Have you noticed the word “forever” on our postage stamps? They came into use in mid May 2007. I was wondering why the word was there. The mystery was cleared up with the announcement made by Postal Service spokesman, David Partenheimer: "Forever means forever. There's no fine print. It will always retain its value. You can use it 10 or 20 years from now as a first-class stamp, and it would still be good."
Wow, think of that. You can buy 10 000 of them today and never again be touched by an increase in the price of stamps! A first class stamp rose in price by 36 cents in the last 30 years and for the 30 years before that it went from 3 to 5 cents. Now we have the Forever stamp. The good news is it will always be valid. The bad news is they can up the price of stamps without having to print new ones.
The first artwork on the Forever Stamps was the Liberty Bell. During a trip to Philadelphia to show the bell to friends from Louisiana, I was asked by a tourist standing next to me what those words were on the bell. “How sad,” I thought, “young Americans who haven’t been told about the politically incorrect inscription on this great symbol of the nation’s freedom.” I quoted it and made very sure they understood that it was a verse from the Bible: “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land; unto all the inhabitants thereof” (Leviticus 25:10).
Mr. Partenheimer had more bad news. Envelope stuffers, like me, will not be tolerated by the mail company. We, of possible Scottish descent, like to get as much into one envelope as the poor thing can hold together. Until now it was only the weight of the letter that determined its price. Sorry, you’ve had your free ride! I had to smile because the spokesman described my kind of letter as: “having parcel-like characteristics.”
My point is that current “norms” must not be taken for granted. The Forever Stamp has clearly signaled that the thick letter’s liberty wasn’t forever. I’ve already noted that the 3c stamp, though it ran from 1917 to 1957, was by no means everlasting.
So why should the liberty bell be a symbol of what is forever? Simply because we, in the USA, would like to believe that the human liberties we enjoy are never ending. People in our history paid a high price that we may enjoy this current blessing. How could such a thing, purchased at great expense, ever be lost? It’s unthinkable. Our bell is a symbol of those days of sacrifice.
I heard about a conversation between a granddad and a lad from his neighborhood. The young man was saying how much better it was to live in these days: “We have the Internet. We have space travel. We’ve got micro-medicine and super computers. We’ve got DVDs, MP3s and a host of household conveniences.” The old gentleman sighed and remarked: “you’re right we had none of those things, so we got off our behinds and invented them. What are YOU doing?”
When you see the liberty bell on the stamp, the question as to what you should be doing to protect and enhance liberty arises. The bell wasn’t big enough to include the context from which the verse was drawn. The passage in the Bible is all about consecration to a selfless lifestyle. A few verses later you’ll read: “Do not take advantage of each other, but fear the Lord your God.” I trust you understand that living by high ethics extends the probability of your grandchildren enjoying the fruits of liberty. Living ruthlessly focused on self-advancement alone greatly reduces the long shadow of blessing.
The bell’s message was evaded during the bleak years of slavery. The bell was ignored until the civil rights struggle. When whole tribes were driven onto reservations we sinned grievously. I remind us all that America wasn’t perfect in its proclamation of liberty to all the inhabitants of this land. What of today? Rich at any price is always too high a price when it refuses to share its gains. If you hope for a “forever free” America, start soaking up and then living out the “love-God; love-your-neighbor” lifestyle of those who built this land.
Andrew Paton of Clinton Church of the Nazarene, born in Africa, has pastored in Hunterdon County since 1997. Before that he ministered in Durban and Bedfordview, South Africa and prior to that was an officer in The Salvation Army. He has been in full time Christian leadership since 1975. He and his wife Carol have two married sons and five grandchildren.
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