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.

A mathematician’s use of proof and faith

Blaise Pascal was a French mathematician born in 1623. He is famous for his study of the concepts of fluids, pressure and vacuum.  He is noted for having written one of the strongest defenses for the scientific method. As a child prodigy, he had a deep fascination for mathematics and physics, and by the time he was a teenager, he had invented over 20 different machines, including the mechanical calculator. Pascal is credited with adding significant new thinking in the areas of geometry and influenced the development of what we now call modern economics and social science. For many classical thinkers, Pascal was not only a mathematician but a philosopher of mathematics. Some of his later works looked at how we might be able to discover truth. His book, Little Schools of Port-Royal was a geometry textbook of sorts that was not published until after his death. In it, he argued that all propositions needed to be based on already established truths. The problem with this proposition, he continued, was that every established truth would require other truths to back them up, wherein the idea of “first principles” would never be reached. Although he believed geometry was the closest to coming to understand truth, he concluded that ultimately, any principle upon which we build other principles can only be grasped (or “defined” as he argued) through intuition. It was at this point that Pascal was convinced of the necessity of submitting to God in searching out truth.

Pascal is remembered and celebrated as a scientist. His name has been given to the unit used to measure pressure, a computer programming language, Pascal’s law of hydrostatics, Pascal’s triangle and, of course, Pascal’s wager. In the world of literature, Pascal is regarded as a great author of the French Classical Period and is considered a master of French prose. His writing used satire and wit to oppose the rationalism of the philosopher Descartes (Descartes’ writings would influence John Locke, who would in turn influence one of our founders, Alexander Campbell).

However, what many folks may not know is that Pascal was also a theologian of sorts. Although he was by confession a Roman Catholic, he was a member of the Jansenist Movement within the Roman Church. Jansenists preached a form of theology which they credited to Augustine of Hippo. It is important to remember that the Protestant Reformer Martin Luther was an Augustinian monk before the Reformation. Augustine’s theology had a significant impact on Luther, Calvin and Zwingli and Augustine is often referred to as the “Protestant Church’s Saint.” Some historians argue that the Jansenists, to which Pascal belonged, were Roman Catholics with deep sympathy for many of the key doctrines articulated by the Protestant Reformers, of which justification by faith and limited atonement were most notable. Pascal’s most influential work was Defense of the Christian Religion. In it, he approached the Christian faith from two opposing philosophies to thoroughly confuse the reader and drive the reader to such despair that he or she would embrace God. Such a method is not my first choice in trying to share the truth of God’s existence with the world, but it does serve as an example that every generation is often overwhelmed with the multiplicity of truth claims. All those claims to truth have been used by many to explain why they do not believe, yet for Pascal, it was what drove him to faith. His philosophy and his scientific approach led him to believe in a Supreme Being, but it wasn’t what led him to Christ.

In 1654, only eight years before his death, he was involved in a carriage accident. One night following the accident, he had a “vision” that led him to embrace Christ. On his death in 1662, a note written on that night was found in his clothes. A portion of that note is as follows: “Fire. The God of Abraham…the God of Jesus Christ. My God and your God…This is eternal life, that they know you the one true God and J.C. [sic] whom you have sent…May I never be separated from him.” It is said that Pascal spent the rest of his life in devotion and service to God. One of my favorite quotes from Pascal is, “Faith is different from proof; the latter is human; the former is a gift from God.” I have been a part of a church that has always encouraged me to love God with my mind as well as my heart. There are many Christians who love God with only their mind. They navigate easily through the philosophies of the world and even Scripture to a sure belief in a Supreme Being but wonder why their hearts are empty. There are many Christians who love God with only their hearts. Their faith risks becoming nothing more than sentimentality and they live in fear of new ideas that might overwhelm them. Pascal reminds us that the Triune God comes to us through both the mind and the heart. Proof leads us to the Master. Faith gives us the strength to follow the Master.