Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Songbooks

– a very short story.

Once, there was a good pastor who set out to build a church in a small community. He wanted some songbooks for his congregation, so that they could sing some favorite old hymns. 

The songbook salesman came by the church one day, “I can get you some songbooks”, he said. “Why, if you simply sign here, I’ll loan you ten songbooks right now, as long as you pay them back to me later.”

“Well, now, how would that work?” the pastor said. 

The salesman was quick to tell him, “You get the songbooks that you need now, and I’ll let you pay me back later, plus a little of what I like to call ‘interest’, for my trouble, of course. Clearly you can see how fair that is, since I will be out the use of the songbooks while you have them.”

The pastor said, “Well, that sure would get me the songbooks I need, and at least we could use them right away, but how would you like me to pay you the interest?”

The salesman responded, “Why, of course, you must pay me in songbooks – after all, I am in the songbook business. I’ll loan you ten to use now, and later you can pay me back those ten, one book per month, plus an extra one at the end, that’s the ‘interest’, until your obligation is fulfilled.”

The pastor had no songbooks, and it seemed that the salesman had them all, so he agreed, and went ahead with the deal. The good pastor singed a piece of paper promising to pay the salesman; at least, his congregation could begin singing the songs that they love!

The salesman went out to his van and made up some brand new songbooks and promptly set them in the pastor’s office. Then, he left.

Soon, the pastor began to think about the deal that he had made with the salesman. He began to realize that while he had songbooks today, he would have to pay them all back and be left with none – the same problem he was trying to solve! He was also troubled by the prospect of not having the eleventh songbook with which to pay his ‘interest’, and concerned about how he might get it, in order to meet his obligation. 

Soon, though, it was time for the congregation to meet and sing. And sing they did.

The first few weeks went by and everything went wonderfully. Everyone had a songbook and the fine singing really made the church a joyous place to be.

It wasn’t long when, after the fourth month, or so, as the payments were made to the salesman by returning the loaned songbooks, one at a time, a few people had to share their songbooks with their neighbors; they didn’t mind, though. 

The pastor got the salesman on the phone, “Say, I’m running short on songbooks, so how am I supposed to pay the interest – you know, that eleventh songbook that was never created?” 

The salesman suggested to the pastor that they might try singing harder; he had read once that maybe that would help them somehow to be able to meet their obligation. 

Or better yet, they could invite another church to sing some day and charge them a songbook for admission, that way they would be able to pay. Apparently, the salesman had been making new songbooks and loaning them to others, too. 

The pastor reasoned, “That would put the other church at a disadvantage, seeing that they would be two songbooks short – the one I would get from them if I charged admission, and the one they owed - as interest!” He rejected the idea. 

Several months passed and as the small church continued to pay on their debt, they found themselves in the middle of a sever shortage of songbooks.

The next time the good pastor and the church met to sing, they were huddled into a circle so that they could each try to see the words and music of a single songbook, at the same time. Some people had to learn to read the notes upside down! Even though they could still sing, it was nowhere near as enjoyable as when there were enough songbooks to go around.

A deacon came to the pastor with an idea and said, “Maybe we can borrow some more songbooks from the salesman?” 

The pastor said, “But we are so close to being out of debt to the salesman; with only two more payments, we are almost there!” 

“But pastor, we only have one songbook left, how will you make our final two payments with only one book?” the deacon said.

The pastor thought to himself, “That is an excellent point.”

The pastor made a quick phone call to a neighboring church, “Sister, can we borrow a songbook?” 

She said, “I suppose so, the nice salesman just loaned us ten of them. But, if you use it to pay the interest that you owe to the salesman, how will we get it back? ” 

The pastor agreed. He could not returned the sister’s songbook if he used it to pay interest to the salesman. Another unacceptable option.

So, the good pastor, needing more songbooks, reconsidered the deacon’s idea of borrowing ten more songbooks from the salesman. Of course, he would use one to pay the interest on the first ten he borrowed – then that deal would be complete. 

But, then, with the remaining nine songbooks - and owing a total of eleven – he would be short two songbooks this time around. It became clear to him that he would be going backwards. 

What’s more, if he did this over the years, several things would happen. First, he would always owe more songbooks than he had. Second, even if he borrowed from another church, he could not get out of debt and have songbooks, and neither could the other neighborhood churches. Third, if he charged visitors from another church for an honest service, like singing, he would leave the other church short of songbooks. Fourth, he understood that the congregation was finding the singing to be a bit less enjoyable and all of this started about the same time as the first loan from the salesman.

The good pastor prayed about it. He recalled, “a just weight and measure” and “do unto others” and decided to take a bold step. He reviewed the official church documents and discovered that he could create his own songbooks! And so he did. 

He created enough songbooks to pay off the salesman, provide for his needs and even help the neighborhood churches get out of the salesman’s debt. 

Soon, everyone had a songbook and the joy of singing was returned to the small city church. The salesman even made a little profit - and it only took a few of the church leaders to fix the problem. 

Moral of the story: Never borrow at interest, that which you should be creating yourself. That goes for a nation’s money supply, as well as a songbook.

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