// ocean of noise

A month ago, I started a new job. My first ever real job, if you want to know, unless you count holiday jobs in Starbucks or a miserable eleven-day stint in a call centre. I’m now working as a youth worker at a church in Oxford, and a solid amount of my first month on the job has been spent working out where to even begin.

There are a bewildering amount of resources available for youth workers out there, and many of them are very, very good. There are also a range of theories on how to do effective youth work, a huge and ongoing conversation that nobody has quite resolved yet. Like a lot of things in the Christian world, it can often be pretty exhausting.

Week-to-week, I read a lot of blogs – as an estimate, I reckon upwards of 100 a week. I get the paper daily, and read all of it (except the money and fashion pages). That sounds like a lot of information when you put it down on paper, but I think for a lot of people that is fairly standard now. It’s got to get you thinking, though – and not just about youth work, but more generally too.

If you are taking in that much information weekly, then what does it even mean to navigate it effectively? Is there ever a point where resources stop equipping you, stop being useful, and start being a hindrance instead – a kind of “saturation point” for the human brain? Maybe the answer is, in the end, to identify the things that tell you what you want to hear and then only read them, just confirming your own worldview.

Although I won’t lie to you, that feels like something of a cop-out.

It’s into that conversation about youth work that Jesus Christ walks, like a voice of sanity; speaking words that seem to bring truth and life, freedom from the endless pressure to analyse, to work out the programmes and strategies that will bring people in. His words are loose but liberating, not prescriptive but wise, describing a better way of relating – one free from the panic and pressure that seemingly grips so many of us. Impractical, perhaps, infuriating at times, and certainly difficult to live out, but words of life nonetheless, spoken directly to the weary and confused soul.

I have often wondered how people who don’t have faith, or whose faith doesn’t allow for a God who might speak to them, navigate life. I suppose there are some wise people out there, people with shades of the things that make Jesus admirable in them – that wisdom and compassion, and the promise of freedom if you follow them. I suppose, too, that’s why so many people end up praising figures like Oprah Winfrey or Glenn Beck.

I don’t say any of this to criticise people on the outside of the Christian faith. If anything, my temptation is to run about frantically in the search for the magic formula, too, hoping that somewhere out there on the internet is the answer to youth work. But when I have done so lately, I hear the voice of Jesus Christ speaking through his word, and through the people who know (and live) those words, and I hear him speaking with a different tenor to the rest, with a quiet power to those words that changes lives.

There are plenty of driven people in the Christian world, determined to tell the gospel as efficiently as possible and working towards targets and quotas in order to fulfill that aim. But beneath the noise of strategy and amidst the flurry of analysis there is that voice that Isaiah prophesied about many years ago, saying,

Though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your teacher will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your teacher. And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying “this is the way, walk in it”, whether you turn to the right or to the left…

“In an ocean of noise | I first heard your voice,” Arcade Fire sang on their album Neon Bible.

It is the voice that brings freedom, the still, small voice that Elijah heard on the mountain and that the people of God have heard again and again throughout history. It is the voice of Jesus Christ.

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