Ours is a world of distractions built upon diversions. Each new aberration is sold to us as a life affirming addiction distilling reality’s most vexatious qualities through filters, screens, and digitized emotions. The moment we connect, log in, sign on, and open our eyes, we are detached from those things we are hoping to find. The signal is lost in the noise. From deep within the brain’s dopamine receptors, we hear these words: keep scrolling, if you go a little further you might laugh, cry, or be enraged by something vitally important to an ongoing political issue.
Yet, no matter how many comment threads we read, filtered photographs we see, the world, our world looks the same. Regardless of the social media platform you visit most; suggestions are made on who you should follow. Those invitations are invitations to follow people or organizations that look, think, believe, vote, complain, and buy clothes like you. We were looking for a nameless something, found nothing, saw everything, and still feel empty. Nothing has changed.
We cannot log out as we forgot our passwords years ago. The filter and its window onto the chimera of nothingness can never be closed. Filters demand effortless access, long battery life, and easy to read screens. Personalized tones, a choice we made to make our filter reflect the unique nature of our tastes, summon us like test mice preparing to dine on cancer laced cheese. The filter is opened, the cycle resumes, and what we read is never what we expected.
Hope is never delivered in 140 characters or less. Our dopamine receptors remain empty and starving. The words we might have shared with loved ones remain unsaid. When we do speak, we shout. It’s the only way we feel we can be heard. The background noise engendered by the restlessness in our souls and the rambling search for meaning in life by looking through artificial filters pushes the volume to deafening levels. If we wanted to hear God, whether as individuals or as a denomination, how would the message get through or be noticed?
Filters provide humanity with the illusion of control. With our filters, we can make life more livable. With more control over our lives, life will be better. Something’s gone wrong. We’re being inhibited by the very filters which should give us freedom. Instead of giving life, we search for a better life, as defined by the filters; a life we’ll never find.
*Lord, we think we are in control of our own lives. We truly believe our decisions will impact your choices in eternity. Help us to see that we are powerless over so many things. We ask for the grace to be able to hand over our lives to you, so that we may see the world, and you, without a filter. Amen.
The signal does get lost in the noise, until it doesn’t. If the power of the filter is broken; what comes next? With the background noise diminished (or removed) how do we listen to God? How do we talk to God and each other without shouting?
In the 10th Chapter of John, Jesus speaks about his “sheep” and how they hear his voice. “They won’t follow a stranger but will run away because they don’t know the strangers voice.” Then John adds, “Those who heard Jesus use this analogy didn’t understand what he was saying.”
Jesus acknowledges the existence of competing and confusing voices. In this cacophony of sound, it’s hard for Jesus’ message of hope, encouragement, and growth to be heard. It is also difficult to know whom to trust. Filters, the social media platforms, and the presence of so many competing voices make confusion and distrust a reality in modern United Methodism. We are far more concerned about our identity as Methodists, who speaks for the denomination than hearing an authentic voice from Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus knows where we are at this moment. It is hard to hear over the shouting and firmly established cultural filters.
John says that Jesus is speaking from the gate. That’s how we know this is Jesus talking. Jesus is speaking from the gate, knows all of his sheep by name so that each sheep may live their life to the fullest. This sounds like the Jesus I know. Jesus wants to let everyone in and allow them to be who God created them to be, whether they be straight, gay, black, white, bald, skinny, fat, or whatever. You cannot live life to the fullest if you check part of yourself at the door.
However, if you’re looking at the world through Snapchat filters, Facebook memes, and 140 characters of Twitter snark; that’s the first and easiest thing to do. In that world, there is no room for Jesus. You can’t hear a word he says. But that’s ok. You don’t have to listen to Jesus. You listen to people talk about Jesus. The world you want to see looks just like the one you’ve created. Pull their ill informed opinions around you like a warm blanket and keep scrolling down.
*May I listen and speak to Jesus.
May I learn to be still and listen.
May I hear and know His words.
May I mark my days in gratitude.
May I abandon myself to our God.
–Richard Lowell Bryant