• When Everything’s on Fire Playlist

    Today is release day for When Everything’s on Fire. For most of my books I create an accompanying playlist (just for the fun of it). Every song on the playlist has some connection to the book. The reason for some songs is obvious. For example, in his foreword, Bradley Jersak quotes a line from Steve Bell’s “Wouldn’t You Love to Know,” so its on the playlist. “A Coffee with Nietzsche” has an obvious connection with the book. But the reason for some of the songs is nearly inscrutable. The hint I’ll give is that the songs are in the order they “appear” in the book. Here’s a link to the playlist on Spotify. Enjoy.

    BZ
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  • Escaping the Cave

    Two weeks from today (November 9) When Everything’s on Fire will be released. To possibly pique your interest, I’m sharing Bradley Jersak’s foreword to the book. (It contains an excellent analysis of Plato’s famous cave allegory that is definitely worth reading.)

    BZ

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    Foreword

    Frankenstein and Faust are yet the rage
    Unspeakable, the severing damage done
    Yet on the wind, the distant sound of drum
    And the sweetness of the sage
    Still might come a kinder age . . .

    –Steve Bell, Wouldn’t You Love to Know

    Friends of the truth, the book you are about to read brought me tears of both grief and joy. I moaned over the darkness revealed as darkness and laughed with hope as Easter dawn was unveiled afresh. This book is the word of the Lord. (Thanks be to God). I know this because “the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy,” and that Spirit reverberates throughout these pages.
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  • Six or Eight? On Reading the Gospels

    Six or Eight? On Reading the Gospels
    Brian Zahnd

    Let’s think about the Transfiguration for a few minutes. The mystery of Tabor is a theological diamond mine that has yielded treasures for two thousand years. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all give an account of the Transfiguration. With a tight focus on the Transfiguration story, we read that Jesus took three disciples (Peter, James, and John) up a high mountain where his divine glory was revealed in dazzling light, and where Moses and Elijah made their anachronistic appearance. When Peter suggested a construction of three tabernacles on the holy mountain — one each for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah — the idea was rebuked by the voice of God saying, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him!” After these heavenly words, the three disciples no longer saw Moses and Elijah, but only Jesus. From this rich passage we see that the Law and the Prophets are fulfilled in Christ and that only Jesus is the perfect Word of God. The disciples are told to listen to the beloved Son because Jesus is what God has to say. This is the story of the Transfiguration in tight focus.
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  • Christ and Nothing

    Today I stumbled upon a 2003 essay in First Things by David Bentley Hart. It’s 8,400 words on the inevitable nihilism of modernity. This is a topic I find myself thinking about a lot these days. What follows is my severe edit of the essay down to a thousand words that gets at the heart of the matter.

    BZ

    ___________________________________________________________________________________

    What is the consequence when Christianity, as a living historical force, recedes? We have no need to speculate, as it happens; modernity speaks for itself: with the withdrawal of Christian culture, all the glories of the ancient world that it baptized and redeemed have perished with it in the general cataclysm. Christianity is the midwife of nihilism, not because it is itself nihilistic, but because it is too powerful in its embrace of the world and all of the world’s mystery and beauty; and so to reject Christianity now is, of necessity, to reject everything except the barren anonymity of spontaneous subjectivity. As Ivan Karamazov’s Grand Inquisitor tells Christ, the freedom that the gospel brings is too terrible to be borne indefinitely. Our sin makes us feeble and craven, and we long to flee from the liberty of the sons of God; but where now can we go? Everything is Christ’s. Read more

  • Bob Dylan: A Tribute


    Bob Dylan: A Tribute
    Brian Zahnd

    Early one mornin’ the sun was shinin’
    I was layin’ in bed
    Wond’rin’ if she’d changed at all
    If her hair was still red

    That’s how it began. Early one morning when I was fifteen I woke to “Tangled Up In Blue” on the radio. At that time my music obsessions were rock bands like Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Blue Öyster Cult, ZZ Top; I wasn’t into singer-songwriter music — it wasn’t heavy enough for me. I was only vaguely aware of Bob Dylan; I knew “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “Lay Lady Lay.” That was about it. But as I listened to the song in a half-dream state I was mesmerized by the meter and effortless rhymes of Dylan’s poetry.

    I lived with them on Montague Street
    In a basement down the stairs
    There was music in the cafés at night
    And revolution in the air

    I believe it was that morning in 1975 that my love for artistic language was born, and I know that was the moment I became a Bob Dylan fan. For over forty-six years BZ (Bobby Zimmerman) has been a constant companion, providing the soundtrack for my life. If I were to listen to all the records, CDs, and digital files of Dylan albums and live bootlegs that I have, it would take weeks of 24-7 listening.

    Yes, I’m a hardcore fan. I didn’t choose to become a hardcore fan, it just happened. It’s more like an addiction, but an addiction that has been nothing but good for me. I respect the kind of hardcore fandom you see among enthusiasts of Dylan, The Beatles, The Grateful Dead, U2, Metallica, etc. A deep dive into an artist’s work makes it that much more enjoyable. Nevertheless, I don’t think it’s really a choice you make, it just happens. I’m grateful that Dylan’s art captured my heart at a young age.
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  • Ash Wednesday and the Lenten Journey


    The shadow of a cross on a cemetery wall in northern Spain.

    ASH WEDNESDAY AND THE LENTEN JOURNEY
    (Ash Wednesday 2021 is February 17.)

    THE UNVARNISHED JESUS
    LENT Day 1 (Ash Wednesday)
    Mark 8:31–38 | Jesus Foretells His Death

    We begin our Lenten journey with Jesus by hearing him tell us that he’s not headed to greatness as the world esteems greatness, but to the cross and to death. Peter and the rest of the disciples understand that Jesus is on his way to the capital city of Jerusalem to lay claim to the throne — to become the King of the Jews. But without any ambiguity Jesus tells his disciples that he will suffer many things, be rejected by the chief priests, and finally be killed. Yes, Jesus also says that his apparent defeat will be turned to victory when he is raised on the third day, but his disciples probably hear this as an idiom referring to the resurrection of the righteous at some point in the future — as when Hosea says, “After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up.” That Jesus could become King of the Jews through suffering and death is inconceivable to Peter. For Peter, a messiah who is killed is a messiah who fails, and Peter didn’t sign up for failure. Jesus alone seems to understand that a breakthrough into new life is only attained through the experience of loss. Martin Luther was right, Christianity is not a theology of glory, but a theology of the cross. But to choose the way of the cross over the way of glory is a hard lesson to learn.
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  • Of God and Genocide

    Oh God said to Abraham, “Kill me a son”
    Abe says, “Man, you must be puttin’ me on”
    God say, “No.” Abe say, “What?”
    God say, “You can do what you want Abe, but
    The next time you see me comin’ you better run”
    Well Abe says, “Where do you want this killin’ done?”
    God says, “Out on Highway 61”
    —Bob Dylan, “Highway 61 Revisited”

    Let’s play a little game. I’ll ask a few questions and you answer them. Okay?

    First question: Did God tell Abraham to kill his son?

    You say yes? But hastily add that God didn’t actually require Abraham to go through with it — it was just a test of faith.

    All right.

    Next question: Did God command Joshua, King Saul, and the Israelites to kill children as part of the ethnic cleansing of Canaan?

    Is that a hesitant yes I hear, like walking in untied shoes?

    My next question is simple and straightforward: Does God change?

    I sense your confident answer of no to this question. And you are quite correct. A cornerstone of Christian theology has always been that God is immutable — that is, God doesn’t mutate from one kind of being into another kind of being. The immutability of God is the solid ground upon which our faith stands.

    Next question (brace yourself): Since God doesn’t change, and since you have already acknowledged that in times past God has sanctioned the killing of children as part of a genocidal program of conquest, is it then possible that God would require you to kill children?

    You say you don’t like this game? I understand. I don’t really like it either. But bear with me a little more; we’re almost done.

    Last question: If God told you to kill children, would you do so?

    I know, I know! Calm down. Of course, you answer without hesitation that under no circumstances would you participate in the genocidal slaughter of children. (At least I hope that’s how you answer!)

    Yet in answering with an unequivocal no to the question of whether you would kill children, are you claiming a moral superiority to the God depicted in parts of the Old Testament? After all, the Bible says God commanded the Israelites to exterminate the inhabitants of the land during their conquest of Canaan, including children…right? Yet (hopefully) you find the very suggestion of participating in genocide morally repugnant. So what’s going on here? Is genocide something God used to command but now God has reformed his ways? We already agreed that God doesn’t change, God doesn’t mutate. So if God used to sanction genocide, and God doesn’t change…well, you see the problem. You’ve been painted into a corner.

    So where do we go from here? Our options are limited. We really have only three possible courses.
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  • The Dangerous Heresy of Christian Nationalism

    The Dangerous Heresy of Christian Nationalism
    Brian Zahnd

    The insurrectionist attack upon the Capitol on January 6 was the most disturbing American moment since 9/11. Like millions of others I watched this awful event with grief-stricken horror on live television. As an angry mob of aggrieved Trump supporters surged up the Capitol steps, I saw among the flags and banners a “Jesus Saves” sign. My first thought was, “that’s what it means to take the name of the Lord in vain.” Among the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, white supremacists, and QAnon theorists, there were Christian nationalists who honestly believed they were somehow serving Jesus by participating in a violent insurrection. On January 6 we saw the danger of Christian nationalism on full display.

    Christian nationalism is the idolatrous conflation of Christian faith with American patriotism. Those under the sway of Christian nationalism essentially confuse America for the kingdom of God. The Bill of Rights is held as sacred as the Beatitudes and the Second Amendment is as revered as the Second Commandment (“Love your neighbor as yourself.”). Baptismal identity is eclipsed by national identity and rightwing politics overshadows the Sermon on the Mount.

    I don’t place too much blame on rank-and-file Christians who have departed from the true faith for the idolatry of religious nationalism — they are the inevitable disciples created by forty years of evangelical nationalism. But I do blame the pastors, preachers, and false prophets who have led the sheep down this disastrous path. Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell Jr., Pat Robertson, Paula White, Robert Jeffress, and all the rest share a deep culpability in the distortion of Christian faith into the heresy of religious nationalism. They should know better.
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  • Why I Don’t Own A Gun

    Why I Don’t Own A Gun
    by Brian Zahnd

    I don’t own a gun. I never have. Why?

    First of all I don’t hunt. I have nothing against hunting. (After all, I’m not a vegetarian.) I don’t hunt like I don’t golf — it’s just something I never took up. So I don’t own a shotgun or a hunting rifle for the same reason I don’t own golf clubs. And for the same reason you probably don’t own crampons and an ice axe. Since I don’t hunt, I don’t need the equipment.

    Secondly, I don’t own a gun because I don’t want to shoot anyone. Shotguns and hunting rifles are designed for the purpose of shooting game. Handguns and assault rifles are designed for the purpose of shooting people. But I don’t want to shoot anyone. So, once again, I don’t need the equipment. I’m perfectly content to allow a trained and authorized police force to handle this equipment on behalf of society. I think that’s a good idea. (If you don’t think that’s a good idea, well, then we just disagree. Don’t shoot me.) I’m not a police officer, so I don’t need police equipment. I don’t own surgical equipment either, because…well, you get my point.

    Can you come up with an imagined scenario where I would wish I had a gun? Probably. Can I come up with an imagined scenario where you wish you did not own a gun? Just as easily. (And my imagined scenario turns out to be a whole lot more common in real life!)
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