies, Redeeming Time
What is a hobby? Is it a thing we do to kill time? To fight boredom? To be distracted? Why do we feel the need to kill time in the first place? Why do we want to be distracted, and from what? And after all, why does it matter? It’s something a person does to enjoy themselves. It’s simple, isn’t it?
Lots of questions. The only good reason I have for posing them is that I’ve recently picked up a new hobby: fly fishing. There’ve been other activities I’ve enjoyed at different times in my life that are reasonably hobby’ish or hobby-like. Some, like bowling and video games, were passing fads of my youth. Others—golf, for example—have waxed and waned. And still others, reading chief amongst them, began early and have remained a constant repose. Each of these, I suggest, are mere hobbies because they were/are expressions of my existing interests. The impetus for starting them seems to have been natural and convergent. I took up golf because there were golf courses around, others played, and I generally enjoyed ball sports. Why wouldn’t I try it out? I was predisposed to like it given past experiences; circumstance dictated.
My newfound interest in fly fishing is different, though. The urge to pick up a fly rod was unlikely. I was never apt to like fishing. Besides a few Bluegill caught with doughballs in my childhood, I had little experience. And it was boring! What was the point, the reward, for all that patience? Fish isn’t even that tasty. Sure, I’ve known folks who enjoy it. I’ve seen people do it in movies and on TV. The scenery is pretty. Ehhh… all my life, not for me. And so my sudden urge this spring to wade into the river with a tangled mess of line in the hopes of hooking trout—it can only be madness, can’t it?
Yes, but madness is revelatory.
God’s self-revelation happens like this: We’re blind, broken persons who spend our waking moments killing time. We’ve made distracting ourselves an artform. When we’re not working to pay the bills, we collect stamps, or watch Netflix, or play tennis, or blog. When we bore of that we read a strange book that tells of talking donkeys. It makes enough sense to garner our respect for those who believe it, but less enough sense for the sensible. And then out of the blue God pierces our heart; the curtain is torn; the donkey speaks to us. What made sense, before, is revealed for its untruth, its reasonable falsity. Our loves are reordered; new loves emerge. We may still spend time collecting stamps, but that time is no longer wasted. We may abide in it, to the glory of God.
That’s what my experience in coming to love fly fishing has been like. The decision to buy waders and start watching YouTube videos about leaders and tippets and midges came from without, unexpectedly. Nothing in me, or at least nothing in my self-awareness, pointed to this ridiculous activity—pulling fish out of water—as a source of peace, of rejuvenation, of fascination. It’s like loving God. I never asked for it. I never planned for it. If given my way I would’ve turned away from it, rejected it. But God gave it to me nonetheless, and in that giving is teaching me, healing me, redeeming me. In that gift I find the Giver, who gives things we never knew we wanted.
A mere hobby is something we do to kill time or quell boredom. But it’s also a means by which we try and distract ourselves from our own absurdity. It generally has the opposite effect. What is more absurd than mere basket weaving, mere bee keeping, mere golf? But a redeemed hobby is sacred. A redeemed basket-weaver, beekeeper, or golfer is punched into God’s clock. The time I spend fly fishing is God working out His salvation in me, redeeming time, because in that particular “time-wasting” activity He is doing something new. Nothing is more absurd—and more beautiful—than that. Except maybe my first rainbow trout; how absurdly beautiful he was!