How Now Shall We Listen?
During my sophomore year of college, many moons ago, I spent two months fasting. It was not a fast for my stomach, but for my ears – and ultimately my soul.
As a good Christian young man, I had cast aside all worldly possessions and adopted the sights, sounds and smells of what many have deemed “The Christian Bubble.”
You know the bubble. It is the orb Christians live in when they don’t want to get their hands dirtied by the world. It is a safe house where the music is only from a Christian label, the books are only from Christian bookstores, and we drink Spirit Cola™ instead of Sprite Cola.
I’m not saying these things are bad; they are simply what circumferences the bubble. It feels good. It feels clean. It is where we let our little light shine, but try to keep it low so we won’t attract flies.
It was on that certain day in college I sat listening to my exclusively Christian CDs and was struck by a thought: I enjoy music. I enjoy music that feeds me. I enjoy music that affirms my beliefs. I enjoy music for me.
These are good things. But what was it doing to help me accomplish the mission of God for the glory of God? If I sat around and listened to people sing about being the hands and feet of God, washing it down with some Spirit Cola™, and then never went out to actually be the hands and feet of God to a world that was perishing, what good was it?
But where would I find this world? In the bubble? There are no professing non-Christians in the bubble. That’s why we have the bubble.
So there must be something outside the bubble, I thought. It was the world I professed to have a call to reach. It was the world I knew nothing about. The world inside my headphones was clean. It was comfortable. I could filter out all the cries for help from a drowning world as long as my headphones were on.
It was on that day many years ago I decided to take my headphones off.
I prayed to God – devoting my ears and heart to Him. I decided to fast for a few months from the lyrical nourishment that truly fed me and take a walk outside the bubble to see what the world sounded like.
In God’s providence, the very first song I heard on “secular” radio was by a band called XTC. The song was called “Dear God.” These are the closing lyrics:
“Dear God, don’t know if you notice but your name is on a lot of quotes in this book and us crazy humans wrote it, you should take a look. And all the people that you made in your image still believing that junk is true. Well I know it ain’t, and so do you. Dear God, I can’t believe in, I don’t believe. I won’t believe in heaven or hell, no saints, no sinners, no devil as well, no pearly gates, no thorny crown, you’re always letting us humans down. The wars you bring, the babes you drown, those lost at sea and never found, and it’s the same the whole world ‘round. The hurt I see helps to compound that Father, Son and Holy Ghost is just somebody’s unholy hoax and if you’re up there, you’ll perceive that my heart’s here upon my sleeve. If there’s one thing I don’t believe in it’s you,
I had never heard that in the bubble. The bubble spends conscious time trying to keep songs and artists like this out.
It brought me to tears. In large part, this was because on my wall hung a quote that said, “Let my heart be broken with the things that break the heart of God.”
There was an entire world I was called to go to and share Jesus. I had missed this world because I was too busy listening to songs about why I should go to it and share Jesus.
It is a world that breaks the heart of God.
It is a world whose voices shake the streets, yet often fall mute in the church.
This brings me to the question: How now shall we listen?
First, I should say I am here discussing the how of our ears, not the what. The what is a worthy discussion requiring much biblical wisdom, accountability and a much longer blog than this one. We should never use our freedom or mission as a license to sin.
My assertion here is that it is perhaps much more beneficial to listen to whatever music we listen to through a lens of theology rather than a label on an album or call letters on a radio station.
When asked what kind of music he likes, U2’s Bono once said, “Only two kinds of music interest me: music from people running to God, and from people running from God.” I think he makes an interesting observation. The Bible is filled with examples of both. Art is filled with examples of both. I can converse and have gospel-conversations with one stream of those people. What about the other?
That is what I learned from my two-month fast. Since then, I have been challenged and spurred to share and be more aware of the depravity around me through songs that would never be heard on Christian radio. They are neither positive nor encouraging. Instead of surrounding myself only with voices that sooth and agree, I’ve been trying to listen to the voices in songs, books, twitter, etc. that display the world around me – not just my world. I’ve been trying to listen theologically.
Listening theologically to music (or reading, watching, etc.) does not mean you have to open yourself up to things you know will be harmful to you. That would be unwise and unbiblical. But it does mean you aren’t afraid to hear from people who disagree with you or don’t know the truth of the Gospel.
Listening theologically holds each lyric (chapter, tweet, scene, etc.) up to Scripture to discern whether it is truthful or not. It also uses these devices to identify avenues for the Gospel or allow our hearts to be broken with the things that break God’s heart. It spurs us to see the world, including our own lives, not through the lens of labels but the Bible. It even keeps us sharp in testing professing prophets with catchy hooks who sing about God but miss His character and mission entirely.
I would not urge everyone to take a fast from “Christian” music or even to completely burst the Christian bubble. What I would encourage, however, is for us to consider not just what enters our ears but ultimately the filter through which we hear it.
Don’t approach your media with only the question, “What would Jesus listen to,” but also with the question, “How would Jesus listen to it?”
I think we will be surprised by what we learn from voices on all sides by listening intentionally and theologically to the world around us.