There’s a well-known and by some much-loved Christmas song by the same name as the title of this post. It’s a pretty neat song, all the different traditional players in the advent story asking the question do you hear what I hear?
In the song it’s all about hearing and seeing and knowing God. The fact that God is wrapped in flesh, and not adult already grown up and self-sufficient flesh, or Kal El (obscure reference 50 points if you can google it fast enough) flesh, impervious to all the bad stuff the earth could throw at it, but human baby flesh, needs to be cared for needs to be nurtured, needs to be protected flesh, is one of those stumbling blocks to faith for some people. Understandably so, as humans we come at the idea of power and influence from the wrong end, and every time we do we end up banging our heads against the wall trying to figure out why people don’t realize we are right and they are wrong.
This question though is one that needs to be asked on a daily basis, in regards to all of our relationships. We should constantly ask ourselves do you hear what I hear, because when we don’t hear what the other person in the conversation means we aren’t really listening to them. There’s a huge difference between hearing and listening. I hear all sorts of things, but I don’t listen to all the things I hear.
I keep hearing echos of good things to come in the church, but sometimes I wonder if I’m hearing what I want to hear as opposed to listening for the truth.
Yesterday I heard what was being said, but I didn’t listen. The kinetic sculpture race was going on in Baltimore. We found out it was yesterday because as I was heading over to the church I saw some of the participants lining up and getting ready to head out. I called J and let her know it was a bummer that they moved the race from a Saturday to a Sunday. We wouldn’t be seeing it like we thought we would. Drove on ahead to the church with Z and proceeded to get ready for service.
J meanwhile got ready to come to church and also took time to grab clothes for everyone and figure out how to make seeing part of the race a reality. She’s good at that kind of thing, the problem is I didn’t listen to what she was saying when church was over. What she was saying was I love you, I know you like this kind of thing, I know we talked about wanting to see this, and it would be a really cool experience. I found out the best places to watch the race, there are some spots I would like to go and see what happens, and I want to go to those places with you and the girls. Lets spend time as a family doing something cool.
I didn’t listen to what she said though, I heard the plans, but didn’t listen to the intent behind them, and in the reaction missed out on all that could have been. For that I am sorry.
I don’t really have to wonder if we do this with God. It’s a given that we do. We didn’t listen to what was being said with the birth of Jesus, we didn’t listen to what was being said when Jesus at 12 talked to people much older and amazed them, or to the meaning behind his response to his mother when she and Joseph found him. We don’t listen to what was being said through 3.5 years of ministry, each miracle each parable, each interaction with people who were not supposed to be in the club spoke volumes but for the most part we don’t listen to what’s being said. We don’t really listen to what Jesus said through the Passover meal, the washing of all the disciples feet, the love for every one of the disciples, including Judas, we don’t listen to that, we hear it but we don’t listen to it. It’s easy to hear that Jesus died for our sins, to hear the words that were spoken by those in authority at the time. It’s easy to hear what Herod, or Pilate or Caiaphas said, but to listen to it is a different thing.
If I listen to what Jesus said though every one of these interactions mentioned and the ones I didn’t bring up, I would begin to realize how important it is to bring the things Jesus found most important into my life, my family’s life, and my churches life. Love God. Love People. Those are the things that matter most. All the stuff people of faith fight about, who’s right and who’s wrong, who is properly interpreting the little nuances of scripture correctly, who realizes Jesus was really a socialist, or Jesus was really a free market economist, or really an ultra conservative, or an ultra liberal. If all of us would stop hearing what scripture says and instead listen to what it says, if I would do a much better job at listening to what it says I think things would look very different in our community. Our church may not burst at the seams but the people around us would know that we are here for them. That we love them, that we aren’t going to judge them, because we have large enough planks in our own eyes. They may begin to understand better what Jesus was really saying through his life and ministry on the earth.
Years ago I heard an analogy used to describe what happens in so many churches, even the ones that say all are welcome. We want people to get cleaned up before they take a bath. If you’re from a more conservative right-wing literal interpretation of scripture and all that goes with it, anyone coming into your circle needs to weed out the things that don’t line up with the way you read and interpret scripture. There’s no room for inclusion, or questioning the mode of creation, the veracity of an earth covering flood, the reality of all humanity being descended from Adam and Eve. If you’re from a more liberal left-wing socialistic form of Christianity, it’s difficult to include or want to include people who hold to a more fundamental, literal interpretation of scripture. Letting them into the circle may mean you are not open and affirming enough, that the importance of social justice, and inclusiveness trumps the importance of building authentic community with a person who may be actively seeking a deeper faith more able to handle difficult questions with more than because my pastor said so.
If we would really listen to what God is saying through scripture, I think we would be a lot less sure of ourselves. I think we would be willing to admit that we don’t know or understand. I think we would be more willing to do away with the things that cause entire groups of people to look at the Christian faith as antiquated and not for them, because it’s populated with uncaring unfeeling unenlightened bigots, or wishy-washy, I’m okay, you’re okay many paths don’t offend anyone hippy’s.
I want to listen to what the Spirit is saying to the church, not hear what the administration is saying to the constituents. I know there are people like that out there, the problem is if we start a group of anti-americhirstians, we too would be in grave danger of hearing what we want to hear instead of listening to what He wants us to do…
When Jesus left he told us to do something, he said go and make disciples. What we all seemed to hear was go and grow a church, populate it with people who look, sound and act like you, and then try and bring people in and get them to become more like you…not more like Him…
Jesus would be just as comfortable hanging out with Pat Robertson as he would with Jeff Hood. We’re the ones who can’t bear to put up with people that we don’t agree with or understand or like. Where we see rivals Jesus sees broken, where we see reason to exclude Jesus sees reason to embrace, where we see place to pass judgment Jesus sees place to apply grace.
I have friends on both sides of the fight as it were. I don’t go far enough for some, I go to far for others. I am still working through some of the big religio-politcal questions of the day and i’m okay with that. I’m okay with not agreeing with any one side all the way. I can’t go all in on either side, mainly because both sides are flawed. The only thing I can really go all in on is my love for Christ, my desire to be more like him, to struggle and walk and fall and get back up and keep going. To ask for forgiveness when I need to, to offer grace when it’s warranted and even when it’s not, to Love God and to Love people. That’s where listening has brought me.