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Omaha, Nebraska, United States
I am more and more convinced that most congregations die from a staggering lack of imagination. Let's change that. Drop me a line on email or leave a comment if you have thoughts on God, Jesus, congregations, the church or whatever.... I look forward to our conversations.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Listening in a Visual Age

Image is everything.  Andre Agassi

Listening....
     Hearing...
          Watching...
               Seeing...
                    Understanding...

Listening to Troy Bronsink and Eric Elnes (on Darkwood Brew) talk the other night, I was caught up a bit. They were talking about "listening," and how important that is to the creative endeavor. What they seemed to mean by listening was not actually using your ears to process sound, but rather that "listening" is the part of the creative process where you reflect upon your recent creativity. "Listening" is as good a metaphor as anything for that.

But we live in a visual age. Rather than our ears, old-school theologians such as myself resonate with ears much more than eyes--God is the Word, not the picture--our world demands visual experiences. Our obsession with how things look is so commonplace that we no longer even notice we are obsessed with it. We just assume every song needs a video and every voice needs a pretty mouth and shiny teeth. It's the way we live...

Basically, we don't listen to something unless we FIRST see something we like. (For those visually impaired I have no idea what they do here, but I do wonder how they "see?" I suppose I should find out...) Listening is always a secondary, or responsive activity, for what we have first seen. Although, if you've lived long enough you know appearances can be deceiving, we still tend to listen only AFTER we've seen.

It's for this reason that I never went into music as a calling. By the time I was getting into music it switched into more about what you saw than what you heard. (I write this one day after the death of Lou Reed, who although famous for eschewing the mainstream music world, his "image" was not trivial to his music.) As much as I adore the music of Michael Jackson (I grew up with him) and find the music of Madonna intriguing, unless you look the look, the music doesn't get much of a chance these days. Of course, now, we are subjected to this:  as music. Tell me who "listens" to that. But I understand a lot of people watch it.

Although I love to look at pretty things, and I think I have a pretty decent appreciation of beauty, I have to admit I more captivated by "seeing" rather than "listening" these days. If I can't see something, I'm never going to hear it. Simple as that.

This is why following Jesus is so difficult. I've never seen him. I've only heard him. Although I once thought I saw Jesus, it has been a long time since then, and the memory and image fades with each passing season...I do wonder what Jesus looked like? Did he have an image? Did he have a style? I know he had words.

I want to listen to his words, but the listening has all been drained from me...I can longer listen to that whom I cannot see...I've had too many years of TV and movies, music videos, virtual tours, and digital images to make listening anything other than a visual experience. When I was a teenager I could sit in my room, play "Slowhand" over and over again with my eyes closed wondering what was happening. Now I can barely make it through an introductory riff without being bored.

I think I want to listen, but without anything to see how do I know? What's funny about all this, of course, is that Jesus knew we are going to get confused. The entire Gospel of John is a story about what I've just written. Here's a line that gives me hope, that even though I do not see, cannot listen, and very probably do not understand, there is something to hope for..."If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." We get to "continue." Whatever that means.

May your tables be full and your conversations be true.


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