All posts by Brian Zahnd

  • Saved from Rage

    Iliad
    Saved from Rage
    Brian Zahnd

    Rage — Goddess, sing the rage of Peleus’ son Achilles,
    murderous, doomed, that cost the Achaeans countless losses,
    hurling down to the House of Death so many sturdy souls…
    What god drove them to fight with such fury?

    –The Iliad

    Homer’s Iliad — the closest thing the pagan world had to a Bible — is a five-hundred page war poem. Homer doesn’t sing his song in praise of war, though courage and valor are given their due; rather Homer alerts the world — then and now — to the senseless carnage that can be wrought once rage is let loose in the world of arrogant humans. It’s no accident that the first word of the ancient world’s greatest epic is Rage. And it’s noteworthy that in just the ninth line of the poem Homer asks, What god drove them to fight with such fury? Indeed, what god?

    The ancient world saw rage not as a mere human emotion, but as a kind of malevolent entity, a demon, a monster that if let loose could not easily be brought under control, and in its chaos could lay waste entire civilizations. The Iliad is Homer’s beautiful, but bitter testament to the destructive potential of unchecked Rage.
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  • Ascended, Not Absent

    ascension

    Ascended, Not Absent
    Brian Zahnd

    Ascension Day. It’s the most obscure of all the major holy days on the Christian calendar. Coming forty days after Easter, it commemorates the Ascension of Christ. The Christian calendar is designed to tell the gospel story from Advent to Pentecost. But most Protestants think the gospel story can be told with Christmas, Good Friday, and Easter alone. It’s safe to say that Ascension Day (Thursday, May 25) will come and go unnoticed and uncelebrated by most American Christians. (It may have a bit more recognition in Europe where it remains a public holiday.) That Ascension day for most American Christians is just another Thursday in Spring is telling. It tells of a deficient gospel and reveals a central problem in our political theology.

    Too often we seem to regard the Ascension of Christ as a kind of awkward explanation for the absence of Christ. Well, after his resurrection, Jesus lifted off for outer space and is now hanging out with God in heaven until he comes back.

    No. The Ascension is not about the absence of Christ, but about the ascendancy of Christ. The ascension of Christ to the right hand of God is the ascendency, the rise, the elevation, the promotion of Christ to the position of all authority in heaven and on earth. The right hand of God is not a cosmological location, but a poetic way of saying that God has now given all authority to Christ. The ascension of Christ does not lead to the absence of Christ, but to his cosmic presence everywhere. This is why the risen Christ says, “Behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” In the Ascension Christ now “fills all things everywhere with himself.” There is now no place where Christ is not, and there is no domain over which Jesus is not Lord.

    But that is not how most Christians have thought about the Ascension over the years. And this has had a detrimental effect upon our theology — especially our political theology. Let me explain.
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  • The Cults of Caesar and Christ

    DivineAugustus

    The Cults of Caesar and Christ
    Brian Zahnd

    The original name for what would eventually became known as Christianity was “the Way.” You won’t find “Christianity” in the Bible, but you will find “the Way” seven times in the book of Acts. If you had asked a baptized follower of Jesus during the first century, “What is your religion?,” she most likely would have replied, “I belong to the Way.” This is what the Apostle Paul said in his hearing before the Roman governor Felix: “I admit that I follow the Way, which they call a cult.” (Acts 24:14)

    The common life of following Jesus together was called the Way, not because it was the way to heaven (the afterlife was never the emphasis), but because they had come to believe that in his death and resurrection Jesus had inaugurated a new way of life. Because the lifestyle of the Way was such a radical departure from the way of the Roman Empire, it is no surprise that people viewed the Way with great suspicion and often maligned it as a dangerous cult.
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  • Kyrie Eleison

    Camino
    Kyrie Eleison
    Brian Zahnd

    Six months ago I walked across Spain. Five hundred miles.
    Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, France to Santiago de Compostela, Spain.
    Forty days and forty nights.
    A full life with two full moons. Harvest and Hunter’s.
    Heat and cold. Dust and rain. Wind and calm.
    It was all there.
    Beauty and blisters.
    Ecstasy and exhaustion.
    Pleasures and pains.
    Mountains, forests, and plains.
    Spaniards and Germans.
    Americans and Russians.
    Brazilians and Peruvians.
    Koreans, Japanese, and Chinese.
    They were all there.
    I was all there.
    Every step of the way.
    A million, three hundred thousand — give or take a few.

    I saw my life. The Camino was my life. My life compressed to forty days and forty nights.
    A five hundred mile walk of life. A precise (or at least an approximate) reflection.
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  • What Does This Mean? (Five Hundred Miles of Crucifixes)

    San_Martin_Fromista_cristo
    What Does This Mean? (Five Hundred Miles of Crucifixes)
    Brian Zahnd

    Six months ago Peri and I walked five hundred miles across Spain on the Camino de Santiago. It was quite simply the most wonderful, most spiritual, most healing thing we’ve ever done. The Camino changed both of us. This morning as I prayed I thanked God in tears for the gift of the Camino. Until today I’ve not written about it, mostly because I’m still absorbing it. But Holy Week seems like the right time to share one aspect of my experience.

    We began the Camino on September 14, 2016 ( Holy Cross Day). After a long trek across the Pyrenees mountains from St.-Jean-Pied-de-Port, France we arrived in Roncesvalles, Spain. In Roncesvalles I spent some time alone in a thirteenth century chapel gazing on a medieval crucifix. While sitting in this dimly lit sanctuary the Holy Spirit seemed to give me four instructions for my five hundred mile walk:
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  • God Is Love. God Is Love.

    Sunset from the Top

    God is Love. God is Love.
    Brian Zahnd

    The topography of biblical witness is full of peaks and valleys, mountains and plains. The Bible is not flat terrain. The honest reader of the Bible readily admits that the Levitical prohibition against eating shellfish does not reach the same heights as the lofty Christology in Colossians. As we look at the great peaks of inspired biblical witness, none soar higher than the twin peaks of divine revelation given to us by the Apostle John.

    “But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love. … We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love. God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them.” (1 John 4:8, 16)

    Soaring above everything else the Bible has to say about God are these twin peaks found in John’s first epistle: God is love. God is love.

    The Arapaho Indians called Longs Peak and Mount Meeker Nesótaieus, meaning “two guides.” The two peaks of this towering massif are useful for orientation when traveling in the front range of the Colorado Rocky Mountains, just as the two peaks of 1 John 4:8 and 4:16 are invaluable when navigating our way through the Bible. When the aged apostle put quill to papyrus to tell his readers that God is love (twice), and that to know love is to know God, and that to live in love is to live in God, he was making a daring move…and he dared to do it!
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  • The Sermon on the Mount and Caesar’s Sword

    Constantine

    The Sermon On the Mount and Caesar’s Sword
    Brian Zahnd

    As I call Christians to the practices of radical forgiveness and nonviolent peacemaking that Jesus embodied and most clearly sets forth in the Sermon on the Mount, I often encounter Christians using Romans 13:1–7 as a kind of rebuttal. (Though whom they’re rebutting — me or Jesus — isn’t always clear.) Their argument goes something like this:

    “God has ordained the government and has given it the sword to execute vengeance; therefore we cannot be opposed to war because Romans 13 sanctions ‘Just War.’”

    Usually this argument is given to me in the context of advocating that the United States government should wage total war on ISIS and other enemies of America, and that the church should celebrate this.

    But this is an egregious misinterpretation and misapplication of what Paul is talking about. Let me explain.
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  • The Barmen Declaration

    karl_barth

    The Barmen Declaration of 1934 was a call to resistance against the theological claims of the German Christian movement. The German Evangelical Church had given its support to the Nazi state following Hitler’s rise to power in 1933. In opposition to the pro Nazi Evangelicals, the Confessing Church movement was born with the Barmen Declaration as their founding document. Written primarily by Karl Barth, the Barmen Declaration was grounded in Barth’s theological conviction that God cannot be made to serve nationalistic interests, God can only rule the nations. Among the original signers of the Barmen Declaration were Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Niemöller. Of the 18,000 Protestant pastors in Nazi Germany, 3,000 became members of the Confessing Church.

    BZ
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  • Vive la Révolution!

    jesus-and-pilate (1)

    Vive la Révolution!
    Brian Zahnd

    Pagan astrologers read it in the stars — a new king of the Jews had been born. And so the magi came from the Orient bearing their gifts and accidentally got tangled up with the current King of the Jews — a debauched and murderous megalomaniac named Herod who decades earlier had been made an imperial client king by the Roman Senate.

    Not long after that the death squads were breaking down doors and killing baby boys in Bethlehem.

    An angel got Mary and Joseph and the baby king out of town in the nick of time. And so the Holy Family became refugees seeking asylum in a foreign country in order to escape a violent regime in their homeland.

    All this was happening while Augustus Caesar was the Roman Emperor. The coinage of the Roman economy bore the image of the “august” Caesar with imperial titles like, Son of God, Savior of the World, King of Kings, Prince of Peace. Sitting in his palace on Palatine Hill, Augustus could never have imagined that in less than forty years these titles would be re-appropriated for a Galilean peasant who had suffered a state sponsored execution under the jurisdiction of a Roman governor. Much less could Caesar Augustus have imagined that within a few centuries millions of people throughout the Roman Empire would pledge their allegiance to the crucified Jesus of Nazareth, calling him the risen King of all kings.

    But that’s what happened.

    If this all sounds very political, you’re right, it was…and it is.
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