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Reducing the Noise in an Age of Clamor

Reducing the Noise in an Age of Clamor

If I had to describe our culture in one word, it would be “noise.” By noise I don't mean that our country is full of random sounds and commotion, but that it’s bombarded with conflicting voices vying for our attention and allegiance. These voices are coming at us from all directions. News outlets. Political parties. Youtube stars. Social media influencers. Podcast hosts. Sunday school teachers. Parents. Pastors. Co-workers. The list is ever-growing, and it's becoming a problem. Not a problem in the variety of sources but in the frequency, volume and unfiltered consumption of noise that’s being produced.

The frequency at which we hear opinions, conspiracy theories, hot news, bad news and fake news is overwhelming. The 24/7 cycle of content we receive gives us little to no time to carefully process and digest the information we’re consuming. Not only this but every cultural icon is fighting to be heard by being the loudest voice in a chorus of opinions. Worse still is the lack of filters we have in place to properly assess the things we’re hearing. Noise pollution is a real problem, and followers of Jesus need to intentionally seek solutions if they’re going to faithfully heed His words in the midst of the clamor. But what solutions do we have?

The Noise-Canceling Headphones Approach

Some believe we need to cut out the noise altogether. This is what I call the “noise-canceling headphones approach.” Noise-canceling headphones are great at blocking out distracting noises, but they can also be dangerously limiting. For example, I recently saw a guy get trapped underneath a heavy load of weights at the gym. He immediately called for help, but the person next to him didn’t respond. Why? Because he was wearing noise-canceling headphones and couldn’t hear him. Thankfully, others heard him and were able to come to his rescue.

The noise-canceling headphones approach seeks to completely remove the voices of culture and those with whom there is disagreement. While this approach might be effective in blocking out harmful voices, it can also prevent helpful voices from being heard. This approach lends itself to a form of tribalism that creates unhealthy disdain and animosity toward differing ideas. If we’re going to live wisely in a world of never-ending noise, then we need a solution that will give us the ability to hear different voices and decipher which ones are helpful in the midst of the clutter. This is where noise reduction comes into play.

The Noise-Reducing Earplugs Approach

My wife recently purchased noise-reducing earplugs, and they are amazing! They don’t completely block out sound, but level it out so that she can better focus her attention on what needs to be heard. As a stay at home mom with multiple toddlers, these earplugs have been a game changer. Whenever our children are screaming or talking over one another, they reduce the volume, so that what is being said isn’t lost in the frequency or frenzy of noise. This helps give focus and clarity in what would otherwise be hectic and unintelligible.

If we’re going to live humbly and faithfully in this world, then we need a similar approach. One that reduces the noise, so that we can effectively hear what’s being said and assess its truth. In short, we need a “noise-reducing earplugs approach.” I recognize that the name of this approach doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. I also recognize that it’s easier to name a problem than it is to practically resolve it. With that said, I’m going to provide 5 practical ways we can reduce the noise of culture, assess its voices, and focus on what needs to be heard. This list is by no means exhaustive, but it does provide initial steps in reducing the volume of society’s calls.

Ask the, “What, Why, and How” of Scripture

Starting with a commitment to scripture shouldn’t come as a shock. As Christ-followers, we believe that God has revealed Himself in His word and through His Son. We are committed to the faith that was “once delivered to the saints” and are called to uphold its truth. This commitment should lead us to ask three important questions any time we hear or read something. Those questions are:

  1. What does Scripture say about this topic? (Text)

  2. Why should the principles of scripture impact the way I understand this topic? (Theology)

  3. How has the church throughout its history spoken on this topic? (Tradition)

The first question is what typically comes to mind when believers are confronted with a cultural issue. They open their Bibles and ask, “Is there a specific passage, verse or story in scripture that speaks to this issue?” Simply put, they are seeking a text that can be attached to their topic, and in many instances, the Bible does provide Christians with black and white answers to their questions. However, because the Bible is an ancient book that was written thousands of years ago, there are modern day issues that aren’t explicitly mentioned in its pages. For example, smartphone technology didn’t exist in ancient near-eastern times and wouldn’t have been conceivable to the biblical authors. Thus, one would be hard pressed to find a specific passage and verse on God’s thoughts toward smartphones. Does this mean that the Bible has nothing to say about technology and its use among God’s people? No! This leads us to our second question.

Scripture may not specifically name a cultural issue or provide direct language to modern ideas, but there are principles within scripture that have bearings on how we consider or assess them. Consider again the questions surrounding smartphone technology. While scripture may not have a detailed prescription for this topic, the theology within its pages provides principles and guidelines for how believers should approach and use their phones. Scripture has much to say on the ideas of moderation, one’s use of time, and idolatry. Together, these principles provide believers with a framework for how smartphones should be viewed, understood and used. In this question, the overarching “why’s” of scripture can bring clarity to the specific “what’s” of our lives. While this question is extremely important, it isn’t always easy. That’s why Christians can argue with each other on various issues. After looking at a text of scripture and its theological principles, it can still be difficult to pinpoint a firm stance on secondary (yet extremely important) issues. When this happens, the third question can provide needed balance.

In our age of noise, preference is usually given to what is new. Why? Because new is exciting! It creates a lot of buzz, and while new phones, cars and tv shows are exciting, this obsession with what’s new has fostered an unhealthy skepticism toward history and tradition. History not only provides valuable lessons; it can also provide us with helpful patterns of thinking. We have to remember that Christianity is a historical faith. It rests on the truth that God’s Son stepped into a specific time in history, died a real, physical death and rose on a specific day. Since our faith hinges on a historical event, Christians shouldn’t be skeptical of history. They should cherish it and learn from it! The church has a well-documented history, and it provides modern believers with both a heritage and treasure trove of insight. When issues arise, we can look back to see how our forefathers of the faith handled similar issues. When we are on the fence about the interpretation of a specific passage of scripture or application of a theological principle, we would do well to look back before we run forward. It might just surprise us how much our history has to say on the various issues we are facing today.

Don’t Listen in Isolation

Beyond asking the “What, Why and How” of Scripture, another step that can reduce the chaotic noise of life is learning to listen in community. When we’re bombarded with conflicting stories and various “facts,” we need people we can trust to keep our wandering hearts in check. Listening to the voices of our world in isolation can cause us to second guess ourselves and the voices we’re hearing. Without the vulnerability and accountability of fellow brothers and sisters, we can get lost in echo chambers, confusing our own voice with the voice of truth. We need people we can go to with information and ask, “What are your thoughts on this? Do you think it’s legitimate? How should a faithful follower of Christ respond to this news?” Not only do these types of questions need to be asked in community, but they need to be asked of people in various stages and places in life. While it’s much easier to seek feedback from those of the same age or viewpoint, it’s not always best. Forming the habit of talking with those who are older, younger or in disagreement with us can provide greater perspective on issues that can be muffled by our blind spots and personal opinions. Being open to encouragement and critique can sharpen our listening skills and give us the tools we need to cut through the clutter and hear what is true.

Flip Your Assumptions

In our hyper-individualistic culture, we’re prone to assume the best in ourselves and the worst in others. When we disagree with someone, it’s easy to assume negligence in their work or bad intentions in their heart. The problem with assumptions is that they put us in the place of God. Until we have all the facts or talk with people directly, we can’t assume the motivations of their hearts. To do so, we would have to be all knowing… and we’re not. If we want to avoid adding to the noise of poor judgment calls and fake news, then we need to flip our assumptions. Instead of starting disagreements with the assumption that people have secret agendas or bad intentions, we can start disagreements with the assumption that there might be insufficient information or a misunderstanding on our part. Since it’s hard to listen beyond the point of our assumptions, flipping them on their head can help reduce the noise of confusion in everything we read, see and hear.

Check the Sources of Your Sources

Along with the desire for the new, our culture also has an obsession with the “now.” We live in a fast food, insta-culture that wants immediate gratification and results. This love for the immediate not only impacts our technological advances, it also impacts our expectations in receiving information. Everyone wants to be the first to share a new idea or breaking story which can lead to poor journalism or ill-researched reports. With so many news outlets, bloggers and websites, it can be difficult to know who to trust and who to avoid. This is why we need to be deliberate in checking sources and verifying claims. We need to be people who seek clear definitions and follow up on facts that are stated. It’s not enough to read authors that you trust or like. People aren’t perfect, so even the most reputable sources can make mistakes. This doesn’t mean you have to live with a hyper-skepticism, but it does mean that you shouldn’t blindly trust everything you read or hear. Ultimately, this step requires slowing down and taking the time to process and verify before responding and sharing. This leads to our final step.

Turn Off to Tune In

Our culture is not only the culture of “new” and “now,” it is also the culture of “never.” Never ending. Never stopping. Always going. There is no off-switch in our modern world. Music, movies and news run on a 24/7 cycle. Because of this endless output of information, our brains have been conditioned to quickly forget data and tune out information. I think our society has a wisdom epidemic, because it has a collective phobia of silence. Think about it, we listen to the radio while we’re driving in the car or turn on podcasts while we’re doing chores around the house. Music is played in elevators, and sports games are played in restaurants. We literally fear silence. Why? Because without the constant barrage of voices, we’re left to hear our own… and that makes us self-conscious and uncomfortable. Despite the uncomfortability of silence, it’s necessary for wisdom. It’s hard to tune into God’s will when we’re unwilling to turn off the world’s voices. If we don’t set aside time for silence and reflection, then our souls can become deaf. Deaf to truth. Deaf to understanding, and deaf to conviction. Periodic breaks can actually help us hear things more clearly. If you want greater discernment and focus, then you need scheduled times when you aren't digesting certain forms of news, entertainment, or social commentary.

Reduce to Renew

As you put these steps into practice, I pray that the noise of our culture will be reduced, so that you can hear what is true, lovely, worthwhile, and good. May the reduction of noise in your life lead to the renewal of your soul in Christ.

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댓글 1개

Thanks Hunter for this thoughtful and scriptural approach to quieting and analyzing the constant-cultural in-our-faces shout so we can better hear the “Still, Small Voice.”

I will look forward to reading more of your writing in the future. Excellent!

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