All posts by Brian Zahnd

  • The Last Testament of a Beheaded Christian

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    The Last Testament of a Beheaded Christian
    Brian Zahnd

    Christian de Chergé was a French Catholic monk and the Trappist prior of the Tibhirine monastery in Algeria. With the rise of radical Islam in 1993, Father Chergé knew that his life was in danger. But instead of leaving Algeria, Father Chergé chose to stay and continue his witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ. On May 24, 1996 Father Chergé was beheaded by Muslim radicals. Anticipating his death, Father Chergé had left a testament with his family to be read upon the event of his murder. The testament in part reads:
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  • Jesus Is What God Has To Say

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    Jesus Is What God Has To Say
    Brian Zahnd

    One of the most mysterious aspects of the Transfiguration is the appearance of Moses and Elijah — these two giant figures from the Old Testament — conversing with a glorified Christ. Of course Moses the Lawgiver and Elijah the Prophet are representative figures signifying the Law and the Prophets. On Mount Tabor, Moses and Elijah are summoned from the Old Testament past to give their final witness.

    The goal of the Law and the Prophets was to produce a just and worshipping society. Jesus and his kingdom is where that project finds its fulfillment. The new society formed around Jesus was what the Law and the Prophets were aiming for all along. The Transfiguration is where Moses and Elijah find their great successor. The Transfiguration is where the Old Testament hands the project of redemption over to Jesus. The Transfiguration is where the old witness (testament) yields to the new witness (testament.)

    But initially Peter misinterpreted what the presence of Moses and Elijah meant.

    Peter’s first impulse was to build three memorial tabernacles on Tabor, treating Moses, Elijah, and Jesus as approximate equals.

    But Peter’s idea received a strong rebuke when the voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, listen to him!”

    Jesus is the true and living Word of God. Jesus is what the Law and Prophets point toward and bow to. Jesus is what the Old Testament was trying to say, but could never fully articulate. Jesus is the perfect Word of God in the form of a human life. God couldn’t say all he wanted to say in the form of a book, so he said it in the form of Jesus. Jesus is what God has to say!
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  • Achilles or Immanuel?

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    Achilles or Immanuel?
    Brian Zahnd

    I just returned from seeing An Iliad at The Kansas City Repertory Theatre — a one act telling of Homer’s Iliad — and I can’t rest until I share a few thoughts…

    The eighth century BC gave the world two great poets — the Greek Homer and the Hebrew Isaiah. These two poets offer competing visions of the heroic. Homer’s epic poem The Iliad opens with these lines.

    Rage — Goddess, sing the rage of Peleus’ son Achilles
    murderous, doomed, that cost the Achaeans countless losses,
    hurling down to the House of Death so many sturdy souls,
    great fighters’ souls, but made their bodies carrion,
    feasts for the dogs and birds.
    (Iliad 1–5)

    But the poet Isaiah sings a different song.

    The boots of the warrior
    And the uniforms bloodstained by war
    Will all be burned
    For unto us a Child is born
    Unto a Son is given
    And he shall be called…
    The Prince of peace
    His government and its peace
    Will never end
    (Isaiah 9:6–7)

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  • Walk the World Like the Pardon of God

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    Walking the World Like the Pardon of God
    Brian Zahnd

    G.K. Chesterton suggested that Saint Francis of Assisi “walked the world like the pardon of God.” It’s an apt summary of the saint’s life. In his wonderful and unique way Saint Francis embodied the grace of God as he walked the hills of Umbria barefoot in his patched brown habit and simple rope belt preaching to birds and bishops. His life was a kind of performance art protest against the pervasive sins of thirteenth century Italy — pride, avarice, corruption, and violence.

    Yet sinners were drawn to Francis. How else do we explain that within Francis’ lifetime forty thousand people joined his rigorous order of radical Christianity emphasizing poverty, simplicity and humility? Like Jesus, Francis could uncompromisingly denounce systemic sin, while extending genuine compassion to the people caught in its pernicious web. To be a prophetic witness against systems of sin and a preacher of God’s pardon for sinners at the same time is the peculiar grace Francis excelled at and the church is called to.

    Two years before his death Francis retreated to the secluded hermitage at La Verna in the mountains of Tuscany for a protracted season of prayer. While there he experienced a mystical vision that resulted in his stigmata — the reproduction of the wounds of Christ in his own body. Francis bore these painful wounds until his death in 1226. Admittedly, this is a mysterious phenomenon, but I am willing to view it as Francis’ final dramatic testament to how the church is to be present in the world. Along with being a prophetic witness against the principalities and powers, and bearing joyful witness to the pardon of God, the church is called to participate in the sufferings of Christ.
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  • The Cross as Counter-Script

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    The Cross as Counter-Script
    Brian Zahnd

    As Americans we are given a script from birth — it is our shared and assumed formula for the pursuit of happiness. Without even being aware of it we are scripted in the belief that our superior technology, our self-help programs, our dominant military, and our capacity to obtain consumer goods should guarantee our happiness. Said just so it sounds silly, but when it is communicated in the liturgies of advertising and the propaganda of state it becomes believable…and we do believe it. Give me a new iPhone, a motivational talk, a trillion dollar war machine, a Visa card, and I can be happy! For the most part the Americanized church has unconsciously bought into this script and concocted a compromised Christianity to endorse the script point for point. It’s Americanism with a Jesus fish bumper sticker. But in the end the desperate pursuit of the brass ring of happiness — even when “Christianized” by the prosperity gospel — leads to a shriveled and disappointed soul. In the final analysis the American script is shamed by the cross of Christ.
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  • The Magi and I

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    T.S. Eliot’s poem Journey of the Magi with my quasi-interpretation of it. Which is more than an interpretation — it’s also a kind of autobiographical confession; for I too have had a hard time of it. And like Eliot’s Magi I would do it all over again.
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  • Christmas Shock and Awe

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    Christmas Shock and Awe
    Brian Zahnd

    Suddenly the angel was joined by a vast host of others,
    The armies of heaven,
    Praising God and saying,
    Glory to God in the highest,
    And peace on earth.

    –Luke 2:14

    This is Christmas shock and awe. D-Day circa 5 BC. The night skies over Bethlehem are suddenly filled with an invading army — an army from another world, an army representing another government, an army from heaven. This army has come in the cause of regime change. The world is about to be given a new day, a new kingdom, a new lease on life. Caesar, Pharaoh, Herod and all their kind are being supplanted by a newborn king — the King of the Jews. He is the long-awaited Prince of Peace. This is why the armies of heaven are invading the night skies over Bethlehem.

    Nearly 250 times the Old Testament describes the God of Israel as the LORD of Hosts, Yahweh Sabbaoth, the Lord of Armies. Now at the birth of God’s chosen king the armies of heaven invade earth with shock and awe. This is why the shepherds were “sore afraid.” But they need not have been. This is not a killing army, but a singing army. This army comes, not to kill, but to carol.

    The text in Luke says the angels were saying, but Christian imagination has interpreted their saying as singing. I like that. The army of heaven is a choir — combat by chorus. The army of heaven doesn’t launch missiles, it launches into song. The heavenly army sings of the glory of God and of peace on earth.
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  • You Cannot Be Christian and Support Torture

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    You Cannot Be Christian and Support Torture
    Brian Zahnd

    You cannot be Christian and support torture. I want to be utterly explicit on this point. There is no possibility of compromise. The support of torture is off the table for a Christian. I suppose you can be some version of a “patriot” and support the use of torture, but you cannot be any version of Christian and support torture. So choose one: A torture-endorsing patriot or a Jesus-following Christian. But don’t lie to yourself that you can be both. You cannot.

    (Clearly you do not have to be a Christian to reject the barbarism of torture, you simply need to be a humane person. But to be a Christian absolutely requires you to reject the use of torture.)

    I remember when Pew Research released their findings in 2009 revealing that six out of ten white evangelicals supported the use of torture on suspected terrorists. (Patton Dodd talks about that here.) The survey stunned me. I spoke about it from the pulpit in 2009 and have continued to do so. I said it then and I’m saying it again today: You cannot support the use of torture and claim to be a follower of Jesus.
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  • The World As It is (An Advent Poem)

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    The World As It Is
    (An Advent Poem)
    Blind Man at the Gate

    I take the world as it is and still believe

    Debauched and beautiful, sordid and seemly

    Where Kerouac is a secular saint

    Heard uncensored telling his story

    On the road with Dean Moriarty

    In the long run Merton took a better road

    But still the beat goes on…

    Take your stand on whatever smidgen of faith you have

    Smack-dab in a world of hustlers and hookers, users and losers, liars and lovers

    Don’t waste your life on a pastel watercolor faith

    That runs if touched by a tear or a drop of sweat

    Can you take the world as it is

    And still believe in God?

    Can you take people as they are

    And still believe in love?

    Or do you only play at make believe?

    A world of terracotta saints

    Of little houses on soundstage prairies

    So not at home in the world as it is

    That you can’t wait for it to be left behind

    That, my friend, is no real faith

    It’s scripted B-movie phoniness

    Rated G (for gullible audiences)

    A real faith lives in a real world

    The world as it is

    Sordid and seemly

    Debauched and beautiful

    It’s the little town of Bethlehem

    Good enough for the Son of God

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