Category Archives: Bible

A Final Portrait

Not long before he died, Ken Taylor needed a new photograph of himself for a magazine. He apologized for the brevity of our time together and the lack of an “inspired” location – his office.

It was not unlike him to spend our time together worrying about how he should pose. This session, like most with him, was over before he thought it had begun. It was easy to capture images of this truly humble man.

I had photographed him a number of times over the years and I suspected that this would be our last shoot together. I could not feel badly that he didn’t wish to spend more moments of what little time he had having his picture taken.

This particular photo has not been published before and I like it because – although a silhouette – it reveals much about his personality and his life. As the author of the Living Bible he could have been a very proud man. Instead he remains a humble servant in the shadows of the God he represents.

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Ken Taylor

Ken Taylor

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Labor Day, Abraham Lincoln, and Genesis

resting my hoe

resting my hoe

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As I take the day off from both my hoe and my camera, I’ve come across a wonderful Labor Day thought. This comes from my wife’s cousin, Trina Zelle – a Presbyterian minister in Arizona. -Bill

Not only was our 16th president adept at citing scripture to underscore his points, it could be argued that Abraham Lincoln read scripture through the lens of his own experience as a worker. In light of his unsurpassed eloquence, we sometimes forget that, early on in his career, he was known as “the rail-splitter.” It is perhaps because of this acquaintance with physical labor that Lincoln’s take on Genesis 3:19 is so strikingly different from conventional and even scholarly interpretations.

God speaks in Genesis 3:19, telling Adam and Eve what awaits them beyond the gates of the garden:

By the sweat of your brow

you will eat your food

until you return to the ground,

since from it you were taken;

for dust you are

and to dust you will return.

The traditional view of this passage is one of work as punishment for the sin of disobedience: “by the sweat of your brow/you will eat your food.” Lincoln, however, did not view it as the description of a punishment but rather as a moral imperative: the food you eat is to be the result of your own work, not someone else’s.

His interpretation of this passage was not an incidental observation made in passing, but can be found in many of his speeches, letters, and reported conversations. Time after time, Lincoln stands with workers against those who would benefit from their labor without just compensation. It is this core belief that serves to undergird his opposition to slavery: you shall not live by the sweat of others.

Lincoln’s life experience of hardship led him to read scripture from the perspective of a worker, and it transformed our nation. His opposition to slavery was a logical extension of his commitment to worker rights.

Now imagine someone else reading scripture. Not a person who has risen to Lincoln’s stature, but an immigrant, waiting this very evening in Altar, Mexico, to begin the dangerous desert crossing to what she hopes will be work, just wages, and a new and better life. Imagine reading these selections from Deuteronomy 26 through the eyes and from the experience of such a person:

My father was a wandering Aramaean and he went down into Egypt with a few people…and became a great nation.…but the Egyptians mistreated us and made us suffer, putting us to hard labor. Then we cried out to the Lord…so the Lord brought us out of Egypt…and brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.

Not everyone has the poverty-stricken background of an Abraham Lincoln or the unknown woman crossing the desert. But we all have the capacity to imagine, to put ourselves in someone else’s place. Such identification is part of what makes us human. And so I invite you to pick up the texts sacred to your faith. You don’t have to pick out an obvious passage that deals directly with economic justice or worker rights. Read any passage, but do so through the lens of a disenfranchised person – an immigrant; a person who has just lost their job and perhaps their house. See what they see. Feel what they feel. That is the beginning of the kind of solidarity that can transform the world.

Rev. Trina Zelle, ordained by the Presbyterian Church (USA), is Lead Organizer for Interfaith Worker Justice of Arizona.



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Forage Oakland

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My daughter put me onto the Forage Oakland project. Created a year ago by my daughter’s college friend, Asiya Wadud, the project addresses “how everyone can benefit from viewing their neighborhood as a veritable edible map.” It’s an interesting concept and one that is as old as the Bible. Israelite law demanded that the corners of grain fields not be harvested. Also, any grain dropped during harvest was to be left for the poor to be picked up for food. This served the dual purpose of an early welfare program but also prevented the farm owners from hoarding.

Asi has come up with a very interesting project and, I have to say, she has some excellent photography as well!

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