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If I can’t make America great by living the way of Christ, then I want no part in that greatness. And I don’t think God does either.” We should all shout a hearty AMEN! to this comment from Pastor Chris Gilmore on the Huff Post blog.

There is a time for everything under the sun, including a time for national humility. I’m afraid, this is that time.

Even so, enough with the insinuations of a rising fascism because Donald Trump wants to Make America Great Again. There is nothing wrong with that aspiration. The path to greatness is what is important to scrutinise, not the ambition itself. Living on this side of the pond there is little toleration for any sense of American greatness. Certainly I understand but usually it smacks of some ingratitude to me. America has been generous in internationally-unparalleled ways and paid dearly for freedoms people enjoy all over the globe. And yes, sadly America has fallen so so so far from her height and she is dead wrong if she thinks greatness has anything to do with great military strength. But my point is patriotism and national pride don’t always equal fascism. I enjoy Scottish national pride, and Irish pride, and Greek national pride, and the pride of wherever else I am. My family has wonderful memories of sitting late at night with friends from the Rosebud Sioux Tribe laughing at their jokes about how much better they are than the Oglala Sioux Tribe on Pine Ridge. National identity and pride aren’t necessarily bad things.

No, we shouldn’t baptise patriotism and replace the cross with the flag. However if the church is to be a House of Prayer for Nations then carrying nations to the altar for mercy and blessing is what we are called to do. Really, it is no different than the high priest of Israel having twelve precious stones representing each tribe on his breastplate as he goes into the Holy of Holies.

When I read the passages of the Bible that speak of all nations bending their knee before the Lordship of Christ I don’t see anything that would indicate they must first give up their national identity, calling and culture. Like the Twelve Tribes that made camp each under their individual banners around the Tabernacle in the Wilderness, national identity is part of God’s beautiful diversity in the earth. Each nation has redemptive gifts, purposes and callings.

The promise to Abraham was national greatness: “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great and you will be a blessing.”  (Gen. 12:2) And the promise wasn’t just for one nation; from Abraham’s great nation would come a company of great nations (Gen. 17:5-6; 35:11). Where it gets really fascinating is in Genesis 49 where Jacob blesses his twelve sons and speaks prophetically about who they will become as great nations at the time of the end of the age (Gen. 49:1ff).

Through migrations over four thousand years these blood descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are now scattered all over the earth– God even promised their sons would sit on the thrones of nations, would possess the gates of their enemies –both things identifiable even into the modern age. God’s promises to the descendants of David came true. They did and still do sit on the thrones of nations and historically they have and still do control the main geo-political gates of the world; Gibraltar, the Suez Canal, Singapore, and Hong Kong to name a few.

I’m sitting in Aberdeen, Scotland as I write this only 55 miles north of Arbroath. In the fifteenth century, Mary Queen of Scots traced her royal lineage back to King David and this was made evident in the Scottish Declaration of Independence, also called the Declaration of Arbroath, which expressly states:

Most Holy Father and Lord, we know and from the chronicles and books of the ancients we find that… the Scots… journeyed from Greater Scythia by way of the Tyrrhenian Sea and the Pillars of Hercules, and dwelt for a long time in Spain… Thence they came, twelve hundred years after the people of Israel crossed the Red Sea, to their home in the west where they live today… [The Scottish Declaration of Independence reprinted in The Declaration of Arbroath, The National Trust for Scotland, 1970.]

It is apparent that five centuries ago the Scots considered themselves blood descendants of Abraham and were aware of the specific migration routes that brought them to their new homeland. Elsewhere I’ve written on how we have lost any awareness who we really are; just like Hosea 1:10 said would happen. More on that from me here: I call it Recognition Theology. Yep, I made up that term and others are now using it.

With regard to America, of particular interest is to look carefully at where the people of Joseph ended up (vs. 22-26). Later Joseph’s blessing was divided between Ephraim and Manassah, making a 13th tribe, if you will. The prophetic fulfilment and end time placement of the nations in Genesis 49 is one of the most exciting Bible’s studies one can do. You’ll never look at world news the same.

Whether or not any of that is agreeable to you, or even makes sense, at least get the point of this post which is to say God blesses nations to be a great blessing. Greatness should be an aspiration because greatness is God’s intention for nations that call on his name. The opposite of greatness is mediocrity or worse. The path to greatness is humility and servanthood.

Using other people’s material is what lazy pastors do every week.

Back in my seminary days in Chicago I took a class on African American Preaching. Loved it. One of our texts was this book: Voice of Deliverance: The Language of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Its Sources.

From the book jacket: “…argues that King’s language and imagery comprised a skilful blending of the oral tradition of the Afro-American folk church and the style of the printed sermons of white, liberal preachers.”

I remember being shocked at how much wasn’t original to him, including I HAVE A DREAM: “the source King raided for this was a speech given to the Republican National convention of 1952, by a black preacher named Archibald Carey.”

In my field we call this Redaction and Source Criticism. Did you know Matthew and Luke drew heavily from Mark? And Mark drew heavily from a Source we only know today as Q. And while I’m at it should I mention the Golden Rule in my beloved Sermon on the Mount wasn’t original to Jesus?

At the Republican National Convention in Cleveland this week, Melania Trump hit a home run with her speech however it turns out 50 words were lifted from Mrs. Obama’s 2008 speech. True to form in castigating conservative women, the Left pounced with full-scale cast-the-first-stone-political-plagiarism faux-outrage and foolishness.

Who do we really think has been behind our Teleprompter President?

The Dirty Jobs guy, Mike Rowe, had some interesting comments on his Facebook page which made the news.

I don’t know about common sense, but here’s my analysis of the situation. (I hope to God someone hasn’t already written this.) Regarding the charges of plagiarism, I really don’t know. All I know for sure is that Mrs. Trump is absolutely, positively guilty of standing before the country and reading words she didn’t write as if they were own. I also know that Mrs. Obama is guilty of doing the same thing. Both women – along with their husbands – have stood proudly before a national audience and pretended the words they read originated with them – knowing full well they did not. Let’s consider for a moment, the weird reality of speechwriters in our political discourse. Why do we tolerate them? Why do we permit our leaders to pretend that someone else’s words are theirs? Moreover, why do we allow them to stand before us and act as if they’re NOT reading from a script, when we know damn well they are? Why – in this – “age of authenticity” – do we accept the artifice of a Teleprompter, and all the other pretenses of earnestness that enable candidates to present themselves as something other than who they really are? I always thought the obvious answer was because we’re a lazy and shallow species who value style over substance. But now, it seems I was mistaken. Today, half the country has risen up in righteous indignation because the words of an anonymous speechwriter – words once read by Mrs. Obama as if they were her own – have been co-opted by another anonymous speechwriter, and given to another aspiring First Lady – who also read those same words as if they belonged to her! Did either one of them believe what they read? Beats me. Does anyone even care about such a thing? Who knows? No one is talking about what was said. Only about how they said it. What we know for sure – is that neither one of them wrote the words they spoke. The real question is, do we truly care? Personally, I do. But not as much as I care about the underlying Kabuki that now informs the whole election process.

 

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Once I was told that we voted about 2000 times each legislative session. There were many instances where we’d vote ten times on the same bill and on various versions of it. Each year I lost count of how many times I voted while holding my nose.

People in South Dakota will remember the Governor’s controversial 2011 education reform bill, HB1234. Wow, did I wish voting for it was as easy as one, two, three, four.

For six weeks I went back and forth on how to vote, was lobbied hard by schools and teachers and was taken by the Governor behind the mansion for a “chat” in his woodshed. Ultimately I voted for it, and nearly cost myself re-election. In my public statements on the bill I said it was “my least favourite bill of the session.” My angry critics marvelled and scoffed at how I could vote for a bill I disliked so much.

Welcome to the world of important and hard decisions.

Sometimes a vote either way has huge negatives and fall out. And, unlike former Illinois State Senator Obama, we couldn’t just vote “present” on everything and magically –poof– two years later sit in the Oval Office. A legislator has to decide which negatives they’d rather live with, and hope some of the promised positives will realise. With every vote I made and lost both friends and support, and with every vote I both created and solved problems.

So, now we come to Trump or Hillary. Here’s how I have come to view it.

Jesus is not running this year.

Hillary is corrupt and apparently above the law and all of us little people. She does the bidding of the worst people in the world. People who oppose her, die. She viciously attacks women her lurid husband sexually exploits. Aborting children is to her, a sacrament. The enemies of the American people are not her enemies. I have nothing positive to say about her and can’t name any accomplishments. She assumes the Presidency is her next entitlement. The large sums of strings-attached money that went to the Clinton Foundation from foreign interests while she was Secretary of State is a story that is yet to be fully told.

No secret, Trump is addicted to his own greatness, has failed marriages, adulteries, a track record of womanising, has bought politicians on both sides of the aisle including the Clintons, has a few bankruptcies, and like Obama, he’s not a man of peace. He’s a bully with an unbridled tongue. My son can’t stand him and asked me to name something good about him. In Trump’s case I do note some positives…

Trump leans toward sound money policy, wants to audit the Fed, and Wall Street hates him. These are very good signs. He has given signals that he’s an anti-corporatist though people dispute it. He says he will quit paying the bills of foreign and enemy armies or make them pay for US support. He supports the Second Amendment, and unlike Obama/Hillary and others clamouring out one side of their mouth for gun control, Trump say he won’t secretly give our enemies weapons as the Clintons, Bushes and Obamas all did. Trump has given assurances he will choose pro-life judges, and picked a VP who has long advocated for the overturn of Roe v. Wade. Maybe Pence will soften him into a more compassionate position on immigration. He has a track record of working easily with all races, including Jews. He supported Brexit which speaks volumes for him not being a globalist. He was born in America. hahaha .

So, what. to. do? Not voting is to vote for the worst one.

If you lived centuries back, and had a vote, would you vote for the ruler who might bring less suffering for the little people even if they went through various wives, owned the clergy, and lived high on the hog with ornate feasts? I’m not saying the Trumpster is a people’s king but he does seem to be an enemy of the real bad people in the world who have zero regard for the little people on the planet. There is something in Trump that the working class sees. It’s quite the irony that a billionaire is somehow a friend of cabbies….

The people that I do best with are the people that drive the taxis – you know, wealthy people don’t like me because I’m competing against them all the time, and I like to win. The fact is, I go down the streets of New York, and the people that really like me are the taxi drivers and the workers…” – Trump being interviewed by Larry King at the 1988 GOP convention

Maybe the blue-collar billionairre has infiltrated the Establishment to destroy it? We can only hope.

We learn in the New Yorker that Donald Trump ends every phone call with “You’re the Greatest!” If I had time and inclination to write a biography of Trump perhaps a good title can be adapted from an old Charlie Brown book;

You’re the Greatest, Donald Trump.

Greatness, it seems, is his highest ambition.

Tony Schwartz, the ghostwriter for one of Trump’s best-selling books, The Art of the Deal, has just given the New Yorker a tell-all:

Trump only takes two positions. “Either you’re a scummy loser, liar, whatever, or you’re the greatest…. There is no private Trump…. All he is is ‘stomp, stomp, stomp’—recognition from outside, bigger, more, a whole series of things that go nowhere in particular… .”

Writing in Trump’s voice, he explained to the reader [in The Art of the Deal], “I play to people’s fantasies. . . . People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular. I call it truthful hyperbole. It’s an innocent form of exaggeration—and it’s a very effective form of promotion.”

Schwartz now disavows the passage.

“I don’t do it for the money,” Trump declares. “I’ve got enough, much more than I’ll ever need. I do it to do it…. I like making deals, preferably big deals. That’s how I get my kicks.”

…Of course he’s in it for the money,” Schwartz said. “One of the most deep and basic needs he has is to prove that ‘I’m richer than you.’ Schwartz saw Trump as driven not by a pure love of dealmaking but by an insatiable hunger for “money, praise, and celebrity.” Often, after spending the day with Trump, and watching him pile one hugely expensive project atop the next, like a circus performer spinning plates, Schwartz would go home and tell his wife, “He’s a living black hole!”

And now Donald wants to take us all into that black hole with him and Make America Great Again. [And, yes I still think Hillary is a far worse choice. Both have deep character issues, but as I’ve written elsewhere…. Hillary has become a stunningly corrupt, bought and arrogant tool of those who give the world’s bad guys free weapons and the rest of us bloody war– the elites, Wall Streeters, globalists and central banksters who for centuries have made war to make more money.]

Friends on this side of the pond gristle ungratefully at any notion of America’s greatness (or goodness), or any country’s greatness for that matter. Paul gave good advice in Romans 12:3… “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment…

Yet, national greatness was a promise God himself made to godly nations. It’s in Genesis 12:2… “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.” And it wasn’t just a promise to Abraham on into Israel then and now. In Genesis 35:11 that promise was extended greatly: “A nation and a community of nations will come from you... .” It is the promise of God that Judeo-Christian nations will be a blessing to the rest of the world and great in God’s eyes.

But what makes us great is where Mr. Trump has it all wrong.

Jesus said those who practice the Sermon on the Mount will be called greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 5:19). The Sermon on the Mount is the standard of greatness by which God will measure kings and nations, and you and I. In the halls of academia we speak of a coming eschatological reversal where the first will find out they are indeed, last. Trump still has time to figure this out and that is my prayer.

 

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It is okay with Pastor Jeffries if governments more reflect the values of Genghis Khan than, say, Jesus.

12,000 member mega-church Pastor Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Church in Dallas doesn’t think the values of Jesus belong in the White House. Hear it yourself here or read it yourself here:

“But as far as his worldview, Trump’s worldview, you know… I was debating an evangelical professor on NPR and this professor said, ‘Pastor, don’t you want a candidate who embodies the teaching of Jesus and would govern this country according to the principles found in the Sermon on the Mount?’ I said, ‘Heck no.’ I would run from that candidate as far as possible, because the Sermon on the Mount was not given as a governing principle for this nation…. “Nowhere is government told to forgive those who wrong it. Nowhere is government told to turn the other cheek. Government is to be a strongman to protect its citizens against evildoers. When I’m looking for somebody who’s going to deal with ISIS and exterminate ISIS, I don’t care about that candidate’s tone or vocabulary. I want the meanest, toughest, son of a you-know-what I can find. And I believe that’s biblical.”

Oy.

Trump is as much a Christian as Obama, in my view. Regarding an issue very important to me, to all the other little people like me all over the world, and to Jesus, neither Obama or Trump are men of peace. Hillary has become a stunningly corrupt, bought and arrogant tool of those who give the world’s bad guys free weapons and the rest of us bloody war– the elites, Wall Streeters, globalists and central banksters who for centuries have made war to make more money.

Lance Wallnau made a comment recently that we should all think long and hard about; “Christ in you is the hope of glory, not Christ in the White House. What do you think, should we really give up hope on any sort of notion of a Christian (Christlike) nation? The Sermon on the Mount is what Christlikeness looks like.

My friends on the Christian Right (who BTW consider me a grand disappointment) have long been saying we need to elect people who represent “Biblical values.” Apparently we now learn from Pastor Jeffries those are not the values of Jesus. Apparently it is okay with Pastor Jeffries if governments more reflect the values of Genghis Khan than, say, Jesus. The Sermon on the Mount, he believes may work on a micro level but not in a macro application.

In Pastor Jeffrees re-reading of the infamous Sermon on the Mount he in so much imagines Jesus ascended the Mount to say: “These are some strategies that I commend to you for little matters. Honestly, for the more complex conflicts I have nothing for you in terms of heavenly wisdom or strategy so go ahead and ‘do unto them what they’ve do unto you’ and I’m okay with whatever response seems and feels right for you at the time. Not to worry, forgiveness comes easy with me, and grace cheap.”

When will the Christian Right wake up to how inconsistent they are in valuing all human life? Bombs away, Jesus love you!

Ya, ya, ya… here comes someone to remind me of Romans 13 (someone who apparently has never read Romans 12: if your enemy is hungry, feed him… overcome evil with good, etc).

How many times do I have to say this?… In Romans 13:4 Paul was writing to believers in Rome saying they need to revere Roman authority as God gives governments even the authority of the sword. He was not telling Christians that they are justified to forsake the mercy path when they one day get in power. Why then are so many Christians today defending the values of the Romans and the ethics of Nero?

For those genuinely conflicted on the application of the Sermon on the Mount to anything beyond an individual Christian life I offer the following (which will soon appear in a book I’m now putting the finishing touches on: Tolstoy’s Novel Idea: Obey the Sermon on the Mount).

From chapter seven of my forthcoming book:

The two main interpretative questions for the Sermon on the Mount, again, are; Is it liveable? and; To whom is it for? Over the centuries, very few interpreters of the Sermon on the Mount have given the Sermon application beyond the individual believer. The contention is that the ethic was given to individuals, not to nation-states. Yet, Tolstoy challenged this entirely and sought to settle this centuries-old ambiguity with a simple appeal to the words Jesus actually used in Matthew 5:43-44 (and what they would have meant to his original hearers); “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies…” Tolstoy explained: [N]eighbour in the Hebrew language meant, invariably and exclusively, ‘a Hebrew.’” Considering the lengths he went to describe the thoroughness of his study of these words, that he seems to imply Jesus spoke this originally in Hebrew, not Aramaic, is peculiar. His justification may be it is the same word and meaning as in Luke 10:29 where the “neighbour” is a Samaritan– someone a Hebrew would have clearly not regarded as a neighbour. Finding the same meaning in Acts 7:27, his conclusion is “‘neighbour’ in Gospel language, means a compatriot, a person belonging to the same nationality. Therefore the antithesis used by Jesus in the citation, ‘love thy neighbour, hate thine enemy,’ must be in the distinction between the words ‘compatriot’ and ‘foreigner.’” Tolstoy contended his supposition was further confirmed when seeking the Jewish understanding of enemy. “The word enemy is nearly always employed in the Gospels in the sense, not of a personal enemy, but, in general, of a ‘hostile people.’”

Based on the words Jesus used, Tolstoy’s conclusion is that it is not possible that Jesus intended his teaching to be applicable only on the interpersonal level. Jesus never differentiated between loving a neighbour and loving a neighbouring nation. Tolstoy spoke of “the widening sphere of love” and believed a nation could be loved too….  Tolstoy believed obedience to the teachings of Jesus worked on both the micro and the macro level. Goodness on a small scale does not somehow become badness on a larger scale and he decried the notion that badness on a small scale could be construed as goodness on a larger scale…

Shalom.

Dear Shaun,

I’ve always been proud of you and taken keen interest (and even supported in various ways) the incredible things you’ve done, even though you’ve come now to a hostile tone in your activism for civil justice. Knowing you, I believe it to be a righteous anger though my letter here is about a new commitment to non-violent strategies instead of violent aggression.

Ya, ya, all lives matter, like all bones in the body matter. However, we agree our nation has circled back around in the present day to an opportunity to tend a vital bone that is presently bruised and broken. In America right now, yes: Black Lives Matter.

My appeal in this short letter is to your Christianity; a true Christianity that is perhaps more true to Christ in the Gospel tradition of Black American History than in White American History. The time is now for Dr. King’s non-violent mantle to be picked up. If not by you, then who? The Sermon on the Mount strategy works on both the micro and the macro scales when it is lived. My prayer is that you rise up in the days ahead as another King for this leg of the civil rights march.

There is no reason for me to doubt you still consider me friend and hopefully you share my warm sentiment for the season our lives and work more directly overlapped. Consider my letter here an invitation to join again in working together, this time as champions of a Sermon on the Mount-style activism that made the other King, and the King of Kings, so great.

Blessings

Steve Hickey

For posterity sake I’ll repost some fragments of my recent Facebook rants…

If Gideon could get by with a ridiculously smaller army, maybe America can too? God chooses the weak things to confound the wise. My “fiscally conservative” colleagues in government all seem hell bent to borrow and spend LIBERALly when it comes to Defence spending (basically welfare for the Defence contractors). Let’s cut our army in half, and double the salary/benefits of every solider and cancel every college debt for the youth of America – it’s just digital-from-thin-air-money anyway. Heard a great quote yesterday from Kim Fabricus: “The Sermon on the Mount– ain’t for extra credit.” Either His ways are indeed higher than our ways or they are not. Maybe we should quit questioning His judgment and just do what He says. Some trust in chariots, some in horses but we apparently trust in our military-industrial complex.

Why don’t my gun control friends join me in renouncing Obama’s illegal gift of guns to Mexican drug cartels that soon kill US border agents (fast and furious) and also remind the world that Obama and every recent US administration before him spends millions arming those who want to kill us and our friends around the world. If you are really for gun control, why don’t you care about the guns that are really killing thousands and thousands of people all over the world, and at home? The vote in the Senate yesterday was a reactionary feel good bill that is a complete swing and a miss at solving any really problems.

The United States is now an oligarchy. “Give me control of a nation’s money and I care not who makes it’s laws” — Mayer Amschel Bauer Rothschild. Did they ever count those extra 2 million votes in the California primary? I think Sanders won fair and square. I also don’t think elections matter any more nor do I have any confidence that votes are honestly tallied and the winner really wins. I care more about who is in boardrooms and war rooms and what is really going on in there than I do about bathrooms and who and what may be going on in there. Good grief. Enough with our selective moral outrage – guns are the problem– no, gays are! I’m pretty sure we Christians don’t resemble Jesus all that much. Bombs away! Jesus loves you.

It is outrageous to me that media networks in the US can blacklist a decorated presidential detail secret service agent who protected the Clinton’s (but now thinks America needs to know the character of the Clintons) and also blacklist a special forces vet who defended an abandoned (by Hillary) US Ambassador in Benghazi. So much for free speech and free elections and for the fourth estate. One reason Trump is so popular is he bypasses these things which in the past have given us the people they want us to vote for – money and the media. No one alive has more baggage than Hillary Clinton. Now Wall Street gives Clinton an ultimatum; if you choose Elizabeth Warren for VP we will cut off your cash. Of course, Warren is a sworn enemy of the banks and Hillary is an ally.

IMG_6283Back in our youth ministry days we would make beaded Gospel bracelets to help youth understand and share their faith. The dark bead represents sin and life in spiritual darkness and separation from God. Red represents the blood of Jesus shed on the Cross for our sin. White is the result…. our sins washed white as snow. We are forgiven and cleansed by His Blood. Green represents the season of spiritual growth and fruitfulness. Gold is for rewards in heaven. (The Baptists like to add a blue bead for Baptism.)

Last fall I decided to start wearing my old bracelet again– so I’d be reminded to keep the Gospel central during my sojourn back into academia. Honestly I’ve been mildly bothered that the bracelet is hardly eschatologically correct. Today I wandered around a bead shop and came up with this new one.

IMG_6283The colors are the same until you get to the green bead. At this point I’ve added a tri-colored bead: red, green and white to symbolize the three colors of martyrdom which I speak of in my Fall Away Factor Book. Here’s the backstory there:

A Celtic monk in the seventh century named Cambrai, in what we call the Cambrai Homily, outlined three categories of martyrdom designated by colors; red, green and white. Red martyrdom refers to when blood is shed; when they lop off your head or throw you to the lions. If Christ is indeed first, our safety and security is at least a distant second. Interestingly, the Celtic saints never faced a period of red martyrdom but they still knew the call of Christ was to lose your life to find it. So Cambrai spoke also of green martyrdom to refer to those who leave behind comforts and pleasures, deny their flesh, assuming vows of poverty and chastity or living simply and frugally. White martyrdom is the separation from loved ones. It’s kissing your family goodbye before getting on a ship to sail to a faraway place to spend your life reaching the people God calls you to reach. (The term white martyrdom was first used by St. Jerome, a desert hermit in the third century).

IMG_8095If I were writing the Fall Away Factor book again today I’d add a fourth color of martyrdom, gray. Following Jesus and following the Church are not always the same thing. Gray martyrdom represents excommunication, being shunned and regarded as dead. Gray martyrdom is when following Jesus means you disaffiliate and break with the traditions of man. Jesus took a different path than the religious leaders of his day. Martin Luther was defrocked. Tolstoy was excommunicated. Gray is for hearts of stone.

After the gray bead, I’ve placed a thin gold bead for the reward we receive in heaven. But it’s a thin bead because heaven as we know it is only the temporary abode of the dead. In short order, the dead are raised and we are back living with Jesus here on the earth. This I represented in the earthen bead. The meek will inherit the earth.

My world for the next few months is all things Tolstoy. I’m onto an important linkage between Tolstoy and Bonhoeffer but I’ll not spell all that out here. Hopefully some of my findings will make their way into a book I’m writing called: Tolstoy’s Novel Idea: Obey The Sermon on the Mount.

Obey the Sermon on the Mount. What a novel idea, huh?

Here’s a crash course to give the basics needed to explain this fascinating Fresco which is my interest in this post.

Leo Tolstoy in Hell. Fresco, 1883. In the lower tier at the far right of this fresco (originally in the church at the village of Tazovo in the Kursk Province), Tolstoy is shown embraced by Satan who received him in hell while the holy prelates and apostles of Orthodoxy gave blessing to the act. The Fresco was removed at Lenin’s special order during the Bolshevik crusade against religion in the early years of the Soviet regime. The fresco was later transferred to the Museum for the History of Religion and Atheism of the Soviet Union in Moscow.

Leo Tolstoy in Hell. Fresco, 1883. In the lower tier at the far right of this fresco (originally in the church at the village of Tazovo in the Kursk Province), Tolstoy is shown embraced by Satan who received him in hell while the holy prelates and apostles of Orthodoxy gave blessing to the act. The Fresco was removed at Lenin’s special order during the Bolshevik crusade against religion in the early years of the Soviet regime. The fresco was later transferred to the Museum for the History of Religion and Atheism of the Soviet Union in Moscow.

Tolstoy was a famous and successful nineteenth century Russian novelist who wrote what is considered the greatest novel ever written, War & Peace. That would be what I’m calling First Tolstoy – his literary writings. Second Tolstoy is my designation for the second half of his prolific life– his religious writings; mostly a call to obey the Sermon on the Mount. He was anything but orthodox and rejected significant dogma we’d think is orthodox, and he was excommunicated from the Russian Orthodox Church. It’s more complicated than that but simply put, he believed the Church had become a great hindrance to the Gospel and was full of superstition, paganism and idolatry. Tolstoy was a reformer who had no interest to reform the Church. The Church was too far gone. Best to go back to the plain meaning of the teachings of Jesus, the Sermon on the Mount.

Tolstoy died in 1910. However this Fresco was sanctioned (27 years earlier) by the Orthodox Church in 1883, the year Tolstoy published his first book on obeying the Sermon on the Mount (My Religion – What I Believe).

Gotta love the Church /S.

Tolstoy was deemed a “madman.” If Tolstoy was mad for his adherence to Jesus’ teaching, what would that make Jesus? What a paradox that literal obedience to the teaching of Christ is still considered crazy radical even in Christian circles today.

 

 

Good theology is essential when bad things go down. So, to start with some theological preciseness, the question in the title would be better phrased: Is Scott Westerhuis hell-bound? The reason for that clarification is because it isn’t until after the Great White Throne Judgment that the books are opened and each one judged. It is then both Death and Hades are gathered up and together thrown into the Eternal Lake of Fire (aka Hell). The temporary abode for the unredeemed dead is Hades, not Hell. So no, no one is presently burning in hell.

The question was posed yesterday on Facebook by a seasoned journalist friend in South Dakota who, since last September, has been covering the horrible unfoldings in Platte, South Dakota. He took some criticism for even posting the question. Understandably this is still a very tender topic in our small home state.

Scott and Nicole Westerhuis and their four children, Michael, Connor, Jaeci and Kailey, died in Sept. 2015. Pic: Facebook/Nicole Westerhuis

Scott Westerhuis was husband and father of four, an active member of First Reformed Church and an involved member of a close knit  small town community. Made aware he was soon to be in serious trouble for plundering a million dollars from a fund set up to help young Native Americans, late that night he took his shotgun and killed his wife and their four children all in their beds, and then set fire to their house and taking his own life.

For the benefit of others in our state, here were my contributions in the midst of a most interesting string of comments to the question.

Me: One doesn’t spend eternity separated from God for anything they did or didn’t do. The way you end up there is rejecting what Jesus did to make possible eternity with God.

A reply to me: Can someone profess Jesus is their Lord and Savior and then commit multiple murders? Were they lying when they made the profession or did they change their mind? Or did they not even think about it? (a subconscious decision)

Me: People profess Jesus as Lord and then commit adultery or break any of the other Ten Commandments. Our various traditions differ a bit on whether some sin is worse than other sin. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said if we are angry it’s the same as murder. A lawyer friend in Sioux Falls who has/is defended some of those facing the death penalty in South Dakota told me once that every murderer he’s ever met felt justified from their vantage point at that time to do what they did, and he and I agree that includes the State when we kill killers. We do what they do and then have our rationalisations for it. Psychologically suicide and killing occur in when we aren’t thinking clearly and rationally. Killing is irrational. Unless a person decidedly rejects Christ and then kills, I’m not sure we can say they go to hell– at least not for killing. I’m grateful I’m not judged according to the worse thing I’ve done. The Gospel is about what Jesus did, not about what we’ve done. Did he do enough on the Cross to pay the price for all our sin or do we need to add to his finished work by doing more right and less wrong? Reject him and we are on our own to stand before God on our own good merit.

This is pure speculation: perhaps this guy dearly loved his family and couldn’t imagine life without them or imagine ruining their lives and shaming them all so horribly with his crimes and to spare them that greater pain, in a colossal act of misguided mercy, and moment of irrational panic- hardly thinking clearly about anything – believing in Christ and heaven- reasoned to himself that they could all go together and be together and that God would understand.

Good people in society concoct all sorts of justifications for killing to save themselves and others.

I’ll wrap up here with some Gospel basics: Salvation is not genetic or hereditary any more than marriage is– your grandparents being married doesn’t mean you are– your parents being Christians doesn’t automatically make you one– a individual choice to receive what Jesus did for you appropriates salvation to an individual. Salvation is not by ritual or ceremony. Salvation is not by addition– doing more right. It is not by subtraction– doing less wrong. It is not second hand– not mediated by anyone other than Jesus. Salvation is not by comparison– we are less bad than those people down the street – those gays or Muslims or compared to that guy on death-row. It is not universal– you can decidedly reject what Jesus did for you and many do. He doesn’t force people to spend eternity with him when they make it clear they don’t want him part of their lives here. Salvation is not by showing up to church. It can’t be bought or sold. Salvation is not by sincerity. The 9/11 hi-jackers were sincere, sincerely wrong. You get the idea. And, by the way, our loving God doesn’t send anyone to hell. Hell-bound people chose that course themselves by rejecting the only way God set forth for salvation. If all religious paths were viable options, he wouldn’t have sent his only Son to die on a Cross to atone for our sin. Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

As hard as it is to accept, I’m doubtful Westerhuis is hell-bound. The reason is because salvation isn’t based on what he did. It is based on what Jesus did. From what I can tell, he was a believing Christian. And yes we aren’t to judge or try to read hearts, but people in my line of work get asked these hard questions– and usually people like me have 2-3 days max to think of something to say at a funeral. It’s not a time to give false assurances. It’s a time to be clear about how it is that Jesus defeats death for us all. God has an amazing way to bring life from death and draw out good from bad. The possibility of salvation for Scott Westerhuis will hopefully result in the assurance of salvation of many others.

Biblical text from the Gospel of Matthew found fused to metal from the World Trade Center wreckage at Ground Zero in Manhattan. “Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.”

Biblical text from the Gospel of Matthew found fused to metal from the World Trade Center wreckage at Ground Zero in Manhattan. “Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.”

Retraction and Correction – Page 228

Obtainable Expectations: Timely Exposition on the Sermon on the Mount

Please strike over and disregard the entirety of the second full paragraph on page 228 of my Sermon on the Mount book. It is rubbish I wrote in 2003. This book was written over of a couple decades and there are several places where I’d say things differently today. However, the issue I correct here is so central at the very the summit of the mount it cannot stand uncorrected. There is no section of the Bible like here at the summit of the mount (enemy love) where corporately, Christians contort themselves more to get out from underneath its demands. Here we come to the second of the two main issues of interpretation with regard to the Sermon on the Mount. The first being, is it liveable? Is it an obtainable standard? The entire thesis of this book is absolutely, it is liveable and obtainable. The second issue then becomes who is it for, an individual believer or also for Christian’s corporately, including nations seeking to adhere to Judeo-Christian values? If you want a more developed article on non-retaliation go to my essay: Love as a Foreign Policy: September 11 and Turning the Other Cheek (pdf alert, 11,000 words). One of the first questions I get on this is; what about self-defence, what about defending the nation?? This article is about retaliation and to whom the non-retaliation commandment applies. If that is not kept in mind one will misunderstand and misrepresent my argument. The following constitutes the corrections I wish to make in place of the disregarded paragraph.

_________________________________

Christians quickly hide behind Romans 13 arguing God gives governments the power of the sword. Romans 13 does say just that, except the passage does not say God agrees with and sanctions every pagan governments decided use of the sword. And most certainly, Paul was not telling Christians that they are justified to forsake the path of mercy and love if and when they one day assume positions of power. Why then are so many Christians today defending the values of pagan Romans and the ethics of Nero? Perhaps it should be the case that governments in the Christian sectors of the world are based more on the ethics of Jesus rather than on the ethics of Nero. It is remarkable how much weight Christians throughout the centuries have given to this eisegesis of Romans 13:4. Somehow it outweighs fifty verses from Jesus on showing mercy and love.

Retreating to a bifurcated interpretation of “turn the other cheek,” in that it applies to Christians interpersonally but not to Christians corporately and politically, is to entirely miss all that the Apostle Paul underscored in the chapter immediately before Romans 13, chapter twelve. Chapter 12 of Romans reads much like the Sermon on the Mount;  “Love must be sincere… Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse… Do not repay anyone evil for evil… Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”  Those were Paul’s instructions immediately prior to his Romans 13 statement on Christians living submissively under pagan governments (whom God has delegated the power of the sword). There is no caveat that they do not apply to the Christian later, if and when they find themselves in positions of power and political authority.

There is no caveat that these divine strategies of responding to hate and hurt with love and responding to evil with good only work on a small scale. My contention here is those who have been faithful and obedient in smaller situations can be entrusted with the same in larger situations. Jesus never differentiated between loving a neighbour and loving a neighbouring nation.** Effectually it is as if we believe Jesus said “These are some strategies that I commend to you for little matters. Honestly, for the more complex conflicts I have nothing for you in terms of heavenly wisdom or strategy so go ahead and ‘do unto them what they’ve do unto you’ and I’m okay with whatever response seems and feels right for you at the time. Not to worry, forgiveness comes easy with me, and grace cheap.”

**Leo Tolstoy settles this centuries-old, unnecessary uncertainty with a simple appeal to the words Jesus used and what they would have meant to his original hearers. “…[N]eighbour in the Hebrew language meant, invariably and exclusively, ‘a Hebrew.’” Considering the lengths he went to describe the thoroughness of his study of these words, that he seems to imply Jesus spoke this originally in Hebrew, not Aramaic, is peculiar. His justification may be it is the same word and meaning as in Luke 10:29 where the “neighbour” is a Samaritan– someone a Hebrew would have clearly not regarded as a neighbour. Finding the same meaning in Acts 7:27, his conclusion is “‘neighbour’ in Gospel language, means a compatriot, a person belonging to the same nationality…. And so the antithesis used by Jesus in the citation, ‘love thy neighbour, hate thine enemy,’ must be in the distinction between the words ‘compatriot’ and ‘foreigner.’” Tolstoy contended his supposition was further confirmed when seeking the Jewish understanding of enemy. “The word enemy is nearly always employed in the Gospels in the sense, not of a personal enemy, but, in general, of a ‘hostile people.’” His citations are Luke 1:71,74; Matthew 22, Mark 12:36 and Luke 20:43. Based on the words Jesus used, Tolstoy’s conclusion is that it is not possible that Jesus intended his teaching to be applicable only on the interpersonal level. [Source: Tolstoy, Leo. My Religion–What I Believe. (Guildford, UK: White Crow Productions Ltd, 2009 reprint of the 1884 text), 72.]

4/2016, SH

Stanley Hauerwas and Steve Hickey

Stanley Hauerwas and Steve Hickey

On March 11, 2016, here at the University of Aberdeen, I asked Stanley Hauerwas the question: What should turn the other cheek mean to a Christian President the morning after September 11? What follows is a verbatim transcript of my recording of his answer. Next week I will be publishing an essay entitled: Love as a Foreign Policy: Hauerwas, Elshtain and a Christ-like Response to September 11th. Part of Hauerwas’ comment below appears in my essay but I’m posting his entire statement here so it is out there for others to use. ______________________________________

Steve Hickey: What should turn the other cheek mean to a Christian President the morning after a September 11?

Stanley Hauerwas: And my answer is, how does a Christian ever get elected President of the United States? I mean I would assume that they would have been interrogated about what it means to turn the other cheek before they ever got to be president. And that would have made them– not ready candidates to be understood as people who would be ready to do anything to defend the American people. So the question itself already presupposes a Constantinian form of Christianity that I do not represent.

In terms of September 11, America is a country whose politics is fundamentally determined by September 11th. When September 11th occurred I said “this is the next fifty years and maybe longer than that” because Americans are determined to find a way to get out of life alive. And we think that if we have the strongest military that will be able to provide that result. And of course, it’s just bullshit.

And this would be kind of a Niebuhrian point…. One of the tensions within the American society is the disconnect between the morality necessary to sustain a serious military and the ethos of the American people. What was the fundamental thing that George Bush said a day after September 11?… what is the moral response of the American people to September 11th? “[Go out and] Shop.” So now you have the American military, which is an honour society, defending a social order whose deepest moral commitment is shopping. How do you do that?

And so those are the deeper questions I think that occur about how Christianity relates to American politics. Reinhold Niebuhr, his thought was committed to trying to figure out what it would look like if as a matter of fact America had a Christian Secretary of State and the primary implication is they have to be planning out how to kill as few as possible and that means you need to be smart in terms of how you act out of American self-interests. Niebuhr never called into question whether a Christian could be a Secretary of State. He wanted that.

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