71. It’s A Noisy World

IT’S A NOISY WORLD

      It comes at you from all directions!  There’s really no permanent escape from it.  You can turn down the volume, retreat into solitude, or pull the plug, but such measures are just temporary respites from reality.   No matter where you go or what you do, the noise will continue to relentlessly confront your peace and quiet.  If we learned anything in 2020 it’s that we live in noisy world!

      There’s a myriad of sources for that noise.  The media rich world we live in is certainly a major contributor to the din that surrounds us.  Whether that noise comes from television, radio, newspapers, print advertising or social media outlets, the barrage of information and misinformation is almost overwhelming.  Those with access to these bully pulpits are not bashful about promoting their opinions, choices, preferences and beliefs as absolute truth.   Never before has it been more true – You can’t believe everything you hear, read or see”. 

        The decorum of decades past seems to be lost on modern day proponents of these high tech methods of communicating one’s ideas. There seem to be few, if any, filters to what is, or is not, acceptable on the airwaves, the internet or published as fact.  The art of an independent, non-bias news report has been replaced by the celebrity status of those whose only talent seems to be mocking others.  Turning off the TV and radio, disconnecting from your computer, or stopping the delivery of your newspaper or periodicals will only partially remove you from the avalanche of this racket.  Those around you will be more than happy to fill you in on all that you’ve missed, whether you want them to or not.  The clamor of society’s ills and thrills will continue to invade your efforts to insulate yourself from the noise. It makes you want to cover your ears and shout Has our world gone completely bonkers?

       Add to this the everyday pressures of your job,  the chaos of raising kids,  the voice in your head that pushes you to please others,   or the occasional relational conflict,  and you’ll find yourself desperately seeking for a good set of ear plugs to drown out the clatter of the world around you.  At times the desire for such peace and quiet can become so intense that people will do almost anything to escape the noise.   In a worst case scenario some will even choose to end their life so that they don’t have to hear the ruckus any more. 

      Last week my wife and I enjoyed two nights at Ocean Shores, Washington.   It’s just the typical little coastal community on the shores of the Pacific.  While we had gone primarily to take advantage of a free hotel offer, it’s always nice to get away from the routine and enjoy some quiet time together.  Though located just 2.5 hours from our house in Portland, we had never visited this particular spot on the coast. There is no shortage of such beach locations along the Oregon-Washington coastline, each one offering spectacular views of God’s best handiwork.  Whether you like the lush green forest, the sandy beaches or the majestic cliffs, you can usually experience all three at any beach location in the Pacific Northwest.

      On this particular trip we had to drive through the town of Aberdeen, Washington, located just 20 miles from our destination.  I had heard of Aberdeen, but I didn’t know anything about it.  I was surprised to learn that it was the birthplace of “Grunge Rock”, a particular style of the rock genre that focused on anti-establishment themes and angst-fueled songs.  The style was ushered into popularity by the band Nirvana, featuring guitarist and front-man Kurt Cobain.  Kurt was born and raised in Aberdeen and his rocket to stardom began there.  Unfortunately, like his songs, Kurt was hounded by insecurities and deep levels of unhappiness, eventually leading him into a self-destructive lifestyle.  When he couldn’t take the “noise” anymore he ended his own life at the end of shotgun. 

        Though Kurt Cobain was the source of many of his own problems, including his well-attested drug addiction, the noise of the world around him definitely pushed him over the edge. His noise may be different than mine or yours, but it’s noise all the same.  Most of us don’t deal with the screaming call of a drug addiction, the constant demands of a record label producer, the hounding of the press and paparazzi,  or even the numbing beat  of the drums and guitars of “Grunge Rock” several hours every day. But we are not immune to the endless distraction of the noise assaulting our own spirits.

       While I’m not trying to be “super spiritual”, there’s something to be said for the value of removing ourselves from this onslaught on a regular basis to allow our spirits to be refreshed and restored.  When I was growing up I heard the adults in my life talk about their “quiet time”. I could understand why they wanted to take some time to read their Bible or even pray, but they also talked about spending some time just sitting silently in the “presence” of God.  I have to admit I thought that sounded boring.  I didn’t think I could turn my brain off to just “sit and listen”……at least not without falling to sleep.  When I expressed my doubts about such a routine practice they would give me a smile and say something like Just wait!  One day you’ll understand”. 

       Well, it didn’t take 2020 to convince me they were right.  This past year may have been an extreme example of how noisy the world can be, but it wasn’t really that much of an anomaly.  Every year has its moments…..in fact, every day, week and month have their moments.  If we are waiting for time when the world around us will calm down and let us be, we’ll be waiting for the rest of our lives.  The decibels may increase or decrease, but we won’t be able to elude the barrage of strident circumstances that will disturb our tranquility.  The news will still be disturbing, politics will normally be partisan, our children will never be imperfect, our jobs will remain stressful, and our relationships will always be a work in progress.  The secret to our sanity will not be the removal of those things that create the noise in our lives, but rather the removal of ourselves from those situations for a few precious moments of quiet.

        As a Pastor I often commend the habit of personal devotions to be.  It’s a very positive Christian discipline.  I certainly want to encourage you to establish such a practice in your lives.  The benefits of doing so make it well worth the investment of your time. But that’s not necessarily what I have in mind as I write this blog article.  Besides such moments where you feed you “spiritual life”, I think we also just need some moments where we completely unplug and feed our “inner spirit”.  It’s like taking a deep breath and exhaling.  You certainly need to take in the good air, but you also need to exhale the bad air. 

        Moments of doing basically nothing can be one the best things you can do for yourself. Perhaps that means taking a walk, sitting on a rock, chopping firewood, vegging in a theater, or taking a drive like my dad used to do.  I never understood why my dad liked to do that; he’d just get in the car and drive nowhere in particular for no particular reasons.  But in the past few years, long after he’s been gone, I’ve begun to understand.  Doing “nothing” can be one of the best things you may ever do for yourself.

      I don’t hold out much hope that this year will be much quieter than last year on any level.  I don’t have a lot of control over the noise that will go on around me, and neither do you.  But I believe we do have some control over how we respond to that noise.  God made us as individuals composed of Spirit, Mind and Body.  When I worked for the YMCA they talked about that a lot, often omitting the “spiritual” part of our lives.  But as a Pastor, I think I’ve too often omitted the “spirit” part of an individual’s life in favor of the “spiritual” part. I’m convinced more and more that we need to address both!   As the volume goes up and down around me, I hope I’ll be more attuned to allow God to minister both to the “spiritual life” and “spirit” of those I serve……and to my own. After all, it’s a noisy world out there!!