All posts by Brian Zahnd

  • Waiting for God to Act

    Jeremiah lamenting the destruction of Jerusalem

    Waiting for God to Act
    Brian Zahnd

    Advent is for waiting. As we tell the story of redemption through the church calendar we begin our telling of the sacred story, not with doing, not with celebrating, but with waiting — waiting for God to act.

    Yet most of us — children of a high-tech, high-speed, instantaneous age — are not very good at waiting. It feels too much like doing nothing, and we are the driven ones who take pride in being busy. Waiting is not really our thing.

    Or worse yet, waiting feels too much like lamenting, which is closer to the truth. With the loss of a strong sense of the Christian calendar we have conflated Advent and Christmas into a single “holiday season.” But the truth is that Advent is quite different from Christmas as it carries its strong theme of prophetic lament. The world has gone wrong, justice lies fallen in the streets, and it seems that God is nowhere to be found. That’s when the lamentation of waiting arises in our soul: “O Lord, how long?” From Isaiah to Malachi there is a consistent theme of waiting in lament for God to act. All of the Hebrew prophets, each in their own way, composed their prophetic poems around this recurring theme: The Lord is coming, God is about to act, but for now…we wait.

    And yet the waiting is essential. For it’s in the waiting that our soul grows quiet and contemplative and cultivates a capacity for awareness by which we can discern what God is doing when he does act.
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  • A Sabbatical Walk to Santiago

    Camino

    A Sabbatical Walk to Santiago
    Brian Zahnd

    I’ve been a pastor for 35 years. One church. Nonstop. I’ve written 3,270 sermons. In the past seven years I’ve written six books. I’ve never been away from my church for two consecutive Sundays except during some international ministry trips. I’ve never gone two Sundays without preaching somewhere…ever.

    Now it’s time for a sabbatical. I’m going to be gone for seven Sundays. No sermon preparation, no preaching, no writing, no counseling. It will be a time of reflection, a time of prayer, and a time of walking.

    Walking, walking, walking…

    Peri and I are going on a 500 mile walk.
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  • Mercy In a Mean Time

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    Mercy In a Mean Time
    Brian Zahnd

    My father was a political man; a lawyer and a judge. He was an ideological conservative. He was also known for his kindness and mercy. My dad died in 2009. At his funeral a man approached me and said, “Your father sent me to prison for armed robbery. I came to his funeral today to honor him. He always treated me with respect and dignity, and he dealt with me as mercifully as the law would allow.” I don’t know how often a felon attends the funeral of a judge who sent him to prison in order to pay his respects, but I would guess it’s not too often. My point is that my father was a political conservative who never felt his conservatism was in conflict with his Christian commitment to kindness and mercy.

    Which is why I am so baffled and grieved by what seems to be a turn toward meanness in the name of conservatism. I’m also quite sure that my father, were he alive today, would be just as baffled and grieved.
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  • Certitude: A Disaster Waiting To Happen

    Doubt

    Certitude: A Disaster Waiting To Happen
    Brian Zahnd

    Do you love your faith so little that you have never battled a single fear lest your faith should not be true? Where there are no doubts, no questions, no perplexities, there can be no growth.
    –George MacDonald

    In my spiritual memoir, Water To Wine, part of the story I tell involves my own journey away from cheap certitude toward an authentic faith. It is a phenomenon of modernity that certitude (mental assent toward something as an absolute empirical fact) has become confused with faith (an orientation of the soul toward God in the form of deep trust). That this phenomenon is prevalent among certain streams of Christians is strangely ironic since this involves genuflecting at the altar of empiricism and privileging knowledge over faith. Privileging empiricism above faith as the final arbiter of truth is a hallmark of modernity, but it is also antithetical to Christianity.

    Certitude is a poor substitute for authentic faith. But certitude is popular; it’s popular because it’s easy. No wrestling with doubt, no dark night of the soul, no costly agonizing over the matter, no testing yourself with hard questions. Just accept a secondhand assumption or a majority opinion or a popular sentiment as the final word and settle into certainty. Certitude is easy…until it’s impossible. And that’s why certitude is so often a disaster waiting to happen. The empty slogan “the Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it” is cheap certitude, not genuine faith.
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  • How I’m Voting

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    How I’m Voting
    Brian Zahnd

    Election season. The worst of times. The bane of my pastoral existence. A forced march through Desolation Row.

    Praise be to Nero’s Neptune, the Titanic sails at dawn
    Everybody’s shouting, “Which side are you on?!”

    I’ve become so exasperated with America’s quadrennial descent into politicized madness that four years ago Peri and I made plans to take a seven week sabbatical and walk the Camino de Santiago during September and October of 2016. At this point that decision seems to be among the best I’ve ever made. Peri and I can’t wait to begin our five hundred mile pilgrim walk an ocean away from a million political ads and the hysteria they induce.

    You see, having pledged all my allegiance to the Lamb I have none left for elephants or donkeys. I’ve placed all of my hope in the kingdom of Christ. My short form politics is, “Jesus is Lord.” My long form politics is the Sermon on the Mount. And I know good and well that neither the elephant party nor the donkey party have the inclination or ability to seriously embrace the cruciform politics of Lamb. That’s the gist of my political theology.
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  • 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

    Mafia-Bible

    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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