A copy of the Bay Psalter, a historic Bible and the first book published in what is now the United States, sold this week for a record breaking $14.2 million. It was purchased by businessman David Rubenstein who plans to loan it out to libraries across the country. The sale says something important about our American society today, only I’m not sure what exactly. Our love of firsts? Our obsession with big-ticket items? Our generous philanthropy? Maybe the answer is (d) – all of the above. But I don’t think it means that we value the Word of God highly. I can pick up as many copies as I want from Goodwill for fifty cents each.
The sale of the Bay Psalter got me thinking about my own values. With my enthusiastic approval, the church I serve recently paid a hefty sum to have our 1840s Bible restored while Boston’s Old South Church sold their pricey 1640 Book of Psalms to finance their ministries to the homeless and people with AIDS. Maybe they wouldn’t have gotten rid of one copy if they hadn’t owned two. Perhaps the church saw no other way to fund its programs because it’s fallen on hard financial times. I don’t know. Still, whatever the circumstances, it took courage and compassion to give up a precious relic to care for those who are often considered to have little worth. With this decision, the people of Boston’s OSC showed that their values are different from the world’s. The world says, “Use people and value things.” But our faith teaches us to use things and value people.
Where did the Christians in Boston get such a radical idea? Maybe they read the Bay Psalter where it says, “See ye do defend the poor, also the fatherless: unto the needy justice do, and [to them] that are in distress. The wasted poor and those that are needy deliver ye; and them redeem out of the of the hand of such as wicked be” (Psalm 82:3-4).
What are you grateful for on this Thanksgiving Day? Family? Health? Faith? How about … fleas?
In The Hiding Place, author Corrie ten Boom tells the story of her survival in a Nazi concentration camp with her sister Betsie after they were caught hiding Jews. They lived in miserable, overcrowded, flea-infested barracks. A Bible smuggled into the prison encouraged the two Christian sisters to be thankful for everything, even their enemies, so they thanked God for their captors. But when Betsie thanked God for the fleas, her sister Corrie objected, “Betsie, there’s no way even God can make me grateful for a flea.”
Despite tight security, the sisters began holding worship services. Corrie later recalled, “They were services like no others, these times in Barracks 28.” A growing circle of women gathered at the back of the dormitory as one of the ten Booms read from the Bible illuminated by a tiny light bulb. They were amazed that the vigilant guards never broke up their meetings or ever entered the room. Later they learned why. “It was the fleas!” Betsie declared to her sister in triumph. The fleas were guardian angels who kept the guards away.
This Thanksgiving give thanks for both the good things God sends your way and the bad, because even a flea can be a blessing in disguise.
“In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
I serve as a chaplain in the US Navy Reserve, and my military duty takes me to Norfolk, Virginia once a month where I am the deputy force chaplain for Naval Surface Forces Atlantic, comprising 78 ships and 25,000 sailors.
This year I have gone to sea twice aboard the USS Arlington, a brand new 684-foot San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock with 385 sailors. In July I sailed out for a week while its crew tested the ship’s defensive armaments: two 30mm guns and two air-defense missile launchers. They passed with flying colors. My purpose, however, was more peaceful. While on board I preached in the ship’s chapel and led a daily Bible study. Every evening I put the sailors to bed by saying the evening prayer over the intercom just before taps at ten. Instead of just a prayer I always give a prayer and a story, usually a clean joke or parable that leads into my prayer for the evening.
In November, I embarked aboard the same warship for three days to conduct a burial at sea for five veterans, including three who served during World War II. Sailors wearing their dress blue “Cracker Jack” uniforms brought urns with the cremains to the ship’s rail and scattered the ashes in the sea, while I said the words of committal. A rifle detail fired off a 21-gun salute, then taps was played as the ship gently rocked on the ocean waves. Finally, a flag was presented in honor of the departed. The families, who were not on board for the ceremony, will each receive a letter of condolence from the ship’s captain, a CD with pictures, a chart marking the location of the burial, and a flag that was flown from the ship’s mast. The ship returned to port just before the Veterans Day weekend. By Sunday I was back in the pulpit of my church. I am proud to serve my country in uniform, especially as a chaplain. Herman Melville wrote that a “chaplain is the minister of peace serving in the host of the God of War.”
I’ll admit it: I’m a blog slacker. How did I fall off the wagon? It’s a little thing called a book publishing deadline. Here’s one of my favorite quotes on the topic: “I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by” (Douglas Adams). Like a batter caught staring at a fastball, I watched helplessly as my first deadline flew past. But I managed to make my final book submission on time, barely. I felt like an undergrad who submits his term paper at a minute before midnight on the day it’s due.
I’m nearing the end of a long and cathartic process. (I blogged about the completion of my doctoral dissertation here.) What was born as a thesis has grown into an academic but readable history book, coming out in March 2014. The work is truly international: researched in Germany, written in the US, and published in Britain. And like many imported goods it’s pricey: £60 or $99 per copy. If you want to read it but don’t want to shell out a hundred clams, you can always take advantage of interlibrary loan at your local public library.
According to ancient wisdom, every man should father a son, write a book, and plant a tree. Two down, one to go!
Filed under books, personal