A Christmas Message…

Sir Don McCullin’s work is so arresting that it falls into the category of “once you see it, you cannot unsee it”.

By Pastor Robert Perez

2020, where do I begin? Well, no need to rehash the years events. We all know it too well.

2020 was truly a global year. Not since “the wars”, has the world been so riveted as one, with each of us looking to the other for signs of hope and answers. Many people suffered greatly, and many lives were lost, earlier than they should have been.

When I first began writing as a Pastor, I really didn’t expect to reach a global community. I was just writing with a blind hope that my messages would get out there. Now, there are readers in many countries including China, France, United Kingdom, Russia, Brazil, Germany, Canada, India and more, plus many in my home here in the U.S. Thank you and God’s blessings on you.

I’m a profesional artist and photographer, as well as a Pastor. During the emptiness of the Covid-19 lockdown, I’ve been painting, writing my first book, improving my photography skills, developing my businesses and studying the work of the masters of photography, such as Sebastião Salgado, Mick Rock, and one of the greatest photographers of all, Sir Donald McCullin.

For those not familiar with McCullin’s work, he’s a British photographer/photojournalist who covered wars and terrible conflicts around the world for most of his career since the early 1960’s before turning his masterful lens on the landscape, an exercise he says is mostly to quell the residue of hurt left behind from witnessing the unthinkable for decades.

McCullin is one of only two photographers bestowed the honor of Knighthood. Deservedly so. He hates the term “War Photographer” or “Artist”, both of which are suitable. He simply calls himself a photographer. He is humble. Not the phony humbleness that pretends as though they are not relevant, but the genuine kind that sees the world as bigger and more important than themselves. He is brilliant, astute and very articulate, despite growing up destitute and barely educated in school due to his dyslexia.

McCullin’s work is so arresting that it falls into the category of “once you see it, you cannot unsee it”. His importance is multifaceted: The work itself and the conditions under which it was made. The impact it’s had on our culture. And finally, the impact it’s had on the man behind the lens. He is relevant because his lens tells our collective story. His images are infinitely more than the specifics, by which we may deduce who, what, where and why. His photographs are the boundary-less story of humanity’s suffering and cruelty as a whole.

Today, we can dismiss reaction to it as a different era with no relevance on our own time or individual lives, but that would be a lie. Each image is a snapshot of yesterday, today and more alarmingly tomorrow. They are windows into the future as much as the past.

As we regularly watch “murder television” for entertainment, in life we avoid the reality of it all. McCullin did no such thing. He willingly witnessed it with his own eyes under the harshest of conditions, and bared the almost insufferable burden of capturing it, not for vanity, but for us to know the truth so we can do something about it. Many people witness the suffering of others, but often it’s brief. He chose to go back again and again, each time on a mission of pure hope that he could make a difference.

Listening to him speak, you can feel the hauntings that are his memories. I’ve been processing for months how it could be possible for him to stay sane and somehow not turn on humanity itself. Yet, he did not give up on us, despite still working out what it all means in the dark spaces of his mind, as he searches for the right light that may hold the answers. McCullin is not alone.

How petty our daily grievances are in comparison as we squabble over nonsense.

Unfortunately, McCullin believes his work had no impact at all on our culture because he sees the world continuing as it has. To him, we see his photos, temporarily react, and then move on. But I disagree. There are no metrics to validate my firm belief, but I’m certain his work impacted individuals who then acted in small ways and large to make a difference that extends far out into the ripples of time and space. It is simply something that cannot be measured.

At the same time, we must assert that it hasn’t done enough. War and suffering still rage on in too many places. But if we think of the people and governments that make incremental changes each year in the right direction, we must be full of hope. His photos could never change the nature of man, but they can change a person’s mind. Think of Greta Thunberg, the young girl from Sweden who took on the world as a climate change warrior and succeeded against the giant bullies of power who tried to stop her.

This Christmas is momentous for humanity. We must unite our hearts as one against evil that unleashes suffering. We must look into the eyes of the weak and give them our strength. Remember, as we ourselves may suffer, the ones who suffer the most will never see a computer to read any of this. They wish only to eat, to sleep, to be safe, and to live.

Open your eyes and see God’s blessings bestowed on you. When you take a bite of food, relish the joy of its flavors. When you kiss, stop time and kiss passionately, fully in the moment. When you say, “Merry Christmas”, send your love with it, delivered in your words. See, touch, taste, feel the world anew and rejoice. God is great. Take a moment, look Heavenwards and say, “Thank you my Lord for all I have.”

A baby was born whose sole purpose was to rid the world of suffering. Not by words alone, but by action that says, “no more will we hurt”. Reflect on your own life and on those around you. Give the gift of the true meaning of Christmas, which is love to one another. Amen.

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