Lessons in a Penny
June 25, 2015
One day, I picked up a penny on my desk - mostly due to lack of inspiration in any other area and I asked myself what messages that small coin might give me.
It is round. Maybe I should lead a better-rounded life.
It says we trust God - or like to tell people that we do. This, the smallest of coins, calls me to the greatest of faith.
As Kipling said of his nation, puffed up with power:
"If, drunk with sight of power, we loose
Wild tongues that have not Thee in awe--
Such boasting as the Gentiles use
Or lesser breeds without the law--
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget - lest we forget!"
It tells us that we as a people value liberty. How sad when we are tempted to sacrifice liberty for expediency and safety. Inconvenience for the greater good is expected. To accept long lines for the wellbeing of all is a virtue. However, we must be vigilant to guard our freedom and remember the words of Patrick Henry, proclaimed in my own hometown of Richmond, "I know not what course the others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death."
Men and women have been willing to die for it and have died for it. Let us never take it lightly.
The penny reminds us of the nobility of character of a man like Abraham Lincoln who failed many times on his road to success, but kept getting up again until he, the most unlikely of candidates came to the place of leadership where he would steer this nation through one of its greatest crises.
Whitman called him, "Oh Captain, my Captain ... fallen cold and dead."
His legacy tells us that greatness can come from humble beginnings and that great trials, both internal torment and circumstantial heartache can fashion great people. Lincoln loved a joke. His face on the coin reminds me to never take myself too seriously. He could laugh and make others laugh.
"A merry heart doeth good like a medicine." - Proverbs 15:13
What could be more humble and insignificant than a tiny penny? Yet it is intricate and beautiful and pennies accumulate. Some people do not value small things, but have you ever been just a penny short?
"Do not despise the day of small beginnings." (Zechariah 4:10)
Everything magnificent starts off small. In certain markets, a once cent fluctuation can make a huge difference in the economy.
On the back of the penny is spelled out, "One Cent." That means it is one part of one hundred cents that add up to a dollar. Everything is a part of something else. You are a part of something greater than yourself. We are made for community and collaboration. Every cent counts. Believe me, they count them at the bank.
If you keep your penny, you will never be broke - not flat broke anyway.
Ben Franklin said, "A penny saved is a penny earned."
The Lincoln Memorial is on the back reminds me of The Gettysburg Address which I memorized as a child. My great grandfather was at Gettysburg where so many died. It was part of a process to insure that "government of the people, by the people, and for the people" would not “perish from the earth.”
Our nation was founded, as Lincoln said, “dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal."
It took a civil war to solidify that idea and prepare the way for it to be institutionalized at the next level where slavery simply could not be tolerated. There is slavery in the world today and we cannot tolerate it. There are continuing residual effects of American slavery and the work of healing continues. There are indignities and cruelties perpetrated on men, women, and children made in the image of God. My little penny tells me that I must care and I must do what I can to stop it and help make the world a better place for all humanity.
My great grandfather was fighting on the wrong side of that tragic war, but Lincoln's legacy and the resilience of the American ideal healed the nation and we are one people once more with one currency and one great dream.
Lincoln was prepared to forgive the South and treat her people generously. While those who came to power after his death were not as open handed as him, they did bring the nation together again.
This penny reminds me that there are stronger things than our many differences, that America is greater than her partisan politics, and that we can heal if we focus on what we share in common.
We are diverse and in that diversity is our strength because it forces us to focus on what is truly at the core of our nation's identity. We unify, not around peripheral concerns, but around core values. The message on the penny brings us back to what the great American experiment in representative government and self-determination was and is all about.
That penny represents opportunity and everyone has an opportunity for success. You can play the game and win.
And we will need some of your pennies for the common good. You know that; April 15 is much too recent to forget!
"E Pluribus Unum," it declares, “out of many, one.”
These are the words from our national seal of which it has been said, "The center section of their shield has six symbols for ‘the Countries from which these States have been peopled:’ the rose (England), thistle (Scotland), harp (Ireland), fleur-de-lis (France), lion (Holland), and an imperial two-headed eagle (Germany)."
There are many more that are missing. We come from so many backgrounds, cultures, languages, nations, and families. We are representative of many regions of this country with varying customs, dialects, and histories. Yet, we are one people, one nation under God.
For the church, caught up in the mission of God in the world, that is very significant. We are a strategic center of influence.
The penny was once made of copper and now of a mixture of metals that mean nothing to me except that I find the penny to be the most beautiful and appealing of coins because of its bronze color.
It is still one cent, no matter what it is made of.
Emblazoned across the top of the second side of the coin, we read, "Untitled States of America."
We are states with powers that are sovereign in their spheres.
We are united so that we surrender some of those powers for the sake of the whole and for the possibility of interstate commerce. Here we are on the Internet because people can do together what no one can do alone.
We are "of America" which means that a guy named Americo Vespucci did a very good job of creating a map of a new and largely unexplored continent and that our forefathers put aside their fears and apprehensions to come and explore it.
We are still explorers charting new courses and embarking on adventures into the realm of success and significance.
I can look at this penny and know when it was minted - 1978, and where - Denver.
I know where I was in 1978, finishing up my 6th year of college, married since 1975, pastoring two small churches in western Virginia, and still swelling with pride in America in the afterglow of the Bicentennial celebration of 1976. In fact, cyclists were still stopping at our little church along the Bicentennial Trail to rest and refresh themselves.
It was a great time in our nation's history.
In 1978, I was preparing to come to California in 1979, but I did not know it at the time. I would move from one coast of this nation to the next and I would need every penny I could find and that God's people would generously bestow upon me to make it.
Here, at the Western edge of our Continent, I have planted my life and ministry and worked on my American Dream alongside my wife of almost 40 years. We have raised two sons and are enjoying our grandchildren.
We try to teach them the value of a penny, to earn it honestly, invest it wisely, give it generously, save it judiciously, and spend it frugally. My wife is better at that than me.
I have only been to the airport in Denver, but I know there is a Mint there and my penny came into its present form there and was disbursed from there.
I don't know where it went from there, how many times it has crossed this land, whether or not it has traveled overseas, how many people have lost it and how many have found it.
It has traveled, as have you and your ancestors. Now you are here and the choices you make from this moment forward will determine where you are going.
This penny has been in many pockets, heard many stories, perhaps even been carried into battle. It has used for good and most likely, for evil. It has years of usefulness left as well.
It is faded, so it has not been pampered.
Oh the stories it could tell.
Oh the stories you can tell.
It is a good thing someone left a penny on my desk. I might not have had an article to write.
If I can get all of that out of the tiniest coin in our economy ... and I could go on much longer, how do you say that you have no story to tell?
You are a person of great experiential wealth and intricately interwoven complexity. You have a fascinating past and a wonderfully mysterious future.
Tell your story; fight for your liberty; be all that you were made to be.