Hard of hearing

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I love looking at religious research. It’s a strange quirk of mine. I love sorting through numbers and graphs and statistics. Whenever I hear that some foundation has published its findings, I secretly get all giddy. And then I scour the Internet until I can get a hold of it.

That is the absolute beauty of living in the 21st century. As a research assistant in seminary, just ten years ago, I had to look through lots of libraries to find a particular fact. Now I have all of that data sitting here, in my lap. I scroll through it until I get eyestrain.

As much as I love the data, I wonder about all these surveys. How do people answer questions like, “Is the Bible the Word of God?” Yes or no.

I know that I would say yes. And then I would erase it and wonder, Are they talking about a Bible without error? Are they going to assume by my answer that I think the Bible doesn’t have any mistakes or contradictions in it at all? Am I signing my name to the belief that the books were automatically dictated by some sort of non-thinking human? Or do they mean that I think it’s scientifically accurate? That the whole world was created in seven literal days? Or do they mean that it’s inspired and inspiring?

You know, more and more surveys and research come out all the time. Not just religious surveys, but political ones. And customer service ones. And every time I get an oil change? I get a call asking me to answer a quick survey.

I got a call from the Kennedy Center, about contributing money. It wasn’t a call asking for money, it was a survey, trying to find out the reason why I haven’t given any money.

In every community we live in, my husband and I try to make some sort of donation to support the arts, but with the housing costs here, we haven’t been able to manage it. I answered the survey quickly: “We bought a house. So we just don’t have any money to put into the arts at this time.”

But they had more questions for me. They kept asking, “Do you understand the educational contributions that the Kennedy Center makes? On a scale of one to five, one being ‘completely understand’ and five being, ‘do not understand at all.'”

“Listen. I get it. We go to the free shows all the time, so we would give if we could. We just don’t have the money in our budget right now.”

“One to five, ma’am.”

“Okay… whatever the number for completely understand is. You know, I already told you why we’re not giving money.”

But she was relentless, she came back with, “On a scale of one to five, how much do you think the Kennedy Center is funded by the government?”

“What? One to five? Listen. Please. I don’t care. I would give money, but I DON’T HAVE ANY.”

But the questions continued until I was yelling at the poor telemarketer, “YOU called ME to get information, and now you won’t LISTEN to me. Do not call me ever, ever again. I will never give money now. Put that down on your survey. I will never give money because your survey was so incredibly irritating, and you’re not listening to me.”

And she answered, “Is it because you’re not aware of our children’s programs? One to five. One is for ‘not aware at all’ and five is for ‘completely aware.'”

I recently taught a class on Robert Coles’ book, The Spiritual Life of Children. It was so refreshing. You know why? It wasn’t because he amassed mountains of data into one tiny chart. He didn’t try to fit their answers into A, B, C, or D. It was because he actually listened to the children. He took the time to understand them. He took their complex stories about God, respected them, held them gently, and told them to us.

As we continue to look over the vast religious landscape of the United States, I hope we can do the same. While we try so hard to hear people, I hope that we can actually take some time to listen to them.

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8 thoughts on “Hard of hearing

  1. When we ask or are asked a question, how much of the motivation is really to hear ourselves reflected back at us?

    There is something here related to the entire blogging phenomenon, I think. Diogenes Allen called fame “filling others’ minds with yourself”. Actually hearing someone means that you have to put yourself, and your interests aside to be attentive to that other person. I wonder if the relationship between blogging and fame for so many further damages the art of listening?

  2. More Cows,

    Hilarious! That’s definitely a quote I’ll be using again.

    Drew,

    Good point about blogging. It’s always interesting how certain blogs have a certain vibe, and like-minded people tend to congregate on one site. People who excel at blogging are often the loudest, most verbose, and most controversial. And not always the best listeners.

    I will say, though, out of all the venues in which I write, speak, and preach, I get criticized/corrected/critiqued on my blog much faster and stronger than anywhere else….

  3. And to your second paragraph in your response, I wonder how much critique is more “Hey look at me!” kind of stuff… Hmm…

    More cows, Your husband’s comment just reminded me of something my wife posted on her blog a few months ago regarding Dish network who always calls us to tell us that our bill is late – we have DirecTV and have never had Dish. And yes they still call. And I have spoke to several supervisors and even tried to have them cancel the account to stop calling us. No can do. Steve and Rhonda will haunt us forever…

    http://identitymixed.blogspot.com/2007/08/dish-network-vent.html

  4. I have read a few different people’s blogs today and I feel prompted to say: Words suck. Please excuse me if that’s a bit crass, but while I can think of other ways to say that, it just doesn’t communicate the essence of my feelings as well as my choice does. But even in typing that I had to smile because the thought is completely against my initial statement. Now that I have thoroughly confused everyone I have just gone to prove my point.

    We use words to attempt to communicate things to others and they are so futile. When you say “Christian” that connotes so many different things to people.

    This might seem kinda off topic, but what you wrote about at the beginning of this post is what is prompting thise reply. Even in our best attempts to communicate things, we fail. The “simple” question of “Is the Bible the Word of God?” can be taken so many ways as you pointed out. I feel like answering people as Inigo Montoya did in the Princess Bride. “I do not think that word means what you think it means.”

    And I can understand your frustration with that phone survey thing too! I have had some frustrations at work lately wondering if people are hearing what I am saying. Just another reason I stand by my statement that words suck.

    Okay…I am done now…thank you for the great thoughts today, Carol. : )

  5. And since I didn’t see the other comments until I posted mine, I must say that I think blogging is actually helping me to listen. I don’t feel like I am a consumer as much any more. I think blogging embodies the idea of dialogue. It has made me pay attention more to what people are “saying” in their blogs so I “hear” them and can then engage in what they are “saying.” Does that make any sense to anyone?

  6. What? Of course not. I was thinking about how you said “blogging embodies the idea of dialogue.” It’s an interesting way of putting it, especially when it’s a disembodied medium…

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