All posts by Brian Zahnd

  • Beyond the Wittenberg Door

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    Beyond the Wittenberg Door
    Brian Zahnd

    Five-hundred years ago on All Hallows Eve (the day before All Saints Day) Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the All Saints Church in Wittenberg, Germany. Professor Luther was proposing a theological debate, what he got was a revolution. What Luther unwittingly launched that day in Wittenberg was one of the most momentous movements in church history: The Protestant Reformation. Among the many consequences of the Reformation was that the Western Church separated into Catholic and Protestant churches. One way of describing the Reformation would be, “there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other.” (Acts 15:39)

    So here we are now, five-hundred years down the road — five-hundred years beyond the Wittenberg Door. And finding ourselves half a millennium beyond the Wittenberg Door, how should we think about the Protestant Reformation? I have a few thoughts.
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  • Indigenous Peoples’ Day

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    Columbus Day?
    Brian Zahnd

    It’s Columbus Day in America. Sort of. While still a Federal holiday, less than half the states observe Columbus day. And in some states and in many cities today is observed as Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Where Native Americans still have a fairly visible presence Columbus Day can be a bit awkward.

    Growing up in Missouri I knew Columbus Day as the celebration of the “discovery” of America. Which lets slip the obvious fact that the story is being told from a European vantage point. When I arrived in Spain for the first time I hardly “discovered” Spain. Yet from my perspective I was making a new discovery. (I did refrain from claiming to now own Spain.)

    Contrary to what you may have thought, Columbus did not arrive on the shores of an empty wilderness, but on the shores of a world more populous than Europe. Tenochtitlan (Mexico City) was larger than any European city. But armed with guns, steel, and germs, and driven by the conquistador’s lust for gold and slaves, the population of the Americas was decimated. Columbus discovered America like that asteroid discovered the dinosaurs.
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  • Postcards From Babylon

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    Postcards From Babylon
    Brian Zahnd

    At the end of Peter’s first epistle — a letter to believers living in the eastern provinces of the Roman Empire — the apostle cryptically says, “She who is in Babylon greets you.” What does Peter mean by that enigmatic phrase? Why does Peter end his letter by referring to some mysterious woman living in the once great but now insignificant city of Babylon? The answer to this question has to do with the long and bloody history of empire and the new kind of empire that had just began to emerge in the world, a new empire in which Peter plays an important role.

    In the Hebrew scriptures Babylon is the prophetic icon of empire. Empires are rich and powerful nations that, in their arrogant assumption of a divine right to rule the nations and in their conceited claim of possessing a manifest destiny to shape history, intrude upon the sovereignty of God. Peter sees Rome as the contemporary equivalent to Babylon — the latest economic-military superpower deifying itself and asserting a sovereignty belonging only to God. “She” in “Babylon” is the bride of Christ, the church, the community of those who through faith and baptism have renounced the idolatrous belief that Rome is the savior of the world and that Caesar is Lord, who now boldly confess that it is Jesus who is the world’s true Lord and Savior. This is an audacious claim to say the least! It’s this controversial and dangerous claim that periodically landed Christians in prison and the Coliseum. That is, until the church in the era of Constantine found a way to compromise with the empire and make the convoluted claim that somehow both Christ and Caesar were Lord — one in heaven and the other on earth. Goodbye early Christianity, hello Christendom.
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  • Fyodor Dostoevsky Reviews “Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God”

    Fyodor Dostoevsky (a.k.a. Boyd Barrett) reviews Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God.

    (Thanks Boyd!)

    BZ

  • Christianity: A Tree Growing Up From the Soil of Scripture

    Tree

    Christianity: A Tree Growing Up From the Soil of Scripture
    Brian Zahnd

    This summer I spoke to a group of teens at our youth camp. My assigned topic was, “What’s the Deal with the Bible?”

    I began my talk by reading this passage from the Bible.

    “When a slaveowner strikes a male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies immediately, the owner shall be punished. But if the slave survives a day or two, there is no punishment; for the slave is the owner’s property.” (Exodus 21:20, 21)

    First I made sure the teens understood what this Bible passage said. If a slaveowner beats a slave and the slave dies immediately, there is to be some form of unspecified punishment. But if the slave clings to life for a day or two and then dies, there is to be no punishment. Why? Because, as the Bible says, “the slave is the owner’s property.”

    Then I asked the teens, “How many of you disagree with this?” Slowly and a bit hesitantly every teen raised their hand. (I say slowly and hesitantly, but I do remember some African-American teens shooting their hands up instantly and confidently!)

    I then addressed one of the youngest, saying, “So you disagree with the Bible?” She responded a bit cautiously, “Yeah, I guess so.” To which I said, “Good! You should!”
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  • The Looming Specter

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    The Looming Specter
    Brian Zahnd

    My criteria for writing a book is simple. I write what I cannot not write. I don’t rummage around in my mind for a topic, I don’t attempt to divine the whims of the market, I don’t ask, “Who is my target audience?” (A question always posed to me by publishers and one I never know how to answer. Everyone? Those who have ears to hear? Four friends? I don’t know.) I wrote A Farewell To Mars because I had to write about war in the light of Christ. I couldn’t be at peace until I did. I wrote Water To Wine because I had to tell some of my story. I was compelled to testify about what had happened to me. If these books found an audience who resonate with what I have to say, it makes me very happy…but I wrote them for the wellbeing of my own soul. And all of this is even more true with Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God.

    In Bob Dylan’s “Nettie Moore” there’s a line that says, “Got a pile of sins to pay for and I ain’t got time to hide.” I can relate to that. There is a sense in which I’m trying to make amends with Sinners in the Hand of a Loving God. I am trying to recant some of my old sermons that presented God as angry, violent, and retributive. But my deepest motivation for writing Sinners is not to do penance for purveying ignoble ideas about God. My chief motivation for writing this book comes not from looking into the past with regret, but from looking into the future with concern.
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  • Foreword to “Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God”

    ForBlog

    Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God releases August 15. Let me share with you Wm. Paul Young’s foreword. It’s full of brilliant and beautiful insights about our journey to know the God revealed in Christ. Enjoy!

    BZ
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  • Every Scene By Heart

    Perigrino
    Peri in front of our albergue in Belorado, Spain

    Peri Zahnd has written a book about her experience on the Camino de Santiago that she and I walked last fall. The book is entitled Every Scene By Heart. It’s a beautifully written and deeply spiritual memoir that takes the reader on the five hundred mile journey with Peri. I’m thrilled to say that Every Scene By Heart is now available! And to help celebrate I would like to share some thoughts from the afterword Peri asked me to write for her enchanting book.

    Sundown, yellow moon, I replay the past
    I know every scene by heart, they all went by so fast

    -Bob Dylan

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    Afterword
    Brian Zahnd
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  • I Love You, America, But Not Like That

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    I Love You, America, But Not Like That
    Brian Zahnd

    Happy Birthday, America. Today you’re 241 years old. I’ve known you for almost a quarter of your life, so I know you well. You’ve always been my home. But lately I feel something has come between us; there’s been some misunderstandings and I would like to clear the air.

    First of all, I love you. Like I said, you’re my home. I’ve been all over the world, but I’ve always come home to you. There’s so much I admire about you. Your energy, your creativity, your entrepreneurial spirit. You invented the blues, jazz, and rock ‘n’ roll. You’ve led the world for most of a century in science and technology. You even put a man on the moon! You came up with the idea of preserving vast tracts of your natural beauty through the genius of National Parks. (Some have suggested this is your best idea and I agree.) You’ve given us great artists like Walt Whitman, Harper Lee, and Bob Dylan. You provided refuge for great thinkers like Albert Einstein, Hannah Arendt, and Abraham Joshua Heschel. You opened your door to millions of immigrants from around the world — the poor looking for nothing more than safe haven and a new opportunity. You welcomed the Zahnds from Switzerland at the beginning of the last century. Indeed, you’re at your best when you live up to the lofty ideals of Lady Liberty.

    Give me your tired, your poor,
    Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
    The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
    Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
    I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

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