• We Need Contemplative Pastors

    JacobsDream

    We Need Contemplative Pastors
    Brian Zahnd

    I became a pastor when I was twenty-two. (In reality I had been doing the work of a pastor since I was seventeen, but by the time I was twenty-two I had been ordained and embarked upon the fulltime vocation of being a pastor.) As I look back upon this, it does appear somewhat ridiculous. A twenty-two-year-old founding pastor! Do I regret it? Yes and no. I admit that it’s probably not the best way to go about planting a church and making disciples, but it’s what happened. It was part of the phenomenon of the Jesus Movement. Young would-be followers of Jesus were looking to me for leadership. It’s the cards that were dealt me. So I did my best. I learned on the job. And the Lord was with us.

    But by the time we began to have the success of numerical church growth in the 1990s, we were fully locked into the charismatic evangelicalism that too often appears committed to an elementary level of faith. Later I would discover just how difficult it can be to lead a large church beyond a quasi-fundamentalist and largely reactive Christianity. It’s not impossible, but it’s very difficult. And always painful.
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  • It’s My Birthday and I’m an Eclectic Christian

    Card

    It’s My Birthday and I’m an Eclectic Christian
    Brian Zahnd

    Today is my birthday and the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in Clyde, Missouri made me a birthday card. On the cover of the card is a cross composed of the “Five Words” (Cross, Mystery, Eclectic, Community, Revolution) that I talk about in the second chapter of Water To Wine. And since it involves the Sisters at Clyde, let me share a little bit of the Eclectic portion from the “Five Words” chapter. It’s a nice story…
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  • Walking the World as the Pardon of God

    cimabue_stfrancis

    Walking the World as the Pardon of God
    Brian Zahnd

    My father died in 2009. He was one of the wisest and kindest men I’ve ever known. L. Glen Zahnd was a judge and at his funeral a man he had once sent to prison for armed robbery came up to me and said, “I’m here today to honor your father. In his capacity as judge he sent me to prison, but he always treated me with respect and kindness. He was as merciful as he could be and he strove to preserve my dignity.” My father was like that — he was a man full of grace. He spent his last few months in a Franciscan nursing home called La Verna. It’s named after the place where St. Francis of Assisi received the wounds of Christ. In his final years my father suffered from dementia and could barely communicate. But whenever he was asked if he would like to receive Communion, he always managed to say yes. Even as his mind and body were failing him, this man known throughout the community for his kindness wanted to maintain his connection to grace.
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  • American Exceptionalism?

    Uncle_Sam

    American Exceptionalism?
    Brian Zahnd

    American Exceptionalism: The theory that the United States occupies a special place among the nations of the world and possesses a unique destiny in history.

    I’ve heard it said, “American Exceptionalism is simply a fact.”

    I’m sure it is.

    Just like Greek Exceptionalism and Roman Exceptionalism and British Exceptionalism were facts too.

    If you’re not exceptional, you’re just another nation. “Exceptionalism” is required of a superpower. It’s what gives cred to the “We’re number one!” chant.

    But you’ll have to excuse me if I don’t get too excited about Greco-Roman-British-American Exceptionalism — or any other geopolitical claim to exceptionalism.

    (There really is a big difference between being truly exceptional and merely the latest in a long line.)

    American Exceptionalism. This too shall pass. There’s only one exception.

    The Kingdom which endures world without end: The Empire of Christ.
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  • Patience

    Sunrise
    Sunrise from Mount Sinai, November 9, 2006

    PATIENCE
    Brian Zahnd

    The first Sunday in November, 2006, we celebrated the twenty-fifth anniversary of Word of Life Church. Following the services Peri and I flew to Tel Aviv and from there to Eilat on the Red Sea. The next morning, with luggage in tow, we walked across the border to Egypt where we were met by Mina — a Coptic Christian guide, Akhmed — a Bedouin driver, and Mohammad — an Egyptian security guard from Cairo. We were on our way to climb Mount Sinai. I had made an appointment to meet God on the summit of Sinai at sunrise on November 9, 2006. This was the thirty-second anniversary of my teenage encounter with Jesus and, as I thought of it, the beginning of the second half of my ministry. I wanted to re-consecrate my life and ministry on the mountain where Moses met with God.

    Introductions were made, the five of us piled into a Toyota Land Cruiser, and we headed into the desert…off road. Only a Bedouin driver familiar with the Sinai wilderness could have pulled this off. It was an unbelievably rough ride and I was terribly carsick. After stopping along the way to explore the Colored Canyon and have a meal at a Bedouin camp, we reached our lodging around 10:00 p.m. We were up at 2:00 a.m. to climb the mountain. It was a short night. We were told it would take us about four hours to reach the summit, but we made it in two. So for another two hours we shivered in the dark in freezing temperatures awaiting sunrise. But the cold, dark wait was worth it. It was the most memorable sunrise of my life. We kept our appointment with God and then began our descent. By mid-morning we arrived at St. Catherine’s Monastery at the foot of the holy mountain. This monastery dating back to the fourth century is the oldest site of continuous Christian worship in the world. Orthodox monks have been praying here day and night for seventeen centuries. I wanted to join them in prayer. At first the monks refused since we were not Orthodox, but with a bit of pleading and cajoling they allowed us into the chapel where we added our voices to seventeen centuries of prayer.
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  • Grain and Grape

    van-gogh-wheat-field

    Grain and Grape
    Brian Zahnd

    In the mystery of the Eucharist God in Christ chooses to make himself present to humanity by ordinary elements. Through grain and grape we find Christ present in the world. But it’s not unprocessed grain and grape that we find on the Communion table, it’s bread and wine. Grain and grape come from God’s good earth, but bread and wine are the result of human industry. Bread and wine come about through a cooperation of the human and the divine. And herein lies a beautiful mystery. If grain and grape made bread and wine can communicate the body and blood of Christ, this has enormous implications for all legitimate human labor and industry.

    The mystery of the Eucharist does nothing less than make all human labor sacred. For there to be the holy sacrament of Communion there must be grain and grape, wheat fields and vineyards, bakers and winemakers. Human labor becomes a sacrament. A farmer planting wheat. A vintner tending vines. A miller grinding wheat. A winemaker crushing grapes. A woman baking bread. A man making wine. A trucker hauling bread. A grocer selling wine. Who knows what bread or what wine might end up on the Communion table as the body and blood of Christ.

    This is where we discover the holy mystery that all labor necessary for human flourishing is sacred. A farmer plowing his field, a worker in a bakery, a trucker hauling goods, a grocer selling wares, all are engaged in work that is just as sacred as the priest or pastor serving Communion on Sunday. The Eucharist pulls back the curtain to reveal a sacramental world.
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  • Closing The Book On Vengeance

    Jesus-Synagogue (1)

    Closing The Book On Vengeance
    (A reflection on Luke 4:14-30)
    Brian Zahnd

    To proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor,
    and the day of vengeance of our God.

    This is how Jesus read Isaiah 61:2 when he returned to Nazareth after beginning his ministry. Jesus edited Isaiah. Reading from this familiar passage in Isaiah, Jesus stopped midsentence and rolled up the scroll! It would be like someone singing the national anthem and ending with, O’er the land of the free. Everybody would be waiting for and the home of the brave. Jesus didn’t finish the line. Jesus omitted the bit about “the day of vengeance of our God.”

    In announcing that God’s jubilee of liberation, amnesty, and pardon was arriving with what he was doing, Jesus omitted any reference to God exacting vengeance on Israel’s enemies. In claiming that Isaiah’s prophecy had been fulfilled in their hearing, Jesus is claiming to be Jubilee in person. But the scandalous suggestion is that this Jubilee is to be for everybody…even Israel’s enemies.

    Jesus edited out vengeance, and this gives us a key to how Jesus read the Old Testament. And lest we think that Jesus’ omission of “the day of vengeance” was simply an oversight or meaningless, consider what Jesus says to the hometown crowd in the synagogue following his edited reading of Isaiah. Jesus recalls the stories of the widow of Zarephath and Naaman the leper — Gentiles who instead of receiving vengeance from God, received provision and healing.
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  • Silence Please

    A Quiet Place

    Silence Please
    Brian Zahnd

    Ours is an angry and vociferous age. We’re constantly subjected to the noise of charged political rhetoric — the wearying din of the culture wars. Too often Sunday morning can be little more than a religious echo of this same noise. But shouldn’t Sunday be a Christian Sabbath, a time to quiet our souls and receive the gift of silence? What if, instead of being another contributor to this clatter, our churches became a shelter from the storm offering respite to shell-shocked souls?

    Silence belongs to an earlier age. Ours is an age of noise. With our technological progress has come the din of modernity. With the advent of digital social media has come the white noise of everyone “expressing themselves.” Silence is now a precious commodity, a scarce resource hard to come by. Sure, we can pray anywhere, anytime, but to pray well, to pray in a way that restores the soul, we need to find some quiet places. This is what we find appealing in the holy hush of the cathedral, the sacred stillness of the monastery, the reverent quiet of the woods.

    When birdsong and gentle footfall replace the shrill rancor of 24-7 news and the inane blare from five-hundred channels, the soul has a chance to heal. Without some intentional silence the weary soul is a prisoner being slowly worked to death in a merciless gulag of endless noise. The always-posted sign at the entrance of the tourist-attracting cathedrals is perhaps a desperate plea from the soul of modern man — Silence Please.
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  • Revolutionary Jesus

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    Revolutionary Jesus
    Brian Zahnd

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

    —The Beatles

    The revolution of Christ is the radical alternative to the unimaginative politicism of the religious Right and Left.

    Jesus is not apolitical. Far from it. Jesus is intensely political! But Jesus has his own politics — and they cannot be made to serve the interests of some other political agenda. As Eugene Peterson says, “The gospel of Jesus Christ is more political than anyone imagines, but in a way that no one guesses.”

    The politics of Jesus are set forth in the Sermon on the Mount — and neither the Republican nor the Democratic party have any intention of seriously adopting those politics! They simply cannot. The politics of the Sermon on the Mount are antithetical to the political interests of a military and economic superpower.

    The problem with both the Christian Right and the Christian Left is that they reduce “Christian” to the diminished role of religious adjective in service to the all-important political noun. But as Karl Barth taught us, God cannot serve some other interest, God can only rule. …
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