Retired minister gives psalms a modern twist

Sunday December 30, 2012

HAVERHILL -- Even after retiring from ministry, the Rev. Jim Gustafson is looking for ways to make the word of God accessible to people.

Gustafson, 78, recently published, "psalms/tweets: Psalms in Contemporary Style," a 175-page spiral-bound book in which he rewrote all 150 psalms as tweets using slang and modern expressions.

Gustafson condensed the psalms to 50, 20, or in some cases 10 percent of the original text, although many do not adhere strictly to the 140 characters used in Twitter. He said it did not take him long to rewrite the psalms, usually 10 to 20 minutes.

"I looked at the various translations of the psalm and reduced it. I wanted to keep the main point and emotional impact," he said.

He began posting the tweets on his Facebook page and received positive feedback from friends.

"The psalms are a journal of Old Testament people. The psalms are a longer statement of how a person is feeling about God and circumstances. It shows the good, the bad and the ugly of human life," Gustafson said.

One sample tweet is Psalm 70 which reads "Quick, Lord! Rescue me! Enemies are out to destroy and humiliate me, saying, "Aha! We've pinned him down!" Let them know humiliation and shame. But, hurry Lord, I am weak and need You to save me!"

Gustafson said he uses the psalms as a devotion.

"It's a way to think about the Lord, to be in the Lord and get closer to Him," he said.

If King David could see his psalms turned into tweets, Gustafson said he would be pleased.

"I think so. He was a down-to-earth guy, who didn't mince his words. They show the real slice of life. I find that refreshing and right where the rubber meets the road and I like that," he said.

Gustafson said he decided to publish the book in a spiral-bound format so readers can lay the book flat and write their own thoughts on the lines beneath the tweeted psalm.

He has a bachelor's degree in philosophy from Wheaton College, a master's degree from Fuller Seminary and a doctorate in philosophy from Boston University.

Gustafson moved to Haverhill in 1959 and started ministering part-time at West Congregational Church. He served as minister at the church from 1959 to 1970 and as associate from 1978 to 2000. He continues to preach at the church when needed and remains the church organist.

In addition to West Congregational, he has been conducting short-term missions to the Rus-Rus tribe in Honduras. He has also traveled to India and Kenya to teach philosophy for the past 20 years.

He has blogged about his travels to Kenya and India and published them in the book "Outta My Mind." The statue of "The Thinker" is on the cover.

Gustafson used his vast research, knowledge of the church and reminiscences from longtime members to write "Wheat & Weeds in a Country Parish: The History of West Congregational Church." The 244-page book recounts the church's 275 years. He also wrote the textbook, "The Quest for Truth -- an Introduction to Philosophy," currently in its fifth edition

Gustafson said he received two calls from God to join the ministry. The first came while his mother was driving from Raymond, N.H. back to Boston and he looked up at the steeple of the Congregational Church. He was sitting in philosophy class at Wheaton College when he felt God calling him to serve as a teacher in secular colleges.

He taught at the former White Pines College, which later became Chester College, Chester, N.H. He has been teaching at Northern Essex Community College for the past 31 years where he is now an adjunct professor of philosophy and religion. For the past 10 years, he has been teaching an online introduction to philosophy of world religion at the Haverhill school.

Gustafson and his wife Eleanor have three children, Eric, Rachel and Aaron Lee. His wife Eleanor is also an author having just completed her sixth novel.

To get a copy of "psalms/ tweets: Psalms in Contemporary Style," through Gustafson by contacting him at jgustafson(at) for a donation to the Benevolent Fund of the West Congregational Church in Haverhill.


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