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  • A Formula For Atheism

    Askull

    (This is my foreword for Faith in the Shadows: Finding Christ in the Midst of Doubt by Austin Fisher.)

    A Formula For Atheism
    Brian Zahnd

    A few years ago the pastor of an evangelical-fundamentalist church with whom I’m acquainted announced on the Sunday after Easter that he had become an atheist. He told his stunned congregation that he had been an atheist for a year and a half and that all attempts to revive his faith had failed. So on the Sunday after Easter he publicly left Christianity and moved on with his life — a life with no more Easters.

    A few days after his bombshell resignation I met with this now erstwhile pastor. As I listened to his story, it quickly became apparent that he had not so much lost his faith in Christianity as he had lost his credulity for fundamentalism. But sadly he had been formed in a tradition where Christianity and fundamentalism were so tightly bound together that he could not make a distinction between them. For this fundamentalist pastor, if the Bible wasn’t literally, historically, and scientifically factual in a biblicist-empiricist sense, then Christianity was a falsity he had to reject. When his fundamentalist house of cards collapsed, it took his Christian faith down with it. In one remarkable leap of faith, a fundamentalist became a newly minted atheist. I did my best to explain to him that he had made the modern mistake of confusing historic Christian faith with early-twentieth-century fundamentalism, but by now the damage was done and it appears his faith has suffered a fatal blow.
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  • “No More of This!” (Why Jesus Armed and Disarmed Peter)

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    “No More of This!” (Why Jesus Armed and Disarmed Peter)
    Brian Zahnd

    It’s soon after midnight. We’re in an ancient olive grove with a full moon shining through the boughs. Jesus is in anguished prayer. Disciples are nearby…sleeping. We hear angry voices. A mob is approaching bearing torches. Now they’re upon us and the torchlight reveals the mob is bearing something else — weapons. A battle is about to begin. Luke tells us what happens next.

    “There came a crowd, and the one called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He drew near to Jesus to kiss him, but Jesus said to him, ‘Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?’ And when those who were around him saw what was coming, they said, ‘Lord, should we fight? We brought the swords!’ Then one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear. But Jesus said, ‘No more of this!’ Then Jesus touched the man’s ear and healed him.” –Luke 22:47–51
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  • If This Is God…

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    If This Is God…

    Brian Zahnd

    As we know, there was no room in the inn at Bethlehem, so the peasant couple from Galilee took refuge where they could. And as we know, the girl was “great with child” and her due date was nigh. As it turned out, the baby took his first breath and uttered his first cry in a cave that sheltered livestock. A feeding trough was turned into a crib for the newborn. A stable that had seen the birth of calves, kids, and lambs, now saw the birth of…GOD.

    This is what Christians confess about Christmas.

    We confess that Emmanuel (God with us) joined humanity, not by swooping down from the celestial heavens in a golden chariot, but by being born — born in a stable, wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. Like all of us, God was pushed from the womb through contractions, labor, agony, and blood, to enter headfirst into the beautiful and horrible mess that is our world. This is not Athena springing fully formed from the head of Zeus, this is Jesus born of Mary.
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  • Best Reads of 2017

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    Reader extraordinaire Peri Zahnd shares her favorite books from 2017. -BZ

    BEST READS OF 2017
    By Peri Zahnd

    I can’t imagine a life without books — I was banned from reading for a week this year following eye surgery, which was just long enough to show me how awful it could be. As I’ve looked over the list of what I’ve read this year, there are three standouts in three different genres.
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  • Feel the Falseness (An Appeal To Faith Leaders)

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    Feel the Falseness
    Brian Zahnd

    “The first precondition of being called a spiritual leader is to perceive and feel the falsehood that is prevailing in society, and then to dedicate one’s life to a struggle against that falsehood. If one tolerates the falsehood and resigns oneself to it, one can never become a prophet. If one cannot rise above material life, one cannot even become a citizen in the Kingdom of the Spirit, far less a leader of others.” –Vladimir Solovyov in his eulogy of Fyodor Dostoevsky

    Can you feel it?

    It’s all around you. But can you feel it? The falseness — the falseness that prevails in society. Most are so sedated they never even suspect it. Some sense it, but cannot name it. It takes a prophet to name it. Dostoevsky in his day was well aware of it, which is why he was so much more than a novelist. Dostoevsky wrote his dark, brooding stories because he felt the falseness. What we take for truth, for reality, for the way things are and the way we assume things must be is almost entirely false. The world as it’s arranged is built upon a foundation of falsehood. The prevailing falseness memorialized in marble and robed in glory can appear indisputable, but as Dylan says, “all the truth in the world adds up to one big lie.”

    And now I will appeal to someone more authoritative then Dostoevsky or Dylan.

    Jesus.
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  • 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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  • 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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  • What Does This Mean? (Five Hundred Miles of Crucifixes)

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    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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