All posts in Violence

  • Memorial Day

    Memorial Day
    by Brian Zahnd

    I have vivid memories of Memorial Day growing up in Savannah, Missouri. The last Monday in May marked the end of the school year and the beginning of summer vacation. As such it is a fond memory. And on Memorial Day I always went with my dad to a ceremony held in the northeast corner of the town cemetery. This is where the war dead are buried. Each uniform grave was decorated with a small American flag. As a child in the 1960s, the freshest graves contained the bodies of young men who had returned from Vietnam in flag-draped coffins. Old men were there wearing faded and ill-fitting uniforms from the wars of yesteryear. There would be a speaker (some years it was my dad), a prayer offered by one of the town’s clergy, the National Anthem played by the high school band, a twenty-one gun salute from the old men in their faded uniforms, and taps played by a trumpeter in the distance. The occasion was somber and patriotic. And the theme of the prayers and speeches was always the same — it was the language of sacrifice.
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  • The Slaughter of the Innocents: The Dark Side of Christmas

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    The Slaughter of the Innocents: The Dark Side of Christmas
    Brian Zahnd

    As the Gospel of Matthew tells us, Jesus was born in the time of King Herod, and the history books tell us that most of civilization has been lived in the time of kings like Herod — that is, in the time of tyrant kings. I’m talking about the time of Herod, the time of Pharaoh, the time of Nebuchadnezzar, the time of Augustus, the time of Nero, all the way into modern times — the time of Hitler and Mussolini, the time of Franco and Salazar, the time of Pinochet and Putin. It’s tragically true that most people have lived their lives in the time of tyrant kings. But the gospel also announces the glad tidings that with the birth of Jesus heaven has invaded the time of tyrant kings!

    Matthew tells the story of the first gentiles to receive the revelation (epiphany) of Christ the King. This is the beloved Christmas story of the Wise Men. These Oriental magi (or magicians) were most likely Zoroastrian priests from Persia skilled in astronomy, astrology, and dream interpretation who evidently somehow discerned in the stars an astrological sign announcing the birth of a new King of the Jews. The Zoroastrian priests regarded this birth as so auspicious that they embarked upon a dangerous and difficult thousand-mile journey from Persia to Judea in order to perform obeisance before the child and present their famous gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Because the magi were looking for a child king born in Judea, it made sense for them to inquire in the capital city of Jerusalem, but by doing so they unwittingly set in motion terrible events.
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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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  • Hiroshima: The Anti-Transfiguration

    Hiroshima

    Hiroshima: The 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

    73 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. 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 the 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 were killed and most of the surviving doctors 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, a demon was let loose and 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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  • The Looming Specter

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    The Looming Specter
    Brian Zahnd

    My criteria for writing a book is simple. I write what I cannot not write. I don’t rummage around in my mind for a topic, I don’t attempt to divine the whims of the market, I don’t ask, “Who is my target audience?” (A question always posed to me by publishers and one I never know how to answer. Everyone? Those who have ears to hear? Four friends? I don’t know.) I wrote A Farewell To Mars because I had to write about war in the light of Christ. I couldn’t be at peace until I did. I wrote Water To Wine because I had to tell some of my story. I was compelled to testify about what had happened to me. If these books found an audience who resonate with what I have to say, it makes me very happy…but I wrote them for the wellbeing of my own soul. And all of this is even more true with Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God.

    In Bob Dylan’s “Nettie Moore” there’s a line that says, “Got a pile of sins to pay for and I ain’t got time to hide.” I can relate to that. There is a sense in which I’m trying to make amends with Sinners in the Hand of a Loving God. I am trying to recant some of my old sermons that presented God as angry, violent, and retributive. But my deepest motivation for writing Sinners is not to do penance for purveying ignoble ideas about God. My chief motivation for writing this book comes not from looking into the past with regret, but from looking into the future with concern.
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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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  • 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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  • War of the Lamb

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    War of the Lamb
    Brian Zahnd

    Those who want to hold onto a primitive vision of a violent and retributive God often cite the white horse rider passage from Revelation. They will say something like this: “Jesus came the first time as a lamb, but he’s coming back the second time as a lion.” (Despite the fact that no lion is ever seen in Revelation — the lion is the Lamb!) By this they mean the nonviolent Jesus of the Gospels is going to mutate into what they fantasize is the hyper-violent Jesus of Revelation.

    Sadly, the proponents of this flawed interpretation seem to prefer their imagined violent Jesus of the future over the nonviolent Jesus of the Gospels. At a basic level they essentially see the Bible like this: After a long trajectory away from the divine violence of the Old Testament culminating in Jesus renouncing violence and calling his followers to love their enemies, the Bible in its final pages abandons a vision of peace and nonviolence as ultimately unworkable and closes with the most vicious portrayal of divine violence in all of Scripture.

    In this reading of Revelation, the way of peace and love which Jesus preached during his life and endorsed in his death, is rejected for the worn-out way of war and violence. When we literalize the militant images of Revelation we arrive at this conclusion: In the end even Jesus gives up on love and resorts to violence. Tragically, those who refuse to embrace the way of peace taught by Jesus use the symbolic war of Revelation 19 to silence the Sermon on the Mount.
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  • Armageddon

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    Armageddon
    Brian Zahnd

    The second Sunday after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, I preached a sermon entitled “The Road To Armageddon.” During those days of grief and rage when I should have preached the gospel of peace and forgiveness, I instead resorted to the hackneyed trope of dispensationalism that claims a mega-war in the Middle East must occur before Jesus can return.

    I’ve repented and made amends for that pastoral failure, but the fact remains that my mistake was made possible by the terrible eschatology I had inherited. The Late Great Planet Earth and the Left Behind series are only the best known of countless books that have popularized the worst possible reading of Revelation.
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