All posts in Kingdom

  • 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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  • How Does the Church Differ From America?

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    How Does the Church Differ From America
    Brian Zahnd

    What is the church?

    Is the church a religious building with stained-glass and a steeple?
    Is the church a religious gathering that meets on Sunday mornings?
    Is the church a 501(c) 3 not-for-profit religious organization?

    I don’t want to give a quick and jaded “of course not.” There are reasons why stained-glass and steeples, Sunday gatherings and not-for-profit status have become associated with the church.

    But…

    In the end this is not what the church is.

    Maybe the church is something like this: The other way of being human (together). The way given to us by and built around Jesus Christ.

    The church is a distinct way of being human.
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  • The Last Testament of a Beheaded Christian

    Christian-de-Cherge?-On-est-comme-des-galets-qui-se-frottent-les-uns-aux-autres-et-qui-se-polissent-sous-le-regard-de-Dieu.

    The Last Testament of a Beheaded Christian
    Brian Zahnd

    Christian de Chergé was a French Catholic monk and the Trappist prior of the Tibhirine monastery in Algeria. With the rise of radical Islam in 1993, Father Chergé knew that his life was in danger. But instead of leaving Algeria, Father Chergé chose to stay and continue his witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ. On May 24, 1996 Father Chergé was beheaded by Muslim radicals. Anticipating his death, Father Chergé had left a testament with his family to be read upon the event of his murder. The testament in part reads:
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  • The Magi and I

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    T.S. Eliot’s poem Journey of the Magi with my quasi-interpretation of it. Which is more than an interpretation — it’s also a kind of autobiographical confession; for I too have had a hard time of it. And like Eliot’s Magi I would do it all over again.
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  • Christmas Shock and Awe

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    Christmas Shock and Awe
    Brian Zahnd

    Suddenly the angel was joined by a vast host of others,
    The armies of heaven,
    Praising God and saying,
    Glory to God in the highest,
    And peace on earth.

    –Luke 2:14

    This is Christmas shock and awe. D-Day circa 5 BC. The night skies over Bethlehem are suddenly filled with an invading army — an army from another world, an army representing another government, an army from heaven. This army has come in the cause of regime change. The world is about to be given a new day, a new kingdom, a new lease on life. Caesar, Pharaoh, Herod and all their kind are being supplanted by a newborn king — the King of the Jews. He is the long-awaited Prince of Peace. This is why the armies of heaven are invading the night skies over Bethlehem.

    Nearly 250 times the Old Testament describes the God of Israel as the LORD of Hosts, Yahweh Sabbaoth, the Lord of Armies. Now at the birth of God’s chosen king the armies of heaven invade earth with shock and awe. This is why the shepherds were “sore afraid.” But they need not have been. This is not a killing army, but a singing army. This army comes, not to kill, but to carol.

    The text in Luke says the angels were saying, but Christian imagination has interpreted their saying as singing. I like that. The army of heaven is a choir — combat by chorus. The army of heaven doesn’t launch missiles, it launches into song. The heavenly army sings of the glory of God and of peace on earth.
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  • Out of the Corner of My Eye

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    Out of the Corner of My Eye
    Blindman at the Gate

    I think I caught a glimpse of truth out of the corner of my eye.
    A ghost, a whisper, a suspicion, a subtle and subversive rumor.
    So dangerous that every army would be commanded to march against it;
    so beautiful that it would drive those who see it to madness
    or sanity.
    Does the whole of my kind suffer from mental and moral vertigo?
    As Melville said of cabin boy Pip,
    he saw the foot of God upon the treadle of the loom
    and dared to speak it.
    Henceforth his shipmates called him mad.
    As Vladimir said when they came to bury Fyodor,
    the spiritual leader must feel the falsehood prevailing in society;
    the prophet must struggle against it, never tolerate it, never submit to it.
    I think I caught a glimpse of truth out of the corner of my eye.
    Have we been so blinded by the bright lights of advertisers’ lies
    that the only true vision is peripheral vision?
    In the age of constant commercialization and overblown hype
    does truth shout with a whisper and stand out with subtlety?
    I think I caught a glimpse of truth out of the corner of my eye.
    It terrified me as I fell in love with it.
    I said,
    This explains everything.
    This changes everything.
    This challenges everything.
    This threatens everything.
    This transforms everything.
    Dare I speak it?
    The truth I caught out of the corner of my eye?
    Every empire of man is built upon a lie;
    they come to kill, steal, and destroy.
    Every empire of man is built upon a lie;
    all virtue is subject to sacrifice upon the altar of imperial expediency.
    Every empire of man is built upon a lie;
    God or gods exist only to serve its cause.
    Every empire of man is built upon a lie;
    religion takes off its mask when it says—
    We have no king but Caesar.
    The ultimate betrayal,
    the final apostasy,
    every empire of man is built upon a lie.
    Marx was more than half right when he said—
    Religion is the opiate of the masses.
    Every empire of man is built upon a lie:
    Self-promotion and Self-preservation,
    Greed and Lust,
    Industry and War,
    the industry of war.
    Long live the Empire!
    Keep the Empire alive,
    and to keep the Empire alive
    many will be made to die,
    because the Empire lives by the sword
    and dies by the same.
    Every empire of man is built upon a lie.
    From Aztec to Zulu,
    Egyptian and Ottoman,
    Persia and Babylon,
    Greece and Rome,
    England and—
    Now I’m too close to home.
    A kinder, gentler Babylon to be sure,
    but a Babylon for sure.
    Every empire of man is built upon a lie.
    So when Christ came
    he did not bring
    another empire of men
    built upon a lie
    as the liar in the desert tempted.
    Instead he brought
    the Empire of God,
    Good News!
    The government of justice and mercy, grace and truth,
    and the truth is
    every empire of man is built upon a lie,
    though every empire says,
    We have God on our side.
    So you will have to decide
    how patriotic a Byzantine believer can be.
    May we be salt and light,
    a prophetic voice,
    a Christian conscience.
    May we preserve and illuminate,
    cry aloud and convict,
    but never forget
    every empire of man is built upon a lie.
    And to stand for truth
    and to stand for God
    is to stand against the lie the empire is built upon.
    And in the midst of imperial self-justification pray—
    Thy Empire come.
    There, I’ve said it.
    The truth I glimpsed out of the corner of my eye.
    And when push comes to shove,
    as it always does,
    the Empire of Men will oppose the Empire of God.
    To know this is dangerous.
    To say it can be deadly.
    Do you think I’m kidding?
    What crucified Jesus?
    Self-righteous religion?
    No, not religion alone.
    Religion as the whore of Empire.
    This is what killed Jesus.
    And Paul.
    And Peter.
    And Polycarp.
    And Huss.
    And Bonhoeffer.
    Because this is what empires do.
    Silence the prophets who will not prostitute the truth.
    Religion is tolerated.
    Imperial religion is promoted.
    But the prophetic hope of another way
    must be censored
    even by the sword.
    This is the way of empire.
    Because
    every empire of man is built upon a lie.
    Constantine can become a Christian,
    but Constantine cannot baptize the Empire.
    The Empire of God converts the hearts of men one at a time.
    Christ the King must himself sponsor each one into his Kingdom.
    But when the Empire sanctions religion for its own purposes,
    the whore of Babylon rides the back of the beast.
    Giddyup and God bless the Empire!
    Every empire of man is built upon a lie.
    I glimpsed this truth out of the corner of my eye.
    To believe this truth will set you free.
    And you thought it was just Sunday school banality
    or empty religious sentimentality
    to pray
    Thy Empire come
    Thy Policy be done.
    You had no idea it was dissident and subversive,
    because every empire of men is built upon a lie.
    The lie that the empire has God on its side.
    I glimpsed this truth out of the corner of my eye.
    And if you ask me my politics, I will say,
    Jesus is Lord!
    I glimpsed this truth out of the corner of my eye.
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  • A Dusting of Snow During a Bloody Summer

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    A Dusting of Snow During a Bloody Summer
    Brian Zahnd

    It’s been a bloody summer. In Iraq, Syria, Gaza, Nigeria, and the Ukraine.
    Kill the bad guys and there will be peace is the tired refrain.
    All sides say it. Ad infinitum.

    (I didn’t even mention the bloody streets of America, to which we have grown so numb.)

    But I am where I always hope to be this time of year: In the mountains that I love.

    When I hike above treeline onto the great expanse of the high tundra my soul finds room for expansion. I’m no longer hemmed in by the din from the reactive ideologues. I find time and space to pray and think.

    And as I pray and think, I know this…

    Creation is good. Very good. It bears witness to its Creator, who is good too.

    In our primitive dread we imagine a god who is petulant and hard to please, vindictive and retributive, capricious and cruel. But these are only petty projections born of our own fear.

    The mystics (and maybe the mountaineers) know better.

    When I can clear my head, I know better. High on the tundra between Longs Peak and the Never Summer Mountains I know the greatest of all truth: God is Love.
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  • Bread on the Table

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    Bread on the Table
    Brian Zahnd

    The church in Western Europe and North America is struggling with deep disappointment. We are disappointed with the failure of the Christendom project. The grand attempt to produce a continent of Christian civilization through the apparatus of the state is either dead or dying. It appears that secularism has already won in Europe and will win in North America. So we either deny it (more easily done in America), or we angrily blame scapegoats (those we claim have “compromised the gospel”), or we simply trudge along, a bit sad about it all.

    The church in the post-Christendom world is walking the Emmaus Road. Confused and disappointed. Just like those two disciples on the first Easter. (see Luke 24:13-35) The original Emmaus Road disciples had misread everything. Their disappointment was a result of their wrong expectations. They expected a conventional king after the model of the Pharaohs and Caesars. They expected Jesus to be a war-waging Messiah like King David or Judah Maccabeus. What they ended up with was a “failed” Messiah — a Messiah executed by the Romans. The movement in which they had invested all their hope had failed. So they walked the Emmaus Road with soul-crushing disappointment. This is when Jesus came and walked with them “in another form.” (Mark 16:12)

    When Jesus in the guise of a wayfaring stranger remarked upon their evident sadness, the disciples told how they had hoped that Jesus of Nazareth was the long-awaited Messiah, the one who would redeem Israel. But that was all over. Their hopes had been dashed when their would-be Messiah was condemned by the priests and crucified by the Romans. Their movement had failed and disappointment had settled in.
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  • Sympathy for the Devil…or Pilate

    Ecce Homo by Antonio Ciseri c. 1880

    Sympathy for the Devil…or Pilate
    Brian Zahnd

    Please allow me to introduce myself
    I’m a man of wealth and taste
    I’ve been around for a long, long year
    Stole many a man’s soul and faith
    And I was ‘round when Jesus Christ
    Had his moment of doubt and pain
    Made damn sure that Pilate
    Washed his hands and sealed his fate
    Pleased to meet you
    Hope you guess my name
    But what’s puzzling you
    Is the nature of my game

    –The Rolling Stones, Sympathy for the Devil

    In his fascinating novel, The Master and Margarita, Russian writer Mikhail Bulgakov creates an imaginary conversation between the Roman governor Pontius Pilate and the Galilean prophet Yeshua. When asked about his views on government, Bulgakov’s Yeshua says, “All power is a form of violence over people.” The peasant preacher of Bulgakov’s novel goes on to contrast the governments of power and violence with the peaceable kingdom of truth and justice. In response Pontius Pilate rages, “There never has been, nor yet shall be a greater or more perfect government in this world than the rule of the emperor Tiberius!” When Pilate asks Yeshua if he believes this kingdom of truth will come, Yeshua answers with conviction, “It will.” Pilate cannot stand for this. In a memorable passage Bulgakov’s Pilate rails against the possibility of the kingdom of God ever coming and supplanting Caesar’s empire.

    “It will never come!” Pilate suddenly shouted. Many years ago in the Valley of the Virgins Pilate had shouted in that same voice to his horsemen: “Cut them down! Cut them down!” And again he raised his parade-ground voice, “Criminal! Criminal! Criminal! Do you imagine, you miserable creature, that a Roman Procurator could release a man who has said what you have said to me? I don’t believe in your ideas!

    In The Master and Margarita, Pontius Pilate seems to have little personal animosity toward the wandering Galilean preacher, but Pilate hates his ideas. In the end what forces the Procurator to condemn Yeshua to crucifixion is the preacher’s revolutionary ideas about power, truth, and violence. Like Pilate we too wrestle with the conflict we have between Jesus and his unsettling ideas. We often want to separate Jesus from his ideas.

    This bifurcation between Jesus and his political ideas has a history — it can be traced back to the early fourth century when Christianity first attained favored status in the Roman Empire. In October of 312 the Roman general Constantine came to power after winning a decisive battle in which he used Christian symbols as a fetish, placing them as talismans upon the weapons of war. (The incongruence is absolutely stunning!) Having emerged victorious in a Roman civil war and securing his position as emperor, Constantine attributed his military victory to the Christian god. In short order the wheels were set in motion for Christianity to become the state religion of the Roman Empire. The kingdom of God had been eclipsed by Christian empire.

    Almost overnight the church found itself in a chaplaincy role to the empire and on a trajectory that would lead to the catastrophe of a deeply compromised Christianity. The catastrophe of church as vassal to the state would find its most grotesque expression in the medieval crusades when under the banner of the cross Christians killed in the name of Christ. The crusades are perhaps the most egregious example of how distorted Christianity can become when we separate Christ from his ideas. Read more