They were little more than “filler” items, thought to be less important than newspapers’ major stories which featured headlines in letters big and bold. Yet, they were strong commentaries on the human condition.

Both were items about the Salvation Army. One heralded new donation techniques for several “test” cities; the other revealed multiple lawsuits against the organization in opposition to its bell-ringing.

Founder William Booth, whose heralded work for the broken, down-trodden, disenfranchised and ignored masses of humanity began in England almost two centuries ago, would have been taken aback …

One announced acceptance of gifts by debit and credit cards at selected kettle locations; the lawsuits call for bell-ringers to become sign-carriers, as if such a silent appeal could replace the gentle reminders provided by the peals of bells across the years.

My guess is that General Booth would have given the go-ahead for the charge card project. He might have taken a “meet you at the courthouse” tack on the litigation issue.

Meanwhile, some bell-ringers’ eyes cross at the thought of repetitive questions that go with charge card procedures. Debit or credit? May I see your driver’s license? Is all the info on the license still current? Etc. Etc. Etc …

Booth, greatly influenced by Methodism’s John Wesley, was said to have “gone straight for the souls” in his roving ministry that eventually impacted the world.

Fatherless while still a lad, he was a teen pawnshop apprentice. This experience provided vivid pictures of lives fractured by deep hurts and shattered dreams.

Thus was launched his life of service. At age 15, he knelt at a bare table in Nottingham’s Broad Street Chapel, vowing that “God should have all there was of William Booth.” Rotten-egged, rebuked and ridiculed by many in an uncaring world, he persevered, convinced that the ground at the foot of the cross is exceedingly level …

He went where few others wanted to go, doing what few others wanted to do. Still, his ministry grew as others caught the vision of helping those who couldn’t help themselves.

Booth personified the admonition, “Don’t give ‘til it hurts, give ‘til it feels good!”

His response today might well be: “Charge cards? Fine, we’ll take whatever we can get.” And to naysayers to the ringing of bells, he might have observed: “Our God is in the life-changing business. These protestors may one day be bell-ringers themselves.” …

The General, whose favorite processional hymn was Onward Christian Soldiers, pressed on until all energy was gone.

He died at age 83, three days after becoming totally blind.

Only three months earlier, a crowd of some 10,000 filled London’s Albert Hall to hear his greatest speech: “While women weep as they do now, I’ll fight; when little children go hungry as they do now, I’ll fight; while there yet remains one dark soul without the light of God, I’ll fight — I’ll fight to the very end.”

And he did …

Upon his death, this simple sign was placed in the window at the Army’s international headquarters: “The General Has Laid Down His Sword.”

The old warrior lay in state for three days as 150,000 people filed passed his casket. At his funeral, 40,000 people crowded into Exhibition Hall, where Salvation Army officers knelt in tribute — along with thieves, tramps, harlots, the lost and the outcast.

Among mourners was Queen Mary, who arrived without warning. She sat at the rear of the hall, next to a prostitute. The latter whispered, “He cared for the likes of us.”…

At Christmastime, may we look and listen for sights and sounds of folks who hurt and are without portfolio. May we, like Gen. Booth, go for their souls, striving mightily to convince them of their worth. May we brandish his sword of faithfulness, loyalty, truth and love.

May the boldness of our lives, the love of our God and the heartbeat in our souls mesh into a great chorus, like a symphony of bells ringing to celebrate service to others. May His love be proclaimed. May His peace that passes all understanding comfort all of humankind. May it be noted one day, by the “least of these, my brethren,” who, like the harlot, acknowledge others who “care for the likes of us.”

As my Uncle Mort would say, if Americans have the least bit of gumption, they’ll scour the depths of their being to find a smidgen of General Booth’s spirit.

Merry Christmas to one and all …

Don Newbury is a speaker and author whose weekly column appears in 125 newspapers in six states. He welcomes comments and inquiries. Call him at (817) 447-3872, or send e-mail to His Web site is