Perfect Pitch

Some time ago I was talking to a friend of mine who is a musician and has perfect pitch.  He can pick out any note and tell you whether it’s the perfect sound or not and he readily cringes if he hears an improper note whether it is vocal or by instrument.  I have known a number of people through the years who have this incredible musical gift, but that’s as close as I get to expertise – simply knowing them.  I do not have that ability.  As a result, a lot of music that some people think is atrocious, I may not care for, but it sounds fine to me.

In a conversation with my friend he was explaining to me why he had dropped out of church and only on the rarest of occasions would go to church.  He just couldn’t tolerate it.  No, his issue was not hypocrites in the church or the service was too long or people being unfriendly or the preacher being unprepared.  No, his problem was his problem of perfect pitch.  He said it’s hard to describe how it makes him feel when he hears a wrong note struck.  He just shudders and so when he goes to church he sits in his pew and listens for the wrong notes.

The other day I was in a service and the person who was playing the piano played a stirring presentation of “To God Be the Glory” for the offertory.  It was magnificent.  With all the runs and powerful, majestic presentations, he must have played thousands if not over ten thousand notes in that one piece of music.  Now for me, it was almost a stand-to-your-feet, shout “praise God” at the conclusion, but for someone with perfect pitch, I thought how possibly they would have heard one or two off notes and the day would be ruined for them.  How incredibly sad that must be.

As it plays itself out week after week he began to realize that the only way he could deal with it is not deal with it.  He dropped out of church.  Not for a week or a month or a year, but for years and years, he stayed away, all because he could not tolerate a note of imperfection from an instrument or a soloist or even a choir.  Since so few people are highly gifted and magnificently trained that they possess this perfect pitch ability to pick out all the wrongs, it does not affect the population at large.  On the other hand, there are many people who have developed perfection in other areas that it seems to drive them crazy when everyone else is not perfect like they are.

For instance, some people have perfect methods.  They actually believe that the way they go about doing anything is the way that it’s supposed to be done.  Any departure from their methods is inexcusable and unforgivable.  It was like when James and John had been on a mission trip for Jesus and they saw someone casting out devils in Jesus name but they went up and stopped him because he had not been involved in their group.  John reported this to Jesus, “And Jesus said unto him, Forbid him not: for he that is not against us is for us.” (Luke 9:50).  Just because someone is not doing things according to your practices does not mean that they’re not doing something to honor God or that God is not also using their methods.

It’s not unusual in our day to talk to someone who describes their church as just being traditional.  Maybe they’re looking for a pastor and they want someone who is just a traditional pastor.  Well, what do you mean by that?  Do you mean that they’re King James only?  Well, no we use other translations.  Well, do you mean that you sing from the Baptist hymn book?  Well, actually, we don’t even have hymn books.  We put it on the screen and everybody can sit there and see it together.  Some people would not call that being traditional and some would really get upset if you change any of those methodologies.  By the same token, there are people who are doing it different ways and think that that is traditional.

It seems to be that Jesus’ indication was that if they’re honoring God and not against the Lord, we would be wise to simply allow them to do what God is leading them to do and us to go on with what we’re doing and all of us together seek to honor the Lord as we serve Him.  If you are one who has perfect methods, God bless you.  If your perfect methods enrage you, embitter you against everyone who’s not just exactly like you, you might want to stop and see how perfect you really are in your methods.

There are some people who have perfect mouths.  Now the mouth is an interesting thing and the power of the tongue, according to Scripture, has within it both to destroy or delight to hurt people or to help people.  James in his little book says that if a man is able to control his tongue completely, he’s a perfect man (3:2).  I mean he’s a totally mature, unquestionably-in-control as God would have him to be, a person with a tongue that is mastered in every way and at every moment of the day.  There are very few who have come to that place in life for sure.  I always find it to be fascinating when someone is outraged against what they hear someone else saying and is so demeaning and passionate and filled with bitterness that they actually think their response is pure and perfect while it may be worse than what was said in the beginning.

A third thing, some people have perfect morals.  In the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7, Jesus tells us we need to be careful about our judging others and not go around trying to help someone else to get a little speck out of their eye when we’ve got a beam, a tree limb, in our own eye.  He’s talking about us presenting ourselves as the ultimate, perfect standard and it’s just not so.  You find it everywhere that sometimes parents deal with their children as though they never messed up when they were a child.  In church, people are so quick to evaluate, pass judgment, criticize, and begin to erect the gallows for someone to be hung as though they had never stumbled or bumbled or in any way, messed up, or let people down.  We strive to look to Jesus the author and finisher of our faith and to walk after Him, but we would truly be wise if we would be cautious as we go around watching for specks of dust in someone’s eyes when we have boulders and planks stuck in our own sight.

It is truly a burdensome thing to live with perfect pitch or methods or mouths or morals, because none of us do.  It tends to focus your attention on always looking for the bad, the mistake, the wrong decision, the hurtful word, rather than seeing the bigger picture where at times in wonderful ways and on glorious days God was able to use somebody beyond what you thought He ever could.  To that Jesus would say pat them on the back, send them on the way, thank God for them, and celebrate the moment.

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Jim Futral
Executive Director-Treasurer