Our Problem: Tone Deafness

I’m the last one to say I’m good at this. But, I’ll give it a go.

Flooded with the Tsunami of hatred and mailed bombs and peoples’ faithful religious beliefs making them an assault rifle target, something came to mind and heart this morning. No, I don’t maintain this is a key to shy the violence. Nor do I have the prescription for calm and restored civility.

I do think, though, of what may have major threading…or the lack thereof…to our problems. And, read this first: no one single individual has the glory or the grim of being at fault singularly. Don’t lose that.

I believe what’s missing today and is most needed comes in the realm of TONE. We are tone deaf. We are tone ignorant. For too many the tone is negative and carping and dis-humanizing.

An example came to mind, although it has the risk of self-serving. I learned from Fred Trost. Nothing is more important in being an ordained minister—my, make it in being a human being God created—than a pastoral spirit. I’ve learned well from the master. At St. Pauls in Chicago, starting in the summer of 1966, I learned that caring for people, being with them when they hurt the most and raise trophies and champagne with some frequency. Being with them and for them and acting upon, “What can I do for you?”

The people—i.e. the members—need to know you care. That doesn’t not mean a humor by-pass. When I served as Conference Minister in Texas and Louisiana and Mississippi, the traveling was not modest. Sometimes it was a 6-hour drive to worship with less than12 people. The number was so much less important than the time shared.

What I found, rarely excepted in any parish visit, especially for worship, was this question, “How long will the sermon be?” Some historians knew in the early days for Congregationalists, the preacher had an hour glass and a sermon’s value was maintained by flipping it at least once.

So, quite accidentally, but with a streak of “gotcha,” I came up with a one-liner. Sure, it was a strategy, because two things about preaching—not too lengthy, and hopefully not shallow. I remember, vividly this morning for reasons undetermined, I think of one of our churches in Beaumont, Texas. A lovely community of African American folk. I loved them. Maybe 20 at worship. I began the sermon as follows:

“I heard before worship a couple of you talking curiously about how long my sermon will be.” Tittering laughter. I continued, “Well, let me share that as your Conference Minister, I reserve the authority and right to preach the same number of minutes it’s taken me to drive here in Beaumont from my Austin home.”

The breath after that, Princess Hobson, one of the saints of the church, God rest her soul, made sure heaven heard, “LORD HAVE MERCY!”

And we were off and running. BTW, my sermon-length mantra was 15 minutes. End then and no one even thinks about their grocery list or has a chance to snooze off.

Then. It was Princess Hobson’s turn. They served a lovely buffet. Princess stood behind the table. As I passed by she pointed and said, “You’ll love my sausage.”

Well, heaven’s door would slam shut if I didn’t take some of her sausage.

Sitting at the table, yet to sample her delicacy, she came and sat across from me, giving me that why aren’t you eating my sausage look!

I got it. Took my first big bite…chewed and swallowed. BAM. Never in all my life had I had—not enjoyed but had—hotter and spicier and more enflaming sausage. I coughed, covered not my mouth but my eyes because I teared up in mortal pain. The sausage had some kind of French name…a name I have suppressed! Think it was something like “beaudanne.” [You can help me here.]

She simply smiled, then clapped her hands and laughed and pointed with beaming eyes, “GOTCHA!”

,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,Okay. Why all this?

Because with Plymouth Church in Beaumont and yours truly, we had a fabulous relationship, established by tone—theirs and I hope, at least for a breath or two, by mine.

Mainly because of tone. They KNEW I loved them, would be with them. And they, sausage included, knew I knew they’d always care for me.

It was the tone. A tone of toleration and support, of more understanding than judgment.

What I believe, the TONE in our country sucks. No way to be eloquent about that. There’s nowhere I consider—be it politics or religion or the workplace or a birthday party with chocolate sheet cake for your father, where tone doesn’t matter. And, honestly, I think it starts…or never gets started…from the leader.

I can count, more than one handful of churches whose tone drags others down because it’s harsh and condemning and chastising, primarily because of the pastor of the church.

My heart broke yesterday when I read about the slaying of Hebrew worshippers in Pittsburgh. It breaks to learn the mail bomber’s attitude and purpose toward political leaders.

I cannot imagine, especially if you find TONE important, you’d not agree with me.

So I ask, this Sunday morning, and can ask every morning, WHAT IS OUR TONE? How do you look at today? What manner of caring do you give?

Doesn’t have to be national. It can be in your family. It can be in your workplace. It can be with new friends. My plea, DON’T BE TONE DEAF.

The tone matters. Whether or not you ever taste Princes Hobson’s sausage.


About Mark H Miller

Diane and I live in Leander, Texas. This past June 17, 2015 I celebrated the 49th anniversary of my ordination. We returned to Texas after three years in Washington, during which I served as interim minister in Bellevue/Eastgate and Mercer Island. Am planning to begin a 5th novel that will have my protagonist, Tricia Gleason, serve a year in licensed ministry in Snoqualmie, Washington. The novel, "The Lemon Drop Didn't Melt," will find Tricia wrestling with ministry challenges. None of which more daunting than someone wanting her breathing to stop. All the published novels are available on Amazon and Amazon Kindle under Mark Henry Miller. A primary goal in our return to Texas is to make sure grandchildren get lots of attention--here and in Chicago and Washington, D.C. Traveling is definitely an activity that will not slow down. With that, of course, fishing will happen. To that the t-shirt is apt, "I fish; therefore I am." In addition to novels, the book of Blogs, "Voice Of My Heart," is also available on Amazon.
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