The Voice That Isn’t Yours

One of the best Christmas gifts I received as a kid was a crystal radio kit.  In 1958, when I was seven, this was an exciting piece of high technology.  A rectangle of hardboard held three small screws connected by wires.  After wrapping a small coil, making a few couplings with bent paper clips, and attaching an ear plug, I had a functioning channel to the outside world.

I’d lay in bed at night, fiddling with the finicky dial and twelve-inch stretch of antenna wire, tuning in voices and sounds from far-off places.  When everything was in the right position, I had access to rock and roll, screaming preachers, and ball games, without a clue to how it was floating around out there and why I was able to find it.  They were like communications from a different dimension.

Making sense of the communications was another matter.  Mostly what I heard was static.  Hearing the actual ball count, or outline of a song, required discrimination.  What was meaningful noise and what wasn’t?

I faced a similar problem as an addictions counselor.  My days were spent listening to people talk, which is similar to finding a few nuggets of real info inside a cloud of static and white noise.  The conversations would always include evasions from what they didn’t want to discuss, a frequent inability to express what they wanted to say, and a certain level of ignorance in regard to what they actually did feel and think.  Add to that my own struggle to focus on a client’s latest drunken tale, rather than agitate about the latest argument with my wife, and you can see why interpersonal communication is difficult.  Understanding someone else is not a whole lot different than finding a station on a crystal radio set.

If an addict ended up dead or arrested, I’d always wonder if I missed something in our dialogues.  Was there a clue I could have noticed, an opening I didn’t pursue, an opportunity to bring who knows what to greater awareness?  At the same time, I knew the challenges involved.  The ability to communicate is not the same thing as actually making contact.  Tuners don’t always find air waves.

In the ministry, I was always amazed at how a well-planned, written-out sermon was subject to so many misconceptions.  I said all kinds of things I didn’t know I said, and apparently didn’t say many things I thought I did.  People hear through their own minds, at a certain day in their lives, and there’s no predicting how any particular input will translate.  Air waves don’t always find tuners.

The same is also true when it comes to God.  My impression is that God is always sending out signals, but that doesn’t mean they get received.  Similarly, there are lots of people looking for God, but they hear many different things, and sometimes nothing at all.  There’s a ton of noise created on our end, easily drowning out anything that doesn’t command attention, and attention is something God doesn’t seem to crave.  God loves us, but God doesn’t need us.  That’s what makes it love.

My relationship with God has evidenced the same kind of interference.  What I have learned, as I fiddle with the dials, trying find those particular airwaves, is that I’m the source of the static.  When I remove myself from the equation, the results are much more clear.

In my spiritual life, I have focused on recognizing what I sound like, in the variety of different voices that I use for the occasion, from the different facets of my character, especially the voices I prefer to ignore.  As I subtract my own input, other signals grow.  If you want to find God, find the Voice that isn’t yours.

About Bucky Dann

I teach religion, sociology, and psychology at Southwestern Community College in the Smoky Mountains. I have worked in the United Methodist ministry and in the substance abuse field. I possess a Masters of Divinity, a Masters of Philosophy, and a PhD in the sociology of knowledge.

One Response to “The Voice That Isn’t Yours”

  1. I can relate to your work with addicts and when one was lost it did make one wonder what I could have done differently. And hearing the voice of God, that one can be tricky because one’s own thoughts have a tendency to get in the way, but I have begun to recognize when God wants to get my attention because it doesn’t go away until I have listened and followed through with what He wants me to do. Thanks Bucky for these enlightening essays, sure do appreciate them, God bless you ………….

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