Tuesday, April 30, 2013

8. You Shall Not Steal.

8. You Shall Not Steal.  (8th in a series on the 10 Commandments).

This one is pretty straightforward.  It does not need much discussion, it seems.  Do not steal.  Plain and simple.  Do not take anything that does not belong to you.  Do not take anything by any means.  Does that apply to the copying of music or books that others have written?  Is it stealing to photocopy them if you did not buy them?  How about making copies of CDs or records?  Is that stealing?  Is it stealing to copy a movie that someone loans you and you did not buy?  Wow, the world of technology has opened up all kinds of avenues that we never considered before.

When I was a new pastor at Edom United Methodist Church in Edom, Texas, we concluded each worship service by singing a nice little song.  It was set to the tune of "Edelweiss" from The Sound of Music.  Each Sunday, we would sing, "May the Lord, mighty God, bless and keep you forever, grant you peace, perfect peace, courage in every endeavor, Lift you eyes and see his face, and his grace forever, May the Lord, mighty God, bless and keep you forever."  I would walk down the aisle toward the back door and stand on the porch and shake hands with people as they passed out to go to their cars.  I would have Edelweiss playing in my head as they left and it was very peaceful.

When I left that little church and went to the big, tall steeple church 18 miles to the east of there, I mentioned the song to the music director one day and said we should sing it sometimes and he quickly told me that the song is not to be used.  He said that the family of Rogers and Hammerstein, who wrote The Sound of Music, had filed a lawsuit forbidding the use of the song unless someone paid a royalty for singing it.  I laughed aloud when he told me that and said it was ridiculous.  I guess Rogers and Hammerstein, or at least their families, are not laughing.  They took it seriously that others, even churches, would use their creation and not pay them for its use so they tried to block it legally.

Now I can sing Edelweiss all I want--in the shower, in my car, while cooking dinner--and the music police will not come to my house and try to stop me, but if I give a concert and charge people money to hear me sing, and include Edelweiss in the repertoire, then I may be crossing a line if I don't pay a royalty to the writers or producers or printers of the music.

Life has become so complicated.  While we used to know what it meant not to steal because we knew that anything that was not ours belonged to someone else and we were not to take it for ourselves, today things that can be stolen are not always things you can put your hands on literally.  Sometimes they are things we may read on the internet or hear on the radio or see on our television.  Enjoying them as we experience them is what they were created for but to profit from them opens a different can of worms that may be seen as breaking this commandment.

I remember that when I was in high school and learned to write research papers, we were taught to give credit to sources we used in our papers by making notations at the bottom of the pages and by using quotation marks to set aside words that belonged to someone else.  In so doing, we were acknowledging that those words belonged to someone else and not to us.  Today, there is a constant challenge for students who are in high school and college as they write papers for credit because there are many sources that will provide entire papers that someone else has written that are sold for a price.  There are people who can be hired to write papers for others so that they do not have to do the work and will get credit for doing it.  Plagiarism is another area in which stealing is a sneaky thing that happens even when one may not be doing it intentionally.

So, we thought we knew what this commandment meant when it was written and perhaps we do....do not steal, anything!  Today, deciding what stealing is when it is not something that can be easily seen is a matter of interpretation at times.  Maybe we need God's Spirit to give us wisdom and we need to prayer, "And lead us not into temptation" even more than usual.    

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