I love cars. I really do. I am strangely both proud and humbly ashamed to admit that since age 15 I have owned 31 of them. Yes, really. I’m sitting in #31 as I write this. It’s a Volkswagen Passat. I really like it. It’s completely different from the usual two-seater sports car I tend to lean toward. Everyone in the family fits nicely, including Ryan, who is now taller than I am – at 13.
I’ve owned the V-Dub for over four months at this point. As I was sitting in it last week, I noticed that the accents on the steering wheel, such as the third spoke and around the buttons, were piano black. Funny thing is, if you’d asked me what color they were the day before, I would have told you they were brushed aluminum. I’ve literally sat in front of this steering wheel with my hands on it for the past four months, and I had no idea what color it was.
So, what? Whoop-de-doo! Now I know what color the trim on my steering wheel is. Bid deal. Except that it is. You see, it reminded me of something very important in life, which is the importance of forensic intensity. I was a crime scene investigator for three years of my police career, and the term forensic intensity meant looking at everything in complete detail at a crime scene. You see, once you leave a crime scene, you can’t just go back and look for what you think you missed or did miss. It won’t be admitted in court. You only get one shot at it, and you’ve got to get it right, every time, without exception. That means paying attention to all of the details about something. I was reminded of the importance of this just by looking at my steering wheel for the first time with forensic intensity.
What in the world does this have to do with Christianity? A lot, as it turns out.
What I came to realize is that it is terribly important to give forensic intensity to our efforts to connect with one another. You see, most people hear others just fine, but they don’t listen. They see others just fine, but they don’t really look. Most of us have reasonably good eyesight and reasonably good hearing and can get it corrected if we don’t. What a shame it is when we don’t look and listen to God’s most perfect creations: each other. Helen Keller once remarked, “The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision” As my former colleague Millie Thompson used to say, “Oh, you gots to do better!” She was right, especially when it comes to the way we interact with others.
So, how do we look at others with forensic intensity? Start by looking at their human form. Ok, let me interject here that the degree with which you look at said form will vary dramatically based on the nature of your relationship with that person. What I’m trying to say is that if the person isn’t your spouse or significant other, I’d recommend keeping your eyes north of the equator. Here’s what I mean by forensic looking: pay attention to things about them you’ve never noticed before. Do their words and tone of voice match their facial expressions? There are people who are genuinely happy, and their faces show it. Genuine smiles come with crow’s feet (aka wrinkles) at the edges of the eyes. Cheeks rise up and get rosy. The corners of the mouth turn upward. That, my friends, is one happy face! But what about when someone says they are “fine”, but their face says otherwise? They smile and say everything is alright, but there are no crow’s feet, no apples of the cheeks, and no genuine smile? They could be working through a difficult time in their life in the short term or the long term. Ask them about it and offer to be a friend without judgment. Everyone needs someone. Nobody can be successful in life alone, whether it be physically (doctor), intellectually (teacher), or theologically (God). Pay attention to the small things about the people in your life. You may find things you’ve never seen before, and they may add value to them – and to you.
What, then, is forensic listening? Why even bother? We already know that “seeing is believing” and a picture is worth a thousand words. Well, then, how do magicians make a living? Yep, by showing you something that ain’t real. The power of words is incredibly important. American TV and radio commentator Charles Osgood once said, “Compared to the spoken word, a picture is a pitiful thing indeed.” Ever been in a conversation with someone that was listening to the same radio but tuned in to a different frequency than you were? They nod their heads while you’re talking and say things like “uh huh”, “yeah”, and “mmm-kay”. They hear you, but they ain’t listening. How does it make you feel? Yeah, me too. Listening with forensic intensity means tuning out everything else and taking in what the other person is saying. Ever been out with people that always kept their phone next to them on the dinner table the whole time, or even worse, in their hand? You know darn well where their focus is. Forensic listening to others requires the external effort to get rid of distractions and make the other person the center of your attention. It also requires that you give undivided mental effort. You see, most people are not listening when someone else is talking; they are planning what they want to say next and waiting for the other person to stop talking so they can start. That isn’t listening at all. Quiet your mind while others are speaking, and you will be able to listen to them with forensic intensity. The best communicators are great listeners, not great talkers. Forensic listening shows others that you genuinely care about them, and if you’re reading this, I’m betting that you really do. Give the phone a break and give that person your true attention.
There’s one more consideration about forensic listening that’s important here: forensic listening to the Bible. 2 Timothy 3: 15-17 tells us:
There’s nothing like the written Word of God for showing you the way to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. Every part of Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another—showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God’s way. Through the Word we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us.
I openly admit this is one of the things I am working on to develop my own Christianity. I read the Bible and pay tremendous attention to its messages. As far as being able to cite every detail of the 4,000+ pages of the eBook copy I use? No way. Can’t do it. I am working diligently at reading the Bible forensically so that I can get all that I can from it. I always say that we can’t bend scripture to fit our opinions and that we must take scripture as we find it. That forensic reading requires that we go into our readings with no biases or predispositions obscuring the messages of the Bible so that we can gain all that is there for us.Since the Bible says that those that teach Christianity will be judged more harshly, I promise to continue to read the Bible with forensic intensity for the benefit of us all.
Don’t just go through life experiencing things; evaluate them. Look, listen, and read with forensic intensity in order to get and give the most you can to yourself and others.
May God bless you, now and always.