My tradition is free prayer, extemporaneous, Spirit-led. Early on I ready the Sermon on the Mount against vain repetition in prayer and steered clear of those dangers. 

Then I read my Bible more closely and affiliated with the Northumbria (new monastic) Community on Holy Island in England. Been there a number of times. One of the founders is a spiritual mentor to me, Andy Raine. I’m probably his most frustrating project. He is the one behind the Celtic Daily Prayer books (books 1, 2) which Richard Foster says are “the best book of contemporary prayer books available, a portable house of prayer.

Importantly I also read the text which says to pray in the Spirit on all occasions with ALL TYPES of prayer (Eph 6:18). All types? You mean extemporaneous isn’t the only type? Nope, it’s not. Kristen teaches a class on Intercession using our friend Tommi Femrite’s book; Intercession. Tommi explodes our view of what prayer can be. Some are Israel intercessors, others list prayers, others mercy and crisis prayers, others deliverance prayers, others sing scriptures, or are faithful to show up on the wall every day to add to the bowl of the prayers of the saints that has been collecting in heaven for centuries. I’ve seen the prayer movement up close in a number of countries. It is far far far broader than Harp and Bowl sessions with bands and (sometimes vain repetitious) songs, and I fit in that world just fine.

I thought again about the Early Church’s use of the prayer book we call the Psalms (far longer than the 150 we deem inspired and included in our Bible), and the liturgies and confessions that were woven into their prayer lives and meetings from their Hebrew prayer traditions which, those reared in them never abandoned. I saw an archeological discovery where they found a prayer scroll dating to Daniel’s time. It dawned on me that multiple times a day he was up in his room facing Jerusalem praying those very SET PRAYER at SET TIMES.

Yet once when I tossed in something like the Lord’s Prayer in our church services a guy once came up to me later and said “Wow Pastor, you gave me Lutheran flashbacks with that one.” Oy.

So in my last years at Church at the Gate (2013) and in the region I’d teach and lead a bit on set prayers at set times, all kinds of prayers. I was also noodling around with prayers for a prairie spirituality as we were in the Great Plains and thought about leading a place of prayer called the Inland Sea Community. Some of you will recall these things. The entire grassland region of the United States was once an inland sea. Our community was going to be rooted in our rugged terrain.

Long intro to this: I had some prayer beads, not Rosary, from the time I took some students and friends to Holy Athos in Greece nearly a decade back. Didn’t work for me. However, for my time on the sickbed these days, I got these Anglican prayer beads and like them.

There is zero focus on Mary, not the 53 Hail Marys or anything of the sort.

My beads are from a collection at Anglican Prayer Beads, and they all start with a Cross, in my case a Celtic knot cross. The Celtic knots go over and under. The old monks had elaborate prayer pages of knots; tracing your finger and going over is to give praise for something. To go under is to ask for forgiveness for something. But this knot is a Cross. 

Start at the Cross, then up to the Resurrection (Jesus is alive!) and the Infilling of the Spirit. My beads are about the infilling of the Holy Spirit. Lots of ways to designate the 33 beads, 33 the number of Jesus years on earth. For me the seven beads of each week are seven prayers on my heart, free prayers. For those of you struggling to pray, or with your kids, maybe you’ll stay awake if you have seven prayers to pray. They can be set prayers, or free. I suggest both, in fact that is the point of this essay.

We don’t need beads to pray. And I guess we don’t need lists to go to the grocery store. But a mature, disciplined, guided and rooted prayer life might be better served with more than one tool. Who has only one tool in their tool box? Pray with all kinds of prayers. 

After some inner angst during yet another war glorification holiday I’ve decided to start a new one, International War Folly Day, August 8. Eight/eight is easy to remember, it is the number of new beginnings and it visually represents the folly of war.

Yes I’m on my sick bed (awaiting a lung transplant) and who knows, I may not live to see August 8 but what better thing to devote my energies toward?! If Columbus Day can get bumped for Indigenous Peoples Day, maybe there is room amidst Veterans Day, Memorial Day, Armed Forces Day, and the dozens of others for a day were we slow it all down and take a hard look at what is really going on.

So far I’ve started a Facebook page and registered it officially as a national and international holiday. Next I’ll figure out how to broadcast it far and wide and garnish international support. I need any and all help. This is NOT just another peace or pacifism day, this is a day when we insist on the truth for our soldiers by highlighting the farce and fiasco that is modern perpetual war; the real human cost, the unaccountable war spending (so little of which is truly for any sort of national defense), the delusion that these military actions result in a world with fewer bad guys or that have much if anything at all to do with preserving freedom, the insanity of bombing and building a country back up, exposing the financiers of war, the political hawks, the oligarchy and war games, the war industry and defense contracts – and so much more.

Especially after Afghanistan, can we all agree it is okay to ask of the powers that be: Is this present skirmish worth the life of my son or daughter? We do our soldiers no service when we go along with almost a hypnotic and blind (support) patriotism every time the war frenzy starts up again. Please share this far and wide.

Suicide ideation is real. Ecclesiastes says there is a time for everything. There is a time to remove the guns from the house, and probably the ropes and extension cords too.

Many great people in history battled it. I’ve given it thought, strongly at age 18, but at different points as well. I can be hard on myself. I get self-loathing; worse than Chris Farley (on Saturday Nite Live) hitting himself in the head when he says something stupid. My grandmother’s brother Thomas had terminal cancer and shot himself. I hit a dark place when Mayo Clinic rejected me for transplant last winter and COVID and the grim reaper were chasing me around. Fleeting thoughts of not letting the suffering get too bad. I watched my mom suffocate to death. My faith and my family are more than enough to jolt me out of despair. I was grandpa-less growing up and I don’t want that my for grandkids. And I don’t want my kids to go as long as I have without a dad to call. And Kristen needs me and hurting her is unthinkable and selfish.

Also it has helped me in how I have come to a fixed conviction that death is only and always the domain of God. It is his alone to give or take away. Our society has lost that and demonic spirits of death are everywhere about. The rash of suicides on Indian reservations, I’ve seen up close…. these are spirits of death that don’t go away with more funding for social programs. Spirits are dealt with spiritually. Counseling, meds and hospitalization have an important place in curbing mental illness, which suicide is— I’m saying demons exploit our frailties and our weakest points—- and wear down the mind, as the Bible says.

As a police chaplain I was on the scene of many grim suicides. The pain the person was feeling isn’t extinguished, it explodes and inundates everyone around them, exponentially. Better to share frequently before it kills you and sets off an a-bomb in the lap of everyone you love. God gave us each other for just these moments.

Talking to others is vital. Let people in on your inner life. Please. Also, there is a spirit of death we need to bind and cast out and loose the light of life back in. Demons are behind every temptation to self-harm, and they are the lying voices in your head. Let other people speak truth and life back into you.

Tolstoy went through some dark spells during a time of existential crisis and had the guns hidden, the ropes taken away and the belts in his room removed. Tolstoy wrote this about that time:

“My question — that which at the age of 50 brought me to the verge of suicide — was the simplest of questions, lying in the soul of every man from the foolish child to the wisest elder: it was a question without an answer to which one cannot live, as I had found by experience. It was: ‘What will come of what I am doing today or shall do tomorrow? What will come of my whole life?’ Differently expressed, the question is: ‘Why should I live, why wish for anything, or do anything?’ It can also be expressed thus: ‘Is there any meaning in my life that the inevitable death awaiting me does not destroy?’”

My Confession, Leo Tolstoy

Tolstoy saw that peasants were happy simply doing God’s Will which he came to discover was best expressed in the Sermon on the Mount, loving God and loving others. Life became fulfilling, and blessed (though never pain or problem-free). He lived 32 more years and died naturally after catching pneumonia on a cold train in the winter.

By way of introduction and my credentials to offer comments on this matter, I have served as vice-chair on the State House Health and Human Services Committee during three terms of elected office – and on a number of occasions considered arguments and made decisions on religious exemptions to vaccine mandates in our state. Professionally I’m a Christian ethicist with a PhD from the University of Aberdeen and have a measure of familiarity with the issues and quandaries of medical and bio-ethics.

I am also vaccinated, and have a clear public record of being pro-vaccine, even as I oppose vaccine mandates, and have lingering concerns about the COVID vaccines themselves, and share a general distrust of those who are behind them. At present my wife and I have relocated temporarily to Phoenix where I await, any day now, a double lung transplant. As you can imagine, we have dealt very personally over the last year with the decision to be vaccinated; the real risks I faced getting it, and would face if I chose not to get it. As people like us now struggle with vaccine mandates and the possibility of losing their jobs over their religious convictions, a few have reached out to me for clarity resulting in me writing the following.

I’m not entertaining comments in this forum and have turned off that feature on this post. The notion of a religious exemption is what I hope to articulate. Briefly, I will list a number of religious concerns I would raise as a Christian ethicist about vaccination mandates. This is simply for those who wonder about a possible, if any, basis for a religious objection. Each point could venture off deep into the weeds of debate and much is written elsewhere. Importantly, please discern that I am not personally making each claim here but trying to show how the religiously-inclined seeking religious exemption could make them if they held them to be true from their vantage point. A few of my own biases and frustrations come through which may cause you angst. So be it. Here I’m simply offering points to help people understand possible religious concerns. Legal precedents are discussed elsewhere.

Firstly, there are religious people who hold high pro-life convictions and the arguable use of fetal cell lines in vaccines is a violation of religious conscience for them. This alone is a sufficient basis for a religious objection. Importantly however, one making this claim with any integrity must also be able to substantiate they also refuse common medications like Benadryl, Claritin, Motrin, Pepto-Bismol, Preparation H, Prilosec, Sudafed, Tums, Tylenol and Zoloft – all of which are also the product of fetal cell line use in the research and development stage.

Secondly, I raise the issue of the sanctity of the individual human body as an inviolate, holy space. To force something deemed by a person of conscience as unclean into their body against their will and wishes can be construed, by some religiously-inclined people, as a desecration of the body as a temple of God. Mandatory vaccination disregards long-standing legal precedent in the right of people, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, to refuse blood transfusions even to the point of their own death. Governments including our own have a recent and checkered history of medical experimentation on unsuspecting populations, some even being targeted for demise. Medical mandates and medical paternalism exacerbate legitimate fears and concerns especially for racial and religious minorities.

Thirdly, I would call out the immorality and medical malpractice of the suppression of alternative treatments scientifically being shown to be measurably effective by a growing number of medical professionals. In a pandemic, for government and big pharmacy to start practicing medicine and cancel the best advice of a person’s doctor is unconscionable. As my doctor told me, it is immoral to withhold a treatment possibility in the middle of a pandemic. 

Fourthly, it is morally unjust for an employer, government and for big pharmacy to be insulated from any and all legal liability leaving the mandated employee without any means of legal redress in seeking justice from any harm done. Pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer have paid heavy fines in the past for suppressing science in the pursuit of profits. This alone gives ample justification to any who choose to proceed with caution, or wait until they deem the vaccines are ready for prime time. Religious objectors have a basis for concern in how the public was subjected to them prior to the normal process of testing and peer-reviewed studies to verify their safety in various and different sectors of the population. There is a systemic injustice in this immunity from liability creating a legitimate case for religious objection. How so? The plight of little people against an ever-powerful, coercive and controlling corporatocracy and sister politico-media complex is matter central to religious concern and social justice.

Fifthly, the disregarding of the science of natural immunity in the context of media-driven information suppression campaigns is laden with moral problems, public disservice, and scientific folly. Deception, manipulation, coercion, shaming, disparagement, belittling and bullying have no place in medical decisions. Many religious objectors report all of the above, including myself. There is a valid religious interest in reliance on the divine design of the human body to fight disease, and a preference to pursue natural health enhancements even as simple as vitamins, supplements, fresh air and diet. Pharmaceutical promotions absent a greater or even any emphasis on how to help the body stay healthy naturally is contrary to God’s design and cause for religious concern.

Sixthly, national and global pandemic statistics, infection testing practices and technology, vaccine adverse event reporting, real vaccine death numbers, pandemic infection rates, and COVID death count numbers remain open to legitimate question and scrutiny especially as hospital reimbursements have been tied to a stated primary cause of death. A religious conviction is based on a high regard for truth in reporting. There are legitimate questions and concerns about the origins of the virus, the conflicted role of, and expertise from NIH/Dr Fauci, and the possibilities of significant crimes against humanity. Entire nations have raised these concerns. Caution and questions from a suspicious and thinking public should not be suppressed and ridiculed. Religious objectors have a commitment to truth and presently politics are impossibly intertwined with anything officially promoted as scientific.

Finally, the religiously-inclined have a legitimate religious exemption claim based on the mechanics of divine guidance, hearing God, sensing his leading and finding his will. For example, the religiously-inclined often attest to having peace about something, or a lack thereof. That peace about a decision or matter often runs contrary to the direction of the rest of the world and the religiously-inclined have come to trust the peace as the voice of God and confirmation of his will. Admittedly this opens up the possibility of a claim of religious exemption to just about anyone who doesn’t feel right about something at their gut level. Regardless, moral reasoning in the religiously-inclined is central to their faith life and living. These mechanisms of moral reasoning in evangelicals and charismatics are particularly important to understanding the significant vaccine hesitancy in that demographic. 

All of the above can be construed as insufficient to outweigh the larger good of love for neighbor, getting vaccinated to protect the most vulnerable in our midst. Even here however, it remains debatable for some of religious conviction that it is even true that vaccination is the best and only path forward for a healthy population. 

Buy it here.

Tolstoy’s Novel Idea: Obey the Sermon on the Mount

After two thousand years of Christianity, one might assume obedience to the Sermon on the Mount would be foundational for the Christian life and the starting point for every Christian’s journey toward Christlikeness. Yet strict obedience to the Sermon on the Mount has a long history of being frowned upon-foolhardy and fanatical. One would be hard-pressed to find a section of the Bible where Christians contort themselves more to get out from underneath the demands than Matthew 5-7. Obedience has become optional, abnormal, and atypical. And sadly, very little has been written about the obedience of Leo Tolstoy, though he is, as is contended here, the most significant and influential interpreter of the Sermon on the Mount since the days of Jesus.But

Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy (1828-1910) is widely considered the author of the greatest novel ever written: War and Peace. However, Steve Hickey asserts Tolstoy’s greatest contribution to the world was not his novels, but his novel idea: obey the Sermon on the Mount. When the greatest novelist came under the spell of the greatest sermon, the seeds of a new and sorely needed reformation were planted. After an in-depth analysis of the various aspects of his novel idea-obedience to the Sermon on the Mount-Tolstoy’s Novel Idea: Obey the Sermon on the Mount envisions an obedience movement, which, sadly, is something Christendom has yet to ever really see.

Even so, Tolstoy’s writings on these teachings of Jesus directly influenced Gandhi and his non-violent tactics served to liberate India from British oppression. Though Gandhi often gets the glory, in large his tactics came from Tolstoy who was simply representing the non-violent teachings of Jesus. Hickey presents Tolstoy was a vastly under-appreciated prophet of peace at the onset of a tragically bloody century of both Russian and world history. A new generation of practitioners of non-violent resistance are well-served to steep themselves in Tolstoy. Aside from Tolstoy’s religious writings themselves, this book is the perfect place to start.

This morning I sent a note and the following to Gov. Daugaard as he thinks more this weekend about this execution on Monday. It is from my Ph.D dissertation. It’s the story of Tolstoy writing a letter to the Tsar to stop six executions. Here’s the backstory…

The assassination of Czar Alexander II at the Catherine Canal in St. Petersburg, 13 March 1881: contemporary wood engraving.

5.2 Letter #257; To the Emperor Alexander III, 8-15 March 1881

Tolstoy’s letter to Emperor Alexander III demonstrates the scope of Tolstoy’s Sermon on the Mount application extended to the furtherest point of application; that the Sermon on the Mount is best course for Tsars and nation-states also. In his letter to Alexander III appealing for mercy on behalf of the soon to be executed assassins of the Tsar’s father Alexander II, Tolstoy pens with passion and prophetic clarity a letter quite comparable to Martin Luther King Jr’s famous and widely-circulated Letter from a Birmingham Jail (King’s 1963 open letter written to fellow clergymen to defend his strategy of nonviolent resistance in the fight against racism). Alternatively it could be seen as Tolstoy’s Philemon in that as the Apostle Paul penned a mercy plea for Onesimus the runaway slave, Tolstoy penned a mercy plea for the doctrine of Jesus to be applied to matters of civil, criminal and social justice. Tolstoy’s letter to the Tsar has had virtually no circulation and consideration by Christians or people in government. This must change so a new generation can consider his prophetic epistle.
On the first of March 1881 in Petersburg, six members of the revolutionary party, The People’s Will, assassinated Tsar Alexander II. A little white package wrapped in a handkerchief was tossed on his carriage and exploded. He survived that initial explosion and emerged from the carriage unharmed, however the team of assassins had a second and third bomb ready and it was the second explosion that took down the Tsar. With his face mutilated, disemboweled and with his legs blown away, members of the Romanov family and a physician rushed to the scene. Lying in the snow, the Tsar bled to death shortly after being given Communion and Last Rites. The reaction to the assassination was violent on both sides. The new Tsar Alexander III, having witnessed his father’s gory demise, immediately ordered the suppression of civil liberties in Russia and a mean wave of police brutality ensued. Revolutionaries and anarchists took “their inspiration from the murder of Czar Alexander II in 1881, advocated ‘propaganda by deed’—the use of a spectacular act of violence to incite revolution.”
During the trial and execution preparations to come, as violence was begetting more violence, Tolstoy had another one of his prophetic dreams; “he lay down in his study one day after dinner, fell asleep and dreamed vividly that he was both the executioner and the victim in the punishment of the assassins.” Upon waking from this dream Tolstoy wrote his letter to Alexander III asking for mercy for those who killed the Tsar’s father. Initially the letter was blocked by Konstantin Petrovich Pobedonostsev, the Orthodox Church official and advisor in the Emperor’s court. Through an emissary, Tolstoy redirected the letter around the hostile and bloodthirsty church official to get it into the hands of the Tsar. After reading the letter, the Tsar sent an informal reply to Tolstoy to convey that because the criminal act was not against himself but against his father, he felt it was not in his right to pardon them.
Thirty-four days after the assassination, the assassins, one of whom was a General’s daughter, were executed. Unlike Tolstoy’s Letter to a Hindoo which was warmly welcomed in India and, through Gandhi, profoundly influenced an entire nation to heed the non-violent doctrine of Jesus, Tolstoy’s letter to the Tsar, to date, has had no discernible effect or further circulation. Had Russia heeded Tolstoy’s prophetic word (the doctrine of Jesus) as did India, perhaps they also would have known a peaceful revolution and been spared the horrible bloodbath to come.

Taking Over Vermont, by Richard Pollak, April 1972, Playboy Magazine, pgs. 147ff.

Important article here and I’ll post a pdf to it so the next guy doesn’t have to go after it the hard way, as did I. No secret that Vermont is the most unchurched state in the nation, and the most liberal. Vermont had gay marriage long before the rest of the country. It’s a place where Bernie Sanders can thrive. But how did it get that way? Fifty years ago it was a strong Republican state. Basically, minibuses of countercultural dropouts descended on the state, set up communes and eventually made Vermont home, and voted, and ran for office.

The strategy was published first in April 1972 in Playboy magazine. The article by Richard Pollak is worth your time. In posting the article here, it doesn’t seem to be elsewhere online,  I’m doing a service to the gents out there. No need for anyone else to order a old Playboy on eBay. Not to worry, my wife was a part of this “research” and the pdf linked above is a clean version with blocked out ads and unfavourables. The rest of the magazine has been destroyed.

South Dakota is a small state. Maybe Christians should move there in mass. More to report later, but I’m likely heading to Vermont for the last chapter of my life. It’s under wraps for now but I’ll put out a teaser that it has to do with a countercultural Sermon on the Mount idea I have long had in the making.

Tomorrow I take the train down to London to present a short paper on Saturday at a Bonhoeffer and Reformation Conference at St. Mary’s University – Twickenham.

Here’s a link to and abstract and to the paper – Bonhoeffer and Grey Martyrdom: The Cost of Convictions.

Should a President pick sides in civil strife? Obama certainly did, and set race relations in America back a generation. My reference is to the Ferguson uprisings. Infuriating many, Trump’s renunciations of the unrest in Charlottesville, Virginia yesterday were hardly specific, and usually he is very precise in naming who he wants to denounce in no uncertain terms. But yesterday he strongly renounced all hate and violence by the “many sides, and believe me there are many sides.” The only specific group Trump sided with yesterday were the law enforcement officers trying to handle the situation.

As one who found it significant that Obama could never name Islamic terrorism I initially hoped Trump wouldn’t ever play those games. How hard would it have been for him to condemn the white supremacists of the alt-right? Much gets read into his nebulousness. Perhaps it speaks volumes about his secret sympathies with Steve Bannon and others on his staff who, some say, are alt-right themselves. That Obama couldn’t say Islamic terrorism spoke volumes to me about his sympathies with those in his inner circle and staff who had Muslim-Brotherhood connections and affections.

It now being the morning after the drive-down in Charlottesville I’m wondering if there isn’t truth and wisdom in Trump’s denunciation of all hate and violence and in his vague comments on the many sides of hate and violence in America. It wasn’t just the alt-right in town yesterday, Soros-supported Antifa agitators were there too. Reports tells us an alt-left rock was thrown at the window of the alt-right car just prior to it mowing down the protestors. It would not be true to denounce the one side for violence and hate and not the other.

Spiritually there are many sides to a conflict and those who know our enemies are not flesh and blood also know powerful demonic spirits descended on Charlottesville yesterday on assignment to incite, fuel and feed hatred into a frenzy. There is wisdom in the President not choosing a side but in renouncing all hate and violence.


Stanley Hauerwas is on a short list of the people I most admire. Of recent it has been my fortune to interact with and come to know personally this ‘leading theologian of our time’ since he served as Chair in Theological Ethics here at the University of Aberdeen (2014-2016). He has been a forerunner in areas I believe to be vital considerations for the contemporary church and his positive and shaping influence on my theological work will long continue. He has been a voice in the wilderness crying. My growing Hauerwas book and essay collection is now well-marked and in him I’d say I have found a kindred spirit. All that said, I intend to be forthright in my assessment of what I deem to be the worst thing I’ve read that he’s written.

Many times those of us who have been in face to face conversation with Stanley have heard him share his thoughts on something theological and then ask the question; Do you think that’s right? Hauerwas believes theology is done best in conversation, with friends. My friendship with him is more important to me than what I’ve written here. He knows I see myself as a work in progress and am willing to change my mind. I’ve come around in a major way to his views on war and peace.

Basically I’m responding here to his thoughts in his essay (A Sanctuary Politics: The Church in the Time of Trump) and saying, No, I don’t think that’s right.

My essay is in pdf form here: What is Truth in an Age of CNN?

In case you wonder, Stanley says my response here is the best defence of Trump he’s read to date. Perhaps he’ll say more later but so far he deems the most significant point of disagreement to be my use of the word “invasion” and that “the logic of [my] piece may be Constantinian in a manner [he] tries to stay away from.  He rightly challenges me to consider how Muslim migrations in our day can be conceived as a “godsend” and he reminds me “US foreign policy created the terrorist.”

2017 is the Reformation 500 year. In 1517 Luther nailed his 95 protests to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg.

In the midst of my research this week I came across a vivid description of the tumult of that entire century. It was “an era of great social ferments, natural catastrophes, famines, plaques and unusual men.” There was a Pope who was the father of four illegitimate children and another Pope calling down curses on a second Pope who set up shop in Avignon, who responded in kind. Then I read the following and thought about our century, particularly how the climate change prophets and people who tell us a warm summer means we are all about to die.

“The fourteenth century was a strange century indeed. In this period the ice drift cut off communication with Greenland, and the advancing glaciers almost literally pushed the settlements into the sea. European chroniclers of the century recorded two excessively cold winters. Crops failed in Norway and then in England and in France. There were excessive rains. The Sequoia tree rings in California ran to abnormal width, the Caspian Sea expanded, and the Rhine, the Danube, the Thames, and the Elbe froze. Fifty-five summers of this century saw violent floods, and the Cathedral of Mayence was submerged to the famous frieze over the door. In the Netherlands seventy-two cities were destroyed by the sea in one night and 200,000 people were drowned in one year….”

Hit pause.

Imagine if the Prophet Al Gore were alive then?

No wonder above the 1500 “Nativity” painting (still hung prominently at the National London Gallery) the painter inscribed: “This picture was painted by me Alexander amid the confusions of Italy at the time prophesied in the Second Woe of the Apocalypse, when Satan shall be loosed on the earth.”


“…The Black Death, the Asiatic Cholera, The Athenian Plague, and famine killed thirteen million people in China and reduced the populations in France an England by one-third. The common people were impoverished, ill-fed and ill-housed. Yet, at the same time the secular and ecclesiastic princes lived in a byzantine luxury that only accentuated their aloofness from the common hoi polloi (the many). While the peasants complained that they “haue the payne and traveyle, rayne and wynd in the feldes,” the doorways of the castle of Vincennes had to be raised in order to accommodate the three-foot tall head-dress of Isabelle of Bavaria. A rigid caste system, perpetuating itself by a ruthless exploitation of the common people, was entrenched on the whole continent of Europe, upheld by secular powers and sanctioned “urbi et orbi” (To Rome and to the World!) by the Church. The popes and the princes knew the difference between a good statue and a bad one, but they knew not the difference between good and evil; they fought each other in palace and the field, with daggers and with crosses…” (Enrico C.S. Molnar, doctoral dissertation, 1947)

There is more but you get the idea. Maybe we could say when the Lord’s patience runs thin with a Church that has entirely lost its way, no longer looking or acting even remotely like Jesus, he shakes the earth, even the natural order, and sends in Reformers.

I only wish that a hundred years before Luther the Bohemian reformer Petr Chelčický had prevailed. His was a Reformation back to precepts of the Sermon on the Mount calling the Church to more resemble Jesus. Misreading Romans 13, Luther gave God’s sanction for the State to crush with great cruelty the masses in the Peasants Revolt of 1520. Oy.


The backstory…. On April 9 in Sioux Falls, South Dakota (where I was a minister for 21 years), a local Muslim man named Ehab Jaber walked into a Christian Conference where hundreds were gathered to hear speakers (including an ex-Muslim speaking on the topic:  “Sabotaging America: Islam’s March Toward Supremacy“). The local media hyped the entire event up as “anti-muslim” drawing out a sizeable protest, and in my view, we can thank them for their role in creating this incident. A Christian worldview event was spun by media as anti-Muslim and, surprise, it drew out a mad Muslim. If we want to de-escalate the tensions, maybe the media could help by not fuelling them.

What goes on in mosques, of course, is from the perspective of their worldview and what goes on in churches, of course, is from ours. These are not harmonious world views. Each believes the other is what is wrong with the world and that God is on one side, their side. I’m a Christian, and I have nothing nice to say about Islam. And of course, I don’t believe Islam to be just another way to relate to God. ((If there were other viable paths to salvation God would not have sent his only Son to die on a Cross to pay the penalty for our sin.)) Of course I think, as do all orthodox Christians in a variety of streams, that Islam is a grave deception and the antithesis of any sort of religion of peace.

So, on April 9, Mr Jaber walked into this Christian worldview event waving his Koran and made a scene until he was asked to leave by event security. In the parking lot he recorded a video and posted it on Facebook. In the video he showed off his collection of legal South Dakota firearms and kept repeating “be scared.” He has since been charged with making a Terrorist Threat, his weapons have been confiscated, and law enforcement found Meth in his home. He sits now in jail and laments bitterly how he has lost everything. The judge set a very low bail, $2500, apparently not considering Mr Jaber a threat to society. Mr Jaber told the court: “No one wants to bond me out so it doesn’t matter.”

My analysis… is twofold.

First, they have their guns and their book and we have our guns and our Book. Fellow South Dakotans will remember (lousy-)Christian US Senate Candidate, now felon, Annette Bosworth holding up our Good Book and her Big Gun during her failed 2014 Senate campaign. There are differences for sure in how Mr Jaber decided to make his video in the parking lot of an event in the heat of anger, thus the terrorist threat charges. But I think we should look more closely at the similarities. I’m not all that convinced what he did is all that different from what a lot of flag/gun waving Christians do. This meme illustrates the point.

If the book the gal on the left is holding up says don’t kill the other person, why is she holding that gun? Here’s why? Because since Constantine, the Church has embraced a grave heresy to find justifications to do the very opposite of what Jesus taught. The gal on the left believes her book gives her justifications to kill the other JUST LIKE the gal on the right believes her book gives her justifications to kill the other.

Second, I think it is high time Christians start acting like Christians and that means we start acting like Christ. That means we figure out a way to love this enemy. Missionaries do it all the time… they reach out to those who are hostile to them and who have even tried to kill them. That’s when the Gospel is most powerful. That’s when we are most like Christ. As is this guy is sitting in jail thinking hundreds of local Christians at an event hate him. I hope that is not true. He needs to know Christians love Muslims even though they take issue with Islam.

If the charges stick, a judge can sort through appropriate consequences. That’s Romans 13. Our job is Romans 12 (vss. 17-21). This guy has no prior offences, is not connected to some radicalised jihad sleeper cell, and he didn’t kill anyone– though I agree he was dangerously close to snapping in the near the future. It is GOOD that law enforcement got involved when they did. In this case, and I’m only talking about this case, I’m suggesting there is a window of opportunity for us to be Christians, for once.

So how do we love on our local (alleged) terrorist? My suggestion is that we post his $2500 bond and I’ll put forth the first $250. He needs to know there are people who care about him and that they are they very people who he views as enemies. This gesture would send this guy a message in a way that sending him a Bible wouldn’t. It would send him am important message that so far we have failed to communicate to him and others like him.

If this isn’t as good a time as any to finally try out that whole love-our-enemies thing, I’m not sure there ever will be a perfect time and way to obey what Jesus told us to do every time we have opportunity. It seems we always find spiritual-sounding and common sense rationales to not obey Jesus in this regard. We need to quit being kinda-Christians and start being Christ-like. It’s easy to love those who love us back, Jesus noted even the pagans do that – what sets us apart is enemy love and until we get to that point, we are still pagan in our love.

Last night I tried to set up a account to collect donations but gofundme cancelled my account because such a legal plea for funds is a violation of their terms and conditions. I’ll have to figure out another way this afternoon. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: Still thinking about where people can send money to send this “message” to Mr. Jaber. Maybe I’ll ask the multicultural centre to put a donation jar in their office? Don’t send anything there yet.  But I really ONLY want these donations to come from people who are “friends of Jesus” and preferably Conservative Christians only – it needs to come from us. Mr Jaber needs to think about the fact that he was bailed out by friends of Jesus.

UPDATE 2 (4/26/2017) 12:34 CST: A pastor in Sioux Falls reports to me that Mr. Jaber is no longer in the jail. And, the editor of the Argus Leader just sent me a text to take down that picture of Mr Jaber that I lifted off their website. I said, sure.

Steve Hickey's Facebook profile


Visitors to this Blog