All posts by Brian Zahnd

  • An Encyclical and a Massacre

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    An Encyclical and a Massacre
    Brian Zahnd

    Lord Jesus, help me to be a voice of peace, drawing your church in America away from its idolatrous allegiance to nationalism, militarism, consumerism, racism, violence, guns, and war. Amen.

    I pray this prayer everyday. I’ve done so for years. It’s part of my morning liturgy of prayer. Praying this prayer has formed me in a certain way. (The primary purpose of prayer is not to get God to do what we think God ought to do, but to be properly formed.) This prayer has influenced me to write books about forgiveness, beauty, and peace. My target audience is the evangelical church in America. My people.

    I also pray the Confession of Sin from the Book of Common Prayer. I always pray it in the plural…

    Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you…

    I pray this prayer in the plural because I know I am complicit in sins I have not personally committed. I know I benefit from sinful structures for which I’m not personally responsible. I benefit from an economy originally founded on stolen land and slave labor. I didn’t “do” these things, but still people like me benefit from them. I know this. So the very, very least I can do is pray, “Father, forgive us our sins.”

    I prayed these prayers today. Like I do everyday. But today is different.
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  • End of the Line (Five Years Later)

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    In May 2010 Charisma Magazine asked me to write this op-ed. Five years later I feel it’s perhaps even more relevant. What do you think?

    END OF THE LINE
    By Brian Zahnd

    Western Christianity is at a critical juncture. Those who care deeply about the church are aware of this. Things are not as they once were. Things are changing. Dramatically so. Even if we don’t understand what is happening, we can certainly feel it. There is an uneasy feeling throughout evangelicalism that everything is changing. Long-held certitudes are being challenged from both within and without the Christian faith. The way things were even ten years ago is no longer the way things are today. It’s easy to be disconcerted by it all.

    In the midst of pronounced uncertainty it is tempting to succumb to nostalgia and pine away for some point in the past that we identify as the “glory days.” But we cannot go back. The healthy practice of recognizing the contributions of the past and building upon them is not the same thing as a regressive attempt to return to a bygone era. This is the problem with revivalism. Too often it is a naive attempt to recapture a particular past. It’s like a Renaissance fair — nice entertainment for a Saturday afternoon but you can’t live there. An idealized memory of the past is not a vision which can carry us into the future. Nostalgic reminiscing about the past is for those who no longer have the courage to creatively engage with contemporary challenges and opportunities. All of this is related to the critical juncture we have come to in the course of Western Christianity.
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  • Bethlehem, Branson, and Baltimore

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    Bethlehem, Branson, and Baltimore
    Brian Zahnd

    Last week I was with a Palestinian Christian from Bethlehem. He talked about his grandfather — a peaceable follower of Jesus who was senselessly killed by an Israeli sniper. He also talked about his grandmother who refused to allow the family to fall into the dark abyss of hate. He talked about the decades of injustice and the daily indignities suffered by the Palestinian people. He talked about how Jesus is found among the oppressed. But he also said Jesus told him this: “Stop using me to justify hating your enemies.” He went on to say, “I live under Israeli military occupation and Jesus calls me to do one thing: Love my enemy.” Wise words. Wise words that didn’t come cheap and don’t ring hollow.

    This week I’ve been in Branson speaking at a retreat for Nazarene pastors — a beautiful gathering of thoughtful women and men who are engaged in the demanding task of leading congregations in the way of Jesus. It was a privilege to speak to these pastors. Next door to us in the convention hall was an end-time-doom-and-gloom preacher hawking blood moons and sporting banners festooned with American flags. I see a good deal of this sort of thing. Flags and crosses all mixed up. Crosses on flags. Flags on crosses. American flags flying in superiority over Christian crosses on church lawns. Flags mounted on top of churches where crosses ought to be. One gets the feeling that the idea is that flag and cross are interchangeable — quite nearly the same thing. But I beg to differ. Allow me to reproduce a passage from one of my books:
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  • Income Tax Day by Walter Brueggemann

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    Income Tax Day
    Walter Brueggemann

    On this day of internal revenue
    some of us are paid up,
    some of us owe,
    some of us await a refund,
    some of us have no income to tax.

    But all of us are taxed,
    by war,
    by violence,
    by anxiety,
    by deathliness.

    And Caesar never gives any deep tax relief.

    We render to Caesar. . .
    to some it feels like a grab,
    to some it is clearly a war tax,
    to some — some few —
    it is a way to contribute to the common good.

    In any case we are haunted
    by what we render to Caesar,
    by what we might render to you,
    by the way we invest our wealth and our lives,
    when what you ask is an “easy yoke”:
    to do justice
    to love mercy
    to walk humbly with you.

    Give us courage for your easy burden, so to live untaxed lives.
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  • A More Christlike God

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    A More Christlike God
    Brian Zahnd

    What is God like? What an enormous question. For those of us who believe that God is somehow at the foundation of existence, meaning, and self-understanding, it’s an all-important question. So how shall we answer? Our options are endless. Human inquiry into the divine has produced a vast pantheon of gods — from Ares to Zeus. Of course, the Christian will have an instinct to look to the Bible for the definition of God. I understand this instinct and in one sense it is correct; but it may not yield as clear an answer as we think. Even while speaking of the “God of the Bible” we can cobble together whatever vision of God we choose from its disparate images. That we do this mostly unconsciously doesn’t help matters. Even if we restrict our inquiry into the nature of God to the Bible, we are likely to find just the kind of God that we want to find. If we want a God of peace, he’s there. If we want a God of war, he’s there. If we want a compassionate God, he’s there. If we want a vindictive God, he’s there. If we want an egalitarian God, he’s there. If we want an ethnocentric God, he’s there. If we want a God demanding blood sacrifice, he’s there. If we want a God abolishing blood sacrifice, he’s there. Sometimes the Bible is like a Rorschach test — it reveals more about the reader than the eternal I AM.
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  • Easter Monday

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    Easter Monday
    Brian Zahnd

    The risen Christ is not one who has come back from the dead. The risen Christ is the One who has gone through death and opened the door to the new world beyond death.

    The risen Christ is not one who has wrestled free from the clutches of death to return to the land over which death still holds sway. The risen Christ is the One who has passed all the way through the black hole of Hades into the world of light and life where death cannot go.

    Lazarus is a man who came back from the dead…only to die again. Christ is not a mere survivor of Sheol. Christ is the Conqueror of Sheol who has trampled down death by death.

    Christ was raised on the third day. Lazarus on the fourth. But that doesn’t mean Lazarus is one up on Christ. Oh, no! Lazarus merely came back from the grave…but still a subject to the tyranny of death. Christ went all the way through the grave…and emerged as the Vanquisher of death.
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  • Jesus Died for Us…Not for God

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    Jesus Died for Us…Not for God
    Brian Zahnd

    “You killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead.” –The Apostle Peter, Acts 3:15

    Golgotha is where the great crimes of humanity — pride, rivalry, blame, violence, domination, war, and empire — are dragged into the searing light of divine judgment. At Golgotha we see the system of human organization that we blithely call “civilization” for what it is: an axis of power enforced by violence so corrupt that it is capable of murdering God in the name of what we call truth, justice, and liberty.

    Golgotha is also the place where the love of God achieves its greatest expression. As Jesus is lynched in the name of religious truth and imperial justice he expresses the heart of God as he pleads for the pardon of his executioners. At the cross we discover that the God revealed in Christ would rather die in the name of love than kill in the name of freedom. Our savior is Jesus Christ, not William Wallace.

    The cross is both hideous and glorious, simultaneously ugly and beautiful. It’s as hideous as human sin and as glorious as divine love. It is a collision of sin and grace. But it is not a contest of equals. In the end love and beauty win. We call it Easter.
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  • A Christian Perspective On the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

    Jerusalem

    Here’s a guest post from Peri. -BZ

    A Christian Perspective On the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
    by Peri Zahnd

    There can’t be a holier place than the Holy Land, can there? We first visited the land of the Bible nearly twenty years ago, and it was a life-changing trip, 1996. Brian and I had gone on a Christian pilgrimage trip while we were in the midst of building our sanctuary and church building here at Word of Life. This building program that had stretched on for nearly two years had turned into a nightmare. We had given all our savings to the building program, and could never have even considered the trip if complete strangers had not arranged to have our way fully paid.

    The trip was a surprise gift that came right out of heaven, a chance for a true rest from the relentless stress. From the very first day we were somehow able to forget everything we had left behind. (Even our three boys!) We both went asking God to speak to us and renew our hope — to do something special for us. And he did. I remember walking through the woods of the northern Galilee to an archaeological site that was being excavated — the ruins of the ancient city of Dan, the northernmost point of the land to which Abraham had been called. Archaeologists had found the gate, the four thousand year old gate of that ancient walled city and had exposed it to view. I stood in awe, looking right at the very stones that the Patriarch Abraham had walked on when he first set foot in the land of the Canaanites, the Promised Land.

    Something deep inside me shifted when I saw that gate. My perspective changed. I had always believed in Abraham, I believed the Bible, I believed it was possible to walk by faith and do by the help of God what we could not accomplish on our own. But when I saw that gate, I somehow knew it more deeply than ever before. Four thousand years ago, a man had heard the voice of God deep in his soul, and in obedience to that voice had somehow taken the world to a new place. Much more than the astronaut Neil Armstrong, his was “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” The ability to know and interact with God in a new way, the way of faith. The man Abraham emerged from the pages of a book and I perceived his humanity, that he was subject to the same limitations as I was but somehow transcended them. He was real. And he lived and walked by faith. Abraham, by faith, did what he was called to do, and somehow, by faith, Brian and I would do what we were called to do. Brian had his own moment of divine connection on the trip. That’s his story, not mine to tell here, but the bottom line was that we would return back home and finish this building to the glory of God. We left with a resurrected hope that we would and could walk with God, and God would help us. And we did, and He did. So help me God!
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  • Peace Donkey On Palm Sunday

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    Peace Donkey On Palm Sunday
    Blind Man At The Gate

    The king approaches on Palm Sunday
    Forsaking the glorious war horse
    To ride a ridiculous peace donkey

    Gentle as the wings of a dove
    Inaugurating the reign of love

    Conquerors come with hubris, blood, and violence
    Riding stallions of famine, war, and pestilence
    (They tell me Genghis Khan murdered all of ten million)

    The Prince of Peace comes without breaking a bruised reed
    Swords are now for plowing, spears are now for pruning
    (I’ll tell you for a fact, Jesus of Nazareth killed nary a one)

    If Hosanna praises rocket’s red glare: Weep over Jerusalem!
    If Hosanna acclaims kingdom come: Let the rocks cry out!

    BZ
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