The original use of the megaphone

Edison’s original megaphone: used to hear

In his book, The New Adapters, Jacob Armstrong writes, “Thomas Edison coined the term megaphone in 1878 with a new device to benefit the deaf and hard of hearing. The first megaphone was actually three funnels. Two funnels that were over six feet long were inserted in the ear to aid hearing. The third, a smaller one, fit the mouth to project the voice.” It is a wonderful image of a device that was once used primarily for hearing that is now generally understood to be one for speaking. His context for the analogy is in helping congregations hear the issues and concerns in the communities they serve. However, the analogy works equally well in our day to day experiences. Some say that our nation has never been so divided. Although I understand the sentiment, that isn’t true. Consider for a moment the Civil War. That was a pretty divisive time in our nation. In the years leading up to the adoption of the Constitution in 1787, our nation was fiercely divided over the scope and authority of the federal government in the life of states. This division was primarily along socio-economic lines with vast differences between urban and rural voters. Sound familiar? Federalists like James Madison and Alexander Hamilton fought viciously with Anti-Federalists like Patrick Henry and George Mason. At one point, George Mason declared that he would “rather chop off [his] right hand than put it to the Constitution as it now stands.”

The media is often accused of partisanship today. Although history does have examples of newspapers that sought to be non-partisan, like the old New York Tribune, most newspapers were proudly advocating current events of their time from a partisan perspective. The Springfield Republican and the Cynthiana Democrat have in their history an intentional effort to report the news from their Party’s perspective.

As a pastor and preacher myself, I have had more than one person ask me what it is like to have a job where I get paid to talk. It is true that the time when most people see me in a large group, I’m the one doing most of the talking. Sunday mornings is, by far, the holy time our congregation gathers and by the nature of our worship style, the sermon is an important part of that time. The truth, however, is that throughout the week, I do much more listening than I do talking.

Today’s megaphone: used to speak

My point is that although we are certainly divided as a nation, this isn’t as foreign to our DNA as we might expect. Perhaps the difference is that social media has connected us far more than we were in the past. Think about your neighbors and those with whom you attend church or your co-workers. You may differ with them considerably on a whole host of issues, but you know them. Our children play together, we see each other at the store, funerals, weddings and at ball games. They are our friends and although we may have ideological differences, we know they are good and decent people. However, in this culture where we need to only open our laptops or turn on our tablets, we are given the means to engage in rigorous debate with people we don’t know. That makes it easy to ridicule them, demonize them and, ultimately, refuse to listen to them. We use our technological megaphones to speak and never listen. My suggestion? Take one week and just read what people are feeling and thinking. Or better yet, have a conversation with your neighbor or co-worker. What would it be like to listen and understand before we speak? To my congregation and those who join us for our live stream, I appreciate my congregation listening to me each Sunday and Wednesday. I put a great deal of time and effort into preparing what I will say. I pray that I will also put in as much time and effort listening throughout the rest of the week.