Saturday, July 21, 2012

a spirit not of fear . . .

I found out this morning that the brother of a college friend was killed in the theater in Aurora, Colorado. He was there with his two daughters; they survived, but he did not. The connection doesn’t change how I feel about the killings, or how I ache for those who lost their lives or lost loved ones in the tragedy. For whatever reason, however, it makes me want to speak up even though much has already been said.

Alongside of the shock and compassion that follows an event like the shootings, we as Americans spend a great deal of time and energy looking for causes and explanations; we also look for ways to feel safer. A friend of ours organized a group to go last night to see the Batman movie in Raleigh. The event had been planned for a couple of weeks. After some discussion, they decided to go on with their plans -- and they were the only ones in the theater on a Saturday night. I realize there is more than one way to interpret the empty seats, and I think one of the reasons many didn’t darken the doors for The Dark Knight Rises is they were afraid it would happen again.

And it might. But, as people of faith, we can’t stay home.

I don’t mean you have to go see Batman; I do mean we cannot choose to participate in America’s newest national past time since September 11: running scared. Thanks to the fear-mongering by our press and politicians, we have been encouraged -- even trained -- to be frightened and led to believe that we are all walking targets who are going to be picked off in time if we don’t stay scared.

Paul wrote to Timothy, his young protege, and said,

I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well.  For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands,  for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. (II Timothy 1:5-7)
Granted, he was speaking to Timothy’s trepidations about starting out in ministry, still I think the admonitions carry over: we were neither created nor called to live our lives out of fear. Yes, this world is filled with scary stuff. Yes, we have no guarantees of protection. And -- not but -- AND we have been given a spirit of power and love and self-control. We are called to make meaning of our lives, to carry the light into the darkness and remember the darkness cannot put it out.

So let us speak out.

Speak out in favor of limiting access to weapons that do nothing but kill people. We need more courageous people who will stand against the money that has been able to buy our politicians thus far. Assault rifles are not for hunting. Freedom is not the issue. We have been given sound minds. Let us move beyond our cultural inclination to run to opposite poles and scream at each other, which only adds to the violence. Let us use our God-given self control and do what is best for all of us, rather than choosing only to protect what we see as ours.

Speak out against the media who sensationalizes events such as these and makes the perpetrators famous. The shootings were news. The endless chatter that follows is not. In 2002, Gus Van Sant directed a movie called Elephant that chronicled a high school shooting. The film came out after the tragedy at Columbine. In his review of the movie, Roger Ebert wrote:
Let me tell you a story. The day after Columbine, I was interviewed for the Tom Brokaw news program. The reporter had been assigned a theory and was seeking sound bites to support it. "Wouldn't you say," she asked, "that killings like this are influenced by violent movies?" No, I said, I wouldn't say that. "But what about 'Basketball Diaries'?" she asked. "Doesn't that have a scene of a boy walking into a school with a machine gun?" The obscure 1995 Leonardo Di Caprio movie did indeed have a brief fantasy scene of that nature, I said, but the movie failed at the box office (it grossed only $2.5 million), and it's unlikely the Columbine killers saw it.

The reporter looked disappointed, so I offered her my theory. "Events like this," I said, "if they are influenced by anything, are influenced by news programs like your own. When an unbalanced kid walks into a school and starts shooting, it becomes a major media event. Cable news drops ordinary programming and goes around the clock with it. The story is assigned a logo and a theme song; these two kids were packaged as the Trench Coat Mafia. The message is clear to other disturbed kids around the country: If I shoot up my school, I can be famous. The TV will talk about nothing else but me. Experts will try to figure out what I was thinking. The kids and teachers at school will see they shouldn't have messed with me. I'll go out in a blaze of glory."

In short, I said, events like Columbine are influenced far less by violent movies than by CNN, the NBC Nightly News and all the other news media, who glorify the killers in the guise of "explaining" them. I commended the policy at the Sun-Times, where our editor said the paper would no longer feature school killings on Page 1. The reporter thanked me and turned off the camera. Of course the interview was never used.
We have been given sound minds, as some translate Paul’s words. Why, then, are we so easily swayed by those who fill the airways with mindless drivel and incendiary rhetoric. When the media move to place blame and find fault, as they will once the stories of heroism and compassion wear thin by their measure, let us think otherwise. Let us choose to power off our televisions and empower one another to even greater acts of compassion and solidarity.

Above everything else in our lives, we are called to love. Paul had words about love, as well:
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)
I’m not saying anything new, I know. But I wanted to say something.


Tuesday, July 03, 2012

he who has ears to hear . . .

It was a little after eight when the audiologist came out into the waiting room to get me. I followed her back to the room where we had sat the day before and I listened to her tell me about what could be done to compensate for my hearing loss. We looked at different kinds of hearing aids, ranging from moderately expensive to sell-your-kidney expensive, and talked about what some of the changes in technology could offer me. We settled on a mid-range pair, as far as pricing was concerned, and she said she only needed the evening to program them. I came home, slept restlessly, and returned.

She was deliberate as she put the pieces of the hearing aids together and explained how the microphone would cradle itself in the bend of my ear and then a small clear tube with a small cone-shaped cover would run down the front of my ear and into the hearing canal. She helped me put them on and then she said she had to run a quick test before she turned them on. What followed was a series of sounds that felt like a mash-up of an old dial-up modem and the sequence the aliens played in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Then, without much fanfare, the room exploded with sound. Layers of noise, or rustles and twinkles, of breaths and buzzes, snaps and clicks. I felt like I could hear my eyelids blinking.

“They’re on now,” she said.

“((((((((I know)))))))),” I replied. Even my voice was clearer. Unleashed. “It’s so loud,” I said. I had forgotten.

“It’s going to feel really loud because your brain has forgotten how to process all of these sounds. It’s going to have to relearn how to hear. And it will. You’re going to do great with these.” She was grinning. I think I could hear her smile. I could hear mine, too. We continued to talk and she explained how to raise and lower the volume to suit my needs. She also told me the aids were set to give me about eighty percent of my hearing back because one hundred percent might be too much to take. She turned it up to ninety just to show me. I’m going to have to work up to it. There’s too much to hear right now.

After a few minutes, I excused myself to go to the restroom -- my first venture out into the world, if you will. I actually heard the conversation of the people walking in front of me, along with the clicking of their shoes. The flush of the toilet was Niagara Falls. And do you have any idea how much noise a zipper makes? As I returned, all I could think about was Buffy the Vampire Slayer in one of my favorite episodes, “The Aspect of the Demon,” where she can hear everyone’s thoughts and feelings to the point of being overwhelmed by them. It seemed that everywhere I turned I was hearing the sounds of silence: noise where I had only heard nothing.

I got in the car to come home and turned down the radio for the first time I can remember. I could hear the turn of the key, the slide of my sandal against the floor mat, the rush of the air conditioner, the passing of the ticket to the parking attendant. From the clicking of the blinker to the crunch of the gravel in the driveway to the sound of my feet on the front porch -- I heard them all, I heard them all, I heard them all. I felt like the people in Pleasantville when they started to see in color. I have 3-D glasses for my ears.

I baked this afternoon (there’s a new recipe) to take cookies with me to the Apple Store and relished in the sound of the scoop in the flour canister, the crack of the egg shells, the whir of the mixer. I think I could even hear the cookies baking. The most shocking moment was walking into the store, which is an assault on the senses anyway. As they snacked, someone asked me how I was doing and I told them I had just gotten hearing aids. It was the first time since I put them in this morning that I had had the chance to tell someone who wasn’t family. Those who asked also took time to listen well.

At the end of the night, I was going into the break room to clock out when I passed one of the guys who seemed in a hurry to get out the door. I wished him well as he flew past me, and he returned the greeting. I sat down at the computer and I heard him call my name. “Milton -- congratulations on your hearing aids. I had no idea you needed them. But that must be an amazing feeling. Congratulations.”

“Thanks,” I said. And he went on his way.

I came home tonight to find the yard filled with screaming crickets and other creatures, a symphony of creation I have not heard since I can remember. I look forward to my brain digging back through the stacks of old forgotten vinyl in my mind, pulling out sounds I haven’t thought of in years and letting them find me again, thanks to the little computers that have hitched a ride on the backs of my ears. I am grateful to be disquieted by the cacophony of creation, thankful to find my voice does not have to be so loud.

Yes, the sounds of the city seem to me so good.