I want you to pull my britches down ….
And on cue, as if the song could read my thoughts. I heard the same line for a second time.
Nightmare scenarios started running through my head involving my youngest child, who loves music. He has a knack for quickly memorizing lines of songs he likes. I could picture it. He walks up the aisle in church or up the stairs on his way to Kids’ Connection, with a gleam in his eye he starts to sing for everyone to hear, “I want you to pull my britches down ….”
The glares soon follow. How long before someone has the nerve to ask — really proclaim — “What kind of parent let’s his 5-year-old memorize such a song?”
I started skipping the song every time it came up. Or I shut it off all together. I made sure when family or friends came over the CD was nowhere near our music player. OneRepublic may be a great group whose music and lyrics inspired me to think deeper about life. But I was determined to make sure this song from their album Native would not be played in our house until the kids were older.
There was only one problem.
The song didn’t exist. Or I should say, the lyrics I heard didn’t exist.
Whether it was a result of being tired from a busy, stressful week, or the poor sound quality of our tiny CD player I can’t say. But, somehow I thought I heard, “I want you to pull my britches down” when the actual lyrics are, “I want you to burn my bridges down.” I hadn’t looked at the album playlist to see what the song was titled. I didn’t Google the lyrics. I had convinced myself I had heard it right after I pressed back and listened to the chorus again.
All the fear, panic, worry and stress of being labeled “that parent” was for nothing. Perhaps, if I had kept washing dishes, I would have realized I misheard the song.
I laugh at myself now, as I think about how silly my actions the previous couple of weeks had been. They had been based on a misheard lyric. My brain’s filter stopped me from hearing what was actually being said.
I use mental filters everyday as a means to make the best use of my time and focus on what is important. But using filters can come with a cost. As much as they can help me stay focused on what’s important, they can also help me lose sight of what matters.
LGBTQ, Republican, Democrat, evolution, creationism, pro-choice, pro-life, ISIS, Muslim, socialism are all buzzwords — which any day have the potential to send filters’ alarms wailing at high pitches. One of two typical reactions comes at this point. One, I start listening or reading attentively because this is a tribe I identify with. Or two, I swipe-on to the next post because there are only so many hours in the day — why lose time it takes to read or listen to a person’s thoughts I know I am already going to disagree with.
Kind of like an imaginary song I didn’t want my 5-year-old to memorize.
Filters may save time, but they are also a practice in idolatry. My limited, skewed and broken perception becomes the standard by which words are measured. And if I can only listen to those who think like me and share my values and opinions then I risk never encountering God. For God is wholly other. To hear God requires the ability to hear the differences of others.
If Jesus always sounds like me and always talks like me and is always on my side in the argument, then I have probably not encountered Jesus. I am praying rather to my Jesus idol — the one I have made in my image. Jesus’ disciples walked with him on a regular basis and yet they misunderstood Jesus all the time. Thus, it pretty much guarantees I am going to get it wrong as well. Consider it a rite of passage. Like the disciples I will muck it up.
One of the best books I have read in recent memory was written by Makoto Fujimura. Fujimura is an artist, occasional essay writer, and author. In Culture Care: Reconnecting with Beauty for our Common Life, he writes, “Thinking and living that are truly generative make possible works and movements that make our culture more humane and welcoming and that inspire us to be more fully human.” The word “generative” is a theme he elucidates throughout his book. While he doesn’t use the word in connection explicitly with the practice of listening, I am convinced it’s implied in our ability to become fully human as Fujimura suggests.
It’s easy to practice filtered listening. Our polarized — another buzzword — society is a perfect example. It’s not only easy; filtered listening is encouraged and rationalized as an efficient use of time. And in many ways the church has followed in society’s footsteps. Progressives congregate here, evangelicals over there, and so on. And the reality it’s not just in our politics, churches and institutions. How many relationships struggle and limp on due to practiced filtered listening?
Churches should create environments which inspire others to live “generative” lives, to not trust in the labels, the stereotypes, and the buzzwords to help compartmentalize time. Generative listening requires me to trust less in my filters and more in the humanity of the other.
Lent is a time of self-examination. For me this year it has become a time to cultivate the ability to listen. Not to my filters, or my preferences. I have shut the filters off. My hope is to practice a posture of listening which is both generous and generative, to allow others to help chip away at the idol of Jesus I have created in my image. And to again hear anew the voice which invites me to follow him.