Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Wordle: Beautiful Word Clouds


KJV Old Testament KJV New Testament
This isn't a particularly theological post, but yesterday the Boundless Line noted the Wordle website, which allows you to enter a bunch of text and have a sweet word cloud generated showing the most common words from the text. You might notice my new logo to the right was produced this way, as well as these King James Version Old and New Testament Word clouds I just made. It's worth checking out.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Rumors, Smears, Lies, and Slander

Allow me to begin with a promise: This blog will not become dominated with the presidential race, although it may touch on it from time to time as the issues in that race collide with the Christian's pursuit of Christ.
When November finally arrives, I will cast my vote for Senator John McCain. I will do this because I agree with him on more issues than I do with Senator Barack Obama. I would really, honestly prefer that McCain win the election because I think he would be better for the United States and the world than Obama.
I make that clear primarily for the sake of integrity, because I abhor the rumors, smears and lies that are circulating already in this presidential race, mainly with regard to Senator Obama. There is no indication that Senator McCain is connected to the slander at all, and I commend both candidates for generally keeping their campaigns focused on issues and not personal attacks. The fact remains that rumors are arising at a grassroots level and are being propagated by people like you and me. For instance, haven't you heard that Obama helped finance his socialist, East Germany educated, cousin's presidential bid in Kenya; that he won't recite the Pledge of Allegiance, was or is a Muslim, or that he was sworn into office with his hand on the Quran; that his campaign is being financed by Hugo Chavez; that he has been endorsed by the KKK; that he attended a madrassa as a child? Haven't you been given a wink and a nod with regard to his name: Barack (a Swahili name that sounds Arabic) Hussein (remember Saddam?) Obama (rhymes with Osama)? The fact of the matter is that none of these claims are true, the truth is readily obtainable, and yet many people (Christians included) propagate these lies as if they are true or very well could be.
Why does this matter? Let us look back at that ninth commandment: "You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor." Should we try to weasel our way out by asking whether or not a presidential candidate is our neighbor, let us remember what Jesus had to say in response to a similar question. Think back to the many things the Bible has to say about false witnesses. Remember that we worship the God who once described Himself as being the Truth. Remember the apostle Paul exhorting us to buckle on the belt of truth as part of our spiritual armor. Remember that love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
If the Word of God teaches us such things, how can we take part in passing on lies, in bearing false witness against our neighbor? We cannot excuse ourselves for not knowing these rumors to be false, because we know better than to believe everything we hear without examination.
We might argue that we don't care how the right candidate wins the election, as long as they win, but this kind of utilitarianism does not mesh with the teachings of Christ. If we use evil in order to do good, we corrupt the good that we were once seeking. Do we have so little faith in God that we feel the need to sin so that His purposes might be fulfilled? St. Paul did not allow for that kind of thinking.
Let us all trust God's wisdom and pray that the candidate He desires to place in office should win the election. I am not demanding McCain from Him and neither should you demand Obama. Let's simply pray that His wisdom rules the minds of America's citizens and that our votes would reflect His desire.
Perhaps we can even begin to refrain from bearing false witness against other people in our lives: our friends, family members, co-workers, and neighbors. With God's help.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Alcohol

When people find out that I don't drink they tend to fall into two camps, those who worry for a moment until they realize that I am not yet of legal drinking age and relax upon assuming that I will be drinking soon enough, and those who congratulate me for not giving in to the evils of alcohol. If I explain my position on alcohol any further, though, both camps tend to look at me with a wary eye.

The first camp becomes distressed because they discover that I do not just abstain from alcohol temporarily because I cannot yet imbibe it legally (although that would be enough to prevent me from doing so), but permanently as I have committed to not drinking alcohol (with two reservations, which I will address further down).

The second camp is unhappy because they soon learn that I am not abstaining from alcohol because I think it is inherently sinful and forbidden by God.

At that point, I usually hope that a complete explanation of my position will ease the tension with both camps.

Let me explain. I believe that drinking alcohol before you are legally permitted to do so is sinful because we are to obey the laws of our government unless they contradict the laws of God. Upon reaching the legal age, however, I do not think that consuming alcohol is inherently sinful. I realize this will ruffle some feathers among those who believe that such consumption is explicitly forbidden in Scripture, but I am thoroughly convinced through my study of the Bible that it is not: for example, wine was an acceptable offering to God in the Old Testament; abundant wine production was a blessing promised by God to His people; Jesus' first miracle was that of turning water into wine; Jesus used wine to implement the practice of sharing the communion meal; and Paul told Timothy to drink a little wine to help with his health problems. Saying that drinking alcohol is not inherently sinful does not mean that it is never sinful, however. The Bible soundly condemns drunkenness again and again. Drunkenness can lead to violence, sexual impurity, poverty, as well as woe, sorrow, strife, complaints, needless bruises, and bloodshot eyes. Paul directed Timothy not to appoint overseers or deacons who are given to drunkenness. Similarly, a person with a family or personal history of alcoholism is at least unwise to drink alcohol.

So why have I committed to abstaining from alcohol if I do not believe it is inherently sinful? I abstain for the sake of those who do drink and those who think it is sinful. The American culture is generally not one of moderation with regard to alcohol but instead one of abstinence or abuse. I hope to see a liberating moderation become the norm, however, and want to be an agent in bringing about that change. If I were to drink moderately and argue that moderate drinking was not sinful, I would be disregarded by those who believe all drinking to be sinful because I would be benefiting from my belief. My hope is that I can maintain a certain level respect from both camps through my stance and be used to bring about reconciliation.

I mentioned above that I have two reservations with my commitment to abstain from alcohol, and those deserve mention. The first is that I will drink wine when it is served as part of the Lord's Supper, because I could never in good conscience refuse that which was instituted by my God. The second is only a potential reservation that requires more consideration, but is loosely that I may take alcohol if I am ever abroad and could not help but offend my hosts if I were to refuse it.

After laying out my stance, I realize that this may not prove a terribly helpful post for others. What would I exhort my brothers and sisters in Christ to do with regard to alcohol, no matter which camp they are in? I would have them study this passage, and have those who enjoy alcohol in moderation do so in a way that does not put a stumbling block before those who cannot, and those who cannot believe that they can drink righteously refrain from condemning those who do in word or thought. Argue with one another about this in love, each seeking to come to know what Scripture teaches and to teach the other, but do not allow alcohol to drive a wedge through the Body of Christ.