• BZ’s Top Five Albums of 2013

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    BZ’s Top Five Albums of 2013

    Without music, life would be a mistake.
    -Nietzsche

    I love music. Neurotically so. I don’t love what I’m “supposed” to love, I love what I love.
    Since I was thirteen people have been telling me to turn it down. Mostly I don’t.

    I’m listening to Neil Young, I gotta turn up the sound
    Someone’s always yelling, turn it down

    -Bob Dylan, Highlands

    So with little explanation and no apology here are my top five albums of 2013…

    BZ

    (The artwork is 2500 albums.)

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  • Plato’s Cave: A Christmas Story

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    Plato’s Cave: A Christmas Story
    Brian Zahnd

    Four hundred years before the birth of Jesus, history’s greatest philosopher gave the world an enduring allegory. I’m talking about Plato and his famous allegory of the cave. Plato said we are like prisoners chained in a deep cave lit only by dim torches, so that we exist in darkness watching shadows on the wall. We are imprisoned in deep untruth. What we need is someone to free us from our chains, to lead us out of the dark and into the day. In simplified form that’s the allegory Plato gave to explain the human predicament four hundred years before Caesar Augustus decided to take a census and thereby set in motion events that we remember every December.

    You know the story. Joseph and Mary are compelled by imperial degree to travel from Nazareth to their ancestral home in Bethlehem — a little hilltop village five miles south of Jerusalem. A town that would have been utterly inconsequential if it had not been for a bit of historical trivia: a thousand years earlier Bethlehem was the birthplace of David, Israel’s greatest king. To further endow tiny Bethlehem with significance, the prophet Micah in his poems of hope dreamed of the day when an even greater king would be born in Bethlehem — a king whose reign of peace would cover the earth and lead to the abolishment of war. (See Micah 4:1-5; 5:2-5)

    A thousand years after David. Seven centuries after Micah.

    Mary and Joseph. Bethlehem. No room in the inn. Ever resourceful Joseph finds shelter among the livestock. It’s far from ideal. Mary goes into labor. (It must have seemed like the worst timing. But it wasn’t.) Jesus is born. Wrapped in swaddling clothes. Laid in a manger. A feeding trough. Which is how we know Jesus was born among the livestock.

    But here is where our traditional nativity scenes may mislead us. Livestock weren’t sheltered in barns, but in caves. Caves! That’s right, Jesus was born in a…cave!

    Hold on to that thought.
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  • The Magi and I

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    This is from last Christmas, but it still speaks to me and for me…

    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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  • West of Shinar

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    West of Shinar
    by Blindman at the Gate

    God said, “Let there be.”
    Existence. Life. Awareness.
    Good, very good.
    A man called Mankind.
    A woman called Mother-of-All.
    They bore and wore the Imago Deo.
    Walked in the Garden with God.

    Then something went wrong.
    Paradise lost.
    Moved to an apartment east of Eden.
    They had babies.
    Called them Cain and Abel.
    Farmer and Shepherd.
    But the landed gentry murdered the nomadic herdsman.
    The killer lied to God (and himself) about what he had done.
    “I didn’t murder my brother — I just killed an enemy. It had to be done.”
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  • Merry Christmas! War is Abolished!

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    Merry Christmas! War is Abolished!
    by Brian Zahnd

    Isaiah had a dream, a God-inspired dream.
    Isaiah was a poet, a God-intoxicated poet.
    He had a Messianic dream that he turned into a prophetic poem.
    It goes like this—

    In days to come
    the mountain of the LORD’s house
    shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
    and shall be raised above the hills;
    all the nations shall stream to it.
    Many peoples shall come and say,
    “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,
    to the house of the God of Jacob;
    that he may teach us his ways
    and that we may walk in his paths.”
    For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
    and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
    He shall judge between the nations,
    and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
    they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
    and their spears into pruning hooks;
    nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
    neither shall they learn war anymore.

    -Isaiah 2:2–4

    Swords turned into plowshares.
    Spears into pruning hooks.
    Tanks turned into tractors.
    Missile silos into grain silos.
    The study of war abandoned for learning the ways of the Lord.
    Instead of academies where we learn to make war,
    there will be universities where we learn to wage peace.
    The cynic will laugh (for lack of imagination), but this is Isaiah’s vision.

    And every Christmas we borrow another of Isaiah’s poems to celebrate the birth of the child who makes these dreams come true—

    The people who walked in darkness
    have seen a great light;
    those who live in a land of deep darkness—
    on them light has shined…
    For all the boots of the tramping solidiers
    and all the uniforms stained in blood
    shall be burned as fuel for fire.
    For unto us a child is born,
    unto us a son given;
    the government shall be upon his shoulders;
    and he is named
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
    His government shall grow continually,
    and there shall be endless peace
    for the throne of David and his kingdom.
    He will establish and uphold it
    with justice and with righteousness
    from this time onward and forevermore.

    -Isaiah 9:2, 5–7

    Isaiah in his prophetic poems frames the Messianic hope like this:

    A Prince of Peace will establish a new kind of government, a government characterized by ever-increasing peace. Weapons of war will be transformed into instruments of agriculture. At last the nations will find their way out of the darkness of endless war into the light of God’s enduring peace.

    This is Isaiah’s hope. Christians take Isaiah’s hope and make a daring claim: Jesus is that Prince of Peace! Jesus is the one who makes Isaiah’s dreams come true. From the day of Pentecost to the present this is what Christians have claimed.
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  • Nelson Mandela: From Prisoner to President

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    Nelson Mandela
    1918—2013

    Genesis comes to a close with the story of a prisoner who becomes president and gives a nation a future based on forgiveness. But it’s not a story which must be relegated to ancient history. These things still happen. Injustices still occur and occasionally great souls still rise up to lead people out of the dead-end of retaliation into a future only reconciliation can create. The story of a prisoner who becomes president and gives his people a future based on forgiveness is the story of the Hebrew patriarch Joseph. It’s also the story of Nelson Mandela.
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  • Have We Become Death?

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    Have We Become Death?
    Brian Zahnd

    First watch this video…

    Now let’s step back and think for a moment about where we stand as a people and a planet. It’s easy to imagine that the world doesn’t really change — that it simply marches around the maypole of violence trampling the victims into the mud same as it ever has. But as true as that may be, something has changed. We are post-something. If nothing else we are post 1945 when the Enlightenment dream of attainable utopia went up in smoke — literal smoke! — from the chimneys of Auschwitz and a mushroom cloud over Hiroshima.

    After 1945 we lost our blind faith in the inevitability of human progress. A threshold was crossed and something important changed when humanity gained possession of what previously only God possessed: the capacity for complete annihilation. In yielding to the temptation to harness the fundamental physics of the universe for the purpose of building city-destroying bombs have we again heard the serpent whisper, “You will be like God”?
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  • Halloween: A Search For The Sacred

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    Halloween: A Search For The Sacred
    Brian Zahnd

    It’s Halloween. The season of ghosts and goblins, haunted houses and horror movies. The modern observance of Halloween seems, for the most part, to be an innocent celebration of the strange joy of being scared. There’s no doubt that a significant number of us do enjoy being scared as a form of entertainment. How else do you explain that Stephen King has sold half a billion books?! But why? Why do we like to be scared? I think it has to do with a search for what is most missing in the modern world: the sacred. We like being scared because we are so very secular.

    When modernity came of age it banished the sense of the sacred. Empiricism, materialism, positivism had won the day. Science was now the high priest that would answer all questions and religion was merely the superstition of the hopelessly naïve. We found ourselves in a world without God or gods, a world beyond good and evil (as Nietzsche said), a world without angels and demons. Religion was but hucksterism and nothing was truly sacred anymore. Bob Dylan captured it well when he said,
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  • “You’re Not A Pacifist Are You?”

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    “You’re not a pacifist are you?”

    I get that question a lot. People who have read my books or heard my sermons will often “confront” me with that question. There seems to be a hint of scandal implied in the question, like asking, “you’re not a pornographer are you?” This strikes me as a bit strange. I suppose the hint of scandal comes from the assumption that pacifism is a sort of cousin to cowardice. This also strikes me as strange. To endorse the dominant view that the employment of violence is compatible with Christianity requires no courage at all — that’s just following the crowd. But to differ from the dominant view on the sanctity of state-sponsored violence may require an uncommon reservoir of moral conviction. Pacifism is not a popular position in America, and especially not among patriotic evangelicals who have ardently sought to amalgamate the American state and the Christian faith into one hybrid entity. Still I know what you’re wondering: what’s my answer to the loaded question about pacifism?

    First of all, I don’t like labels. Kierkegaard was right when he said, “when you label me, you negate me.” Just call someone a pacifist and you can dismiss them with a wave of your hand. Labels are often a way to avoid thinking. “Oh, he’s one of those.” Case closed. Mind closed. That being said, I have no problem with Christians who adopt the label of pacifist — if nothing else they provide an alternative witness to that of the Christian militarist whose numbers are legion.

    But I actually don’t claim the label of pacifist, and for this reason: pacifism is a political position on violence; it’s a position one could adopt apart from Jesus Christ — as for example the great writer and humanist Kurt Vonnegut did. But I am not a political pacifist. What I am is a Christian. And as a Christian we can talk about how Christ informs humanity on the subject of violence.
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