Columns share an author’s personal perspective.
Until I entered the seminary, I thought that the three Bible characters that were saved from the fiery furnace were Shadrach, Meshach, and To Bed We Go.
Okay, maybe the seminar timing is over the top. However, it is true that I believed these were their names. You see, to get me to sleep as a child, my father read me Bible stories – this one from the Book of Daniel was one of my favorites. While he was pronouncing “Abednego” correctly (albeit with a heavy southern accent), I heard “let’s go to bed” because I knew it was coming.
Unfortunately, Shadrach, Meshach, and “To Bed We Go” weren’t the only names I got wrong. In elementary school there was “Elemeno”, that special letter in the alphabet that precedes the letter “P.” was standing. As a teenager (and many years later) I sang some embarrassingly wrong lyrics from Starship’s hit “We Built This City.” Instead of “We built this city on rock and roll”, I would like to say, “We built this city on sausage rolls.”
Apparently I’m not the only one. Recently I discovered that there really is a term for it; “Mondegreen” means a word or phrase that is created by incorrectly hearing or incorrectly interpreting a statement or lyrics. In fact, it’s quite common in human behavior. A study at Baylor College of Medicine concluded that when our brains try to process inaccurate information (like the lyrics of a song we are not sure about), it fills in the gaps based on our own prejudices, previous beliefs, or expectations will.
If you ask me, there is a lot of “moon greening” going on in our world these days. This is understandable because we are terrible listeners as a society. We form our answer or opinion before someone else’s sentence is even finished. We make assumptions that are not proven (as we said in the law). We form conclusions about what people are saying and fill in the gaps based on our prejudices, previous beliefs, and expectations.
In fact, we revere assumptions just as the ancient Babylonians revere the golden idol of King Nebuchadnezzar from my favorite Daniel story “To Bed You Go”. There Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego are thrown into a furnace of fire because they refuse to worship the golden idol of King Nebuchadnezzar, but an angel joins them in the fire, not only saving them but transforming the king’s heart.
Unfortunately, we continue to worship this golden idol of assumptions. Perhaps our spouse or partner starts telling us something and we cut them off because we already “know” what they are going to say. Perhaps it is when we quickly click the remote control because we have “heard all we need to hear”. Or maybe it is when we refuse to listen to another side of an argument or story, or refuse insight from someone with whom we disagree. However it happens, this refusal to listen tends to lead to an incomplete and imprecise understanding of what is being said. We then fill in the gaps with our assumptions – similar to when you know that your father is trying to get you to sleep and you hear “let’s go to bed” instead of “Abednego”.
The bottom line is that we are repeating what we think we are hearing. And if we repeat it long enough, it becomes our truth.
Listening is a sacred ritual that we should perform with grace and love every day. What if we refuse to worship the idol of assumptions? What if we instead rely on our beliefs to give us more patience, empathy, and understanding? When we step out of faith, powerful forces will come to our aid – like perhaps an angel standing next to us and whispering, “Breathe in; Let her talk; hear their story. “
Sure, I will keep putting out wrong lyrics that put my family and friends to shame, but I hope the inaccuracies stop there. Singing lyrics that the author never intended is wrong, but putting words in other people’s mouths is a whole different kind of wrong.
Rev. Susan Sparks, a trial attorney turned stand-up comedian and Baptist minister, is the senior pastor of Madison Avenue Baptist Church in New York City. A nationally known speaker and preacher, she is the author of four books, including her new devotional book “Grace-Filled Gratitude: A 40-Day Joy Journal”, which is available on Amazon. Contact them through their email address [email protected] or their website www.SusanSparks.com.