I have learned much in my life listening to the radio. And I suspect I will be listening to the radio long after I use the computer or even watch TV. Radio lets me multitask or relax just using my hearing. It opens the door to different worlds.
Radios were really the first internet. My father told me of how when he was a boy, in the late 1920s and early 1930s, he would climb up into trees in south Louisiana to make antennas to pick up the radio stations from far away cities with nationwide programs. Imagine someone in Los Angeles, Washington D.C. and even South Louisiana listening to the same program. The people who decided upon the programming might not have determined but the surely effected who became popular, what news stories were discussed, and surely educated many.
But then came television, 8 track players, and cassette players, CD players, the internet, and satellite radio. Instead of more and more people listening to what the broadcaster thinks will interest them, people now can custom order what they want to an incredible degree. If we so choose, it would not be difficult to drive all the way to Los Angeles and listen to pop hits from 1974 the whole way there and then just listen to Coldplay songs the whole way back. If we spend the money, we can listen to almost anything imaginable (and we can do it at home off the internet for free). Now it’s not someone else but we are the ones who determine our own programming. And even though I make use of it, I wonder how much that is a good thing.
How often am I going to learn new music, hear new stories, and understand different points of view if I just choose my own programming? I might enjoy chocolate pie when I go to the cafeteria but if I choose it every time will I really enjoy it (if I can mix metaphors a bit here)?
And I wonder how much we have done the same thing in the church. We love stories of grace, of redemption, and of God’s love. We’re not so keen on stories of sin, judgment, and the consequences of poor choices. We love hearing stories of how faith has mattered to people like us and how we are free. We’re not so keen on hearing how our faith obligates us to care about people who are in very different situations than we are in.
And so, fearing the loss of “market share” we survey, we watch to see what goes well in other churches, and we constantly try to tweak programming based upon what we think will go well instead of what we feel needs to be said.
We can’t turn the clock back. And neither will the majority of the population simply accept that someone else is perpetually choosing the programming. But, that doesn’t change our responsibilities. If I can mix metaphors again, it is just like when a parent chooses a new dish to serve when an old ‘comfort dish’ might be have been more popular because it is good for the family. We in the church need to have the courage and fortitude to keep broadening the range of what folks hear when they come through our doors. In the long run, are adults angry over what their parents introduced them to over the dinner table? They might not have liked everything but most appreciate them for doing it. Yet, too often today, churches act like parents who depend upon their children to set the menu for the day (ok, I know I am mixing metaphors now with wild abandon!). We can’t just have an attitude of “eat what you are served!” But neither can we just keep serving ice cream.
Jesus said that the two greatest commandments are loving God with all our heart, all our souls, and all our minds. And loving our neighbors as ourselves is closely akin to it. With modern technology we are getting closer and closer to our neighbors which is not only a Biblical call to us but also a call which is in our own self-interest. We need to get to know our neighbors more and care about what they face.
The more we tacitly approve of Christians isolating themselves, choosing the “news and music” that only makes them comfortable (and simply reinforces where they are instead of encouraging spiritual growth) and the more we make faith to just be about our individual or our family’s relationship with God – the less relevance we have with the world around us and the less difference we can make as God’s people today.
To practice the faith in this age means we are called to be well-informed and help others practice the faith in its fullness. It doesn’t mean we have to give up “listening to the stations” we enjoy. The “comfort food” will always be there. But it does mean “changing the channel” is important for us. It means programming is important in the church, perhaps more important than in any other age.
And what is true at church is true in our homes and far beyond.
Let’s listen. Let’s learn. Let’s share. Let’s get involved.
All the best and In Christ,