01/25/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

What Would Jesus Do? Ask Thomas Jefferson

WOODY CREEK, Colo - This early Christmas morning in the Rocky Mountains, a herd of elk was making its way through the field of snow, back up to the high country. If you've ever heard the mewing of elk, especially if they happen to be in your yard, it is magical -- like being blessed by 600 pound angels.

Quietly watching from the window next to the peacock pen, I saw the barbed wire fence that was erected by our wellmeaning neighbor, had trapped a few smaller elk and one larger limping female from jumping over.

Hmmmm. I've never asked this before, but being his birthday and all, I rubbed my eyes and asked it. What would Jesus do?

While reading Barack Obama's The Audacity of Hope yesterday, I was reminded of our third president, who distilled the teachings of Jesus Christ to the chagrin of the Church. One of Obama's passages reads:

There is a religious absolutism of the Christian right, a movement that gained traction on the undeniably difficult issue of abortion, but which soon flowered into something much broader; a movement that insists not only that Christianity is America's dominant faith, but that a particular fundamentalist brand of that faith should drive public policy, overriding any alternative source of understanding, whether the writings of liberal theologians, the findings of the National Academy of Sciences, or the words of Thomas Jefferson.

The beauty of not being a biblical expert, and not having time to search through the 1200 or so pages of the bible, I decided to rely on Thomas Jefferson to justify what I was about to do.

You may know that 200 years ago, Jefferson took a pair of scissors to the King James Bible and scrapped the dazzling miracles. Jefferson boasted that he had extracted the "diamonds from the dunghill" to reveal the true teaching of Jesus for what it was: "the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man."

At Monticello, fifteen years later, he added French, Latin and Greek translations and called the book The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, now published as The Jefferson Bible. I wrote a paper on this some time ago, and noted a lovely article written by Eric Reece for Harper's magazine. He distilled the teachings of Jesus, via Thomas Jefferson even further:

-Be just; justice comes from virtue, which comes from the heart.

-Treat people the way we want them to treat us.
-Always work for peaceful resolutions, even to the point of returning violence with compassion.
-Consider valuable the things that have no material value.
-Do not judge others.
-Do not bear grudges.
-Be modest and unpretentious.
-Give out of true generosity, not because we expect to be repaid. In all of his teachings, the Jesus that Jefferson recovers has one overarching theme--the world's values are all upside down in relation to the kingdom of God. Material riches do not constitute real wealth; those whom we think of as the most powerful, the first in the nation-state, are actually the last in the kingdom of God;... the natural economy followed by birds and lilies is superior to the economy based on Caesar's coinage or bankers who charge interest.

With this in my sinner's mind, I put my snowboard pants over my pajamas and we (my German Shepherd and I) set out across the snowfield with a pair of wire cutters. But the little tool was no match to the massive rusty metal and steel barbs. Athena cocked her head and perked her ears as I moaned at the dilemma. Ah ha! We marched back through the snow to the shed for the bolt cutters. After completing our mischievous deed, I couldn't help but notice the quiet but eerie feeling of walking home with a roll of rusty barbed wire caked with blood and elk hair on Christmas morning.

So, Happy Birthday Jesus of Nazareth, Merry Christmas Mr. President Elect and thank you Thomas Jefferson.