Like everyone else, I am guilty of listening to what I want to hear. Most of the time, this bias only applies to music. You are not likely to catch me listening to “worship music” in my car. Very rarely will I sit through country music. I like Rock, Metal, Punk, and a little (what was once called) New Wave. Some country rock is fine with me. It all depends on my mood. When Jimmy Buffet died, I listened to a lot of his stuff that weekend — it was Labor Day after all. The same goes for movies, literature, and television programs.
Occasionally, I will fall into the trap of only reading and listening to things with which I agree either religiously or politically. It usually begins with my desire to explore my own position a little more. Yet, when I stop reading and set aside something opposing my viewpoint, I create self-harm. The late first lady Barbara Bush once asked why she should “fill her beautiful mind” with images of the flag-draped caskets of US servicemen killed in her son’s wars. We may want to castigate her for the crassness of the response. But I am just as guilty of the same crassness if I dismiss deaths with an “I told you so.”
Listening to Affirm
Pastors complain about church members only listening to sermons that confirm their prejudices. One colleague observed he was prone to only deliver sermons that confirmed his. Biblical materials and subjects he found challenging, he avoided until he ran out of things to say. It is easy to talk about the love of God in Christ, flipping over the tables of the hypocrites, or even Jesus ordering Peter to put away his sword. But what about the passages where Jesus is causing division within communities, families, and tells his disciples to sell their cloak and buy a sword? Suppose I wish to speak only of the former things while my congregation wants only the latter things? Which one is more guilty of wanting their prejudices affirmed?
I like to think of myself as being spiritually open. If I am listening to teachers from other traditions, I am helping understand my own better. It may be that I intellectualize spirituality. But I find nothing wrong with that. Practicing spiritual openness means being ready to listen (but not necessarily put into practice) what the whole tradition offers. It requires learning a new language from other Christians.
A lesser example of learning a new language from my own experience is when I began to hear people say words like “have a saving relationship with Jesus Christ.” The fundamentalist tradition of my upbringing would use the phrase, “obeying the gospel.”
I am not a part of the Anglican tradition. But I use the Book of Common prayer in my devotional times. It often forces me to read texts of the Scriptures I do not read. The Psalms can be very challenging for me. Yet, I read the whole Psalm when indicated. Contemplating the lives of the Saints is not part of my tradition either. Yet, I find encouragement in most of the major ones…even Augustine.
It may be easy to dismiss everything we do not want. Being part of a busy-ness culture gives us good excuses to take what we want and leave the rest. But open listening helps get one out of the bubble which is only in our own heads. Solitude is good for spiritual development. Isolation is not good. When we affirm our prejudices only, we isolate ourselves and develop unhealthy fears. I see too many bumper stickers about fears of children becoming liberals, secularists, or other nonsense. The solution is not to isolate. It is to be open and critical of ideas, thoughts, beliefs, and methodologies.
I may not begin listening to “worship music” in my car. I have heard plenty of it in my life. But, at the very least, I can say, “I am not afraid of it.”