I recently found out that I have some hearing loss.
No, that's actually not true I've known for a while that my hearing was less than it used to be. Mostly because of my wife's frustration with my constant "huh?" when she was talkin to me from any distance.
After her gentle, and then not so gentle, suggestion that I do so, I went to have my hearing checked. There they told me that I would benefit greatly from having hearing aids. Now this does not sit well with me for some reason. Whether it's a machismo thing or whether it is my frustration with growing older-I don't like it.
But as someone who spends a great deal of my time listening to other people, and where hearing them accurately is very important, if they tell me I need hearing aids, I'll get hearing aids (only, of course, after I get a second opinion cause I'm stubborn that way).
But I am also cursed, or blessed, depending on the day, with a tendency toward theological reflection. And so I began to reflect on Jesus's healing of people who were deaf. Particularly those instances in the book of Mark. Mark makes it clear that deafness doubles as a metaphor for the inability of the disciples to truly hear what Jesus is trying to say to them. And in one case we are given a scene where Jesus, struggling with the powers of Darkness sticks his fingers in a man's ears, groans loudly and cries, "Open!" in a loud voice. Mark gives us this picture of the sweating, groaning Jesus wrestling with that which denies life in all its fullest...in this case, deafness; in our case our inability to hear what the Kingdom of God is truly about.
The point in the story where Jesus stuck his fingers in the man's ears came home to me when being measured for the hearing aid. I discovered that the device extends down into the canal of the human ear. By doing so, it allows the sound to get right down near the heart of the human capacity for hearing. I'm going to maintain the healing Jesus is doing to our deafness as Christians looks an awful lot like this. To heal our deafness we're going to have to allow Jesus to get right down in there with us. It's not going to be just a matter of somehow attaching a tiny loud speaker so that we can get the noise at a higher volume. We need our hearing corrected.
There is, in my front yard, a lovely dogwood tree. But over the years my front yard has become infested with ivy. Ivy is a horrible plant in my mind; rating right up there with Bittersweet and Kudzu in the list of demonic plants.
In any event, the ivy had begun to creep up the sides of this tree. And I had ignored it. Finally, after a very rainy spring and summer what used to be a little bit of irritating Ivy climbing up my dogwood turned into my dogwood tree into something that looked more like a sustaining and framework for a plant that was mostly Ivy and had a little resemblance to The Dogwood that was in my front yard 20 years ago when I moved into the house.
Once again, my wife, gently and then not so gently, nudged me to take a Saturday and deal with this situation. She had researched it. She had found a number of ways to deal with the situation and we settled on one that seems to make the most sense..
It involved digging around the roots of the dogwood tree and cutting off the ivy at the roots. Only then does it make sense to begin pulling the ivy off the tree from the roots up. Simply pulling the vines off the tree wouldn't do it.. It might make it look better for a little while but the dogwood would still be infested with the ivy as long as the roots were there.
The truth is that many of us as Christians have gone deaf to the Gospel. We hear a portion of it, but we do not hear the whole thing. Sometimes our deafness is selective, and self-selected at that. But sometimes it is simply the result of having grown up in a culture that taught us a gospel that was not Gospel. What we were taught looks more like the kind of kingdom that Pilate and Jesus discuss in John 18 where Jesus tells Pilate that His Kingdom doesn't come from this world; meaning that it isn't built on the things that this world's kingdoms are built on. Those kingdoms are built on privilege and violence. Jesus claimed that His Kingdom was built on vulnerability and servanthood (see Luke 22:24-27).
Healing our deafness is going to be a hot sweaty struggle with the demonic. It will be marked by moans and groans and tremendous effort both on our part and that of the God who loves us.
And at least in my case. I have found this to be true as my hearing begins to clear just a little bit. That the Gospel of the Jesus who came and taught and died and rose again and who began implementing the kingdom of God is way different that the "ivy" that our culture has allowed to grow on it. That this gospel has all too often been used as a supporting structure for the ivy of nationalism, racism, misogyny, homophobia, and American exceptionalism. To the point that one can barely see the Gospel tree beneath the ivy.
The Gospel tree is a Cross. It is vulnerable, suffering love. It is servanthood carried to the ultimate obedience described in Philippians 2:5-8, even the shameful death on a cross.
I hope that I've been able to save the dogwood in my yard. I hope that my hearing will be improved by getting help for it now. Most of all, I hope that my faith, and the faith of all of us, can be rescued from the clutches of the demonic ivy that has been allowed to grow over it. Privilege and violence are not the marks of the Kingdom, they are it's enemies. May God cure our deafness; open our ears; and strip away all that is not the Gospel of the Kingdom before it kills us.