Christmas Letter

(disclaimer: this is a jumbly, sleep-deprived collection of reflections and thoughts from the past year that is in no way intended to come across preachy or enlightened.)

Christmas 2016

I love Kanye. I love how he doesn’t conform, pushes boundaries and is predictably unpredictable.

With that said, I couldn’t help but think of Chesterton’s “Orthodoxy” when I read that Kanye was admitted into the hospital for psychological treatment: “Shall I tell you where the people are who believe most in themselves? The people who really believe in themselves are all in lunatic asylums.” To which Chesterton’s friend asks, “Well if a person is not to believe in oneself, in what is one to believe?”.

Side-note: Can ultimate belief in oneself lead to the ward and/or the White House?! Too soon.

Believing in oneself is encouraged almost everywhere we look. And beyond that, it’s encouraged that we not only believe in ourselves but that we strive to be the best in any respective arena. Best photographer. Best teacher. Best lawyer. Best business person. And that by being the best or having the most or looking the nicest, that we will have made it. 

But to me, this is the surest path to disappointment. I remember when we got our first big feature as photographers on a prominent website; we hugged and high-fived, and refreshed the page thirty seconds later, and the feature was already buried beneath the rubble of ads, click-bait, and other nearly identical features. Admittedly this is on a small scale, but I think the idea applies to most any landscape.

Side-note: I am not advocating to not try and do your best. That’s a great pursuit. But trying to be the best I think can be majorly precarious.

As Mr. Shakur once said, “Play the game, never let the game play you.” But I say, “The minute you play the game, you’ve already lost. It will never be enough and you will never be able to keep up.” Not a sexy thing to say for sure and probably un-American, but I increasingly believe that if our orientation point is to ourselves, our advancement, our success, that it will never be satisfactory. 

So if I don’t want to have the utmost belief in myself and if I don't want to play the game, with what then am I left? 

This past year, we had people close to us pass away; my Dad had a second heart attack; some generally ugly things happened to us and to people close to us and unfortunately, that’s just life. There’s no limit to the amount of hardship that can be experienced. And if what I’m left with is belief in myself to get through it all or a couple of trophies to hoist up and point to as consolation? I can honestly say that I’d be screwed.

Side-note: I’m not promoting a low sense of self. Rather, I would purport a paraphrased idea of humility as suggested by Lewis as, “Don’t think less of yourself. Just think of yourself less.” Wouldn’t we all be a bit better off if we just thought of ourselves less often?

So what? As much as I think there is no limit to the amount of difficulty that one can experience, I also find increased hope in my faith that holds the same infinite possibility for joy, love, and peace in the person of God. That my worth and value are beyond what I do and what I produce. And that yours is too. Frankly it’s a subversive system that says meaning and satisfaction can be found in putting other people’s needs and interests above my own and that no amount of acclaim or accumulation will bring about lasting contentment. 

Another so what? 

I want to live in such a way that places appreciation over achievement. How different would my attitude be on a given day if I took time to appreciate Michelle, Dottie, my parents, my friends, having access to water, food, shelter, warm clothes, not to mention all of the other gifts I take for granted on the regular? Cultivate gratitude. 

I also want to live in such a way that my focus and attention isn’t just on what I want, think I need, or how I’m feeling but that I’m oriented towards and focused on something outside of my head; on something greater, on something unchanging. Cultivate peace, love, and joy. 

So what do we do with Kanye? Two albums ago, Kanye had a very Kanye-centric song entitled, “I am a god” and on his most recent album, he deals largely with themes of wanting to be free. But when he tries on his own and looks to himself to be liberated, he literally finds himself in the ward. 

Maybe we can learn from Kanye and take some wisdom from Chance the Rapper. In a recent interview, Chance cites a pivotal time in his life when he went over to his grandma’s house and she prayed over him, “Lord, I pray that all things that are not like You, You take away from Chance. Take it away. Turn it into dust.”

My prayer for this year is that all things that are Jonny-centric, turn to dust. All my pride, stubbornness, ego, selfishness; that I would cultivate love, joy, hope, gratitude and peace by directing my belief and orientation outward and upward, being tethered to One who promises true freedom and abundant life.

J (+M+D)

jonny hoffner