Wednesday, January 30, 2008

What Are You Listening To?

A Switchfoot tune a few years back gives the challenge, "if we are adding to the noise, turn off this song."
I love music, I admit I might enjoy it more than I should… I usually keep it playing in the background as I drive, or write, or just think and dream.
I turn on different music at different times, especially when I am feeling all at one end of the emotional scale.
I have sometimes wondered if Jon Forman really hoped that somebody would take his advice when he wrote that song? Perhaps he is acknowledging something we all know somewhat. That the media all around us, the "stereo, radio, video, I don't know what they're gonna think of next" is just another way to drown out what is really important.

Ideas. They are thrown at us these days. Not just simply presented in a book where you can much more easily evaluate them, but shouted at you through the TV set. You get more than your share of what others think you should believe when you go to the movies, or in surfing the Internet, or listening to the radio, or walking through the mall. All these modern conventions make up what we call the "information age". On demand we can become know-it-alls about pretty much anything. As great as this makes a game of trivial pursuit, or writing research papers, it also makes us consumers of such mass amounts of media that distract us, and give us at best, a convoluted view of life, love and God.
It is like we are walking around surrounded by all these messages and images and voices fighting for our attention, trying to get us to buy this, or try this, or live this certain way. All seem to want to make us happy. Most end up pulling you in totally opposite directions. Having access to all of the ideas in the world provides a challenge of navigation...
How do we keep ourselves from getting lost in the vast array of advertisements, video games, magazines and hit singles? I mean it is all targeted right at you! With the purpose of selling you something, so that you keep buying something, so that you are addicted to what they are selling.
It is so easy to get lost when you're trying to navigate a noisy universe.
This was the theme of a communications conference I attended this month. The official slogan for it was "Through The Noise".
Noise in a photograph is the particles that distort the image, and what generally distracts from an otherwise good picture. I am often frustrated by the presence of noise in my photos. Who wants a noisy picture? But that is what we often have in our lives.
We live in the noise.
The picture of “noise” represents ideas about something. Ideas about life.
But in a world of noise, I am afraid just adding our "Christian" noise is not going to help either.
There was this dump truck I passed on the road the other day that said; "Jesus loves you this much." In reading it the first thought that came to mind was "absurd!" Does that mean he loves me as much as a truck full of landfill? I mean, I know that Jesus loves me, and I want the world to know that too... But what are we saying when we attach the name of Jesus just to any form of communication? I am feeling like the dump truck is getting in the way of my perceptions of the otherwise awesome truth of Christ's eternal love. I am not saying God doesn't use dump trucks, but what is up when Christians make Jesus another bumper sticker, or another song, or another "B" grade movie? I can't handle it, and I am willing to bet that most of this generation is thinking the same thing, only they can't see the truth on the other side of the noise we've made.

So what is the answer? We can't just make all that noise go away... I still watch movies, and listen to a little to much music. I watch Mythbusters on the discovery channel and skip the commercials, I want to use the internet without getting caught up in social networking, or the oh so easy access to sexualized images. I use a blog to write my thoughts down just like any other teenager in my generation, I cook on a gas powered stove.... I mean I do cook, sometimes... To take it back to the noisy photograph problem, it is a combination of light, and the correct focus that will give a clear image. (if you have already shot it, you need photoshop... but that is another tangent.) As I have learned in filmmaking, just changing the focus of the image can change the story dramatically.

I feel so strongly about the power that film has through storytelling. I don’t watch movies for purely entertainment any more. I have to evaluate the story, what is being communicated to the audience, and how it is being communicated. So when I think of examples for blogs like this, I like to use those I have gained from movies. Like this scene from Ray, where Ray Charles is blind and in the middle of a noisy restaurant with Della Bea Robinson, who would later become his wife...
"I hear like you see. Like that hummingbird outside the window for instance."
"I don't hear her."
"You have to listen... it’s all what you are listening for"

It is all in what you are listening for. It is easy to just hear the noise of people, and dishes, and the sounds of the street. Close your eyes and listen, and you can hear her much better now... "Her heart skipped a beat."
Ray's life was a life lived in the noise of drugs, extra marital affairs, and the music that made him famous. I am not certain he ever was completely changed, but in his life it took the truth to set him free, and make him "see" who he really was. We all need to know redemption, and we all need to know what voice to listen for out of all the other voices. In the midst of all the voices of the entertainers, and the acclaimed speakers and politicians and professors, how will we know who to listen to?
If we are listening to something greater than the next big thing that will blow away in the wind, all the other noise around us cannot hold our attention, and hopefully we will learn not just to hear through the noise, but speak through it as well.