Archive for the ‘Bible’ Tag

Obama to use Lincoln Bible for swearing-in

President-elect Barack Obama will use the same Bible for his swearing-in as the prior president from Illinois, Abraham Lincoln.  The Bible is held by the Library of Congress who will make it available for the January 20th inauguration.  No president since our 16th has used this particular Bible, which is burgundy velvet with gilded edges; it was published in 1853 by Oxford University Press.  It was a by William Thomas Carroll, the clerk of the Supreme Court, specifically for Lincoln’s inauguration; the Lincoln family Bible was unavailable for the event as it was still packed away with the family’s other possessions.

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Newsweek says Bible supports gay marriage. They’re right.

Newsweek magazine has an excellent cover story in their most recent issue that argues that the Bible does not support the position of same-sex marriage opponents, despite their claims that it does. The article opens with this:

Let’s try for a minute to take the religious conservatives at their word and define marriage as the Bible does. Shall we look to Abraham, the great patriarch, who slept with his servant when he discovered his beloved wife Sarah was infertile? Or to Jacob, who fathered children with four different women (two sisters and their servants)? Abraham, Jacob, David, Solomon and the kings of Judah and Israel—all these fathers and heroes were polygamists. The New Testament model of marriage is hardly better. Jesus himself was single and preached an indifference to earthly attachments—especially family. The apostle Paul (also single) regarded marriage as an act of last resort for those unable to contain their animal lust. “It is better to marry than to burn with passion,” says the apostle, in one of the most lukewarm endorsements of a treasured institution ever uttered. Would any contemporary heterosexual married couple—who likely woke up on their wedding day harboring some optimistic and newfangled ideas about gender equality and romantic love—turn to the Bible as a how-to script?

This book supports same-sex marriage rights; it doesn't oppose them

This book is supportive of same-sex marriage rights

The authors point out that fifteen decades ago the Bible was used to support (and to oppose) human slavery.  They also point out the many ways that the institution of marriage has already changed, both since the Mosaic Code was written and within the past few years. They deal with the anti-homosexuality passages in the Bible, albeit with a bit less skill and thoroughness, and give a status update on the state of same-sex unions in various U.S. denominations.  Further polling data on how Americans view same-sex unions and homosexuality are also included.  (See also my prior post, Newsweek poll: support for gay rights is up.)

The article argues that, far from supporting the position of same-sex marriage opponents—who too often go unchallenged theologically—the Bible supports an inclusive view of the institution.

The religious argument for gay marriage …  “is not generally made with reference to particular texts, but with the general conviction that the Bible is bent toward inclusiveness.”

The practice of inclusion, even in defiance of social convention, the reaching out to outcasts, the emphasis on togetherness and community over and against chaos, depravity, indifference—all these biblical values argue for gay marriage. If one is for racial equality and the common nature of humanity, then the values of stability, monogamy and family necessarily follow. The religious argument for gay marriage, he adds, “is not generally made with reference to particular texts, but with the general conviction that the Bible is bent toward inclusiveness.”

Not surprisingly, the article, “Gay Marriage: Our Mutual Joy” (available online here), has proven pretty controversial.  The usual suspects among conservative religious groups is accusing Newsweek of blasphemy, relativism, and the whole gamut of their normal charges.  The magazine’s editor anticipated this and wrote in the issue that “Religious conservatives will say that the liberal media are once again seeking to impose their values (or their ‘agenda,’ a favorite term to describe the views of those who disagree with you) on a God-fearing nation.”  He continued, “Let the letters and emails come. History and demographics are on the side of those who favor inclusion over exclusion.”

Whether you’re inclined to agree with it or not, I highly recommend you check out the article for yourself and make up your own mind.

Praying for peace in Jerusalem

Since 2004, the first Sunday in October has been observed by some Christians as a day to specifically pray for the peace of Jerusalem, something specifically enjoined by the psalmist:

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
“May they prosper who love you.
“May peace be within your walls,
And prosperity within your palaces.”
For the sake of my brothers and my friends,
I will now say, “May peace be within you.”
For the sake of the house of the LORD our God,
I will seek your good.
— Psalm 122:6-9

The Day of Prayer for the Peace of Jerusalem (official site), first organized by a pair of Pentecostal evangelists, Jack W. Hayford and Robert Stearns, day is mostly observed by evangelical Christians and it’s date was selected to fall near Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement and repentence. While many involved with the day may be as concerned with politics as with God, we should never require much convincing before we pray for and contemplate peace and how we can promote its realization on earth, as it is in heaven.

Beating swords into plowshares, a well-known biblical image of peace

Beating swords into plowshares, a well-known biblical image of peace

Jerusalem, and the entire conflict that centers on it, certainly needs peace; entirely too much blood is shed over the city and the region—and a single drop constitutes too much. But if we simply say “peace, peace” there will be no peace: peace is more than just the absence of violence; it requires the existence of a just system wherein everybody is free from harm and free to be who they are and who they can be. Such a system cannot be established until there is healing for the enormous amounts of hatred and anger that exist on both sides of the present conflict. That conflict, which effects not just Jew and Moslem, and not just Israeli and Palestinian, but the larger world as well, has gone on for far too long. One need not be a Christian or a Jew, or even religious at all, to desire and pray for the peace of Jerusalem and the region.

Those who are within the Judeo-Christian tradition have as their heritage some of the most beautiful passages on peace in all of world literature, and perhaps sharing some selections might be appropriate on this day. One image of peace used frequently in the Hebrew Bible, albeit not very much today, is the hope that

Every man will sit under his own vine
and under his own fig tree,
and no one will make them afraid,
for the LORD Almighty has spoken.
— Micah 4:4

Vines and trees were beyond the means of the poor to own, so a society where each person had his or her own fig tree is one where poverty has been eliminated; and since they take a long time to grow, this image implies a stability and permanence to the situation, not just a temporary cease-fire. It speaks to the point that it is difficult to eliminate anger and hatred if you have not yet eliminated deprivation, a theme often emphasized by people who are especially interested in social justice.

Many of the Bible’s other passages about peace are still commonly used today, often by those unaware of their origins. From the prophet Isaiah we read:

The wolf will live with the lamb,
the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
and a little child will lead them.
The cow will feed with the bear,
their young will lie down together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
The infant will play near the hole of the cobra,
and the young child put his hand into the viper’s nest.
They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea.
— Isaiah 11:6-9

From the same source we get one of the best known images of peace:

He will judge between the nations
and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore.
— Isaiah 2:4

In the Christian New Testament peace is also an emphasis. One of Jesus’s epithets is Prince of Peace (though the phrase itself occurs only in the Old Testament) and, of course, in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus tells us “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.”

Paul of Tarsus, the second most important figure in early Christianity, wrote in his epistle to the Romans that “so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men” and that “the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” So, let us “pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.”

This brief listing is by no means exhaustive, even of the Judeo-Christian tradition; all of the world’s enduring religions, in their best forms, emphasize peace. And, of course, many people who consider themselves nonreligious also seek peace and pursue it.

In an ecumenical spirit, here is a prayer for peace in the Middle East written by Dr. Sayyid M. Syeed, former Secretary General of the Islamic Society of North America:

O God of Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad! Bring peace and tranquility to the people of Middle East who have been plagued with pain and suffering.

O God! We appeal to you bring our soldiers back safe and help our nation to be one that is given to truth and justice.

O God! We call you with your beautiful names: the One, the Holy, the Sovereign, the Just, and the Peace. We call with love and sincerity to bring peace to our world and guide our steps to do what is right and what pleases You.

O God! You are the Source of Good, the Guardian of Faith, the Preserver of Safety, the Exalted in Might, the Supreme: All Glory belongs to you! Help us to see our glory in serving you and upholding the values of compassion and justice on earth.

O God we beg you to forgive our sins and ask you not to hold us accountable for mistakes and missteps we did or were done in our names. Our Lord give us the humility to recognize our mistakes and limitations, and the strength and courage to choose right over wrong and justice over pride.

O the Eternal and Compassionate Lord! Fill our hearts with your Love, and help us to love one another, and show compassion to your servants throughout the world and your creation.

O God! We ask you in submission and humility to allow wisdom to triumph over vanity, truth over falsehood, and love over hate.

Amen.

Amen.

Word clouds

I have just discovered word clouds. They are distilled versions of a block of text that picks out the words that appear most commonly in said text and display them graphically, making the more commonly used words larger. They don’t serve any unique purpose, but they can quickly show you the emphasis of a text and can be kind of fun and distracting. You can make your own at Wordle.net. Here are some examples that I created (click on them for full size):

Word cloud of the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7) in New International Version

Word cloud of the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7) in New International Version

Word cloud of 1st Corinthians 13 (NIV)

Word cloud of 1st Corinthians 13 (NIV)

Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech

Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech

United States Constitution

United States Constitution

This is the concluding chapter of "On the Origin of...", well, you figure it out

This is the concluding chapter of "On the Origin of..." well, you figure it out.

The site allows you to save your word cloud and make it available for other site visitors to see. I was very surprised to see that my ideas were actually not very original at all. At least three other people in the past three hours entered King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, another guy had already uploaded the U.S. Constitution, and passages from the Bible are very well-represented: I saw portions of three of the four canonical gospels, including the Sermon on the Mount; 1 Corinthians 13; parts of Isaiah; passages from Revelation; and what I think was Genesis, but it was in French so I’m not sure. And I thought I was really clever entering passages from the Bible.

On the other end of the spectrum, recent political speeches are also popular subjects. This use is very interesting; it can quickly point out the main themes of a speech. Many people have entered the recent convention speeches of Obama, McCain, and Palin, but not Biden.

So, make your own cool word clouds and see how neat it can be. Here’s one more I maid, I’ll give a tilde to whoever can identify the original text used (this is very possible if you’re familiar with the work).

Identify the original work behind this word cloud and win a tilde! Submit guesses by commenting below.

Identify the original work behind this word cloud and win a tilde! Submit guesses by commenting below.