James Byron Huggins Serves Up a Modern-Day Jack The Ripper Thriller: My Review of Maggie Magdalene

When a young nun is brutally murdered, an Assistant District Attorney (herself a former nun) teams up with a brilliant FBI agent and a crusty police detective to hunt down her killer. Their hunt for a modern-day Jack the Ripper turns into a race-against-time as the murders escalate, secrets long buried begin coming to the surface, and an innocent child is caught in the cross-fire.

James Byron Huggins’ thriller Maggie Magdalene is full of mystery, suspense, pulse-pounding action, and high stakes. Those stakes become all-too-real and painful for Maggie, the novel’s central character, requiring her to confront her deepest pain and worst fears. In the words of the book’s official Amazon description: “Maggie defiantly descends into the depths of a darkness that seems only one red mask after another until Maggie finally confronts the true face of Evil in a fight that will take her to the edge of her sanity and soul … and beyond.”

Of course, high-stakes, action-packed stories are James Byron Huggins’ bread-and-butter. And it’s why I usually enjoy his writing. I discovered James Byron Huggins many years ago while looking for a good novel to read at Reston Regional Library in Northern Virginia. The book I checked out that day was Leviathan — Huggins’ third published work. His first, Wolf Story, is an allegorical novel featuring wolves. His second, The Reckoning, is an action-packed thriller that fans of Dan Brown will probably enjoy. He’s written several since. Most of his novels fall under the Christian fiction genre, though not all. Hunter was secular and was later optioned for film rights. Nevertheless, most contain Christian themes with Christian (usually Catholic) characters. Of all Huggins’ works, my favorites thus far are Cain, Nightbringer, and Rora – the latter being among the best historical fiction titles I’ve ever read.

Maggie Magdalene is perhaps Huggins’ darkest novel. While all of his novels are full of action (and, sometimes, graphic action), this one takes things to a new level. The novel opens with the police investigating the grisly homicide of a young nun. The first sentence of the novel sets the tone: “He gazed over what was left of the nun.” If you’re squeamish, you won’t want to read any further than that. While I personally can handle some violence, even graphic violence, in a novel, the dark themes of this story were rather heavy. The dark and often gruesome tone of this book makes it my least favorite of Huggins’ thrillers.

The dark tone of the book isn’t its only problem. Maggie Magdalene contains several typographical and grammatical errors that sometimes distract from the story. It also is a little too predictable at times, with the Big Baddie being revealed (at least in my opinion) way too soon. The love story is a little too quick and the choices made by some of the characters seem, at times, a little contrived. The book frankly seems rushed. But…

Huggins is still a great writer. And, if you don’t mind some of those issues, Maggie Magdalene is an enjoyable read. If you’re a fan of crime thrillers, I suggest you give Maggie Magdalene a try.

What Pastors Wish Church Members Knew

October is Pastor Appreciation Month. Forgive the oddity or self-serving nature of a pastor writing a Pastor Appreciation Month article. But the truth is, I don’t think I would have been able to write this before becoming a pastor. My experience has made me sensitive to things that I wish I had known as a church member sitting under my previous pastors. And I hope current church members reading this will find some value in what I have to share.

I would also like to ask the indulgence of my blog readers who may not share my Christian faith. As my regular readers are aware, this blog is not a church or ministry blog. It is instead geared more toward my activities as a Christian writer, book reviewer, and (hopefully) soon-to-be novelist. Nevertheless, I periodically feel pulled to address matters of Christian beliefs and practice, including church life. This is one of those times.

In April 2010, The New York Times ran an article on pastor burnout. In the article, The Times noted: “Members of the clergy now suffer from obesity, hypertension and depression at rates higher than most Americans. In the last decade, their use of antidepressants has risen, while their life expectancy has fallen. Many would change jobs if they could.”

The New York Times article is not an anomaly. Search the web and you’ll find numerous, and often heartbreaking, stories of pastors whose families fell apart or who suffered nervous breakdowns, lost their jobs, attempted suicide, or burned out in any number of other ways due to the excessive demands placed upon them.

We’re living in the midst of what I believe is a spiritual and ecclesiastical epidemic — at least insofar as churches of a particular stripe are concerned. And what stripe is that? I refer to mainly Protestant and/or evangelical churches that range from 75 to 200 members and which follow the single-elder congregational governance model. Maybe they have a worship pastor and/or a youth pastor as well, but generally speaking, the lion’s share of the leadership, pastoral care, and teaching responsibilities fall on one pastor.

Depending on the needs and the respective situations of the congregational members, a single-elder, congregational governance model can work well for churches of fewer than 50-75 members. (Note that I use the terms “elder” and “pastor” more or less interchangeably).  If you have a high-energy “superman” type pastor, a single-elder or single-pastor system can work well for churches numbering around 100 members. But once you start crossing the 100 threshold, some unhealthy and stressful dynamics take hold. By the time the church crosses the 200 threshold (if it survives that long or grows to that size), the problems sometimes ease because more pastors are generally brought on board to help share the load. But with congregationally-governed churches ranging from 50 to 200 members, the burdens that can fall on a single elder (even if he is supported by a youth or worship pastor and/or deacons) can be, at times, overwhelming. And it creates an unhealthy environment for the pastor, his family, and for the congregation.

This isn’t to say that churches with different numbers don’t have problems. Many of the issues I will address apply to churches outside the scope I’ve described. If enough individual church members demand an unreasonable degree of attention, service, or “people-pleasing” from their pastors, then even a church with multiple elders will have a tough time. But most churches in America number fewer than 90 members and fall into the scope of what we’re dealing with, so it’s those single-pastor / single-elder churches that will be my primary focus here.

This article can’t presume to fully rectify the challenges with such a church (although church growth consultants are virtually unanimous that a church can’t grow beyond 150 or 200 members without a plurality of elders). But I do believe the situation can be helped and pastors can be spared a considerable amount of pain if congregants in these types of churches knew, understood, and remembered some very basic truths. This article is my humble attempt to put those truths on the table – truths I believe pastors wish church members knew:

Truth #1: Pastors are Human

Human beings are made in the image of God, but they are not God. Human beings have limitations, flaws, and needs. They must balance multiple demands on their time, grow, learn, manage their emotions, make choices, and navigate through difficulties and challenges in their lives. They are limited in what they can do, how well they can do the things they do, and will often fall short of their own standards – let alone the standards and expectations of others. They make mistakes, commit blunders, and hurt others (and themselves). When a church calls a pastor, a church is calling a human being. And no human being can do everything that each and every member of that church expects him to do and certainly not at the level that will meet every member’s need or satisfaction.

In single-elder churches, pastors are expected not only to prepare and deliver quality sermons and lessons (sometimes 2-3 each week), but also to lead/facilitate the various church ministries and activities, evangelize in the community, visit the sick and the shut-ins, sometimes visit all the member families, counsel those in need or crisis, mediate conflicts, officiate all (or at least most) funerals and weddings, be available when people (especially those who consider the pastor their friend) want to just talk or “catch up,” prepare for and preside over church business meetings (and many committee meetings), keep up with miscellaneous office or admin work, supervise the staff (if any), and more. In many cases, pastors are expected to be available on demand (at virtually any time, day or night) to any member who feels the need to talk to his or her pastor. (Cell phones have become more a curse than a blessing for many of the pastors I know). In some cases (thankfully not with either of the churches I’ve served), pastors are also expected to mow the lawn, do building maintenance, and various other things that have nothing to do with the pastoral call. In his excellent book The Disciple-Making Church, Bill Hull writes: “Many hurting, broken pastors have been driven out of the ministry by such unreasonable congregational demands.”

Not only are pastors expected to have consistently superhuman levels of energy and wisdom to fulfill all the preceding demands, they often must do so without making any mistakes. Many church members look upon pastoral mistakes and shortcomings in the same unforgiving manner that patients look at doctor-oriented mistakes or failures. With a hospital, a person’s health is on the line. With church, people have their spiritual health and their emotions on the line. It makes for a high-stress and often unforgiving environment for pastors.

Church members need to know that pastors are, like them, human. Like anyone else, we fall short of God’s glory. We deal with temptations and sometimes don’t resist that temptation like we should. We deal with worry, stress, and uncertainty. We have our own obligations and responsibilities. And we must learn and grow like anyone else. We are human. We need church members to remember that and frankly extend to us the grace and patience they would want extended to themselves.

Truth #2: Pastors Don’t Have All The Spiritual Gifts

In The Disciple-Making Church, Bill Hull sums up the collective complaint many churchgoers have of their pastor: “He doesn’t preach as well as Chuck Swindoll, counsel like James Dobson, care for others the way Mother Teresa does, manage like Peter Drucker, and motivate like Ronald Reagan.” In short, pastors are supposed to love well, pray well, preach well, teach well, lead well, counsel well, manage well, organize well, fellowship well, and live well.

Here’s a dose of reality: No pastor has all the gifts of the Spirit.

Here’s another: No pastor is talented in every area that the members of the church may want (or even need).

And here’s another: No pastor can perfectly connect with all the personality types as well as with people of every age group, socio-economic status, and background.

If you’re expecting the pastor to be able to teach, preach, counsel, lead, manage, supervise, mediate, evangelize, visit, smile, juggle, sing, dance, and Lord knows what else (and all at a high level) and to also click with every single church member to every member’s emotional satisfaction … you are setting your pastor up for nothing but anxiety, fear, frustration, and disaster.

You will never have a perfect pastor. At least not in this life. Only the CHIEF Shepherd is perfect. Until He returns, we must make do with flawed under shepherds. And guess what?

That’s okay, because ecclesiastical focus shouldn’t be on the pastors but on the churches themselves.

No human being has all the spiritual gifts. And that’s why ministry (including ecclesiastical ministry – that is, ministry within the church) was NEVER – repeat NEVER! – intended to rest on the shoulders of one person. This is why Paul talks so much about the parts of the body in his letter to the church in Corinth and why he says, in Ephesians, the pastor’s role is to “equip the saints for the work of the ministry.” It’s also incidentally why he talked about multiple elders (plural) being appointed in each church. The hope is that all the relevant and needed spiritual gifts (as well as God-given talents) will be evidenced WITHIN the congregation. Ministry is to be carried out by all the members of the church – by all the parts of the body. And leadership is to be entrusted to multiple elders, supported by multiple deacons. The biblical model is never dependence on one man.

Sadly, many churches don’t get this fundamental, Bible-based principle. They expect to outsource most (if not all) ministry to pastors and other paid staff. And many churches are resistant to when the pastor will try to expand the scope and reach of the local church by equipping others for ministry. “As the pastor struggles to give ministry away,” writes Hull, “a poorly trained congregation fallaciously sees his giving away important work as sheer pastoral laziness or complains that he gives away the ‘dirty work.'”

It all makes for a sad and bleak situation.

Truth #3: Pastors Have Limited Time and Energy

Giving voice to the cries he’s heard from many pastors, LifeWay CEO Thom Rainer writes: “Many people in our church have a priority about where I should be: meetings, dinners, church events, hospital visits, home visits, and many more. The problem is that everyone has a different priority. And sometimes church members forget that I have my own family. Please understand my limitations on being in so many places.”

There have been many days where I’ve sat back, considered all the requests, needs, and (sometimes) demands that I get from church members (and leaders) via calls, emails, texts, etc. And I go numb. There’s no conceivable way I can meet all those needs and requests — and still have time to attend to my other responsibilities as a pastor, let alone my responsibilities as a husband and father.

Hull concedes that “most congregations would deny they expect such performance.” That’s true, but as Hull notes, “If you tabulate corporate expectations, they spell impossible.” You may have reasonable expectations of your pastor, but what about the other members of the church? And even if all the members have reasonable expectations, do all those expectations, when added together, represent a reasonable sum? You may consider it highly reasonable, for example, that the pastor visit you while you’re in the hospital. But what if five other church members are in the hospital the same week? And what if, at the same time, a marriage in the church is breaking up? And a conflict has erupted between two church families? And what if all that is happening while the pastor is getting little sleep and is fighting a cold? And let’s not even talk about what might be happening in the pastor’s own family.

Why is it we assume or expect the pastor should visit everyone who has a need whenever they have one? According to the Bible, the congregation (not the pastor) is to “bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6). No apostle taught that pastors are to carry and try to meet the burdens of the entire flock. And yet churches across America expect this. And both they and their pastors are paying the price via burnout, frustration, acrimony, and (in the end) unmet needs.

In my own case, I’ve neglected family, friends, and neighbors. I hardly know most of my neighbors and those I do know sometimes only get a brief hello or greeting. I’ve lost complete touch with some family and friends. Why? Because the church I serve takes most of my time and (most weeks) drains virtually all of my energy. And it’s not just me. I know of many pastors who face the same reality week after week. And they and their families – and their friends – suffer for it.

Don’t get me wrong. I serve an amazing congregation full of wonderful people. And the church I served previously was likewise a wonderful congregation. I love the people God has privileged me to serve. I understand that people come to church with needs and often with brokenness. And I count myself honored to be a part of their lives. My appeal isn’t to push people away from me (or from any pastor), but that they simply understand the limitations of myself as well as my colleagues in ministry. And that they reevaluate, in prayer and according to the Scriptures, what it is they should expect from the local church and from the local pastor.

Truth #4: Pastors Have Needs

Since pastors are human beings, they have the same needs as other human beings: water, food, shelter, love, relationships, encouragement, and so forth. In the case of pastors, however, they often find themselves in giving mode so much that they rarely have a chance or opportunity to receive. Pastors often feel guilty, in fact, when they take time to rest, enjoy their families, indulge in a hobby, travel, or do something fun.

Recently, a church member who felt neglected complained that I was too much on social media. In his mind, I should use that social media time to attend to his needs and other needs in the church. When I encountered this complaint, I asked (in my mind): “How much of my time each week is the church entitled to?” That may seem selfish, and perhaps it is. But, in a “normal” job, an employee is expected to give 40 hours a week to the employer. In high-demand jobs, sometimes more. But, even then, as a general rule, it’s understood that employees need some down time, some time to themselves. Taking a couple hours each week on social media (often while I’m sitting next to my wife at home) is part of that down time. And yet, from this member’s perspective, I shouldn’t have such down time – not while his perceived needs are unmet.

The reality is that pastors need time to relax. They need time for hobbies. For many pastors, it’s golf, tennis, or hiking. For others (like me), it’s reading or writing fiction. For others, it’s playing games or painting or watching movies or going to ball games, etc. For some, it’s all of the above. Guess what? When done in moderation, these hobbies are healthy. Don’t begrudge your pastor that time.

Pastors also need time for exercise. For walks. Numerous pastors have health and weight issues. Why? Because they have to eat on the run and rarely have time to work out.

Pastors also need time for friends. Numerous surveys attest to the fact that pastors feel incredibly lonely. They spend most of their time serving the members of their congregation, and have very little time for friendships outside the church. And yet (for obvious reasons) they can’t fully confide in or let their guard down completely with anyone in the church they serve. And they have to guard against showing favoritism. Pastoring can be lonely.

Bottom line….pastors need down time. Time for themselves. Time to refresh. Time for friends (outside the church). And churches need to give them that time.

Pastors also need money. It’s not “greed” for this to be said. It’s factual. And it’s scriptural. Financially supporting your pastor is a responsibility that you, as a Christian, should embrace, especially if your pastor is doing a good job. Paul wrote Timothy that the elders (or pastors) “who rule well [should] be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine. For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain,’ and ‘The laborer is worthy of his wages.'” (I Timothy 5:17-18, NKJV)

In some cases (dare I say in most cases), the financial needs of a pastor’s family often exceed what a church is able or willing to give. In most cases, this isn’t due to a pastor’s wasteful living or any kind of greedy spirit, but rather to legitimate family needs (health care, retirement, college tuition for kids, paying down debt, car repairs, etc.) often in high cost-of-living areas. If the church is unable to meet these needs, that church should pray for God to bless them with the capacity to do so, while giving the pastor permission to make extra money on the side through a home-based business, a part-time job, writing, or some other means. The Apostle Paul, as you recall, helped support himself in such cases by making tents. If the church is able to meet the pastor’s needs and compensate him at a level commensurate with his education, skill, and the area’s cost-of-living, but is simply unwilling to do so, then such a church needs to repent of its sin.

Finally, pastors need time with their families. Do you wonder why “pastor kids” (PKs) have such a bad reputation? It’s because churches often don’t give their pastors sufficient time to raise their own children. Wonder why clergy have such a high divorce rate? It’s because congregations take time and energy from pastors that they (the pastors) could otherwise give their marriages. You can’t expect your pastors to have model families if you don’t let them have time with their families.

Truth #5: Pastors Are a Poor Substitute For The Holy Spirit

Recently, I read the social media post of a woman who angrily pulled her pastor into his office and berated him for not paying her more attention after the death of her father. Still seething with anger, she excoriated her pastor saying that “he should’ve known the pain I was dealing with.” She didn’t provide enough details of the situation for me to know to what degree the pastor was at fault. Perhaps he did completely neglect her. Or perhaps he got swept up in other matters. Or perhaps he did try to help her, but the pain she was dealing with exceeded the help he was able to give. Whatever the details, one thing stood out: To paraphrase an old country song, she was looking for comfort in all the wrong places.

Even taking this at a human level, very few pastors are trained psychologists or therapists. Most pastors are neither trained, nor wired, to give the kind of emotional, therapeutic support that many people need today, especially given the multiple kinds of situations that people face today. Society overall is broken. The family is in disarray. People are suffering from emotional and mental health crises like never before. The needs confronting pastors now are far greater than what pastors faced 50 years ago. Most pastors are simply not able to keep up. And, while some churches are fortunate to supplement their ministries with lay counselors or even trained professionals to help. Still, the emotional and spiritual needs of the people in any church often exceed the ability of the church (and its pastor or pastors) to meet such needs.

And guess what?

It’s always been that way. It’s certainly become worse and more noticeable in recent years. At least in America. But it’s always been that way. Why? Because the church isn’t intended to meet your needs. Neither is the pastor.

No one in the church, including the pastor, can be available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for any member who has an emotional crisis or heavy spiritual need. No one can mend every broken heart, comfort everyone dealing with grief, address every mental health challenge, or help steer every family or individual through whatever trouble they are in. No one. Not the pastor. Not the deacons. Not your Bible study leader or Sunday school teacher. No one. And yet…

The needs are there.

We need spiritual comfort. And some need that comfort desperately.

And to meet those needs, Jesus didn’t leave pastors. (He left them for a different purpose). Instead, Jesus left us the Comforter. He left us a Comforter who is All-Powerful, All-Knowing, and Everywhere Present. He left us a Comforter who has Limitless Energy and is Always Available. That Comforter is the Holy Spirit. We get into trouble when we look to people (pastors, deacons, anyone) for the kind of comfort that only the Holy Spirit is intended and able to provide.

In saying all this…I’m fully aware that there are some bad pastors out there. Some are corrupt. Some are lazy. Some are abusive. Many pastors have hurt a lot of people. But while all pastors are sinners (and some are notoriously so), most pastors try to do the best they can with the calling God has placed on them. So long as they are being held appropriately accountable to the biblical standards of an elder, they deserve the benefit of the doubt. And they deserve you giving them all the support and help you can so they can give you their very best.

Let me also say once again that I love the people of the church I currently serve, as well as the church I previously served. I don’t want anyone to perceive this post as “sour grapes” or an expression of anger. If this comes off as simply complaining or as fault-finding, please forgive me. Know that I love being a pastor and, like I said, I love the people I’ve tried to serve, and am currently striving to serve. Don’t interpret this post as any kind of attack. It’s simply me sharing from my heart what I hope church members will realize and understand about their pastors.

Let me also say to all the lead pastors and associate pastors who have served the churches I’ve attended over the years and who often poured into my life and that of my family: Thank you. I appreciate you very much. I love you and am forever grateful. I’m sorry I took you for granted. I don’t now. I appreciate you all and thank you with all my heart.

This Pastor Appreciation Month, let’s all see our pastors the way God wants us to see our pastors. Let’s treat our pastors as Paul encourages in his letter to the church in Thessalonica when he writes: “And we urge you, brethren, to recognize those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. Be at peace among yourselves.” (I Thessalonians 5:12-13).

May that be the commitment of all church members everywhere toward their pastors.

 

What is Wrong With ‘Thoughts and Prayers’ in the Aftermath of the Mass Shooting in Las Vegas?

There was a time in America — not that long ago — when anyone (and I do mean anyone) would at least appreciate hearing that he or she was in the “thoughts and prayers” of another person or group of people. Even if the person in question didn’t believe in God, that person would respond to such sentiments with a nod or a polite thank-you. There was a time when it was altogether appropriate, even expected, that political leaders would express their “thoughts and prayers” to hurting people. Apparently, that time has passed. The aftermath of the horrific mass shooting in Las Vegas, Nevada has seen our country become even more polarized. And religious sentiment, no matter how thoughtful or sincere, has become provocative and antagonistic in our increasingly divided culture.

Following the mass shooting in Las Vegas, social media exploded with a torrent of expletive-laden dismissals of anyone expressing thoughts and prayers for the victims and their families – no matter how sincere. Some went out of their way to be as partisan and/or as inflammatory as possible. A few examples…

  • Chris Sacca, a former venture capitalist and periodic Shark Tank guest, tweeted: “Dear Republicans in Congress, F*** your thoughts and prayers. Sincerely, Americans Sick of Gun Deaths.” (The censorship of the F-word is mine, not his).
  • Wisconsin Democratic Party official Khary Peneabaker tweeted: “Politicians will learn of this horrific mass shooting and offer their empty #ThoughtsAndPrayers, which they use as a way to avoid action.”
  • A self-described “Democratic strategist” who goes by the Twitter handle @ProgressOfAKind tweeted: “F*** your #thoughtsandprayers. Seriously. There is no more insincere meaningless comment in American history. It’s a disgusting cliche.” (Again, the censorship is mine).
  • One cartoon that is being widely circulated has a girl asking: “Why didn’t God stop the shooting?” A boy answers: “Because God doesn’t exist. Engage with reality and fix your f****** gun laws.” (Again, censorship mine).

That is just a tiny sampling. Others, while not quite as incendiary, were nevertheless highly critical of anyone who dared to express thoughts and prayers. Indeed, as I write this blog post, the hashtag #ThoughtsandPrayersAreNotEnough is widely trending.

Let’s agree that an insincere expression is always empty – even if it’s dressed up in religious language. In the course of my life, I’ve had many people tell me they were thinking of me or praying for me. In some cases, I could tell the words were quite sincere. In others, not so much. But, in every case, I extended the benefit of the doubt and thanked the person nonetheless. Anyone with a modicum of decency and civility should do the same. Nevertheless, let’s agree that, if and when we express to someone else that we’re thinking of them and praying for them, let’s be certain we’re authentic in that and that we actually follow through on it.

Let’s also agree that people who are hurting need more than just our thoughts. (More on prayer in a moment). If a patient is wheeled into the emergency room, that patient is going to need more than the “thoughts” of the nurses and doctors present. I get that. I think we all get that. But…we have to make a distinction between the individual and society as a collective. As an individual, I can’t help all patients in all emergency rooms throughout the world. I can’t even, as an individual, help all the patients in the emergency rooms in all the hospitals within driving distance from me. I don’t have the time, energy, training, or capacity to do so. But, certainly, our society (collectively-speaking) must do more for patients in need of health care that simply think about them. The same is true for Las Vegas.

As a society, we should do more for the victims and families of the Las Vegas shooting than simply think about them. But, not every individual in the world is able to do something tangible for those affected. Some can. Many can’t. Most can’t. How exactly, for example, is a single mother in Paris, France supposed to help the families of those killed in Las Vegas? What about a lady I know who is hospitalized currently in Baltimore? What can she do for the victims and their families? What about the teenager in Boise, Idaho or the first grader in Biloxi, Mississippi? Not every individual can help. In many cases, they ONLY thing some individuals CAN do is… you guessed it… express their sorrow and pray. That’s it. That’s all many people can do.

Can some people do more? Absolutely. And King Solomon’s wisdom is the key. For it was the great Israelite king who once wrote: “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in the power of your hand to do so.” (Proverbs 3:27). Each person, when confronted with a neighbor or fellow citizen in need, should consider the type of help a person in need requires and whether he or she is able to offer such assistance. If you see a person in need, and that person is worthy of assistance, and you are able to give such assistance, then you are morally obligated to do so. If you don’t, then your “thoughts and prayers” are empty. But if you’re NOT able to give such assistance, then expressing your thoughts to that person and praying for them may be all you can do. And you shouldn’t feel guilty about that, and you shouldn’t let anyone else make you feel guilty about it.

What’s more, many of the people expressing thoughts and prayers for the Las Vegas victims and their families, as well as those affected by the recent hurricanes, are doing more. Churches are responding in Las Vegas with counseling, hospital visits, bringing meals to families in need, and much more. Many people are lining up in record numbers to donate blood. Money is being donated. Don’t assume that people who express thoughts and prayers are only thinking and praying.

Speaking of prayer… If you’re an atheist or an agnostic, I understand that you’re liable to consider prayer meaningless. That’s your right. But it’s not asking a lot for you to be polite to those with whom you disagree. If God isn’t real, then it doesn’t hurt you to have someone pray for you – or to have someone pray for others – or for someone to encourage people to pray for one another. None of that hurts you. That is, forgive me, unless you’re a hyper-sensitive “snowflake” who can’t handle hearing or seeing ideas or concepts with which you disagree. If you’re in that camp, there’s nothing I can say to change your mind. Humanly speaking, you are a hopeless case. Only prayer can help you. But…if you have at least a slightly open mind and/or a small scrap of decency, then let people practice their faith in peace. Let them pray and go about your business. It doesn’t hurt you. In fact, it helps. That’s right. It helps. When people pray for one another, it actually reinforces positive thoughts and goodwill in our society. And we need more, not less, of that.

Of course, I believe in the power of prayer. I believe in God. And I believe in prayer. And I believe our nation needs prayer now more than ever. If you disagree, that is your right. But let us disagree in peace. As for me, I will keep praying…in the good times and the bad, but especially in the bad. I like what Max Lucado once wrote: “Our prayers may be awkward. Our attempts may be feeble. But since the power of prayer is in the one who hears it and not in the one who says it, our prayers do make a difference.

I also think of the words of Abraham Lincoln, a man who knew a thing or two about suffering and hardship. Lincoln said: “I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had no where else to go. My own wisdom and that of all about me seemed insufficient for that day.”

Yes, we as a society should not stop at thoughts and prayers. We should look at the mass shooting in Las Vegas and see what can be done to prevent such tragedies in the future. Yes, as individuals, we can write our elected leaders and challenge them, pressure them, to do something. Yes, yes, yes.

Like many Americans, I’m all for putting our gun laws on the table to see what changes can be made to help prevent such mass shootings in the future. That should include looking at how our existing gun laws can be better enforced. But I’m not going to get “tunnel vision” and look ONLY at gun laws. Let’s also look at the overall mental health situation in our country, and let’s see if some changes in our mental health laws and practices might help prevent such tragedies. Let’s also look at the condition of the American family. We now know that the perpetrator’s father had a fairly interesting track record on the wrong side of the law. Don’t you think that had something to do with this? And, while we’re at it, let’s look at the overall moral condition of our society. What has happened in America over the last few decades that has made acts of evil like this more common? And what can we do about it?

Let’s put it ALL on the table!

But, as we’re putting those issues on the table, let’s also be in thought and prayer for the people affected — and for our country. It’s not one or the other. It’s BOTH.

No one should toss out a “thoughts and prayers” sentiment with the intention of ducking his or her responsibilities as a citizen or as a neighbor. But, at the same time, no one should make the assumption that other people, when they express such sentiments, are doing that. You do not know the thoughts of other people. Don’t assume sinister motives on another person’s part just because you might disagree with that person on some issues. When you do that, you’re frankly part of the problem in America. Not part of the solution.

Our society will be a much better place if and when we, by default, ascribe positive intentions to others and give each other the benefit of the doubt. It’s clear from the aftermath of this tragedy that we have a long way to go to get there. But I hope those reading this will agree it’s worth it for us to make the journey.

Become a Knight in Medieval Times and Fight With King Arthur: My Review of Galen Wolf’s Camelot Overthrown

If you’ve ever pictured yourself as a knight in King Arthur’s Camelot, Galen Wolf’s latest LitRPG novel may be just for you. LitRPG novels are of course all about following a character or set of characters as they progress through a virtual reality game setting. In Camelot Overthrown, Wolf turns his attention to knights and chivalry and churns out a virtual reality manifestation of medieval England. The prolific LitRPG author invites his readers to follow a young Level 1 up-and-comer named Gorrow on his quest to wealth and glory.

All is not well, however. Gorrow must climb from poverty to wealth and from obscurity to fame in the midst of a war-torn world. The forces of evil (and they are thoroughly evil – more on this in a moment) are sweeping across the land and closing in on Camelot, the kingdom’s main bastion of freedom and hope. Wolf’s game world allows players to join King Arthur and fight against evil — or align with evil and seek to overthrow Arthur’s fabled Camelot. Gorrow and his friends choose the former, and readers are treated to the delight of meeting (and fighting alongside) the legends of Camelot, including Sir Gawain, Sir Lancelot, and Arthur himself.

Wolf isn’t afraid to play up cliches. The baddie of all baddies in this novel is named… wait for it… Satanus. Wolf actually incorporates quite a few Christian concepts into his novel, making them part of the game. Not only can a character drink a health potion to heal (a common trope in role-playing games and LitRPG novels), he or she can also pray. That’s right, prayer is an in-game action with mathematical advantages to one’s health stats. Reducing Christian concepts to cliches and game mechanics doesn’t altogether sit well with me (seeing as how I, as a Bible-believing evangelical, take Christianity very seriously). Nevertheless, Wolf avoids showing any outright disrespect to or hostility toward Christianity. In fact, the “Christians” in Camelot Overthrown (albeit as defined in-game) are quite clearly the good guys. This is somewhat refreshing compared with other literature out there.

As a history buff, I love Wolf’s combination of Arthurian mythology, knights-and-armor warfare, crafting and empire-building. Rather than focus on just one path of character development, Galen’s protagonist chooses to become both warrior and blacksmith. He becomes a squire and (minor spoiler) a knight while also building up a small village and mini-trade empire.

And as for the setting, what fan of history doesn’t appreciate a good King Arthur story? And the LitRPG angle allows the reader to fully immerse himself or herself into Arthur’s world. The scene where (spoiler warning) Gorrow sits at the Round Table was particularly cool. I couldn’t help but crack a smile.

Unlike most other LitRPG novels I’ve read, Wolf spends hardly anytime in the “real” world. He doesn’t try to contrive any real-world stakes for the virtual reality game. He all but ignores the real world, and just immerses you in the game itself. And hopes you’ll care enough about the game and the game players, on their own in-game merits.

The story is very simple, but enjoyable. At a few points, I thought Wolf would develop his characters a little more fully or introduce some side plots, but he leaves those teasers and plot threads dangling (at least for now) and keeps things focused on Gorrow’s advancement. Some readers may prefer a more sophisticated and nuanced story, but Camelot Overthrown is somewhat refreshing in its simplicity. It’s an easy read. And, sometimes, that’s all you need.

Camelot Overthrown is in serious need of more editing. There are lots of spelling errors, grammar issues, and formatting issues throughout. More editorial polish would also be appreciated. Given the number of books Wolf has turned out this year, it seems he may be going for quantity more than quality — at least in terms of editing. Still, the story itself is just fine. Simple. Not elegant by any means. But enjoyable all the same. Camelot Overthrown won’t win any literary awards, but it entertains the reader. And, in that, it succeeds in his purpose.

If you enjoy the LitRPG genre or appreciate the legends of King Arthur, I encourage you to give Camelot Overthrown a try.

Should NFL Players Stand For The National Anthem? That’s Not The Most Important Question

It’s sad – make that tragic – that our National Anthem has become a symbol of division and a platform for polarization. At least in professional sports (especially in the NFL) how players conduct themselves during the National Anthem is now seen as indicative of where they stand (no pun intended) on civil rights, race relations, police accountability, or Donald Trump. What has happened to us, America? 

Make no mistake. The most important question isn’t whether NFL players (or players from any sport) should stand for the National Anthem. For the record, I oppose any legal coercion to compel them to do so. The most important question is:

What has happened to us as a country?

Read this carefully: I 100% support civil rights, racial equality, and government accountability. And I consider the presidency irrelevant to the National Anthem. The United States is not a perfect country. Never has been and never will be. But I refuse to believe that I must take a knee during the National Anthem or disrespect the flag of my nation in order to show my commitment to righting wrongs in this country. That many would disagree with me shows how confused and upside-down we’ve allowed our politics, and our culture, to become.

The National Anthem, I remind you, is a song based on a poem “The Star-Spangled Banner,” written when our nation was under attack and on the verge of collapse. Had Fort McHenry fallen, it would’ve basically been curtains for the young United States. Francis Scott Key knew this, which is why he was moved to pay written tribute to the fact that, when the smoke cleared, “our flag was still there.” Key’s poem was written and later put to music in the spirit of patriotism, gratitude, and unity. Virtues we sorely need today.

And our flag, while always flying over a flawed nation full of sinners, nevertheless represents ideals and principles to which each generation of Americans are called to aspire. The truly great social reformers and civil rights champions in American history have always understood this. In his “I Have a Dream” speech, for instance, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. didn’t call on Americans to toss out the founding principles of our nation. Rather, he called on the nation to “live out” those principles.

None of this is to suggest we take away anyone’s First Amendment rights. Forcing someone to show respect for the flag or the National Anthem is neither right nor desirable. Nor am I endorsing an extremist view of nationalism that would claim America can do no wrong. Of course, America can do wrong. In the United States, there will always be wrongs needing to be made right. Unfortunately, I’ve seen many people go to the other extreme as well. That extreme being that America has done no right. That extreme is just as dangerous and equally indefensible.

What’s more, I would never suggest that Americans should sweep wrongs under the carpet. It isn’t enough that people respect the flag. We must work for equal justice under the law while we, at the same time, honor our flag. It isn’t one or the other. It’s doing both at the same time.

Some will of course defend National Anthem protests, saying that Americans would never pay as much attention to the protesters’ grievances otherwise. This claim is highly debatable, since one could argue that outrage over a mode of protest isn’t necessarily the attention protesters should seek. But, laying that aside, I simply want to ask: Where does this line of reasoning end? Is anything ‘sacred’ anymore? Or must we continually chase after the most controversial, the most offensive, and the most divisive way possible to express our frustrations over particular injustices? I would like all my friends to carefully consider that question. Once you power up the Outrage Machine, when does it stop? Where does it end?

Showing respect to the flag doesn’t equate with approval of the government or everything your fellow Americans do, say, or believe. It means that you’re “all in” as an American. Not as a Republican, Democrat, Independent, Tea Partier, etc. And not as black, white, male, female, whatever, but as an American.

Not that the American flag is meant to erase our differences or invalidate our individual perspectives. On the contrary, it’s meant to say that, in spite of our differences, we still have SOMETHING in common. And the thing we have in common should be more than TV sets in our homes or a McDonald’s down the street from where we live. Common experiences do not, in and of themselves, unite a country. Common commitments do.

Respecting the flag doesn’t mean you agree with everything taking place UNDER the flag, but it means you are committed to keep the flag flying. It means you are grateful for living in the United States and are “all in” as a citizen of the United States.

If you don’t like what’s happening in America, work to change it. That’s what makes America great. It’s bigger than one person. Bigger than one President. It’s bigger than you or me, but yet, it needs you and me in order to work. And it is frankly something of a cop-out to believe that defying or disrespecting our flag will make America work better. It represents no constructive action on your part, but is more akin to the finger-pointing, “someone needs to do something about that” mindset that permeates too much of society today. That wrongs need to be righted should be seen as a call to action for us, not a reason to walk away from our civic responsibilities. Don’t take a knee on your duty as a citizen of the United States.

Rather than step up to address injustice, too many Americans today would rather kneel down in anger or defiance. Were they kneeling in prayer, that would be one thing, but that’s not the case. The sad truth is that too many Americans have given up on their country and/or find themselves feeling more estranged from it than caring about or for it. And it’s in this sad context that we are witnessing the division and polarization of our country today.

I’m reminded of the lines from the famous poem by Sir Walter Scott: “Breathes there a man, with soul do dread, who never to himself hath said, This is my own, my native land.” Apparently for many Americans today, the tragic answer is yes.

And it breaks my heart.

September 19, 2017 Bookshelf: What I’m Reading and Listening to at the Moment

The late Dr. Seuss once said: “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” Like the legendary author of such iconic children’s classics as The Cat in The Hat and Green Eggs and Ham, I love to read. Of course, I’ve moved on from Hop on Pop. Sadly, I’ve met many who haven’t advanced that much further. Many Americans haven’t read a book cover-to-cover since their school days. It’s sad, and it explains a lot of the problems we’re facing in our society today.

Unlike some book aficionados, I don’t insist – with my nose in the air – that you read only the most sophisticated literature. If you’re not into highbrow literature, that’s okay. Start somewhere. Experiment. Read widely. In time, you’ll discover your tastes and preferences. But, whatever you do, read.

Don’t have time? Nonsense. I will hold up my busy schedule against just about anyone else. My work week can, at times, be extremely demanding. But you’d be amazed at how much progress you can make in your reading by just investing 30-60 minutes each day, with maybe a little bit more on the weekend (unless you’re like me, and your busiest work days are on the weekend).

Personally, I will actively read or listen to several books at a time. I can read whichever one I’m in the mood for. And when I get bored with one, I can switch to another. Unfortunately, over the years, I developed a habit of not finishing books. I’m now forcing myself to finish what I start — unless the book is terrible. So, while I’m reading and listening to several books at the same time, I will finish all of them. Thus far, I’ve completed 49 full-length books this year. You can track my progress on Goodreads. But, in saying that, I’m nowhere near the impressive totals of some of my friends and colleagues – many of whom read hundreds of books each year.

Here are the books I’m actively reading or listening to — the books currently on my “bookshelf”:

BOOKS TO WHICH I’M LISTENING

  • Church History in Plain Language (4th ed) by Bruce L. Shelley
  • Killing England: The Brutal Struggle for American Independence by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard

BOOKS I’M READING

  • The Art of War by Sun Tzu
  • The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield
  • The End Times in Chronological Order: A Complete Overview to Understanding Bible Prophecy by Ron Rhodes
  • Heaven by Randy Alcorn
  • Atheism: The Case Against God by George H. Smith  (**yes, I read widely**)
  • America: Imagine a World Without Her by Dinesh D’Souza
  • Hangman’s Curse: Veritas Project by Frank Peretti
  • Noah Primeval by Brian Godawa
  • Writing Vivid Settings: Professional Techniques For Fiction Authors by Rayne Hall

If you look at my Goodreads profile, you may see additional books. That can sometimes be misleading, because it will sometimes register that I’m reading a book even if I only open it to look up a fact or two – or to check whether it’s worth my time to read.

There are also several reference books that are always on my shelf, though I have no plans to read them cover-to-cover (at least not anytime soon) given their length. But I have read significant chunks of them already. These include (but are not limited to):

  • Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem
  • Theology for Today by Elmer Towns
  • Bible Answers For Almost All Your Questions by Elmer Towns
  • KJV Bible Commentary by Dr. Ed Hindson
  • The Big Book of Bible Difficulties by Norman L. Geisler and Thomas Howe
  • Hard Sayings of The Bible by Walter C. Kaiser, Jr.; Peter H. Davids; F.F. Bruce; and Manfred Brauch
  • Roget’s Thesaurus of Words For Writers by David Olsen, Michelle Bevilacqua, Justin Cord Hayes, and Robert Bly
  • and more

And, of course, the above reading does not include my regular Bible reading. Let me be the first to say that the Bible is the most important book anyone should read – at least in my judgment. It’s certainly the most important book on my shelf.

I hope this has been an encouragement to you to focus more on your reading habits. Keep reading. Even if you only manage a page or two per day, you’re making progress. Before you know it, you’ll be a reading machine!

God bless you.

A Devoted Husband Struggles to Save His Wife via a Dark Virtual Reality Game: My Review of Stan Faryna’s Dystopian Novella ‘Francesco Augustine Bernadone’

Stan Faryna’s Francesco Augustine Bernadone: A Brief History of Our Tomorrows centers on an 80-year old Italian named Francesco as he desperately seeks to finance his wife’s cancer treatments, battles multiple sclerosis himself, and struggles to hold onto any work he can. All in a bleak world devoid of much happiness and hope. Francesco’s selfless devotion to his ailing wife, Clare, is about the only bright spot in the dark dystopian story world painted by the author.

Francesco Augustine Bernadone is the first of a planned series of novellas set several years into an imagined future where the Dollar and Euro have collapsed, and western society has plunged into a gritty existence of unemployment, poverty, struggle, and despondency. To escape this grim reality, people are buying their way into a virtual reality game called Jacob’s Ladder. The massively multiplayer role-playing game (MMORPG) is, in many ways, even darker than the real world itself. Yet, for those few who can survive for any length of time, Jacob’s Ladder promises possible windfalls of cash that can help better their condition in the real world. When Francesco is laid off from the last of his three part-time jobs, he is a man with few prospects. He decides to give Jacob’s Ladder a try.

Faryna does a great job creating a highly immersive story world and drawing the reader into it. And then…before you know it, you’re plugged into an online, virtual game world as well. Both worlds – the dystopian world in which the characters live and breathe as well as the MMO game world – are convincingly described.

The novella is difficult to classify as it crosses genre lines. Broadly speaking, it’s certainly within the science fiction umbrella, but there are elements of horror, fantasy, LitRPG, and spirituality as well. The breadth of the novella, however, reflects the diverse background of its author. Stan Faryna is an author, blogger, gamer, successful entrepreneur, technology expert, and an online strategist. He’s done business extensively both in the United States as well as Europe. He studied philosophy in college before drifting into the IT arena and entrepreneurship. He counts gardening as among his hobbies, and is strong in his Christian faith.

The story jumps around a bit. It doesn’t actually begin with Francesco, but with a woman named Penny and then her son Roberto. Just as you get attached to one character, especially at the beginning, it jumps you to another. He also plays with chronology a bit (as many authors do), but this (combined with the character-jumping) can make things a little confusing at times.

The characters are, however, well developed – especially Francesco. Faryna’s world-building is quite good. The settings are compelling. The game world is believable. And he does a great job setting up contrasts and ironies within the story as well as dropping in symbols and what some call “Easter eggs” to make readers think. And…Faryna encourages the reader to confront some worthy questions, like how much one should compromise or sacrifice for a noble end.

The story is darker than what I normally like, but I still give it high marks due to the quality of the writing and the importance of the themes that Faryna causes the reader to confront. For these reasons, if you’re an adult (or at least a mature teenager) and can handle some darker elements in your reading, I recommend you give Francesco Augustine Bernadone a try.

George Washington and Robert E Lee are not the Same

In a combative and frankly somewhat jaw-droppingly disjointed August 15 press conference, President Donald Trump expressed dismay at the removal of the statue to Confederate General Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, Virginia (that planned removal being the flashpoint of the violent protests which erupted this past weekend) and in doing so, seemed to compare General Lee to George Washington.

“So, this week it’s Robert E. Lee,” said the President. “I noticed that Stonewall Jackson is coming down. I wonder is it George Washington next week and is it Thomas Jefferson the week after?”

Let’s agree that there are many in this country who, like President Trump, would make little to no distinction between Confederate generals and slave-owning Founding Fathers. These activists would like to see statues and memorials to any and all slave owners (Confederate or loyal American) removed, and they would like to see any schools, towns, cities, or states likewise renamed. This includes Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, George Mason, and so on. President Trump is correct on this point, but…

He is wrong to encourage such linking or association. And he’s wrong to suggest an all-or-nothing approach to statues and memorials.

**For the rest of this article, please visit “George Washington and Robert E Lee Are Not The Same” over at my American Revolution & Founding Era blog**

God is Not Racist: White Supremacy is Satanic

Three people died and over 30 were injured on Saturday, August 12, 2017 when a white nationalist demonstration in Charlottesville, Virginia turned violent. The rally, dubbed “Unite the Right” by its organizers, came together amid plans by the city of Charlottesville to remove a prominent statue to Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Many of the white protesters brandished weapons, chanted “Blood and Soil” (a Nazi slogan), waved Nazi flags as well as Confederate battle flags, and shouted racist and homophobic obscenities. Predictably (and appropriately), the white nationalist rally drew counter-demonstrators. And when the groups clashed, things became bloody and ultimately deadly.

My family and I were traveling back from vacation when all this was happening, so we were catching bits and pieces on our smartphones. And, like many of you, my emotions went on a bit of a roller coaster. I’m still processing it.

I am frankly shocked that so many “Americans” came together in one place openly embracing white supremacy – and some even Nazism. The images of torch-bearing protesters chanting “Blood and Soil” and some carrying Nazi flags is chilling. And it’s horrifying to consider this happened on American soil – in 2017!

President Trump publicly condemned the violence and “bigotry” on display in Charlottesville, but did so in broad equivocating language that laid the blame “on many sides.” (8/14/07 Update: He has since issued a follow-up statement: “Racism is evil — and those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans”). Others on social media have defended the white nationalist marchers – or have at least expressed a degree of sympathy for them. This is all mind-boggling and absolutely shocking to me. How hard is it, in 2017, to specifically and pointedly condemn Nazism and white supremacy?

Let’s be clear on this point…

White supremacy and Nazism are evil.

I agree with Russell Moore, the head of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), the Washington, DC arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, when he termed what the white nationalists marched for as “satanic.” I also agreed with him when he lamented on Twitter: “I am grieved to the core to think that this is the United States of America that I’m watching on live television right now.” 

To their credit, most Christian leaders have echoed similar condemnations. And we’re seeing condemnation from most political leaders, Democrats and Republicans, as well — the President’s disappointing statement notwithstanding. Let me also state that I don’t believe these white nationalists, despite their claims to the contrary, represent “the right.”

And it’s worth noting that, in a nation of 300 million people, a rally of several hundred white supremacists (one count had it at 1500) is hardly representative of the country. None of us should think these marchers represent mainstream America. But…

This is still sobering and it’s still appalling. And it’s still something that should capture our attention and serve as a wake-up call.

One Nazi is one too many.

My Grandpa fought against the Nazis in World War II and it absolutely breaks my heart to see people embracing that reprehensible worldview that cost the civilized world so much to defeat over 70 years ago.

And for those few of you who haven’t yet seen pictures of the rally or read any details about it…this isn’t me committing some Godwin’s Law violation. This isn’t me mischaracterizing anyone as a “Nazi.” I know that happens in the political climate these days, especially on social media. But that’s not the case here. Many of those taking part in the white nationalist march waved (or marched alongside) Nazi flags!  Nazi flags!  On American soil!  I saw a picture of one protester wearing a T-shirt with a Hitler quote. That’s right, a Hitler quote!

While we should speak for peace and against violence in general – and, yes, hold all sides accountable (as the President is apparently trying to do) – there is no moral equivalency here.

When you march under a Nazi flag and approvingly quote Hitler, you’ve lost any claim to the moral high ground….or frankly even to any neutral ground. You’re marching with the Bad Guys.

Yes, I realize that a few of the white protesters yesterday (August 12) at the Charlottesville rally probably aren’t Nazis and probably aren’t admirers of Hitler. But there were enough of those people out there to tarnish the entire demonstration. And you know what? Let’s say you just showed up to defend a statue of Robert E. Lee. Let’s say you personally don’t see yourself as racist. You just like Lee and don’t believe in sanitizing history. And so you came to defend Lee. Well, guess what? It shouldn’t have taken you long to figure out that the demonstration was more – much more – than just speaking up for a dead Confederate general. It was a display of reprehensible and diabolical hate. As soon as you saw Nazi or KKK signs or memorabilia or banners, you should have said “Whatever side they are on, I’m not.” And you should’ve stood against them. Period.

Yes, I’m aware that some in the alt-right are trying to distance themselves from the Nazis. One prominent alt-right blogger refers to the latter as the “Alt-Reich” and is calling on his colleagues to denounce them, but… that same alt-right blogger lists the following as one of the movement’s tenets: “The Alt Right believes we must secure the existence of white people and a future for white children.” Seriously? Is there any surprise that such quasi-Aryan talk might attract open admirers of Hitler?

I’m also aware that some of the white nationalists (and their supporters) are blaming Antifa, BLM, the police, etc. for the violence. Reality check: What kind of emotions do you expect white supremacy and Nazism to trigger in the United States of America? You can’t aggravate a bees’ nest and then blame others when people get stung.

Besides, how the police should or should not have handled security is really a separate discussion. The focus of this blog post comes down to this…

All those who marched in solidarity with the white nationalists in Charlottesville on August 12 were siding with evil. There is no getting away from that fact.

The civilized world united over 70 years ago to defeat the evils of Nazism. The United States of America was a part of that struggle. It’s my hope that the people of this great nation will once again rally together – this time close to home – and defeat this worldview once again. Not through violence this time, but through the positive and unequivocal manifestation of the same ideals and principles that drove my grandparents’ generation to defeat Nazism in the 1940s.

And may we turn to God for healing, wisdom, and guidance in times like these, and may we always put our hope and trust in Him.

May God bless the United States of America.