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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…

CZAR’S ASSASSINATION, 1881.
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.
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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.”

Resume…

“…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.

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Tolstoy (who loved America but never visited there) had this to say about American politics, American prosperity and America’s salt and light destiny in the world:

“Prosperity, prosperity! What a shameful plea that is, which you American platform-makers address the voters. They do not say, ‘we will give you an honest rightful government,’ but they say, ‘We’ll make you fat and sleek. If you vote for me, you will have a double chin!’ And no one rises to say, ‘What will your full dinner pails profit if while gorging your bellies you lose your immortal souls?’ The fall of America, when I see the deserted shrines of your forefathers, I think it will come more swiftly than came the fall of Rome… [Yet] I know the salt has not yet lost its saver. Listen: ‘We who know the truth, must first change the world in ourselves internally, before the world can be changed in others externally. If we know the truth of life, and do not live it, we are as a lighthouse set upon a hill in which the light has gone out. Forgive me if my judgments have been harsh, or have seemed so. Only remember that you live in a light-house set upon a hill, and that in the last few years, it has seemed to many watchers that the light which was once the light and hope of the world, whose rays penetrated into the uttermost parts of the world, was about to be overwhelmed by shadow. Pray that your Americans would see to that light, and keep it day and night. It is the flame that their fathers lit, and it has become the light of the world, as well as yours. It would be a dark world without it.”

– In “Tolstoy Prophesies the Fall of America” by Stephen Bonsol, New York Times, 7 July 1907.

In response to the above a friend said he wondered what Tolstoy might think of Putin. My reply was: The T-man said he hated three things in this world: Autocracy, Orthodoxy and Militarism which he deemed the three pillars of Russian government. He would NOT be a fan of Putin or the Donald. But then again he rejected all forms of earthly government and pioneered a version of what is considered today Christian Anarchy.

Abeyance. Sounds a bit like obedience but it means practically the opposite. More Christians abey the teachings of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount than obey them. Abeyance means a state of temporary suspension. It’s legal term for a temporary abeyance of a law or requirement.

Never would a Christian consider any sort of abeyance of Jesus’ teaching about lust or adultery. There is a never a situation where those are acceptable, even temporarily. However when it comes to not swearing to oaths, turning the other cheek, not-retaliating, not killing anyone… the compromised Church issues all sorts of abeyances.

Tolstoy puts it best:

Do the ministers of the Gospel believe the Sermon on the Mount, including the commandment of non-retaliation, to be of divine origin?… [do they] consider the Sermon on the Mount and the commandment of non-resistance obligatory upon a Christian…. Did Christ practically require his disciples to do that which he taught in the Sermon on the Mount…. May a Christian remain a Christian and still disobey the direct command of Christ; may he promise or conduct himself in a manner directly opposed to the doctrine of Christ, by entering into military service and putting himself in training to be a murderer?… How are we to reconcile those lessons of forgiveness, humility, patience, and love towards all mankind, our neighbours as well as our enemies, taught us by the Teacher, which dwell in the heart of each of us, with the necessities caused by military aggression against our own countrymen as well as against foreigners?  (36-37, The Kingdom of God is Within You)

The commandment against fornication they [clergy] acknowledge without reservation, and in no case will they ever admit that this sin is not evil. There are no circumstances mentioned by the clergy when the commandment against fornication may be broken, and they always insist that the occasions for this sin must be avoided. But in regard to non-resistance that is a very different matter. Every clergyman believes that there are circumstances wherein this commandment many be held in abeyance, and they preach accordingly…. Clergymen have never been known to advocate the breaking of any other commandment, but in regard to the doctrine of non-resistance, they distinctly teach that this prohibition must not be taken to literally, that so far from always obeying this commandment, one should on occasion follow the opposite course– that is, one should sit in judgment [on a jury], should go to war, and should execute criminals. (p 40-41, The Kingdom of God is Within You).

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When we go to war, in some sense we go without God, at least without his favour and blessing. How could he bless it, he loves our enemies too? Is it too utopian, this scary-silly Sermon on the Mount of that radical but woefully unrealistic Jesus, to suggest that our national leaders could one day decide that we want God more than we want war– that we want God more than we want revenge or victory– that we want God more than we want to punish and rid the world of evil– that we want divine protection not drones?

Here’s to the hope that one day when provoked our national leaders will declare that we want the favour of God, not war, and instead of revving up the war machine they call every person of faith and parish in the land to fight this one in the heavenlies asking God to settle it all in the earthlies. What might result if people of faith and parishes humbled themselves, repented and renounced their trust in horses and chariots? Is it not when we are weak that we discover his strength? When did we all become such Deists who disbelieve in a God who breaks in to intervene?

bennett

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.

 

jeffress_150613

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.

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.

 

 

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.

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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

The West doesn’t want to admit it but we find ourselves in the midst of a brutal holy war. As the sun comes up in Paris this morning the world is reeling from last night’s attack on Paris by the Islamic State. Media outlets are still unsure the exact body count. Muslim radicals are engaged in a full-on holy war against the West. The leaders of this holy war aren’t military generals, they are imams. What if the religious leaders of the West took the lead in responding?

UntitledThe President of France immediately announced France will respond mercilessly. Haven’t we learned since 9/11 this (a merciless response) isn’t working? We’ve mortgaged our future spending trillions on the sword. Selectively fiscal conservatives still think additional trillions in defence spending and ongoing war will make us safer and depopulate the world of bad guys. It has done the opposite. Maybe it’s time we push the leaders espousing those failed solutions aside. Where is the radical leadership of those who hold to the values of Jesus? Is it really nutso to say if they bomb our children we will only work harder to feed their refugees until they can be screened and relocated? There is a demonic spirit in radical Islam. You don’t disarm a demonic spirit with more bloodshed. That feeds it. You dislodge a demonic spirit by moving in the opposite spirit. My pushback here is fuelled by my concern that in Christian circles in America the same spirit of violence in radical Islam is also operating increasingly in us.

My weariness is in all the creative rationales Christians concoct to avoid the mandates of the Sermon on the Mount. For example, turn the other cheek only applies here or there but not every where?!? What is left is that we live none of it because we’ve wiggled out from under all of it. These are questions I raise in my Sermon on the Mount book: What does turn the other cheek mean to a Christian leader the morning after a 9/11? I’m not suggestion police officers or soldiers turn the other cheek. I’m saying what if our Presidents, Prime Ministers and Generals effectually and strategically did? If something is God’s strategy on a small scale, why will it not work on a larger scale? Where has it be tried? Is a bomb really the only thing in our arsenal? The more we kill them, the more they kill us. And who wins? They kill our children and we kill theirs. And Christian leaders essentially baptise all this with their silence and lack of leadership. Baloney that our role is to only comfort the grieving and pray blessing on our soldiers. 5646ddfcc36188e1198b4602

Time for some radical alternatives. We need some holy leaders for this holy war. Wouldn’t it be something if 100 Paris imams held a press conference with 100 Paris rabbis and Christian ministers and said – Stop, both sides, this isn’t the way forward and call for a total renouncement of violence from all sides? I’d like to see religious leaders take the helm from the national leaders and navigate our way out of these times. The time for peacemakers is now. A peacemaker is one who stands in the middle of conflict and sets both sides back. National leaders don’t have the tools or the anointing for peacemaking. That’s our job.

4905446128_ddb41c277cEvery bomb we drop has proven to be a seed that produces ten more people who hate us. Closing borders is step one. Slowing down the welcome of refugees is step two to vet them properly so radicals aren’t waltzing right in among them. A military response here is more of the same and produces more of the same. We need to use our values not our bombs. Certainly there is a Sermon on the Mount response that will effectually heap burning coals on the heads of our enemies

If you’ve never read Mark Twain’s short War Prayer I commend it to you today. If you think these ideas are worth considering, please forward the link to this post on to others. Maybe it’ll resonate and gain some traction.

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