All posts by Brian Zahnd

  • The Dark Side of Christmas

    The Dark Side of Christmas
    Brian Zahnd

    Today is the Feast of the Holy Innocents — an unflinching look into the dark side of Christmas. In his Gospel, Matthew tells a macabre story you won’t find on any Christmas card — King Herod’s massacre of the innocents. (Matthew 2:1-18)

    Two thousand years ago Jesus was born into a world where vicious despots were willing to employ hideous violence to hold on to power — which is to say a world not unlike our own. The lethal violence directed at Jesus, first as an infant and then at the end of his life, accentuates the political nature of the kingdom of heaven. This kingdom does nothing less than radically reimagine how the world should be organized. The kingdom that Jesus Christ brings is not a kingdom restricted to heaven, but a kingdom for earth coming from heaven. Of course, the principalities and powers always view this heavenly invasion as a challenge to their tyranny. When the Magi inquired, “Where is the child who has been born King of the Jews?”, it wasn’t long before death squads were sent by Herod in an attempt to eliminate his rival. And what was the inscription Pontius Pilate placed upon the cross indicating the capital crime of Jesus? “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.”
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  • O Little Town of Bethlehem

    O Little Town of Bethlehem
    Brian Zahnd

    But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah,
    who are one of the little clans of Judah,
    from you shall come forth for me
    one who is to rule in Israel,
    whose origin is from of old,
    from ancient days.
    Therefore he shall give them up until the time
    when she who is in labor has brought forth;
    then the rest of his kindred shall return
    to the people of Israel.
    And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord,
    in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
    And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great
    to the ends of the earth;
    and he shall be the one of peace.
    —Micah 5:2-5a

    The prophet Micah was a contemporary of Isaiah of Jerusalem, prophesying seven hundred years before Christ. Micah is best known to us as the one who foretold the birth of Messiah in Bethlehem. Of course, Bethlehem was the birthplace of King David, so it makes sense that the messianic Son of David would also be born there. Nevertheless, Bethlehem was only a small and seemingly insignificant village, but this is in keeping with the ways of God — the work of God often emerges from quiet obscurity.
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  • 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

    _____________________________________

    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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