All posts by Brian Zahnd

  • Lament and Laughter: Being Human

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    Peri has something important to say. –BZ

    Lament and Laughter: Being Human
    Peri Zahnd

    Last Thursday night at 9:30 I heard the sickening news of the police officers’ shooting in Dallas. I was tired and getting ready to go to bed, but then of course I couldn’t go to bed. The story was happening live and it was devastating. I finally went to bed at midnight, and laid there with a pain in my sternum, and the thought kept going through my mind, “I can’t breathe.” Which made me think of Eric Garner, the black man in New York who was killed by police, captured on video saying, “I can’t breathe.” The words echo in my mind, I feel them in my body. Lord, how can anybody breathe? What’s happening to this country?

    The next day I made myself watch the videos of the deaths of two black men killed a few days earlier in police altercations. Yes, I was very aware, and not at all callous — I just couldn’t make myself watch before. I am so sad about all this. It hurts. But I made myself watch. God, it was awful. The girlfriend of one calmly narrating as she watched her boyfriend die, and as we also watched him die. He was guilty of driving with a burned-out taillight. A nervous cop “jumped the gun.” Literally. Filled him full of bullets. It could never have happened to me. I’m a privileged white woman. The other man in a wrestling match with a cop, and then the cop pulling his gun and shooting the man in the chest multiple times. What on earth? How have we come to this. Yes, the two black men were also guilty of carrying guns, which was perfectly legal!!! Insanely legal. They died for nothing. And now five innocent white policemen are dead at the hands of an enraged, mentally ill black man, who, of course, is also now dead. It’s the casualties of a war we never wanted to be fighting.
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  • The Jesus Revolution

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    The Jesus Revolution
    Brian Zahnd

    You say you want a revolution
    Well, you know, we all want to change the world

    —The Beatles

    During the heady days of the Jesus Movement there was a pervasive conviction among the young people involved that we were part of something revolutionary. Our lives had been radically transformed by Jesus and we wanted to relive the Book of Acts. Church as usual was not an option for us. We weren’t interested in being conservative or playing it safe. We carried a strong counterculture ethos. We saw Jesus as a revolutionary and we wanted to be revolutionaries too. We shared much of the theology of conservative evangelicals, but our vibe was decidedly counterculture, with our long hair, patched blue jeans, and tie-dyed t-shirts. We preached on the streets, in the bars, and at rock concerts.

    More significantly we had inherited a distrust of government and a disdain for war from the Vietnam era. We saw a Christian critique of war as being faithful to the revolutionary Jesus of the Sermon on the Mount. We had no interest in serving the political causes of either Republicans or Democrats. We saw Christianity as a revolutionary movement that was incompatible with power-hungry political parties. We wanted to change the world in the name of Jesus; we weren’t interested in who was the current resident of the White House or the composition of Congress in the name of politics.
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  • The Charm of Beauty In an Ugly Age

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    The Charm of Beauty In an Ugly Age
    Brian Zahnd

    “It is the prerogative and charm of beauty to win hearts.”
    –Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote

    It’s an ugly time right now. Especially in the public discourse in the land in which I live. Politicized and polarized, public discourse has devolved into the polemical napalm of give-no-inch, take-no-prisoners, burn-it-all-down flaming rhetoric. Ugly “Us versus Them” ideology goosesteps across the American stage. Hysterical screams of fear-infused hatred are heard in this nation of immigrants.

    Deport ’em all!
    Build a wall!
    No refugees!
    Don’t tread on me!

    I was in New York last week and saw the Statue of Liberty. I think she had a tear in her eye…or maybe it was just in my eye. The tired and poor, the wretched refuse, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free…are basically given the finger these days. For the sake of honesty maybe it’s time to commission a new statue.

    Are we entering a dark age where the only thing we can build is a wall and where nothing is sacred but a gun? I wonder.
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  • When the Bible is Bad for You

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    When the Bible is Bad for You
    Brian Zahnd

    I love the Bible. I read the Bible. I read the Bible every day. I’ve been a serious student of the Bible for over forty years. I don’t know how many Bibles I’ve owned — I would guess close to a hundred. I’ve written 3,247 sermons from the Bible. My point is, I’ve got some serious Bible cred!

    But here’s something else I know: The Bible can be bad for you!

    Bible reading as part of a spiritual formation regiment can be extremely beneficial in helping form disciples of Jesus in Christlikeness. But this isn’t always the case. There are ways of approaching the Bible, reading the Bible, using the Bible that are detrimental to the soul. Because the Bible is such a powerful thing, the misuse of it can be extremely dangerous.
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  • The Faceless White Giant

    Faceless

    The Faceless White Giant
    Brian Zahnd

    The seeds of an Angry God theology were sown early in my life and they came in the form of cartoons — the infamous gospel tracts by J.T. Chick. With titles like This Was Your Life, Somebody Goofed, The Awful Truth, and Are Roman Catholics Christians?, Chick tracts usually end with everyone but fundamentalist Christians being hurled into what looks like the fires of Mount Doom by a merciless God depicted as a faceless white giant.

    A well-meaning but unhelpful Sunday School teacher gave me a Chick tract when I was twelve and those garish images with their ludicrous theology burned their way into my adolescent imagination. I had met the Angry God! And I was afraid of this God. Who wouldn’t be? Think about it. In the Gospel According to J.T. Chick, if you don’t believe just right, an omnipotent giant will consign you to eternal torture!

    Fortunately I could believe in Jesus and be saved from his Father — the Angry God. But then I heard a revival preacher ask a disturbing question: “Do you believe in Jesus in your heart or just in your head?” He went on to say that if we believed in Jesus in our head but not our heart we would miss heaven by eighteen inches and wind up in hell forever! More anxiety-inducing theology! Now I had to decide if I had faith in my heart or if I was on my way to hell because I only believed in Jesus with my head. That’s a lot of pressure for a twelve-year-old…or anyone.
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  • About You

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    About You
    Blind Man at the Gate

    Let God talk to you
    About you
    For if you imagine God talking to you
    About her or him, those or them
    You’re on the fast-track to Pharisee City
    And life there is anything but pretty
    The worst stuff I ever heards
    Began with these scary words:
    “God told me to tell you”

    Reminds me of when that guy shouted, “Judas!”
    And Bob Dylan said, “I don’t believe you!”
    (“Play…very…loud!”)
    How does it feel?

    Let God talk to you
    About you
    It’s a bit of good counsel
    I try to let God talk to me
    About me
    Because my worst enemy
    Is not her or him, those or them
    But me
    So Jesus save me
    From me

    It’s not the enemy without
    But the enemy within
    Who will do me in
    Jesus save me
    From me

    And what about you?
    Well, I have some good news
    Jesus believes in you
    It’s true

    So cast off that heavy yoke
    That miserable constraint
    Where you think
    You have to
    Set everybody straight
    You don’t
    Have to

    Let God talk to you
    About you
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  • City of the Lamb

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    City of the Lamb
    Brian Zahnd

    In the last two chapters of the book of Revelation John of Patmos weaves a tapestry of images borrowed from Genesis, Exodus, Psalms, Isaiah, Daniel, Ezekiel, and Zechariah. The culmination of John’s artistry is a stunning vision of hope — the city of the Lamb. In painting this portrait John borrows in particular from Ezekiel’s vision of a new temple.

    Ezekiel was a priest and prophet during the Babylonian exile in the 5th century BC. At a time when the Jerusalem temple was in ruins Ezekiel had a vision of a new temple (or we could say a new Jerusalem). What Ezekiel saw wasn’t the Second Temple that would be built by Zerubbabel and later expanded by King Herod, but a mystical temple. Ezekiel’s temple was a symbolic temple reflecting a spiritual agenda.
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  • War of the Lamb

    LambOfGod

    War of the Lamb
    Brian Zahnd

    Those who want to hold onto a primitive vision of a violent and retributive God often cite the white horse rider passage from Revelation. They will say something like this: “Jesus came the first time as a lamb, but he’s coming back the second time as a lion.” (Despite the fact that no lion is ever seen in Revelation — the lion is the Lamb!) By this they mean the nonviolent Jesus of the Gospels is going to mutate into what they fantasize is the hyper-violent Jesus of Revelation.

    Sadly, the proponents of this flawed interpretation seem to prefer their imagined violent Jesus of the future over the nonviolent Jesus of the Gospels. At a basic level they essentially see the Bible like this: After a long trajectory away from the divine violence of the Old Testament culminating in Jesus renouncing violence and calling his followers to love their enemies, the Bible in its final pages abandons a vision of peace and nonviolence as ultimately unworkable and closes with the most vicious portrayal of divine violence in all of Scripture.

    In this reading of Revelation, the way of peace and love which Jesus preached during his life and endorsed in his death, is rejected for the worn-out way of war and violence. When we literalize the militant images of Revelation we arrive at this conclusion: In the end even Jesus gives up on love and resorts to violence. Tragically, those who refuse to embrace the way of peace taught by Jesus use the symbolic war of Revelation 19 to silence the Sermon on the Mount.
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  • Armageddon

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    Armageddon
    Brian Zahnd

    The second Sunday after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, I preached a sermon entitled “The Road To Armageddon.” During those days of grief and rage when I should have preached the gospel of peace and forgiveness, I instead resorted to the hackneyed trope of dispensationalism that claims a mega-war in the Middle East must occur before Jesus can return.

    I’ve repented and made amends for that pastoral failure, but the fact remains that my mistake was made possible by the terrible eschatology I had inherited. The Late Great Planet Earth and the Left Behind series are only the best known of countless books that have popularized the worst possible reading of Revelation.
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