Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

You Poked My Heart!

Written by: on April 1, 2024

Remember back to when the “internet” first became a thing? We had AOL and the famed “You Got Mail” voice prompt.[1]  MSN Messenger and Yahoo were kind of a big deal. Viral videos were just becoming something we talked about and shared via email on the internet; both things that in 1994 the hosts of The Today Show didn’t understand.[2] Frankly, nobody did.

Then there was the Star Wars kid prancing around his garage with a makeshift lightsaber that became one of the first and the most watched viral video of all time.[3] And who can forget the little boy named Harry in rocking chair with his younger brother named Charlie. The video shows the younger biting the finger of the older, and with a sweet British accent yelling “Charlie bit me!”[4]

It’s so good.

How about this one? Two little twin girls corner a cute toddler boy and they all debate as to whether it is rainy or sprinkling. The girls say it’s raining. The boy disagrees with, “My mom says it’s sprinkling.” Things gets heated (not really) and one of the girls pushed her finger into the boy’s chest. His tear-filled response is priceless:  “You poked my heart.”[5]

I love the internet. Seriously, go watch all the above videos and I think you’ll agree.

Sadly, the internet is not all cat videos and Wordle. It’s a reflection of the dark web of a world we actually live in, replete with hate, threats, bullying, exploitation, wars and rumors of wars. Life is messy, and it’s not only lived out all over the world, but we can also watch it over and over on YouTube. Killing, actual and virtual, has gone viral, and all our hearts are being poked.

What about those that HAVE to kill? What about real war? The central question in Marc LiVecche’s The Good Kill is “when is it ever moral for soldiers to kill?” It’s one thing to log into our gaming system and play Mortal Kombat, Primal Rage, Killer Instinct, Blood Warrior, or Street Fighter with joystick controllers, but it’s an entirely different thing to discharge live ammo upon an enemy combatant in a hostile environment. I personally know nothing of either, but I do know what pokes the hearts of humanity and of God.

LiVecche, a research fellow and ethics teacher at the Stockdale Center for Ethical Leadership at the US Naval Academy, developed his dissertation into the book The Good Kill while a visiting scholar at Oxford University. Previously he had taught history and ethics at the site of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in Poland, an experience he says rendered him unfit for pacifism. I have, for some time, aligned myself with the pacifist worldview, but over the last few years I’ve been feeling that shift somewhat. LiVecche’s assessment of Richard Niebuhr was helpful in articulating my recent shifts. He says, “Niebuhr neither disapproves of nor disproves pacifism; he only proves it ineffective. Niebuhr is, in principle, a pacifist, but in practice, he is a pacifist whose pacifism takes a backseat to the fact that we must sometimes kill in order to protect the innocent (LiVecche, 9). I feel this way too. However, the question remains: who gets to define “protecting the innocent?” There is a lot of ambiguity in that. Further questions could be, “Who really needs to be killed and what if you’re wrong about that?” and “What is an appropriate response in protecting the innocent?” and “Does this need to culminate in killing, or might there be another way?”

These are questions that Commander Hunter (played by Denzel Washington) was bombarded with from Captain Ramsey (played by Gene Hackman) in the movie Crimson Tide. Mockingly, Captain Ramsey demanded that Commander Hunter “tell us exactly who the real enemy is.” His response is important: “In my humble opinion, in the nuclear world, the true enemy is war itself.”[6]

The true enemy is war itself. As a “modified pacifist” I tend to agree. And yet we have what has been called the Just War tradition which adjudicates when it is right to kill through war. Just War sanctions war, but, LiVecche says “the problem is that someone has to fight it.”[7] Those that have to fight it are soldiers, “warriors who are human beings before they are combatants” (LiVecche, xi). These human beings are dealing with deep emotional scars, referred to as “moral injury” that is causing many of them to live with massive guilt and shame, and die from self-inflicted wounds. Undoubtedly, there is an actual cost of war (in terms of lives), as well as moral and spiritual costs. LeVicche contends that a framework of understanding Just War is Christian [Augustinian] realism, that gives allowance for killing, but not hate. The Just War requirement is that warfighters believe the enemy is worthy of being loved (LiVecche, 11).

They have to have a heart before they poke one.

Now, in full disclosure, I have never served in the military. I have never gone into battle. I have never owned a weapon, nor used one, except for deer hunting once when I was younger. I admittedly, do not have a frame of reference for much of what LiVecche, along with other soldiers, have seen and experienced. I am grateful, but I don’t get it. I don’t get why we continue to kill. I don’t see the purpose for many of the wars we have found ourselves in. I don’t appreciate the hating/killing culture we have, in our video games, movies, Facebook posts and our domestic and international battles. In the words of Michael Jackson, “I’m a lover, not a fighter.”[8] And I wish many, many, many, many more people would be too.

Planet Earth has had enough poked hearts.



[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cv1B9sPPOXo

[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UlJku_CSyNg

[3] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HPPj6viIBmU

[4] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0EqSXDwTq6U

[5] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FXvk2agkZwc

[6] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hur6LcyuTuU

[7] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5GPhhR1rV6U

[8] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cl_42za17v0

About the Author


John Fehlen

John Fehlen is currently the Lead Pastor of West Salem Foursquare Church. Prior to that he served at churches in Washington and California. A graduate of Life Pacific University in San Dimas, CA in Pastoral Ministry, and Vanguard University in Costa Mesa, CA with a Masters in Leadership and Spirituality. He and his wife Denise have four grown children and four grandchildren. John is the author of “Intentional Impressions," a book for fathers and their sons, "Don't Give Up: Encouragement for Weary Souls in Challenging Times," a book for pastoral leaders, and "The Way I See You," a children's book. You can connect with John on Instagram (@johnfehlen) as well as on his blog (johnfehlen.com).

11 responses to “You Poked My Heart!”

  1. mm Jonita Fair-Payton says:


    You wrote, “However, the question remains: who gets to define “protecting the innocent?” There is a lot of ambiguity in that. Further questions could be, “Who really needs to be killed and what if you’re wrong about that?” and “What is an appropriate response in protecting the innocent?” and “Does this need to culminate in killing, or might there be another way?” These questions made me quiver. There is so much to consider and so many unanswered questions. I would add to this list, “Who ‘s responsibility is it to figure it out?”

    I am with you my friend…geared more towards loving than fighting. “Planet Earth has had enough poked hearts.” Amen to that, my brother.

    • mm John Fehlen says:

      These questions make me shiver as well, Jonita. It’s not only disconcerting that we have to wrestle with questions such as these, but that we’re in a time in which we cannot trust in the integrity of those that are in leadership, and are in positions of authority in these matters.

      Lord help us.

  2. Jenny Dooley says:

    Hi John, Thank you for your post. I am about as non-violent as they come so this whole topic of war and killing is a tough reality to give my attention to and yet I must. You mentioned Li Vecche’s role at the Stockdale Center. The Stockdale Paradox is fascinating so I looked up the center’s website. I was really impressed and touched by the work they do. The interviews are gut-wrenching and beautiful all at the same time! These stories need to be told. There is a place for the lovers and the fighters. I think we need each other!


    • mm Kim Sanford says:

      Jenny, thanks for this important reminder that all the stories need to be heard. I am guilty of forgetting that, especially when ideological differences threaten to get in the way.

    • mm John Fehlen says:

      I have not spent any time reviewing the Stockdale Center – thanks for that recommendation.

      You and I both are “non-violent” – I often wonder if that is rooted in not having been a part of a military family. Were you? My wife has many family members connected to the military and she has very different views on matters such as these than I do, and that relational component getting me wondering.

  3. mm Kim Sanford says:

    Great post, John. I resonated with so much of what you wrote, but I’ll pick just one thing to comment on. You shared the idea that “The true enemy is war itself.” That called to mind a line from a book I read ages ago, Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson, written about his experiences in Afghanistan. He said, “In times of war, you often hear leaders – Christian, Jewish and Muslim – saying, ‘God is on our side.’ But that isn’t true. In war, God is on the side of the refugees, widows and orphans.” That’s whose heart gets poked the most, I think.

    • mm John Fehlen says:

      Such a good book! Yes to God on the side of refugees, widow and orphans. You don’t have to read Mortenson to discover that – just pick just about any book of the Old Testament. God is always on the side of the marginalized. I honestly can’t figure out how more people don’t see (or want to see) that!

  4. mm Russell Chun says:

    Hi John,
    War is inevitable…well it appears that way to me.

    So if the sons and daughters in your congregation are called to war how are you preparing them?

    Jenney Dooley says that we need to help them put on the armor for their soul.

    More conflicts are emerging…not less. I recommended this book because while lives are being lost, we are wrestling with “pronouns.”

    Our readings while quite enlightening, seemed to be ignoring the violence outside our borders.

    I pray that the pastors in our cohort are ready, willing and able to speak to those heading into the fight.


  5. mm Tim Clark says:

    I so identify with your questions (basically, “who gets to decide who lives and who gets killed, and why?”).

    Reminds me of President Bartlett’s question: “What’s the virtue of a proportionate response?” (West Wing, Season 1, episode 3). Bartlett, a man of faith, was wrestling with these same questions we are addressing this week.

    At the heart of Bartlett’s angst, and your questions, is the idea of justice. If as you state in your answer to Kim, God is always on the side of the marginalized, then what must we do to reflect God’s heart when the marginalized are being tortured, raped, abused, and slaughtered?

    The idea of killing pokes my heart, too. I just am not sure that my heart getting poked is good enough reason to stand aside while the weak are being destroyed.

    Perhaps a deeper problem is the obfuscation and manipulation nations regularly engage, telling their populations that “they” are on the side of the weak when it can be the exact opposite. So I don’t think there is a clean or easy answer… it’s truly a wicked problem.

    It’s possible that in this conversation I’m Bartlett and you are the priest. With different approaches, opinions and outcomes. But it’s in that tension where I think we find the real answers. Neither full throated uncritical support for violence and war nor 100% commitment to pacifism will help us shape a just world that reflects the Father’s heart.

  6. Adam Harris says:

    Great posts, I like the “modified pacifist”. I feel very similar to you in that ideally and morally taking a life seems to go against everything in me, but living in a world that does not share that view and allowing innocent people, especially my family, to suffer without doing anything is just as unbearable. Marc mentions how not doing something could do just as much moral injury as doing something violent, so I’m with you in this. Still wrestling though all these ideas. I hope I’m never in that situation, but I know many who are so it’s important for all of us to struggle with it.

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