All posts in Culture

  • Walter Brueggemann | Schooled In Denial

    Hey everybody!

    Walter Brueggemann
    will be our guest speaker at Faith & Culture 2013!

    (November 4-6, 2013 | Word of Life Church | St. Joseph, Missouri)

    Here’s a taste of Brueggemann’s inimitable genius…


    Go HERE for more information and to register for Faith & Culture 2013.

    Do it today!



    Here’s some of the highlights from the Brueggemann video…

    The wounded in our society are everywhere, but we are schooled in denial.

    Art both ministers to people at the point of their pain, but may also be a way of penetrating the denial to have a conversation about it in the first place.

    The pressure for certitude and absolutism is a kind of anxious, frightened response to the reality of pain. We think we cannot bear it, so we protect ourselves from it by imagining that we don’t know about our own pain.

    But what we always discover is that if we can get access to our pain in a community that we trust [the church], our pain is almost always is bearable, because the trustworthiness of our brothers and sisters will hold and is reliable and will not let us fall through.

    What good artistry has to do is help us to see or hear that our certitudes are mainly phony, that life does not conform to our certitudes.

    God in the whirlwind speeches [in Job] is also something of an artist; he moves in big images and questions and invites a fresh think about things.

    The church is historically and instrically an artistic operation.

    If people are caught in dogmatism or in moralism they tend not to notice how incredibly artistic it all is.

  • Black Friday and The American Malady


    Black Friday and The American Malady
    Brian Zahnd

    I’m not sure when Black Friday became a “thing.” It hasn’t always been with us. But I am sure that Black Friday as a celebration of consumerism coming the day after Thanksgiving is symptomatic of the American Malady.

    Black Friday as a celebration of consumerism coming the day after Thanksgiving is symptomatic of the American Malady.
    On Thursday we gather around a table to give thanks and feast with family and friends.

    On Friday we stampede madly into the temples of American consumerism.

    On Thursday we give thanks to God for the cornucopia of plenty.

    On Friday we trample our neighbors to get a good deal on a flat-screen TV.

    It seems to have echoes of Israel eating the Paschal lamb only to worship the golden calf. Read more

  • Ring Them Bells


    Ring Them Bells
    Brian Zahnd

    We now have a church bell at Word of Life! I’m ridiculously excited about this. I’ve wanted a bell for several years and recently an old church bell was donated to us. We will “debut” our bell this Friday at our Thanksgiving Communion Service and Christmas Tree Lighting.

    But let me tell you about me and the bells.

    I grew up with church bells. My Baptist church had a bell. A group of old men were in charge of ringing it on Sunday mornings. They were quite serious about it. A few times when I was a small child they let me “help” ring the bell. I would hold onto the rope, be pulled off my feet, and the old men would have a good laugh. It’s a fond memory.

    But somewhere along the way church bells began to disappear. They became antiquated. We moved to the suburbs, built our new non-descript utilitarian metal buildings and left the bells behind. Church bells were passé. When we built our church facility in 1996 it never entered my mind to have a bell. And I never thought a thing about not having a church bell.

    Until I began traveling in Muslim countries…
    Read more

  • A Long Way from Mona Lisa’s Smile


    A Long Way from Mona Lisa’s Smile
    by Brian Zahnd

    Yesterday Edvard Munch’s modern masterpiece, The Scream, sold at Sotheby’s auction house in New York for a record $120 million, making it the most expensive piece of art ever sold at auction. To which I say three things:

    1. I like Edvard Munch. I saw an exhibit of his paintings at the Art Institute of Chicago in 2009.

    2. $120 million is a lot of money for a painting.

    3. We’re a long way from Mona Lisa’s smile.

    What do I mean by that? Well, if Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa with her enigmatic smile is the iconic image of the Renaissance, then Munch’s Scream may be the leading contender for the iconic image of modern man. And this is worth pondering. How has a mysterious smile been replaced by a horrified scream? What has happened to us? What is it about Munch’s disturbing masterpiece that speaks to us so deeply? Read more

  • Rhythm (Redo)


    I’ve been thinking about Advent today. It starts Sunday, you know. (For those of us at Word of Life it really starts Friday night with our Thanksgiving Communion Service and Christmas Tree Lighting.) Anyway, alert reader Gerald Lewis reminded me of this four and half year old post and it seems apropos. So with a few alterations, here is Rhythm (Redo).


    Life is full of rhythm.

    The daily rhythm of sunrise and sunset.
    The seasonal rhythm of winter, spring, summer, fall.
    The lunar rhythm seen in the cycles of the moon.

    When we consider the human body we can say life is rhythm.
    The steady rhythm of breathing.
    The syncopated rhythm of the heart.
    The many rhythms of a healthy body.
    When your body is out of rhythm you are sick.
    If the rhythm is not restored you are dead.

    Art is rhythm.
    Dance is rhythm
    Poetry is rhythm.
    Music is rhythm.
    (Pitch is the varying rhythms of frequency.)
    Is symmetry (the essence of beauty) a kind of rhythm?

    Strength is rhythm.
    The engine in your car is a machine for maintaining rhythm.
    When your car is out of rhythm you take it to the mechanic.
    One of the secrets to climbing a mountain is rhythm.
    It’s easier to climb a mountain with rhythm than in fits and starts.

    If String Theory is right…
    (The quantum world consists of single-dimensional oscillating strings.)
    …the entire physical universe is rhythm.

    But we have lost our rhythm. Read more

  • Are Christians afraid of conversation?

    Since the publication of What to Do on the Worst Day of Your Life in March, I have given a few dozen interviews, mainly on talk radio, and I have noticed something that bothers me. These interviews have been pretty evenly divided between mainstream format radio and Christian format radio. Generally, the questions I’m given on mainstream radio are thoughtful, and at times challenging, leading to a lively and substantive conversation. Conversely, the questions I’m typically given on Christian radio are shallow and trite and I have to work at preventing the conversation from becoming glib. That may sound a bit harsh, but I’ll stand by it. Read more

  • As I Was Saying. . .

    The problem is I’m trying to say something with words, and that is by no means a precise medium; and it should not be assumed that words are anything more than an approximate representation of reality. What is the spoken word but puffs of air? What is the written word but a series of symbols? A-P-P-L-E is not an apple. And so trying to communicate what you are feeling, sensing, thinking with puffs of air and inscribed symbols. . . well, let’s just say it’s not an exact science. And what if what I’m feeling, sensing, thinking has to do with G O D?


    Trying to use puffs of air and cute little symbols to say something about The One who is transcendent to the universe itself seems almost arrogant.

    But then again God is not only transcendent to the universe (though he is that too), but he has chosen to be a participant in the universe; and not only in the universe but in that curious species that is the human race. For God entered the human race through the most human event of all—conception and birth. And he continued his human journey all the way into death and clear through to the other side—resurrection. Incarnation and Resurrection. Everything that is genuinely Christian is in one way or another a manifestation of or a reflection upon Incarnation and Resurrection. If we understand Incarnation and Resurrection reasonably well, there is a reasonable chance we might get Christianity somewhat right. But if we don’t t do good thinking on Incarnation and Resurrection there is no chance at all of getting Christianity right. Instead, we’ll cook up some religious this or that and call it Christianity, but it will be nothing of the kind. Read more

  • The World and The Dance

    “And in the distance the Jesus-lovers sat with hard condemning faces and watched the sin.”
    –The Grapes of Wrath

    Thus John Steinbeck depicts the world-denying Pentecostals in The Grapes of Wrath as self-righteous , self-appointed morality police who take perverse pleasure in condemning the Saturday night square dance in the California migrant camp. Steinbeck’s terse portrayal of the “Jesus-Lovers” is unflattering, but not an unfair invention of fiction. Unfortunately, such people do exist, and in their existence they horribly distort the good news of Jesus Christ.

    The worst way to define ourselves as Christian is in the negative: What we are against. Steinbeck’s migrant camp Jesus-lovers were against dancing (and most other expressions of humanness). Of course, it is a caricature, but only in that it is perhaps an exaggeration. There remains the misguided tendency to identify ourselves by what we condemn.

    And we have made this quite clear to the wider society. Ask a non-evangelical to define what evangelicals believe and odds are they will not speak in terms of a personal salvation experience (the classical marker of evangelicalism), but will give you a summary of political positions and a list of items evangelicals are opposed to. And that these items may indeed be real evils and not the innocent dance of Steinbeck’s novel is beside the point. The question remains, do we really want to be primarily identified by what we are against? Don’t we have some good news to identify us?

    Here’s the question: What do we think of the world? Are we part of the world or not? Do we love the world or not? Do we have hope for the world or not? Read more

  • Brueggemann’s 19 Theses

    Walter Brueggemann is an Old Testament scholar who has spent so much time studying the Old Testament prophets that he seems to have turned into one. He scares me. He’s the Steven King of the authors I read. I remember reading The Prophetic Imagination on a flight from India and writing in the margin, “I wish I hadn’t read this…but I have and I am now responsible.” Walter Brueggemann scares because I think he’s right—that our society is far more distorted than we have supposed. But in this time of economic catastrophe, when Bel bows, Nebo stoops and the false gods of Babylon are shown to be incapable of providing the peace and security they promise, we may be open to a critique of our idols that could lead us to the truly radical alternative of hope in the living God. My prophetic declaration concerning 2009 has been that it is a year of falling idols and rising hope. May it come to pass. So without commentary, other than to say I agree with this prophetic perspective, I offer to you my adaptation and modification of Walter Brueggemann’s 19 Theses..

    1. Everybody lives by a script—whether implicit or explicit.

    2. We get scripted through the process of nurture, formation and socialization, and it happens without our knowing it.

    3. The dominant script in our society is one of technological therapeutic military consumerism.

    4. That script enacted through advertising, propaganda and ideology, especially in the liturgies of television, promises to keep us safe and happy.

    5. That script has failed. The script of technological therapeutic military consumerism cannot make us safe or happy.

    Read more