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The search for authentic originality

Ryan Denison is the Senior Fellow for Theology at Denison Forum, where he contributes writing and research to many of the ministry’s productions.

He is in the final stages of earning his PhD in church history at BH Carroll Theological Institute after having earned his MDiv at Truett Seminary. Ryan has also taught at BH Carroll and Dallas Baptist University.

He and his wife, Candice, live in East Texas and have two children.

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Socality Barbie is a fantastic Instagram account satirizing the great millennial adventurer trend in photography (Credit: socalitybarbie via Instagram)

Authentic originality seems to be in short supply these days. Whether it’s the plethora of sequels and spinoffs that dominate the entertainment world or the philosophizing platitudes that litter social media, it seems like true originality is an increasingly rare commodity. Or, perhaps we are simply so interconnected with the world around us that we more easily recognize the lack of uniqueness. Either way, it seems to have created an atmosphere in which people often try so hard to generate content that sounds authentic and original that it results in more of the same derivative clichés and phrases they initially tried to avoid.

A recent article in Wired by Taylor Glascock highlights the issue. Glascock profiles an Instagram account called Socality Barbie that, as she describes, satirizes “the great millennial adventurer trend in photography.” The account is filled with pictures of a Barbie doll dressed in various trendy outfits posing in front of picturesque landscapes or taking photos of her latest culinary experiences. The images are often accompanied by captions like “Always gram your coffee or it didn’t happen and Great things never came from comfort zones,” phrases Glascock describes as “pitch-perfect platitudes.”

Socality Barbie’s creator said of her decision to use a Barbie doll as its focus, “People were all taking the same pictures in the same places and using the same captions. I couldn’t tell any of their pictures apart so I thought, ‘What better way to make my point than with a mass-produced doll?'” The account currently has over 940,000 followers on Instagram—up from just over 7,000 when Glascock’s article was published—and is growing daily. It would seem that satirizing the trendy has become quite trendy as well.

Part of the reason we find originality so difficult is that, while God made each of us unique, he also designed us to be imitators of him. Imitation in our DNA. However, that is only a problem if we are imitating the wrong things. God knew that would be an issue, so throughout our history he has given us guidelines for how to emulate him rather than the fallen nature of the world around us. It started in the garden when he walked with Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:8) and continued when he gave the Law to his people. The prophets were sent to remind people of their need to imitate the Lord when the Israelites got off track, and Jesus provides us with the ultimate example as God incarnate.

The thing is, the kind of imitation to which we are called requires a deep understanding of that which we are trying to emulate. It’s not enough to simply act as Jesus did or follow the outward manifestation of the Law’s commands. The religious leaders in the Gospels were quite good at that type of imitation and it was one of our Lord’s biggest issues with them (Matthew 9:1-13, Matthew 23). Rather, the kind of emulation to which we are called requires an understanding of the heart behind the actions. It requires that we remain in constant communication with our heavenly Father so that he can direct our paths and help us to grow in his image. And it requires that we settle for nothing less than the perfection Jesus described in his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:48).

We will experience days and moments where we fail to live up to the image in which we were created. When that happens, God offers mercy and forgiveness to help set us right. However, we must always resist the temptation to allow our eventual failings to keep us from pursuing the kind of life God intended for you to have when he formed you into the one-of-a-kind person that you are. Remember, you are an original masterpiece, carefully crafted by our Lord and Savior but called to live in imitation of him. How that emulation plays out will be, in many ways, unique to your life. But if you live according to the Lord’s will, you will bear the unmistakable signs of God’s image. How does your life match up today?