Ears To Hear

The shout-them-down rhetoric of tribal factions has so thoroughly taken over our cultural discourse until the simplest conversations have become minefields. Either you’re expected to contribute to the vitriolic diminishment of those with whom you disagree, or you will be ostracized for not conforming to tribal expectations. This isn’t to suggest that the ethos of tribal groupthink is somehow a new thing, rather, I’m only recognizing the high pitch of the sharp divide that has seized so much of our cultural engagement of one another, these days.

The only thing that the flamethrowers on each side can agree upon is that scorched earth is the only way to win – you gotta burn it down to reboot it! The good news is that those willing to actually strike the match are in a very small minority – but the bad news is that it has been this very small minority’s dark, dehumanizing mentality, which seems to be subtly at work fueling the debate. So instead of the civility of an intellectually honest exchange of ideas, where amicable disagreement is allowed to occur – we are now embroiled in bumper sticker bromides, snarky memes, and denouncements of anyone we disagree with as being stupid and/or evil . . . even when our own duplicity conspicuously exposes the shallowness of our own partisan agendas. In short, all we can do is talk at each other.

arrowsMy point here isn’t to drill down into the political minutia that has become our disproportionate justification for why we must prove how right we are and how wrong they are – as I no longer have the desire to contribute to the incessant inflation of political agendas. No, my point is that we are losing our ability to hear the humanity in the voice of those with whom we disagree. Now, before you assume that I’ve been secretly speaking about “them” and that “we” are different – let me disabuse you of that notion . . . as I am convinced we all share culpability in this coarsening of the discourse.

In the gospels, the words of Jesus were often met with resistance by those lost in their own echo chambers of context and influence. So he would invite them to set aside their expectations of what they want to hear, what their ears might be itching for – words to agree with . . . or words to pounce upon — like red meat. Jesus invited them to come and know something new – in a new way of knowing. Something they may have been previously leaving out of the equation. So the choice was theirs to make – to stay and try to figure it out . . . or to walk away convinced there was nothing new worth knowing.

When my wife and children accuse me of not hearing them, my first instinct is to dismiss the accusation as absurdly inaccurate — I can obviously hear them . . . which may be true if words were all they were trying to convey. But in the invitation of Jesus to have ears to hear, I have been learning to humble myself, so I might be able to listen beyond the logic of the words being spoken, to listen for what the heart may be speaking. There is an innate dignity we extend to one another when we truly seek to listen beyond the words. You may still end up disagreeing, and that’s all right, but you will have remembered something far more valuable – that the unconditional love of God might be trying to interrupt your conversation . . . and you might just want to let that happen.

I thought this was an excellent philosophical analysis
regarding the nature of the divide.


Knowing the Back Story

Our culture is driven by a self-affirming narrative, lost in the circular logic of “What I say has importance because I have said it”. But ironically, this narrowing narcissistic perspective appears to be on the rise during a time when avenues of personal communication are now at an all-time high. So we have all of this opportunity, like no other point in history, to connect with one another . . . and still, we end up speaking past each other.

The importance of first impressions is like a two-edged sword. We cannot help but formulate opinions about someone we first meet, measuring them by their initial appearance and conduct, placing them on a continuum ranging between exceptional to objectionable. Then we reflexively allow these superficial assessments of others entirely too much weight – knowing full well we have no desire to have ourselves known in such a shallow way. However, inescapably we know that this is exactly how we’ll be judged — so we present ourselves in the best light possible. This is a dysfunction of our fallen natures – hiding behind our selfie smiles.

This appears to be the corner we’ve painted ourselves in to – maybe we should have paid closer attention to those proverbial stickie notes we left ourselves about “Don’t judge a book by its cover” or “Don’t judge someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes” . . . we might have remembered that everyone has a back story. Truth be told — we’re all alike, we all just want to be truly known and deeply loved. So you’d think we would reject the reductionism of pigeon holing those we barely know – instead, choosing to hold sacred their dignity and personhood. However, if social media is to be taken as an anthropological indictor – then you’d be wrong.

It is an odd form of isolation – to be so connected without actually having any real connection. That in an ever-growing vacuum created by the lack of meaningful affirmation that only real connection can provide . . . we speak past one another in self-affirming terms. So that in this hyper attempt to live in the moment we end up living our lives on the surface of our own pretense. It’s as if we’re living at a distance from our own back-story . . . from our own truer selves.

20120609_ASD000_0In T.S. Eliot’s poem, The Hollow Men, we find ourselves disturbingly mirrored – lost in the superficiality of our context, denying any meaningful sense of self, because we circumvent any true sense of community when we choose to devalue one another’s back-stories – in this way, not only does it invariably diminish others . . . but also, in the process our own story becomes diminished. When we worship at the altar of individuality, it should not surprise us that being alone has become our reward.

My faith discipline does not grow deeper because it’s just about God and I working things out – rather, it is in the way my faith community enriches my back-story. As each of us shares the details of our lives, we discover God in our midst (Matthew 18: 20). Because all of our individual back-stories find their true significance in the story that God is telling, a story given far more dimension in the cross-pollination found only in community. You are more than the virtual persona you maintain. You are the beloved of God, and you are my brother and sister — so allow this profound truth to animate how you treat others . . . both in person and online.

Here’s a well done recitation of T.S. Eliot’s The Hollow Men