Instagram: A visual storyteller

In the Middle Ages sunlight poured into churches through multicolored works of art. Stained glass was featured prominently throughout church buildings, especially in worship spaces. These works were practical, as they let in light, and they were beautiful. But they held another important purpose—they told a story.

Through the images on those windows, people learned the stories of Abraham and Sarah, of Moses, of Ruth. Those images were a visual telling of the story of Jesus and the disciples.

As literacy rates rose, we moved away from these visual stories. We focused on the written words. But recently there has been a rediscovery of the power of visual storytelling, which we see in the ways we communicate with each other. More and more we are using images to tell our friends about our day, to make our friends laugh and show what we believe. These images are often shared through social media, which is also moving more toward visual aspects.

Of the major social media platforms, Instagram was intended primarily for visual storytelling. Here the images are what matter—the text is secondary. Instagram is the second largest social media platform with about 500 million users. Unlike other platforms, it’s intended to be used only on your smartphone—not on a computer.

Once you create an Instagram account, your first task is to take a picture with your phone’s camera. You are then given options for editing the picture. Instagram’s artistic and easy-to-use filters and edits are part of the user’s take on that moment. It’s their visual story.

November is a great time to jump in on this platform. Use this month in which we celebrate Thanksgiving to show the world what you are thankful for. Every day, take a picture of something that makes you thankful and post it to Instagram. In the description, add the hashtag #ELCAthankful. We would love to see what you give thanks for!

As the month goes on, you can go back and reflect on those things that made you thankful and interact with other people’s photos. At the end of the month, you’ll have a wall of pictures that tell the story of your thankfulness—a modern stained-glass window of gratitude.

David L. Hansen
Hansen is pastor of Spirit of Joy! Lutheran Church in The Woodlands, Texas.

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