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Never mind turning it down; let’s turn it off

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By Mark Azzara

My Dear Friend,

Every day I find stories on the Internet that question, insult or misrepresent some facet of the Christian faith. And, being a thin-skinned believer, I hear these stories begging me for an answer or a solution.

For example, Huffington Post recently ran a long letter from a student on why she has abandoned the Catholic Church, plus a story quoting Oprah Winfrey’s pal-preacher Rob Bell as saying churches that don’t accept gay marriage will eventually become “irrelevant.”

George Weigel, the noted Catholic commentator, warned his readers in a recent First Things article not to believe everything they read about Pope Francis because the media seem incapable of accurately reporting what he says. The only way to know for sure what the pope said is to read his remarks word for word at zenit.va.

I wish I could, just once, write or speak the final, indisputably brilliant word that would silence everyone on just one of these issues. But God is constantly, gently telling me to let it go because nothing will be gained by arguing with, much less castigating, the ones who express their views, or the media that report those statements with varying degrees of accuracy.

In 2 Timothy 2:23 Paul writes, “Avoid foolish and ignorant debates, for you know that they breed quarrels.” When I am tempted to ignore Paul’s admonition and shoot my mouth off I remember to look first at the comments section at the bottom of many Web stories. One recent article generated 290 of them. Will my 291st comment make any difference? Yeah, right. And that’s when I let it go.

All I can do is write this letter to you, my friend. I hope you don’t mind that my exasperation is draining away at your expense.

I became a journalist partly because I was starved for a sense of self-worth. I wanted recognition more than anything else. We all want that, and we pursue it every day on the Internet. When nobody pays attention to us at home or work by giving us the positive feedback that says we matter — that our thoughts matter, our values matter, our lives matter — we raise our voices even louder because it really means everything for someone else to tell us that we matter.

The grand irony in all this tempts me to laugh, and I would if it weren’t so sad. We already have someone who will listen to us and tell us we matter — Jesus. If the woman who’d written that why-I’m-not-Catholic-anymore screed had shared her thoughts with God instead of the rest of us, she might have gotten a divine answer she didn’t expect. An answer along the lines of, “You’re right. But there’s more to it than that.” Same with Rob Bell and all those who write comments.

As I see it, the great tragedy in all these public musings is that our writing, speaking, screaming, hand-wringing and emotional writhing prevent us from listening and finally hearing. I don’t know if we create that din because we don’t believe in God, or we don’t think God will say anything, or we already have rejected his anticipated response, or we want to scream the message we think God has already given to us, or we believe we can figure everything out on our own, or we have stereotyped him to the point where he’s irrelevant, or if it’s simply because we’ve never learned, or have forgotten, how to listen. But no matter what the cause, we not only won’t let God have the final word — we sometimes won’t let him get a word in edgewise anymore.

Maybe I’m contradicting myself by writing this, and thus adding my voice to the din, but it’s only to tell you that I have found tremendous blessing at those times when I have consciously chosen to tune out the noise – all of it, whether I agree with it or not, whether I’m the source of it or not. That’s when I’m blessed with the realization that God doesn’t want to talk to us.

Yes, you read that correctly. He doesn’t want to talk to us. He wants to talk to me, and to you, as individuals. He doesn’t need a microphone or a publicist or an ad campaign. All he needs to win over the whole world is my choice to listen, along with your choice and the choice of all 7 billion of us. Once we do that our problems are solved! Now you understand why our problems are so hard to solve and why all the noise we create only makes them worse.

About Mark Azzara

Mark Azzara spent 45 years in print journalism, most of them with the Waterbury Republican in Connecticut, where he was a features writer with a special focus on religion at the time of his retirement. He also worked for newspapers in New Haven and Danbury, Conn. At the latter paper, while sports editor, he won a national first-place writing award on college baseball. Azzara also has served as the only admissions recruiter for a small Catholic college in Connecticut and wrote a self-published book on spirituality, "And So Are You." He is active in his church and facilitates two Christian study groups for men. Azzara grew up in southern California, graduating from Cal State Los Angeles. He holds a master's degree from the University of Connecticut.

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