All posts in America

  • Columbus Day?

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    Columbus Day?
    Brian Zahnd

    It’s Columbus Day in America. Well, depending on where you live. South Dakota, Oregon, Alaska, and Hawaii don’t recognize Columbus Day. Where Native Americans still have a fairly visible presence Columbus Day can be a bit awkward. In South Dakota today is a state holiday — “Native American Day.”

    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 Portugal for the first time a few years ago I hardly “discovered” Portugal. Yet from my perspective I was making a new discovery. (I did refrain from claiming to now own Portugal.)

    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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  • Pope Francis: Lincoln, King, Day, Merton

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    Pope Francis: Lincoln, King, Day, Merton
    Brian Zahnd

    Pope Francis building his prophetic address to Congress around four Americans — Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton — was brilliant. Here were some of my favorite moments from the Pope’s speech.

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    I would like to mention four of these Americans: Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton.
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  • Jesus Goes To Washington

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    Jesus Goes To Washington
    Brian Zahnd

    In anticipation of Pope Francis addressing Congress on Thursday, I was reminded of a thought experiment I pose in A Farewell To Mars. What If Jesus addressed Congress?

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    Many American Christians are fond of describing the United States as a “Christian nation”—which would mean a Christlike nation. With that in mind, here’s a wild thought experiment:

    Imagine if Jesus went to Washington D.C. Imagine that he is invited to give a speech to a joint session of Congress. (He’s Jesus after all, and I’m sure the senators and congressmen would be delighted to hear a speech from the founder of the world’s largest religion — if nothing else it would confer some dignity upon their institution.) Imagine that the speech Jesus gives is his most famous sermon — the Sermon on the Mount. Can you imagine it?
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  • Hiroshima: An Anti-Transfiguration

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    Hiroshima: An Anti-Transfiguration
    Brian Zahnd

    “And Jesus was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became whiter than light.” –Matthew 17:2

    Seventy years ago today an atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan. Those who experienced it and lived to tell about it, all described it in similar fashion: It began with a flash brighter than the sun. It was August 6, 1945. According to the church calendar it was also the Feast of the Transfiguration.

    The atomic bombing of Hiroshima was the world’s first use of a weapon of mass destruction. In this seaport city of 250,000 people, 100,000 were either killed instantly or doomed to die within a few hours. Another 100,000 were injured. Of this city’s 150 doctors, 65 had been killed and most of the rest were injured. Of the 1,780 nurses, 1,654 were either dead or too badly injured to work. Hiroshima had become the house of the dead and dying. It was Transfiguration Day.

    When Jesus was transfigured on Mount Tabor his face shone like the sun, and when he came down the mountain a little boy was healed — a boy who had been thrown into fire and water by a demon.

    When “Little Boy” (the name given the bomb) shone like the sun over Hiroshima, thousands of little boys and girls were burned in atomic fire and poisoned by radioactive rain. The bombing of Hiroshima is the anti-Transfiguration.

    The Transfiguration was a turning point in Jesus’ ministry. Hiroshima was a turning point in human history.
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  • When America Went To Hell

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    When America Went To Hell
    Brian Zahnd

    “How I wish that you of all people would understand the things that make for peace.”
    —Jesus (Luke 19:42)

    Whether or not slavery was the direct cause for the first shots fired upon Fort Sumter in April of 1861 is a matter of scholarly debate. What is undeniable is that two and half centuries of slavery was the fuel that caused the American Civil War to ignite into a conflagration that resulted in 750,000 deaths. From its Jamestown beginnings the American colonies and later the United States practiced one of the most brutal forms of slavery the world has ever known. The preservation of an institution that systematically dehumanized millions of people for the sake of economic gain was not a thing that made for peace. Inevitably that kind of cruel exploitation would overflow its cup and unleash death and hell, bringing everything that is the opposite of peace. During the horror of the American Civil War, the “land of the free” became a burning Gehenna. Thirty percent of Southern men of fighting age were slain on battlefields that saw the birth of modern warfare. From now on, war would be totalized and mechanized. The four horseman of the Apocalypse galloped across America leaving a wake of war, disease, famine, and death.
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  • An Encyclical and a Massacre

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    An Encyclical and a Massacre
    Brian Zahnd

    Lord Jesus, help me to be a voice of peace, drawing your church in America away from its idolatrous allegiance to nationalism, militarism, consumerism, racism, violence, guns, and war. Amen.

    I pray this prayer everyday. I’ve done so for years. It’s part of my morning liturgy of prayer. Praying this prayer has formed me in a certain way. (The primary purpose of prayer is not to get God to do what we think God ought to do, but to be properly formed.) This prayer has influenced me to write books about forgiveness, beauty, and peace. My target audience is the evangelical church in America. My people.

    I also pray the Confession of Sin from the Book of Common Prayer. I always pray it in the plural…

    Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you…

    I pray this prayer in the plural because I know I am complicit in sins I have not personally committed. I know I benefit from sinful structures for which I’m not personally responsible. I benefit from an economy originally founded on stolen land and slave labor. I didn’t “do” these things, but still people like me benefit from them. I know this. So the very, very least I can do is pray, “Father, forgive us our sins.”

    I prayed these prayers today. Like I do everyday. But today is different.
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  • End of the Line (Five Years Later)

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    In May 2010 Charisma Magazine asked me to write this op-ed. Five years later I feel it’s perhaps even more relevant. What do you think?

    END OF THE LINE
    By Brian Zahnd

    Western Christianity is at a critical juncture. Those who care deeply about the church are aware of this. Things are not as they once were. Things are changing. Dramatically so. Even if we don’t understand what is happening, we can certainly feel it. There is an uneasy feeling throughout evangelicalism that everything is changing. Long-held certitudes are being challenged from both within and without the Christian faith. The way things were even ten years ago is no longer the way things are today. It’s easy to be disconcerted by it all.

    In the midst of pronounced uncertainty it is tempting to succumb to nostalgia and pine away for some point in the past that we identify as the “glory days.” But we cannot go back. The healthy practice of recognizing the contributions of the past and building upon them is not the same thing as a regressive attempt to return to a bygone era. This is the problem with revivalism. Too often it is a naive attempt to recapture a particular past. It’s like a Renaissance fair — nice entertainment for a Saturday afternoon but you can’t live there. An idealized memory of the past is not a vision which can carry us into the future. Nostalgic reminiscing about the past is for those who no longer have the courage to creatively engage with contemporary challenges and opportunities. All of this is related to the critical juncture we have come to in the course of Western Christianity.
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  • Bethlehem, Branson, and Baltimore

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    Bethlehem, Branson, and Baltimore
    Brian Zahnd

    Last week I was with a Palestinian Christian from Bethlehem. He talked about his grandfather — a peaceable follower of Jesus who was senselessly killed by an Israeli sniper. He also talked about his grandmother who refused to allow the family to fall into the dark abyss of hate. He talked about the decades of injustice and the daily indignities suffered by the Palestinian people. He talked about how Jesus is found among the oppressed. But he also said Jesus told him this: “Stop using me to justify hating your enemies.” He went on to say, “I live under Israeli military occupation and Jesus calls me to do one thing: Love my enemy.” Wise words. Wise words that didn’t come cheap and don’t ring hollow.

    This week I’ve been in Branson speaking at a retreat for Nazarene pastors — a beautiful gathering of thoughtful women and men who are engaged in the demanding task of leading congregations in the way of Jesus. It was a privilege to speak to these pastors. Next door to us in the convention hall was an end-time-doom-and-gloom preacher hawking blood moons and sporting banners festooned with American flags. I see a good deal of this sort of thing. Flags and crosses all mixed up. Crosses on flags. Flags on crosses. American flags flying in superiority over Christian crosses on church lawns. Flags mounted on top of churches where crosses ought to be. One gets the feeling that the idea is that flag and cross are interchangeable — quite nearly the same thing. But I beg to differ. Allow me to reproduce a passage from one of my books:
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  • What If Jesus Addressed Congress?

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    What If Jesus Addressed Congress?
    Brian Zahnd

    The cross is shock therapy for a world addicted to solving its problems through violence. The cross shocks us into the devastating realization that our system of violence murdered God! The things hidden from the foundation of the world have now been revealed. The cross shames our ancient foundation of violence. The cross strips naked the principalities and powers. The cross tears down the façade of glory that we use to hide the bodies of slain victims.

    In the light of the cross, we are to realize that if what we have built on Cain’s foundation is capable of murdering the Son of God, then whole edifice needs to come down. In the light of the cross, our war anthems lose their luster. But this throws us into a crisis. What other alternatives are there? How else are we to arrange the world? The alternative is what Jesus is offering us when he told us that the kingdom of God is at hand. God’s way of arranging the world around love and forgiveness is within reach. If we only dare to reach out for it, we can have it. But we are so afraid. We’re not sure we can risk it. It’s so hard for us to let go of the sword and take the hand of the Crucified One. It’s so hard for us to really believe in Jesus.

    The crowd never believes in Jesus. Only the little flock that accepts its vulnerability can believe in Jesus. If you tell those rushing to war that their hatred of enemies and their plan for the organized killing of enemies is evil, the crowd will hate you. War is sacred. It lies beyond critique. To critique it is blasphemy. The crowd hates blasphemy. The crowd wants to kill blasphemers. The crowd knows that the criticism of their violence is blasphemy because they know their cause is just. They believe it. And from their perspective their cause is just. They can prove it. Both sides can prove it. Always.

    Achilles knew his cause was just and that it was perfectly legitimate to drag Hector’s body from his chariot in front of the gates of Troy in a show of grotesque triumphalism. It’s the same grotesque impulse that causes modern soldiers to pose for gruesome photos with the bodies of dead enemies. It’s literally the way of the world. But it’s not the way of the new world founded by Jesus. Jesus is not the warrior king the world is accustomed to. Jesus is not the Jewish Achilles. Jesus refused to be the violent Messiah Israel longed for. Jesus did not kill Pilate and drag the governor’s body behind his chariot. Jesus did not pose triumphantly over the dead bodies of slain Roman soldiers. Instead it was Jesus who hung naked on a tree after being put to death through a state-sponsored execution. Jesus founded his kingdom in solidarity with brutalized victims. This is the gospel, but it’s hard for us to believe in a Jesus who would rather die than kill his enemies. It’s harder yet to believe in a Jesus who calls us to take up our own cross, follow him, and be willing to die rather than kill our enemies.
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