Learning to Listen

By Bob Hiller

For the past ten years, I’ve had the joy of listening to Dodger baseball on the radio, as my call was just north of Los Angeles. Recently, I’ve taken new call to North San Diego County where, though I still get the Dodger games, I have found myself trying to listen to the Padres. This transition in listening has been a tough one, and not just because San Diego played my beloved Rockies this past week. Per usual, the Rockies didn’t fare too well. I’m used to that. No, the difficulty has been getting used to the Padres radio announced, Ted Leitner.

Dodger fans have the best of the best when it comes to announcers. Vin Scully, who is in his last season, can make the grocery list sound good (seriously, just listen to him read it!). Charlie Steiner, whom I have loved since his days on Sportscenter, is no Vin Scully but is still top shelf. Ted Leitner, though a standard for Padres fans, is not easy on my ears for some reason. Listening to Scully is like eating filet mignon. Everything about it is perfect and satisfying.  I’ve always felt Leitner is more like Pop-Rocks. I mean, it’s fast and crazy, and I’m never totally sure what’s happening.

This week, I took the time to listen a bit more closely since the Rockies were the Padres’ opponents. And, you know what? I started to enjoy Leitner a bit more. In fact, once I started to catch on to his quirks and follow his pattern, I found him to be a bit more enjoyable and engaging. He makes listening to the game a pretty good time. It was just a matter of me slowing down enough to pay attention. I had to allow myself to be caught up in the flow and pattern of how Padres baseball sounds on the radio. Now, though Leitner is nowhere near Scully, I can say that I am beginning to enjoy listening to the Padres.

It struck me that I had a very similar experience when it came to learning the faith. Faith in Jesus is foreign to us. Jesus is outside of us. His way of speaking is different from our normal patterns of speech. Theologian George Lindbeck suggests that faith is a language that we learn speak. But it’s awkward at first. Our native tongue is one of sin and self-preservation. We are caught up in and contributors to an ‘old Adam’ pattern of life. The old Adam, apart from Christ, informs how we hear, how we speak, how we think, and how we act. For example, the only language the old Adam knows is a distorted speech concerning justice and rights. And he only knows how to twist that language (as good as it may be) to achieve his own ends. He is a master of manipulating the law to his own advantage.

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Jesus speaks differently, and it seems awkward at first. He speaks a language of Law and Gospel, of righteousness apart from the Law, of faith, forgiveness, and freedom. He sets out patterns of repentance and forgiveness, of death and resurrection, and of love that produces gifts and not demands that incur rewards. It’s a whole new way of being. And, we aren’t all that comfortable with it.

The way this language is learned, like all other languages, is in the community of those who speak the language. People in San Diego love Ted Leitner. Why? Because they have been brought up on his patterns of speech, just like Dodger fans were brought up with Vin Scully (though, in this way, Dodger fans are most blessed among all people). In the church, this language is learned liturgically in the forms and practices that take place primarily in the worship service but also in the communal life that grows out of the divine service (Bible studies, prayer groups, outreach projects, care ministries, etc.). The church is where God sends His Word to teach us the speech of faith.

Like me with Ted Leitner, that “liturgical speech” is not easy to get a taste for. It is hard to learn. There are those who love it, have grown up with it, and have been formed by it their whole lives. At the same time, there are those who, of no fault of their own, have been brought to faith but are then bombarded with a foreign language. What is necessary is for everyone involved to stop, listen, take the time to grow into the language, and silence the old Adam who says, “This is too new, I can’t grasp this” OR “This is so redundant, I need something new.” Until Christ returns, we all need to have this Word of God shut the old Adam up. This is precisely what Jesus does when you go to church and hear the absolution, hear the pastor proclaim your forgiveness, and hear that the bread and wine are His body and blood for your forgiveness. Jesus uses the divine service as the place where our faith learns to listen and to speak.  It may not come easily; death to the old Adam is always painful, but the new life and language we gain from Christ has the power raise us to a new life! And, who knows, after a while, you might even be talked into loving this new language!

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