• Don’t Rush Past Good Friday

    crucifixion copy

    Don’t Rush Past Good Friday
    Brian Zahnd

    Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by?
    –Lamentations 1:12

    Easter is approaching, but between us and the pastel colors of Easter lies a ghastly and bloodstained Good Friday. Don’t rush past it. In your haste to get to the garden of the empty tomb, don’t whistle past the gruesomeness of Golgotha. The resurrection is made as cheap as the fake grass in an Easter basket if we don’t linger long and hard over the catastrophe of Calvary. The cross is the epicenter of Christianity. And it is the cross that is the peculiar scandal of Christianity. As the Apostle Paul said,

    “We preach Christ crucified, a scandal to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.” –1 Corinthians 1:23

    There is nothing particularly unique about a religion that worships a resurrected god — the ancient world was awash with such religions. But Christianity is the only religion to have as its central focus the suffering and degradation of its God! Easter alone does not make Christianity unique. It’s with Good Friday and Easter together that we find the uniqueness of Christianity.
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  • Dominus Flevet (The Lord Wept)


    Dominus Flevet – The Lord Wept
    Brian Zahnd

    “And when Jesus drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, ‘Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.’” –Luke 19:41, 42

    Today is my birthday and I’m with Peri in the Old City of Jerusalem; we’re spending a few days here before leading a pilgrim tour of the Holy Land. This morning we began our day with prayer in the beautiful Church of All Nations located in the Garden of Gethsemane. We then walked to Bethany so we could retrace Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into the city of Jerusalem.

    On what we now call Palm Sunday Jesus arrived in Jerusalem as the long-awaited Messiah and King of All Nations. Unlike Pilate who entered the city from the west riding a warhorse (there’s always some dude on a horse!), Jesus entered the city from the east riding a lowly donkey in a deliberate embrace of Zechariah’s prophecy about a humble king who would come to teach peace to the nations.
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  • Water To Wine Gathering

    Water to Wine Gathering 1024x1024

    Two years ago I published Water To Wine — a memoir of my spiritual journey out of Americanized pop Christianity into a deeper, richer, more substantive Christian faith. This journey was both the best and most difficult thing I’ve done in over forty years of following Jesus. I describe it as being “born again again” and use the metaphor of water turning to wine. (You can read more about my water to wine journey in this blog post: Twenty-Two Days.)

    I’ve honestly been surprised at how much interest there’s been in the story of my spiritual/theological transition. I think part of the interest is that I did it as a pastor while attempting to bring my congregation with me — a risky endeavor that I more or less succeeded in doing (though not without considerable cost and pain).

    Since the publication of Water To Wine I’ve received messages from hundreds of pastors and Christian leaders from across America and from a dozen or more countries who personally resonate with my story. I find that so gratifying. These days I typically receive three or four of messages a week from pastors who are on what I call “the journey.” Many ask to come visit me and I always say yes, even though it can be a challenge to find the time. A few have even moved to St. Joseph to be a part of Word of Life. I find that so amazing!

    Last fall after meeting with a pastor from Texas, I began thinking about hosting a gathering for people who are on their own “water to wine” journey; I want to tell these seekers what I wish someone had told me fourteen years ago. This will also be a great opportunity for people on the water to wine journey to connect with one another. When I floated the idea on social media, it generated an enthusiastic response.
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  • Twenty-Two Days

    Version 2

    Fourteen years ago I began a journey of faith that led me beyond paper-thin pop Christianity, cheap certitude, and nationalistic civil religion. That’s when the water became wine! In a few days we’ll be announcing a Water To Wine gathering here at Word of Life in St. Joseph in June. But today I thought I would share the first chapter of Water To Wine — the story of my deep discontent and the 22 day fast that began the pivotal year of 2004. (The photo is me in Beit She’an, Israel in November of 2003, shortly before the fast.) -BZ

    Twenty-Two Days

    “No one who has ever tasted fine aged wine prefers unaged wine.”

    “The only wines that actually speak to our whole lives are authentic wines. Confected wines are not designed for human beings; they are designed for ‘consumers.’ Which do you want to be?”
    —Terry Theise

    “When we are crushed like grapes, we cannot think of the wine we will become.”
    —Henri J.M. Nouwen

    I was halfway to ninety — midway through life — and I had reached a full-blown crisis. Call it a garden-variety mid-life crisis if you want, but it was something more. You might say it was a theological crisis, though that makes it sound too cerebral. The unease I felt came from a deeper place than a mental file labeled “theology.” To borrow some King James style language, my soul was disquieted within me. It was like I was singing over and over the U2 song:

    I have climbed the highest mountains
    I have run through the fields
    Only to be with you
    But I still haven’t found
    What I’m looking for
    —U2, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”

    I was wrestling with the uneasy feeling that the faith I had built my life around was somehow deficient. Not wrong, but lacking. It seemed watery, weak. In my most honest moments I couldn’t help but notice that the faith I knew seemed to lack the kind of robust authenticity that made Jesus so fascinating. And I had always been utterly fascinated by Jesus. Jesus wasn’t in question but Christianity American style was. Read more

  • The Magi and I


    On the Twelfth Day of Christmas and on the Eve of Epiphany I thought I would re-post this. It still speaks to me and for me.

    This is T.S. Eliot’s majestic poem Journey of the Magi with my quasi-interpretation of it. And it’s 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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  • The Middle Way of Erasmus


    The Middle Way of Erasmus
    Brian Zahnd

    Ever since becoming familiar with the Renaissance theologian and Christian humanist Erasmus of Rotterdam (1466–1536) some ten or twelve years ago, I have often wished that Erasmus could have won the day during the theological tumults of the 16th century. By which I mean, I wish that the Renaissance-era Church in the West could have experienced reform without the divorce and subsequent Protestant fragmentation. (Recently I wrote some thoughts on the Reformation in a piece I called “Beyond the Wittenberg Door.”)

    This month Ron Dart published a collection of essays on Erasmus under the title Erasmus: Wild Bird. Ron Dart is a Canadian professor, scholar, and theologian with considerable expertise in Church History, Patristics, George Grant, and Thomas Merton. Dart has written 35 books and is an accomplished mountaineer. He’s also a personal friend and there are few people for whom I have as much respect as I do Ron Dart. He is an inspiring example of a wise and contemplative academic.

    In his latest book Dart asks, “What would the Christian Church be like today if the guidance and wisdom of Erasmus in the early 16th century had been followed rather than the reactionary Protestant thinking of Luther or Calvin or the equally brittle response of the Roman Catholic stance at the Treaty of Trent?” Throughout this collection of essays Dart makes these points about Erasmus:
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  • If This Is God…


    If This Is God…

    Brian Zahnd

    As we know, there was no room in the inn at Bethlehem, so the peasant couple from Galilee took refuge where they could. And as we know, the girl was “great with child” and her due date was nigh. As it turned out, the baby took his first breath and uttered his first cry in a cave that sheltered livestock. A feeding trough was turned into a crib for the newborn. A stable that had seen the birth of calves, kids, and lambs, now saw the birth of…GOD.

    This is what Christians confess about Christmas.

    We confess that Emmanuel (God with us) joined humanity, not by swooping down from the celestial heavens in a golden chariot, but by being born — born in a stable, wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. Like all of us, God was pushed from the womb through contractions, labor, agony, and blood, to enter headfirst into the beautiful and horrible mess that is our world. This is not Athena springing fully formed from the head of Zeus, this is Jesus born of Mary.
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  • Best Reads of 2017


    Reader extraordinaire Peri Zahnd shares her favorite books from 2017. -BZ

    BEST READS OF 2017
    By Peri Zahnd

    I can’t imagine a life without books — I was banned from reading for a week this year following eye surgery, which was just long enough to show me how awful it could be. As I’ve looked over the list of what I’ve read this year, there are three standouts in three different genres.
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  • 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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